We’re Baaaack…Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power!

vegan worldThis is the true story… of 12 runners… picked to ride in 2 vans… work together to run 196.2 miles and spread their message of compassion…to find out how bad-ass you can be… when people stop supporting cruelty…and embrace living vegan… Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power!

Taking on Ragnar Adirondacks for a 2nd year. Here’s the line-up:

Becca “The Shark” Wellner – Syracuse, NY



Years Vegan: 8
Theme song: Run the World – Beyoncé

Returning for her second year on Team Strong Hearts Vegan power, Becca is going to get this party started for us. I promise we didn’t invite her back for the pumpkin half-moon cookies she’s baking. That’s just an added bonus 🙂 Becca’s strong determination and great attitude are essential to this team. Heck, she raced Reach the Beach just last weekend as a “warm-up” for this event. How about that for dedication?

“I returned for another year because the experience last year was so incredible. I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people that went from strangers to close friends in 26 hours. I love the message we’re putting out there to the other teams and spectators and how we present it. Very excited to experience this all over again!”

“Monster” Mike Pease – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 20



Don’t let the size of this guy fool you – the tall man can run! What fuels him? Throw some trash talk his way and watch what he can do. He’s returning this year with a vengeance – best stay out of his way. Rumor has it he’s been practicing his wrist band handoff (slap!) to avoid any further skull-crushing collisions.

Mike is also the owner of the Terri Restaurants in NYC. If you’re visiting the big city and are looking for something quick and healthy, stop in!

“I wanted to do the Ragnar with the Strong Hearts crew again because it was great motivation to train. I loved being part of a team that supports and counts on each other to compete in such a mentally and physically challenging event. And of course, showing people that vegans are badass mofos doesn’t hurt either!”

“Sergeant” Mario Mason – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 18
Theme song: Born From Pain – Earth Crisis



One thing I know is that if you are showing any signs of weakness on that course, Mario will call you on it. This PGA golf pro and father of a 3-year-old vegan warrior has no tolerance for slackers. Go big or go home. Let’s get this guy a bullhorn! And he’s learning from the best – this year he’s being coached by the legendary Scott Spitz. Mario showed his grit last year by tackling the monster hill with a never-quit attitude – like a man possessed. I have no doubt he’s returning this year with even more fire. (see what I did there? #morefirerun)

“I am running on this team again because last year was awesome and also because it has given me a reason to train – I don’t want to let other people down and I love competition. The team also needs a jerk who will yell at people who are walking during their leg, and I feel that I can fill that role nicely. I also really like surrounding myself with people who eat a vegan diet because flesh eaters disgust me.”

“Rabid Man” Aaron Bell – Saint Simons Island, GA

Years Vegan: 4
Theme song: Hocus Pocus – Focus



Aaron may seem like a gentle giant with quotes such as “I like big dogs”, but don’t let him fool you. Aaron is so bad-ass he pops Nuun tablets like pez (note: no one on Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power endorses this use of Nuun). Water?!? Pssshhh – he’ll slap that water right out of your hand. He’d rather foam at the mouth to make sure all the other runners know he is all business.

“I’m returning because it’s an excuse to run in sub-100 degree heat! Seriously, I had an absolute blast last year and any way to do something I love, with the people I love, promoting a message I LOVE, is awesome.”

Jeremy “Birdman” Ritz-Totten – New York, NY

Years Vegan: 2
Theme song: Joy to the World – 3 Dog Night



The first new recruit to the team. Although I have yet to meet Jeremy, I can tell by looking at his training that he is going to be an excellent addition. This guy can run some miles, and he runs them fast. On top of that he has a crazy amount of enthusiasm which is going to fuel van 1 for sure! Excellent recruitment Aaron. Welcome to the team Jeremy – I’m looking forward to seeing you fly through that course!

“I chose to be a part of the team for the challenge of doing a relay. I’ve only been seriously running for a little over a year. I joined this team by invitation from a high school friend (Aaron), but look forward to the camaraderie of competing in a compassionate and kick ass way with fellow vegan runners.”

