Viva La Vegan!

Helen Fines is a veterinary surgeon and mountain runner. She has represented England twice in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, finishing 3rd in 2011 and 6th in 2013, with team gold and team bronze also. She also represented England in the Snowdon International Race in 2012, finishing 2nd. Helen has been part of a Great Britian mountain relay team five times. She has been runner-up in the British and/or English Fell Running Championships several times, and is leading the 2013 championships. She has 5 re-homed stray dogs and lives up a hill in Yorkshire, England.


Why Vegan?
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
After working as a veterinarian for several years I became disillusioned about the way we exploit animals for our own gain, in a way that is at their expense.

How long have you been vegan?
Since 2009.

What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
Feeling better about myself.

What does veganism mean to you?
It's purely an ethical decision, nothing to do with health benefits, although that can be a side effect. I wanted to feel like I was living a better way. Changing the world starts with changing yourself, if that's not too corny!
What sort of training do you do?
Being a hill runner I do a lot of hill work, also cycling, track work, core stability, weights.

How often do you (need to) train?
Usually twice a day.

Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
No, I prefer training on my own and don't really have any qualification to help others.

What sports do you play?
Just running. Mainly mountain running, cross country, occasional road race.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
That vegans are boring, self-righteous and humourless. I don't really do anything specific to address it, I just be myself. I can't be anyone else and I don't think it helps to argue vehemently against people's prejudice, better to let it dawn on them that they're wrong.

What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
I'm a very good descender in mountain races though that has nothing to do with being vegan.

What is your biggest challenge?
Finding vegan food on race trips – I went to Poland recently, they don't even seem to have vegetarian options there. I never want to see cabbage again!

Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
Not as much as you would hope in the veterinary profession. Things are changing but it'll be a generational thing. We need a total re-think of how we approach animal welfare and the human-animal relationship, in my opinion.

Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
My family is from a hunting/farming lifestyle - enough said. Friends are very supportive though, even if they don't understand, or even agree, they respect my decision.

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?
 “Where do you get your energy from?” I've been asked this by people who should know better e.g. doctors, and I must say it annoys me! I respond by saying “from food, the same as you, it just isn't of animal origin.” There is virtually no food that there isn't a non-animal equivalent for.

Who or what motivates you?
I don't really know. I have some sort of inbuilt obsessive drive, which is a good and a bad thing, but it's not really optional for me.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:

Breakfast – Cereal with soya milk, porridge, fruit and berries.
Lunch - Often I go to the local vegan bakery for spinach rolls and vegan chocolate flapjacks. They have an awesome range of vegan cakes, savouries, breads, and croissants. Here's a shout out to Saker Organic Bread of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire - not only is the food great, they are really cheap too!
Dinner – I quite like a vegetable stir-fry with sweet potato and tofu. Or bulgar wheat, couscous, quinoa with seeds, falafel or some other protein source e.g. packet sosmix type things.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) - Chips (that's fries if you're from the USA!), vegan chocolate, more vegan chocolate, more chocolate.
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Pumpkin seeds
Calcium – Cheezly (vegan cheese)
Iron - Vegetables
What foods give you the most energy?
Couscous is my favourite pre-race meal, it's really easy to make when you're travelling, just need to be able to heat water and it doesn't take much space dry.

Do you take any supplements?
I take multivitamins and minerals but I don't think I really need to. Went for the first 3 years as a vegan without it and was fine. It was when I started doing night shifts that I thought I would take vitamins.
What is your top tip for:

Gaining muscle - Erm... training! As mountain runners, we are looking for strength without bulk so I wouldn't want to gain too much muscle.
Losing weight - Eat less, exercise more - no rocket science there.
Maintaining weight - Log energy in and energy out and monitor weight.
Improving metabolism - I eat 5 meals a day rather than 3 and I think this helps, if overall calorie intake is the same.
Toning up - I've never really considered this, it's just part of the result of being an athlete I suppose.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
I don't actively promote it really, but I just be myself and let people make their own mind up.

How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
I think everyone should try mountain running, although it’s probably good that they don't or there would be too much erosion! It varies from country to country, but most have some sort of national or local governing body, which would be a good place to start. In the UK it's Fell Runner.


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