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I'm a Runner: Alanis Morissette
The rock star talks about her un-rock 'n' roll lifestyle while training for her first marathon.
By Dana Meltzer Zepeda
From the January 2010 issue of Runner's World
Residence: Los Angeles
Tell me about the marathon you're doing.
I've been doing a lot of different cross-training and kickboxing and Capoeira and kite surfing, and I've just really been back to what I consider my original athletic self. And while I was doing that, I just felt in such great form that I had always wanted to do a marathon. I've done a few triathlons over the years and just thought it was time to do a marathon. I don't think I would have been able to commit to the training unless it was infused with some sort of service. If my star of Bethlehem is some sort of service, then I feel like I can push through some of the more difficult moments. I decided to do it on behalf of the National Eating Disorders Association. I think there is no better way to invite a human being to view their body differently than by inviting them to be an athlete, by revering one's body as an instrument rather than just an ornament. It's a really great way to reorient how you see your body so you can see it as this incredible, awe-inspiring machine that you need to fuel well in order for it to function.
Are you raising money for the charity? Are you getting sponsors?
I'm just raising awareness. I'll be putting a link up on my site and, to whatever degree people want to contribute, I'll invite them to do so. But just really raising awareness, not unlike what you and I are doing right now. I've just always felt it's an incredibly empowering thing, particularly for young women, to capitalize on their coordination and their strength. It's a very empowering thing to feel strong in your body.
What's the name of the marathon you're training for?
It's the Bizz Johnson Marathon. It's about an hour outside of San Francisco. It's a trail run. My twin brother [Wade] and I actually decided we wanted to do it in the same week, which is not very unusual for us because we're very telepathic. We definitely have that twin thing. Within five days of each other, we both sent e-mails to each other saying, "Let's do a marathon together." He's 12 minutes older than me and apparently we're doing a marathon together. We literally hadn't spoken about it once any other time so we just cracked up at that. He did some research. We were investigating the Big Sur Marathon. That's one of my favorite places on the planet. But then he found the Bizz Johnson one, and he said he really wanted to do one that's not on concrete. So I, of course, jumped at the thought of being a little gentler on the knees.
How does training for the marathon compare to the triathlons you've done in the past?
Really, distinguishing what stamina means versus endurance. It's really about how I feel in my head and seeing the ebbs and flows of energy levels and how food directly affects my strength or sleep. With the triathlon, the smaller versions of what I was doing, I could barrel through it regardless of what my state was on any given day. For the marathon training, especially some of the longer runs—I have a 14-mile run to do tomorrow—I have to take that into consideration a good 48 hours in advance. I have to make sure I get enough sleep. I have to make sure that I'm eating properly. It's just a larger scope for me.
I read you became a vegan last year for health reasons. Are you still a vegan?
I'm about 90 percent vegan. I think veganism is really well suited for training, at least for me anyway.
There's cleanliness to how I eat now. I'm much more in tune with my body, so now that I'm so in tune based on having become a semivegan, I can tell what foods affect energy levels. I can tell when I've been eating particularly high nutrient foods or I can tell when my glycemic levels are all over the place. The detox and veganism really allowed me to tune into the subtleties of how food affects my body. It's really helped for training especially. I feel like I'm a mad scientist.
What food works best for you?
Kale is my best friend. I eat kale salad. I put kale in my smoothies, kale in my soup. Kale, kale, kale! I feel like Popeye. I love it. I definitely need variety or I get super bored, so I have to mix it up with different sauces and tahini or whatever.
Can you tell me about the book you're working on?
It's a book that can be read in a nonlinear way if you wanted but very linear as well. It talks all about health and well-being and self-care and a lot of philosophy and psychology and anecdotes and essays and humor and self-deprecating humor and tons of photos from my travel. It's kind of a philosophy scrapbook, really.
Is it targeted specifically for women or about body image?
No. I'd say if there were any people I feel I'm speaking to, it's people like me who are sensitive and creative.
Will you incorporate running into the book?
I think so. I'll definitely be talking about this marathon and likely showing a photo of it. I like to think it will be a very exciting weekend.
When is the marathon?
That's not too far away!
Yeah. I'm scared! [Laughs]
I'm terrified, but I'm always terrified. That's never stopped me.
Will your family come cheer you and your brother on?
I believe so. We'll be inviting them all and our close friends. I've been reading a lot about marathon training, obviously. They've been saying it's not a terrible idea to have people meet you along the way and run a mile with you. Wouldn't that be great? But I have to be able to reserve the right to turn to them and tell them I can't speak right now.
Is your brother actually in L.A. training with you or is he training somewhere else?
We met up in Hawaii. I just did an advanced yoga intensive with Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane in Hawaii, so my brother and I did some training together there. But he lives in Vancouver, and I live here in L.A. But we support each other and champion each other online. And we'll phone each other and, when we do get together, we always run together.
How do you motivate each other long-distance?
We just get really giddy and excited when we do our long runs. He'll come home and he'll go, "I did 10 miles," and I'm like, "Right on!" For me, it's turned into such a communal experience because I have some friends here who are doing it with me as well. It's such a feat for the body. And doing strength training on the side and doing some yoga has been incredible and just doing it with people. I don't think I could do it alone. I don't think I could do it. I'm not much of an isolator and, when I do isolate, I feel less empowered.
