Interview with Atsuyuki Katsuyama - Vegan Marathon Runner
Written by Leigh-Chantelle
Created Thursday, 06 June 2013
Atsuyuki Katsuyama (K) is a Japanese vegan barefoot ultra-marathoner. He has run 82 full-marathons in his life, including 15 ultra-marathons, and 60 full-marathons in the last 60 months, including 8 ultra-marathons. He is a course record holder of Thailand Ocean To Ocean Race, 142km (88 miles), crossing Thai peninsula, under the Southeast Asian heat. By running ultra distance on barefoot, he is sharing his ideas of "Running gently and sustainably on our earth." He currently lives in Thailand, and owns a small vegan restaurant, Bonita Cafe and Social Club in Bangkok Thailand, with his Thai wife. This place has become a popular social club for those who care about good life, where lots of vegans, athletes and animal rights activists gather from all over the world.
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
It was a very simple and sudden start. Four years ago, when I was living in California, I had a chance to listen to an American vegan couple, my best friends, April and Chris, who are also runners. Three minutes later, I said, "OK! From now on, I am a vegan!" My mother has been a cooking teacher in Japan for 50 years, I have been raised by her and I have run a lot. Therefore, I have always cared about my food, trying many different diet styles. It was my first time to talk with vegan people, but, with my background, I felt that the plant-based diet is quite reasonable and that it is very ethical way of living life. Therefore, I suddenly became a vegan. Since then, I never want to get back to non-vegan. And, I really appreciate April and Chris. Without them, I would not be who I am now, and our vegan cafe, Bonita Cafe and Social Club, would not be here.
How long have you been vegan?
Over four years.
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
Before, I ate everything. Especially since I lived in the southern part of China for eight years. So, I ate all the four-legs, except desks, and all the flying things, except airplanes. At that time, I believed those fresh animal based things could give me power. So, to become a vegan was a 180 degree change. But, nothing happened. I still feel powerful, running 100 mile races. Actually, I feel much more powerful now. Before, I could feel my inner temperature going up and down, therefore I needed lots of effort to adjust my temperature. But, nowadays, I feel my inner temperature is quite stable, and I do not need to use unnecessary energy to adjust my temperature. Thanks to being a vegan, I feel so calm and powerful now. And, one more important thing is I am feeling that I am living in calm cruelty-free world.
What does veganism mean to you?
It is not just the way of eating. It is my life style. Veganism brings healthy and ethical life style to me.
What sort of training do you do?
I am currently preparing for "Crossing USA by Foot," which is 5,000KM run in 66 days, from Los Angeles to New York, and I will do that in 2015. For the preparation, I have started to run half marathon distance everyday, since January 1st, 2013, and I will do that up to December 31st. In 2014, I will run full marathon distance every day. Then, in 2015, I will cross USA, on barefoot or on five-finger-shoes.
How often do you (need to) train?
I train everyday.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
Not officially, or not commercial basis. However, I have lots of running friends, and if I am asked, I share what I know. Especially, barefoot running requires so many different ideas and running forms from running in those normal thick shoes. Therefore, I have lots of cases asked for the advice of ultra-distance running and barefoot running.
What sports do you play?
I run, bike and lift weight.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
Many people misunderstand that not to eat animal based products can reduce our energy or power. I just say, "Don't worry about me. Can you run 100 miles?" They say nothing.
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
Two things. NO.1, I do not need to waste unnecessary power for digesting heavy animal based foods, therefore I feel so energetic, and I can use that power to perform well in my running. NO.2, Compared with when I ate everything, being vegan has given me a lot faster recovery. In this way, I can keep on running, while the others need to take rests.
What is your biggest challenge?
I do not find any difficulties, being a vegan ultra-runner. I just enjoy it.
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
There are very few people, who try to attack my life style, veganism. Probably, that comes from their jealous, so I just do not care about them. However, on the other hand, most of my friends are really interested in and curious about the combination of veganism and ultra-running, as many of them are not satisfied with their diet. With these people, I love discussing co-relation of good diet and good sport performance.
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
Yes, they are.
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?
People: "How do you take protein?"
I: "How do you take YOUR protein?"
I: "Do you know how much protein you need in one day?"
I: "If you do not know it, how can you say that you are taking enough protein?"
I: "I know how much protein I need to take in one day, and all the vegetables and fruits can cover that amount. So, do not worry about me. Worry yourself."
People: "But, you must feel weak, right?"
I: "Can you run 100 miles?"
I: "Then do not worry about me."
Who or what motivates you?
All kinds of people. I especially love a humble person.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks?
I do not have any set-pattern for what I eat in a day. What I eat are all kinds of vegan foods and drinks. All kinds and mostly what I eat is what we serve in our vegan restaurant. I love our food, that is why it’s on our menu, and served for our customers. They are so delicious, so I eat them everyday.
But, this is what I do. I drink three liters of water every day, each one an hour before each meals. Then, 30 minutes later, I eat lots of fruits. Then, another 30 minutes, I eat meals. When I eat fruits and meals, I choose whole food. And, even though I do not call myself a macrobiotic person - since I have been raised my mother, a Japanese, a pure macrobiotic person - I eat those kinds of macrobiotic food a lot, such as brown rice, pickles, beans, etc.
What is your favorite source of Protein, Calcium and Iron?
I do not pick up some specific foods. I just eat many kinds of vegetables, fruits and grains, as I know which food contains how much protein, calcium, iron and other essential things.
I believe the combination of eating various kinds of foods, especially whole foods, gives us energy.
Do you take any supplements?
Nowadays no. Eating various kinds of whole foods is enough.
Gaining muscle: Lift weights. Eat properly.
Losing weight: Have decent muscles. Eat lots of whole food.
Maintaining weight: Have decent amounts of good oils.
Improving metabolism: Walk. Run. Bike. Swim.
Toning up: Lift weights. Have flexibility. Run.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
For my case, I own a vegan restaurant in Thailand. This is big enough to promote veganism. Everyday, many kinds of people, from all over the world, visit our place, and I am so happy to exchange our ideas and wisdom. I also run in nine different running groups, and I have lots of running mates. All of them are interested in good performance, therefore many of them are interested in good diet. When they ask me for my opinion, I open my mouth and share my thoughts.
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
For veganism, I never say, "You must be a vegan!" People will move, when they want to move, not when they are forced to move. When they are willing to listen to my thoughts, I will open my mouth. Simply, I tell them, "Open your eyes. Animal based foods and drinks are bad for us, and those are slaughtered animals. Just stop eating or drinking them, if you are smart, if you concern your health and if you want to live ethically." Besides, some people have wrong thoughts that vegan food is tasteless. At our vegan restaurant, we serve our delicious vegan food to our customers and friends. In this way, I am sharing the idea of living joyfully, ethically and sustainably.
For running, I never say, "Run strong!" As a vegan runner, I do not show that I am strong. On our great earth, a human being is just a weak piece. I suggest running gently, lightly and softly. In this way, I believe we can enjoy running sustainably, without injury. This is especially what I suggest in my barefoot running club in Thailand. In this way, with veganism and barefoot ultra running, I am sharing my ideas of a sustainable way of living on our earth.
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