Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

Support Fiona Oakes

Towards the end of this week, the alleged “toughest footrace on Earth” begins. The Marathon des Sables earned this allegation on the grounds that it is a 6-day ultramarathon, through some of the least hospitable environments on the planet.

The first stage is this coming Sunday. Over the course of 6 days, competitors will run the distance of 156 miles (with the toughest stage being 57 miles long). The competitors, of which there are only a handful of ultra-athletes, will race in the Sahara desert where the temperature is, on average, 30°C (just under 90°F), and daily fluctuations make this uncertain (with temperatures often changing drastically within a few hours).

The toughest footrace on Earth

Competitors will also have to carry the entirety of their required personal possessions in backpacks for the whole six days. This includes the food they will be eating. A number of books have been written solely about the experiences of training for and running the race. It may not surprise you that two people have died whilst competing in the race thus far.

Among the contestants for this year’s Marathon des Sables though is Fiona Oakes. Seeing as you’re on a vegan blog, you can probably see where this is heading… Fiona is the first vegan to ever attempt the Marathon des Sables, and is doing so with an ambition to smash the vegan = skinny weakling myth.

Fiona went vegetarian at the age of 4, and has been vegan for all of her adult life. Despite severe knee difficulties which struck her at the age of 14 (which resulted in the loss of a kneecap), Fiona has gone on to become an incredible athlete. She runs between 80 and 100 miles per week, with a record marathon time of 2 hours 38 minutes. She focuses primarily on speedwork – for some endurance is their aim, as finishing some of the mammoth races Fiona enters is enough; for Fiona, however, it is about winning the race.

During her running career she has made a number of accomplishments. She has reached top 10 positions in a number of international marathons (including Florence, Moscow, and Amsterdam) as well as top 20 positions in the London and Berlin marathons. She has come first in the Great North Run, a 13.1 mile event. She also came first in the Finland marathon, setting a course record by 11 minutes.

Outside of the running world, Fiona and her partner work incessantly to help the lives of over 400 animals at Tower Hill Animal Sanctuary – a completely non-profit animal sanctuary which Fiona set-up. She also has involvement with groups such as Captive Animals’ Protection Society, In Defense of Animals, and VITA (a Russian animal rights organisation).

 

Fiona will be running the Marathon des Sables to raise money for three different causes. Firstly, there is the Tower Hill Sanctuary which she runs. Secondly, the Vegan Society. Thirdly, Facing Africa – a charity for African victims of Noma, a facial disfigurement disease that affects children.

Currently, Fiona is falling way short of her target of £5000. At the time of writing she has secured just over £2000. She is becoming desperate for further donations, or even just promotion of her efforts and why she is running the race.

If you can spare any money at all towards Fiona’s effort, it will be greatly appreciated. You will be helping a fantastic athlete crush a widespread and negative myth about veganism, as well as helping a number of fantastic charity projects. Another supporter has kindly offered to double any donations made in the run-up (excuse the pun) to the race, so your donation will be doubled.

Her donation page is here.

If you cannot afford to donate yourself, please try and share this information with people who may be able to. Any support we can give Fiona is positive.

I will leave you with some thoughts that Fiona posted on her Facebook page about the difficulty in spreading the vegan message within the running community, and her hopes about competing in the Marathon des Sables:

“With 10 days to go before I leave for Morocco to compete in, what is universally acknowledged as the toughest foot race on the planet, my feelings are that of disappointment, confusion, nervousness and anger.

I am not doing this for me. I am doing this for the animals. I am doing this to promote a healthy and ethical vegan lifestyle. I am doing this to break down the many myths, incorrect information and stereotypes being widely publicised about veganism. I am doing this to get the vegan message into the wider public domain in a positive way which the masses can relate to, and what publicity am I getting or help in doing this? – hardly any.

I run my own animal sanctuary caring for our several hundred rescued animals almost single handedly. I am not a professional runner. I do not have any spare money or time for the luxuries other athletes have such as supplements, high quality diet, rest, recover, rehabilitation when injured or ill etc. I just have myself, forcing myself to train alone day in day out whilst always making sure the welfare of the animals is the primary consideration.

