Friday, April 23, 2010

Why I decided to become a vegetarian

It happened on accident, actually.
At the time, I was training for my first half-marathon, and my first full marathon soon after that, and I was running on empty. As my Saturday morning runs got longer, I began to wake up with a sense of dread, petrified with the knowledge that I'd have to (once again) run farther than I'd ever run in my life. A person learns a lot about themselves on those long runs. Like that after running for a few hours, coherent speech becomes difficult, presumably because all the blood rushes from my face in order to support my shuffle-jogging legs. Yelling, on the other hand, is still totally possible at that time. Something about having extreme cotton mouth and numb tongue lends itself to the beautiful sound of cursing in the morning. I learned that counting cow patties on the side of a trail is wildly entertaining when I've run out of music and can't force myself to listen to Taylor Swift's "Fearless" for the 100th time, no matter how much it reminds me of my teeny-bopper years in high school. I learned that trying to listen to a book on tape while my ipod is set to shuffle will make me cry. After long runs, Aaron and I would drag our sorry behinds into his jeep, chug water, eat protein bars, and sweat. I would yell at the runners alongside the road (with the windows rolled up so they couldn't hear me), "What are you doing? Go home! This is madness!"
Like I said, I learned a lot about myself, and I didn't like most of it. Where had my unbridled passion for running gone? The sheer joy I got from the wind in my face, feet slapping against the pavement? Training for a long distance race took away a very integral part of my spirit, and I wanted it back.
And so began my search for my lost love. First, I bought the book, "Born to Run"; an amazing book about this tribe of Indian superathletes that live in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. I can't say enough about this book except if you love running, or want to love running, or think at some point in your life you might want to love running, you should read this book. My obsession was back in full swing just in time to run the most amazing half marathon in my life. But it wasn't enough. I wanted more. I wanted to know what it was about these ultramarathoners that made them so superhuman. How did they wake up one morning, decide to go for a little jog, and return home 50-100 miles later? It didn't seem possible. Yet, according to the author of the book, anyone can do it.
Here comes the vegetarian part. The more I read about these incredible human beings (Scott Jurek, Brendan Brazier) the more I noticed a common theme; a lot of them are vegetarians or vegans. To me, this seemed counter-intuitive. Everything I've learned about athletic performance is that we need protein to help our muscles recover and build strength. I was a vegetarian until I went to basic training; at which point I started passing out, and decided that I needed the meat to make it through such a stressful time for my body. After that I figured that even if I didn't like eating meat, it was necessary for me to be active and healthy. Yet all this new information I was absorbing told me different.
I read both "Thrive" and "Thrive Fitness" by Brendan Brazier, a vegan and professional Ironman Triathlete, and was enthused in his theory that eating the meat and overly processed food actually hinders, rather than helps athletic performance. I wanted to experiment myself, and see if it changing my diet helped my running, but was still skeptical. How could I know that these people weren't just incredibly talented, despite (rather than because) they were vegans and vegetarians? Michael Phelps is an Olympian swimmer, and his diet consists basically of pizza, energy drinks, and chocolate-chip pancakes. What if there are just certain people who are meant to be amazing athletes, and I'm stuck waddle-scooting my way through the last 12 miles of my long runs?
And then I got that final nudge to push me towards full blown vegetarianism. It's this awesome website called nomeatathlete.com, where Matt, a normal graduate student/runner also decided to go vegetarian, and found his athletic performance increase significantly after becoming a vegetarian. He actually achieved his longtime goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon less than a year after quitting meat entirely! Obviously, he worked and trained for years to qualify for Boston, but becoming a vegetarian definitely didn't hinder his performance. At the very least, I was looking for some indication that being a vegetarian wouldn't turn me into some kind of malnourished wallflower. I knew that if this guy, who was "normal" (in that he wasn't an Olympian or professional marathoner) could make a vegetarian diet work and still excel athletically, I could too. That did it for me. I became a vegetarian on Easter.
And it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. After my first week, I felt a definite boost in energy. I started looking up new recipes, and have had a blast with cooking unique dishes and making fun smoothies. I rarely get that "heavy" feeling after eating..the one where I feel like a bear that just wants to hibernate. I feel more positive. My skin doesn't break out any more. I just feel GOOD. Which makes me want to do good things.
I hadn't realized what a huge impact on the environment eating meat has, and it makes me feel good that I'm one less person contributing to that. The amount of land and resources wasted on turning animals into food is insane, and the more I read about it, the better I feel about being a vegetarian. Also, I like the idea that animals aren't being killed just so I can eat them. If I can be perfectly healthy and happy without eating meat, it feels selfish to keep doing it. And like I said, since I'm feeling so good, I just want to help everyone else feel good too; this includes animals!
When I found out that my friend Alexa, who is a gorgeous and healthy vegan, had joined this group called Team Vegan, that trains for races and raises awareness to the benefits of being a vegan, I knew I wanted to help out! I'm going to run the Bolder Boulder for Team Vegan, and see how everything goes from there. I'm not a complete vegan yet, although I'd like to be. I probably eat vegan 80-90 percent of the time, which is why I still call myself a vegetarian. Interestingly, I find that when I do eat foods with animal products, I feel more sluggish than when I don't. I'm not trying to criticize people who aren't vegans or vegetarians, or say that they are evil animal killers. I'm not going to burn down a dairy farm. I just wanted to let people know about something that makes me feel really happy, healthy and positive. As part of my goal to be the kindest person I can be, I thought it only fair that I share with others what a change I've felt, and maybe they would want to try it out too. Or at least incorporate more veggies into their diet, and see how awesome the green stuff is. I remember in 7th grade my friend Ali's brother and his friends nicknaming me "Veg" to make fun of me, and I'm proud to say I've earned the moniker once again.

