Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Fiona Oakes and I live in the UK in a small village called Bradwell on Sea where I care for the animals at the Sanctuary, I founded 25 years ago – Towerhill Stables Animal Sanctuary. On top of this, I am an elite World Record Holding Marathon and Ultra Marathon runner and I currently hold 4 Guinness World Records for endurance events.
Find Fiona and all her amazing accomplishments online here:
When someone asks, “Where do you get your protein from?” What’s the best way for you to educate them on how you have been an elite athlete and not had to worry about this issue?
Very often I reply by asking them where they think I get my protein from. It engages them in the conversation more and puts them on the back foot. I explain to them protein requirements and that I probably need – based on my weight and gender – around 40 grams of protein per day. I do surprise them when they know how much protein are in very inexpensive and natural products such as oats, chickpeas, lentils and almonds. I have always said my diet is very natural, basic and inexpensive and even as an athlete, I have never had any issues with protein deficiency. I think balance is the most important thing.
What advice can you give to new vegan runners?
Join Vegan Runners – the Club I co-founded 15 years ago. When you put on the Green and Black vest it’s the biggest statement you can make for the animals and you feel you are a real like walking – or running – advert for all you believe in. For me, it’s what gives me the edge in races as I so desperately want to be the best I can in order to encourage others to take heed and follows suit! Other advice would be the same as I would give to anyone new to running. Take it sensibly, safely and steadily and remember the key to achievement is consistency. No good going out and hitting the sessions too hard and finding you are constantly getting injured. Building up gradually in both mileage and pace is the key to achieving the results and being able to sustain your performance over many years. After all, the results you achieve on the day of any race are just a testament to the amount, and level, of training your body can maintain on a regular basis.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
One of my biggest accomplishments is actually running itself as I was told – after multiple surgeries in my teenage years – I would never walk normally again, let alone run. With regard to the running side of things, the multistage races such as Marathon des Sables have been tough with my knee condition, placing Top 20 in the London Marathon was a massive success, my PB of 2hrs 38 and winning the Marathon at the North Pole and Antarctica with my disability.
What has been your biggest Challenge?
The biggest challenge – other than actually running – is finding the time to train enough to deliver the results whilst caring for 500 animals!
What lead you to veganism?
I became vegan when I was 6 years old after being vegetarian since the age of 3 – this was 47 years ago. Both were totally self-inspired reactions to the cruelty and exploitation of all forms of animal agriculture. I am always reluctant to say it was a decision for me to make this choice as I think at that age you are too young to make informed decisions it was just a simple rejection of violence towards those I love and care for.
What was it like being vegan 47 years ago?
It’s never personally been hard for me to be vegan because I am doing it for the animals and I love them more than life itself. With regard to buying food products, you just had to eat the basic foods which are vegan as there were no supplements – not even things like soya milk. So fresh vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, lentils, rice, beans etc. were my staple diet and still are. I am not a fussy or fancy feeder. I honestly believe food is a fuel which facilities the more important things in life. Given the fact I am lucky enough to live in a country where food, in terms of having enough, is not an issue then beyond that I am pretty relaxed about my diet. I don’t buy the ‘substitute’ products or fake meats because I have never had the food, they are replacing it’s not something I feel I need or want in my diet. It works for me and I am completely happy with it so why change – it’s worked for me for decades.
When you first went vegan how did you phase out your non-vegan food, clothing and other items?
Honestly, I just didn’t eat the food products and wear the clothing products. It was a very long time ago – in the early 1970’s so it has been a big learning curve since then to realize the depth and extent animal products and by-products are used in everyday items. My basic rule is ‘keep it simple, keep it safe’.
Do you make any exceptions for your veganism?
I don’t have children and I make no exceptions with regard to veganism in the world I can control in my own home – beyond that I have no say but i continue to always try to influence and encourage others to make the journey to compassionate living.
Do you believe we should show children the process of how animals are turned into meats?
I believe no child would elect to eat meat or have any part of the industries which benefit from the exploitation of animals if they were given the basic facts. I don’t think it is the correct thing to ‘frighten’ children into veganism, I believe well informed and balanced education is enough.
