Up until 2013, Scott Spitz was a long distance competitive runner. His marathon personal record is 2:25:55, and he was chasing a US Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier (2:19), when he was suddenly sidelined by a rare form of stomach cancer (PMP). He underwent intensive surgery, was kept alive by machines for days, before spending months recovering. Scott slowly built back up to running and cycling during his chemo regimen then underwent the same surgery in August 2014. He hopes to be training again without the effects of chemotherapy, and chasing down a marathon PR. He been and ethical vegan for over 20 years. You can read about Scott’s story on his blog.
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I was involved in a musical subculture (straight-edge) where drug-free living, veganism and care for the earth were foundational ethical principles, so being exposed to those issues through pamphlets, books and music, I made the decision that eating animals was unnecessarily cruel. When I made the visceral connection between what was on my plate and how it got there, I simply stopped eating it without ever looking back.
How long have you been vegan?
Over 20 years.
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
Initially it was the satisfaction that I was not involved in the cruel confinement and production of animals for food. Knowing that I had successfully removed myself from that process gave me a sense of calm and compassion that I carry to this day. Beyond that, paying attention to food and what I put into my body has expanded my knowledge of food choices and experiences, enriching my life more than I could have imagined.
What does veganism mean to you?
Above all else, it is my attempt to change the world for the better - by doing a small part to let animals (human and non-human) live their existence free from confinement and undue suffering.
What sort of training do you do?
When I wasn't dealing with my current health circumstance (one-year survivor/thriver of a rare form of stomach cancer), I was running approximately 100 miles a week while training for marathons. My ultimate goal was to qualify for the US Olympic Marathon Trials, and to at least break my current Marathon PR (2:25:55).
At this point, due to the side-effects of chemotherapy and surgery, I'm running every chance I can get in hopes of getting past my body's cancering process and getting back to running unhindered.
How often do you (need to) train?
Pre-cancer I was running everyday of the week, at least 10 miles a day, or sometimes running twice a day closer to goal races. At this point, I'm running when my feet are not in too much pain. If I could run everyday at this point, I would, but for now, it's a few days at a time, with a break and then repeating the process. Everything is so precarious with how my body feels that it's hard to keep a schedule.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
I don't officially, but I try to respond to every question about nutrition or training via my blog. With that said, I'm almost finished completing a "Run Vegan Primer" that I started writing prior to cancer. It will, hopefully answer all the questions that are often sent my way. I'm hoping to offer it as a free PDF soon.
What sports do you play?
Running is my passion, but I also really enjoy bike commuting and hiking in the woods when the opportunity is available.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
At one point, I would say it was that we are inherently weak due to our non-protein based diets, but I think the mass of vegan athletes in all sports has pretty much killed that idea. Now, it seems there is a perception of vegans as hyper-pacifiists who are drawn to new-age ideas and extreme fringe cultures. Although stereotypes exist for a reason (because there is some truth to them), I'm certainly not of that category of vegan, and I combat this by spreading specific messages that aren't necessarily related to veganism. I promote science, reject new-age ideas, and let it be known that I'm not a tree-hugging hippy when the opportunities arise.
Veganism, in no way, has to be associated with an identity. It's simply about doing what is necessary to not bring harm onto animals. One can own a gun, be a CEO, and reject new-age religion while still doing so.
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
My strengths would be my ability to run through the voice in my head that tells me to take a break, ease up, and slow down. I have a drive to get better and better and I constantly find ways to push myself as the efforts get harder and harder. Sometimes that involves a number of motivations, whether that is inspiring others, seeking my goals, or keeping in mind the plight of animals.
What is your biggest challenge?
Right now, it's getting past cancer and getting back to my life of consistent training. Before cancer, it was managing my daily life responsibilities, but still getting in all the training and doing all the tiny things that would push me closer and closer to my goals.
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
They are really. To be honest, it's hard to discredit my dietary choices when I'm succeeding as an athlete. If I was getting worse and worse as a runner, then maybe people could point to my diet and say, "See, it's not working." But, that was never the case. I was continuing to win races throughout my running career, and even now, I'm thriving through this cancer experience and shocking the doctors with my recovery and abilities, so it's still hard for anyone to not support my decisions. The proof is in the vegan pudding, right?
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
Families are always more difficult to persuade, but they are very supportive. My parents have come to adopt some of my dietary choices in small ways and my mom enjoys making vegan options for me. As far as friends go, I surround myself with people I admire and appreciate, so I have a lot of vegan friends or people who aren't so judgmental about non-normative lifestyles, so yes, they are quite supportive as well.
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?
