The realization part, anyway. Going vegan is not a hack. You still have to put in all the training miles, not 85 percent of them like I had, figuring my diet would close the gap. Still, eight months of vegetarianism and five months of vegan eating has clearly added value to my running.
Over the past 13 months, I’ve shaved 40 seconds off my average pace, and last month, after a seven-year drought, I chipped two minutes from my half marathon PR. In other words, at age 47, I spanked my 39-year-old self. And as I tucked the race medal in a shoe box, I thought about that younger me and his days of consuming the hell out of everything, especially if it glistened, and wondered what he might think of things now.
2010 Me: I’ll tell you what I think, buddy. I think two minutes is nothing to crow about. That’s hardly enough reason to quit bacon.
2017 Me: Well, actually, when you look at the age-graded results, I beat you by almost nine minutes.
2010 Me: Mmmm, bacon …
2017 Me: And look how you ran your half, sprinting out of the gate, bombing down the hills, and dying on the inclines. Like you ran it on a dare. Your pace was all over the place, sub-7s to sub-11s. Didn’t look fun at all. You were wincing for days. My PR, I kept within 10 seconds of goal pace the whole time and never felt the hate.
2010 Me: Want me to set up a table so you can sign autographs? You’re what, 15, 20 pounds lighter since ditching meat? Of course you’re going to run faster.
2017 Me: Um, yeah. But I also dropped nearly 20 pounds for my first marathon, basically by calorie-restricting. And I posted one of my worst times. You were there—we were sweating agony all over Beacon Street. Now, I feel both lighter and stronger. I didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
2010 Me: You must have missed the memo, but this body doesn’t get by on sawgrass crackers.
2017 Me. Gorillas and rhinos get by just fine on all plants. Germany’s “strongest man” (a vegan) isn’t complaining. Many of the top ultrarunners are vegan or vegetarian. So are the Williams sisters. I ran my first 50-miler without meat. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have considered that distance otherwise.
2010 Me: What do you mean?
2017 Me: Switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet forces you to expand your palate. You have to be more deliberate and thoughtful about your food choices. I became more mindful in general, including about my running — my form, my potential. If I could modify something so fundamental to my life, where else could I evolve? Why not a 50-miler? Or a 100-miler? I feel I can move the goalposts on my limitations because at one time, as you know better than anyone else, giving up burgers for plants was beyond ludicrous, wasn’t even in my vocabulary.
RELATED: Find more great meals for vegans and vegetarians in Meals on the Run from Runner’s World.
2010 Me: Okay, okay, what about my protein? If I’m not getting it from steak or stuffed-crust pizza, then where?
2017 Me: Easy on those pies, dude. Wasn’t that long ago Doc Covey had you in for monthly cholesterol checks. But to answer your question: Tofu, nuts, quinoa, peanut-butter, lentils, beans all have plenty of protein, the list goes on. You have to resist the protein hype coming from all those muscle powders and power bars. Most Americans are way overdoing it.
2010 Me: Well, that’s what we do. It’s in the Constitution!
2017 Me: You know, one slice of pepperoni pizza has about 14 grams of protein, and seeing how you’re a five-slice guy, that one meal almost puts you at your daily max. Too much animal protein has been linked to organ damage. And don’t get me started on your processed meats. That’s like the new smoking.
2010 Me: Jesus, I become a real buzz kill, don’t I?
2017 Me: How many servings of veggies are you eating?
2010 Me: I drink plenty of V8.
2017 Me: Remember how you’d be sore for like a week after a marathon?
2010 Me: Yeah, but I love that feeling. Peg-legs of pride.
2017 Me: A vegan diet can speed up recovery by reducing inflammation. I was running stadium stairs three days after my Stonecat 50. Don’t you want to run more instead of less, especially when you’re training? My Advil consumption has gone way down. And it’s not just anecdotal. Check out my bloodwork.
2010 Me: Yum, wheat germ.
2017 Me: When I switched from vegetarian to plant-based, which meant giving up eggs and dairy, too, that’s when I saw the biggest gains in my running. No more hormones and artificial crap, no more saturated fats, a big reduction in empty calories. One hardcore ultra dude I know said he’d go back to meat before dairy.
2010 Me: No cheese? Are you kidding me? So where is my calcium supposed to come from, not to mention my joy?
2017 Me: You do realize that cows don’t produce their own calcium, that it comes from the plants they eat?
2010 Me: Next question!
2010 Me: Dude, it’s 2010 here. Vegan food looks like a bunch of soggy cardboard, if you can even find it anywhere.
2017 Me: Yeah, going vegan seven years ago would have been tough. But there have been so many advances. If you’re going off meat, there’s Beyond Burgers, Benevolent Bacon, and Field Roast Sausages. Those were life savers for me. There’s vegan pesto, vegan sour cream, doughnuts, even nut-based cheeses. You’d be amazed at how close they taste to the real thing. Just about any meal can be veganized: Reubens, cream cheese-stuffed French toast. There are also plenty of apps to help you find vegan restaurants and markets when you’re traveling, even to check that what you’re buying actually is vegan.
2010 Me: Could you say “vegan” one more time? And did you use that app on those strawberry-pecan pancakes you scarfed down on your recent beach trip? Don’t think I didn’t notice. Those contain eggs and dairy. Doesn’t that make you a raging hypocrite?
2017 Me: I ended up making a conscious choice. And, yes, at first, I felt pretty guilty. But I was with my wife, who is not vegan, and we were spending too much time trying to find a place for me to eat in a town that is all about seafood, it was getting ridiculous. It wasn’t fair to her. We were on vacation. So I made an exception. It’s not about purity, it’s about a lifestyle. I can’t treat my diet like alcoholism, one egg and I’m back in the gutter. It’s not all or nothing. It’s about striving to eat in a mindful, responsible way.
2010 Me: So you’re really going to stick with this?
2017 Me: I’m pretty sure. Aside from the fitness gains, a plant-based diet means significantly less environmental damage, it can reverse health problems — my cholesterol is down 40 points — and doesn’t cause animal suffering. Hard to see any of that as a bad thing.
2010 Me: Oh man, am I going to turn into one of those judgy, touchy-feely tree-huggers?
Related video: Great foods for summer.
2017 Me: I’m not here to tell anyone how to live their life. This started as a running thing, but you can’t help but become educated. I’m just sharing what’s worked for me. Aside from some temporary awkwardness in the very early days, there’s been zero negative about this switch and it’s definitely changed my experience of running for the better. But I do see downsides to going back.
2010 Me: Okay, winner, winner faux-chicken dinner. Got to go, suddenly, I’m starving. Maybe I’ll see you at a race sometime.
2017 Me: Count on it.
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Caleb Daniloff is a Boston-area writer and author of