The founder of Running on Veggies shares how she cultivated her love for running and healthy relationship with food after a life-changing diagnosis.
First off, what do you eat for breakfast before a run?
I always like to eat overnight oats, especially pre-race or pre-workout because I can make it in a hotel mini-fridge, which is always key when I’m traveling. Plus it’s cool, so you don’t have to eat a hot breakfast in the summer. It’s a little light, so it sits really well in my stomach before a workout, and the chia seeds help absorb hydration better. And it tastes really good! I never get bored of it because I always change up the topping. [Check out her recipe here!]
Why did you start running?
At age 14, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Going through cancer, chemo, and radiation was so traumatic, especially at that age. You know, one thing happens to you in high school and that’s who you are. I didn’t want to be that girl.
After I finished treatment and was healthy again, a group in my high school was going to do a half-marathon in Disney World. As part of the trip, they raised money for a local Jewish cancer centre had that really helped my family and me when I was sick. So I decided to join them. After that first race, I really fell in love with the sport – it gave me a community, good friendship, and a sense of belonging. I started running 4 to 5 days a week and signed up for another half-marathon in New Jersey a few months later where I finished nearly 30 minutes faster!
How did you get interested in nutrition?
Once I started to think like a runner, I started to eat like a runner and my whole relationship with food changed. I was eating to fuel my running, not to fit into a pair of jeans. This was in 2012, and food blogs were a pretty new thing, so there wasn’t that much information online. I decided to dive into the books myself and figure out what was the best way for me to eat.
I found my purpose in nutrition. I didn’t have a choice in whether or not I had chemotherapy, but now I had a choice in what I was eating and I learned how important that really was. I decided to make an Instagram account to log food I ate pre- and post-workout. My posts started getting the likes of a lot of professional athletes, including Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher.
When did you realise there was a big need for this?
Kara Goucher told me I was making homemade, healthy eating and plant-based eating very approachable and asked if I would come to cook and talk about nutrition at one of her running retreats. I agreed, but I went to that retreat feeling very intimidated. Once I started to talk, though, I realised people are really interested in nutrition, and this was where I was meant to be.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
Find something that you love doing, and that you’re passionate about because that makes all the difference. Once I became passionate about running, everything else clicked – food, my habits, my confidence, and the discipline to get up and run. Search for that thing that you love to do.
What are you excited about now?
Recently, I decided to sign up to race an Ironman on the anniversary of the day I was diagnosed 10 years ago. My goal is to raise $30,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in the process. For the longest time, I never mentioned my experience on my blog or Instagram – it wasn’t something I wanted to relive every day. But I might have a follower going through something similar, and 14-year-old me would have liked to have someone inspiring me to believe everything was going to be okay. By doing all these races and runs, I was reminding myself “I’m so much stronger than this diagnosis. It happened to me but it’s not who I am.” If I can help one person feel that way too, I’ve done my job.