“Ever since I started tackling longer distances, I began to realize what an important role nutrition plays in my performance. It’s literally just as important as sleep, or the amount of time I put into my running. Eating healthy helps me recover, makes me happy and enhances my overall training. ” — Shalane
Shalane Flanagan is an Olympic medalist, four-time Olympian, American record holder, and world-class marathoner. She finished second at the 2010 NYC marathon and ran the fastest time ever by an American woman at the 2014 Boston Marathon, completing the race in 2:22.02. At the 2014 Berlin Marathon, Shalane ran a personal best of 2:21.14, the second-fastest time ever by an American woman.
Nike has sponsored Shalane since she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004. She has been running at an elite level for 16 years and typically runs 100-plus miles a week. She attributes her ability to sustain this level of training to her nutrient-dense diet. Focusing on fueling for health and performance is an integral part of her training regimen.
“Outside of training the single greatest thing an athlete can do to improve their performance (and their long-term health and happiness) is to learn to cook. ”— Elyse
Elyse Kopecky ran cross-country at the University of North Carolina and after graduation she moved to Portland, Oregon to work for Nike as a digital marketing producer. Elyse’s career eventually took her abroad, where she took cooking classes throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. Armed with amazing recipes from around the world, Elyse began cooking from scratch to fuel her athletic endeavors. She discovered that by incorporating more fats into her diet, she was stronger, healthier, and happier than ever before. She quit a successful marketing career of 10 years for the chance to help others eat right and moved to New York City to study at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. Elyse is a nutrition coach and speaker, New York Times Bestselling author, chef, and a proud mother (her daughter is now 2 years old). Elyse lives and runs in Bend, Oregon.
Shalane and Elyse just published their new book “Run Fast Eat Slow: Nourishing Recipes for Athletes” – a New York Times Best Seller. This duo reveals their recipes and daily diets that help fuel their running while also helping them achieve & maintain their ideal ‘racing weight’. This past week I was able to catch up with both of them and learn their training and diet tips!
FitRX: Hi Shalane and Elyse! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. You both have such an inspiring background and list of achievements. How did you meet each other?
Shalane: We met our freshman year at UNC Chapel Hill on the first day of cross-country practice. We became fast friends and lived together our Junior and Senior year. Over the years our paths stay intertwined and we both moved to Portland, OR to work for Nike (Shalane as an elite athlete and Elyse as a digital marketing producer).
FitRX: Your book, Run Fast Eat Slow, is a New York Times Best Seller! Congrats! I really enjoyed reading it and have tried a couple of recipes already from it which turned out great! How did you come up with the idea? What is your passion behind the book?
Elyse: Three years ago Shalane and I were sitting around her table in Portland with our husbands sharing an incredible home cooked meal of burgers, sweet potato fries, kale farro salad and of course our favorite local IPA. We hadn’t seen each other since I had moved abroad to Switzerland—we had so much to catch up on. Slowly our conversation drifted from laughing over college memories to talking about our dreams for the future.
I told Shalane how I had suffered from athletic amenorrhea for 15 years which was why I was side lined with stress fractures throughout college and why for years doctors told me I would have trouble getting pregnant someday. I then filled her in on my miraculous recovery when I moved abroad to Switzerland and my diet changed, from low fat yogurt to whole milk yogurt, from bland white meat chicken breasts to whole roasted chicken, from processed spreads to real butter, and from frozen veggie burgers to full fat grass fed ground beef. This indulgent diet that we had learned to label in our country as unhealthy actually made me stronger, happier and healthier than ever before (and I didn’t gain weight). It was a life changing experience that inspired me to walk away from a successful marketing career to study at a culinary nutrition school in NYC.
Shalane shared with me the burdens she felt with her own diet (even at her elite level), how she always felt hungry while marathon training, and how she dreamed of making her 4th Olympic team. Maybe Shalane also just needed more butter in her life.
This got us thinking. What if we wrote a cookbook to inspire runners everywhere to ignore the latest diet trends and instead indulge in real food? We knew we could make a difference in thousands of lives. But how would we take on this massive project, what if nobody wanted to publish our book?
An entire year went by where we talked about our dream but hesitated to make the leap. Fast forward: Lily (my toddler) was born. Shalane was feeling stronger than ever before on her revamped indulgent diet, we finally wrote our 50 page book proposal, and we had 8 publishers interested in our book. There was no turning back now.
Since the launch our cookbook has appeared in Runner’s World, Outside Mag, Women’s Running, Food and Wine, and the NY Times, to name a few, and we just returned from NYC where we shared some favorite recipes on Good Morning America.
The knowledge that is the basis of our book helped me achieve my dream of starting a family. Lily is my greatest accomplishment in life. And Shalane achieved her dream of making her 4th Olympic team and lead TEAM USA to its first ever top 10 finish in the marathon.
FitRX: What a cool story! I love how your struggles became your passion and is now a solution for many other runners going through those same things. On to training — Shalane, you are an amazing runner. What would be your best piece of advice (or more) for women who want to improve their running pace?
Shalane: Find a running partner who is faster than you to train with! A teammate will keep you accountable and push you to keep going.
FitRX: How have you found your running to be impacted by your diet?
Shalane: In the past I would feel a burden with my “diet”. I worried about whether I was eating the right foods and how it would affect my performance. Elyse taught me to cook with good fats to add flavor and nourishment and to focus my energy on the quality of food instead of measuring quantities. Since adding more fat into my diet, my racing weight comes naturally and I’m running stronger than ever before.
FitRX: That’s so great to hear! Elyse – as a mom, what is one of your favorite recipes to make with/for your kids?
Elyse: Lily loves helping me in the kitchen. Her favorites are the Superhero Muffins, Beet Hummus, Arugula Cashew Pesto, Broccoli Chevre Soup, Whole Roasted Chicken, and Spelt Banana Bread. (all recipes can be found in “Run Fast Eat Slow”)
FitRX: Those all sound really good. I am a middle school health teacher and find that most kids just want to eat food that tastes good, even if they know there is a better choice. What advice do you have for parents to get their kids and little athletes excited about eating healthy, whole foods?
Elyse: Healthy food can be indulgent and nourishing at the same time. Don’t be afraid to cook with butter, olive oil, coconut oil and other healthy fats. Fat makes everything taste better and is essential for brain development in young kids.
FitRX: That is great advice! For both of you, what is your favorite recipe from the book to eat the night before a long run (or night before a race)?
Shalane: Sweet Potato Salmon Cakes
Elyse: Flu-Fighter Chicken and Rice Stew
FitRX: I’ll have to try those with my 2 half marathons coming up later this fall! You have both achieved so much in the past 10 years – your greatest accomplishments in life as you said earlier — what is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Shalane: “Pressure is a privilege”
Elyse: My toddler has taught me to slow down, be present and playful, and experience joy in the littlest moments.
FitRX: Both are great pieces of advice. Thank you for sharing! Is there anything else you would like to share?
Elyse: Long after recipe testing was over, we continue to cook from our own book. We never tire of these recipes. This is the food we feed our families and ourselves on a daily basis and we are so excited to share our nourishing dishes with athletes of all levels.
FitRX: That’s one of the best testimonials an author can have of a book! Thank you SO much for your time, and we wish you the best with the rest of your book tour and future endeavors!
Shalane and Elyse: Thanks too!
For more information on Shalane and Elyse, and Run Fast Eat Slow:
Shalane Instagram: @shalaneflanagan
Elyse Instagram: @elysekopecky
To order book: amazon, barnes and noble, apple ibooks, books a million
Other sites, Elyse: indulgentnourishment.com