Laura Kline – New Paltz, NY

Years Vegan: 9
Theme song – Eye of the Tiger – Survivor

VP50k finish

Me 🙂

Well obviously I’m back again 🙂 Ever since our team parted ways last year I couldn’t wait to do it again. Running, compassionate friends, vegan food, lots of laughter – that’s my idea of a good time! The impact we made and the attention we attracted at last year’s Ragnar far exceeded my expectations. With a solid crew of vegan ambassadors surrounding me – I will do it again and again. I can’t wait to make more memories and crush some more miles this year!

Kate “Glitter” Paice Froio – Cortland, NY

Years Vegan: 1



Among Kate’s many super-powers, shooting glitter from her heart is one of my favorites! And what better way to spread the message of compassion – with bursts of glitter! 🙂 One of the most passionate, dedicated women I’ve ever met – this super-mom, super-wife & super-career woman adds an equal amount of commitment towards her running – encouraging others each and every step along the way. Her smile will brighten your day – so look for her on the course working hard but showing you she’s having the time of her life!

“As most vegans would say, the only regret they have is not doing it sooner. I couldn’t agree more. Three years vegetarian and one year vegan, my plan is to be the light for my friends and family, to show them being vegan is not extremist in any way. It’s a gentle and loving way to live.

I am inspired each day by my Strong Hearts Run Club and Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammates. I decided to run Ragnar ADK to mark my first full year of veganism. It’s a celebration of life and I wanted to share this experience with a core group of vegans who propel forward a mission of cruelty-free kindness and true vegan power.”

Sean “Liveabetes” Scott – Syracuse, NY

Years Vegan: 5
Theme song: Bolt Thrower – K-Machine

sean goat


Sean was an integral part of the team last year as the driver for van 1. But this year he’s about to show everyone that his talents extend beyond the steering wheel. The stank of that van was not the only thing to infect Sean – he caught the running bug too! And since then he’s been improving with leaps and bounds. Another Coach Scott Spitz protégé – he has become unstoppable. Hand over those keys Sean – time to crush some souls on the race course!

“After driving the male sweat lodge known as Van 1 last year I got fired up. I had been running a little before then but nothing consistent, and a 5k here and there. Seeing what these guys and gals were doing – something got me going. I broke through the limits I had for myself – the idea of “can’t” and the notion of “too much for me” went away. Joel initially asked if I wanted to run last year and I thought he was insane for asking me. But now my perspective is different: being vegan, as well as a life long diabetic, combined with how much further I am mentally now as opposed to this time last year I know for a fact I have the discipline to do this and a lot more. Being with Strong Hearts Run Club has motivated me and supported me, and as much as I prefer to go my own way it’s great to be a part of something putting a positive message out there knowing what it can do.”

Peter “The Protector” Nussbaum – Montague, NJ

Years Vegan: 6
Theme song: Firestorm/Forged in the Flames – Earth Crisis “Because it reminds me of Scott and no song (or person) motivates me better than that song and that person does.”


Peter with Yuri

When Peter’s not out clocking miles he’s protecting our fine feathered friends from slavery and abuse. He and his wife have been rescuing chickens and roosters to live out their lives at their ever-expanding sanctuary, Tamerlaine Farm. He may have a gentle demeanor and an enormous heart, but he will unleash hell in the Adirondacks!

“Last year I joined the team to meet and run with Scott Spitz whose writing was instrumental in motivating and educating me as a newly vegan runner six years ago. This year I am running for Scott. It is really that simple… Well, Scott and the animals of course! The new shirts sum it up well… Vegan for my health, for the planet, BUT MOSTLY FOR THE ANIMALS. How could I pass up the opportunity to run with an awesome bunch of like-minded people? I can’t wait to wear my new team shirt!”

Jonny “Hero” Rieth – Kennesaw, GA

Years Vegan: 20
Theme song: To Hell With The Devil – Stryper



AKA “Freedom Fighter”. Suspected terrorist on your Ragnar course? Jonny will sniff them out and stomp them. What goes in – Newman-O’s and Vega Sport Gels. What comes out – an endless string of hilarity. Jonny may provide non-stop entertainment to his van mates, but when it comes to running he is all business. He takes his running, and his message, seriously. Something tells me he’s coming back even stronger this year. Terrorists be warned. America!

“I just moved from Grand Rapids, MI to Kennesaw GA so I don’t really know what the hell is going on. I know I’m vegan and I’m a solid runner. I’m part of this team because it’s 100% badass!”

