By Dr. Marc Bekoff
Since the age of 4, when I was a lucky “child of the 1960s,” I’ve been an athlete. In the early years, I competed in speed skating and alpine skiing with the total backing of my family, especially my father, who was a serious handball and hockey player. I was a competitive ski racer until I was 17 years old, racking up many victories. After I turned 30, I also played competitive tennis for a number of years and was able to achieve a ranking in some Western states.
My tennis playing ended when I discovered bicycle racing around 1980, when I was 34 years old. I was hooked.
I raced bikes for many years, winning well over 100 races in the U.S. and some in Europe. In 1986, at age 40, I won in my age class at the Master’s Tour du Haut bicycle race (also called the “age-graded Tour de France”). I was the first American to do so and remain the only American to win this grueling race.
During those years, I was a carnivore. Although I didn’t eat that many animals or animal products, while I was training and riding between 10,000 and 12,000 miles a year, I consumed the occasional bacon cheeseburger.
I was also studying animal behavior, focusing on the social behavior of wild coyotes and wild birds. I was very interested in their emotional lives, which is something that began when I was around 3 years old, according to my parents. They told me that I was always asking them what other animals were thinking and feeling when we lived in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. I also asked them if the squirrels, birds, cats, and dogs where we lived were happy. I even talked to a goldfish who lived in a bowl on my folks’ kitchen counter. Why not? I thought he looked lonely and needed a friend. I was “minding” animals back then, wanting to be sure that they were well taken care of and knowing that they were thinking, feeling beings.
I realized in the late 1980s that there was no reason at all for me to eat other animals, so I began cutting way back on including them in my meals. In the spring of 1990, I decided to stop eating meat. I slowly transitioned to vegetarian eating, and in 2005, I went vegan.
After I stopped serious bike racing, I continued to cycle—and still do today—at the ripe old age of 72. Depending on the weather and my writing and traveling schedules, I usually put in 200 to 250 miles a week. My friends know that I’m “one of those #*$&#ing vegans”—they really are saying this jokingly—but I’m neither self-righteous nor arrogant about it. People often ask me how I do what I do “living on veggies.” Of course, I eat more than just veggies, but my answer is, “I’m doing just fine, really great.” In fact, I feel as good as or better than I’ve ever felt before. I ride, write, play, and look forward to each and every day with joy. I’m a total optimist.
When I recently told someone that I’d cycled around 8,000 miles in 2017, the person was incredulous and then doubled down when I mentioned that I was vegan. The doubter said something like, “You can’t do that without meat and potatoes.” I assured the person that I do and plan to continue for as long as I can. And potato fries are high on my list. In both September 2016 and 2017, I won in my age class on a timed section of a climb from Boulder to Nederland, Colorado, that was around 15 miles of steady and steep uphill. I prepared for it each time by eating a lot of pasta laden with olive oil, capers, garlic, various vegetables, and chili crunch, followed by desserts of dark chocolate, berries, and heaping scoops of vegan whipped cream. I relax after a day of cycling and writing by watching crappy TV shows and sipping very peaty single-malt scotch, often twirling the golden liquid with Twizzlers.
At age 72, I feel great, sleep around six hours each night, ride a few hours each day when the weather permits, and continue to write essays and books about animal behavior, animal emotions, animal protection, and compassionate conservation.
Marc Bekoff has written more than 1,000 essays and 30 books. He is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado—Boulder and a past Guggenheim Fellow. His latest books are The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce, 2017, Beacon Press) and Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do (March 2018, University of Chicago Press). His homepage is MarcBekoff.com.
Excerpted from Vegan Health and Fitness Magazine‘s Special Issue, “Fit Over 40”.