Meet Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power

strong heartsWhat happens when you join 12 vegan runners for a Ragnar Relay adventure? A whole lotta awesome! On July 17th I received the following email from Joel Capolongo, co-owner of Strong Hearts Café in Syracuse, NY (a place I miss dearly…):

You ever do a Ragnar relay race? I am putting together an all-vegan team to run the one in the adirondacks in late September. What do you have going on September 27-28th?!!! =D

All it took was a quick check of the race calendar and I said yes! To be honest with you, if it would’ve been just a random team I probably would’ve hesitated and put some thought into it. But he had me at “all-vegan“. It’s no secret that I am a proud plant-powered athlete – just take a look at some of the articles on my media page. Although I never have a single doubt about my diet as it pertains to my athletic endeavors, it surely is the #1 comment from the naysayers. “You can’t be a successful endurance athlete if you don’t eat meat.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that… I am happy to say that over the years I have shown these people that not only can you survive as an athlete on a plant-based diet – you can excel! Countless people have asked me about my diet as they realize there may be something to this way of life…

Although Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power is not out to break any records at the Ragnar Relay Adirondacks, we are coming together in solidarity to show everyone that being powered by plants is the perfect complement to an active lifestyle. With over 146 years of vegan living between the 12 of us, I believe we will make quite the statement! I am honored and proud to be a part of such an amazing crew (not to mention I can’t wait to enjoy all the vegan goodies we’ll be sharing along the way) 🙂

Here’s the lineup:



Runner #1 – Aaron Bell aka “MA Bell” – vegan 3 years – NY

Aaron ‘s reason for running Ragnar with the team is simply “Joel asked and it sounded like fun!” Joel describes Aaron as funny, laid back, and willing to take on a tough challenge on a whim – “just the kind of crazy we are looking for in a vegan teammate”. The story I heard is that Aaron ran last year’s Turkey Trot 5k barefoot. So I’d say he’s a perfect fit for our team!

Favorite running fuel“I always inadvertently eat something greasy or heavy before I run!

Song that gets Aaron pumped to runLately, anything by Sylosis


Peter w/ Yuri who came from Woodstock Farm Sanctuary

Runner #2 – Peter Nussbaum aka “Gramps” – vegan 5 years – NY

Why say yes to Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power? As a vegan runner, fellow teammate Scott Spitz (you’ll read about him next) has been a huge inspiration for Peter and he has followed his blog for 5 years. “I have never met Scott in person and the chance to spend a couple of days running with him was all the motivation I needed.” And I’m sure being able to “pass the baton” to his inspiration during this challenge will make it that much sweeter. Not dismissing the rest of us, Peter says the chance to meet the rest of the team and to help promote a vegan lifestyle is “icing on the cake”! Peter ran for many years as a non-vegan and made the switch at age 40 primarily for health reasons, however after his eyes opened to the tragic truths of animal consumerism, the animal rights aspect of veganism has taken over as his #1 reason.  Peter and his wife have been adopting rescue roosters and hens through Woodstock and Elmira Farm Sanctuary and their goal is to turn their farm into a full-fledged animal sanctuary. “Caring for them is as gratifying as anything I have ever done.” I think we should change Peter’s nickname to “Rooster” 🙂

Favorite running fuelVEGA mango tango protein powder, coconut water, frozen fruit and banana shake



Runner #3 – Scott Spitz aka “Upness” – vegan 19 years – IN

If there was a Scott Spitz Wikipedia page it would start with: Vegan Warrior.When asked why he is running the Ragnar relay with Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power he gives a very simple answer – “I have great respect for the team captains and it’s a great opportunity to promote veganism from both an athletic and ethical basis.” But his nickname opens another chapter to the story. Upness is a metaphor for overcoming mountainous obstacles (see And Scott is the epitome of “upness.” In early April of this year Scott was diagnosed with a rare and advanced form of stomach cancer. He underwent surgery to remove the malignant tumors a few weeks later only to have the surgeons halt mid-surgery when they discovered the tumors were much more advanced and dangerous than previously thought. Scott is currently in chemotherapy treatment to reduce the tumors to the point where surgery is again a viable option. A full account of his experiences can be found at his blog: I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that we are honored to be running with such a strong, committed fighter! Not to mention he is a phenomenal runner! “The Mountain: a metaphor for any tough obstacle in our lives. We could go around it, but we choose to climb it…without great speed, but with an unwavering commitment to the effort it takes to face it, head on.” Climb on Scott – you will have a team of fellow vegan warriors with you on the 27th!

