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Put Me in the Running: Animal Rights, Veganism, and a Race Against Time

By Jasmin Singer — October 09, 2012

I was always that kid in gym class hiding in the back, feigning cramps, and wondering how long until theatre class. Since I was a frequent target of bullies, running around attempting to kick a ball in front of my mean classmates was the last place I wanted to be. Plus, I loathed exercise. I still do, to be honest — although Mariann would likely roll her eyes at that. Even as a college student studying acting, I did my best to avoid any physical exertion — except for the dance classes we were required to take.

Throughout the past 2 years, I have lost nearly 100 pounds — thanks to a whole foods-based vegan diet, along with intermittent juice-fasting. I was a vegan for many years prior to losing weight (in fact, I gained quite a bit of it when I first went vegan — which had a lot to do with a very demanding job that trumped any interest I had in taking care of myself). The problem wasn’t so much that I gained weight — since you can indeed be a healthy person even if you are larger, so long as you’re vegan — but I was not so lucky as to maintain my good health. My triglycerides were through the roof, and I was well on my way to heart disease. That was unfortunate and ironic, especially since veganism can be a gateway into preventing and reversing heart disease. Some people, I learned, need to take a few extra steps in order to ensure optimal health. I was one of those people.

Let me interrupt myself in order to say that the primary impetus for my veganism has always been, and will always be, animal rights. The truth is, I don’t actually care all that much if people are optimally healthy, and I certainly could care less if they are thin. There are slippery slopes there, some of which head right into fatphobia, and I have no interest in putting things out there that can potentially be misinterpreted, or reinforce an unfortunately deeply held belief that thin is better. I also will never refer to veganism as a weight loss plan. It’s not. So let me be clear: Be fat, be thin, be whatever — as long as you are vegan.

But, back to my own story: I lost the weight, and all of my ailments improved. My tryglycerides became normal, and other issues I had been having — fatigue, headaches, body aches, depression — all righted themselves.

A year into my weight loss — so roughly one year ago now — I started running. I am not entirely sure what propelled me, except for the fact that I had an abundance of extra energy that came with getting healthy, and I needed to put it somewhere. I was also concerned that my frequent juice “fasts” might be slowing down my metabolism. I started by running 2 miles a few times a week, along the gloriously beautiful Hudson River in lower Manhattan. I began to look forward to the time I was able to spend with myself, especially since it was the only time I would actually listen to music — a deep love for me (and so many of us), which inexplicably got de-prioritized as my life got busier. And though I’ve lived downtown for many years, I had, until that point, never really explored the waterfront. Even now, that kind of blows my mind. It’s astonishing when we think about the habits we allow ourselves to fall into, and the beauty we can miss because of them.

Life went on, with all its hecticness and fury. Somehow, my miles picked up a bit, and running became a part of my life. I was never particularly fast, and it was always a big to-do to get out of bed in the morning and leave for my run. At the time, I didn’t ever run two days in a row, and so whenever I finished a run, I would thank my lucky stars that I had the next day off. Indeed, it was a chore. But admittedly, it was one that had enough benefits to keep me out there, even on the coldest days. Sometimes, if I left early enough, I would get a jump on the bustle of the city. My favorite run I’ve ever taken was on Christmas of last year, at 6 a.m. Remarkably for New York, everything was closed — which was both eery and liberating. I ran through the middle of the streets, around Union Square, and past the big Christmas tree in Washington Square Park, which — in the early-morning emptiness of the city — I was sure was displayed for only me. That’s the kind of solitude and peace that can come with a good run.

This past May, I found myself as a guest on The Dr. Oz Show, discussing my weight loss. At the time, I had just completed my first race — 4 miles through Central Park. The producers of the show felt there was a story there: Young Woman Loses Weight, Runs Around. Um, okay… Whatever makes the grade. So during the segment, they showed a photo of me at the race. Dr. Oz proclaimed, “4 miles! Wow!”

And that’s when I said it. I remember the words coming out of my mouth as if in slow motion. I knew they weren’t true, but I also knew that if I said it on national TV, I would not let myself down.

“Thanks, Dr. Oz! And I’m training for a half marathon now!”

Um, I am?

Of course, that part of my segment wound up cut from the show. In fact, they cut almost everything except for a tiny clip where I only got to say “veganism” one time. (Perhaps not surprisingly, they also cut the part of the show where I talked about how and why veganism was important to me.)

