I’ve been meaning the write this article for years but have always struggled where to begin or how to even structure my thoughts. Nutrition has always been the one area of my training that I have neglected and I have always known that if I gave it some focus, I would be a much better runner as a result.
While I’m running I tell myself I am getting away with it, as the calorie burn offsets the calorie intake. Now that I am struggling with long term injury, the low times have been pretty constant, the calorie intake is high and the calorie burn is the lowest its been for years. Its a perfect storm and almost a self fulfilling prophecy. The less I run, the more I eat, the lower I feel and the more I shove into my mouth.
An excellent recent article by UltraBoyRuns on his own battles with nutrition, resonated strongly with my own battles with food. It was almost like I had written it myself! With my ongoing battles with injury I need to get a grip of my diet, and going public with my struggles and introducing some level of accountability seemed like a perfect place to start.
Don’t get me wrong, my diet is not all bad and it does have some good elements. I eat fruit and vegetables, drink plenty of water, don’t eat much fast food and drink alcohol in moderation, with the occasional heavy night once in a while. I do however use food as a crutch and turn to bad food choices when I am tired, low or under stress.
With my return to running still uncertain, it has been easy to slip into a pit of despair and turn to food for support. “Why worry about it?”, I tell myself as I shovel yet another late night bag of crisps into my mouth. It makes me feel better in the short term and I kid myself I will burn it off eventually. As soon as I finish though I know that this is a lie and I immediately feel regret.
I would go into supermarkets on the way home from work with all the best intentions but leave with bread, chocolate or cake, most of which would be gone by the time I’ve pulled onto the driveway at home. At best I would then forego my evening meal to offset the calories, or worse, still eat dinner and also have another late night binge while sitting in front of the television.
The Food Demons
I’ve written before about my mental demons while racing and it is just the same here. Good Giles sits on one shoulder telling me I need to focus on my diet now more than ever. Extra weight means extra load on your joints and when I eventually return to running, I want to give myself the best start possible. A few extra kilograms is not going to help that process at all.
Bad Giles sits there on the other shoulder, sagely nodding along and then leans in and whispers “we’ll start tomorrow” or “one moment of weakness won’t hurt” or “listen to your stomach, you’re hungry”. When feeling mentally low, Bad Giles always wins and so the late night binges continue.
In the last few months, as I struggle to control my demons, my daily diet has followed a similar pattern. It will start well, with maybe a healthy smoothie full of all sorts of good green stuff, snacks through the day made up of nuts, seeds and fresh fruit and a semi-healthy lunch, like a salad or sandwich. But by late afternoon I’m starting to feel low on energy and motivation, the subsequent binges are then inevitable. My balance of calorie intake throughout the day was all wrong, I know the answer but yet I push on, lacking the mental strength to tackle it.
Similar to UltraBoy, I would be ashamed of my weakness with food and readily hide it from my family. Binges and poor calorie choices usually take place away from my family, out of the house or after they are all asleep. Out of sight, out of mind so to speak. Its my little secret, just between me, the cupboard or the fridge and the demons on my shoulder.
Bad food choices
Certain foods draw me in time and time again. Fresh bread, crisps, chocolate and cake are my go to places when I’m feeling low. I don’t believe I have any specific intolerances but know that a late night binge of bread sits in my stomach like a lead weight. I don’t feel good physically and the mental boost from eating it, is soon replaced by regret and an element of self loathing.
The stupid thing is that sorting my diet out is an immediate action that I could take to aid my recovery. The right food choices will help my body heal. The right food choices will also ensure I remain as lean as possible, so when my return to running finally arrives, I can focus on this rather than also having to drop the kilograms of excess body weight.
I have been reading about sports nutrition for years, covered it in some depth during my Triathlon coaching qualification and have also recently taken some excellent advice from a good friend who knows a lot about this area. But still I have struggled to get a grip of my demons and food intake.
This article was supposed to be a public confession of sorts, to hopefully kick start some action and provide a sense of accountability. However a week ago something surprising happened.
Something had to change
Those that have followed this blog for a while will know that one of my main racing objectives last year, was to compete in The Spine Race in January 2018, following my completion of The Challenger Race in January last year (2017).
I finally took the sensible decision in October to withdraw from the race and focus my energies on my recovery. The stress fracture that was identified a few weeks later confirmed I had made the right choice. There was no way I was ever going to be able to start this race and I was comfortable with my decision.