Favorite running fuel“Coffee. But these new HUMA gels are a close second, though I only fuel if it’s a marathon or longer.”

Song that gets Scott pumped to runTimebomb by A Perfect Murder – this was the song playing in Scott’s head when he PR’d at the Chicago marathon in 2009 with a 2:25:55



Runner #4 – Mario Mason aka “Super Mario” – vegan 17 years – NY

Mario is one well-rounded teammate. He’s a PGA golf professional, plays on a broomball team in the winter, enjoys watching hockey, and can soon add Ragnar Relay Runner to his list. He is running because he has never run a distance race like this and enjoys challenging himself. Taking on the challenge with 11 other vegan athletes is another perk!

Favorite running fuelbananas and water

Song that gets Mario pumped to run1000 More Fools by Bad Religion



Runner #5 – Mike Pease aka “Easy Peasey” – vegan 19 years – NY

Mike ran cross-country and track in high school and loved every second of it. After high school he switched his attention to weightlifting but every once in a while he would get back into running kicks. The Ragnar Relay is giving him something fun and interesting to train for, and he’s looking forward to racing with like-minded people. This will be his first competitive race in 13 years – what a way to get back into running! “Oh yeah, and I’m vegan and wanted to represent.” And represent he does – Mike owns 2 vegan restaurants in NYC  which serve “delicious, organic super foods seasoned like familiar favorites.” Make sure to check out one of the locations when you’re in town!

Favorite running fuel saltine crackers and an apple right before a race. “I’ll be picking up some Strong Hearts Buffalo Wing pizza as a reward for after the race (not recommended before running…).”

Song that gets Mike pumped to runIn contrast to the rest of his teammates, Mike uses mellow music to get him in the mood for distance running. His go-to album – R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People



Runner #6 – Alan Vedge aka “Hungry Legs” – vegan 10 years – IN

Alan is a distance runner who loves the feeling he gets from running 28 miles before he starts his work day. He also runs for an amazing cause – if you are not familiar with the non-profit organization Back On My Feet you should check them out! They use the positive benefits of running to create self-sufficiency in the lives of those experiencing homelessness. He once ran a half marathon inside a prison through Indiana Re-Entry Foundation to raise money for BOMF. Alan is running the Ragnar Relay because it sounds like a great way to promote veganism, and have fun doing so!

Favorite running fuel“Coffee beforehand. Whatever I can get my hands on during. Cookies afterwards.”

Song that gets Alan pumped to runif Alan had to pick a run-hard-and-throw-down song, it would be Screaming at a Wall by Minor Threat.


Joel w/ Ivan, a 16-yr-old goat who lives at Farm Sanctuary

Runner #7 – Joel Capolongo aka “Cappy”vegan 20 years – NY

The captain and founder of this team of awesomeness, Joel saw a web banner for the Adirondack Ragnar relay event and as soon as he clicked on it and read what it was all about, he decided right then and there that he could “round up enough like-minded vegans who would be up for the challenge.” Joel already has a major positive impact on the lives of others – he provides amazing food for the vegan population in upstate NY, but more importantly he introduces the non-vegan population to a new experience proving that vegan food can be amazingly delicious! Forming this Ragnar team is another way he is spreading the word and the love! “There’s so much misinformation out there about the dietary requirements to perform at an elite athletic level, or even a respectable athletic level, so I think it’s incredible that 12 vegans can get together and run nearly 200 miles purely on vegan power!” Joel is also motivated to run this race because he has never done anything like this before. He’s been running on and off for a few years and he wanted a good challenge for his fitness level and to focus his training.