But by the time the episode aired, I had already made the decision to follow through with my plan of running a half marathon — even though I had to google how long a half marathon actually was. Turns out a half marathon is 13.1 miles. No biggie. I had already run, like, 6? Once? (And it had hurt.)

Deep breath…

By this time, I also knew that I was headed to Portland, Oregon for a few months. I figured that incorporating a training regime would be totally appropriate in the City of Roses, since I had heard that their running culture was taken almost as seriously as their coffee culture. I had no idea, however, how very serious Portlanders were about their running. I’d venture to guess that there are more runners and bikers on the road than cars. Driving around in Portland is a tad like a video game with the goal of avoiding killing the self-propelled people in fluorescent yellow clothing.

I happened upon the training program recommended by VegRun, which uses the regime set forth by No Meat Athlete. It did not hurt that, at around this same time, we had vegan ultrarunner champions Scott Jurek and Rich Roll on our podcast. Despite all of these inspirations, and all of the support around me, as my training regime began, I quickly became shocked — floored, really — by the intensity of the commitment. To put it mildly, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. In retrospect, I’m flabbergasted that Mariann did not break up with me. I not only dove head first in to training — which was a commitment of 6 days a week — but I became, shall we say, obsessed. I am sure that the obsession had largely to do with my the fact that I felt that if I wasn’t focusing on my training with everything I had when I was not working on Our Hen House, I would not complete my race. I knew how quickly it could all just slip away, so I was holding on for dear life. As a result, I became very boring and monomaniacal. My conversations always veered into things like socks, arnica, and — yep — poop.

Miraculously, I began to notice the training regime begin to pay off. I was able to pick up my miles and was soon running more than ten at a time — and living to tell the tale. I also was taking Pilates, since cross-training is a necessary part of training for a long race. When I began to notice muscle tone in my arms, I wondered who that person in the mirror was. I thought of the kid in the back of gym class, the one constantly blinking back tears, and I found myself wondering who was who. Was I that kid, or was I this runner? The truth is, I am still not sure. I will go on the assumption that I am both. I know for a fact that the me-now has not erased that kid. This story is not one of “look what I’ve overcome!” It is more about evolution than accomplishment.

Two days ago — October 7, 2012 — was my race day. My friends Debbie and Beth picked me up at 5:30 a.m., and we headed to downtown Portland. It was still dark out, and the temperature was in the 40’s. I had been so concerned about the logistics — getting up on time, properly nourishing and hydrating myself, remembering essential things like my sneakers — that I had completely forgotten about the fact that I was about to run a half marathon. Up until that point, I had only ever run 12 miles. It wasn’t until I was downtown and staring at my corral full of similarly paced runners that I realized, shit, I am about to do this. It’s no longer just a fantasy. It’s going to happen.

Throughout the past week, my obsession had gotten the better of me. For the first time, I began to think about the connection between veganism and running, and found myself moved to tears by an interview that James McWilliams — historian, activist, and friend — had published on the blog, Myths About The Vegetarian Myth. In it, McWilliams says:

Long distance running is personal and political, but even more, it’s transcendental. You transcend “normal” behavior as well as your own expectations. Over time, this serial transcendence plateaus at a different idea of “normal.” Through this beautiful, empowering process, you locate and relocate your identity. You constantly create new conceptions of what’s possible and those new concepts become part of you. The key here is this: You then become more involved with the world as an agent of change. You rage a bit. And this entire process is modeled. Others witness it; many are moved by it—they change for the better.  In this ongoing empowerment and transcendence, you are a public model, whether or not you think so. When you start running seventy miles a week, the people around you will eventually take notice and become curious. It’s an exceptional thing.

A very similar scenario—this internalizing, identifying, witnessing, and modeling— happens with vegan advocacy. My chances of convincing a non-runner to run by declaring “run!” are the same as convincing a non-vegan to go vegan by declaring “go vegan!”  Basically zero. Yes, you have to make your case, and there are a million ways to do it, but ultimately you have to do so while putting yourself out there, by allowing yourself to be witnessed. It’s risky as all hell, but there’s really no choice. A long distance runner cannot hide her running identity any more easily than a vegan advocate can hide his vegan identity. Nor should they hide it. Exposure has its costs, for sure, but the rewards are sublime; just ask any ethical vegan or self-identified marathoner. In these ways, both long distance running and ethical veganism etch positive standards—personal and political—into the pantheon of unrealized possibilities.

