Inspiration from Roy Pirrung, Ultramarathoner: Transform Your Life with Mediterranean Diet & Lifestyle
A couple of months ago, I discovered a truly inspirational story about Roy Pirrung, ultramarathoner. As an ultramarathoner myself, I was so excited to read his story about his transformation into health through running. In addition to changing his life by becoming more active, he improved upon his running performance by adopting The Mediterranean Diet. He truly eats in The Mediterranean Way, with a diet that includes plenty of olive oil, lots of fruit and vegetables and other anti-inflammatory foods. He goes the “extra mile” as a runner by eating lots of omega 3’s and making his own all natural sports nutrition. You’ll see from his biography below that he has a long list accomplishments as an ultramarathoner. He is a member of the National Masters Track and Field Hall of Fame, has broken over 70 national records and earned 82 national titles. These are just some of his accomplishments.
In addition to his running successes, Roy is a true leader and speaks in front of groups about his transformation. It is his passion to help others make the changes they need in order to improve their health and outlook on life. Thank you for taking the time to talk with Mediterranean Living, Roy!
Christine: Roy, you have quite the amazing transformational story. Tell us about your health transformation and what motivated you to make such dramatic changes in the ways that you eat and live?
Roy: I had developed bad habits in my early 30’s. I was overweight, not exercising, eating unhealthy foods and drinking too much. Then, I read a magazine article about how one forms almost all of their habits by the time they are thirty-five. That was the beginning of my wake-up call.
Soon after I read the magazine article, I noticed a young woman in the neighborhood who was obese, yet was often managing to run for about an hour and a half. I thought, “If she can run, I can too.” So, I took up running and soon started running marathons. All of that weight and inflammation came right off!
After about three years of running, I met some runners at a race and we got to talking about healthy eating. I started to re-think what I was putting into my body for both health reasons and for running performance. Then, I met a couple who own a bakery who eat the Mediterranean Diet. Getting to know them helped me to transform the way I was eating.
Here’s the funny part of the story. I talked to my neighbor about how impressed I was with her running. It turns out that she was running ¼ mile away to the nearby McDonalds, reading the paper, eating danish and running back! However, years later I ran into her at a co-ed sauna at an athletic club. She recognized me, but I didn’t recognize her. Over time, she had also made a big transformation and was now very fit and healthy.
Christine: “Everything in moderation” is commonly recommended for all aspects of life. How do you think one can practice moderation in eating and running?
So much depends on perspective. For me, running 50 miles is moderate. Personally, I eat as many calories as I’m expending when I run an ultra. I keep water coming in. And, for my training I eat amino acids, proteins and carbohydrates. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes. I try to stick to the basics and go the more natural route. I don’t fall for those commercial drinks marketed to athletes.
My diet is very high in omega 3’s. I try to eat healthy all of the time. One time, I made the mistake of eating things I normally don’t eat-pork hocks and potato dumplings. And, I didn’t eat this in moderation either. I was reminded of how important it is to eat right for performance after experiencing a terribly sluggish run.
Christine: Your ultra running and leadership accomplishments are truly inspirational. I’m also impressed with your embrace of The Mediterranean Diet. How does The Mediterranean Diet affect your personal health and your running performance?
After I met my friends who own Natural Ovens Bakery, I began to make some changes. I ate more omega 3’s and moved away from eating red meat to a more plant-based diet. I now eat a lot of flax seed and include it in my energy drink mix that is high in omega 3’s. When I did the Spartus One (Spartathlon), a 155 mile race in Greece, we had a hard time getting our drink mix through the Greek airport security. Once they found out we were running Spartathlon, like magic, we got right through.
I also use olive oil in my cooking. Every day, my wife and I have a couple of Greek salads. My typical diet for the week includes: lots of salads, fruit, fish (3-4 times per week), a little bit of bread and lots of olive oil. I don’t eat any dairy products.
Christine: Have you introduced others to The Mediterranean Diet?
I speak to a lot of groups, especially kids, about ultra-running and living a healthy lifestyle. I naturally talk about healthy eating and The Mediterranean Diet. I let them know how I felt better and improved my performance by eating Mediterranean.