Favorite running fuelbananas, a PB&J on sprouted grain bread, and coconut water

Song that gets Joel pumped to runAnything by the bands Terror, Hatebreed or Earth Crisis. “I tend to lean towards the more heavy, angry-type stuff. I seem to run harder and with more determination when I am pissed off.”



Runner #8 – Me aka “Wonder Woman” – vegan 8 years – PA

What more can I say. I’m excited to be on a team that is going to show people what can be accomplished purely on plant power. And to meet, run with, and get to know such awesome, compassionate people who share my love for running – what more could a girl as for? Okay, maybe treats – lots of yummy vegan treats 🙂 Oh did I mention that already?

Favorite running fuelI’m a Vega girl – I always use Pre-Workout Energizer, Endurance Gel, and Recovery Accelerator.

Song that gets me pumped to runI have a pre-race play list that has grown over the years (and remains top-secret). But since day 1 it has started with Push It by Static-X.



Runner #9 – Jonny Rieth aka Jonny Herovegan 19 years – MI

Jonny joined Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power because he loves running, but more importantly “to show the world that vegan athletes can do it better!” The best way to introduce Jonny is to let him do it himself. “Basically I am awesome, and very rarely am I serious. One time I ate 2 ½ dozen vegan donuts on my way home from Seattle to Vancouver because I didn’t want to share any with my ex-wife, she just didn’t deserve any.” I just hope I can keep Jonny in my good graces during this adventure so that he will share a donut with me 🙂 Jonny says he would never have made it this far in life without his friends and family. He’s about to extend this circle at Ragnar!

Favorite running fuelBefore running – carbs, during – Vega Sport Gel. “Kinda tastes like the inside of a kangaroo’s pouch but it works.”

Song that gets Jonny pumped to runRide the Wind byPoison, To Hell With the Devil – Stryper, and most Snapcase songs.

Laura R

Laura R

Runner #10 – Laura Ryan – vegan 5 years – NY

Laura has been running on and off since high school doing small 5k races, and at the age of 24 she has recently completed 2 half marathons and will soon do her 3rd. Her ultimate goal is to run marathons. Laura is the general manager at Strong Hearts where Joel approached her about being a part of the team. Like me she was in on the spot, but admits she was skeptical that Joel could find a full team of vegan athletes. She was excited when he proved her wrong! In addition to the guaranteed 2 days off from the café 😉 Laura is looking forward to a new adventure and enjoying the Adirondacks at this beautiful time of year. Laura creates awesome vegan food at the café every day, and also enjoys cooking and baking at home. She even has her own blog where she shares her recipes and vegan adventures ( “Food consumes me, not the other way around.” In addition to running Laura spends a lot of time outside hiking or roller blading with her pup.

Favorite running fuel – “I find that a good hearty bowl of oatmeal and a few cups of black coffee get my body in motion.”

Song that gets Laura pumped to run – Superbass by Nicki Minaj & Wannabe by the Spice Girls. “My music rule is anything that makes me want to dance will make me want to run.”



Runner #11 – Becca Wellner aka “The Shark”– vegan 7 years – NY

Becca decided to join the team for a few reasons. “First and foremost, I am running to support and promote the vegan lifestyle. I hope that by people seeing our team and hearing our stories, it will encourage them to think about what they are putting in their bodies and consider a change in diet.” She is also running for her health. After she started putting on some weight, both Becca and her parents knew it was time for a change. When her parents tried to talk to her about it, she became defensive. Then with a new approach, her mom suggested they do Iron Girl together. Becca accepted and immediately began to train. She was most scared of the run, so she put that at the front and tackled it head on using the couch to 5k app. After racing Tipp Hill in March she was hooked, and even took on the challenge of the Boilermaker 15k in July before completing Iron Girl in August. Ragnar is her next adventure and she is looking forward to meeting other vegans who love to run!

