Interview with Fiona Oakes: Vegan Marathon Runner
Written by Leigh-Chantelle
Created Thursday, 31 May 2012
Fiona Oakes is a Vegan Marathon Runner from the UK who in 2012 finished the Marathon des Sables: 154 miles across the Sahara with 50°C temperatures. Fiona holds the course record for the Essex Country Marathon Championship since 2007. She is the only female runner to run under 3 hours on the course in its 17-year history. Fiona has come top 10 in several international marathons (Florence, Moscow & Amsterdam and Nottingham) and top 20 in London & Berlin.
In 2013, Fiona broke three marathon world records – all certified by Guinness and is the fastest female to run a marathon on each continent – something she achieved in less than 24 hours (23h 27m.) She also won the North Pole marathon and the Antarctic Ice marathon in 2013 – both in new course records. Fiona also cares for over 400 rescued animals at Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary in Asheldham, UK where Fiona does all the work with her partner's help at the weekends.
When and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I became vegan at around 6 years old. It was just a natural progression from vegetarianism. I decided to become vegetarian at the age of 3 or 4, as soon as I was able to make a conscious decision. I have been vegan all of my adult life.
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
Obviously, the health benefits of being vegan are written in stone but I honestly believe the most benefit to me being vegan is that I do not carry the burden of guilt that I would have to endure knowing that I abused others for my own 'benefit'.
What does veganism mean to you?
Veganism is everything to me. It touches every part of my life. It is my life. I could not begin to imagine living my life any other way. It's not just the diet, but the lifestyle and the life choices I have made through my veganism, such as starting the Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary and my Marathon running.
What sort of training do you do?
I run a maximum of 90 to 100 miles (144-160 kilometers) a week when seriously training for a Marathon.
How often do you (need to) train?
I split my training into 10 sessions divided between speed and endurance.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
I always respond to anyone who is seeking advice regarding their running and combining it with a vegan diet but I always say that everyone is different and I can only tell them what has worked for me.
What sports do you play?
I used to cycle competitively, row and now I run Marathons. Recently I took up the ultimate challenge of the Marathon des Sables which I completed - the first ethical vegan woman to do so.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
I think the biggest misconception of vegans is that we are weak - often people think we are weak in body and mind. They mistake our compassion for weakness. This is why I took up the ultimate challenge of the Marathon des Sables, the toughest foot race on the planet which is renowned for making grown men cry!
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
My strengths as an athlete are that I am not an athlete for myself. I am doing it for the benefit of others, which makes me work much harder to achieve. I am not selfish enough to want something this badly for myself. It makes me push myself that bit harder knowing that by doing well I can possibly convince others to consider a vegan lifestyle. It does work too. Once, when I won a Marathon in a massive course record, the Mayoress who was presenting the prizes told me her daughter had wanted to go vegetarian but she was against it as she was not convinced it would be ideal for a young girl who was still growing. Seeing what I had just done on a vegan diet had convinced her that it was okay for her daughter, which was the biggest prize I could ever want!
What is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is fitting everything I have to do into a day. I have the Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary to look after with its 400 residents, my training and my work as a retained Fire Fighter.
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
The non-vegans in my sporting and Fire Fighting life can be very skeptical of my veganism but when they see what I can do that usually shuts them up.
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
My family and especially my Mother have always been supportive of me.
What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
The most common question I get asked is “Where do you get those enormous muscles from?” I answer “From my wonderful, healthy diet of course!”
Who or what motivates you?
The only motivation I need is to know that I am helping others. I don't care where or what, just as long as I can use my life to benefit someone else less fortunate than myself. That is all that matters to me.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat?
I don't actually have a set pattern of regular eating such as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Due to my lifestyle it is impossible as I never know what I am going to be doing or where I am going to be from one minute to the next. I only actually eat when I am hungry and when I do it tends to be nuts, fresh fruit, rice, pulses and bread. I do not spend too long analysing my diet. I know what works for me but that might not suit everyone.
I think people need to be less hung up about food, follow their own eating patterns and work out what their body needs rather than always being told what to eat by others. My biggest piece of advice is to know yourself and listen to your body. Ultimately, it will tell you all you need to know if you have the wisdom to listen.
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - mainly lentils and nuts. I swear by almonds and pine nuts
Calcium - Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Almonds and figs
Iron - Sesame seeds, leafy vegetables and, of course, spinach
Losing weight and toning up:
I don't actually really think about gaining or losing weight or weight training to tone up etc. I live a very, very active lifestyle getting up at around 3:30am and basically doing manual work all day, either at the Sanctuary, at the Fire Brigade or actually doing my running training. I guess my energetic lifestyle is my cross training. I only really train either with rowing on my Concept 2 rower or running.
My weight is pretty much static whatever I do but, if you do want a top tip to losing weight I would have to say enter the Marathon des Sables. I lost 6 kilos in one week running it but this is rather extreme as it is 155 miles in the harshest Desert conditions you can imagine, crossing the toughest terrain carrying a backpack with all your supplies, weighing around 12 kilograms.
Fiona promotes veganism through her daily life as a fire fighter, a marathon runner and by rescuing animals at her Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary. Fiona encourages people to get involved the best they can to help hers and other animal sanctuaries continue to provide a safe and happy life for the animal inhabitants.
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