This professional runner shares the nutritional and training tweaks that helped launch her breakthrough career.
Photo Credit @stefanieannflippin
Today, Stefanie Flippin wears a lot of hats. Not only is this 33-year-old Colorado resident a full-time foot-and-ankle surgeon, but she is also a professional runner for HOKA with a checklist of endurance accolades to her name, including wins in 2021 at Tunnel Hill 100, the Jackpot Ultras, and the USATF 100-mile championships. In the latter, she took the top spot for women and third overall in a stacked field with athletes like Camille Heron and Micah Morgan.
But, if you met Flippin 10 years ago, you’d barely call her a runner. At the time, Flippin had just left her hometown of San Diego for medical school in Chicago. With her days filled by classes and her nights absorbed with studying, Flippin barely had time for anything else. However, she knew she needed a non-academic stress outlet so she began running for her sanity. Eventually, she ended up working the medical tent at the Chicago Marathon and her eyes opened to the world of long-distance road running. She dabbled in marathons, fitting them in when possible until her now-husband Mitchell introduced her to the concept of trail and ultrarunning.
“It was like this whole different side of the sport,” Flippin recalls. “It would get us out of the city and into fresh air and nature.”
Flippin and Mitchell explored regional midwest races like Wisconsin’s Ice Age 50 miler and Ohio’s Bigfoot 50K. Her career took her to Detroit for her surgical residency, and Flippin continued to fit in running where she could. But, her medical career was her priority; running was merely an outlet and her results placed her solidly in the middle-to-back of the pack.
“At that time of my life, I had absolutely no extra time to call my own,” Flippin says. “I’d get one 4-miler in on the weekday and cram my long run in on Saturday for training. There wasn’t time for anything more.”
Still, she loved those miles and continued to graduate to longer distances. In 2015, she ran her first 100 miler at the now-defunct Grand Canyon Ultras, nabbing 34th place and a marriage proposal at the finish line. When she finally graduated from residency in 2018, Flippin knew she was ready to take the next step in her running career, too.
“I just knew if I put some structure and focused energy into running, something special could happen,” she says.
She began following a structured training plan and incorporating speedwork into her weekly routine. Almost immediately, Flippin dropped her road marathon time from 4:16 to 2:50. Then, she ran a 36 minute 10K. “That’s when I started eyeing the sub-2:45 Olympic [marathon] standard,” she says. (Note: The qualifying time for 2024 is now down to 2:37 for women.) Flippin also scored a new PR at the 2019 Tunnel Hill 100, crossing the finish in 15:55:03. By all accounts, her newfound dedication to training was increasing her performance by leaps and bounds. But still, she felt she had more to give. That’s when she turned to her diet.
During the fall of 2019, Flippin and her husband were driving back to Colorado from the Tahoe 200 where she had crewed for him. The car conversation turned toward living an authentic lifestyle, and that included the food they consumed. They both shared a love for all sentient beings, so they made the decision to swap to plant-based eating. “It felt like a way of life that was in tune with our beliefs and core principles and values,” Flippin says.