Kaitlin “Krusher” Long – Albany, NY

Years Vegan: 10
Theme song: Firestarter – Prodigy



Another new addition to the team, Kaitlin is not new to Ragnar racing. In fact, any race/challenge you throw at this woman – she’s going to tackle it head-on! Fire jump? Barbed wire crawl? 10 foot wall? Nice try. Nothing will stand in the way of Kaitlin accomplishing her goals. And that is exactly what she has been doing with her running. Our third teammate coached by Scott Spitz, we hope to make this Kaitlin’s best Ragnar yet!

“I really love being a part of this team just because of all the support between the coaching from Scott to just the friends I’ve made. Running on an all vegan team has to be one of the biggest honors so far of my running career. I chose to be a part of this team so I can improve. Iron sharpens iron and I look up to all of you so much that it’ll be an honor to be running the same race with you all.”

“Captain” Joel Capolongo – Syracuse, NY

Years vegan: 21
Theme song: Who Dares Wins – Path of Resistance

Joel with Dylan

Joel with Dylan

Leader of this crew, owner of the team’s namesake – Strong Hearts Café, and bad-ass runner to boot! Joel took what was a celebration of his 20 year vegan anniversary and turned it into an awesome opportunity to spread our message and create lifelong memories for a group of 12 vegan athletes. Not to mention the lasting impression we left, and will continue to leave, on countless others. After ADK Ragnar 2013, Joel has taken his training to another level and his results show it! Joel’s going to be bringing it home for the team this year, and I know we all can’t wait to cross that finish line behind him!

“I chose to be a part of, and to organize, the team again because last year was such a great time for everyone involved, myself included. I like pushing myself to constantly better myself physically and mentally. The work that goes into training for a race like this fulfills that need and keeps me striving to achieve greater things.

More than that though, being a part of this team allows me to be an ambassador for veganism. We had countless conversations last year with other teams and spectators about veganism and the health, environmental, and ethical benefits of a vegan lifestyle. If just one person decides to go vegan because of the presence of our team, then mission accomplished. The attention we receive at events like this is nice, but the potential we have to really win over people’s hearts and minds to choose a more compassionate lifestyle is what really makes participating in this event worth it for me.”

Look for us out there on the course next weekend – our shirts will be bold and our enthusiasm will be unwavering. Make sure to say hi and throw some encouragement our way- we may just have some vegan treats to share 🙂

This one’s for you Scott Spitz. We’ll unleash hell for you this year, but you better start training for 2015! More Fire!

SHVP2014back SHVPFRONTragnarlogo

I couldn’t have said it better!

“A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles.” ~Tim Cahill

I hope you’re not tired of hearing about Ragnar Relay, because I’m not tired of talking/writing about it! I’ve shared Scott Spitz’s compelling account of the event, and I’ve also shared my own. Some of the other teammates have great things to say about their experiences as well. Their words are so touching I want to share them with everyone!

aaron post
One of my most memorable moments from the race was Joel, Scott, and Jared’s heartfelt and emotional speeches at the end in the parking lot.  I’m a sucker for raw emotion and there was a big outpouring then.

Other moments included our van’s shared horror at hearing tag 185 called and
having JUST seen Mario but not knowing where he was as Scott was coming in; Mike and Alan’s ‘bad slap’/headbutt at their 1st exchange (see picture with Alan’s account below); the feeling of exhilaration running down other teams in my second and by far most populated leg.

Just watching Alan run was great; out of everyone else on our team, and possibly anyone I’ve ever seen, the sheer joy of running is practically blasting out of every pore of his body.  I never once felt like he was pushing thru anything, not to say he wasn’t running at capacity, but the grim determination of many athletes was instead filled with what I can only describe as what a rambunctious puppy might be feeling as it struggles to obey a ‘sit’ request when every fiber of its being wants to rocket across a field in pursuit
of a squirrel.

Speaking of rocketing; van 1 also had a moment when, I think Mario, was passing
around his phone showing us a short video of Joel Capolongo slapping the relay
bracelet on a certain diminutive member of our team and the subsequent Road
Runneresque departure.  That might have been the point that cemented our
faith in our team as a force to be reckoned with.

