: Mark Coates
: 6 feet
: 190 lbs
: Vancouver, Canada
: Ottawa, Canada
Sports: Ultramarathon running
I originally became vegan to help improve my running performances. I had noticed before that I tended to run best when I ate very little meat. Although my veganism started as a sports nutrition experiment, my reasons for being vegan have since evolved to encompass animal rights and environmental concerns.
When and why did you become interested in fitness?
I've been interested in fitness all my life. There has never been a time in my life when I wasn't involved in sports and fitness in some way. From the time I can remember, I was involved in little league baseball, soccer, cross country running, and biking. I competed as a springboard diver for five years, culminated in me going to the Canada Age Group Nationals at the age of 16. I started lifting weights at the age of 14, and have been doing so on and off ever since. I rediscovered my love for running in 2001 and have been racing ever since.
How would you describe your nutrition program?
II don't have a very well defined program. I try to eat fresh, whole foods as much as possible. When I'm training heavily for a long race, I follow the general principles of the "Thrive Diet". I prefer to graze rather than eat big meals.
How would you describe your training program?
My running and weight training programs go hand in hand. If I'm preparing for a long race I'll usually spend more time running and less in the gym. Before a 100-mile race I'll peak at just over 100km per week of running, which includes at least 50km of aerobic zone running. After a long race I usually ease off the running, hit the gym more frequently and build up my strength. I use free-weights and bodyweight exercises almost exclusively.
I always make sure to listen to my body and take a rest day (or week) whenever I'm starting to feel sluggish. Lots of runners that I know will never deviate from their training schedule, regardless of how they feel. But if you show up at the start line of a 100 miler injured then you're probably not going to be able to "tough it out" as you would in a shorter race. So resting is an essential part of my training.
What kind of supplements do you use if any, and why?
I use Vega as a meal replacement or snack fairly often, but apart from that I use no supplements.
What are some common misconceptions about veganism?
It is surprising to me that some people still believe that vegans cannot be top tier athletes. While many vegan athletes are told that they can't compete unless they eat meat or eggs or whey protein supplements. There is relatively little of this criticism within the ultramarathon community, in large part because the top ultramarathoner in the world right now (Scott Jurek) is vegan. I wish that this attitude would catch on in the wider public.
What do you like best about being vegan?
I feel much healthier. I also appreciate the fact that I do not directly contribute to the exploitation of animals or the environment.
What do you like best about being fit?
I like the fact that any day of the week, I could choose to put on my shoes and run for four hours. Or go to the gym and do a hard, hour and a half long workout. Being fit means being able to do more, and I love that kind of freedom.
What are your strengths as an athlete?
I push myself right to the limit in training. That does not mean that I'm reckless or nonchalant about injury; just the opposite in fact. I am able to push myself so far because I make such an effort to be aware of the signals my body is sending me. Years ago my diving coach coached asked me, after I had painfully landed flat on my back from the 5m tower, "Are you injured or are you hurt?" Learning the distinction between pain and injury is absolutely vital in a sport like ultramarathon running, and I think my ability to do so is my greatest strength.
What advice do you have for vegan athletes who are just starting out?
Know that there is nothing about being a vegan that limits your athletic potential. Eating well is likely to boost your performance, and veganism is one excellent path to healthy eating. Get advice from other vegans, whether through friends, books, or websites.
What motivates you to continue to be a successful vegan athlete?
Just plain old love of sport. I love to compete, but I also love to just run for the sake of running: no watch, no training plan, no set route, no time limit. Same thing at the gym. While I've had great results following set programs, sometimes I like to work out for the sake of working out.
How has the website www.veganbodybuilding.com helped or inspired you?
I have been inspired seeing other people improve their fitness through veganism and hard work. Taking part in the 2007 spring challenge motivated me to stick to my weight-training program more closely than ever before.