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!

3 thoughts on “Meet Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power

    • Thanks so much Evan! We had an absolute blast at the event and I hope you and your team did as well! Hope to run with you again soon! Happy Training 🙂

  1. Pingback: The More Fire Benefit Run | Laura Kline – Multisport Athlete

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