Monday, 22 April 2013

Crunch time

Less than a week to go now… this could be the last time you hear from me before Manchester! Although, realistically, I’ll probably have one final message as a non-maratoneta (hopefully) before this week’s out.

Regular readers of this blog (an oxymoron, I know) will be accustomed to expressions along the lines of “I never thought I’d do that”. In the beginning, it applied to running – pure and simple. Since then, its use got more specific (“running before dawn”, “running on Christmas Day”, “running at 00:35 on New Year’s Day”, “running when on business abroad”, “running in the snow”, “running in the snow whilst on business abroad”,…) and eventually started to cover things not accompanied by the word ‘running’, such as “not eating chocolate”, “not drinking alcohol”, “reading up on runners’ nutrition”… truly wacky stuff.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that there’s a 2-week schedule in our kitchen detailing what will be our main meal. In itself, that’s actually the norm round here: Karen likes to plan. And why not? It makes things easier, ensures we eat well… However, it’s not Karen who’s done the planning for this week and the next…

… oh no – I’ve done that! Balanced out the food I should be eating ahead of Manchester, trying to avoid the evil stuff… Hey, why else do you think I read a book entitled “Performance Nutrition For Runners”? Why, to draw up this:

What we're eating. And how far I'm running. And when. Fail to prepare...

Yes, Friday 19 we (Karen and I) had Fish&Chips. Awesome for carboloading (apparently)! And on the previous occasion we’d had it, the following day I went out and set my 5k PR: 20:56, so far my only venture sub-21’. So there!

Look, I’ve not applied rocket science and there would be scope to get far more sophisticated. I could eat porridge every morning instead of my usual combo of Weetabix / Bitesize Shredded Wheat / Fruit&Fibre / Cheerios (or Corn Flakes, if I’m feeling really committed…). But life’s complex enough around here. I just focused on the principles: what’s good for recovery after a long run, what’s supposedly good for pre-race carbloading… my main focus being on the final three days, not least on the eve of the marathon which is a source of concern for me. You’re meant to take it easy, relax and, obviously, eat pasta. But no, not me…

…I’ll be travelling up to Sheffield and taking in Sheffield United-Preston, a game that could determine our season. Watching t’Blades isn’t relaxing at the best of times, but this could be the most stressful afternoon since… since… well, since
I last saw them, at Wembley*. After the match I’ll be heading out to eat with Mick Rooker and David Pye, with whom I spent many happy hours working at Beautiful Downton Bramall Lane and, indeed, travelling down to Italy by coach for an Anglo-Italian Cup match – the sort of dinner that would usually be further embellished by alcohol and not necessarily focus unduly on nutritional considerations! But I’ve made it clear that we have to head for an Italian! And I very rarely suggest heading out to an Italian in this country… no disrespect, but when you are brought up on homemade Italian cuisine as I was with my Nonna (my Dad’s Mum, as opposed to Nonna’s – although that could be an option!), 99% of Italian restaurants are going to be a disappointment! Anyway – here’s hoping I get the meal I need on the eve of the marathon and that it has no adverse effects on my here bladder… I’ll be travelling up with bread, bananas, apples, cereal bars, peanut butter, butter, just in case…

…until then, there will be plenty of other meals to enjoy. Which brings me onto this post’s topic…

…I had a running-centric e-mail exchange with a colleague recently. Jacqui became a colleague when the Servigistics, whom I joined seven years ago, was acquired by larger (around 10x) software company
PTC. Whilst contractual details took longer to finalise than hoped, we can say that the takeover started having effect last October. Takeovers entail meeting new people, finding one’s new role within a different, typically larger context. I’m not vain but I was certainly pleased that, by the time news of the takeover broke and we started meeting new colleagues, I had lost those infamous four stone. I felt good in and about myself, it made it easier for me to smile when I shook new hands. It meant people who didn’t know how I’d ended up ballooning the way I had (epilepsy surgery + young family the condensed answer) wouldn’t be passing judgement, more or less intentionally: c’mon, let’s not be naïve, we all do it, even when we try not to. Was I lazy? Did I drink too much? Did I simply have bad eating habits? I had ensured those questions wouldn’t come to mind…

When I first met Jacqui a couple of months back, I told her I’d be running a marathon. Since then, over a combination of calls and e-mails we’ve had the usual conversation about how long I’d been running, whether I’d run any marathons in the past and how crazy I was… and I sent her my usual reality/comedy shot:

This prompted the highly logical follow-up question:

“So you lost all that weight just from running or did you also cut down? […] Did you start off running for short bursts? Or, were you really a runner in disguise?”

