My Story

Welcome to Vegan Runner Eats! I am very excited that you’ve visited my site!

Forks Over Knives has recently published my story on their site, you can read it here.

I always knew that I would eventually become vegan.

For the longest time it seemed to me that I was just looking for excuses as to why I couldn’t do it just yet. The main excuse? I thought that it’s too darn hard! But let me take a few steps back and tell you who I am.

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I was born in Uzbekistan – a country that used to be a part of the Soviet Union. The latter collapsed when I was about to start elementary school. I am so grateful now that I was just a child during that uneasy era, so I didn’t have to worry about anything. My parents both worked jobs that would delay paying the workers for many months (the unfortunate trend that could have been followed all over the newly collapsed USSR), and in these conditions they did everything they could to put food on our table. I remember the joy we had over a frozen chicken that my mom had bought after having to stand in line for hours – only to have to boil it for at least three hours because the bird had turned out to be really old!

There are a lot of stories from those days that I could bring up here, but I have to say that I am endlessly grateful to my parents that despite all hardships, they still managed to give me and my brother a happy childhood. They provided us with an opportunity to be creative, artsy, compassionate, and it’s thanks to them that I developed my love for animals. As a child, I found it unfair that we were eating some animals – even the ones that seemed so cute to me in real life. I remember spending the summer in the village with my mom’s relatives when I was five: my mom’s aunt made soup with one of the chickens that I had developed a liking for – and I refused to eat it because the news of that chicken’s passing was heartbreaking!

Okay, enough of the sad chicken stories 🙂 . When I turned 13, my family moved from Uzbekistan to Russia, and my focus switched from saving all animals to the generic teenage stuff. As I got older, I got more interested in nutrition and fitness. I was a lousy athlete throughout my childhood, so getting straight A’s in all school subjects and barely passing gym had gotten old eventually. I wanted to improve. I started doing some research, mostly on how to get better athletically and lose some of that lingering baby fat (ugh, it’s sad that nearly all teenagers have had to deal with some type of dissatisfaction with their appearance  – this is the first time I admit to having dealt with it myself). Most of the information I found came from random magazine articles and even some hearsay, but some of my efforts eventually started paying off: I got much better athletically by the end of high school, and also I discovered my love for cooking. It turned out to be so much fun to create my own recipes!

This proved to be quite handy once I went off to college. Cooking for myself every day after classes was a zen-like experience: it helped me relax and took away the stress of college life. I witnessed some of my college friends go through bouts of eating disorders (another sad, sad thing that’s all too common), and this made me wonder if there was a healthier way of looking and feeling good without ever feeling guilty of what you just ate.

My life changed shortly after I turned 21: I decided that I was never going to get fulfilled as a person while living in Russia, so I decided to move to the United States of America. This part of my life could provide enough material to a separate blog – or a book – so here I’ll only focus on the nutritional and exercise aspects.

I noticed quickly the difference between Russian and American approaches to eating. In Russia, everybody cooks, every day (at least one person in the family to provide meals for all family members), and going out to eat is reserved to big occasions. To this day, my parents only go out to a restaurant maybe once or twice a year.

Things are quite different in America. While some families put in the effort to cook often, the majority still heavily depends on takeout/fast food etc., and a lot of people believe that cooking at home is too complicated/more expensive/only a Thanksgiving affair etc.

I don’t want to talk ill here about my new home country: after all, I grew to love it a lot and believe that it’s the best place in the world (trust me, you know that I compared!). It also became clear to me that even being Russian and maintaining Russian habits of cooking at home couldn’t guarantee staying healthy. In my first year in America, I was renting a room from a Russian family that had lived here for a few years. They cooked at home every day, and yet shortly after their arrival to the US they all developed diabetes. I got curious if there was more to eating right than just making your own meals at home , but there were still a few years before I first heard about the benefits of plant-based nutrition.

And this is when I discovered running. How handy it turned out to be! I started running in the evening a few times a week, and soon was able to go 2-3 miles at a time. I continued to cook at home a lot, mostly recipes of my own invention with lots of added vegetables .

