Ultra Mel and Jon on Training and Nutrition

We get asked all kinds of questions about both our nutrition, being plant based athletes, and of course our training, being ultra marathon runners.  And to be honest we love love love getting questions about our lifestyle, training and nutrition, because it allows us to talk one’s ear off on the topics we are super passionate about. We’ve compiled some of our most FAQs and answered them for you. Grab a glass of viño and enjoy:)
ultra mel and jon nutrition and training

1. What are the best ways to slowly build your running pace and distance?

Start slow. That seems like a silly answer…(and arguably it is) but that’s what you have to do in order to avoid injuries. You need to slowly ramp up your pace and distance. With saying that though, not every run is a continuous progression in pace or distance. Meaning, not every run should be longer than the other or faster than the last. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your level of fitness when it comes to speed and distance. Overall though, you want to switch up your runs. Do intervals, tempo, and LSD runs. Also make sure you’re incorporating hills somehow. Whether that be in one of your runs OR that solely is your workout…hill repeats. Hills will work on cardio and strength <- one thing many runners seem to neglect – cross training.
Once you start to build your running muscles and you are comfortable with some different styles of workouts, don’t be afraid to mix in some harder runs that you’ve tried in the past, or go a bit longer than might seem like a slow progression.  If your body is feeling great, test some limits, you’d be surprised at what your body can do when put to the test.
**Jonathan ran his first ultra (125km Canadian Death Race never having ran longer than a half marathon before, mind over matter!** (But very bad idea, none the less)

2. What are stretches that the two of you find the best before and after your runs? 

running stretchesWe don’t stretch much, if at all, before runs and workout.  We warmup with a slow run or something similar, then sometimes some dynamic stuff like leg swings or arm circles.  Stretching pre runs is sort of one of those things that changes depending on what research studies were done that year, but we find that static stretching before runs almost takes the “fire” out of your muscles, because your lengthened them out so much they can’t shorten and contract as well.
Check out our posts on yoga stretches for runners. These are “killer”. Killer for working out the jinged up spots and making sure stiffness doesn’t impede your future runs. Another great thing about stretching is it works into your mental fitness – especially when holding poses for longer periods of time you can get restless and find it too “intense”. Learn to play with those thoughts and that intensity.

3. How do the two of you plan out your run training schedule as you’re increasing your distance?

We are bit of odd ducks and don’t follow a strict training schedule for runs. We know when we are lacking and we know when we are overdoing it by just listening to our bodies. This has been one of the most valuable skills/lessons to learn for our training and nutrition, hands down!  Our week right now usually has the following in it: 2 tempo runs, hill run, sprints, long run, intervals, then we do strength building yoga classes every morning, and throw in double workouts some days with biking or cross training in there to stay well rounded. However, all of that depends on where we are in our season, how fast approaching our next race is, and exactly what that race entails. So if you are doing a road marathon, you might have a week that looks totally different.

4. What are the best things to eat before and after runs?

Before, something simple and easy to digest. This all depends on your usual diet too. If you eat a Low Carb High Fat diet, well almonds might be a great choice. But carbs are the first go-to energy source so having something like dates, raisins, or any kinds of fruit are good “instant” energy options. Whatever you do, try to keep it simple especially when first starting out. This will help you learn what you do best on and what doesn’t. Fair warning: during experimenting you’re going to have Cloud 9 runs because of your pre-run fuelling and you’re also going to have “Holy crap I have the black plague in my stomach” runs after experimenting with some fuelling.  Our pre-run meals always differ depending on the workout, but here is what a typical pre-race breakfast would be: Oatmeal, cocao powder, vegan protein powder, coconut, walnuts or other kind of nuts/seeds, banana, and cocao nibs on top.  This for us digests well and gives us a long lasting fuel source.

After, you need to recover and fuel your body with the goods it needs for that. To be honest, I don’t like eating right after runs. I just don’t have the appetite (unless it’s one of our extremely long simulation runs) but Jon on the other hand can head right to the kitchen to make a meal. So again, it’s all personal. Ideally you want something that has protein obviously. If you’re looking for something small, apple with peanut butter, a smoothie, or a protein bar (Pulsin’ ones are wicked) are quick and easy options. If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, making a curry packed with anti-inflammatories, veggies, and a protein base is “delicious & nutritious” 😉 Since I usually can’t eat immediately after, I will usually put L-Glutamine in my water bottle and get that in my system asap.

5. How long did it take to become vegan? And what did you find hardest about it?

A lot of people ask me if I’m vegan and gluten-free, the answer: I don’t have a label.
While I mostly eat grain-free, I also listen to my body. If I want the grains, I’ll have grains like rice with curry without any guilt.
If I want to eat strict vegan one day I will.
If I don’t have time to make a snack, I’ll eat a PROCESSED energy bar – ohhhh the horror.
The best thing you can do is drop the judgment with yourself and others. Life is just too short to be stressed over that all the time. And really, if you’re stressing about your food so much because you’re being so strict….well the whole healthy eating contradicts the cortisol levels in your body that shoot through the roof.

