I grew up in Adelaide, Australia and I am back living in Adelaide with my family after spending 5 years living in the US on an athletic scholarship from 2014-2019. My parents have always been active people, and this rubbed off on me from a young age. When my older sister Immy started Little Athletics, I followed her out there and found my passion for running.
While I took part in all events, as the distance got longer, I got better! I made my first state team when I was 11 years old for cross country, even at state level I wasn’t winning the races, always coming second or third and usually just happy to make the national championship events.
After graduating from high school in 2013 I accepted an athletic scholarship to compete and study in the American college system (NCAA) and moved to New York at just 18 years old. After spending 18 months at St John’s University in NY, I transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle where I earnt my Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Psychology and improved substantially as an athlete. I became school record holder in the 5,000m and 10,000m finished third in the NCAA Championships in the 10,000m.
However, during this time I suffered from multiple stress fractures in my feet which interrupted my training and competition. I was still fortunate to represent Australia at both the 2017 and 2019 World University Games where I placed 6th and 7th respectively.
I moved back to Adelaide after graduating in 2019 and spent several months rehabbing an injury. When races finally opened at the end of 2020 I started on a breakout season, lowering my personal best from 15:41 to 15:04 across the season to eventually qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in the 5,000m. I broke the South Australian state records in the 3,000m and 5,000m multiple times, and broke into the top-10 all time on the Australian list for the 5,000m and 10,000m. I signed a professional contract with ASICS and had my first taste of racing on the European circuit in the lead up to Tokyo.
Outside of my own running I have a recreational running coaching business called RunAsOne with my partner Riley where we coach 200+ runners.
More about Izzi can be found on her RunAsOne bio.
What inspired you to become a runner and how long have you been running competitively?
I started running because of my older sister as I looked up to her and wanted to do whatever she was doing! I made my first state team 15 years ago when I was 11 years old. I have been taking my running more seriously since I was 17/18 years old when I decided that I wanted to pursue running past junior competition.
Please share your vegan story and whether you encountered any challenges along the way.
When I was about 12 years old, I went vegetarian because my older sister was. We had grown up not eating a lot of meat, mainly fish and chicken so it wasn’t a huge transition. I bounced around from vegetarian, back to eating a regular diet, and then was pescatarian for several years. I cut out dairy when I was 16 years old and never looked back. I tried to go vegan when I was 17 but it only lasted a week because I was scared out of it by those in the running community who were afraid of how I would be an athlete and be vegan! There weren’t as many resources or role models out there at the time, and the options for vegan food weren’t as good as they are today. When I moved to the US the food quality was not as good as in Australia. I did a research project on the meat and dairy industry and after learning more about that I cut out eating fish and eggs and went vegan at the end of 2014. At that point I didn’t care if it affected my running negatively, I knew it was what I wanted to do. However, it turns out it was beneficial for my running! While going full vegan was brought on by ethical and environmental reasons, I am vegan for life because of the health benefits and the way I feel.
Based on your experiences, what is the attitude towards veganism in athletics at the elite level, particularly running? Is it generally accepted?
It’s come a long way! When I first tried to go vegan almost a decade ago when I was 16 years old, people were very were not accepting of it and I was scared out of it! These days there are a lot of athletes, especially runners and endurance athletes who opt for a plant-based diet. I would say now it is quite accepted, and people seem to realise that plant-based foods are the ideal source of fuel for a runner.
Have you noticed a difference in your health and in your athletic performance since going vegan?
I have noticed a difference in my health! I used to get the yearly cold or even more frequently, now since being vegan I’ve only been sick once in the last six or seven years! My athletic performance has improved astronomically but that is likely more to do with other factors such as training and years in the sport. I do think that my plant-based diet helps me to recover faster and helps my body continue to perform at its best.
What type of training do you do in preparation for a competition?
My normally weekly schedule is about 150km per week, broken into two hard sessions (Tuesday intervals and Friday threshold session), two long runs (90 minutes Wednesday and two hours Sunday) and the rest is just easy running of 60-70mins per day and 30min double runs on my session days. I usually do gym twice a week or some sort of core/Pilates strength work. As I get towards racing my sessions become more race specific and my weekly volume drops substantially.
When preparing for a comp, do you follow a certain meal plan? Or do you eat what you normally eat day-to-day?
Usually, my races are in the evening (track races, road races in the morning usually) so on race day I tend to eat bland foods that won’t upset my stomach. Lots of carbs like oats, sourdough bread, rice, pasta etc. and fruit, maybe a smoothie, peanut butter that sort of thing. I just cut out the excessive fibre and fruit and vegetables that I would eat on a normal day.