I was pretty grateful when after being passed by my own van without even a honk
(Van 1 was decidedly tough love/hard cases), van 2 giving me a slug of coconut
water to calm the Nuun tablet that was frothing in my stomach and taking my
longsleeve compression shirt I had been methodically removing while trying to
keep pace.

A point of contention about the tablet debacle: I do know how they work, but I
had been woken up from a fairly restless nap and told I had roughly 20 minutes
until I was running my last leg.  The only thing with caffeine I was aware
of in the van was the Kona cola tablets I had bought earlier and my water
bottle was full of Laura’s beet juice. Rather than dump it out and refill, or make a almost certainly ghastly bottle of beet cola, I went for the direct route.  I chose  poorly!”


peter post

“The highlights of the trip for me were many. Super hard to pick just one, but sticking with my Scott-love theme, watching him hobbled and blistered and battered between runs, only to bounce back and crush each of his legs was nothing short of amazing. I was so happy for him and so happy for all of us who were able to witness such an incredible feat. Prior to his second leg we were talking about Scott’s treatments and he rattled off the specific chemo drugs that he had endured just the week before. I was all too familiar with the drugs that he rattled off – my mother was on those same drugs two years ago battling ovarian cancer and I witnessed the effects of those drugs on a woman who was an avid tennis player and athlete in her own right. What Scott did could have easily been lost on all of us because he is who he is and he never complained and just kept on crushing. It could have been easy to forget what he was dealing with both mentally and physically because he was so damn awesome. Clearly it was not lost on any of us. Watching Laura Ryan complete her very difficult third leg was strong proof of that. I am sure she battled through her knee injury thinking about Scott’s battle. I have witnessed many courageous runners battle through substantial adversity, illness and or pain, but nothing can compare to what we were all so lucky to witness and be a part of. Life changing shit!”

scott post-run

In case you missed his account the first time, the second time, or you just need some inspiration to get off the couch today – here it is again: Adirondacks Ragnar Relay 2013 Experience Recap





head butt
I went into the Ragnar relay with no idea what to expect and everything about it was awesome.  Representing veganism with a bunch of other awesome athletes was an incredible experience.  So much of the media especially in the athletic realm paints veganism as a diet or trend but our group definitely stuck to the animal rights foundations of veganism and this was a super fun opportunity to share that with other athletes.  I expected Ragnar to be a bit of a novelty, but behind all the costumes and light-heartedness this was still a race and we brought our A game.  I don’t have a lot of running experience and zero relay experience leading up to Ragnar, so my only strategy was go out hard, hold on as long as I could, and hope I recovered in time for
the next leg to do the same.  I don’t know if it was the best strategy to push myself until I was dizzy and had to lay down to catch my breath every single time out, but it was a lot of fun and we all killed our legs and crushed the Adirondacks like it was our job.  By the last leg I was pretty exhausted but despite some mountain climbs I had a negative elevation profile, fresh coffee, and the sun coming up over the mountains to keep me going. There was a certain sick irony to taking a trip with a friend battling cancer
to run a race with a team named “Strong Hearts” when my partner/best friend/race crew has a damaged heart from the effects of chemotherapy.  Any thought of walking the steep sections or settling into a more comfortable pace on the downhills just made me think of how insignificant the discomfort of tired quads from doing something I love was compared to life’s bigger struggles.  The entire weekend was a crazy mix of seriousness and silliness that somehow balanced itself out.”


joel slap

“When assembling the team initially, the goal was to simply find enough other vegan runners who wanted to do this. That’s was pretty much it. Get 12 vegan runners together and give it a go. As the team came together piece by piece and estimated pace times were calculated, it became very clear very quickly, that we had a chance to do very well in this event. Once we had all 12 members locked in, the goal changed from simply finishing the race to kicking some serious ass in it. No one disappointed. In fact, I think everyone bested their pace estimates and as a team we bested our per mile pace estimate by 4 seconds per mile over the course of the entire 196.2 miles. Everyone gave 100% and it showed in the times people were posting throughout each leg of the race.

