Fiona Oakes holds three marathon World Records and four marathon course records. She’s been a dedicated vegan for over 40 years and runs her own animal sanctuary – we’re blown away by her achievements!
What inspired me to start running was my frustration at the negativity and lack of understanding of a plant based diet by both those directly around me and the media and press who influence the general public. Whilst I have always been athletic and sports minded there still seems to be an enormous myth and misconception that a plant based diet is basically deficient in nutrients, is inadequate for daily life and impossible to adhere to in a sporting arena – especially one of elite sport.
I decided that something had to be done to address this issue as simply caring for hundreds of previously rescued and neglected animals at my sanctuary didn’t seem to be enough. This is what set me on a path to marathon running. I identified something I am pretty good at – i.e., sport – and worked out how to become very good or excellent at this discipline. I have to admit, it has been a hard learning curve but the main motivation and incentive has always been, and will always be, helping the animals through educating and influencing others. In 2011 a fellow runner suggested I attempt something a little different – that being the Marathon des Sables (MdS). This seemed like the perfect way of proving that a vegan can achieve anything and that a wholly plant based diet is not inhibiting to sporting endurance or excellence in any way, shape or form. Whether it be hot, high, cold or fast – this vegan can do it all is my simple message and reason for running!
You’ve been vegan since the age of 6, this is a huge answer-back to all of the critics out there who question the sustainability of a vegan diet. Could you share with our readers how you make sure your body gets the nutrients and minerals needed to maintain your fitness for running.
Yes, I have been vegan since the age of six and this was very much a decision I made myself, based upon the childlike simplicity and reasoning that I loved animals and did not want to harm them, therefore I did not want to eat them or be party to any industry which exploited them. This was fourty years ago and at that time veganism was not nearly as popular as it is today. At that time, there wasn’t the choice of products that are available now, such as meat replacements, ice creams, soya products and dairy substitutes. So, my diet was cooked from scratch and very, dare I say, basic. This is pretty much what I have stuck to over the years and people are quite surprised to see how little emphasis I actually do place on my diet. I like very natural products – fresh vegetables and fruits – nuts, pulses, rice and home-made soups. My diet is very balanced, very natural and very consistent. I have also learned to listen to my body and respect and interpret what it is telling me. I pretty much know from the way I am feeling whether I am lacking in anything and how to adjust this to suit my own requirements.
Sometimes I do think people spend too much time worrying about what they think they should be having rather than what they actually need. Obviously, there are certain requirements of nutrients and calories which are not negotiable but after that, each person is an individual. I truly think and believe each person’s diet should be tailored to meet their individual needs, daily routines and what is available and affordable to them.
What’s been your toughest race so far?
This is a hard question as I have done such a variety of races, in all sorts of terrains and conditions and they have all been tough for different reasons. I do always push myself to get the last ounce of performance out of both my body and mind. Perhaps the Marathon des Sables in 2012 – I did it again in 2014 – which was particularly difficult, not just because of the race itself being so brutal, but also the fact that the week before the competition I fractured 2 toes attempting to get an elderly horse at the sanctuary to her feet after a severe bout of colic had sapped her strength. I so desperately wanted to complete the race and prove my doubters and deriders wrong – those who said it was not possible on a plant based diet.
The one advantage I do have is that when the ‘going gets tough’ I have that little bit extra in my armour as I always cling dearly to the reason I am actually out there doing it in the first place – to help the animals. It’s one thing to want to compete in something for yourself but when you are doing it for the benefit of others I feel the drive and hunger are much stronger and the need to finish is that much greater and more acute.
We’re just blown away by the incredible work you do at your animal sanctuary, tell us more about the Fiona Oakes foundation and what motivated you to launch it?
Pure and simply I just wanted to show the world what can be achieved on a vegan diet! A diet I have adhered to for over 40 years. I wanted to address the myths that living plant based makes you weak, that it isn’t sustainable and it could not provide longevity of career in athletic achievement.
In 2004 I decided to start the now highly popular and globally based Vegan Runners.
11 years on and Vegan Runners is a virtual, online running club where vegan runners can meet and share ideas. It was then that I decided to attempt to break the three Guinness World Records by running a Marathon on every continent plus the North Pole and I decided to start my own Foundation. I wanted to show the world my perspective on life, that I am not just a vegan athlete because it benefits me, but I am an athlete who is vegan because it benefits everyone and everything – the people, animals and the environment too. I don’t just run, I care for the animals I am passionate about giving a voice to – I understand them, I see how amazingly intelligent they are and I want to share that message with the world.
How do you see future generations with regards to health and fitness?
I do hope that future generations are able to take more of a proactive role in their own health, fitness and lifestyle choices and can find the strength to turn their back on the media, press and advertisers who very often pedal misinformation in order to make profit. I believe this can only be achieved through creating role models, by education and through publications such as Thrive Magazine.
We also need to see more high profile people speaking out, more positive information being printed and the truth about animal cruelty being made readily available and prominent for all to see.
What challenges lie in store for you in 2016 and onwards?
Obviously, my main commitment is to the animal sanctuary and it’s 400 animal residents. My future aims are:
• To continue to provide a safe haven for the creatures I am lucky enough to be able to help physically. To encourage more people to consider their actions and how they impact on others and what they can do to make a direct change for the better.
• Just running the sanctuary and raising the finance to keep going is a big enough challenge in itself. Both Martin, my partner, and I put all our own wages into the sanctuary Every single penny donated goes directly to the animals it was intended for. It really does take it’s toll on you both mentally, physically and financially but is such a vital part of what I do, who I am and what I believe in.
As for the running, I hope next year to complete the Grand Slam of Major’s. Each of the Major City races in the same year. I will use this to promote veganism to a wider audience on a global platform. Rest assured, I will be constantly seeking ways of getting the message of ‘kindness to all and for all’ to as many people who are willing to listen, this is my main challenge for 2016 and for as many years after that as I am lucky enough to live!
If you’d like to help Fiona and sponsor her future races please contact her at: fiona@ towerhillstables.com You can support Fiona Oakes Animal Foundation at: www.towerhillstables.com