Amanda

6 comments:

  1. Congrats!!!
    Being a vegetarian is amazing. I have been for almost 3 years now and am starting to become a runner, I'm going to run the Great North Run in September, right now I can run 3 minutes...
    I look forward to reading more of your posts.
    xxx

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  2. I think you will LOVE your journey to becoming a vegetarian and vegan. I began this lifestyle change on Feb. 1st and have never felt better.
    I just ran my first Boston marathon last Monday and now will be training for a half ironman triathlon in July.
    I blog (less than I should) at refusetobeaverage.blogspot.com

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  3. Welcome to the vegetarian and blog world amanda!
    I really liked your post-especially what you said about this is the way that works for YOU, that makes YOU happy, healthy and positive! I think that we vegetarian/vegan athletes will do best for the "cause" by showing the world just how great we feel, rather than trying to force our dogma upon others.
    I have been a vegan for a year and a half now, and love it!! In high school, I wasn't active, and didn't pay too much attention to eating healthfully. Now i am very passionate about exercise and good nutrition, and completed my first marathon last fall. I'm running chicago this october, and hope to complete an ultra within a year.
    i highly recommend you check out Brazier's book Thrive and Thrive Fitness. Tim VanOrden is another amazing vegan, high raw, athlete. THe blog world is full of more great people. "surround yourself by those who inspire you!"
    welcome!

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  4. I agree completely, we are a wonderful example just by doing what we do and showing people that you can be an athlete and be a veg'n. Thanks for being another light!

    And welcome to the blogging universe and I love your blog name :)

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  5. It sounds like we have similar food philosophies! For the moment I'm eating a largely vegan diet and it's working for me (with occasional splurges on, say, cheesy pizza). Where I'll be in a few years, I don't know, but I do know that I refuse to give my money to factory farms and I can't afford to buy grass feed meats, so I'll avoid them. I'm glad you started a blog! I'm interested in seeing where it takes you!
    - Caroline
    www.seecatrun.com

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