For me personally, I wanted to do my best not only for myself, but for my team. Having support from my van members along my first leg which was a 9.4 mile leg, was absolutely critical for me. I had only run this distance 3 times prior to this event in my entire life. I went out way too fast and I knew it but I also knew I was going to blast it as hard as I could and worry about getting tired later. Once I started picking off runners one by one, my confidence grew and I just ran harder. Having my teammates cheer me along throughout the leg and offering me water several times was a huge boost for me. I wanted to appear strong not only for them but for the other runners who were around us. I was wearing a Strong Hearts VEGAN POWER shirt and I was going to be damned if I wasn’t going to appear as strong, fast and powerful as I could. I was not only running for myself and my team, but to represent vegan athletes everywhere who are often mocked and chastised for training solely based on plant power while eschewing animal proteins.

I was also running hard because my teammates Scott Spitz and Jared Avigliano had been huge supporters and inspirations for me while I was just beginning to get in to running and while I trained for this race. A few days after Scott came out of his surgery to remove cancerous tumors from his abdomen, he posted a picture on Instagram of himself in his hospital robe hanging on to his IV pole with his father close behind while he mustered up the strength to walk 13.1 laps around the floor of the hospital. He was walking in solidarity with some of his friends who were running a half marathon in Indianapolis that day. That picture has stayed in mind and I think about it on every run when I am winded, my legs hurt and just want to stop. It is impossible to count how many miles that photograph has made me run but it’s suffice to say that it’s been A LOT. Scott has been a constant inspiration for me and has gotten me in to the streets for a run many, many times when I just wanted to stay in bed in the morning and play on my phone. It’s impossible to measure how important he has been to me in this regard and I owed it to him to give this 9.4 miles and the next 2 legs I had to run every ounce of energy I had. Jared has also been a huge motivator for me and did a fantastic job at holding me accountable throughout my time training for this race and others we have run this year. He pushed me out the door for a run as many times as Scott has and his contributions to my running can also not be overstated.
scott hospital

I was making good time and I had passed 6 people without being passed when I passed the “One Mile To Go” sign. I knew my team was up ahead waiting for me to come rolling in at the exchange. I knew I was about to hand off the slap bracelet to Laura K., an elite runner who would be running in the 6 minute per mile range. I also knew, due to researching the legs I had to run before the race even began, that the exchange I was running towards was taking place on an active dairy farm. Even though there were no more runners between me and the exchange point that was now within sight, I was going to be goddamned if I didn’t run as fast I could the last 1/4 mile or so, so that’s exactly what I did. I had to come in fast. I had to for my team, and to represent veganism in a way that made the other teams realize we were for real and weren’t the kind of vegans who you could fuck with. When all was said and done and my first leg was complete, I had run the distance over 15 seconds per mile faster than I had generously predicted I would be able to. That was huge for me. I ran a race this distance 5 months earlier and did it 22 MINUTES SLOWER than what I did this run in. I had improved tremendously and I was overwhelmingly happy with my time and being able to push it as hard as I did.

My next legs were short ones, 2.4 and 2.2 miles respectively. My second leg was run around midnight that night and without the benefit of even so much as a nap. Didn’t matter. The first mile of my second leg was the fastest mile I’ve ever recorded myself running coming in at 7:14. I ended that 2.4 mile leg with a pace of 8:10 per mile which ironically would end up being the pace for our entire team during the entire race. My third and final leg was run in the sunrise hours of the next day after our van was able to stop and catch some catnaps at the last major exchange. Without any plausible explanation, this was my fastest leg of the race coming in at a 8:01 pace. Somehow, someway, the more tired I got and less sleep I had, the faster I ran. Maybe it was the exhilaration of knowing that once this leg was done, I didn’t have to run any more or maybe it was because I was trying to get one final “kill” on another runner who only came in to view ahead of me about a mile from the finish line, but I finished as strong as I was physically able to. I left everything I had on the streets of the small Adirondack town of Ausable Forks, NY that morning and I can hold my head high knowing there was nothing left in my tank at the end.

