Wednesday 25 May 2016

Memories of being fat: 10 years on...

On May 8th 2006 I came out of a GP appointment for a chest infection with more than just anti-biotics. I came out shocked and with my bum well and truly kicked. The doctor also said "you're rather overweight aren't you?", plopped me on the scales and I was horrified to see it saying 94kg, then she took my blood pressure and said I needed to be monitored as it was quite high.

Packed off with a prescription for anti-biotics and an appointment for a follow-up blood pressure appointment in a month with the nurse, I left with a switch in my head flipped. I didn't know it at the time, but this was a huge turning point in my life and instrumental in completely changing my life.

Over the coming months, I took positive action by keeping a food diary and learning about the nutritional content of the food I was eating. I pretty much always had cooked everything from scratch, but portion sizes had crept upwards and with the proportion of carbs in the meals, I was "happily" eating more than I needed.  Though I ate little sugar, I ate a lot of pasta, rice, potatoes and tons of bread.

After 3 months of focused effort, which involved a dramatic cut in the amount of starchy foods (Restricting myself to 50g bread per week! One chunk of crusty baguette at the weekend.), I hit my first weight target of "healthy BMI" (for me that was 72kg). OK there were a few tantrums and tears along the way (mostly because I was missing bread), but compared with a lot of people I had a pretty easy ride with no real plateaus.  Much frustration came from "knowing" that fat was fattening yet not wanting to eat synthetic or highly processed foods instead and not having the knowledge to tackle that.  And just skimming a healthy BMI, especially being very inactive (OK I walked a lot, but that's it), didn't mean I felt (or in my opinion) looked great. So I set a new goal of 67kg which was right in the middle of the "healthy BMI" range and reached that a couple of months later.  Then down to about 64kg shortly after that, in late 2007.

Skip forward to 2009 and I was happy that I felt so slim and could buy clothes in pretty much any shop I fancied, but was "weak like kitten" and wasn't happy about that.  So took up weight training and did that for a while, loved it and, having taken up a bit of light cycling in 2007 and being a swimmer as a child, started to run a bit so I could do triathlons and did my first in 2010.  But still calorie counting to keep my weight in check.


This culminated in 2012 with a bunch of Ironman races and a great time of it.  But one of the important things I learned from Ironman was that I did not want to be stuffing bars and gels down me to get through a race and I put a few pounds back on too - up to 67kg.  Calorie counting seemed to be how it would have to be for the rest of my life and that didn't seem like a great prospect, nor like it should be right.

Cue an un-prompted intervention from Dr Tamsin Lewis, who recommended "Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It", by Gary Taubes and that changed my life even more.  I devoured many more books on the topic, grabbed some practical help on recipes from a couple of books (like Raising Superheroes, by Prof Tim Noakes) and changed my diet pretty much overnight.  No more calorie counting and messing about figuring out how much I needed for a ride or a run or how much I could have when I was starving, because I stopped getting the ridiculous hunger and the weight dropped off a bit again too.

I ended up being featured in a few "inspirational" articles...

Then I dropped triathlon at the end of 2013, despite having had a great year that year as part of a fantastic amateur triathlon team.  Everyone else on the team was an elite athlete, winners of all sorts of incredible races like Norseman and age group podium places at the Ironman World Championships.

Triathlon was making me put too much pressure on myself.  Seriously, I was better than average but no more than that and surrounded by so many high performing athletes a lot of the time. I was enjoying doing quite well (i.e. better than average), but the process was draining me mentally and needed more time than I was happy giving to get better.

So, I took up ultra marathons ('cause yeah, why not focus on the one discipline of triathlon you're worst at :o) ) and haven't looked back.  

Keeping mostly Low Carb, High Fat with excursions every now and then - some really good fresh bread with a special meal, a dessert a few times in the year etc. and whatever I feel like *during* ultras.  I had blood work done to validate that everything was in a good place on the insides - and it is.

Now it's 2016 and aside from a little more wine than I probably should have, I'm still Low Carb living, still running ultra marathons and still maintaining 30kg of weight loss since that day in 2006.

