Hello Strong Runners! This week we are featuring Sarah Mac Robinson, a mom, 2:42 marathoner, and qualifier of the 2016 Olympic Trials. Sarah shares with us some wisdom she has gained throughout her running career and reminds us of how incredible our bodies are and the great things they can do!
- Who are you? Sarah Mac Robinson, 33, Tacoma WA, Oiselle, Distance road runner
- Short description of running experience or greatest achievement? I have been running competitively since 6th grade. Ran XC and track for Colorado State (D1). I broke my back my freshman year of college and didn’t rehab correctly, it led to a lot of frustrations and body limitations. I quit competitive running and then returned in my late 20s, and qualified for the Olympic Trials after having my first baby at age 32.
- What is your your favorite pre-workout snack? Meal? I load up a bowl of oatmeal with almonds, walnuts, banana, chia seeds, and maple syrup before long run and workout days. … then try to run 1.5 hour after that.
- How do your refuel after an easy day? Hard day? My body responds best to simple foods. Steak, sweet potato, salad is my go-to meal when I need to refuel. I just eat what I feel like eating and try to cover all my bases on protein, veggies, fruits and so on.
- When it comes to running and nutrition, do you believe they go hand in hand? Absolutely. I am prone to swing into low blood sugar dips and it’s impossible for me to run on low energy. Calories are energy. You need energy. When I am most diligent about ingesting enough calories and the right nutrients I perform best, recover best and keep making gains. Consistent attention to food as fuel is key.
- Many runners believe they need to cut calories to run faster times. Do you believe that you need to be “thin to win”? Absolutely not. It’s so superficial and such a myth. How many times have you had your ass handed to you by someone “bigger”? Yeah. But everyone is different, so it’s not wrong that Paula Radcliff was the size she was at her peak. You know what I mean? Be you at your best, whatever size that is. How I got past it when I was in my 20s was to think of people as different animals. Like she’s a giraffe, she can’t be a grizzly bear. And that grizzly bear would suuuuuck at running if they tried to look like a giraffe. But a grizzly bear at peak grizzly bear fitness? Unstoppable.
- Eating disorders are a very prevalent topic in the running world, more so than they used to be. Why do you think that is? I’m glad we’re talking about it. I recently listened to Rachele Schulist on the FloTrack podcast (On the Run) talking about her Instagram post that went viral. Basically it showed her at her skinniest, but she was depressed and anxious… not thriving as a person or athlete and then at a healthy weight for her feeling competitive, strong and like herself. I’m sad it was so “shocking”. I’m sad we’re still talking about this. But I’m glad we are if we still need to. What stood out to me in her story was the healthy environment she’s in. Every coach should be as healthy as that coach, a lot of coaches would have asked her to lose weight. It’s effed up. It needs to start at the top with the people in control, the people kids look up to… that’s who sets the bar.
- Have you ever struggled with negative body image? If so, how did it affect your running? Absolutely. And here’s the sick part, my college coach and team environment were the influencers. My coach made an example of a very small specific body type, explaining that was how you should all look. Luckily there was one upper classman I really admired who called bs on it and tried to undo the damage he’d done. But it spread like a cold on our team some seasons. Most were depleted by Nationals, mentally and physically. I wish I could go back in time and tell my college self to not waste one moment on that noise. And to see food as fuel. For the most part I did, but there were times I was doing more mental gymnastics than I needed to.
Also during months (or years) of injury, it was hard to keep a healthy perspective on my body. It wasn’t performing, and I was really down, I was watching my strong muscles soften. When my body wasn’t my tool, that’s when I was most disordered in my body image and my eating patterns.
I am personally what I call a type C person… meaning I have no patience or self control so anorexia was never for me. I literally don’t have the control for it. But disordered eating? Anyone can play that game. Even me. And it’s easy to hide. I think it’s important to talk about the gray area. Where you’re not skin and bones, or starving yourself, or purging… but you’re participating in disordered eating. When you’re hyper focused on food in an unhealthy way and it’s interfering with your life and health (mental or physical).
- If you could give one piece of advice to younger runners, what would you tell them?Disordered eating, food obsession, and body image distraction is a huge waste of time, and a joy suck. You only have one life and one body, feed yourself food that works for you and get on with it. There’s better things to fill your mental space with. I know that’s oversimplifying it, and that I’m lucky to have never dealt with an actual eating disorder, but I encourage you to take steps to break the disordered eating cycle right where you are. And if you’re healthy, be sure to encourage those around you to join you. Be the person that shows them they can break the cycle.
- What are five staple foods in your diet? Hmm steak, potatoes, veggies, fruits, nut butter… Wonka candy.
- Do you have any healthy food hacks? I work with what works for me. In the winter I have a really hard time eating cold veggies, so I find ways to sneak them in muffins, soups or smoothies. If I want something I eat it. And I always think about addition, never subtraction. Add more healthy fat, veggies, and fruit… naturally other things will subtract (candy, junk).
- What is your favorite pre-race meal the night before? Steak and sweet potatoes or pasta and meat sauce. Then a huge bowl of Cheerios right before bed.
- Ultimate post-race meal or treat? I never deprive myself, so I’m never like dying for some forbidden food. But a burger always feels right. I’m a huge red meat eater… I’ve tried to be vegetarian twice but it just wasn’t for me. Red meat is my life source.
- Any last words of wisdom? Do you. We are given these perfect amazing bodies, they aren’t empty shells to look at, they are incredible tools. Be true to yourself, be gentle with yourself, treat yourself like your own best friend. And enjoy this wonderful wild sport and life!