by Matthew Moore
Micah Risk (FPAN ‘13) graces the cover of the October 2014 issue of Runner’s World. In addition to being a runner, Risk is a nutritionist, an active member of November Project, and a proud vegan. She recently discussed each of these aspects of her life with The Sprout.
When the editors of Runner’s World decided to launch a redesign of their magazine, no one—including Micah—knew what the cover would be until the last minute. But since it was a special Nutrition issue, Risk was the perfect fit.
The cover and corresponding “Street Style” feature on Risk brought a lot of attention to the 29 year old. People want to know about her marathon time, her tattoos, the “VEGAN” socks she proudly sports (and is preparing to make available for interested athletes), and how she juggles her sport and her job along with being a mom.
“It has been a lot of fun!” Risk said of the attention raised from the cover. “The first few days it made my head spin a bit. Seeing hundreds of strangers reacting to it on social media within a very short time period was really intense. I knew people would have a lot of questions about the cover and the socks in particular, so I did my best to stay accessible.”
Risk has indeed made herself accessible. In addition to speaking with The Sprout, she was featured in Boston Magazine and interviewed on the No Meat Athlete (a vegan athlete training website) podcast.
Runner’s World acknowledged that its decision to feature Risk in lieu of a well-known elite athlete as well as an urban running environment is a departure from its usual cover image but fits the magazine’s new mission to be “more visual, more fun, and more reflective of what’s happening in the sport and in the running community.” Risk is also the first nutrition professional to be featured on the cover.
“I want people to know that I am a real person, that is my real identity, and I’m not just a model that was hired for a cover shoot. I want to highlight how interesting it is that they chose me, an average runner with no reputation in the running community, for the cover of their redesign issue. How many publications do that? I didn’t have any makeup on, no one did my hair, and I was wearing everyday gear. Plus, I was wearing a very bold message that was once a very polarizing topic. Runner’s World is not a vegan or plant-based company, but it is an excellent platform for talking about the benefits of a plant-based diet,” she said.
Risk became a vegan when she was 16 after watching undercover footage of meat production in factory farms. That inspired her to study the social, health, and environmental consequences of human dietary patterns. What she discovered had a profound effect on her life.
“I think veganism is an important lifestyle to promote for many reasons. We all know by now that there are many health benefits to eating more whole, plant-based foods, but the advantages go beyond personal benefit. The production of animals for food is unsustainable and has devastating consequences for our environment. One of the best ways to reduce our impact on the environment is to eliminate animal products from our diet. And as a side benefit, we might start feeling better, too,” she said.
Risk has put her support for veganism into action as a co-founder of and Director of Nutrition for Lighter, a Cambridge-based company that provides a plant-based, budget-friendly, curated grocery delivery service for its clients. Customers work with Risk to develop nutritional goals and personalized meal plans, and she coordinates grocery delivery and provides simple and balanced recipes.
“Lighter’s mission is to make healthy food the easy choice. We are able to remove many of the common barriers people have to healthy eating through our curated grocery delivery service and meal plans. We are making healthy, sustainable food more accessible to people around the country, which is something I’m extremely proud of,” said Risk.
Lighter works with both men and women, but focuses on empowering women to “challenge the Standard American Diet (SAD) and celebrate real food.” It began as a regional service, but is now expanding nationwide and aims to be available in the United Kingdom soon.
Risk is also proud that she has been able to achieve her accomplishments as an endurance athlete while on a plant-based diet. This includes completing the New Jersey Marathon—her first ever marathon—in April in 3:18, which qualified her for next year’s Boston Marathon.
Although she was surprised to qualify for Boston so soon, Risk was confident in her training. She developed her plan with the help of a coach from New York Road Runners, emphasized good nutrition, and trained with others who helped her stay focused.
Risk described her training as “working outside her comfort zone.” In fact, Risk did not consider herself a runner until attending Friedman. She grew up playing soccer from age five through freshman year of college. She tried to play in organized adult leagues following school, but could not fit them into her busy schedule. All along, she never considered running to be particularly fun.
It was an early morning workout with November Project that changed her mind.
November Project is a free fitness movement founded in Boston by Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric in 2011 as a way to encourage each other to stay fit during the cold New England winter. It grew from two friends to groups in 17 cities in North America. Three times a week, athletes gather together for 6:30 a.m. workouts.
