Fiona Oakes

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Four-times world record breaking ultramarathon runner

Fiona Oakes running a marathonSome people think of veganism as a new trend, but it’s a change I made back in the 1970s when I was growing up. I made the connection with animals and I knew I didn’t want to contribute to their suffering, so I decided to stop consuming all animal products.

At the time there were few pre-prepared products around, so buying plant milk would mean a journey to the nearest major town, and all food would be homemade. There is so much more choice available now, with most shops stocking products designed specifically for vegans, but I choose to keep my diet centred on wholefoods. They are so cheap and simple to prepare, and they give me the energy I need for my busy routine – whether that’s training for another marathon or looking after the 550 rescued animals at Tower Hill Stables.

Although I made the change at the age of six, I firmly believe that it’s never too late to choose veganism. Having consumed animal products for many years, people in their fifties and sixties are now choosing to lead a more ethical life, and by doing so, they are reducing the demand for products which are made from exploited creatures. It’s not just good for animals and the planet, but it’s great for our bodies too, especially as we become older. Fitness is so important to me, and my vegan diet allows me to get the right dietary balance to keep at the top of my game

Running for good

Fiona Oakes running a 250km across the Sahara DesertSports are an amazing arena to show the power of veganism in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s becoming clearer than ever that many top athletes rely on a diet without animal products, just as I’ve demonstrated the power of veganism by winning four Guinness World Records and running marathons on every continent.

That’s also why I co-founded Vegan Runners. When I cross the finish line in my Vegan Runners vest, I feel a sense of pride, not just because I’ve run a good race, but because I know I’m showing that vegans are strong, healthy people who can achieve anything. The producer of Cowspiracy, Keegan Kuhn, made Running for Good to prove exactly that. It tells the story of my 250km run across the Sahara Desert as part of the Marathon Des Sables, which some call the toughest footrace on Earth. It certainly was a challenging experience, particularly as I have only one kneecap after suffering an illness in my teenage years, and was told I wouldn’t be able to walk again. But I believe that putting my mind and body to the test helps show that the ‘weak and weedy’ image of veganism is a thing of the past, and I have overcome many obstacles to prove this.

Smashing stereotypes has always been important to me. Alongside my marathon training and animal activism, I’m also a retained firefighter. Just over 5% of people in this job are women, but I’m proud to be in a minority because I know that I’m creating change – just like being vegan.

The sanctuary

Fiona Okaes at Tower Hill Stables sanctuary, surrounded by lambsChanging what I eat was one of the first and most important steps on my vegan journey, but I knew I could go further. I had always rescued animals in a small and simple way, and founded Tower Hill Stables in 1993 after one of my horses had a terrible accident due to the negligence of a stable owner, and so I wanted to create a home to protect and care for animals myself. This was the start of a fundraising process that is still ongoing today. My partner Martin and I bought the first plot of land, selling off many of our personal possessions to do so, and have since moved to a larger site. Never would I have imagined that more than 25 years later, I would be looking after more than 100 horses, many of whom have retired from racing.

The horses make up just a small percentage of the 550 creatures at the sanctuary. Animals rescued from agriculture, such as pigs, cows, chickens and sheep are at home here, and we also welcome cats and dogs, the latter of whom sometimes have histories of being used in canine fights. Visitors to the stables are often delighted to discover the individual personalities of our residents, demonstrating they are far more than food products – they are sensitive and intelligent beings.

Running the sanctuary brings its own challenges too. I wake up at 3:30am each morning to start the chores, such as feeding the animals and giving them fresh bedding. By the time these are done, I eat a good meal of whole foods, then start again on the evening tasks or complete my running training for the day. It’s tiring work but seeing the transformation in the often-neglected animals who come here makes it all worthwhile. I know they will lead long, happy lives at our vegan sanctuary, and it’s empowering to know that my diet is doing the same for me too.

Has going vegan helped you to thrive? If you have a story to share, please get in touch.

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