“A runner in disguise”… I like that!

Now if I was in disguise, it was a good one! In
my previous post I recounted (again) where I was a year ago and how I got to where I am now: I won’t bore you again.

Was I a runner in disguise? Did I harbour some hidden natural talent which has seen the light in the past year?

Fellow Twitter nutter Martin Bown had made a similar comment back in February, when he told me:

talented people often don't realise they're talented. It means others ( like me) have to tell them ;-)

Very flattering guy, is Martin. When he makes up stuff like that, you’d think he worked in creative PR rather than being a factual accountant. Flattering as that is, I honestly don’t think there is anything special about my legs. Or my lungs. Or my heart. That said, I will acknowledge that I can be a stubborn Northern git…

…and that, in pursuit of a personal goal, I will do stupid things like go running every day and run 50mi/week!

Is that talent? Is that indicative of being “a runner in disguise”? Possibly. Mental strength is a key attribute for runners and I’m not going to be a hypocrite and deny I believe I have displayed that over the course of the last twelve months. But is mental strength nature or nurture? Does it really set me apart, set me alongside other runners – or could anyone do it?

The nature/nurture debate is beyond the realms of this blog. Suffice to say that, when I was growing up, there were plenty of determined, bloody-minded people around me. In my family, you got on with it – whatever ‘it’ was. Don’t get me wrong, I come from a middle-class background and, whilst I’ve never holidayed at Disneyland, I never wanted for owt. But I always saw that one reason I never wanted for owt was that the branches above me in the family tree had put in the effort to end their lives more comfortably than they’d entered them. I like to think I’m doing the same: but, right here right now, I care more about taking that positive mental attitude to the starting line in Manchester. And, with a bit of luck (as well as blood, sweat and tears), about taking it across the finishing line, too.

I’ll finish off with a comment about changes in my nutrition habits… for yes, there have been some…

Some are temporary, in the build-up to Manchester: there is no way I’m staying off biscuits, chocolate and beer forever! Why should I – I am in the best position of my life to run’em off. I’ve just avoided them for a couple of months because, when I cross that finishing line, I want to be able to say to myself “You gave it your best shot, Squints” – whatever that shot turns out to be.

However, there have been changes which I hope to sustain. Eating more salad, eating even more fruit than I normally would… it’s not going to be a revolution because, on the whole, I never did eat badly. I’ve always eaten fruit, for example.

The diet helps the running, but the running helps the diet just as much – if not more. And I don
t mean diet in a weight-loss sense, by the way! Coming in from a run, I’m aware of the good it’s done me: it’s generally dripping down my face in the form of sweat. For the rest of the day, I try to balance treating myself and refuelling my body with ruining the good work done. So sure, I’ll eat: but these days I might eat nuts and kiwis instead of Digestive biscuits or, heaven forbid, chocolate! When not training for a race I will happily switch that balance more towards treats: I don’t run to make myself miserable, in spite of what you might have read on here at times.

– for the best part of two months I’ve not touched Digeos, I’ve only had a single pint in the past ten weeks, I’ve not had any chocolate bars (although even I’m not going to turn down Mrs S’ chocolate cakes – good recovery food, dontchaknow)… this week just gone and the next I’ve cut down big time on caffeine and replaced it with orange juice, in the hope that when I have a cup of coffee or two on race day the stimulant will have a greater impact on a weaned body… just how much difference is all this going to make on Sunday?

Truth is, I don’t know. Of course I don’t. I’m guessing that no individual pint or biscuit would have a major impact but that the collated denial will hopefully deliver some benefits. A second? A minute? Half an hour?

Sorry, I haven’t got a clue. All I do know is that when I do cross that finishing line I want to know I gave it my very best shot. That I took training seriously and made some sensible but helpful sacrifices. I know people who’ve taken on comparable if not greater challenges and failed: they gave it a good shot but fell short. Would it have made a difference had they given up the fags and/or the booze? That’s got to be at least a possibility: something to ponder and wonder over. And cometh the hour on Sunday, I don’t want to have any such doubts. Whatever time I clock, I know it’ll be the best of which I was capable, given the limitations quite fairly imposed upon me by my body and my family/work commitments. And that’s all this was ever about: giving it my best shot. Giving it the best shot a working father of two of unremarkable physical abilities could give it. For me and for my brothers.