Usually it's, “How long have you been vegan?” They are always quite surprised when I give them the number of years and they usually don't ask much more. Because I "fly the flag", so to speak, I get a lot of specific questions about nutrition (for themselves, not me) and I do my best to give them reliable answers and ways to incorporate veganism into their lives.
Who or what motivates you?
My community of friends - those I've met and those I haven't - who are in my feedback loop of effort, compassion and inspiration. We promote our lives, our politics and our physical efforts to let each other know that we aren't alone, that we can always do more and that our lives are better for it in the end.
Fundamentally, I'm always inspired by the reality of the lives of animals, the unimaginable suffering they experience at the hands of our drive for convenience and disassociated lifestyles. The use of animals is beyond cruel, it's sadistic, and that knowledge always keeps me focused, motivated and driven.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:
Breakfast - More than anything, oatmeal that I create with oats, bananas, raisins, cocoa, cinnamon, ginger, almonds, flax seed and any number of other ingredients I have at the time.
Lunch - Depending on my needs - how much I've been running, how hungry I am, etc. - it could be a more substantial snack of sorts, a kale salad, or something similar. Sometimes I "graze" a lot, so lunch isn't a big, solid meal for me.
Dinner - Among many things I create, stir-fry is my go to. It's quick, easy and nutritious. I'll use frozen stir-fry veggies, nutritional yeast, almonds, ginger, turmeric, etc. and then add either rice or couscous as a base.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) – Not-so healthy are the cookies I enjoy making - oatmeal or coffee chocolate chip. The healthy snacks might be smoothies, energy bars or kale salad, and plenty of fruit - oh, and peanut butter on a spoon. I'm known to dip into peanut butter all the time.
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Definitely peanut butter (or any nut butters). I don't eat many fake meats often, especially with current digestive issues. I do enjoy tofu and tempeh, but get protein through nut butters, grains and beans primarily.
Calcium - I put a lot of spinach and kale in my foods, so I get a decent amount there, but also through fortified foods such as soy milk, tofu, etc.
Iron - Again, a lot of green leafy veggies, beans, etc.
What foods give you the most energy?
I've never been able to pinpoint anything that gives me a significant boost of energy, aside from coffee. I eat primarily whole foods and often have a lot of energy, so I attribute everything to my diverse diet as a whole. All the veggies and beans and nuts and fruits and grains are constantly supplying me with necessary energy.
Do you take any supplements?
I do. I take B-12 once or twice a week, but that's it. On the other hand, most of our foods are fortified and, to me, that is no different than supplementation, just in different amounts.
What is your top tip for:
I wouldn't be much help in this category. I'm always focusing on endurance and speed rather than muscle building. For me, the muscle building comes with repetition in running and the inherent body weight strain put on all my necessary muscles. The only specific attempts I've made for muscle building have been through injury, when I needed to start a body resistance routine to correct muscular imbalances in my legs and when I engaged in core workouts to help that part of my body.
I've been able to keep a consistent weight through my general activity, but also through eating a primarily whole foods diet. I've found that I can eat a lot of food, but the calorie counts aren't excessive due to a lack of additions of sugars, fats and other unnecessary ingredients. Paying attention to eating good foods will go much further in weight loss than going to the gym every day.
Physical activity isn't the best for losing weight when you have already adjusted your diet in both portions and calories, but it can certainly help in maintaining weight. It helps burn those added calories you may intake from time to time without knowing it. I personally don't calorie count, never have, but don't worry about it because I know whatever calorie surplus I have in a day or two will be equalized with physical activity in my life.
I don't have a professional knowledge to be able to answer this question properly. I'll leave that one up to the experts.
Toning for runners is just about running consistently. The more you run, the more unnecessary weight will be shed and your "tone" will show through. It's that simple.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
By living vegan first and foremost, but also by sharing stories, thoughts and articles I think are effective in persuading others. I won't flood people with veganism, but rather consider what people will be receptive to the most and push that, but always keeping an ethical perspective on everything. To me, ethical veganism is the most important and long lasting of all the motivations to adopt the vegan lifestyle. I also push it through my blog by making it front and center in everything I display on the page. Beyond all that, I continue to try and perform at a high level, despite my current obstacles, and just be a person that others enjoy and respect.
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
The best part about running is all you need is the ability to put one foot in front of the other. Do that over and over again, and suddenly you're a runner. Do it to your abilities, your motivations and your needs - and that's it.
It's not too different with veganism. Just put your fork somewhere else on your plate, that isn't into an animal products or by-products, and you will already be on your way to a new life and new perspective - and the non-human animals will benefit as well!
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