Shalane Flanagan, the long distance runner who set the American course record for the Boston marathon this past spring, was one of the many experts kind enough to talk to me about a very real phenomena known as runger. The Daily Burn described it best when they said, “It’s that insatiable feeling when you decide you can — and should! — eat everything in sight.” If not carefully managed, this feeling is quelled by so much pizza and shame.

I myself am guilty of walking that thin (crust) line in the weeks leading up to a race. In this case, it was the Staten Island Half-Marathon held this past Sunday, Oct. 12. Since Staten Island would be (or now, was) my second time taking down 13.1 miles, I thought it would be interesting to see how much of a difference, if any, Flanagan’s diet made on my running. “Fueling appropriately before, during, and after my sessions allows me to train longer and harder and stay all the more healthy for it,” Flanagan initially told me. “I emphasize a diet that optimizes performance, which to me means eating as clean as possible as well as taking in nutrient dense foods.”

Challenge accepted.

Eat Like Shalane: My Four-Week Diet

This is what a typical day of marathon training looks like for Flanagan: Coffee with creamer, and oatmeal topped with banana, walnuts, honey, and berries for breakfast; either a sandwich with whole wheat bread, turkey or eggs, cheese, spinach, avocado, and veggies, OR a large salad with kale, spinach, nuts, dried fruit, veggies, protein (chicken, steak, or turkey), farro, and crumbled feta for lunch; occasionally a side of yogurt with fruit, dark chocolate and tea with almond milk; and more protein, veggies, such as sweet potatoes, asparagus, beets, as well as some kind of grain, like quinoa or farro.

Before, during, and after her actual workouts, it's all about sports drinks for electrolytes and hydration, plus KIND bars for their natural, low-sugar combo of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. This mix of ingredients helps build and recover muscles, while keeping runners energized and full.

The good news was that a lot of these foods were already staples in my diet. Commuting in and out of Downtown New York means I’m religious about overnight oats; it cuts time when I’m rushing to make the bus, and it saves me from spending money on something near the office. I basically keep avocados in my desk, and afternoon tea time is the best time. My one major problem with this list was the zero mention of wine. Red or dead, amiright?

So, my challenge "rules": Stick to as many, if not all, of the listed foods for breakfast and lunch, while incorporating at least three ingredients for dinner. Since my stomach and sports drinks don't agree, stay hydrated with water and recover with low-fat chocolate milk.

Week 1

My first day on the challenge… and I failed at breakfast. I had a plain, whole wheat bagel with two cups of black coffee. Though, I made up for it later in the day by piling chickpeas and veggies on my spinach salad at lunch, enjoying a side of black tea, fruit, and a KIND Blueberry Pecan bar later in the day as a snack. Dinner was this Southwestern quinoa salad from Mark Bittman, hitting on the vegetables and grains. The lack of meat-sourced protein is because I try and keep with Meatless Mondays; cutting meat out of your diet just once day a week reduces risk for a slew of diseases. And since I could never part with a burger (sorry not sorry), this is my compromise. At the end of the day, I didn’t feel more or less hungry than usual. I even skipped the half box of cheese nips I choke down while waiting for dinner to get done.

I stick with overnight oats for the rest of the week at breakfast (this recipe is the truth), a variety of veggie-packed spinach salads for lunch and dinner (adding chicken back into the mix after Monday), leftovers of Bittman’s salad for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday before getting into that turkey sandwich, KIND bars and an Insomnia Cookie as a snack. I loosely interpreted Shalane’s dark chocolate indulgence to mean a double chocolate chunk. I have a feeling that was not really right.

While I felt strong during the week (despite it being too soon to tell if I was benefitting from a few days of particular eating), my average pace recorded on MapMyRun did not improve from the last run I recorded prior to this challenge. On Sunday, it straight up went in flames. I made a huge no-no in having nothing but breakfast before I went on my long run. The Gu (liquid gel I use) was helpful, but towards the end I got lightheaded and felt like I might get sick to my stomach for the first time since I’ve taken up running, including previously training for a half.

Week 2

I start the week off again with no meat, and with an omelet instead of oats. I add spinach, tomato, and mozzarella cheese, which did a decent job of keeping me full until lunch. Since I was running errands, I grabbed a sandwich with hummus, tomatoes, avocado, and a green juice from Trader Joe’s. It’s the first day of fall, so pasta fagioli soup for dinner it is; tons of tomatoes and complex carbs from the whole wheat pasta. Topped with parmesan cheese, this soup was a dream.