I am not trying to say my achievements are any greater or less than anyone else out there. However, top 20 places in 2 of the 5 World Major Marathon series, top 10 in 2 of the biggest Marathons in the world, 4 Marathons wins – all in course records – and first female home in the main race of the Great North Run (top 20 overall) do warrant some publicity for the animals surely to goodness. It is not FOR ME. I don’t want this FOR ME. I don’t care about ME. If I did I would not have dedicated my life for the past 16 years to my animal sanctuary. A life which necessitates no holidays, no money, no rest, no time for oneself. I just care about animals and giving people a reason to consider a vegan lifestyle or not giving them a reason to dismiss it as unhealthy. At the moment, Marathon running and sport is at the TOP OF THE AGENDA in this country and surely this is a fantastic time and opportunity to get people interested and involved in what I am trying to do. Millions of people worldwide compete in running races and Marathons each year and the Marathon des Sables is broadcast in 200 countries by over 1,000 television channels. I hope to be televised proudly wearing my specially adapted Vegan Runners kit to get the word VEGAN out to these people. I will be the first vegan woman to ever complete Marathon des Sables and one of only a tiny handful of women to ever compete in it. This is the race which made James Cracknell, double Olympic Champion and self confessed macho man, cry. It was worthy of the BBC funding a documentary about his exploits in this race and yet it is not worthy of any of the large organisations who are there to promote interest in vegan/vegetarianism to show any interest at all. Can you imagine the impact when the likes of Gordon Ramsay hits out with another rant about how he hates vegans as they are weak and frail, to be able to retaliate with the fact that a vegan woman has completed the Marathon des Sables (and is well over an hour faster than him in a Marathon too). It needs the larger organisations with media and celebrity contacts to act. It is no good just keeping this within the ‘animal’ movement as we are just, to coin a phrase ‘preaching to the converted’. We need to concentrate our efforts on converting and this means getting it out to those who would not normally see or hear about what any of us are doing. However, to convert others we need to give them a reason and, that reason has to be of benefit to them. If helping innocent animals were enough they would have taken the step already.

I am a woman, an amateur who spends most of her time caring for neglected, abused and vulnerable animals. I am not a great big strapping rower who has the funds to dedicate his time fully to training for this event and who is getting paid to do it. Women are, historically, judged as being weaker than men. Fact, like it or not. What are we saying here if a vegan woman is to complete this toughest foot challenge in the world. We are saying that a vegan diet is not only adequate to sustain an healthy lifestyle it is more than adequate of sustaining any lifestyle – however extreme.

There are large organisations out there whose sole remit is to promote an ethical vegan/vegetarian lifestyle and they won’t lift a finger to help. I am confused as to the reason why? They have media clout, I don’t. I use my running to promote what I believe in by leading by example. If I did not feel that the running were directly benefiting animals and the environment in some way, I would not be able to justify dedicating the time and effort to doing it. Do they think that by publicising what I am doing it might divert funds or attention from their organisation? I doubt this would happen but, even if this were the case, does it matter as these organisations are there to promote precisely the kind of positive thing I am doing so, surely this would mean ‘job done’ in their case. The important thing here is to use every opportunity to get the vegan message out there as so few such opportunities ever present themselves. Who is presenting that message is immaterial, what matters is saving lives and the best way of doing this, as we all know, is to stop the abuse that goes on in the mass production of animals for the food chain. Please can someone tell me what I am doing wrong or am I just being very naive?”

The importance of vegan fitness, and a little motivation

Veganism has again exploded into the mainstream public domain over recent weeks with Bill Clinton’s announcement that he is officially following a vegan diet for 364 days of the year. With support from his doctor, he has effectively reversed cardiac problems that he has been facing as well as dropping a couple of stone in weight. Thus, he has recently become a spokesperson for veganism, albeit somewhat unwittingly.

