Monday, 2 October 2017

Exorcising the Diet Nazi Within

Some demons were exorcised on Saturday.

A record breaking performance in a short(ish) course mountain race laid to rest nagging doubts over a seeming lack of power and speed.  In an injury blighted season, characterised by untimely physiological breakdowns and retrospectively avoidable bike crashes, I've faced an ongoing struggle to get near to tauntingly fast training performances from the previous couple of years.
Smiling through the pain, delighted at finding peak performance again despite a love of Double Decker bars!
It's not been for want of effort or desire.  Despite the pain of a torn shoulder rotator, initially burning and insistent and latterly stiff and restrictive, long forays into the mountains have been endured and enjoyed in unequal measure.  Some have even tickled at the grail of peak performance but fallen a few tantalising minutes short of past marks, denying the satisfaction and bred-confidence that accompanies continuous improvement.

Doubt is always lurking, ready to creep into consciousness from the outer reaches of the psyche where it likes to exist.  Is it age?  Will I never again hit those heights?  And yet, along with these questions has come an unexpected release from a damagingly obsessive mindset that has occasionally threatened to destroy my love of this amazing activity altogether.

I'd be the first to admit that the runner's curse has long exercised its control over my decision making, that destructive force of negativity underpinning all facets of daily life.  Those of you who have also experienced this will recognise the signs immediately, when everything you consider doing must initially pass the mental filter that decides whether a chosen activity will be beneficial or detrimental to running performance.  It's totally binary, activities that aid are allowed, activities that damage or hinder are discarded, yes or no, one or zero.

Family holiday?  Has to be near to mountains and include journeys that fit with training schedules.

Night out?  Extremely unlikely, unless the preceding day involved 'pre-burning' thousands of calories with an excessively brutal session.

Fancy a pint?  No thanks (because I'd rather eat those 250 odd calories in solid food).

I'm guessing that those reading this will split between nodding knowingly at a glimpse into the mirror of shared obsession, or shaking heads in a mix of pity and bewilderment at the lengths of fun-avoidance that are so prevalent in a lifestyle skewed towards fitness above all else.

And from a bodily perspective, those tough (but inevitable) decisions can yield incredible results!  When it goes right, the discipline to eat better, train harder and sacrifice more creates stronger athletes, but not without potential repercussion.  The accompanying mental frailties of an 'at-all-costs' approach can be utterly crushing, especially when performances fall short of expectations.  It's no surprise that the world of professional sports is riddled with damaged mindsets, crises of confidence and underlying mental health issues.  The strive for perfection will always be fruitless, it's an intangible concept that will always taunt the seeker.
Grimacing through the pain, mile-long sprint finishes hurt but aren't hindered by a few pints the weekend before!
I read with interest, anger and disappointment the fact that Petro Mamu, 'winner' of the recent World Long Distance Mountain Running Champs, in which I competed for Ireland, has failed a drugs test.  My anger isn't for myself, after all, I've now gained a place, but for those who were denied the rightful rewards for their undeniable efforts, particularly Francesco Puppi, who's gold medal was stolen from him by a drugs cheat and who should've stood atop the podium in his home nation.

Personal opinion only, but backed by hearsay from many reliable sources, I believe drugs are becoming rife in amateur sport, polluting bodies and cheapening performances.  I firmly believe all levels of competition are witnessing those whose mindsets fail to appreciate the boundaries, justifying artificial enhancements to gain a competitive edge or merely through curiosity.  I've been tested, I'm clean, and I simply can't comprehend ignoring both the moral imperative and potential health detriments of pumping your system with those toxins.  However, human nature is sometimes hard-wired to push the limits.  I hoped naively that the limited financial rewards within mountain running would keep the cheats at bay but unfortunately that's clearly not the case.  Worryingly, there's also the distinct possibility that more robust testing procedures will witness more failures, simply on a law of averages.

Anyway, I digress, the blog was meant to be about ditching the self-destructive puritanical streak that dictates lifestyle choice in a distinctly un-rounded direction.  This season has seen a more relaxed attitude altogether, still extremely healthy but not ridiculously restrictive, and mental health has undeniably benefitted as a result.  Last night, after a very satisfactory sporting weekend, I happily saw off three pints of Guinness, a salted caramel Magnum and a Double Decker, behaviour that was unthinkable just two years previously when I wouldn't even drink a sugary hot chocolate in the month before an event!  Today, as-per-plan, I ran a mountainous 23 miler and felt none the worse for the previous evening's excesses.  It's all just sugars really, and over three hours and 2,000 vertical metres of slippery trails and battering headwinds will see off those easy-burned calories with change to spare.

Saturday's result demonstrated that the new approach can still produce peak performances.  No drugs required, no fascist eating regime, just a happy mental state and hard training.  Now I'm off for a vindaloo and a bottle of gin, I'd advise against anyone following me tomorrow morning!

Photo credits for the superb shots are Judith Robinson and Jayne Bell respectively.  Thanks a million for documenting a great day out so well.

1 comment:

  1. Will you go out tonight. No infant to be well rested to get up at 5 on a Sunday and get 6 hours running in!