The rest of the week recycles the salmon dinner my family had on Monday, as well as a Middle Eastern Black Bean Salad I previously prepared in order to yield tons of servings to help myself to during the week. Training resumed on Tuesday, and I averaged a pace 1:33 quicker than the near-barf one I schlepped through on Sunday. I can't understand how I managed a faster pace while the run itself felt harder, but I'll take it.

The good news continued when I shaved off another 1:59 off my average pace during a Thursday night tempo run in Central Park (this means a portion of the run is done at a comfortably hard pace in an effort to build speed and endurance), averaging my lowest pace since training started. Aaaand that’s where the good news ends. The high from crushing that run unconsciously gave me a green light to enjoy more brownies and pizza than Flanagan would probably approve of. My long run on Sunday is another nightmare too, but not for lack of nutrition. It's uncharacteristically hot for this time of year and demanded a lot of water and walk breaks. My average pace falls back by nearly three minutes.

Week 3

Another meatless start to the week, another omelet with spinach, tomatoes, and part-skim mozzarella cheese. I heat up some lentil soup for lunch, pair it with a whole wheat pita, and whip out the Runner’s World Cookbook to make their recovery Portobello and asparagus pasta. I’ve made this pasta before and the pesto is like, drool. I can’t even articulate what it is, but I officially can’t buy the store stuff after making my own.

As I get further into the week, I start to work Flanagan's staple foods into other meals to keep things interesting, mostly swapping oats for two hard-boiled eggs and whole wheat toast. That seems like a great idea until Wednesday when I fall all the way off the wagon into a pile of Pringles, runger just out of control. My actual note for the middle of this week was, Oof.

I don’t even make it out for my tempo run that Thursday, though I inch back onto the wagon with large spinach salads for lunch and dinner — each topped with chicken and a mix of vegetables and fresh parmesan cheese —before falling back off due to consecutive birthday celebrations. The pace for my last, long run of training increased by an additional minute (that's almost four total since my stellar run in Central Park), though I did conquer a hill thanks to Beyoncé's "Countdown;" duh.

Week 4

Speaking of countdown, I'm officially on the clock for the half. It's the last week of both training and the challenge, and my schedule is much more hectic than usual. I managed to keep Monday meatless and fresh, while the rest of the week is for oats, monster-sized spinach salads with veggies, topped with either wheat berry or couscous salad, and black tea. I’ve upgraded my KIND bar to a thinkTHIN protein bar to better hold me over on the bus ride home, so that I go for the run and not the fridge. My pace comes back down a minute for my final tempo run, yet I’m not feeling as optimistic as I'd like to be. Then, my note for that final Friday says it all: CARBZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

That brings us to the actual race day. I physically felt OK, strong for a few miles too, but something was going on with me mentally. I finished, don't get me wrong, but my unofficial time was not at all what I hoped. I took a lot of breaks to walk, convincing myself not to bail completely at mile nine, and eventually saw the finish I wasn't entirely certain I'd cross through teary-eyes. My colleague who ran the same half-marathon describes this kind of struggle much more eloquently, here.

Of course, none of this is for lack of beautiful weather, a decently flat course, and amazing support from friends and family. You just can never really expect what you're going to feel the day of a race, no matter the distance. And at the end of the day, a finish is a finish.

What I Learned

In terms of eating only from Flanagan's list, I failed the challenge. I could have been so much more strict, but commuting, poor sleep, and even poorer food choices all got that best of me at one point or another. OK, at a lot of points.

Yet, there were days my runger wasn't an issue, my muscles strong rather than sore (something I chalk a lot up to the carb- and protein-rich chocolate milk), and there was that one glorious week where my eating was on-point, my paces were down, and I 100 percent did not feel bad treating myself to a milk chocolate brownie. (I don't normally anyway, but that's a whole other story.) There was also that week not fueling properly nearly made me sick on my run. In that respect, the challenge was a success. Food, as Flanagan preached, is a vital component to success. It's not the only component, but I can't deny the impact it had on my body and performance when choosing to focus on it.

It's all good to know for when I chase that PR in the spring.