MODEL, MUSICIAN, LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER
Ruby Aldridge did not set out to run a marathon this year. In fact, she hadn't even set out to run around the block. But after a series of events, inner musings, and revelations, Ruby is traversing all 5 boroughs for 26.2 miles this November. She watched her boyfriend, also once an anti-runner, finish the Boston marathon—break personal records!— while eating completely plant-based, and became inspired. We did too, which is why we teamed up with her and Nike's Project Moonshot to nourish Ruby during her months of training— to confirm what we already know, by way of the many athletes who are diehard Sakarlites: plants are performance fuel. We sat with the model, rocker, artist, and newly-minted long-distance runner to hear her story: why she eats plant-based, how logging miles has expanded into a form of meditation, who she's running for, and her lavish plans post-finish line.
Tell us about what led you to run the New York City Marathon?
I was not a runner. That is part of this story. I have definitely tried to run before. I would have this great idea and decide to wake up and go to the gym and try to run three miles. I thought, I'm gonna smash it.
I would try and run those three miles non-stop, but then, I wouldn't be able to, and it was the most defeating thing ever. It made me think that I hated running and that I just couldn't do it. I created this idea that it wasn't for me.
Last year I started dating somebody who is into running, and I would see his energy and vibe when he finished a run, and I started asking him about it. I was so curious, and in January, whether it was to impress him or myself— I don't know—but I went deep on the internet about running and how to start.
I found an article in The New York Times saying the best way to start running is to sign up for a 5K and give yourself 8 weeks - this way whenever you don't feel motivated to go for a run, you just had to remember that 5k you just signed up for, and I wanted to be able to do it. I typed in “5K races NYC” and found one. I think the race was about 10 weeks out, so I signed up at that moment and sent my boyfriend a screenshot just to, like, blow his mind. And blow my own mind. This was something completely new to me. That’s kind of how it started.
Did you have any help on how to start your training for your 5K considering you were completely new to running? Any tips for others looking to start?
I downloaded the app, Couch To 5K, which breaks it down really simplistically, run for one minute, and then walk for two minutes, for the first couple weeks. It builds up slowly and then before I knew it, I was running ten minutes straight. I'd never been able to do that ever in my life. I was on the FDR, running outside, running for ten minutes, not listening to music, just there with myself, and it was this new, profound, insane experience that I've literally never had. I'd never been able to achieve that before, and it was exciting. It was a very tangible, exhilarating thing, to see my progress. When I started, I couldn't run. Honestly, I couldn't run for even two minutes. After discovering this, though, I feel, like, whoa. I feel strong, I feelgood. It's helped every aspect of my life. I highly recommend it.
What was your fitness experience before you started running?
In my mind, I'm not an athlete. I played soccer in 2nd grade, as the goalie, and I cried. I was a basketball player in 5th grade, and I made one point all season. I didn't even know that after halftime you switched sides. So I ran in the opposite direction. That was my extent of athleticism.
Before running, I would go to the gym, find a random dance class on Class Pass, hit a few Pilates classes, do some yoga, but really had no routine. I still do all those things. I don't dislike working out, I just didn't have a super regimented schedule; I guess I would just hope for the best. There would be a couple weeks where I would be killing it and working out three to five times a week, eating really well and feeling really good. I'd feel so good that I would fall out of the routine and have to start over. You know, the cycle of trying to figure out what works for my body. Gaining five pounds, losing five pounds. I fluctuate. I feel like running has become integrated into my life.
When I was training for that first 5K it was so cool because I had three days a week where I was definitely running, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Maybe once on the weekend, and I was in such a routine— it felt so good. Whenever a thought crept in about not going for a run that day, I would remind myself about the 5k I had just signed up for. Taking that time in the morning to go do a run created space for the rest of the day. It let me be more attentive in all other areas, it created more space in my life, and in my head, for sure. I can't even begin to talk about the effects it's had on my brain. It’s become a meditation.
Has your mental state evolved since you started doing this? It seems running can also be related to a spiritual practice.
Running has become meditative in the sense that I have to settle into the run before it starts feeling natural. I'll try and clear my mind as much as possible and just focus on the run. One foot in front of the other. I also really try and focus on my breath, taking big inhales in and out—especially when I'm feeling like I want to quit.
You know the Headspace app? I use it very sparingly, but when I do, I find it's extremely helpful, my life is better when I do it. And now, I use running like that. I still enjoy the practice of sitting down and getting quiet, especially with phones and Instagram and technology— I get exhausted. Truly. My brain shuts down. Any chance to disassociate from that or just take a minute away, I'm like ‘Yes please!’
How did running help kick off this passion for plant-based eating?
For the last couple years, I've dabbled on and off with being vegan or vegetarian. After six months or so, I’d always feel as though I needed to eat fish, or that something was missing from my diet. Then at the end of last year, my boyfriend and I watched What The Health and that was a huge turning point. Whether it was an extremely biased film, who knows, but I saw it and it resonated with me. My boyfriend and I decided to stop eating fish, no animal products, any dairy, and started eating more plant-based foods. That was January 2018. It felt unbelievably good.
