“Veganism (/ˈviːgənɪzəm/) is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, as well as an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of sentient animals. A follower of veganism is known as a vegan.” 
A rollercoaster ride of weight gain and lost
I did not turn vegan due to animal rights or religious reasons. It is due to my continuous goal of staying healthy. When I started to run in 2007, I lost about 10-15 pounds, but since then I have had a problem with my weight. I used to lose 5-10 pounds during my training cycle but then gain it right back during the tapering phase of marathon training, post marathon recovery cycle or off-season. I was not really a fan of this kind of rollercoaster ride. It is not healthy.
Food, Diet and Me
Like many, I tried to go on a diet many times. I went back to the same eating habits within a few days or weeks. Just because I am a runner, I felt that I deserve to eat everything that I could find; also people always tell me, “Oh, you will burn those calories on the next run”. During the Marine Corp Marathon (MCM) 2011 taper, I started a “sugar & chocolate free” diet which lasted 8 days. I love to eat and try new food. I had been eating meat and different animal products all my life.
Where did it all start?
My story started around mile 15 at the 2011 MCM, I felt so heavy. I did not like that feeling anymore. A question came to my head, “why do I carry this extra weight?” I could not find any real reason. At that moment, I was determined to make any changes to lose those pounds.
Finding like-minded people
After the MCM marathon, I started to think more about ways to lose those excess 10-15 pounds. I did not know how or where to start. One Sunday morning in November 2011, after a morning coffee at O’Henry’s coffee shop, I brought up my issue with diet and my desire to lose those extra pounds with other running buddies. Kevin Bokus, a running buddy for a long time, mentioned that he started a Vegan/plant based diet called Engine2Diet a few months ago. He suggested I look into it. As he was describing it, I didn’t think that it was not going to work. It sounded very difficult. I had never been a vegetarian let alone a vegan. He told me that there was a 28 day challenge. I agreed that I would look into it; and I would give it a try by the beginning of 2012. But I needed time to research since I did not want to fall into a trap of yet another diet and give up too quickly.
Doing the research
After that Sunday morning I started my research. I visited the Engine2Diet website, and followed @Engine2Diet on Twitter. I read a lot of articles, a book on Engine2Diet, and other vegan diet websites. Slowly, I started to phase into the diet after the Rocket City Marathon in 2011.
Beginning of a new journey
In January 2012, I started my new journey on a vegan based diet and made a life style change. Like anything in life, it was hard to start. From my previous experience with failed diets, I knew that it would be a difficult task. I was determined to follow my diet up until race day of the 2012 Mercedes marathon. As I continued on my diet, I realized that it was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I had a few near meltdowns, but I stayed strong. It is always difficult when everyone around you is not following the same diet. From the beginning, I told my family and friends that “I eat what I eat.” Due to my change of diet and intense marathon training in January 2012, I lost about 10 lbs by the Mercedes Marathon. I knew that I was not going to stop on this process. I continued on the journey. Now, I am starting my 10th month of this journey. I have lost about 15 pounds and lost 3-4 waist sizes. I do not have to ride the weight rollercoaster anymore. Since none of my old clothes fit, I have started to buy new clothes again!
Food for a vegan runner
“What do you eat?” – People ask this question all the time. Ever since I turned vegan, people think that I do NOT eat. They do not realize that I eat all time. I eat more now than before. It is just that my choices of food have changed. For protein I eat nuts, beans and lentils. I switched to soy or almond milk instead of dairy milk. I was not much of a cheese eater before, so it was easy to cut that out of my diet. I eat a lot of seasonal fruits. In spring and summer, I ate mangos, plums, peaches, etc. During winter and fall, I plan to eat oranges, apples etc. I am not a big salad eater, but I do eat it occasionally. I also eat a lot of vegetables. I have not eaten dessert or yogurt since I started this diet transformation. My options of food are unlimited. These days, when my friends and family invite me to dinner for the first time, they get worried about what to cook for me. I assure them not to worry about it, but ask them not to use any animal products in the food they might prepare for me. One more thing to note, when I cook food- yes even curry, I do not use any kind of oil. I learned to cook without it (more on this in a future post).
Making sense of Diet and Exercise
After 5 years of running, finally I am able to see the connection between diet and exercise. Just because, we, as runners, run many miles, we do not deserve to eat everything that we can find. Since I turned plant strong, I feel lighter, stronger and faster. I have run two ultra marathons, six marathons, and few 5Ks with my personal record for a marathon is 3 hours and 21 minutes, and 20 minutes for a 5k race. I just ran a 32 mile ultra race, and I was the third overall male finisher with a record time of 5 hrs and 7 minutes. This was the first time I have ever been placed that high in any race. I just crossed 1500 miles of running for the year 2012. No, I have not disappeared at all – so people jokingly say that.
With a little effort and self discipline anyone can adopt a vegan diet and reap the many health benefits that this diet offers. I suggest you to try some kind of vegan diet. In the future, I will discuss some of different plant strong diet ideas– like lunch or dinner only vegan, once or twice a week vegan etc. If you are thinking about a long lasting diet plan, you need to do your research and talk to your doctor. You also need to talk to your immediate family; ultimately, they are the ones who have to support you. Visit mRuns.com for more.
NOTE: this story is from my own personal experience; try it at your own risk. It is a work in progress.
Thanks to Kevin Bokus, Bill Woody and Team marathonRuns for their continued support. Thanks to Tim Merdith for encouragements. Thanks to my family for supporting me; going on this journey, without them, would not have been possible.
 Definition of a vegan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veganism
Note: This article was first published at BTC’s monthly news letter at http://birminghamtrackclub.com/tyfoon/site/fckeditor/file/NOVvr2012.pdf
Jennifer Skjellum, April Stalevicz, Kevin Bokus