Favorite Running Fuel – Jelly Belly Sport Beans

Song that gets Becca pumped to runI’ve Been Gone a Long Time by Every Time I Die



Runner #12 – Jared Avigliano aka “XVEGANX” – 15 years vegan – NY

Jared joined the team because he saw it as an awesome opportunity to spend time with a group of like-minded, compassionate folks and work through an adventure as a team. He was on a Ragnar team years ago and just days before the event he suffered an overtraining injury that prevented him from running with his team. Since then his goal has been to get himself back together and compete in the Ragnar. He is excited not only that he has another chance, but that he gets to run with a vegan team. “I’m truly honored to be on this team and I’m totally inspired by my teammates.”

Favorite Running Fuel – Jared’s go-to smoothie mix: frozen banana, frozen strawberries, as much kale and spinach as he can shove into a Vitamix, dates, chia seeds, flax oil, whatever nuts are lying around, Raw Meal Protein powder and almond milk. “I’m no nutritionist by any means, but all those things taste good and seem pretty healthy so I normally down one a day.” I’d say you have a great mix going on Jared!

Song that gets Jared pumped to runThe New Ethic by Earth Crisis and Total Liberation by Gather

Thanks for taking the time to meet Adirondack Ragnar Relay Team #185 – Strong Hearts Vegan Power, or as Captain Joel calls us, “the rag-tag band of vegan misfits”! If you’re racing, look for us out on the course and make sure to give us some love 🙂 You’ll know who we are by the backs of our shirts – we will have our name, and will each have a different number. The number represents the years each of us has lived a vegan lifestyle. Plantstrong!


We’ll be documenting our adventures along the way so make sure to keep up with us via #strongheartsrun!

Rolling the Dice in Vegas – 70.3 World Championship

My main concern about racing in Vegas was the heat. Given my history with these conditions, and temps that have hovered around 100 over the past few weeks, in my mind I was going to choose racing smart over racing hard. Sure I was there to race and do my best on the world stage, but I also wanted to finish. Arriving in Vegas on Thursday I got a taste of what I would be up against. But over the next few days we watched the temperatures drop and the forecast for Sunday improve. The heat became less of a worry in my mind.

My training and focus for this race were not up to my standards. But this is what I do – this is what I love – and I knew that when the day arrived I would be ready. Normally when I arrive to a race site the first thing I want to do is build my bike. After arriving Thursday I had no desire to tackle that task. I went for a short run, shopped at Whole Foods, and focused on relaxing and hydrating! Friday morning it was time to get my act
together and after a short swim at the hotel pool I got to work building the bike. That’s when I realized that I forgot my bike pump. I’ve never forgotten my bike pump. So I waited until the expo opened and off I went with my wheels to get air and pick up my packet. Later that evening when I was packing my run gear I realized that I also forgot my race belt. Damn Kline – this is so unlike you! Another easy fix – I could buy one at the expo tomorrow when I dropped off my run bag. 

Saturday brought a pleasant change in weather as I parted with my run essentials at T2/the finish line and headed to the race start to bid farewell to my beloved bike. The plan was to have all of my gear in place before noon so I could spend the rest of my day trying to relax at the hotel. The universe wanted to ensure I stuck to this plan, and by the time I arrived back the hotel, (sorry gentlemen) my monthly curse had arrived. Those close to me know that I am 99% useless during the first two days. But this was not the time to let mother nature ruin my plans (although I realized it came this very same weekend last year – how’s that for predictable!) I decided right away that I could overcome the physical effects with mental toughness while I proceeded to curl up on the couch for the remainder of the day and force some dinner into me.