It seems like at the moment everyone is hanging off his every word on this issue. Many nutritionists are keen to dispute Clinton and his doctor’s claims that the diet is healthy and even heart-disease reversing. Vegans are relishing the fact that they’ve got a former President now backing their diet and ideas. The media and the public meanwhile seem just generally fascinated at the whole prospect – veganism is still not a mainstream diet by any means, and a high profile figure such as this abandoning animal products and espousing the health benefits is an interesting development.

What is at the centre of this fascination though? Is it as simple as the fact that a previous junk foodist has turned his life around? I’m sure this holds some degree of weight – the celebrity culture that we live in entails this. But there is undoubtedly an added degree of fascination over exactly how it has been done – by following a vegan diet. The very same diet that the mainstream media portrays as unhealthy, lacking in protein and various vitamins and minerals, and completely unnatural. Here’s a case of a vegan diet working wonders for someone on the road to heart disease and possibly an early grave.

Veganism gets a lot of bad press, we all know this. Not least though is in the area of health. Consistently, it seems to be believed that by denying meat and dairy one is also sacrificing their fitness. I have met people who have actually told me that they couldn’t be vegan because they play too much sport/lift weights/run marathons. Of all the bullshit excuses I’ve heard, this is pretty high on the bullshitometer, due to the fact that veganism will not impair their activity and may actually enhance it.

You only have to type in ‘vegans are’ on Google, and amongst ‘stupid,’ ‘retarded,’ and ‘idiots’ it suggests ‘not healthy.’

A badly planned vegan diet is not healthy. But what about a badly planned omnivore diet? Haven’t really seen obesity, heart attacks and diabetes plague the former. Sure, there’s anemia, but that’s not too difficult to overcome. Besides, someone who is playing sports or following any kind of fitness regime should be regulating their diet heavily anyway. No one gets healthy and fit without monitoring what they’re taking in on a daily basis.

Now, I’m sure that at some point in the near future I’ll probably write up a list of vegan athletes, or at least write about a few of my inspirations. But for now I just want to write briefly about what fitness means to me as a vegan. I am a keen runner and weightlifter. I’ve never been one for teamsports really, but I love sports where I can set my own goals and tackle them, and I am committed to doing so. However, at no point have I ever felt hampered by my diet.

I ate meat for years, and was very overweight. I turned vegetarian and shed most of that. Yet since turning vegan my progress has been hugely boosted. I no longer feel sluggish and bloated from dairy products, and I’m avoiding cholesterol entirely. People are often surprised to find out that I am vegan. And this is important to me.

As veganism is still a diet that is widely unpopular in mainstream culture, every single vegan is an advert for the diet. Most people only know one or two vegans, if any. If you are that one vegan, they’ll probably look at you and judge veganism based on you.

It is your duty to prove the vegan stereotype wrong. The stereotype shouldn’t be of a skinny, preachy hippie. Prove that veganism is better than that. To me, this is a real motivation to maintain my fitness. If I am vegan, yet can outrun and outlift the majority of my peers then they will realise that something is working. If I am vegan, yet my body is in better shape than those panicking about their next meat-based protein fix then I am doing my bit to smash that stereotype which veganism has acquired.

Every vegan out there is responsible for the stereotype that develops with it. If you are that one vegan that someone knows, surprise them. Prove what veganism can be.

How to get your 5 a day without much effort!

We’re told that as part of a healthy diet we must try to eat at least 5 fruit and vegetable portions every day. In fact we’re made to feel positively guilty if we aren’t achieving this on a daily basis. It can seem quite difficult to reach 5 portions EVERY day, but actually, it’s a lot easier than you might think. I’m going to attempt to show you different ways you can get fruit and vegetables into diet without you really noticing….

First things first::.

-What counts?