In the years that followed, I tried to maintain my running routine as much as I could. There were a few breaks, however, mostly work-related (16-hour workdays, anyone?). In the spring of 2010 I recommitted to my running – and even registered for my first race, a 5k! That race was a huge success: I managed to finish 3rd woman overall, which gave me so much confidence (I’ll admit that the field was very small though 🙂 )! Needless to say, my newfound love for racing gave me a reason to keep running. I ran my first half marathon in November 2011 in Pensacola, Fla (I’ve done 7 of them to date), and then, encouraged by my fiance (now husband) Rob, did my first full marathon at the same venue the following year.

As I became more interested in running and maintaining good health, I started doing more research. I realized that in order to be a healthy runner, one needs to embrace strength training. And when it comes to nutrition, switching to a whole foods plant-based (WFPB) diet is the best thing one can do. I learned from the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall about the existence of successful vegan endurance athletes. Watching the documentary Forks Over Knives answered more questions that I ever had (honestly, the latter took 2 times to watch: I was very impressed after watching it the first time, but didn’t make a switch because Rob was skeptical. I thought that it would be too hard to do it on my own. After the second time I watched the documentary, I decided to be strong and give it a try. It helped that Rob wasn’t as skeptical anymore 🙂 ). Lastly, I was glad that I could finally love animals without feeling like I was living a double-standard life.

I keep finding more and more information about the goodness of plant-based diet every day. I decided to start this blog to help people who are also new to the vegan lifestyle, or are only considering giving it a try. I want to unite lots of good resources that I’ve learned about, and recipes that I develop, as well as document my preparation for my first all-vegan marathon in order to (hopefully) inspire all of you with my story!

Thank you for visiting my blog! Give yourself a pat on the back for reading this, um, rather lengthy post!

Good luck to all of you!

-Alina

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(This post contains a few affiliate links to products on Amazon.com. If you make a purchase through these links, I receive a very small commission that will help me in running this blog – at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!)

16 Responses to My Story

  1. Sue Walker says:

    Hey Alina!! Good for you..I still toy with the idea as well.. I have a Vegan friend, and she makes it look easy.. She said there’s alot to learn, but once you know it all it’s easy..She looks at ingredients in everything and knows what they all are.. I may end up Vegetarian as well.. I want to lose weight and be healthy.. I would run more if I could, but after that accident we had in 2005 I’m not supposed to run, my neck will bother me, but I do the walk jog thing.. I love your blog.. I always like to see new info.. I’ve seen the forks over knives and other movies Very interesting!! take care , Sue

    • Alina says:

      Thank you Sue! I know how you feel: I’ve toyed with the idea for a while before finally committing to it. It seems hard at first, but once you figure everything out, it’s actually quite enjoyable! I created this site to share what I’ve already learned, and to help people who are still debating to show to them that it’s doable, and very good for their health! I hope you find all this info helpful!

  2. Britt Jordan says:

    Inspiring story Alina! I committed to this change six months ago after watching Forks over knives- my family is not on board. My struggle is the cooking- I work full time (family of five) and find the recipes are very time consuming in addition to planning menus and purchasing ingredients. This is very hard but I am trying. I’m going to try some of your recipes.

    • Alina says:

      Thank you Britt! I’m impressed with your commitment: sticking to a plant-based diet must be pretty hard if you’re a working mom and the only vegan in your family. It might be a bit easier if you double some recipes and make them last for a few days (casserole-style dishes and stews usually keep well). I’ll try to post more of the simple recipes that don’t take too long to make. Also, Pinterest is a good resource for recipe inspiration, it helped me a lot when I first went vegan! Anyway, good luck to you, and stay in touch!

  3. PartyGirlFit says:

    Thank you for this Alina – I loved reading your background story about your path to becoming a vegan. I recently watched Forks over Knives and did a blog post about it because I was so shocked and overwhelmed by the information in the film. I’ve been considering a plant-based diet for awhile now, but like you, my husband is skeptical. We’ve slowly started changing our habits and we are eating animal-based products less and less.

    It’s not that hard once you get started, but convincing your partners can be hard!

    Thanks again for this!
    PartyGirlFit

    P.S., we are slightly related 🙂 your brother-in-law is married to my husband’s cousin, Deepa 🙂

    • Alina says:

      Wow, this is awesome, the world is so small! I think I saw Deepa ‘like’ some of your stuff on Facebook before, I’ll definitely stop by to check out your blog! Glad to hear you decided to give plant-based diet a try! Like I said, my husband was skeptical when I first made the switch, but I tried not to push him and always told him that the decision he made should be his, not mine. For the first 2-3 months, he continued eating meat every now and then (when we went out to eat), but after that he stopped, especially when he evaluated all of the evidence I presented to him (Forks Over Knives, T. Colin Campbell, John McDougall, Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., Michael Greger, etc.). Now his determination is even better than mine sometimes!

