My current obsession ~ Naturally Nutty, made here in Michigan. Delicious on bananas, pre-run or post-run. Or both.
My current obsession ~ Naturally Nutty, made here in Michigan. Delicious on bananas, pre-run or post-run. Or both.

On my most time-crunched mornings, when I’m hoping to squeeze in a run and especially on those days when getting kids up and going feels like a race, I’ll reach for peanut butter. At least one spoonful, all on its own or spread on a banana, is my quick go-to pre-run fuel.

While I wish I could say I’ve been eating the healthiest version of PB for years, it’s taken me some time to come around to this. But I have, particularly in the last year as I’ve discovered different kinds of nut butters and my family has taken a greater interest in eating more natural, organic and whole foods. And most recently, I’ve been loving Naturally Nutty nut butters, products made here in Traverse City by runner Katie Kearney.

I’ve known Katie for quite awhile—we have kids the same age and we live in the same neighborhood—and though we’ve chatted over the years about getting together for a run, our schedules just haven’t meshed. We both love trail running, so I’m hoping we’ll have the chance this summer to run together (she’s a very talented runner, a fast runner, so either I’ll die trying to keep up with her or she’ll help me increase my speed. I’m hoping for the latter).

Given my current obsession with Naturally Nutty’s Pepita Sun Seed Butter, and because I know so many runners are lovers of peanut butter, almond butter, you name the nut butter, I wanted to share Katie’s story. In just six years, Naturally Nutty has grown considerably—you can find it in numerous grocery and specialty shops throughout Michigan as well as across the U.S. and even overseas. And, Katie tells me she’s been working on a runner-specific nut paste: “I have been playing around with an endurance paste, not necessarily to sell with our label, but for local athletes, mostly my 13-year-old daughter,” she says. “Of course, I’ve said this before [when she started making peanut butter for her family] and look what happened! When we ran our last half-marathon, my daughter needed a little pick me up toward the end. The ingredients in the gels on the market don’t fit with our lifestyle, so I started messing with healthy ingredients, which would benefit Sielle while running. I’ve used it when biking and running–the stuff is awesome!” Here’s hoping this “product” eventually lands on store shelves, too … I’ll keep you all posted.

How long have you been a runner, and what got you started with this sport?

I have been a runner since middle school. I started because I was a chubby kid, who was sick and tired of being chubby! I started running a mile a day, thinking it was a huge feat! I did that for a whole summer, then decided to join cross country in the fall. I was awful at it! I came in last quite often, but kept at it. We started middle school in fifth grade, so that’s the year I started running. Each year, I improved a little, though I was always toward the end of the pack. As I moved up to high school, I got faster. In practice, I would run with the lead girls. In the meets, I would seize up, mentally and physically, so I would still come in toward the end. Finally, college came and I learned that I could do it! I could run fast and furious—I could keep up with the other girls, and actually succeed. It’s such a mental sport—I think that we aren’t actually good at it until we realize that we are doing it for ourselves, and nobody else!

How important is running and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to you now, as a wife and working mom of three?

Running, kickboxing, the elliptical, walking, Jillian Michaels, biking, paddle boarding … those are my favorite ways to stay in shape. Each day, I have to do at least two of those things listed because it’s the only way to clear my mind, work things out, and stay focused in my hectic life. I also feel that I’m teaching my kids that being active is not only fun, but the best way to keep yourself healthy. When they see that I take this time for myself, I’m teaching them that it’s not a selfish motive, but a way for me to be around to see them grow, as well as their kids grow (someday!). So I guess that was a super round about way to the answer, which is, VERY important. It’s something I have to do everyday to stay centered, focused and healthy!

You began creating Naturally Nutty products because you were looking for a natural and good-tasting peanut butter for your family—how having this business has grown over the years, and what your hopes are for this business?

The growing business—it’s crazy! I thought that we would stay fairly local, but I was way off. We are in the majority of the US (though just sprinkled throughout), as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We have distributors in those locations, and we also ship all over the world. This has happened simply out of need, for my family. I hope to continue to grow, but carefully. We don’t want to become “corporate.” We want to always run it the way we started, with integrity. We will only create things that we feel good about feeding our kids. We pride ourselves on having a happy, healthy product. That said, my hope for the future items we create, is 100% organic. Everything we make now is 80% to 100% organic. I also hope to become an even more sustainable company, using solar and wind power to run all equipment.

What are your thoughts on eating well for health and well-being—and for staying active through running and other activities?

The majority of money that we spend in our household goes toward healthy, organic food. My family and I follow a vegan diet; mostly fresh fruits and vegetables. I make 95% of our other food from scratch. I believe that what we put in our bodies affects us on every level. It gives us the ability to accelerate in any sport we choose to try, gives us the energy each day to enjoy our lives to the fullest, it keeps us free of disease and sickness, and it keeps us feeling happy. I’ve always said that if we need to live in a box, so be it, as long as we eat healthy food! I feel so passionate about it, I have gone back to school for my masters in holistic sports nutrition. This degree focuses (mainly) on a plant-based diet.

Do you have a favorite Michigan race?

My favorite Michigan race would have to be the Lighthouse Half Marathon. I loved running through the woods, especially with the beautiful fall colors at their peak. It was incredible, running along the bay, when it was still fairly dark out, as well as foggy! Once the sun came up, the colors popped. I think everyone should at least try this one.

You and your 12-year-old daughter Sielle, a talented young runner, are training for your second half-marathon together. How is that going?

Sielle and I are training for the Bayshore Half, which is also one of my favorites. The course is just incredible (aren’t we lucky to live here?) The view is amazing! I’m excited for Sielle to run this one with me. I know that she will appreciate it so much. She is so fun to run with, because we have all the time in the world to talk about everything in the world. She opens up about her life—everything that she is thinking and feeling, everything that is going on in her middle school life. I love getting to know her more, with each run, as an individual, not just as a mother and daughter. It’s hard to explain how the longs runs just make us feel more open and vulnerable, therefore making us talk about every aspect of life! Running long distance with your child is like nothing else. I hope to be able to do this with all three of my kids. The key is, they have to love running for themselves, in order to be able to have this kind of openness.

What do you like most about running in the Mitten State?

I love the changes in our weather. I love how one day, we could be wearing shorts and a tank top while running, yet the next, there could be snow. It always makes for an exciting adventure; it always keeps my on my toes! I like that (unless it’s June and snowing!) I love that we have such beautiful scenery, with so many unique and gorgeous places to run. My favorite place to run? It depends on my mood, but I love running back through the woods behind Mt. Holiday as well as the VASA. I love running up Wayne Hill. It’s great for the mind. I love running on the TART trail, especially along the water, or on back by our facility, with the rolling hills, and farms. I guess there isn’t just one spot …

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