Exactly a month after they ran ten miles of the New York City Marathon together, Tina and Elyse Kopecky connected to talk about eating to support your running, how “healthy” eating can become unhealthy, dealing with a picky eater, and how to set the tone for your entire day.
Elyse is a mom, a trail runner, and with her co-author, elite runner Shalane Flanagan, a three-time New York Times bestselling author.
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“I did want to run a marathon at one point in my life, just to experience it.”
Elyse was a competitive runner in college, but she suffered from low bone density and stress fractures, amenorrhea, compartment syndrome, and I.B.S. By the time she graduated, she was burned out on racing and had no desire to get back on a starting line. “I still had a love for running and got really into trail running,” she says, “but just running casually, like going for five mile runs with friends at a slow pace.”
As time went on though, she wanted to run a marathon. It happened that her 40th birthday coincided with the New York City Marathon’s 50th anniversary and her friend Shalane Flanagan completing the six world marathon majors in six weeks, finishing in New York. Clearly it was the race that she had to do.
“I wanted to prove to myself that all the nutrition advice that I was giving everyone else would work for myself.”
She was nervous going into training: “If I ended up with a stress fracture while marathon training, I would think I was a fraud, like none of my nutrition was working.” But it did work; she ran the entire 26.2 miles without ever hitting a wall. She used to think that she couldn’t eat before running because she has a sensitive stomach, but training for the marathon taught her that eating before a run actually helps her.
“When I’m marathon training, I’m like a grizzly bear.”
Elyse says that people would be surprised if they saw how much she ate when she was marathon training. It wasn’t easy because I.B.S. limits the foods that she can tolerate. She had to cook constantly, which was the hardest part of training. “The miles are the easy part; that doesn’t take up as much time,” she says.
That doesn’t mean that she only eats “healthy” foods. During training, she found that she needed gels and sports drinks, because “sometimes foods that seem less healthy are the ones that are going to fuel me the best.”
Everyone has to find what works for them, but the important thing is to take in enough fuel. Elyse observes, “I used to think that I wasn’t a long distance runner because I never felt good past five miles, but now I realize that it was because I wasn’t eating enough beforehand to feel good past five miles.”
“I think I was meant to have a picky kid so that I could relate more to parents and who knows, maybe this will result in a book down the road.”
Some people, like Elyse, can’t eat certain things because of health issues. Others, like her son, just don’t like them. Her daughter will try anything and has “an incredible palate.” Elyse says that “with her being my first kid, I was like, I don’t understand what’s wrong with parents, like why they can’t figure out how to feed children.”
Her son is a different story. She’s figured out what he will eat, and makes sure that he has healthy, balanced meals, even if that means preparing the same dishes over and over. “They’re not vegetables,” she acknowledges, “but I think parents get caught up that it has to be vegetables. There are a lot of nutritious foods that are not vegetables.”
“I think I need to put it out there more on social that I do eat normal. Like my family does go out for tacos, we do get pizza take-out on Fridays.”
There are a lot of Run Fast. Eat Slow fans in Bend, OR, where Elyse lives, and they frequently stop to talk to her at the supermarket. She jokes with Shalane, “I don’t want them looking at my cart because I have tortilla chips in there, and ice cream, and beer.” She emphasizes though, that it is a joke.
“I want people to know if you think you’re eating perfectly, you probably aren’t. If you’re stressing that much to where your diet is perfect every single day, then maybe you’re not enjoying food, and it gets to a point where it’s unhealthy to eat overly healthy.”
“The more you restrict yourself, the more you’re going to want that food.”
Because she allows herself to enjoy all foods, Elyse doesn’t develop a craving for something because she’s been depriving herself of it. That allows her to easily avoid overindulging over the holidays, which is a pitfall for so many people. She likes having something sweet every day, but she tries to make sure that it’s something healthy, like homemade muffins or cookies made with butter. “I think that food is meant to be enjoyed and everything should taste delicious,” she says, “even healthy food.”
“We believe that how you start your day impacts your whole day.”
Elyse and Shalane’s new book, Rise and Run, is subtitled, Recipes, Rituals, and Runs to Fuel Your Day. The title reflects their belief that, as Elyse says, “how you start your day impacts your whole day, and that’s everything from your mindset in the morning, to getting outside and getting the first rays of sunlight and setting your circadian rhythm by moving outside. That doesn’t mean you have to go for a 10 mile run, but even just a two mile walk in the morning at first light can really impact your entire day in a positive way.”
The book is full of advice about training and how to start your day more mindfully, and of course, delicious, nourishing recipes. As Elyse says, “the biggest part of starting your day right is what you eat in the morning.”
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“Thank you” to Elyse. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.