My boyfriend was training for the Boston marathon at the time and was eating fully plant-based. I was like, ‘How is he doing this?!’ He was plant-based for the marathon and still had a seven-minute personal record. He ran so fast, and he thinks that a lot of it was due to being plant-based. It was super cool. There’s a level of swelling in the body and inflammation that’s reduced from not having animal protein, milk, and inflammatory foods. He really saw a difference, 100%. It’s not even a question. He was a better athlete.
And how have you felt being plant-based?
I feel so much better when I eat this way. I especially love coming home after a run and knowing what I'm eating is whole, clean and healthy. It takes away half the guessing. I really love it. There are times when I am not full on 100%. I'm not gonna lie, I’ll go to a movie theater, and all rules go out the window, I have a weakness for Junior Mints, (although, I just found out Junior Mints are in fact vegan!). I'm not as regimented as I could be, but I find that when I am genuinely plant-based, my body thanks me 1,000 times over and everything works better. I feel more in tune. I want to even go as far as to say I sleep better, I wake up better, I don't feel nearly as bloated. That's a big one that happens for me with food. I really just feel it makes my whole body, inside and out, work and feel better. Now I feel like whenever I see animals outside, dogs or birds even, we have this unspoken code. I feel like they respect me now and I respect them!
Do you have a set running playlist? Are you a silent runner or do you need some sort of musical encouragement?
I'm not as dogmatic or serious about it now, but in the beginning, I didn't run to music probably for the first five months or six months. I just ran with myself.
I had heard that running is the time to be quiet and I really respected and tried to adhere to that mentality. Now I feel if I need that extra boost, I put on headphones and it's awesome because I love listening to music. That initial practice really set me up with something I'm eternally grateful for, just having this time to be alone with myself. To have nothing except my watch, my head, my body, the outdoors, the river, the pavement, and my shoes. It felt really good.
Were there any wild, wellness-y things you did to complement your training? Any practices before or after you set out on a long run?
I've extensively Google searched, “Should I stretch before or after a run?”, and it definitely involved some trial and error. Before a run I focus on doing some dynamic stretching-which is essentially moving your muscles without holding one stretch for too long while focusing on improving your range of motion. After I run I really try and get in a good static stretch, holding the poses for longer, giving each muscle group a bit of attention, and particularly focusing on the areas that feel tight. Foam rolling is really great too, I highly recommend. Go get yourself a foam roller, seriously.
I've also tried cryotherapy and enjoyed it. Maybe I've never pushed myself to the limit where I really needed it desperately, but this last weekend was the most I've ever run, 10 miles. Officially double-digit club. Honestly, I'm shook. I'm shocked. I posted on my Instagram, I was like, 'I just ran 10 freaking miles!' Everyone was like, ‘Congratulations on your race!’ I was like, ‘It wasn't a race!’ I just ran 10 miles for the marathon training, and because I could! I couldn't even run a mile at the beginning of this year. I really couldn't. My first mile I ran in like 13 minutes. That's basically power walking, and I kept starting and stopping. It’s pretty wild. 10 miles. 10 freaking miles.
What has your experience been like training for the marathon with Project Moonshot? How did you get involved with them?
I first got introduced to NIKE through a good friend back in March and I'm so glad I started a relationship with them. Project Moonshot has been an absolute lifesaver. Moonshot is essentially a 16-week training program that guides you week by week on how to run a marathon, whether you’re experienced or not. They truly want to help anyone who’s interested get better, faster, and stronger. It's such a community and everyone I've met has been amazing and supportive. We meet up for runs and group training sessions. There are different pace-groups for different speeds and marathon goals. They break it down and make it really simple for you, but you just have to do the work. If you’re planning on running a marathon this is a great way to start training and do it.
Will you be representing a charity on race day?
I signed up and entered the marathon lottery, but didn't get in, which I'm now grateful for because it led me to link up with Parkinson's Foundation and pledge to raise money for the charity in order to join their team and run the race.
I chose this charity because I lost my father last year due to Parkinson's Disease. Watching the effects it had on him was devastating. The minute I started reading about the charity, I knew that was the one. There was no doubt. When I wrote my email to them explaining the reason behind my charity pick, I was typing on my computer writing this letter and just bawling. It was so emotional sharing how I wanted to do this for my dad, and how I wanted to do this to create awareness around Parkinson's and for the people that still suffer from it today. All the money that I raise will be donated and will not only help people living with Parkinson's, but also help continue to understand it and find a cure. I'm so glad that it all ended up working out this way because it feels amazing to be a part of this and see all the love and support that people have.
My dad would be so tripped out. He'd be so proud and so blown away. At any time of struggle or any time that I picture the marathon, and running it, I remember that this is the reason. What a cool, amazing, beautiful way to commemorate my father who was literally my hero, my dude, my main man, love of my life. To do this, it's really cool.
How are you planning to celebrate crossing the finish line?
The fantasy after finishing the marathon would be to go and check into a hotel room, order room service and watch a bunch of movies...forever.
Help Ruby celebrate her father's life and support the Parkinson's Foundation by way of the NYC Marathon by donating to the cause here!