People often eat way too many calories and fill up on the wrong foods. For example, on Thanksgiving, people will eat twice as many calories as they should. And, not all of the food is healthy that is served up on Thanksgiving.
Christine: At Mediterranean Living, we describe the Mediterranean Diet and lifestyle as a healthy way of eating that also encourages regular exercise and mindfulness. How does mindfulness fit into your lifestyle?
Well, first of all, you need a healthy brain. I keep my brain healthy by focusing on including lots of omega 3’s in my diet. This helps me keep focused. A lot of people lose focus because their brain is not working as it should.
I also try to be mindful. To be mindful is to be aware of everything that is going on around you. Be mindful about what is in your food. Eating healthy will naturally help you to be much more mindful. Mind, body and spirit are one.
Christine: As a distance runner, I’ve run several marathons and a couple of 50k’s. I’m motivated to eventually run longer distances with a goal of 50 miles next year. What is most essential when preparing for running long distances?
You have to be well-prepared. Run more and more. Be “on your feet” for longer periods and build yourself up slowly and gradually. It’s also important to ensure that you have no bio-mechanical issues. Some runners turn to chiropractors and massage therapists to keep their body aligned and in good condition. It’s also helpful to use essential oils.
I also use electrical stimulation as a type of acupressure. I apply electrical stimulation to particular trigger points on my body. Doing this changes electro-polarity and allows nutrients to return to the effected location.
Christine: My daughter Sam, who’s 20 years old, is here with me. She’s so excited about having the opportunity to hear your story. We’re traveling together this fall for her first marathon. What are some of your best bits of advice for young people for successful distance running and staying healthy?
The biggest key for young people doing long distance running is to be consistent with your training plan. Be sure to also focus on nutrition and hydration. Eat a balanced diet with a focus on healthy foods instead of processed foods.
Also, I recommend hydrating and beginning to use sports nutrition two days before your race. Also, as a rule, one should not increase the longest single run of the week, or weekly mileage, by more than 10%.
Christine: I understand that you are in the midst of writing your biography. What is the essential core of your story that you want to share with the world?
I will be sharing the story of my transformation. I want the readers to know that they can change. I would like to motivate readers to do things they never thought they could do.
Christine: Is there any other exciting news you would like to share about your plans for the future?
I have about 2,600 miles to run to get to 100,000 running miles. I want to keep running Boston and return to Greece for Spartathlon for the 5th time. I would also like to run on two continents I have not yet stepped foot on–Oceana and Antarctica.
Christine: Do you have any last parting thoughts to share with our Mediterranean Living readers?
Eat right to feel right. Keep experimenting and fine tuning to find out what works best for you. Every body is different. Also, keep reading and learning to continually develop your mind and keep your brain healthy.
About Roy Pirrung:
Roy Pirrung has been involved with all aspects of running, at the local, state, national and international level, as an athlete, coach, mentor, official, course measurer and administrator. He is a member of the National Masters Track and Field Hall of Fame, has broken over 70 national records and earned 82 national titles. Roy’s expertise is in running ultra marathons, distances further than the 26.2 mile marathon distance, but he has also competed in the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, where he broke the course record for his age group during the marathon leg.
He is an Army veteran, member of Team Red White & Blue (TRWB) and mentors combat veterans and also supports the USO and VFW. He has been a race director since 1982 and has directed nearly 50 races. He has been the co-chair of the Road America Run-Walk for the American Cancer Society for 15 years. He has been writing about running and related subjects since the late 80s, including 6 years as a weekly newspaper columnist and currently writes for Runners Health. His story of inspiration has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Runners.
As a sponsored athlete he has been able to travel extensively and has run over 50 times, in 20 different countries. He is an avid speaker and a member of Toastmasters, having served as president of his local chapter. He has been retired for 7 years, but returned to work as a VIP tour guide for his former employer, the Kohler Company. Recently, he completed his 1,000th race by crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon, then returned to the start and ran it a second time, to celebrate. He has coached a Special Olympian for the past 2 years and has been selected to receive the Rookie of the Year Award from Special Olympics Wisconsin, this September, where he was invited to be a presenter.