Sunday: alarm goes off at 3:25 and I am pumped to get going! I was feeling pretty good and after having my normal banana and oatmeal I was off to Lake Las Vegas. Stepped outside the hotel and realized it was raining. Even better! I needed any advantage I could get and rain meant less sun and heat. Once I arrived at the race start it was pouring. After prepping my bike for the day I sought shelter with 1000+ athletes where I welcomed the body heat from close quarters and nervous energy. I had 1 1/2 hours to wait before my start. When it finally came time to line up for the start we all stood shivering and laughing at the fact that being cold and wet was the last thing we were expecting this morning. When it was our turn we swam out to the start buoys and that’s when I realized that my “staying calm for the swim start” plan was not falling into place. But once the air horn started I quickly settled in. I was both shocked and confused as I found myself staying with the main pack of my field coming up to the first turn. Was the lack of wet suit helping me, or was I just having a good swim? Sadly, once we hit the first turn buoy I was losing ground, and by the time I made the 2nd turn I lost sight of that pack. Back to my good ol’ swim ways 😉 You couldn’t see a foot in front of you in that water, and at one point I swam up on a rather large male who started in the wave before me. I pulled up, as did he, and after turning around to look at me he gave me nice solid kick to the chest. Thanks dude – it’s a triathlon – sometimes people touch your feet…

70.3 bike

Beautiful bike course

As I exited the water I checked the Garmin and the oh-so-familiar feeling of disappointment hit me. I’ve been here many times before – time to move on and see what I could make up on the bike. I basically sprinted through the endless transition, and the very deep mud that accumulated at this point. It was still pouring which was helpful in keeping me from going into panic/catch-up mode for the first few miles. The bike course was challenging but beautiful, and at times it was hard not to enjoy the views. At around mile 40 the rain had stopped and the sun was making its first appearance for the day. Although I felt that I was doing everything right on the bike, my energy levels were definitely dwindling and I knew I just had to grit it out until the end.

Coming off the bike is when it really hit me – my legs felt like they were tied together as I ran through transition to grab my run gear bag. I got into the tent and sat down in a chair as I dumped my bag out at my feet. I quickly swapped my gear, handed off my bag, and off I went. All it took was that brief pause in the tent and I was feeling good. And with a downhill start on the run I was able to clock my first mile at 6:39. I was excited about the run course being 3 loops as I thought it would be a good way to break down the run into segments. What I didn’t think of was how hard it would be to pass that finishing chute not once, but twice, to tackle those hills again… But the great thing about the run course was that you were never alone, and there wasn’t a section that was not lined with spectators. The energy was great – and with plentiful aid stations I was able to grab multiple cups of ice and water just about every mile.

The other awesome part about the run was seeing amazing friend and fellow 110% teammate Corrie Kristick out on the course. Seeing a familiar face gutting it out with me was just the boost I needed. As an added bonus, another amazing competitor Kendra Goffredo was along the run course showing me love and support. Unable to run due to an injury, she still showed up to swim, bike and be her bad-a$$ self. She is an inspiration both on and off the race course (check her out at And she snapped this pic of me as I trudged through that last loop of the run.
70.3 run

After the halfway point of the bike I knew my race was not going as planned. I felt flat and just plain drained. My goal changed to finishing the race while putting out the best effort I could muster. And I did just that. We can’t always have the perfect day, but just being there among the best in the world and racing on an amazing course was all I needed for my trip to be a success. I am honored to have such amazing family and friends who support me every step of the way, along with some of the greatest sponsors I could imagine. My inov-8 Bare-X Lite 150’s carried me through that run feeling strong. Gretna Bikes got my bike ready to tackle that course. 110% Play Harder provides me the awesome gear that allows me to train my hardest day in and day out. And of course I must thank Saucony Creek Brewing, KPS, RMK Solar, Reading Air, and Lupine Lighting Systems for their support. Last but not least there is Mike Walters who provided the body work to get me to the start line feeling great!

The 70.3 World Championship was the conclusion of my multisport season. It is now time to focus on running, and I have some great trail races to look forward to in the next few weeks. New adventures await!

