Running Trails, Eating Plants, and Sharing What I Pick up Along the Way

Running Trails, Eating Plants, and Sharing What I Pick up Along the Way

Saturday, October 4, 2014

009 Interview With Productivity Coach/Vegan Ultrarunner Jeff Sanders

Hi friends, in an effort to continue to connect to the larger community of vegan trail runners, I'm going to be interviewing some people who I look up to. Today's post is my first interview experience, but Jeff put up with me and provided some great insight. I asked a bunch of running related questions, some questions about diet, and some other questions that I have a personal interest in. I enjoyed it, and I believe you will too. 

Among many other things, I'm a sucker for personal development. I've been listening to Jeff Sanders' 5am Miracle Podcast for several months, and it's inspired many positive changes to my daily life. His podcast is about much more than waking up at 5am; I'd encourage you to check it out if you haven't already. He does a much better job describing who he is and what he does, so here we go: 

First, please introduce yourself and tell us where we can connect with you more.

Hey there! I'm Jeff Sanders, host of The 5AM Miracle Podcast, which you can find at In addition to my weekly podcast episodes I also write a new blog post every week at about dominating your day before breakfast. I am a productivity coach, author, personal development fanatic, and avid marathon runner. I also eat a vegan diet filled mostly with raw fruits and vegetables. 

When did you start running? I seem to remember that it was during your time at Truman State, but did you run as you were younger as well?

Growing up I was active in many sports including soccer and track & field during high school. I was a sprinter and high jumper, but never a long-distance runner. I began running as a sport the summer after my junior year in college. I had just returned from a study abroad semester in Prague and I was desperate to lose weight and get healthy again. Running was my best idea to jump start my fitness and it worked. 

When did you decide to start ultra running?

I began running ultras after I had already run about 6 marathons. The more I ran, the more I wanted to run. Ultras are a natural progression from marathons.

When was your first ultramarathon? And are there plans for more?

My first ultramarathon was the Nashville Ultramarathon in 2010. I ran 50k (31 miles) and it just about killed me. I ran that same race again the next year and ran a bunch of ultras in training in the years after those races. I don't have an ultra on the calendar at the moment, but one of my bucket list goals is to run the Leadville 100, which is a 100-mile mountain ultramarathon in the Rockies of Colorado. So, I will certainly be in training for another ultra soon.

Why did you begin running ultras? What attracts you to the Lon distances and the trails?

I began running ultras because running is addictive and I wanted to push myself to see how far I could run before I hated it. Turns out that I start hating it around 35 miles, but that can improve with more running. I love running trails more than anything because I love being outdoors and it's more comfortable and challenging to run on dirt, as opposed to concrete or asphalt. I love long distances because I can transform my mind and body in ways nothing else can. It's incredibly powerful.

Did you dive right in to ultras or did you take it slow? For example, did you get "comfortable" or confident running half marathons before running a full, and the same with full marathons before a 50k, before a 50 miler, etc.

My very first race was a full marathon, so I didn't take it slow in the beginning. But, after that I did back track and build more endurance before I built up to my first ultra. I have a tendency to not train enough for my races, which makes race day very difficult and forces me to have to dig deep to finish the run. It's not a good strategy and I will be changing that going forward. Training makes a big difference and I want to be able to enjoy my ultras, not just survive them.

What percentage of your runs would you say are with other runners?

Zero. I only run alone because I don't know very many people who actually want to do what I do. Also, I prefer to run alone. I get the chance to think, clear my mind, and make plenty of mistakes.

Would you call yourself a "runner" as if it is part of your identity, or is running just something you do?

I didn't call myself a runner or a marathoner until after I had run 3 marathons. It was very challenging to think of myself as a runner for a long time because it wasn't part of my identity. Now, I am proud to say I am a runner and I love talking about it!

What are your favorite pair of trainers, and why?

I have a pair of New Balance 980s that are very comfortable and fun to run in. I normally don't like running shoes with a lot of cushion, but these are hard to beat.