Before I forget, when is the book you mentioned coming out and what's it called?
I'll likely continue writing it through the end of the year, so I imagine toward the end of 2010 would be a good guess.
Do you have a title yet?
I don't. I have a few of them swimming around but none that have stuck.
What's your favorite way to relax after a long run?
I am a huge fan of a nap, especially after a long run. I think recovery is such a big aspect of training. So if I can work in an hour of free time after my run, I'll do that. I have futons all over my house. Napping is next to godliness for me, so I have futons outside and in the living room and upstairs in my apartment. I live kind of communally, so there are futons everywhere. I have that 25-minute window where I need to eat or drink something super high glycemic after a super hard run, and then I eat every couple of hours at least. There's always good food.
I bet your friends love it because they can always come crash at your place whenever they want.
We crash by the fireplace or wherever we fall down. Stretching, obviously, and ice has become my best friend, which is not the first thing that I would have imagined, but ice has been huge.
You've been doing Weeds and you tour a lot. Have you had any celebrity running partners?
No. The celebrities that I hang out with usually think I'm nuts. I was just in Hawaii doing a yoga intensive and learning how to kite surf and training for the marathon, so most of the feedback I get from people who aren't doing the marathon is they think I'm a little crazy.
Yeah, wait a minute. You're a rock star. Shouldn't you be doing tons of drugs and staying up late and partying?
Yeah. I do have a philosophy that includes kind of keeping the balance. There's no "in moderation" to this for me. There is great care, but I still party and include a little debauchery and some indulgences because I have to. I wouldn't want this to turn into another opportunity for self-flagellation. It's this amazing miracle of a feat, but I don't want to go too extreme in terms of the lifestyle.
What's your favorite way to indulge and party?
I occasionally indulge in red wine, and it's fun to have medical marijuana once in while. I love making martinis for my friends, sitting around the fire and just hanging out. Sometimes I'll go dancing, but mostly it's just all about socially getting together and playing games. Going on road trips is always great.
Have you gone on any great runs recently while you were out of town?
Yeah. Running in Hawaii was pretty profound. I've done a lot of long runs in Big Sur. Those two places would probably be my favorite, and then I've had some pretty amazing runs on treadmills. What's great about a treadmill is you can run alongside anyone regardless of what all your paces are because you're all going at whatever pace you want to go at, so you get to hang out and chat with all these people and you're all running at different paces. I kind of enjoy that too for the conversation part.
Where did you run in Hawaii?
Maui and Paia. I was just running on the beach as well and at the yoga intensive with Maya Yoga. Eddie [Modestini] and Nicki [Doane] are two of the greatest yoga teachers in modern times, in my opinion, so I feel really honored to be one of their many students.
How does yoga help your running?
Yoga completely opens up my hips and stretches my hip flexors and my quads and my hamstrings, and the practice itself helps me be super present and vigilant and caring. I remember doing one yoga class and the next morning doing a half-marathon and I just flew through it. Yoga really just loosens everything up and takes care of any of the cricks and tightness for me.
Do you usually run alone or with a partner?
I run with [my friend] Leah. She actually cooks for me and she's doing all this training for me. We've worked together for many years. She was always a really great runner. That was part of the inspiration. We were running quite a bit together not training for a marathon, just kind of getting in shape together, and she was always really fast. So she kind of became my guru in a way, so I always aspire to run as quickly as her. Then, when I built endurance and stamina after a while, I was keeping up with her. That's kind of how it began.
Have you beaten her time yet?
We try not to get too competitive. We're both pretty fast now, according to our standards, of course. She's hardcore.
What did you love about running on Maui?
It's just hard to be unhealthy in Maui. The food is really great. I always felt really spent by the end of the day. I was staying right by the ocean. The lifestyle there is very relaxed and physically caring. It's kind of set up to be that way. And the reason for going in the first place was to learn how to kite surf and do yoga so the whole orientation of the entire trip was for the care of my body. And Hawaii is just one of the most beautiful places. I love the sunsets and the air and the sky. It's pretty amazing.
Any big pet peeves about other runners that drive you crazy?
I've become one so I'd ultimately be judging myself. Not yet. The runners that I'm running with are all pretty funny people, so I don't have any pet peeves yet. After I've met 150,000 of them, maybe I'll have a different opinion!
What's your favorite song to run to?
There's a lot of really unbelievable songs I really enjoy running to, so I'll send that to you. I would be so honored to know your readers were running to it too because, to me, running to music that raises my vibrations, even lyrically, it's so important to me. There's a vulnerability when I'm running. I feel like such fertile soil when I'm working out, so what I'm listening to almost takes on this whole other level of importance. I can't listen to music or lyrics that frustrate me or aren't on my wavelength because I get a little freaked out and I have to change the song immediately.
So which body part hurts the most after you finish a run?