It *is* possible to be a healthy weight, have a healthy body in terms of fitness and wellness, and not be hungry or have cravings and it *is* possible to keep it like that. But it takes some education and a lifestyle change if you didn't start out that way.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Race Report: Centurion NDW50 2016

I couldn't have a better topic for my 800th post in this iteration of my blog. (Thanks to James Craig Simpson, Ben Pine and Steve Wellsted from the Centurion Facebook group for the photos I didn't take in this post.)

Thanks for the day go to: James Elson (for being a great coach, a brilliant race director and finding such a stunning route for this race), Nici Griffin (for lots of things, especially threatening to charge me for transporting my race number if I didn't end up using it all the way to the end!), every single volunteer (you guys make this special and you work so hard), Louise Ayling (for being there, popping up at unexpected places, being encouraging and, though she'd hate it, inspiring!) and MrTOTKat (for driving me around and burbling at me via texts).

The North Downs Way 50 is the best ultra I have run. The course is stunningly beautiful...

Most of it is in woodlands along woodland trails (go look at the Google Street View images - it's the first National Trail that's been covered by the trekker cameras).  I can't describe how perfect that is for me.  It's the vision I have of ultras and so many don't deliver that.  So many end up along the side of main roads for a large proportion, through industrial estates, down the back of chemical/power plants, through the local area where everyone seems to fly tip, etc.  But this route is almost all woodlands, with some open expanses where you have views down from the hill you just climbed and a few trots through pretty little villages.

After the first 24-25 miles of undulating/rolling trail and a little switchback to cross under the A24 so you don't die crossing it; you come to the bottom of Box Hill and the stepping stones.

The organisation is so slick and friendly...

Useful info at the checkpoints.

Easy to spot and welcoming!

And just look at that spread!  Cherry tomatoes are perfect and there was fresh pineapple at a later station - soooo good to perk things up.

Where else would there be a "bacon boat"? With the Centurion Running "Naval Division" and a Stormtrooper handing out bacon sandwiches! It was absolutely perfect, unexpected and not only a needed salty hit but a good giggle at the sight of a Stormtrooper.

You cannot possibly get lost - you'd have to try really hard!  The whole route is on the North Downs Way National Trail which is well marked with the usual little acorn symbol, but on top of that there are bright orange chalk paint arrows and lots of red & white stripy tape to give you the confidence you're on the right track (all removed by sweeper runners following the cut-off times).

And the profile is nicely challenging without being so tough it makes you cry (but the *steps*!)

There are quite a lot of steps. Many many up, and later on when legs are getting a bit used, lots down too (ow!).

The day was perfect; weather was 6-12 degrees, sunny and light breezes every now and then.  The shade of the trees kept the sunburn at bay though I am a little pink in places the morning after.  I did manage to throw myself down a couple of descents onto hands & knees so they got a bit scraped up.

The second trip and fall was the only time I had a dark moment in the whole run - which is phenomenal.  No thoughts at all of "why am I bothering?" etc. apart from 15 seconds or so after the second fall.  And then in the last 3 miles, I tripped AGAIN! But this time, I yelled "seriously!", recovered it without hitting the deck. Yay!

The first half, as I said, is undulating/rolling and the second half is pretty lumpy.  This means you get to half way in much less than half of the total time.  Which can be a bit difficult to mentally deal with unless you're really ready for it.  Having gone out and recced the lumpiest bit of the route by chance, I was pretty ready for it.  And James had prepared me for it well too.  5 hours for the first half, but 6 and a half for the second half.  Yes you're more fatigued in the second half, but there's a lot more up and down in that half.

As the National Trail guide says... "more challenging" (a little understated for a run rather than a walk).

Overall I really enjoyed myself. I had a great day out. Yes stuff hurts at the end and there are aches the next day, but it was beautiful, safe, challenging and really spirit-lifting stuff! I can see why it's the race with the highest return rate. Thank you Centurion Running! (and thank you to all of the volunteers!)