I’ve done a lot of just absolutely crazy awesome shit in my lifetime that would melt your mind if you knew about it, but this is right up there with the things I am most proud of. The way this team supported each other and represented veganism is something I will always be proud to say I was a part of. The camaraderie and overall spirit of cooperation and support was just incredible. The way our team ran with such a real sense of purpose was undeniably strong and seemed to electrify the air around us at all times. While it was mostly serious business when we were running, we also had plenty of time to laugh and goof off with each other when we were driving from point to point. This was a really FUN time! While I am incredibly excited that we placed 25th out of the 215 teams that entered the competition, I am equally as excited to keep the Strong Hearts Vegan Power team spirit alive by continuing to plan future team running events and drawing even more committed people in to the fold. We have an incredibly strong foundation from which to build upon now and knowing that this race is going to be the start of something huge is just as exciting for me. Until next time… Strong Hearts to the Front!”


jonny run“The friendships made or strengthened in the 26 hours that we all spent crammed in a van was epic. This race was by far the most fun I have had in years. I flew home Sunday knowing that we represented veganism like champs. We ran as rebels, we ran as rouges, but ran as sworn brothers.”



laura run

“It goes without saying that the whole race was an incredible experience. Leading up to it I was excited for sure, but I had no idea the emotional whirlwind I was embarking on. I have been in withdrawal all week and am so pumped on running!

The funniest thing that happened was when Jonny was running his first leg. We had just talked about that creepy old guy with all boarded up windows and how he was high-fiving all of the female runners. Then Jonny comes around the corner and just starts yelling at the guy to come run with him. Somehow Jonny knew we thought the guy was a creep and ended up calling him a terrorist. Team unity.

The most emotional part for me was preparing for my third leg. I was talking with everyone trying to figure out what to do about my knee. I KNEW I had to run but I didn’t think I was physically able to. During that run I was holding back tears both from the pain and the overwhelming support of my team to push me to the finish. I couldn’t have done it without all of you, but especially Alan.

I’m so excited about all the great new friends I have and the future of our running careers!”


The Becca --> Jared tag

This past weekend was the best weekend and I have shared with others in my entire life. I never thought that getting together with twelve other vegans would make such an impact on my life, but it did more than I can put into words. We each have a story that brought us to the points in our life that we are at now and it was so incredible sharing those stories amongst each other. It was also amazing how interested others were about our mission and how word got around about our team so quickly.

Van 2 has so many hilarious stories it’s hard to choose just one, but I think my favorite is when Johnny was running his first leg and passed that creepy old guy and called him a terrorist because he wouldn’t run alongside him.

On a real note though, the best part of the weekend was the end of the race when we all got together and presented a few awards. I was trying to hide it behind my sunglasses as best as I could, but what Joel and Scott had to say brought me to tears. Especially when Joel was talking about how he was able to do this because of people like Scott and Jared pushing him. I realized then how all of this inspiration is a chain reaction. The way Joel feels that Scott and Jared inspired him is how I feel that he inspired me. After Iron Girl I was going to be done with running because I hated it, but Joel pushed me to do other races and to do Ragnar and I can’t imagine my life without running now. We all inspire each other in some way and it is such a beautiful thing. I can’t wait until the next Strong Hearts Vegan Power event!”


alan run“The week leading up to the Ragnar was super intense – I wasn’t really sleeping, my
insides were filled with butterflies and the more I tried to fight it, to restrict it, to let a normal state takeover the worse it got. I’m not sure if it was the excitement of an approaching long term goal, anxiety about all the moving pieces that needed to come together or what, but it was intense. I got
nervous about not being rested for the race, I got nervous about getting sick, I got nervous about a van breaking down.  I was hoping once we got on the road it would calm down, that wasn’t the case though. It just got worse. Then I started getting scared that I would bonk hard during the race.  Sure
enough once my first leg got underway the intensity dropped off and I realized
I needed to dig deep to get through my first leg. The first half of the of the leg was on a desolate strip, no team to cheer and hardly any blinking lights to chase down. Just past the halfway part my team was waiting for me and screaming like crazy, JUST WHAT I NEEDED!  At that moment I realized I wasn’t alone and things were much bigger than what was going on in my head. I realized I was running on a team filled with ethics, thoughtfulness, and compassion, things I’m always searching and striving for. From that point on I calmed down and a huge sense of relief took over and I knew the weekend was going to be just fine. Not in some fairytale way, but rather in a much more tangible way. I knew no matter what, I was running with the most badass group imaginable and not one of them would let an obstacle stand in their way let alone a fellow teammates
way. From that point on I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the weekend.
Whether it was J Hero’s constant jokes, Beccas’s baked goods, or Laura Ryan’s
determination, every part was truly enjoyable.”