While at the University of Washington you had suffered from several stress fractures in your feet. How did you recover from those injuries and bounce back to eventually run an Olympic qualifying race in May this year?
My injuries came as a result of a number of factors such as footwear, wrong sizing, not enough strength work, overtrained and racing too frequently among other things. A lot of people told me I would have stronger bones if I wasn’t vegan, but I had a bone density scan, and my levels were good. I recovered from these injuries by modifying my training, getting the right footwear for my feet, getting orthotics, and doing specific strength work and getting regular treatment, and listening to my body. Also being out of the college system has helped because I don’t race so frequently, and I can make my training a little more individualized as I don’t train with a big team. During this time, I also developed a lot of resilience and mental strength which has helped shape me into the athlete I am today. Now when I race, I am grateful to be healthy and have the opportunity to compete, and I know that nothing will ever be as painful as when I was crippled and couldn’t run.
What advice would you give to those who are vegan curious or new to veganism who would like to improve their physical fitness, and more specifically, to those wishing to pursue competitive running?
Don’t let other people tell you how you should eat! Starting to focus on eating more plants is a good start, you don’t have to go fully vegan or even vegetarian overnight. It’s okay to take it in small steps. Make sure you are getting enough fuel in to keep up with your physical requirements, sometimes eating a plant-based diet you’ll need to eat more volume. Come prepared with snacks so you don’t get caught out somewhere not being able to eat something. Don’t be afraid to ask at a café or restaurant if they can do a menu item vegan/vegetarian. Focus on eating the foods that you enjoy! Look up fun meals to make on Instagram/TikTok etc., to keep it interesting.
We’d love to hear about your experience representing Australia at the Tokyo Olympics. Please share one or two of your memorable moments, on or off track.
One of my most memorable moments from the Tokyo Olympics was walking out into the stadium for the first time about 5 minutes before the gun went off for my race. I walked out and was just overwhelmed with emotion as I looked out into this big, bright, empty stadium. It really hit me then that I had made it to the Olympics and was about to officially become an Olympian, while it was a beautiful moment it was also a little strange! With such a big and empty stadium all you could hear was the camera clicking and not much else. Another highlight was getting to watch a few nights of athletics after I had competed, I was front row watching the men’s high jump final where two athletes shared the gold medal, while on the other side of the stadium a world record was broken in the women’s triple jump. It was amazing to see so many highs and lows for athletes. Some of my best memories from the Olympics were just running around the village loop with my teammates and going to the dining hall and seeing all the other athletes from different countries and sports.
What’s next for Izzi?
I’m looking towards next year’s World Championships in Eugene and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. I hope to earn a spot to represent Australia there! Not too far down the road is Paris 2024 which I have my eyes on. Another focus of mine now is building my growing coaching business RunAsOne which I founded with my partner Riley last year. We have over 200 runners in our community, and I love helping others enjoy running as much as I do. My studies in psychology have taken the back seat now while I focus on my running career and other pursuits in the next few years.
Are there any runners or other vegan athletes you admire that you’d like to mention?
I was lucky enough to be on the Australian Olympic Team with several other vegan track and field athletes, Morgan Mitchell (800m), Cat Bisset (800m) and Eleanor Patterson (HJ).
Can you recommend any running groups/clubs that people could join if they’re interested in taking up running?
I founded a recreational running coaching business called RunAsOne last year with my partner Riley. We have group sessions here in Adelaide on Tuesday and Friday at 6:30am at Victoria Park and coach athletes remotely from other states or countries. I think that having a fun environment to train in and a structured plan are both incredibly helpful for achieving your goals and getting the most out of yourself.
What has been your favourite running experience so far?
I have been lucky to have so many incredible running experiences including going to college in America, travelling Europe and competing at the Olympics. My best running experience so far has to be running the Olympic qualifier and a six second personal best. In May 2021, I took a big risk and went to Europe in the peak of COVID to try and secure an Olympic selection. After arriving in The Netherlands less than a week earlier, I crossed the line winning my first race in Europe but most importantly securing an Olympic berth. The race itself went perfectly, I felt good and nailed the pace I needed to run, crossing the line overjoyed to have achieved a lifetime goal.
What is your favourite vegan meal to make?
Vegan Mac & Cheese! Gluten free macaroni with a sauce made from pumpkin, cashews, nutritional yeast, and other yummy things, mixed through with broccoli and cauliflower for some extra veg. It’s so delicious and comforting and easy to make!
What’s your favourite track to run and compete at?
Racing in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium was very cool, but some of the best atmospheres at a track race where my two races this season in Finland in small towns called Joensuu and Lapinlahti!
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