On our podcast last week — Episode 143 — Mariann and I further discussed the possible connections between running and veganism. That conversation, which left both of us feeling somewhat vulnerable — as we had each opened up quite personally about our feelings — started what I believe is just the beginning of an ongoing dialogue I will continue to have with myself and others about transcendence, both personal and collective. The jury is still out regarding how I feel about the possible connections between running and veganism. I am still not sure if running is completely self-involved, or if it connects to a larger unity that ultimately brings about a greater good. At the moment, I tend to think the former — that’s it’s an intensely personal experience that begins and ends there. It does, however, open up the possibility of tapping into a very impressionable, almost cult-like group — runners — and advocating veganism. It also allows for the possibility of having discussions of things like wool-free socks and leather-free shoes, in mixed company. But then again, every circle in our lives can allow us to have these openings, if we let them. So I am not sure if that kind of advocacy relates to veganism in particular. This topic is one that I also chatted a bit about just last week when I was interviewed for the vegan episode of the podcast, Runners Roundtable (alongside Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Amanda Lanza, Megan Storms, and Gordon Harvey). There is so much to ponder that it can almost be overwhelming. I wish there was a training regime for pondering.

I wound up finishing my half marathon. I ran my 13.1 miles. Some good friends came out to be with me during the race, and afterwards, to celebrate, we made some crazy good pancakes, thanks to Carrie On Vegan. Despite the ultimate success, there were some spots where I was far from optimistic. Around mile 10, my right knee started to hurt in unexpected and new ways — searing pain that did not die down. “Mind over matter,” I thought, as I tried my best to recall the various mantras that friends had told me about these past few months, little sayings that got them through long runs. Somehow, all the mantras became a mish-mosh in my brain, and I found myself unintentionally reciting: “I own my bread.” I was, by this point, delirious. Don’t ask me what I was actually trying to say. I have no friggin’ idea.

And so here I am. I did it. I ran my race and I am only limping a little bit today. I set my mind on something and I got there. I feel very proud, and also a tiny bit sad — a natural let-down that I imagine is par for the course. Kind of like December 26. The gifts have been opened.

The night of my race, we all went to a swing club, where a favorite band of ours was performing. A gallant gentlemen even asked me to dance. He was, of course, 20 years too late, but I said yes anyway — ignoring my unbendy knees. What a day.

All of that said, here is how I can currently boil down my thoughts: Running is so ridiculously wonderful, and so completely stupid. Both of these are, I believe, accurate. It is, after all, self-indulgent — at least to a degree. But, of course, I am also insanely proud of myself, and I feel energized, inspired, and — yes — changed.

Now that the race is over, I am also left thinking a bit about the need to pay attention to small victories, and how important that is for us activists. Though on one hand you could argue that my race was a somewhat arbitrary accomplishment, I really do look at it as a tiny victory. Honestly, it is almost masochistic not to. Transcendent or not, I accomplished it, and ignoring that would be almost as mean to myself as those kids who called me horrible names in grade school. What’s the point in working hard if you can’t have beer to celebrate? Or, if not beer, at least a self-induced pat on the back?

Same thing goes for working in animal rights. We are, in a lot of ways, racing our hearts out. There is no time to spare! Yet if we don’t at least slow down every now and then and notice how far we as a movement have come, we will put ourselves at risk for burnout. There is actually a lot to celebrate here, if we can put aside our sadness and anger for just a few minutes. One thing that gives me hope, for example, is the Vegetarian Resource Group’s recent study that says that 2.5% of US adults are vegan — which is up from just 1% in 2008! That jump, in such a short amount of time, is staggering! Let’s celebrate that! Sure, we could then say, “Yeah, but look at all the animals still being killed…” And that’s true too! But, for our own sanity, we need to stop and have that beer, or maybe just a smile. Just for a moment.

Of course, when talking about the possible connections one can draw between running and veganism, there is a lot that is also completely irrelevant. And I don’t mean to imply that running is as important — or even in the same ballpark or universe, really — as activism. Hopefully this goes without saying, but animal rights is, to me, the most important issue facing the world today, and it is our absolute moral imperative to do everything we can to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves (for animals of all kinds — humans and non).