Swim – 41:55
T1 – 3:26
Bike – 2:47:51
T2 – 1:38
Run – 1:36:22

Trails and Ales

When a race is described as “An unusual challenge for road or trail runners“, that sounds like my kind of race! The Mount Cuckoo 30k caught my eye for a few reasons. First it is an Uber Endurance Sports race, and they have a reputation for hosting some lively and fun events in the area. According to the web site this race hasn’t caught on, so this year was going to be the Mount Cuckoo Farewell Party. I couldn’t miss out on my chance to race this course! Second, it was 2 weeks out from Vegas, so it would be a perfect way to get in one last long run effort. Third, it combines my two loves – I’ve had a long and loving relationship with road racing, and am also enjoying a dirty love affair with trail racing. Being able to spend time with both of them in the same race was a great way to celebrate this love triangle 🙂 And last but not least, it conveniently took place right across the street from Stoudt’s Brewing Company, where Microfest was being held after the race. What a perfect way to “recover” and celebrate another wonderful day of racing.

We had perfect race weather as we set out onto the roads to begin the first loop. After my poor pacing during my first 30k, I really tried to control myself during this first loop. I was happy to have a familiar face with me for a while – Mark Stoltzfus, who I had just met and run with 2 days prior – was right up there as we turned off into the trails. The terrain was great – the roads were smooth and the trails were not overly technical – what a great mix! The miles were ticking by quickly and before long we were at “the longest and steepest driveway in Berks County” where we were greeted by an accordion player and “Heidi” serving beers at the summit. I politely declined as we turned around to descend the monster driveway. About halfway down I saw the next female on her way up, and realized that I better start picking up the pace. As we hit the trails again Mark pulled ahead and that was the last I saw him during my race (other than the out-and-back sections).

I finished loop 1 feeling great, and although I didn’t know whether or not the next female was doing 2 loops or 1, I figured I better I better keep up the pace on loop 2. To pick my goal for this race, I looked at last year’s results. The winning female ran a 2:40, so I simply wanted to run sub-2:40 🙂 Finishing loop 1 in 1:11, I was in good shape. Heading out on the roads for loop 2 I saw the 2nd female coming in, and it appeared I put a bit more of a gap on her in the 2nd half of loop 1. Once we hit the first trail section, that’s when the fun began. At this point a majority of the runners were finishing the 15k loop, and because we were on singletrack trails, there was a lot of pulling off to the side and stopping to let others pass. I welcomed this interruption – it was a chance to finally interact with some people, and it was giving me some breaks running up the hill! One woman called me a “stud” – wasn’t sure if that was a compliment – it must be the hair… Another woman told me I was her hero. Runners are awesome. Period.

I was happy to make it to the driveway again, as I would have a chance to see where the next female was on my descent. Oh the relief I felt when I made it back to the bottom without another runner in sight! I could relax a little, but not too much. I decided to run with a hydration pack. I didn’t want to worry about the aid stations being too far apart and it was worth the extra weight to me. I’m glad I made that decision – with less than 3 miles to go I was close to empty, which also meant my body’s bladder was full. Feeling confident in my lead, I pulled off onto another trail briefly for a nature break before heading to the finish. I crossed the finish line in 2:26:51 – well below my goal. I was first female overall and 3rd finisher overall. I was pleased with my result, and also with how I raced. I collected the best finisher “medal” ever (this alone makes the race totally worth it. Yes, it’s a whistle!)
But what I was really shooting for was the overall finisher award – an authentic cuckoo clock!

Thank you Stephan Weiss for an awesome, memorable event. And of course the most unique “trophy” that hangs on my wall and provides some background “music” while I work. I sure hope this race sticks around for at least one more year, and if it does, you definitely don’t want to miss it! (the age group awards are equally awesome)

Now it was time to head across the street and celebrate at Microfest. Of course I went straight to Saucony Creek Brewing Company where they were serving 2 of their best beers – Stonefly IPA, and my favorite, Captain Pumpkin’s Maple Mistress!

I also sampled some of the beers from other great breweries like Evil Genius, Victory, Monocacy, Susquehanna, and of course Stoudt’s! (sorry, Saucony Creek is still the best – I’m not biased or anything) Stoudt’s hosted a great event with awesome live music, food, and plenty of lively people who share a love for beer. Recovery at it’s finest 🙂