Today was a tough day. I was tired. I managed to drag myself around 10km, but it wasn’t pleasant, and I also had to cycle 16km for the milk later in the day. Feeling quite wiped out now.
I’ve been thinking a bit about diet today. Or “fuelling” ones body for the rigours of long distance running.
Most committed runners (and you probably have to be quite committed to run 10km+ a day) seem to follow a very similar diet/daily schedule:
THE COMMITTED RUNNERS DAILY SCHEDULE
5am Leap out of bed! Eat grapefruit skin and hazelnut shells! Go for run! FEELING BRILLIANT!
6am Back! Shower! Kiss beautiful wife! Eat more grapefruit skin and have bowl of oat husks and nettles! I love oat husks! FEELING A-O-K!
7am Go to work on bike! FEELING ALIVE!
10am Morning snack! Organic prune concentrate with bluebell flowers! ZEST 4 LIFE!
12pm Lunch! Dolphin fin on Ryvita (x1)! Want two, but can’t because I need to go for my lunchtime run! STILL FEELING GR8!
3pm Snack! Two bread crusts and one pasta swirl! FEELING GREAT TO THE MAX!
7pm Home! Kiss beautiful wife! Eat 3 more pasta swirls! Go for run! WORLD IS WONDERFUL!
10pm Go to sleep! Amazing day! LOOKING FORWARD TO MORE DAYS LIKE THIS!
If you follow a lot of running blogs then you’ll have seen variants on that. People like this are normally positive, outgoing, square jawed and list their interests as “saving endangered species; rock climbing; helicopter flying and loving each minute of every day as if it’s a brand new sunrise!”
My approach to fitness is somewhat different.
RUNTHOMASRUN COMMITTED RUNNERS DAILY SCHEDULE
8am. Wake up. Wish I was dead. Curl into ball. Need wee. Get up. Walk bleary eyed into kitchen. Stub toe on cat. Curse cat. Fumble for breakfast cereal. Shout at wife. Eat ALDI chocolate flakes until I feel sick.
10am Morning snack. Search cupboards desperately for crisps. Wife has hidden crisps. Shout at wife. Eat carrot. Feel sad. Find crisps! Eat crisps until feel sick. Hide empty bag.
12pm Want peanut butter sandwich. Bread has gone green. Just eat peanut butter out of jar until feel sick.
12.30pm Go for run even though can’t be arsed. Tummy ache. Wish I’d gone for run before eating peanut butter.
3pm Snack wanted. Annoyed crisps have run out. Eat more peanut butter out of jar. Internally debate whether to eat cooking chocolate or not.
3.10pm Finish off cooking chocolate. Feel sick.
7pm Shuffle through takeaway menus desperately trying to find one that’s open. Have argument with wife over empty peanut butter jar. Cook tea that involves potatoes. Have big cake for dessert. Have seconds. Feel sick. Have thirds.
2am Go to bed after playing on the Xbox all evening and watching “My Lesbian Transsexual Big Brother” on E4.
The miraculous thing is my sophisticated and balanced lifestyle and dietary choices appear to produce largely the same rewards on the track as the oat-husks and dolphin method.
I’m reminded a bit of when I was waiting around at the start line of my marathon last August. Beside me an earnest young French guy and his friend were discussing strategies for the race. Both of them looked like an American Marine fully loaded with kit for an offensive move against an oil producing middle eastern country.
I was fascinated as to what all the bits dangling off them actually were, and as I moved closer I could see it was row after row of energy gels, energy drinks and energy bars. Having idly looked at the price of them in the supermarket I was worried one or other of them would be mugged on the way round. You could have got Ernst and Young in to break them up and used the the resulting capital to stabilise the eurozone.
Anyway, I continued to listen and they were animately planning a strategy for when they’d drink or eat each of the items. All 42km was being planned out with millitary efficiency. “Drink this one here because it contains dextro-something, that one there because it’s a recovery protein-a-doodah”. It was fascinating.
I felt a little inadequate at this point. I’d had a bowl of Sugar Puffs and a banana. Immediately doubt began to cloud my mind. Was a bowl of Sugar Puffs sufficient? Why hadn’t I brought along energy gels? Was everyone looking at me and laughing? I felt a food nakedness I’d never felt before.
You of course know what happened. I noted their race numbers and checked the race results when they came out on the website. They both finished about 15 minutes behind me. Losers. Goes to show you that ultimately, when you’re running, what you use as “fuel” isn’t really that important.
Here’s another example. Last year I cycled 173 miles in a day, in a mammoth cycle starting at 5am in Portsmouth and ending up in South Wales at about 10pm on the same day. This followed a previous day where I’d cycled 100 miles through France and slept overnight on the floor of a ferry (for 5 hours). Athletic science suggests that such a mammoth feat of cycling and endurance would need extensive dietary planning and management. Over the two days I ate two kebabs, a beefburger, a chicken sandwich, 3 packets of crisps and a Mars bar. To be fair the beefburger came with an egg, so that was pretty nutritionally balanced. Protein!
What I’m trying to say is not just that I’m awesome (I am, but we don’t need to linger on the fact) but that running should be the most democratised and accessible of all sports. It needs no technology or investment beyond some Good Shorts and running shoes. It should be a sport open to all, and yet like all sports there’s an element of elitism and “sports science” that has to come along and spoil the fun. If you’re challenging world records, or crossing the Sahara then yes, diet, cadence, breathable-wicking-space-age shirt material and barefoot-pronating-heel-strike-reduction shoes might be important. Yes, a balanced diet of carp bladder and zebra hoof might win you those extra milliseconds you need to complete with the Kenyans….
…but for everyone else: running is the thing that lets you slap on a pair of shorts with a big hole in the groin and eat chocolate and crisps guilt free.
So bear that in mind.