The social media frenzy, as the start date for The Spine Race approached, was difficult to avoid, with nervous athletes comparing kit choices and a good amount of banter and sandbagging going on. I provided encouragement to friends taking part in the race but to a large extend removed myself from the general discussions, not wanting to rub my nose in my lack of participation and make myself feel any regret.
As race week arrived, the general excitement grew and I was looking forward to it too. Another week of work travel woes prior to the race, made me grateful I wasn’t about to embark on a 250 plus mile race to the Scottish Border. Instead I looked forward to a week of dot watching on the race tracker, cheering friends on from afar and providing encouraging messages by SMS text.
Race weekend arrived and the dots started moving slowly northwards. I won’t bother recounting the race here, as there have been numerous reports written and the usual excellent video coverage from the crew at Summit Fever.
Friends smashed the race, the weather was terrible and there were stories of epic running adventures throughout the week. Within hours of the race starting though, there was real regret that I wasn’t there. Excitement for others but sorrow that I wasn’t trudging through the mud and snow, exploring new limits of my body and physical endurance.
Flicking the food switch!
Suddenly a switch was thrown in my mind. Bad Giles was immediately banished from my shoulder and put into a box in the back of my brain. He was still there, and always will be, but now his shouts seemed muffled and childish in nature.
Good Giles was joined my a new friend, someone I have only rarely seen in the past during my training and racing. Determined Giles took his place on my left shoulder and with a sudden sense of clarity, Project Dragon was born!
I’ll explain more about Project Dragon in a later post. What I’ll cover now is what impact this had my diet.
Instantly and I mean instantly, I had clarity of thought on what I needed to do. My poor food choices needed to stop and I needed to clean up diet. No fad diets here, just sensible choices, in a good balance throughout the day. Clean eating would be the simplest way of describing it.
My usual vices of bread, biscuits, chocolate and crisps were immediately banished from my diet. They will return but in moderation and at the right time. For now I needed to go cold turkey and kick start a new habit.
I changed up my calorie intake, focussing on getting a good balanced breakfast into me in the morning, with a clean healthy lunch and snacks through the day. Processed foods were out as much as possible and it was all about positive food choices, healthy ingredients and trying out new and interesting recipes.
Mentally I felt strong and confident with the approach I was taking. The hunger pains and mental lows at the end of the day were no longer there, instead there was real determination to get myself in the best shape I could for my return to running.
As the week went on I tested my resolve. An evening trip to supermarket saw me leaving without any of my usual vices. Tick, first test passed!
Late night TV viewing after my family were all in bed, had me just drinking water or eating a healthy small snack if required but only rarely. Tick, second test passed!
As my rehab continues I am now blending in some light training to start to get the endorphins flowing, helping my confidence and letting the feeling of wellbeing grow. No running yet but I feel like I am on the start of the road to full recovery at last.
As I write this I am ten days into this process and it’s going well. I’m not becoming one of these clean eating zealots and have allowed myself some fun, an evening Chinese with friends for instance or a post work beer with colleagues.
I am now more aware of what I am putting into my mouth and the balance of my food intake during the day. I have a lot to learn about nutrition and am sure my type A personality will see me pouring over more books trying to get a better understanding of energy systems and nutrients.
My good friend John Reynolds told my wife recently that when you are low, you need to surround yourself with positive energy and others achieving their goals. He was so right, as this is exactly what I did last week, all be it remotely and through a computer screen.
I am determined to keep the momentum moving and positive energy flowing. I feel like I am over the first hurdle and now it’s about reaffirming positive habits and getting these engrained in my sub conscious.
Positive energy is so important and my wife and I are working closely together on this journey, which is a massive help. We’ve also volunteered to give back to others by helping out at a number of races this year, starting with the Peddars Way Ultra this coming weekend.
This is a race I’ve run myself twice before and holds a dear place in my heart. We’re both really looking forward to helping others on their journeys northwards towards the Norfolk Coast and hopefully we can play a small and positive part in their running adventures.
So what started as a post all about confession and a cry for help, has changed to one of hope for the future, affirmative action and plan moving forward.
I’ll write more about Project Dragon shortly but for now I have to thank and congratulate all those that took part in The Spine Race last week. Not only was it an amazing achievement but it has given me a real drive to improve myself and hopefully match those feats myself in the future.
Fear not, I have no plans to start posting daily photos of my meals but will keep you updated on my recovery overall and how my diet is going in future posts.
Hopefully this article can provide a little inspiration to others who are in a similar position and act as a marker in the sand for the start of a new approach to food and eating in my life.