Did you know that your fruit and veg doesn’t have to be fresh in order to count towards your 5 a day? Nor do you have to eat them on their own. Here’s a quick run down of things that count towards your portions:

  • fresh fruit and veg (obviously!)
  • frozen fruit and vegetables
  • tinned or canned fruit and veg (try to get the ones tinned with natural juices or water rather than sugars!)
  • dried fruit, such as currants and figs
  • fruit and veg cooked in dishes such as soups and pastas (did you know half a can of heniz spaghetti hoops counts as 1 of your 5 day!)
  • a glass of unsweetened fruit juice (note: this only counts as a maximum of 1 of your 5  a day no matter how much you drink)
  • smoothies (smoothies count up to a maximum of 2 portions)
  • beans and pulses (again only count as a maximum of 1 of your 5 because they contain fewer nutrients than other fruit and veg)
  • fruit and veg in convenience foods such as ready made meals etc. (it should say on the packet whether it counts towards your fruit and veg portions but be careful with these, some ready meals are high in salt, sugars and fats. So don’t use these as a regular substitute for fruit and veg. Remember to always check labels!)

-tricks of the trade

So how can we manage to get all of these things into our diet daily? Easy! Just follow some of these easy tricks:

  1. Chuck some beans in your curry, put some peas or broccoli in with your pasta, throw some chick peas or butter beans in your soups
  2. Top your cereal with fruit (fresh or frozen- make sure you defrost though!) berries and bananas work beautifully!
  3. In stead of snacking on crisps why not try an apple? Or a banana? Or perhaps some dried fruit? A little pack of raisins goes a long way.
  4. Have a side salad with your meal instead of chips. Dress it up nicely and it’ll look just as tasty as a greasy fried potato!
  5. Instead of your morning coffee try some orange juice. Or cranberry. Or apple. Or apple and elderberry. Or ruby breakfast. Or any other type of juice you like. It’s such a quick and easy way portion maker and won’t leave you with nasty coffee breath. 
  6. Buy a blender and make your own smoothies! There’s so many different combinations of smoothies you can try and you can have some real fun creating your own concoctions and they can count as 2 portions. Thus, if you have a smoothie for breakfast you’re almost half way there before you’ve opened your eyes properly.
  7. REMEMBER: to get the most benefit out of your portions try eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I like to make sure whatever meal I’m cooking has a least two colours of F+V in it. Then I know I’m getting lots of different nutrients.

If you make sure to change some of daily habits with the tricks above you’ll be laughing your way to a happy and healthier life and won’t have to apologise to your poor long suffering tummy for filling it with junk!

Just a quick note here on potatoes: Potatoes, as lovely as they are, DON’T COUNT as a portion of your five a day. Nor do yams, cassava, and plantains. They are considered starchy foods. Other root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, swedes and turnips DO count!

However, whilst potatoes don’t count as part of your five a day, they aren’t all bad. In fact they do help to play an important role in your diet. They are a good source of energy, fibre, B vitamins and potassium. (As long as your not suffocating your potatoes in salt and oil, they are an excellent choice of starchy food!)

I hope this helps!

About the vegan health category

As we mention in our About page, we want to give a little extra with this blog, and to gain a more rounded picture of veganism it’s important to talk about the health aspects involved. Although perhaps a ’rounded’ picture is the wrong term to use when talking about health, and most followers of veganism don’t actually tend to be very round at all really…

Ok, I’m getting distracted here. What I want to do with this first post for this section is just help to illustrate some of the key issues that we’ll discuss under the umbrella of VeganHealth. Many people when they think of a stereotypical vegan picture a pasty, pale, thin mess of a person who’s shedding years off their life by following the diet, and shovelling supplement pills down their throats like some kind of crazy vitamin junkie. Now, there probably are a few vegans like that here and there, but then there’s such a range of people in all diets. And look at it this way, the Half Ton Man didn’t get that way by eating lentils and tofu. But nevertheless, we hope to help dispel some of these myths, and deal with some typical issues… *cough* protein *cough*. We will talk about important aspects of nutrition, supplements you should consider (but none are necessary – I would recommend some supplements to every one), as well as other useful blogs which discuss vegan fitness, and giving details of some inspirational atheletes too. Basically if we stumble across anything cool that is fitness and vegan related then we’ll probably stick it on here. So if you’re a fitness freak, curious about veganism and whether it’s healthy, or just need some inspiration to work up a sweat then hopefully this section will come in use!

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