Switching to vegan for us? Switching was maybe about 1 month to be honest. I’d experimented with it before and then once I told Jonathan about it he became intrigued. We watched a few eye-opening documentaries and then decided to both pursue the vegan band-wagon. I already didn’t eat any meat so we were only had fish, eggs, and milk to get rid of. This we transitioned out of over about a month.We were strict vegans for over 2 years than decided to introduce some healthy things back into our diet that would help supplement our training (ie. salmon or fish oil capsules). As long as we felt better and it is in align with our morals, then it was okay. Heck, we even tried a piece reindeer on our honeymoon! Why? Because it was one of the only times we would get to try it, it lived in the wild it’s whole life, was caught peacefully, is one of the healthiest meats (even Finland vegetarians routinely eat it), and it was killed in way that didn’t make it suffer. Really being vegan for me is not hard. To be honest, I find meat quite disgusting to put it bluntly. I never really liked the taste and flavour of it but what deters me the most now is a) knowing what it does to one’s body and b) knowing where it comes from and the processing of it. I highly recommend anyone considering going vegan to watch these: Forks Over KnivesCowspiracy, and Food Inc. There are certain nutrients, vitamins, etc. you need to be more aware of when switching though so definitely make sure to do some looking up of that and also getting routine blood tests is not a bad idea either.  This in mind however, every one of those vitamins and minerals can be obtained through a vegan diet, so the argument that you need meat is just an opinion and usually not scientifically backed.Short answer: All-in-all, we are 95% vegan. And feel awesome.

7. Did becoming vegan help with your running and also just lifestyle in general?

Yes. Naturally a vegan diet is alkalizing. That’s as long as you’re still a healthy vegan and not calling your Lays chips or liquorice your dinner. With having our bodies in a more basic state, both of us noticed a significant difference in our training and health overall. The aspect most noticeable is we weren’t getting as sore, as often. And when our training did drive our muscles to the limits and we were sore the next morning, we found ourselves recovering faster. Training for anything is demanding on the body. What you expect for the level of output better be matched by the level of input. No Ferrari has ever ran off diesel…if ya know what I mean;)

8. How long did you train until you ran your first ultramarathon?

Technically I ran my first ultra 8 months after my first race (Mount Robson Marathon). This is definitely something that should not be taken as a Golden Rule though. I was coming from being heavily involved in soccer so running was obviously already on my plate a lot – however, in saying that, I bet I could’ve made it 6 months…heck even 4 months! There are a lot of factors that come into play, with the main ones being your training and nutrition. BUT if you’re coming from a place where you barely ran, it may take a little longer. You want the transition to be slow enough you don’t injure yourself or burn out but you also don’t want to keep making excuses and 15 years down the road say….”I thiiiiiiiink I’m ready!”. If you really stick your mind to something you can achieve it. You’ll make it happen.

9. Do you find the Xero Shoes were better when you finally got into running?

xero shoes ultramarathon runners
Yep! No blisters, no stinkay feet, no replacing expensive shoes ALL the time….Xero Shoes really helped with my running form also. No one in their right mind will do heavy landing, heel striking, mindless running with sandals on. You become much more aware of how you are running when you put them on and in the long run (no pun intended), that helps keep injuries at bay. In saying that though, you’ll notice in lots of our pictures we have shoes on too. Although we love xeros, they aren’t for every situation. When we got to mile 90 of our 100 miler race, we were cooked. Our running form went to sh*t and we were in such rough shape that if even one little pebble knocked our pinky toe, we were on the brink of mental breakdown….hence, shoe time. Also, in muddy runs we are straight in shoes. Intervals we also tend to wear shoes.

For footwear, the number one thing I can recommend is ZERO DROP. So whether that mean you have a thick sandal on, a thin sandal or any kind of shoe….it will help you out! Helps you run more naturally.

10. What are the most important things to do before a race?

Taper. Don’t push it too hard. The run you do 2 days before your race is not going to make a difference in your time (well maybe but for the worse). And the day right before a race, try to stay off your feet as much as possible.

Mentally prepare; visualize what it’s going to be like, what you want to accomplish, what to expect. This may sound like an odd one, but “prepare yourself to suffer”.  An ultra is never easy, any race is never easy, so you have to get the idea in your mind right from the beginning that you are going to feel pain, and you are going to have to push through it.

Eat to prepare: dependent on the type of race this changes.  On race day, right before the start line gun…Make sure you get in a good breakfast (if it’s a morning race). And that breakfast is something you’ve trained with before.

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