      Anyway, good luck on your plant-based journey – and I’m glad to meet another fitness and health blogger!

  4. Carla says:

    Hi Alina, Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve been mostly vegan for about 17 years. Recently my husband and I joined the Peace Corps, and we are now living in Kirovograd, Ukraine and struggling to speak/learn Russian! I have enjoyed shopping at the bazaars here for fresh produce, but I’ve been disappointed to find little to no leafy greens! We’ve been eating cabbage every day as our green, but I do think we would be healthier with the dark leafy greens in our diet, too. Are greens just not very common in this part of the world? Do you know if we get the same nutrients from cabbage as we do from something like kale? Thanks!

    • Alina says:

      Hi Carla! The observation you’ve made is correct: for some reason, dark leafy greens are not very popular in Russian and Ukrainian cuisine, and cabbage is the most common cruciferous vegetable used. Before moving to the US, I’ve never heard about keeping the turnip greens after harvesting turnips – the green turnip leaves are usually just thrown out. In fact, the word ‘kale’ in Russian is something like ‘cabbage for animal feed’. With all of this being said, there’s no reason to worry: cabbage has lots of nutrition, just like other leafy greens, especially vitamins A, C, K, B6, as well as potassium, calcium, and folate. Hope this was helpful, and good luck in your Peace Corps mission!

  5. David says:

    Alina, Thank you for sharing your inspiring story and ongoing plant based adventures. I found your blog through Forks over Knives. I am very impressed. It is simple, personal and accurate information like this that is needed. Keep up the good work. My wife and I are health educators, 69 and 67 respectively. She has been vegan all her life and I have since I was 22. It is so refreshing to see your enthusiasm as you learn and experience the benefits of the plant based lifestyle.

    • Alina says:

      David, thank you for your kind words! I’m very impressed that you and your wife have been vegan almost all of your lives! Glad you liked my blog, I’ll try to keep up the good work!

  6. Hi Alina,

    I just found your blog and am very intrigued. My story is similar in that I recently became a distance runner too and am very conscious of what goes into my body during the racing season. I am particularly fascinated by plat-based diets and distance running.

    Anyhow, if you haven’t read it already, pick up a copy of Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run. It’s a lot like Born To Run, in fact Scott Jurek is one of the characters in Born To Run, but it adds a lot more about Jurek’s plant-based diet and his discoveries regarding veganism and distance running. I promise you’ll love it. Keep me posted!

    • Alina says:

      Hi Mariposa! I’ve actually read Scott Jurek’s book last year and liked it a lot! A few wisdoms that I took out of the book (in combination with watching Forks Over Knives for the second time) helped me finally make a decision to switch to a plant-based diet. A few of Scott’s recipes have become staples in my house, like his recipe for refried beans, for example.
      Good luck on your running journey!

  7. Tek says:

    Hi Alina, I have become one real vegan for half of year and about 2 years without any meat. Next month ,I will try my third marathon for my PB ,so I would like to use your website font of logo “vegan runner” to paint my T-shirt, do you mind it ? 🙂

  8. Carrie says:

    Hi Alina, I am so happy to have found your page/website/YOU 🙂 I have been running steadily for a few years now… Finally ran a half last year and am about to commit to running A FULL in Oct 2015. I register on 1 Feb. No one knows. They will all think I am crazy… Even crazier? I am planning on doing it VEGAN. I’ve been a veggie for years but am going for it. I have found it’s hard for me to avoid dairy… but it’s mostly about planning. Eating at home is a must :)Anyway — happy to know there’s a place out there where I can find running/training on a plant-based diet information/encouragement. I really enjoyed reading about your upbringing… Let me know when you write your book; I’ll read it.

    • Alina says:

      Awww thank you Carrie, your comment just made my night! Go for the marathon, absolutely, you can do it regardless of what everybody around you thinks. Glad that you’ve found my blog resourceful! I’m training for my 3rd marathon which will take place in June 2015, so there will be plenty of updates! Hope that helps you too! And good luck on your vegan runner journey!

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