Running the Houston Marathon Vegan Style

Today’s guest post is by Triumph Wellness reader and vegan runner, Kanishka deSilva.  I want to thank Kanishka for writing this post for us and congratulate him on his vegan marathon finish!


As soon as the gun went off, the rain started.  I knew it was not going to be a day for a PR (personal record)!  I was among the 12,000 marathoners and 13,000 half marathoners who had trained hard to achieve a personal goal and the time has come to execute it.  The weather on January 13, 2013 in Houston, Texas was wet, cold and windy.  The wind was gusting at 15 to 25 mph. The Cold Front bringing arctic cold air slammed into Houston around 6.30 am on race day just before the 7.00 am start time.  Despite this nasty weather and the challenges I faced over the next few hours, I am proud to say that I completed the full marathon that day in a time of 4:24:29!!

I started running about 10 years ago.  As years went by, I needed a goal to keep me motivated and continue running.  I did 5K’s and 10K’s for a couple of years. During this time I was a non-vegan and ate a typical meat centered diet.  I love nature, wildlife and the environment.  As an environmentalist, I participated in local environmental causes and supported national organizations such as WWF, Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund.  As I read about what causes harm to the environment, I realized that raising meat is one of the worst environmental offenders!  So I started to cut back on meat consumption.  I also started to realize the effect of red meat on my health and the benefit of eating vegetables.  I slowly removed meat, poultry, and finally dairy from my diet and became a vegan in 2009.   I was still running and competing in 5K’s and 10K’s.

Each year in January, the local TV station provides live coverage of the Houston Marathon. When I watched the coverage, I wished that I was at the starting line ready to run rather than watching it from the comfort of the living room couch.  But running 26.2 miles was a huge jump from your typical 10K.  In 2011, I joined a running club that was formed at my work place and started to run with some co-workers.  We had folks who were Ultra Marathoners and some who couldn’t even run 1/2 mile.  Each week we added miles and our training runs extended to 5 miles.  A few times we did two laps and I was able to finish 10 miles!  It was an awesome feeling to complete a 10 mile run and I knew that I was ready to do a 1/2 marathon.  My fellow runners urged me to register for a local 1/2 marathon in March 2011.  My goal was to finish the 13.1 miles.  I finished in 2:10:16 at a pace of 9:56 min/mile.

By this time I was a total vegan and my vegan lifestyle certainly didn’t stop me from finishing a half marathon in good time.  So I set my sight on the next goal, the Houston marathon. During the training for the full marathon I read about Scott Jurek, one of the top ultra marathoners in the US who is also a vegan.  Jurek writes about running, veganism and how to get proper nutrition when you are a vegan runner.  He was an inspiration for me as I prepared for my event.

In 2012, the runners in our club were running hard and fast in July-August, the worst times to run in Houston. Some days the temperature would be 95F with 98% humidity in the evening and we would still go out and run. My times were slowly improving and I PR’d most of my races in 2012. I PR’d the 5K, 10K and the half Marathon distances in 2012. I shaved off 15 minutes from my first 1/2 marathon and finished in 1:55 at a pace of 8:49 min/mile. My vegan lifestyle was definitely helping as I was running faster despite getting older.

On January 13th my big day arrived and with it, that horrible winter storm! As the marathoners started off, the atmosphere was electrifying and my adrenaline was in full swing. I was not used to running in a rain poncho (rain coat) and it took me some time to adjust to it. At 5K, I was running at 8:52 min/mile pace and realized that I was going too fast. I slowed down and was still making good time. At 15K, the weather was taking a toll. My pace has decreased to 8:56 min/mile and the cold windy rain was still coming down in bursts. My fingers were numb and I could not even reach into my pouch to get my energy gels! At the half way mark (13.1 miles), my pace has dropped to 9:06 min/mile. I was really slowing down and if I ran slower than this my finish time would be over 4 hours. At 30K, my pace was 9:28 min/mile! I resigned to the fact that my goal of finishing below 4 hours was over. A few miles after the 30K my legs started to hurt. The muscles were screaming for oxygen and energy and I had to slow down and walk as my legs refused to run.

At this point my goal was just to finish and forget about getting a PR! I think I lost interest in the race when I knew that I would not be breaking the 4 hour mark. The mind does play an important role in racing! If the mind is not fully engaged with your goal, things starts to fall apart. I believe training the mind to keep your goal in the radar is as important as training your body to finish 26.2 miles. As I was so tired and exhausted, I slowed down considerably and added a some walking to give my legs a break. As we headed back to downtown, the rain had ceased and the crowd was getting larger. I grabbed some oranges that folks were handing out and that gave me a little boost. As I got closer to the finish line, I gathered up the last few grams of energy and pushed on. My wife was there to cheer me and I put on a brave face for the camera. As I crossed the finished line, I was overcome with mixed emotions. Happy to finish the marathon but dejected that I could not achieve my goal.

The hardest part was walking back to the car to get home!

The weather affected everyone who braved it and ran that day. None of the top finishers in the full and the half marathon established records or PR’s. The local newspaper mentioned that only 40% of the marathon runners started the race. The normal dropout rate is about 10%. Out of the 60% who started, 98% completed. Which is really good. I guess only the die hard runners were at the start line. I am still trying to figure out what I could have done differently that would have changed the outcome.  During the last two months of training, I had started to change my diet based on Dr Fuhrman’s Nutritarian program. I feel that I may have not consumed adequate calories as my weight went down by about 4 pounds during the last month before the race. Maybe I should have increased my long run from 20 miles to 22 miles and increased my calorie intake to compensate for the change in the diet?  I will take notes of all these issues and adjust my training plan for next year.


Personally, completing the Marathon was a great achievement for me and the most physically demanding event that I have done.


  1. Congrats on the finish, Kanishka! What a terrible day for a race, but you still pulled through. I think you did great. But, keeping up with your training and taking lessons from this experience, I don’t doubt you’ll do even better next time. Happy Trails!

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