There is so much to ponder, to act on, and so much to accomplish. For me, I’m finding that sometimes it takes a few sore muscles to get me thinking in new directions. It reboots me. I am ready. Let’s win this race.

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(29) Readers Comments

  1. October 9, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Congratulations, Jasmin! A half-marathon is a huge accomplishment - and the things you've learned along the way there about yourself and how it all relates to the other things in your life, like activism, is just as huge!

  2. October 9, 2012 at 10:45 am

    YAY! I knew you would do it. So proud of you and or you. Yes, running is quite an individual endeavor, but I have found that being a Vegan and a runner (and a person who has lost 93 lbs in the process) has opened up more doors to introduce Veganism to fellow runners. People who have wondered and doubted about Veganism/Vegetarianism in their life have chosen to give it a try. And those who stick with it are raving about it.Ok, Jasmin. Here's the big question: what's next in your running life? ;)

    • October 9, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Thank you, Gordon!! And I am very inspired by you and your journey. It was so great talking to you the other day on the running podcast. I am very taken by your energy! As for what's next for me -- oy to the vey. I am not positive. My legs hurt quite a lot still, but I have absolutely no doubt that I will resume running next week. I think I'll keep it more of a solitary activity for a while (which, okay, I guess you could say I was doing even when I was training). I can see another half marathon in my future, and who knows, perhaps a full one at some point. But at the moment I am excited about doing 5 mile runs, and taking some dance classes (even though they are not mandatory anymore!). And I'm also enjoying my strength-training (who knew?). But running has become an activity close to my heart, and I will continue to do it. I just need to feel out exactly what that means right now. :-) xo j

  3. October 9, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I've been thinking about transcendence ever since hearing the podcast on Saturday. I think a positive personal change, like taking up running or switching to a plant-based diet or losing weight, is really important to creating change in the larger world. When we make a small change within, it can give us the momentum to take action in the public world.For example, losing weight seems difficult to most people -- daunting, overwhelming, impossible, even. And then when they do it, when they change, they are actively saying "I'm not a victim; I am in control of my life." and that shift in consciousness will hopefully spur them to take actions that help the greater good -- that help creatures who are truly victims.

    • October 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      This is REALLY INTERESTING, Beth! Thank you for those thoughts. I am also, as you know, still formulating my way through this. I like that you are looking at the parallel this way. I agree with it.But I also think that there's a huge difference. Being vegan is a moral imperative; running is not. That seems like it *might* (I'm honestly not sure) be a FUNDAMENTAL difference.Still, though, I like looking at anything the way you are positing: that when we make any kind of positive personal change, we can motivate ourselves to keep going. I want to grasp that for a while...But then the other part of me is like, "well yeah, but a lot of people just STOP there... with the personal change." So there's that too.Lots to think about... xo j

  4. October 9, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Congratulations Jasmin - you did it!!! You're on a mission in more ways than one!!Your journey is very inspiring as is your work to change the world for animals. I'm very grateful for you and Marianne.Thnx!!!

  5. October 9, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Nice piece, Jasmin. (I'll listen to the podcast on my next run!) And many congratulations on your run! The connections between running and veganism are fascinating. I think we could add "writing" to this mix, and stir up some very appetizing food for thought.

    • October 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks, Martin! I was just thinking about how after my 5-mile race, you waiting around to cheer for me. That meant the world to me. You have been a real inspiration. I love the idea of adding "writing" to the mix... xo j

  6. October 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

    PS: I forgot to say that your mantra made me laugh aloud!

  7. October 9, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Congratulations, Jasmin! What a wonderful accomplishment to complete your half marathon. I have been a runner for 7 years, and have been vegan for 52 days. They are both such good things and people who do them, I find, try to get others to do the same, sharing how good they feel!Thanks for being such a great inspiration.

    • October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      Congrats on your veganism, Adrienne! That's really wonderful. I'm so excited about your journey. xo j

  8. October 9, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Congratulations, Jasmin!!!I listened to the podcast dialog this week and chuckled. I must say, I share Mariann's aversion to anything that reeks of sportiness. I say sportiness rather than personal athleticism, because I do perceive them a little differently. I am downright obsessed with yoga (for me, that goes far beyond exercise), and I do jog frequently and happily (and with no goal in mind). But racing feels not only athletic, but sporty: it brings me directly back to the team sports of adolescence: the cheers, the goals, the training, the bibs. All of it.That said, I think it's a fantastic thing to do, because you're right: it is ultimately a personal thing, an opportunity to push boundaries and do the impossible. So I commend you on finishing your race! I'm personally really proud.As for the connection to vegan activism, I'm not sure. I think what resonates with me from McWilliams' quote is the idea that distance running is unusual, unconventional, just as veganism is (right now). An unusual choice that confers personal growth and advancement. Perhaps the connection isn't so much to vegan activism, then, or to veganism as a public message, but rather to what the choice to become vegan does for the self. We tend to try not to think about going vegan in terms of personal gain, because it's not about us, but no one can deny that there IS a huge personal gain. Just as there is from running.

