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Like so many people who take up running as they approach their 30’s my primary aim was to try to look better by losing some weight. I also wanted to get fitter and almost as soon as I started running I wanted to compete with myself and see what I could achieve. But primarily it was about the spare tyre around my middle and the fear that at a relatively young age I was on a slippery slope to obesity and all the terrible damage that does to health and well-being.

After a couple of years of regular running, by the time I had completed my first marathon and was training for my first ultra marathon, I had slipped into a mind-set where I thought that I could pretty much eat whatever I liked because of the amount of running I was doing. In my experience that is a common feeling amongst runners. The club I run for – the Mornington Chasers – even has a t-shirt which proudly proclaims “we do it for the biscuits” on the back.

However I am now looking into nutrition and viewing food in a different way. Now that I have more challenging targets as far as running is concerned I am determined to maximise every area of my life to give myself the best possible chance of reaching my full potential.

Undoubtedly since I started running my diet has improved and when I met Julie it took a big leap towards being what I would call a well balanced and nutritionally sound diet. However I know that I succumb to my sweet-tooth all too easily and eat too many treats and too much chocolate. So I now find myself in an interesting position – leaner and fitter than I have ever been and yet possibly no less dissatisfied than when I gave up my old crappy lifestyle. The problem for me is that I know there are improvements that can be made… if only I had the discipline.

Last week I started re-reading Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald to try to find the motivation to make the small daily changes that will allow me to drop a couple of kilos and get down to the weight that I know I should be. Now I should say at this point that I am writing this at the end of an unbroken 8-day stretch with no running – post Florence marathon, my coach said that I should have at least a week off, so I have followed his advice to the letter and spent a week nursing a cold (OK that wasn’t on his orders), eating and spending my free time reading and surfing the web. And I have put on some weight. So the man in the mirror is part of the reason I am looking into my diet. But I also know that if the target my coach and I have discussed for the London marathon next year is going to happen, I will need everything to be perfect, including losing my love handles!

Fitzgerald’s book really is a mine of brilliant information and tips. He seems to be mindful of the fact that every athlete is different and that the audience for his book, whilst highly likely to be motivated and dedicated athletes, are also likely to struggle with the everyday issues of work and family and social commitments which can play havoc with one’s good intentions (another family Sunday lunch anyone?) I have taken a few interesting thoughts from the book and I’m happy to share them;

  1. we each have an ideal racing weight and it is not easy to scientifically work out what that is. It is a matter of judgement and experience and only when you get it right will you know. Like so much in running we just have to feel our way to the perfect balance for us.
  2. it is unwise, unhealthy and extremely difficult to stay at racing weight for extended periods. Much like Nick’s insistence that I should have a week or more off running after Florence, Fitzgerald suggests that it is both practical and indeed wise to add a little weight (he suggests 8%) in the fallow periods between training and racing build-up. Just don’t go mad like Ricky Hatton or Jan Ulrich!
  3. eating smaller meals more than three times a day, whilst highly unlikely to affect one’s metabolism, can help to reduce appetite and at the same time align the body’s need for fuel with the inputs it receives.
  4. body composition is much more important than actual weight. One of the things I really like about the book is its focus on being lean, not light. I know that my weight in itself is not the issue – it is the percentage of that weight made up by fat (useless) vs muscle (useful)!

So this sort of advice is how I intend to ensure that the relationship I have with food is absolutely optimised so that I have the best chance of reaching my goals. However I think it is also worth reflecting for a minute on how lucky I am to be trying to ‘trim’ and ‘adjust’ here and there. For so many people the issues they have with food are overwhelming.

I am forever saddened by the weight issues that so many people in this country (and indeed in the most of the richest countries on the planet) suffer with. Recent research tells us that one in 20 British adults has diabetes, according to new figures from GP practices, while data released by the charity Diabetes UK also shows that almost one in 10 adults, or 5.5 million people, in the UK are obese. At the moment the NHS is spending £9bn per annum (or 10% of its budget) treating diabetes. I think the numbers speak for themselves.

So I am going to try to continue to improve the way I eat so that I can squeeze the maximum from my training. And I am also going to try to see if I can help to inspire others to start running and realise that a bit of hard work and dedication will bring rewards that are tangible and sustainable – a healthy approach to food, improved health and a sense of achievement that running provides in bucket loads.

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