Thoughts About Running
By Madeleine Cummings Eat Like an Olympian
Have you ever conquered a cookbook? It took six months and a kilogram of almond f lour, but I finally did it: I made every recipe in Run Fast. Eat Slow the cookbook by American Olympian Shalane Flanagan and her college teammate, Elyse Kopecky.
The cookbooks I own tend to languish on my shelves, so I didn’t buy this one when it came out in August 2016. A few months later, someone handed me a “superhero muffin” on a ski trip. It was rich and chocolatey, with shredded carrots and zucchini hiding sensibly behind nuts and oats. I went out and bought the book, but only on the condition I would actually use it.
At some point, that pledge evolved into the loftier goal of trying all of the book’s 100-plus recipes. It was a daunting task, but if a dehydrated Shalane Flanagan could make it to the finish line of the 2016 U.S. Olympic marathon trials, surely I could find the aisle in my grocery store where cheesecloths are sold.
Some runners have a fraught relationship with food. Others belong to the If the Furnace Is Hot Enough, Anything Will Burn School of Nutrition. I’m somewhere in the middle – conscious of the nutrients my body needs but grateful for the desserts I can inhale without consequence.
Six months of eating like Shalane Flanagan didn’t turn me into a faster runner and I’ve always been someone who eats at a glacial pace, but the experience did give me more confidence in the kitchen and new ideas about what to whip up after practice.
Using fat as fuel
At the beginning of the book, the authors dedicate nearly a full page to the benefits of eating fat. Olive oil, coconut oil, unsalted butter, whole milk yogurt, nuts, seeds and avocados are common ingredients in their recipes, and for good reason. As they explain, fats fill us up for longer and help our bodies absorb vitamins and minerals. Female runners who don’t get enough fat in their diets can suffer hormone imbalances and potentially bone loss and fertility problems down the road. Though the authors don’t discourage snacking, I found I relied on it less because the meals in this cookbook left me satisfied for a long time. This cookbook would be a valuable resource for university student runners learning to cook. Ingredient information and a list of solutions for common runner ailments (like anemia and digestive issues) bookend the recipes.
Run all the miles, eat all the nuts
Nuts may be wholesome and delicious, but with this cookbook as my guide, they had a way of making my weekly grocery bill cost more than a pair of running shoes. Hazelnuts are cheaper in Oregon, where the authors live, but a kilogram bag in Alberta costs more than $30. Pecans, walnuts and cashews aren’t cheap either. The f lourless almond torte (fantastic, by the way) calls for six eggs, five cups of almond f lour, a cup of maple syrup and a cup of almonds. At that rate, why not pay someone to bake the cake for you? Cutting down costs
and removing obscure ingredients like dulse (dried seaweed) or, I kid you not, chicken feet, would make the cookbook more practical. Shalane might have coconut sugar and ras el hanout (a Morrocan spice blend) lying around, but the rest of us don’t. I learned how to make lasagna with sweet potatoes, hummus with beets, pesto with cashews, even couscous from caulif lower. Several recipes from Run Fast. Eat Slow. made their way into my biweekly rotation. One of my favourites was the fig and pig quiche, which I slaved over on a Saturday night and served again for brunch after a long run the next day.
The turmeric pepitas recipe alone made the cookbook worth buying, giving me an easy, iron-rich snack to bring to work. If you have no intention of buying the book (or finishing this column), promise me you’ll try roasting pumpkin seeds with a little butter, honey and spices.
Friends don’t let friends bake with teff flour
Of course, there were duds. The millet pizza pies, which feature prominently on the book’s cover, have no right calling themselves pizza. Each one disintegrated into a grainy pile of chick-pea-f lavoured crumbs and not even my boyfriend, who loves cottage cheese and dutifully ate a salad with sardines in it, wanted any part of these. Worse still, the pizza imposters leave you with two baking sheets, a sieve, saucepan, food processor, spatula and measuring cups to clean, plus more dishes if you made the suggested pesto and marinara sauces from scratch.
I’m not interested in experimenting with teff f lour ever again and the recipes for the Swiss muesli bowl and zucchini quinotto also yielded disappointing results.
Now that I’ve shaken the last sprinkle of sea salt on a bowl of Olympian-approved soup, I can finally shelve Run Fast. Eat Slow.
I’d like to say I can take a break from cooking, but the authors have a sequel coming out…
Cummings puts her nutrition to the test and wins the Calgary 10K