Vegan Runners Steve Penny and Kim Wright Share Their Marathon Training Stories
As veganism continues to grow more clubs are springing up to serve the interests and hobbies of cruelty-free living. Among them is national organisation Vegan Runners UK (VRUK), whose members range from ultra-endurance athletes to casual recreational runners. The club, founded a decade ago, has recently seen surge in membership.
VRUK members are spread out all over the UK, from the Channel Islands to the Scottish Islands, and they have developed a network of local groups in many parts of the country to help their members get together regularly. They currently have 25 local groups in both cities and some rural areas, which are organised by members who volunteer to be club local contacts. About half of these groups have got started in just the last few months. They organise a wide range of running and social activities, and run stalls at vegan events.
Two of the clubs committee members are currently training for spring marathons.
The marathon is a journey: not just the 26.2 miles but a personal journey. You make the progression to fitness and see and feel the changes in your body. Weight falls away, leg muscles build and your running watch shows your heart working more efficiently. You also find out more about yourself as you go to mental and physical places you have never been to before. You become absorbed by the rhythm and routine of training.
After all, the marathon is one of the biggest challenges for us mere mortals and is not to be underestimated. The classic marathon training plan lasts 16 weeks and comprises 4 – 6 runs per week. These are usually a mix of short faster paced runs and a progressively longer run, up to around 20 miles. Training rarely involves running longer distances than this as the risk of injury is too great. The training programme is about building stamina and conditioning your body to run more efficiently and cope with the stresses that running a marathon imposes.
Steve says: “Where I live, high in the Welsh hills, the weather is a challenge. Most of my training has been done in the dark, the rain, the wind and even snow. Often getting outside the door is a challenge but curiously the feeling of returning numb; soaking wet and frozen can be very satisfying and exhilarating. The Llanelli marathon will be my third marathon. I started running relatively late in my late forties and have run London twice, both times vowing never to run a marathon again due to the pain and suffering.
“However something draws you back and even more strangely the emotions I felt as I finished my training each time were a bit like a loss; through all the pain, suffering and awful weather I’d found out something about myself. A couple of years ago when I was running the Swansea Half Marathon, a spectator shouted out in surprise as I ran past in my Vegan Runners kit. Weren’t vegans supposed to be unhealthy tired people with no energy? The truth is that the vegan diet and lifestyle is a great match for marathon running. I have no special tweaks to my diet. A typical breakfast is porridge, which is a great source of slow release energy. There is a bit of a myth about athletes having to eat prodigious amounts of pasta but a good balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables provides all the nourishment and energy I need.
“The other key ingredient is good sleep. Training hard will make you tired in a nice way and tends to promote good sleep. Colds, flu or running related injuries are every marathon runners’ dread. I’ve been lucky to avoid most running injuries probably because I don’t over train. Hopefully I won’t have tempted fate and will arrive fit and well at the Llanelli marathon finish line on April 17.”
Watching the movie Earthlings inspired Kim to transition to veganism two years ago. “It was even more disturbing than I had feared but did exactly what I expected. It reinforced why I had decided to become vegan and remind me why I should never go back.” With the support of a friend she got stuck into a vegan lifestyle. The two started running together with Kim joining VRUK soon after.
She says: “I have often thought t runners need rather single-minded determination and this is equally true of vegans. People who will run across frosted grass watching the mist billow around them, or in the rain on a cold wintery day are the same kind of people who can make strict food choices based on their belief system. It is therefore no surprise to me that there are so many vegan runners out there. What has been a surprise to me though is how many wonderful friends I have made through the club. It is one of the most inclusive groups I have ever come across, with a hugely diverse membership. There are people of all ages from different backgrounds, cultures and countries. It is also amazingly supportive of all of its members.”
At the end of December Kim found out she had successfully gained one of the club’s London Marathon places and would be representing Vegan Runners UK at the prestigious event.
Her training is currently progressing well: Kim recently took part in a six hour challenge in Gravesend covering a respectable 18 miles, beating her previous longest run of 15.4 miles.
Despite having run on and off for years (and wishing that more of them had be on!) marathon training is new to Kim. As such she is learning a lot about herself and the new distances she is covering. So far she has discovered that she needs to eat a good hearty breakfast before a long run. She can easily cover 5 miles on a banana but at about that distance her glycogen gives out. She now finds a bowl of porridge with fruit and a cup of coffee works best.
She has learned to plan ahead and know when to take gels as it reminds her to take them. Otherwise she can find that she doesn’t take them early enough and is already flagging before they kick in. She also tried a jelly cube (vegan of course!) as a fuel source and might try some again as she found it require less effort than the gels sometimes can. “I am very happy that I have another distance under my belt and I know that my training is on track for London. Now I need to work on a little speed!”
New members are always very welcome – running ability really doesn’t matter, though to be a member you have to be a vegan. Find out more about Vegan Runners UK at veganrunners.org.uk/ or check out the Facebook page facebook.com/groups/399898826709250/?fref=ts.