Ana Stefulj is a vegan runner who has made a big impact on distance running at national level and internationally.
The Croatian took her first medal at the National Championship in 2019. She believed she could run 1:20 half marathon, which not everyone agreed with. Ana finished inside her target in 1:19:22.
“Since then I have won a few medals from Nationals (half marathon, marathon, 10K, 10,000m, 3000 indoor)” she told Great Vegan Athletes “but there are two special races for me. Both races took place on demanding routes and even in this case I was ready to show my best in 2021.”
The races came after Ana changed her training in 2019, then was affected by injury and the COVID restrictions.
“During Christmas 2020, my coach suggested to me to try to run a marathon, just to see where I am. I accepted the challenge and during the indoor season (4 weeks of competitions) I started doing some sessions for marathon preparation.
“During those few training sessions I started to be motivated for the half marathon and I tried to find an opportunity to race.” This was difficult due to the restrictions, and eventually Ana was able to compete in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Fifth fastest ever time for Croatian women’s Half Marathon
- National medal winner over multiple distances
- Winner of Euro Marathon Race 2021 (in 2:36:28)
“I went to the race very motivated to do my best and achieved a finish time of 1:15:14 (improving from 1:17:32) and for sure this is one of my favourite achievements for now.”
Ana also took 2nd place in the Ljubljana Half Marathon in 2019, which was a highlight. Since then she has run the 5th fastest ever women’s half marathon by a Croatian.
In 2021 Ana ran the Kyiv Euro Marathon race, which was also the Balkan Championship. “This was such a crazy race. I went there without any expectation as I did not train for the marathon and returned as winner. I improved my personal best for almost 12 minutes (from 2:48:17 to 2:36:28). The route was very hard, not flat at all, so we did not plan any pace.” You can read more about her race here.
All of Ana’s top level performances have been as a vegan. She turned vegetarian in 2005 (aged 18) and in April 2016 became vegan.
Video: Ana (14) at the Kyiv Euro Marathon:
“The event that triggered me to stop eating animals was when I saw a person killing a chicken in her backyard. This is ‘normal practice’ in Croatia. I could not make a distinction between this chicken and my cat that I loved so much. And I said: ‘I will never eat meat in my life’. What I say is what I do.”
In 2015 Ana discovered Youtube videos about other aspects of animal farming.
“I discovered that I am still part of animal exploitation. I was gathering information and decided I do not want to be part of this practice. If I am not eating meat because of animals, I should not eat eggs, dairy products or anything else related to animals. In March 2016 I gave myself a trial period and after a week I decided this is the right direction. Back then I did not know anything about vegan or vegan food. Now, I am expert!”
Vegan on the move
“I consider myself as a control freak when talking about food. If I need to eat in a hotel or anywhere else that is not labelled as a vegan restaurant, I ask 100 questions before taking an order. I had a lot of bad experiences, mostly in countries where people do not know what vegan food is. This includes my home country Croatia.
“When traveling I am always doing my research on what I can eat.” An example was her 2021 trip to Ukraine for the Kyiv Euro Marathon.
Accommodation was booked by the organizer, so Ana contacted the hotel to make sure if they could provide vegan food. When she was told she could order the vegan food from the menu only she was sceptical, so prepared her own. It seemed that staff confused veganism with vegetarianism, so she avoided the risk but just eating her own.
Later she was offered a ‘vegan meal’ which was clearly vegetarian.
“Overall, you need to be prepared for everything, especially if you have certain demands about the food you are eating” she says. Although clearly she was still able to put in an amazing performance.
Clothing is another issue and there are some concerns about running shoes.
“For my private use I buy only vegan and of course cruelty free products”.
Fuelling the run
Ana has faith in her vegan diet as she trains, and this training includes hundreds of kilometres each month. However, this is not the only factor.
“You need to have people around you who you trust in. For sure, this is my coach. Another big change is training within a group of people. I am running with young and talented people and we all are acting as a team. They are very big supporters during each training session.”
“I did recently increase my monthly kilometres during winter time by taking a lot of very very slow footings. And if you add on top of that speed sessions (less than 20% of total kilometres), the result is here.” Ana also trains with a bike.
“What I eat also has a very important role. I did adjust my food to my running so what I am eating is in line with how I am using my body.”
“When I started eating plant-based food, running was a hobby for me. And today is as well, because I have a full time job, but now running is having a big role in my life. At the beginning I was eating everything, today this is not the case. I am trying to eat whole food, with a little bit of processed food like seitan or tofu or tempeh.”
For breakfast (and before races) Ana usually eats oatmeal. For lunch and dinner she often eats potatoes, vegetables, soy and soy products (yogurt, tofu and soy-based meat replacement). She eats a lot of beans, lentil, chickpeas and buckwheat.
“My food is mainly based on carbs (70%) while protein and fats are not so present in my food. As a source of fat, I am using seeds. I am eating very very simple food. I need 20 minutes to prepare dinner and lunch for the next day.”
“On special occasions I eat traditional Croatian food in a vegan version, pizza or burgers.”
When we spoke to Ana in 2021 she didn’t not have any problems with eating vegan, but in the past she found people were negative.
“With the people I am training with now, my coach is looking very positive for my selection of food. I love to prepare vegan food for them to show how good vegan food can be, and I am always open to answer any question and to be supported.
“I think I have a very positive impact on them, and I am celebrating every new vegan. Now, 4 of us are vegan and hope other people are at least introducing better choices in their own lives.”
Ana’s sweets are very popular when the runners have parties and she recently introduced them to vegan pizza.
“People were very excited to try this and very surprised about the taste of food. They did not expect vegan food to be so delicious.”
With plenty of years ahead of her in sport, Ana still has ambitions, and is keen to continue with different distances.
“My only plan is to show what people eating plant-based food can do. I am very motivated but at the same time very patient. In the near future I hope to improve in shorter distances (3K, 5K and 10K) and we will see how far I can get in longer distances.”
“For me, being vegan is a very important part of my personal life. Maybe I am not talking a lot about it, but running is my way of showing you do not need to consume animals at all and still you are able to have a good (and I would say better) quality of life. And why not choose that over some other living being suffering?”
“Running is not my job, it is a hobby, and I am managing to have very good progress over the last few years, with less than 5 years in the running world as a not so young runner.
“Every single day I am trying to show people around me that plant-based diet is not complicated, and it is accessible. Hope one day all people will be vegans. Maybe I will not live enough to see it, but every single step in the right direction is a reason for celebration.
“I hope I will be part of this progress and that people will find me to be inspired by my achievements and join us in our journey to a vegan world.”