I’ve been a fan of No Meat Athlete for some time now and am ecstatic to bring this interview to you. For years, Matt has been at the forefront of a movement, a plant based athlete movement including such names as Scott Jurek, Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll. From his humble beginning as a blogger, to a pod-caster and now an author, Matt has helped bring a plant based lifestyle into the limelight when it comes to endurance events, and more importantly, health. I recently had the opportunity to read and review his book, you can check it out here.
I’ve been at many races recently, including the 2015 Cape Cod Ragnar Relay, and I’ve seen more and more people wearing “No Meat Athlete” shirts. His message is getting out there further each day, and I’m happy to share his story with you.
OUI: I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you here, Matt. For the readers that are unaware, give us a brief history on No Meat Athlete.
NMA: I started No Meat Athlete back in 2009, really just as a way to document my own experiment of going vegetarian while trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The first six months were just me writing about my meals and workouts, but in that time I built a following of people who were interested in the story. So I started making t-shirts with the name and logo on them, and that was really the beginning of it turning into something much bigger than me. Within two years this little blog became a full-time job, and I went further with it, going vegan and getting into ultrarunning. Since then I’ve published a book and started a bunch of No Meat Athlete groups around the world … it’s become my life!
OUI: When you made your transition to a veggie/ plant based diet were you a runner at that point too, or did you start when you made the transition?
NMA: I had been running for six years or so, and in the process had essentially become obsessed with the goal of qualifying for Boston. My first marathon took me 4 hours and 53 minutes, and my Boston-qualifying time was 3:10, so I had 103 minutes to cut down! And over those six years I had gotten down to 3:20 or so, but those last 10 minutes seemed like an eternity at that point; I had no idea where they would come from. That’s part of the reason I was willing to try a plant-based diet — I didn’t think I’d get to Boston on my current trajectory. So I took a chance on eating the way I felt that I should, and it turned out to work really well: six months later, I ran a 3:09:59 and got in to Boston.
OUI: On any given day, what does your training look like?
NMA: What I do is really very typical, not super high mileage. Even for my 100-miler, I rarely got over 50 miles per week, and that’s around what I do for a marathon, too. So a normal weekday on a plan like that might be 6 or 7 miles, which I do in the afternoon, usually on pretty hilly terrain since that’s what’s around me. The weekend long run will be anywhere from 10 to 20 miles. I do most of my runs at a very easy pace, with just a few faster ones each week.
OUI: Why not just run a 5k or 10k? What is it about the long distances that make you keep coming back?
NMA: I had zero interest in running as a kid, and I still have zero interest in those shorter distances. To me, they feel like the gym class mile run that I hated so much, where you’re hurting the whole time. I was never good at that kind of running, either.
That’s why the idea of a marathon captivated me. If I hurt so badly when I ran one mile, how could anyone do 26 of them, back-to-back? Or how about 100 miles? It seemed superhuman to me, and I wanted to be able to do it. And then what really sealed the deal for me was that to run those sorts of distances, you can’t be hurting the whole time — you’d never finish! You have to run at a comfortable pace, so for the majority of the race, you’re not in any pain at all. To me, that’s so much more fun than a shorter race.
OUI: What’s your favorite distance to run and favorite race you have conquered?
NMA: I really enjoyed the only 100-miler I’ve done. It just felt like this huge adventure, and I was never bored or depressed or hopeless or any of these things I was worried would happen overnight. It was certainly a lot of stress on my family with all the planning, but I’d say that’s my favorite distance so far.
But my favorite race was probably Boston. It was so much work for me to get there, that when I ran it felt like a celebration of all that. The crowd was amazing and the course is so historic, that it was like no other marathon I’ve done. I’d love to get back there someday.
NMA: About 10 things! A new cookbook, a big site redesign and new shirts, and a few other products to help people go plant-based and get in shape. But my favorite project of all is growing our running groups, visiting the most active ones and sharing what they’re doing with the others. When this feels like a movement, that’s when I’m happiest.
OUI: What tips would you give a beginner who is thinking if getting into ultrarunning?
NMA: Number one, run slower than you think you need to. This goes for almost all of your workouts — when you’re starting out, you don’t want to be trashed at the end of any of them, and the majority of them should be at a conversational pace — and for the race itself. You’ll have such a better day out there if you take it extremely easy, and tell yourself that you’ll speed up at the end if you happen to have a lot left by then (which I almost guarantee you won’t). And walk the hills from the very beginning.
The other thing is to pay attention to your form, so that you’ll be able to put in the mileage you need without getting hurt. The best tip I have for this is to make sure your feet are moving at a rate of 180 steps per minute, or 3 per second. This simple key will cause so much of the rest of your form to fall into place — you almost don’t need to think about anything but this. And when you’re new to running, Iess to think about is a good thing.
NMA: I just signed up for the Richmond Marathon at the end of this year, which will be my first marathon in almost four years — and the first time I’ve trained hard for one since I qualified for Boston six years ago. I’ve been running ultras during that time, which might sound harder than training for a marathon, but it’s not. With the marathon there are so many more tough workouts to do, not just the long slow runs that I do for an ultra. So that’ll be a nice change, and require me to get in better shape.
I’d love to do Badwater one day, the 135-mile race in Death Valley in the summer where it gets up to 120 degrees. I don’t know why; it just has always seemed like the ultimate test. That’s still a long way off, for me — I’d need to run several more 100s just to apply to get in. But as far as bucket list races left on my list, that’s really it.
Links to No Meat Athlete