I would say my right knee this week, but every week is a different part. After certain runs, my hamstring will hurt. My ankle will hurt. But so much of it is also eating in a way that reduces the inflammation. Sometimes you've got to rock the ibuprofen, but the longer the runs get, the more important it is to sit in an ice bath to get that inflammation down. There's a lot of great books out there. There's a book by Mark Hyman. His book is called Ultra Metabolism and he talks a lot about anti-inflammation in those books and there's a lot of stuff on the Internet, a lot of information about how to eat in a very anti-inflammatory way. Right now, I'm obsessed with anti-inflammation because my knees and my ankles are always inflamed.
But you actually take a bath in ice?
Yeah. They say for every mile you should be a minute in ice, so I've been doing that. It's not too pleasant, but you get used to it. It's quick. In and out.
Has running inspired you to write any songs?
It's inspired me because of how much music I listen to while I'm training, so yeah, definitely.
How has it inspired your lyrics? Has it changed the way you write?
There's a great empowerment that I get from running, not only from the endorphins but I think just being an athlete and being a runner, I'll get specific. Being a runner, to me, has made being depressed impossible. If ever I'm going through something emotional and just go outside for a run, you can rest assured that I'll come back with clarity and empowerment. And that's huge! I've struggled with ebbs and flows of depression and elation my whole life. So to rely on running in this way, has been a godsend for me.
Did you run in high school or when you were younger?
I was never the fastest runner of the kids, so I was more into volleyball and basketball, ping-pong, badminton. I was active in sports growing up, but I never ran. I was a hard-core swimmer for a couple of years. The training for that—seven days a week at five in the morning—was intense. Oh my god!
Does it feel like that again?
Yeah, it does. But thankfully I can get up a tiny bit later. I've had to keep some decidedly un-rock 'n'roll hours while training for the marathon. Thank god, I'm not on tour. It wouldn't be possible!
Finish this sentence. Carbo-loading to me is ...
If I have to carbo-load, I'd eat probably whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce that I'd make myself. I really like my rye bread with my vegan cheese and anything in wraps. Whole-wheat wraps, Ezekiel 4:9 wraps, whole-wheat pasta, rye bread, those are my faves if I'm going to go for it.
How do you psych yourself up for a long run?
Sometimes I don't. Sometimes running is the last thing in the world that I want to do, but I just tie my shoelaces, put on a really tight bra, and get out there like a little robot. A lot of times, the first five or 10 minutes of running is excruciating for me. It's like pushing through metal cobwebs, you know? And mental ones. Then, once I get into the flow and my pace gets going, then I'm in the zone. But it's rare that I'm about to go out for a run and I'm jumping out of my skin to do it.
When you wake up and you just want to hit snooze, how do you motivate yourself to move?
Well, the marathon itself. If I don't train, I won't be able to finish. So shame motivates me, potential impending shame! And also just doing it on behalf of eating disorders is huge because if I'm doing it on behalf of them, I really want to be accountable and show up. Then, also, training with partners. I don't let my training partners get away with not running if they can do it and certainly they wouldn't let me get away with it, so having a training partner is everything for me.
Get somebody else to get you out of bed?
Why did you choose eating disorders to focus on for the marathon? Is there a reason it's close to your heart?
Yeah. I struggled with eating disorders, especially in my teen years, and food addiction and eating emotionally. I've had a relationship with all of that myself.
It's very personal. And I have noticed when I treat my body like an instrument instead of an ornament, my relationship with food completely changes because I view food as this really romantic fuel. I certainly want to enjoy my food, but I see it more like fuel that I happen to enjoy versus just a way for me to numb out my feelings or to downward spiral into being addicted to food.
It's cool that it's come full circle like this where you're educating people by taking care of yourself.
Yeah. It's really exciting because I'm learning as I go. It's not like I figured this out 15 years ago and I'm doing it. I'm figuring it out now, so that's great.
Do you have a long-term running ambition?
I have reason to believe that this won't be the only marathon that I do. It's pretty amazing to do this, and I'll likely do a few more for sure.
Are there any you aspire to do?
I really want to do Big Sur. That's a big one for me. It's less the prestige of the L.A. Marathon or the Boston Marathon. It's more the experience of doing it. And the fact that I'd get to invite all my friends out to my favorite place on the planet to support me would be great.
What do you have for dinner the night before a long run?
I eat every couple of hours, so tonight I'll eat probably a huge kale salad and some soup with spinach and tofu and vegetables. Really, the order that I go through almost compulsively in my brain, is greens, beans, and nuts, fruit. Then I throw in a little bit of vegan cheese here and there and sometimes a glass of wine just to keep myself a little sane and balanced. I'll eat that and sometimes I'll have a soy yogurt or even a full-blown yogurt with some fruit in it and nuts. I try to keep the balance going. As long as it's delicious, sign me up!
You're making me hungry ... Do you have a running hero?
No. I have a lot of physical fitness heroes. Jackie Warner, who I work with here and there, and Gabrielle Reece. Just women who are really athletic and going for it are very inspiring to me.
What time are you shooting to finish the marathon?
If I finish it anywhere between four hours and 4:40, I'll be a happy woman!
Alanis's Morissette's Playlist:
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