Diet and Nutrition; A personal battle

Diet is a big enough issue for the non-exercising public, with millions of pounds being spent on encouraging us to become fat, and similar sums spent on “helping” us to lose it.  But for anyone who is into sport, it’s even more difficult. We have to eat to maintain our bodies, and then we have to eat to fuel our sport. Our bodies learn to convert food into energy very effectively, but how much do we help?

I eat too much, I also eat a lot of things that I know I should not. I love food, and I love eating. I am definitely one who lives to eat. So trying to become a slim, lightweight distance runner is an uphill struggle for me. When I was bike racing, I could get away with eating more or less anything, long days in the saddle took care of that. But with less cycling and more running, I am having to be more disciplined with my diet.

I lost four stone in the first nine months of running, but this included a two thousand mile cycle tour of France, and the training that went into that. My weight is holding around the twelve stone mark, and it is proving difficult to move nearer to my eleven stone target. Weight becomes more difficult to lose with age. But that is just an excuse. If it can go on, it can also come off.

I eat a varied diet; lots of fruit, veg, cheese, milk, pasta, eggs, fish etc. I like most things, and I usually have a clean plate at the end of a meal. But it’s cakes and chocolate that make life difficult. The sense of failure that comes with the first chocolate of the day sends me into a downward spiral, which sees me eating even more in self recrimination. I promise to do better tomorrow, always.

So how do I fuel a long run, say thirty miles plus? Two or three hours before the run I will have a large bowl of porridge, or scrambled eggs. I will also have a slice of bread, or a teacake. One hour before usually sees me enjoying a coffee and a biscuit.  On the run, I will have a small cereal bar every hour and I will have a banana at some stage, usually around half way. As far as drinking is concerned, I carry one and a half litres of water with a splash of lemon juice, and one litre of squash with added salt and sugar. It is winter time at the moment, so I am returning with around one and a half litres remaining. I expect this will change when the warmer weather comes.

Everyone seems to eat and drink at different stages when running, it really is something for you to discover what suits you best. I drink a little every fifteen-twenty minutes, alternating between squash and water. This is where I am at currently. A similar system served me well in bike racing, though I have yet to run in any kind of heat.

Don’t fall into the trap of over feeding for your training. When I started doing twenty mile runs, I would carry enough food to feed an army. Now, I carry one or two cereal bars for that distance.

You have to respect your body. You are battering it through your sport, especially if it is an endurance sport, so reward it by eating good food. I never miss the chance of a steak, or a beef dinner. If you use poor fuel, your engine cannot perform at its best. I don’t drink alcohol in any quantity, and I don’t smoke. My biggest vice is sweet food, but I am working on it.

I keep repeating the words of advice; eat a little of everything, but not too much of anything. We always have fruit in the house, which is a first stop for me when I am in binge mode. Winter is difficult for me, I eat when I am bored during the long, dark evenings. I kid myself that I need to eat more to keep warm, and to fuel my activities outside in the cold. The summer months present less of a challenge to me, because I can go out for long rides. This summer, I hope also to be doing long runs.


Thinking Different; Rise above “ordinary”.

This idea springs from words of wisdom passed on to me when I was a newcomer to cycling, in the early seventies. I think it applies today and to any sport. This is how it goes: The winner of a race is different from the rest, he/she is the only one. You have to be different to win, so think, train, prepare and race differently.

Applied to the sport of running, the idea would translate something like this: Don’t let anything fill you with awe, or fear. A marathon is not far, you can train and complete the run. That’s all it is, a run. Don’t be beaten before you start, don’t see it as a mountain to climb. Think success, not failure. Prepare for it, then complete it. The same goes for an ultra. It’s only a longer run. Just do it.

Train in the way that suits you. Read books, biographies and the like, but take from them that which will be useful to you. You are different, you can train your way. When you come to a slope where everyone walks, run it. Train when “normal” runners would not (say, before or after a race, in bad weather, or Christmas day.) Train harder, further, longer than anyone else.

Prepare for races in ways that suit you. Do not follow others’ expectations of what you should do. I once rode 120 miles through the night to ride a race. I did OK. And then I rode back, another 120 miles. A month later I hit good form. I don’t think it was a coincidence. Be prepared to sacrifice some races in order to excel in others. Not every race is of equal importance.

Don’t follow expectations when it comes to the race. You have  trained and prepared in your way, so race in your way. Conventional wisdom may say you should start steady, but if you have the fitness, you might do better by putting in an early burst. Don’t get tired when everyone else does, don’t slow when they slow, don’t settle for what they are settling for. Reach out, stretch for your goal.

The danger of sticking to received wisdom is that you will become a very average runner. Break the “rules”, you will make some mistakes, but learn from them, and you may become a runner who is well above “average”.

You may never win a race, but you can excel, you can perform at a level way beyond the expected, way beyond what your own expectations were. You can have your own victory. Break the rules. My first run (Post1) was 10 miles. I had to do some walking over the last three miles. I’ve not read any training plan that suggests starting with 10 miles off road as a first run. I’m 60 years of age next, but I don’t intend running like your average 60 year old. This is my first full year of running and competing, but I don’t intend performing like a novice.