You can Google how to go vegan and find a plethora of articles on faux meats, ordering vegan at restaurants and probably how to break it to your family that you’re vegan. Those are all super important, but my advice on how to go vegan is a little different.
Last Saturday I ran the Big Cottonwood Marathon in Salt Lake City. I needed a 3:55 to qualify for Boston, but I was more interested in besting my PR of 3:33. I was leery.
Though my training went well, It had been over a year since I ran a marathon and over a year and a half since I struggled mightily at Boston in 2014. By mightily I mean I barely finished. I fell off my pace at mile 21 as abruptly as stepping off a sidewalk that I didn’t notice was there.
It’s safe to say the marathon distance had my number. I had seven finished marathons under my belt, none of which I could say I performed up to my expectations. The 26.2 distance baffled me. I sure had the 20 miles figured out but the last 10k was like trying to play scrabble with no vowels. Possible, but not pretty.
I recently started a meditation practice. I needed to know what all the hype was about. Could it make me a better runner? A better person? Rich beyond my wildest dreams?
Some types of meditation practice involve chanting. Or repeating a mantra. I know, right? I wasn’t so sure about this part. It seemed a little suspect. But I did it anyway.
Sometimes I chanted I’m basically good enough. I’m basically smart enough. I said it out loud 100 times. Then again. At first I felt silly. Okay, I still feel a little silly. I remind myself of a Stuart Smalley sketch from Saturday Night Live. I’m gazing in the mirror, wearing an awful pink sweater and saying I’m good enough…I’m smart enough….
It struck me at some point early in the marathon that I might do some of my meditation in the form of chanting. Heck, I was going to be out there over 3 hours, I might as well entertain myself.
I decided on I’m relaxed, a reminder to relax my shoulders and feet as the pounding and time took it’s toll on my body. Since I tend to tense up while running and expend valuable energy I don’t have, this mantra seemed so brilliant I couldn’t help but smile. I’m relaxed!
I said it only loud enough for me to hear, looking around at my fellow runners as I mouthed the words. Hopefully they couldn’t hear me. They were oblivious. The slapping of hundreds of $120 running shoe soles against the black pavement drowned out the sound of just about everything.
So I continued to remind myself that I’m relaxed. Because I am, right? Feet, legs, core, shoulders and neck. Check. All relaxed. I’m relaxed. I could take a nap I’m so relaxed.
Miles ticked by. At mile 19 we headed out on a little spur and I was still relaxed. We headed back in, with a slightly uphill section. Mile 22. I’m relaxed. I’m passing a lot of runners. Starting to really feel the pain in my quads like tiny balled up fists smashing into each leg repeatedly. Mile 23. I’m relaxed.
This is it, I thought. D Day. The latter stages of the marathon is where I typically fade like a month old newspaper. I once DNF’d a marathon at mile 25. Yep, dropped out at mile 25 with severe calf cramping in both legs. The spectator who graciously lent me her cell phone asked me if I knew I was only a mile away from the finish. The 25 mile marker was over her right shoulder. Oh, right, I wanted to say, I had no idea how far a marathon was before I started running it.
The last 3 miles were downhill into an SLC suburb. We ran right down the middle of the road as if we owned the city. Huge orange dividers lined the middle lane so cars could go on either side of us. A young boy yelled out his car window at me…Go, Go, Go! I passed two girls awkwardly high-fiving each other and yelling “we did it!”
I looked down at my Garmin to see 25.5 as I tried following a guy wearing bright yellow Nike’s and billowing black shorts. He looked fast and fresh, as if he could run another 10. I saw no finish line yet. I’m relaxed I said again, feeling proud that I stuck with my game plan even down to less than a mile to go.
Finally seeing the orange finish line with the giant clock, I gutted it out the last quarter mile. Crossing the finish line in 3:25. I had a PR and a BQ. Personal Record and a Boston Qualifying time, in case you’re not up on your runner lexicon. Plus a race medal resembling a manhole cover.
But wait, what does meditation, chanting and running a marathon have to do with how to go vegan?
Well, I highly recommend meditation and chanting. Oh, and qualifying for Boston is pretty fun too. But I also see a lot of parallels between running a marathon and going vegan.
Strictly speaking, going vegan is pretty simple. You eliminate all animal products from your diet. In a marathon, you run 26.2 miles. Simple, right?
But running a marathon also involves weeks of training. 20 or more, to be fully prepared. Speed work. Long runs. Hills. Resistance training. Stretching. Good nutrition. Mental focus.
Becoming vegan also involves work. It requires education (not your own but you educating friends and family). Research. Trying new foods. Changing habits. Being flexible. A thick skin. Focus. Persistence.
I finally learned the value of working on my mental focus during the marathon. Though I won’t say I have it all figured out, I’m making progress. It took me 8 marathons and a handful of years.
My advice on how to go vegan has nothing to do with how to grocery shop, where to get your protein, or how to survive eating at a steakhouse. I won’t even provide you with a great vegan recipe. There are plenty of sites out there that do an excellent job of that.
Being successful at going vegan will require a lot from you above and beyond the traditional “how to.” Saying no to meat and dairy and an entrenched food culture that refuses to consider how those chicken wings or hamburger arrived on their plate is going to challenge you.
You’ll take some shots. People will question your decision. You’ll have to defend your beliefs. Which will seem silly since the meat eaters are really the ones that should be asked to do that. Right? I wish it were as simple as changing the food you eat, but going vegan is much more than that.
The good news (and there’s a lot of good news) is that living the vegan lifestyle is so fulfilling and so worth it. Knowing that you’re eating the healthiest diet for your body, saving animals from a horrible existence and doing your part to save our environment is what you should remember when it becomes difficult.
While I wouldn’t call my own journey to veganism easy, I will say I haven’t regretted it for a single moment. Ever. I wish you the same.