Why I Spartan

When a noun becomes “verbified”, it's usually because language has evolved to accommodate a transformation: A word has morphed from a fixed concept to one that's more fluid and actionable.

We “text”, we “email”, and we “DM”. These words, also examples of anthimeria, tell stories about our culture by pointing to which terms get promoted to a different lexical category.

Lately, I have been toying with the idea of using Spartan in its verb form. Can you blame me? I have been spending upwards of seven hours in the gym every week, prepping for one Spartan race after another and hoping my hard work would one day translate into effective advocacy for the animals.

Stef dela Cruz SPARTAN RACE

SMILES AMIDST THE SILT. Despite the sandbag on my shoulders weighing about 60 pounds – twice its original weight after being drenched in rainwater and mud – I somehow managed to carry it with just one arm and a ready smile. (Spartan Philippines)

Wait, what? Animals?

My training

“It's just another five kilograms.”

I stared daggers at fellow vegan Constantine Macabante who, based on how he was adding more plates to either end of the already-stacked barbell, wasn't backing down. Devoting almost every waking hour outside of work to train me in matters of strength and endurance, he was challenging me to break my personal record yet again. Much like DC's hell-wielding comic book character with whom he shared his name, Constantine wanted to do something good... by being a tad evil about it.

It's just another five kilograms. His voice echoed in my mind – taunting, mocking. I stared miserably as he prepared to record a video of me and what was to unfold, his tattooed biceps telling me he knew what he was talking about. Ugh, how annoying. I scowled at the barbell, wondering what it would break first – my back or my spirit.

We were days away from the Spartan Race. I knew I wanted to lift that barbell, so I gave it a go.

It felt like pushing the world away with my legs, the gym floor somehow sinking farther into the ground as I gripped the barbell with everything I've got. I heard my body talking to me – too heavy, Stef, too heavy – as I pushed my muscles way outside of their comfort zone.

And it was over. Just like that, I successfully finished the deadlift and reached a personal milestone. With sweat trickling down my face – the only tangible proof that I did something particularly hard that day – I knew I was on my way.

Spartan race 2019 medals

TACKLING THE TRIFECTA. At the time I wrote this two years ago, I was one race away from completing the Trifecta medal. (I did get my Trifecta, by the way.)

Almost everyday, I felt sore where I didn't know muscles existed. I ached in ways I never knew possible. But thanks to a diet free from animal products, pain was never a mainstay. If anything, recovery was fast: Being a vegan made healing a breeze. I wasn't too surprised; after all, study after study led to the same conclusion.

I found my body changing and I liked it. It was a pleasant side effect of my desire to be stronger. My friends would then ask me why I was training so hard when I was just a couch potato less than a year ago.

Answering them was easy. My reason was always front and center, something that fueled me when fatigue threatened to stop me in my tracks.

But first, let me tell you how much more fun it is because I don't have to do this alone.

My tribe

I get to train and race alongside many other animal lovers. Collectively, we are Vegan Strong Philippines. Many of us didn't have a sports background; we jumped into the fray because we wanted more vegans to Spartan, expecting others to witness how powerful plants were in fueling our bodies.

Vegan Strong Philippines

NO ANIMALS HARMED. Without consuming animals for food, every member of Vegan Strong Philippines who took on the Spartan trail in Cebu – arguably the toughest one yet in the Philippines – completed the race. (Betty Castillo)

This shared expectation is what keeps us going race after race. Differences do not divide us because we know why we want to stick together.

As vegans who Spartan, we have found our tribe.

My truth

I Spartan – yes, verb – because it's one of the ways I get to normalize respect for animals in a society unfortunately hardwired to think of them as objects. I know, it seems farfetched at first: How exactly does a race help promote something as tangential to it as veganism?

So many myths about protein and strength have led people to believe that meat and milk are necessary in sports. But I've seen the truth with my own eyes: Plants mean power.

Plants are naturally rich in antioxidants. They are also an excellent source of protein, even for the animals whom humans commercially raise for food. When protein is sourced from plants instead of animals, we get all the amino acids we need – sans the cholesterol, animal hormones, and excess saturated fat.

But health is only a secondary reason I'm a vegan. I decided to forego animal products for ethical reasons – I saw fear in their faces and realized I was the cause of their pain and death. I just couldn't look away anymore.

Choosing to Spartan is my way of showing others that one can be stronger and faster because of – not in spite of – being vegan. That, bar none, is my number one why.

* * *


Written originally for the August 2019 issue of Crosstrain.ph. Reposted with permission.

We love BTS' Jungkook the way he is; no need to make him thinner

After an exhilarating day of trying to stream the music video of Butter on YouTube and play the song on Spotify, I woke up to good news: BTS has broken its own record as the top spot holder for YouTube's All-Time Top 24-Hour Music Debuts, with Butter amassing more than 108 million views on YouTube. (Dynamite, also a BTS song, used to hold that record at a little over 100 million views.)

Jungkook water fast

Expecting my feed to be filled with good news about BTS' comeback song, I felt blindsided when someone in one of our Facebook groups shared an article by a Korean entertainment website. It explained how Jungkook, the band's youngest member, survived on water for five days right before the group shot their music video.

“Talk about commitment,” the article said.

Here's why you can't sustain your motivation to work out, according to experts

How does one stay motivated to stay fit and go to the gym?

Ah, the million-dollar question. Ten days ago on Instagram, I broached the subject of why it may be problematic to simply keep pushing oneself during workouts whenever one feels demotivated. While pushing through lazy moments may work, it might be a band-aid solution that would stop working one day. It may also breed a plethora of mental health problems, such as self-esteem issues, disordered eating, and paradoxically, compulsive exercising as a way to purge after undisciplined moments.

And this is where science saves the day once again!

failed barbell squat

Not all motivation is created equal. If you've been trying to troubleshoot lazy days without really knowing what Self-Determination Theory is, then you might be missing out on vital information!

Monsters inside us

“I bring out the monsters in people,” I said, trying to drown my shame with a glass of wine.

I had just told a friend about a young man almost half my age who had somehow played out his stalker tendencies on me with my unwitting permission. Yes, there's a lot to unpack in that sentence, which I shall do later... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

My friend smiled at my declaration, in part because she sympathized, but mostly because she thought I was giving myself too much credit. “The monsters have always been there, Stef. You did not create them.”
black and white
Just because they've 'been made', as the slang expression goes, does not mean I made them. Ah, pun of the year.

Maybe so, I thought, but I definitely attracted them. I did not feel as innocent as I wanted to think I was.

It was starting to become a pattern. I realized I had turned into a magnet for people looking to prey on women in different ways.

Addiction to perfection: What the fitness industry is doing to females

A few days ago, I posted about how too much fixation on physical fitness can be detrimental to mental health. It was a friendly reminder, one I also needed, so that women like me don't fall into the trap of sacrificing mental health just to achieve physical health.

Imagine my surprise when someone aired their dissent, saying it was not applicable to athletes.

Something I learned in med school immediately came to mind: One of the common defense mechanisms employed by someone with an addiction problem is denial.

barbell plates
We have to accept the possibility that our quest for health is, ironically, harming our health.