Furthermore, there is something invigorating about displaying to myself the mental strength to give up a few things, to make a handful of sacrifices. Trust me, giving up cuppateas for me isn
’t easy! But maybe, just maybe, when I’m five, ten, fifteen or however many miles in on Sunday, that mental commitment will inspire the legs to keep their side of the bargain. I’ve read many a time that long-distance running is about the mind as much as it is about the legs. Quite frankly, I needn’t have read it a single time. It’s a lesson Ive learnt in all other sports in which I’ve taken part, none more so than the individual ones and tennis in particular. So, regardless of whether giving up alcohol, biscuits and caffeine (and I’ve only now spotted the ABC bit!) will have impacted my body, it has impacted my mind. And that’s alright with me! (boom-boom-boom... spot the musical link there?)

Life itself is a marathon and not a sprint, of course. Hopefully I
’ll be able to sustain some of these changes for the… er, long run. Because let me tell you, if live permits me the luxury of reaching my late sixtires, I’d love to do so in the shape in which my parents have. My Dad (who’s always been a sportsman) still goes off on 30-40mi bike rides; my Mum (who’s always been sensible) still wanders off on 6mi walks along the Mediterranean coast. They do so because they’re in good health, they’re in good health because they do so. Living a thousand miles away, I am most grateful for the lack of concern they give me from Down There: I probably still give them more reasons to worry, what with my epilepsy, ensuing brain surgery and all that stuff. Oh, and that’s without mentioning Nonna, 97 and still working (although, as she always reminds me when we speak, “Things are a bit slow”). Long may their health continue to inspire me and to give me a long-term vision as to what I can achieve with a little exercise and care.
And one day, may my love for sport, which I have inherited from my Dad (as well as my Uncles), be passed on to and embraced by Big’Un and Littl
’Un! I say this not out of a judymurrayian desire to see them top the world in any given field, simply out of a fatherly desire to see them embrace the values of sport, live them on and off the field, and enjoy the physical and mental benefits that an active sporting life brings, both at the time and in the future.

s an aside, I didn
’t cry too many tears when Maggie died last week. I’m from South Yorkshire: much as my background is middle class, it’s still not allowed. One thing I’ve learnt in recent years is that things we took for granted from the State are now best taken as bonuses. I’d love to take health services for granted, but it’s safer not to. And I definitely don’t take a State pension for granted. Working for American companies as I have done for most of my working life I’ve always enjoyed a private pension scheme: it means right now I don’t, I can’t take my wife out for a meal as often as I’d like (she’s currently given up her teaching career to take care of our own, young kids), but hopefully it means I’ll be in a more secure position when I eventually pack it in (which is going to be quite some time!) and the mortgage is paid off (134 instalments to go). To some extent, running is my way of paying into my body’s own pension, of doing what I can so that, cometh my latter years, I’ll be in decent shape. I appreciate there are risks for my joints, but, as Simon duly pointed out on Twitter, they’re more easily fixed than our cardio-vascular system.
apologies if this sounded all a tad political, that wasn’t my intention. It’s more of a pragmatic viewpoint on my part. I’ve said oftentimes that I dont run because I enjoy it but because I get a sense of achievement out of it: I should add that I feel its my duty to look after my body, in the now and in the future, and I feel running (and following a healthy diet, without getting too hung up on it) is a good and simple way of going about that. And still I struggle with lifelong smokers who complain about insufficient resources dedicated to their lung cancer during times of limited financial and medical capabilities…

…anyroad, enough of all that
– we’re all friends on here, right? Right!

So bring it on, Manchester – this Yorkie’s heading back Up North! And he’s ready…

…hang on, don’t hold me to that last comment. Let me get back to you later in the week.

* yes, I do feel bad that I’ve not seen t’Blades all season. It truly hurts, not least because of all the glorious #twitterblades I’ve met on Twitter… whose loyalty and dedication put me to shame. I don’t feel worthy to call them followers. Mind, plenty of them don’t, so no need to worry… But I am a Blade guys, honest – just one who can’t drive and lives 176mi from Sheffield with a young family…

…oh and being in Sheffield for TenTenTen on the weekend they came to Yeovil didn’t help, nor did the Swindon fixture being on a Tuesday night…

…ah well – Bristol City are coming down from the Championship next season and I can get to Ashton Gate in 45’ on a local bus! Mind you, you know what that means…

…THE BLADES ARE GOING UP! Heaven forbid I get to see them by hopping on a local bus… either that or the fixture list will pit us at Ashton Gate on October 12 – the eve of the TenTenTen, when I’ll be in Sheffield! So sure, we lost 3-0 at relegated Portsmouth on Saturday, a defeat which condemns us to the Play-Offs where we only ever fail. But what weight that communal history compared to my individual situation, eh?

No comments:

Post a Comment