What are some social barriers that you run into as a vegan and as a runner? Things like eating out with friends, being asked the same questions constantly, etc. This question can also be interpreted as what are the most annoying things about the lifestyle you chose?

The social barriers were tough at first. Now, the only annoying thing is meeting new people who think being vegan is dangerous or just plain weird. Fortunately, more people are vegan today than ever before and more options are available to vegans. My friends and family have no problem with my diet and going out is easy. I can find great vegan food at 99% of the restaurants I go to. 

What is your background as a vegan/vegetarian?

I ate a standard American diet for the first 25 years of my life. That means that I ate what most Americans eat: meat, cheese, processed food, fast food, and otherwise really fatty and unhealthy junk. In 2010 I read a few great books and watched the documentary Earthlings, which converted me to a vegan overnight. Now, more than 4 years later, I have tried just about every form of veganism in existence. I have been a vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, vegan, raw vegan, low-fat raw vegan, and even a junk-food vegan. Today, I eat a vegan diet with as much low-fat raw fruits and veggies as I can.

I've heard you say a few times that you follow Dr. Graham's 80/10/10 diet. What prompted you to make this choice other than reading his book? And how closely do you follow this diet?

I was initially inspired by Michael Arnstein, who is a very successful ultramarathon runner. Michael eats the 80/10/10 Diet and promoted it like his life depended on it. I was convinced to read the book, but I wasn't initially that impressed. Eating that much raw food seemed a bit extreme. I tried it for a few months, then stopped. Two years later I gave it another try and it stuck. I am a huge fan now of 80/10/10 and I really believe it's the healthiest diet on the planet. I follow 80/10/10 principles every day, but I wouldn't call myself a person who eats 80/10/10 because I do eat cooked food. My goal is to eat more than 50% raw fruits and veggies every day, which is easy with green smoothies and plenty of bananas.

What does a day of eating look like for you?

Every morning I start with 1 liter of water, a double espresso, and 64 ounces (2 liters) of a green smoothie. I snack on fruits until lunch and then I normally eat rice and beans or something similar. I drink an afternoon tea and snack on more fruits. Dinner varies, but I try to eat a salad along with either soup, gluten-free pasta, or another smoothie. 

What is your perfect smoothie recipe?

My favorite smoothies include all organic tropical fruits that are in season, ripe, and fresh. My favorite fruits are bananas, pineapples, and peaches. In my experience, nothing beats a pineapple and peach smoothie in July or August here in the US. 

What are you reading right now?

I just started reading Spark by John Ratey. It's a great book that makes the connection between fitness and brain health. In short, working out is better for your brain than your body and it's a really good idea to exercise consistently even if you're not training for a race.

Are you a fan of the mainstream professional sports in the US? If so, who are your teams?

I would not call myself a sports fan because most men in the US know A LOT more about sports than I do. I can't keep up with the conversations, so I don't even try. I do like to follow my hometown Missouri Tigers in American college football. I also like to watch baseball during the playoffs, especially if the St. Louis Cardinals are playing. 

What are some of your non-running and non-business related hobbies or passions?

I really enjoying backpacking and mountain climbing. Depending on the trip, climbing mountains might even be more fun for me than running. I also love international travel, so I try to leave the US at least once a year.

I don't believe you're a beer guy at this point in time, but I must ask what your favorite beer is right now?

True, beer doesn't like me very much. I have a lot of digestion issues with all the carbonation in beer. But, I do enjoy a great dark stout on tap whenever I can find one. I live in Nashville and there are plenty of great craft breweries in town with great vegan beer.

You've mentioned that you're involved in Christianity, would you say that running has impacted your spiritual life in any way?  

Great question. Running was one of the main reasons I reconnected with God and my spiritual journey. Running has a profound way to clearing my mind and allowing me to reflect on the beauty all around me. I can't help but feel closer to God when I run.

I want to thank Jeff for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this for me. Be sure to check out his podcast, and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook

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