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7 Keys to Surviving Your First Marathon on a Plant-Based Diet

No Meat Athlete Kelsey after the St. Augustine Marathon

So you want to run your first marathon as a vegetarian or vegan, eh?

Well then, I applaud you.

But here's the thing: It's really easy to screw up a first marathon.

You can train perfectly and eat perfectly for 18 weeks and be totally prepared, but then make one tiny mistake on race day that makes it look like you didn't do any of that other stuff.

And when you're representing what's possible on a plant-based diet, you don't want the one everybody's passing as you hobble the last six miles of the race, right?

Well, then you're in the right place. In my first few marathons I made all those newbie mistakes and looked like an idiot out there ... which means you don't have to. You can cross the finish line looking strong and smiling (even if it hurts a little ... because come on, it's 26.2 miles!).

7 Keys for Making Your First Marathon a Success

1. Skip the pasta party. Yes, have a big meal at lunch the day before the race -- and by all means, go for the vegan pasta -- but take it easy at dinnertime. You'll give your body more time to assimilate the nutrients, and having a huge meal at dinnertime is risky if you’re at all worried about stomach issues the next morning. Plus you'll sleep better with less to digest.

2. Remember: cotton is rotten! Wear technical, made-for-running apparel. Shirt, shorts, socks, bra. Many running shorts are now made with lots of pockets for holding gels, keys, salt tablets, etc. Consider lubricants for chafing and blister powder for your feet as well. And don't forget to show your plant-based pride with a No Meat Athlete shirt!

3. No new foods on race day. If your marathon is a big one, you’ll get all kinds of free samples at the expo. But on race day, stick with the same gels, bars, and gummies that you’ve used throughout your training. If you've still got time to test them out on a few long runs, try fresh dates (remove the pits) for your during-run carbs: fast-digesting, convenient, and packing a lot of sugar in a small space, they're like nature's energy gels!

4. Don’t have a time goal. Go slow first, fast later. Don’t make your goal for your first marathon anything more than just to finish the race and enjoy the fact that you’re doing something incredible (because that's what you're doing, you know). Go conservative until you hit mile 20, and if you're one of the few runners who still feels good then, feel free to speed up.

5. Don't obsess over protein. Look, of course you need protein. But a gram per pound of bodyweight per day, or whatever other crazy number that Crossfit guru you met told you? Nonsense. Elite vegan athletes -- those who choose to eat this way precisely because of what it does for their performance -- consistently tell me they get 12 to 15 percent of their calories from protein. So if you're eating 2,500 calories a day, that comes  out to about 80 to 90 grams of protein. Instead, it's carbohydrates -- simple and complex, but mostly unrefined -- that should make up the bulk of your day-to-day fuel.

6. You need more than just a training plan. In the moment you decide that yes, you're going to run frickin' marathon, it's tempting to just download a plan and get started. But it's this mistake that dooms most runners before they even start.

In addition to a plan -- and one that's designed for first-timers, to prevent injuries first and foremost -- you'll need a nutrition strategy (plant-based, of course). And a recovery plan, for in-between workouts. And the right mindset, starting with getting crystal clear on your goal. And of course, a plan for race day -- how you'll pace yourself, what you'll eat, and how you'll win the mental battle every marathoner has to fight.

It's a lot, but that's what it takes. You can either get this stuff from a bunch of different sources -- and there are plenty of great ones out there. Or you can get it all in one place: the Marathon Roadmap, my complete plant-based, start-to-finish system for running your first 26.2.

7. BYOTP. That’s “Bring your own toilet paper.” Thousands of runners + race-day jitters = bad news for the TP supply. Stash some in your bag or your shorts. A few other items to bring along to the start:

  • A garbage bag -- can keep you dry, keep you warm, or double as a privacy stall if the Porta Pot lines are long
  • Throwaway shirt and gloves -- in case it's cold at the start
  • Safety pins -- count them to make sure you've got four; it's no fun to run around race day morning looking for an extra pin for your bib
  • New shoes -- they last 300-500 miles but lose half their cushioning much sooner; get new ones and break them in a week before the race



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Large 36.5" - 39" 30" - 32.5" 40" - 42.5"
Extra Large 39.5" - 42" 33" - 36.5" 43" - 45.5"
Double XL 42.5" - 45" 37" - 39" 46" - 48"

Men's Moisture-Wick Short and Long Sleeve Shirts

Size Chest to fit
Small 40"
Medium 42"
Large 44"
Extra Large 47"
Double XL 49"