    • October 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Gena, as always, you hit the nail on the head. Thank your brilliant thoughts. As I just noted in a comment to Beth, I think that one of the possible fundamental differences is that veganism is a moral imperative, and veganism is not. So when looked at that way, it is perhaps an impasse in the discussion. STILL THOUGH -- a LOT of people I know who are terrific activists (like McWilliams) are also great runners. So there might be something there. I am still working this out, as you can tell. I also like your distinction b/w athleticism and sportiness. I will have to think on that, but it does resonate with me. There is indeed a big difference, I have found, b/w running and racing! xo j

  9. October 9, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    A friend just directed me to this post, and I want to say first and foremost: Congratulations! You live your life with honesty, compassion, commitment, and power.This is a beautiful testament to the the good that can come of treating ourselves and each other (and the world) well, and I am so glad for you. I just recently cleared a similar hurdle (I was also that kid in the back of gym class; I just finished my first full marathon), and know the wave of pride and exhaustion and even sort of melancholia that passes once you cross that finish line. This is an important thing that you did, to prove to yourself that you can.Brava, bravo, and stay fierce.

  10. October 9, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Such a beautifully written post from a beautiful soul. You inspire me every day, Jasmin!

  11. christopher west
    October 9, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Congrats and great post. 13.1 is no joke! As for the connections - I have recently thought that the opportunity in say running a half marathon what to speak of an ultramarathon represents the same type of potential statement as ethically driven veganism does. Ethical veganism is a moral matter but in the context of activism is a political statement. Running a great distance while completely personal is also a political statement particularly in this day and age when so much of people's health, connection to physical activity, play, etc is taken from them by the same social mechanisms, financial interests, and choice limited lifestyles that make flesh eating endemic. Now, I do not mean this as a conspiracy theory or to remove anyone's personal responsibility but like so many analogs that are the source of debate in the AR world - is it slavery? can we say that out loud? there are useful similarities even if the analog itself is problematic. The personal reclamation of health is a public political statement that contradicts the many forces in the world that exert pressure on people and other animals to their detriment. Reclaiming or maintaining your health through running or other means is a personal matter and a political statement if you see it as such. Veganism is a moral matter if you see it as such and a political statement whether we intend it or not. With this in mind every health oriented vegan is closer to every ethical vegan because they are fighting back against the same type of pressure - pressure to forget what you eat, pressure to look to an industrial fix for your ailment or your hunger, pressure to be a work object and to use other animals as work and fuel objects. I am hopeful for short walk conversions from health to ethics for many Forks over Knives vegans and look forward to loooong runs for ethical vegans who will view control of their own health as a valuable activism. Congrats again

  12. October 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Fantastic post, Jasmin. Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope it inspires many others.

  13. October 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Love this post! I know hearing your story has inspired me to keep running and keep working for veganism. Congrats!

  14. October 11, 2012 at 2:04 am

    I wanted to kindly request that you please consider moving posts about your weight loss/personal transformation/exercise goals to a personal blog instead of this one. As someone recovering from an eating disorder I intentionally avoid blogs about these things as they act as a trigger and affect me very negatively. I'm sure your body transformation success story is great for you, but not everyone can lose 100 lbs or run a half-marathon as you have. I come to this website for helpful information about activism, not to be 'inspired' to work out.

  15. October 25, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Congratulations!!! What an accomplishment!I think a lot of activists can tend to forget to take care of themselves. Health gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list when faced with such bigger issues that seem so much more important.But by taking care of ourselves and keeping ourselves healthy, we can do better work and more of it!Running gives me a chance to clear my head in a way that nothing else can. Without being able to get that clarity (and alone time), I think I'd be a lot less productive.Keep it up! Maybe a full marathon next year? :)

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