What does being vegan mean to you?
Being vegan for me is compassion for all – including humans. It’s about equality, dignity and respect. I know I am not perfect and can never be so. I know I don’t know everything but I want to continue learning until the day I die. It’s about being as compassionate, kind and balanced human being as you can be.
Is it every vegan’s duty to become an activist?
What is the definition of an ‘activist’? I think that just by being vegan you are impacting the animals in a positive way. Beyond that, it’s whatever you feel most comfortable doing. For me, it’s about being active for the animals. Whether caring for them, out running and promoting veganism through athletics, engaging in conversation and debate when and wherever I can and always being positive and peaceful in my actions and words or introducing veganism to audiences who are not necessarily familiar with it – as it was when joined the Fire Service. Don’t feel forced into one particular form of activism – devise and create your own as if it comes from the heart and with a raw and pure passion it will be most effective and influencing in educating others.
How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans?
I feel extremely lucky that I was able to make such a life enhancing change at such an early age and feel extremely sorry that more people aren’t able to reach this destination earlier – if ever – in their life. I will say that the only negative thing I have heard from people regarding those who have gone vegan is they are sorry they didn’t do it sooner.
Any recommended Vegan books?
Legends of Change by Rebecca Frith is the one I am reading at the moment.
Do you have a favorite movie or videos or your own media that you want to share?
Running for Good by Keegan Kuhn is the one I am supposed to say but Cowspiracy and What the Health are the most remarkable films for people new to veganism, those who have been vegan for a long time or educating those who have not found their way to the path of veganism yet as they deliver the facts in a very tactile and easily digestible format without being too shocking or disturbing but leave the audience with a thirst for more knowledge which they will hopefully go away and quench by researching more.
What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?
I honestly don’t ever get chance to eat out and when I travel, I take my own food with me but I have been invited to Vantra in London a couple of times by the wonderful Lenny Phong and it is an amazing place run by an equally amazing person.
Please share your favorite vegan recipe.
I am not a great cook, in fact I am not really a cook at all but I can manage baked potatoes with beetroot, fennel, chickpea and pine nut salad smothered in Tabasco sauce. Delicious and very warming and filling after a long run!
Some encouraging words for new Vegans?
This is the best decision you will ever make – look forward to a very bright and fulfilling future both mentally, physically and spiritually.
What is the vegan scene like in your city?
I live in a very small village so there is literally no vegan scene anywhere near to me but that’s OK as, if there were, I wouldn’t have chance to go as I am always so busy at the Sanctuary or training for events so the vegan scene at the Sanctuary is the one I spend my time at and it’s pretty cool as I share it with around 500 animal friends!
What personal recommendations can you make for people to meet other vegans?
I suppose the obvious one is go to the Vegan Fairs and Festivals, join the ‘meet up’ groups like Pig Save and Vegan Runners or the seemingly inexhaustible resources Social Media has to offer.
What does living cruelty-free mean to you?
Cruelty- free extends to all, compassion is not something which can be compartmentalized and extended to some based on their species. As individuals we need to think more as our time on this earth is being part of a ‘global community’ of inhabitants who all should be afforded equal rights.
What are you favorite Vegan non-food products or companies?
Wear Your Voice t-shirts by Angela Tubb – she’s a friend to many great causes and uses her beautiful designs to share compassion through clothing.
What is the toughest Vegan item to find that you need?
Up until recently it was a very lightweight synthetic sleeping bag for my ultra-stage races but OMM have now filled that void so I don’t have to carry an ex-Army Surplus Snug Pack which was, to say the least, heavy and bulky. Not what you want when attempting to traverse 250km + across the Sahara Desert with your entire requirements for a week of self-sufficiency carried on your back.
Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?
Truly, I have never struggled with my veganism because I have always known why I am committed to it – the animals. They have, and always will be, my main motivators in life. When you carry this passion in your heart, mind and soul you don’t struggle – it’s so easy and natural you don’t ever question it.
If you do question your decision to be vegan it and it starts to get you down, getting extra help may be necessary. Click here for a great place to start getting help.