Meg Lewis-Schneider has a personal best of 1:15 in the half-marathon, and 34 minutes in the 10k. Those times are impressive in and of themselves, but what makes them even more formidable is the fact that she only began training seriously in 2016.
Meg went from being a recreational runner to an elite athlete after she completed her undergrad and moved to Vancouver. In just three short years, she was preparing to run the Houston Half marathon, with the goal of running a 1:13. She was doing her tempo runs comfortably at roughly a 3:25min/km pace, and her weekly mileage had reached 140km.
Sadly, the race did not turn out the way she had expected. Instead of a fresh new pb, Meg left Texas with disappointment and a bone injury. Despite being in the best shape of her life, she wasn’t taking care of her energy demands.This deficit finally caught up with her in Houston.
“When I was getting faster, my weight was dropping naturally. My body was being sculpted into the body it needed to be to endure the intensity I was training at and be able to move with efficiency,” she explained.
Things began to change, however, in 2017, when Meg decided to switch to a vegan diet. She got her first stress fracture in March 2018, but instead of recognizing this as a sign that she wasn’t fueling properly, she carried on with her diet protocol. She had what she describes as a “tunnel vision mindset”.
She recovered from that injury, and her times continued to drop. She was smashing pbs, until eight months later when a second stress fracture sidelined her training.
“This was when I got my wake up call. “Something is really wrong” I thought. It’s not just the high volume and intensity of training, it must also be me not fueling enough or properly.”
She went through a period of major self-reflection, where she questioned everything that she was doing. She made the decision then to leave Vancouver and began working with a leading sport physician in Victoria.
Upon the doctor’s advice, she went off birth control, only to discover that she had no natural period. At the beginning of 2020 she was barely training and eating a lot more, but unfortunately the damage had already been done. Her bone density was osteopenic. Just before the pandemic hit in March, she got yet another stress fracture, this time in her sacrum.
By July, her efforts to increase her food intake began to pay off. She got her period back, continued to meet her energy demands, and was able to return to running. Unfortunately, her body was still dealing with the effects of the last few years of energy deficiency, and she got another stress fracture in her femoral neck in September.
“In total, I’ve had four bone injuries. Two were a result of over-training and improper fueling and the most recent two, were my body still paying the price for the consequences of being in RED-S.”
Meg says that her biggest challenge nutritionally was not realizing how controlling and obsessive she had become about her training and her diet.
“It is not a bad thing, to take immense pride in your training and your nutrition, but there is a fine line that you don’t want to cross. I wanted to perform my best, day in and day out, and I thought in order to do that, I needed to eat very clean and train a lot.”
Unfortunately, this passion resulted in a lot of over-training. Even when her coaches put rest days in her program, Meg would swim, bike, or do power yoga. Gradually it became hard for her to simply relax. She also recognizes now that she was pushing the pace too hard on her easy days. She notes that even if you can run a comfortably quick pace on those runs, you need to save that fire for hard workouts to avoid burning out.
“Maybe it was fear screaming, “You are going to lose fitness if you take a break””, she said, “but now, I know that is bullsh*t! You actually gain so much more from those do-nothing-days!”
In regards to nutrition, Meg wishes now that she had kept the mindset she had prior to elite running. That mindset was to eat and enjoy everything, and to have diversity. She adds that there are no rules or necessary diets to follow.
“Eat what you feel, when you feel, and never be scared of eating too much or eating junk food, because sometimes, you need it whether it’s for emotional reasons or your body is really needing to be replenished.”
Additionally, Meg says that you should never be judgmental toward your nutrition habits, never copy someone else’s way of eating, and never compare your body to someone else’s. She also says don’t diet- runners should never diet!
Meg says the only thing you should worry about is “am I getting all the food groups in each of my three main meals?”, and ensuring that you aren’t too busy to skip a meal. You will run your best and feel your best when you’re getting enough calories and enough abundance in your diet.
“When I was in RED-S, I lost my sense of humour, my personality, my vitality and my zest for life. I was a shell of myself. Sure, I could execute workouts and run fast races, but I had nothing left to give to relationships, friendships, work, other hobbies.”
According to Meg, the biggest key is to be mindful and smart with your training and eating. If you want to go far in this sport, she says, you need to make sure you’re having fun and eating for strength and durability.
Meg says that it is critical for athletes and their coaches to understand what RED-S is and how easy it is for anyone to slip into it. She believes that it is up to all of us to hold ourselves, our athletes, and our training partners accountable, because if it goes undetected it could be career-ending for some.
In her opinion, a questionnaire like ALPHA is a great tool to investigate if an athlete is at risk for RED-S. As for the app, she would use it to ensure she doesn’t slip back into RED-S again, and as an educational resource.
“I don’t ever want to go through what I have gone through again, and I appreciate apps being developed -- like ALPHA -- that reinforce what a healthy athlete needs.”
Finally, Meg has one last piece of advice, both for her former self and other athletes out there:
“You gotta just keep doing what you’re doing, consistency and hard work is more important than trying to change something to get instant results. Your body will be the size and shape it needs to be just from your training, eat all types of food and eat ENOUGH. Avoid comparison. What one person is doing with their training or what one athlete looks like, means nothing. Stay in your own lane. Find what keeps your vitality and strength in check and stick to it. Don’t be obsessive either. Balance and fun are just as important as fast times!”