Running My First Marathon Fueled By Green Smoothies and Whole Foods

On October 7, 2012, I ran the Chicago marathon. It was my first marathon and something I had always wanted to do, but never thought I could. And while I didn’t finish with the time I wanted, I did pretty well for my first ever marathon after recovering from an injury with an official time of 04:43:57.

I ran this race as a vegan who eats a predominantly raw, whole foods diet as well as green smoothies. Because of this, I’ve received a lot of questions about what I did to train as well as what I ate before/during/after the race. I’ve answered the most frequently asked questions in this blog post.

1 – What did you eat before and during your run?

About three hours before the marathon, I ate four bananas. I ate another one an hour before the race. All five bananas were about 525 calories. I was actually surprised that I really wasn’t that hungry during the race itself. I trained my body to run without GU and gel’s, and to run with good cards like fruit.

During the race, I ate two bananas and an orange slice. I drank water at every mile marker since I didn’t carry any with me.

Immediately after the race, I drank a 20-ounce bottle of raw coconut water, two more bananas, and a handful of goji berries.

I ate one or two bananas before my training runs depending on how long I ran. I usually ate about an hour before I ran so I didn’t want to eat too much.

2 – What is your typical pre and post training run green smoothies?

While training, I eat one or two bananas before I run. After I run, I’ll have a large, 32-ounce green smoothie with at least 15 grams of protein. I don’t drink the same smoothie every day, and I focus on nutrients (protein, calcium, calories).

I like to have at least a 400-calorie green smoothie after a run under 10 miles. For longer runs, I’ll consume up to 700-calories. I might drink a 400-calorie green smoothie and have a banana with almond butter and some goji berries for the additional calories.

3 – Why didn’t you drink a large green smoothie before your marathon?

I trained with eating bananas before I ran and I didn’t want to change anything. I know how my body would feel if I only ate bananas.

Another reason for this is that bananas are calorie-dense, while green smoothies are not. A 20-ounce green smoothie usually contains less than 200 calories, which is not sufficient for running a long distance such as a marathon. A full meal-replacement smoothie would be between 32-40 ounces, and it would be too big as I’d be running on a full stomach. Also, green smoothies digest rapidly and I didn’t want to have to stop halfway through the race to “answer nature’s call”.

I’ve found that bananas are just perfect as running fuel. However, I do use green smoothies as a post-run, recovery meal.

4 – When did you start running, and how long did it take before you were ready to run a marathon?

I’ve been running for a couple of years, but I really wasn’t able to run very far. I wasn’t able to dedicate time to training and my right knee would hurt when I ran too far. Because of this, I was only able to interval run a 5k. Last year, I fractured my ankle and wasn’t able to run for five months. That was really hard for me since I was just at the point where I could run a 5K without stopping, and had a goal of doing a 10K.

I decided that this was the year to achieve an “unachievable” goal. I looked online and found a marathon training group that met a few blocks from my house. It started June 2nd, but I had to be able to run six miles without stopping. I went to a physical therapist for my knee and I spent the entire month of May 2012 working up to that goal. On June 2nd, I ran 6 miles without stopping for the first time. On June 3rd, I ran my first 10k in 53 minutes.

5 – What did you do to “carb load”?

I was a bit of an anomaly among my friends who also ran the marathon. They did the traditional epic pasta dinner the night before and I did not.

Instead, I carb loaded with extra bananas and fruit. I started adding extra carbs into my diet about three days before the race. I added about 200 extra calories into my diet. I made sure they were high-carb fruits.

I didn’t have a pasta dinner the night before the race because I don’t feel good when I eat that stuff. And it’s not part of my regular diet and I knew it would throw me off the next day. I’d be starving and feeling nutrient-deprived after a dinner like that, and I wanted to wake up feeling great and not like I needed to feast for breakfast.

I made sure I drank plenty of water and had two bananas right before I went to bed the night before the marathon.

On race day, I at almost 4000 calories since I burned about 2100 during the race. I didn’t however, feel the need to consume more calories the next day. I have a friend that ran the same marathon and felt like he needed to consume extra calories the day after the marathon. It depends on how you feel after the race.

6 – How did you feel while running the marathon?

I always told myself that I could never run a marathon. It was a goal I put in the back of my mind. When I was about a quarter of a mile into the race, I got a little emotional about the fact that I was actually achieving a goal I told myself I could never do.

I was really proud of myself for keeping up with the 4:30 pace group for 18 miles. Even after I had to take a bathroom break, I was able to catch up with them. However, around mile 18, I could no longer keep up with them. It was really hard for me to see them getting farther and father away. This is were I felt a running partner would have been key. I made myself keep running, but I wish I had someone to run with me, to provide an extra boost of motivation when I needed it most.

7 – How long did it take for you to recover?

After running the marathon, I was a little sore. My knees hurt, but it wasn’t “injury pain”. I felt like I worked out really hard. It went away after a good nights sleep. My legs were sore the next day, but I didn’t have any injuries. I didn’t even get a blister. I put Vaseline all over my feet for the marathon.

8 – Now that you’ve run a marathon, what things would you have done differently (during training or race day)?

I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently as far as training. I would however, run with a partner for my next marathon. Mile 18 can be very challenging mentally. By that point in a marathon, you’re sore, you’re tied, and you still have 8.2 miles to go. Running with someone makes all the difference at this point. I really felt like I could have used someone’s support.

9 – Will you run another marathon in the future? What are your future running/fitness goals?

If I can find a running partner that is running at the same pace I am, I would love to run another marathon. I think I am going to run a couple of half marathons first to improve my time. I love running and I am definitely going to continue doing it.

10 – What advice would you give to someone who wants to train for a marathon while eating a mostly raw, vegan diet (or a natural, whole foods diet).

Honestly, I would not talk to people about what you are eating. They are not going to understand and they might even tell you it’s dangerous (i.e. “You’re not getting enough protein”, etc…). You’ll be lectured about the importance of eating tons of pasta the night before a race, or about drinking Gatorade, consuming GU, and other nonsense.

Be sure to track your nutrients so that you know you are getting enough calories, protein and carbs, and don’t worry about what other people are eating.

Make sure you add additional calories about three days before the marathon and the day of the marathon. I didn’t use a lot of protein powders, but I did add it to my smoothies a couple of times a week as I was getting closer to race day. Other then that, my overall diet really didn’t change prior to race day.

My go to foods were bananas and goji berries – bananas for their carbs/potassium, and the goji berries for their protein.

11 – What might you do to improve your time if you were to run another marathon?

I think the more I train, the faster I’ll run. I need to do some more long training runs, but it takes practice. I’m also going to sign up for a few half marathons.

Running my first marathon was a great experience. It was a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I was surprised at how supportive the crowd was. People were cheering words of encouragement and holding supportive signs. It’s definitely a great sense of achievement after running a marathon. Someone gave me a sticker that said, “Every mile earned, never given.” After the marathon, I’m going to post that sticker next to my running bib. I did earn every mile.

Tracy Russell is the creator of RESET 28: A 28-Day Program For Energy, Weight Loss & A Healthy Glow, and founder of Incredible Smoothies. She has been helping people take control of their health and well being with green smoothies, a whole foods diet, and fitness since 2009.