Risk was initially hesitant to try November Project because of the early-morning start, but gave in last year after being invited by a Friedman alumna and friend who was about to move out of the state. She was immediately hooked.
“Finding talented, fun athletes to run with changed my running experience entirely. Some people enjoy running for the solitude, but I enjoy it as a chance to socialize and spend time with friends. I’m used to team-based athletic endeavors, so having a group to consistently train with is important when I am working towards a goal. In the nutrition field we talk a lot about how environment influences behavior and can have an enormous impact on health outcomes. November Project has been a great influence on my physical and mental health,” she said.
In Boston, Mondays are “Destination Deck” days: participants run from their homes to a different location every week. These runs range from two to 12 miles depending on where members live. At the rendezvous destination, the group goes through a bodyweight circuit workout and takes a group photo before running home. On Wednesdays, the group runs the Harvard Stadium steps, and on Fridays they run the Summit Avenue hill in Brookline. Every workout is scalable depending on a participant’s ability.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s negative 30 degrees outside or if it’s Christmas. November Project is consistent and reliable no matter what the circumstances are. We have regular members who never worked out a day in their lives and professional hockey players doing the same workout. Both are pushed in a way that’s appropriate for their level of fitness, and both are sore the next day,” said Risk.
It was her involvement with November Project that led to Risk’s Runner’s World cover. Last November, the magazine featured November Project for an issue that examined the increasing popularity of running and fitness groups. The staff worked out with November Project and recruited several members for a photo shoot. The final cover included Risk, and—just like this October—she did not know she would be featured until the issue was published. Risk remained in contact with the Runner’s World staff, and they eventually reached out to her about being the subject of the debut Street Style feature.
In addition to Risk’s socks and her marathon time, the part of the Street Style feature that stands out to people is the fact that she sports a “P” charm in honor of her five-year-old daughter, Pru. Risk hopes that her daughter will be inspired seeing her mother have fun while working hard.
“Within the context of running I hope to show her that strength, competitiveness, and fearlessness are perfectly appropriate and admirable ways to describe a woman,” she said.
As she prepares to train for next year’s Boston Marathon, Risk has not stopped racing. On October 18, she completed the Trail Animals Running Club (TARC) Fall Classic 50K ultramarathon in Carlisle. She finished with a time of 5:15, placing tenth overall and as second overall female.
With all that she has been able to accomplish, Risk provided advice for current students trying to balance busy schedules with nutrition and fitness: “Our bodies are designed to move, and sitting on a computer all day can be very stressful. Show yourself some love and get moving! Waking up early to work out seemed preposterous to me before November Project, but now it extends my day and makes me even more productive. Get a fitness buddy or buddies and be accountable for each other. Fitness can be therapeutic, it can increase productivity, and it makes you feel great. There are so many reasons to make it a priority and only excuses not to.”
One of the reasons Risk attended Friedman was to find solutions to problems in food systems, and she sees her work at Lighter fulfilling that goal. In addition, Friedman’s comprehensive nutrition training was very attractive to Risk. She credited her education at Friedman with providing scientific evidence to support a vegan lifestyle and refining her own understanding of the benefits of a plant-based diet. In particular, she cited the Nutrition in the Life Cycle and Nutrition and Chronic Diseases classes.
“Students at Friedman are exposed to all of the fields that intersect with nutrition, helping us build a better understanding of the problems, which equips us with the tools needed to be problem-solvers. And it goes without saying, but the students, staff and faculty at Friedman are unmatched in the nutrition field. It was incredibly inspiring to work alongside highly motivated and accomplished individuals,” she explained.
Finally, Risk encouraged students to take advantage of every opportunity provided by Friedman, both inside and outside of the classroom. She highly recommended debate and discussion with professors and students, as well as participating in extracurricular activities, where she said she found real growth.
“My experience at Friedman contributed to my career in unexpected ways, and my career path ended up going in a very different direction than I had planned. What I’ve found to be most valuable were the lessons learned from in-depth discussions and critiques on policy, program design, nutrition communication, and interpretation of the literature,” she said.
Matt Moore is a first-year AFE student and just ran his first half marathon last weekend. He is still recovering while enjoying Southampton F.C. dominate the Premier League.