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Chocoloss ….

WARNING – What I am about to reveal in this blog may make you weep, it shows how an addiction has taken a sinister turn, and seems to have life long consequences – you have been warned.

As a child we didn’t really have sweets around the house, there was always fruit, and mom would usually bake a cake on a Saturday – not to be touched until Sunday, but never sweets. An exception would be Christmas, but then in the Shaw household, Christmas was always an exception to 350 days of fairly strict discipline when it came to ‘nice things’. Perhaps the only exception to this was chocolate. It probably helped that when I was very young, mom worked in Cadburys. This was the proper Cadburys, owned by the Cadburys, built brick by brick by the Cadburys in the village they pretty much founded – Bournville. Fridays would become a treat – broken chocolates. At the time they were freely given to the staff to take home as they couldn’t be sold to customers. They would arrive in the house in their little paper bag of goodness, and an excited five year old Iain would know he was in for a sugar and chemical hit. Well, actually I didn’t, it would take another 10 years of slow corruption to understand what a chemical hit was, but I think you know what I mean. In later years they would have to be purchased in the staff shop, and eventually I believe they would make their way into the hands of the general public, and so no longer a special gift from Mr Cadbury to his staff and their families.

Like a dealer giving away freebies, to hook their clients, Mr Cadbury had done the same with me. I loved chocolate. I love chocolate. I would never buy packets of sweets, I would always prefer chocolate. Mars Bars, Yorkies, Kit Kats, Marathons, selection boxes at Christmas, Dairy Milk, Fruit and Nut, Crunchie, Milky Ways, Freddo, Curly Wurly, Aero (mint not orange) were all consumed in the formative years of my addiction. As a teen I progressed to new treats such as Boost – in fact Boost was probably my first real ‘issue’ with chocolate. As a late teen/early twenty something I consumed a lot of these delights, two at a time – just getting warmed up, have a third for a snack, maybe a fourth after dinner. Something in its chemical composition hit the spot for me, to quote Renton ‘ I haven’t felt this good since Archie Gimmel scored against Holland in 1978’ (a reference to one of my favourite films – Trainspotting, where Renton has the delightful Kelly MacDonald using him as a sex trampoline.). In my 30s and 40s I consumed way too much chocolate. On my way to work I would purchase a can of Red Bull and a Yorkie, every…single…day… and consume them before I stepped in the door at work – my start of day hit. Cleaning the car at the end of a week would almost shame me – like a post-coital depression, with the amount of empty wrappers I had to throw away. I had no inclination to stop though, the high was too high, the low not low enough, it was habit, it was me.
Rewind through this blog, look at the first posts – what was the thing that made me falter on the first day of my weight loss journey, chocolate. I knew I had to eat well, but I was offered chocolate and I couldn’t say no. However it was not any ordinary chocolate, it was the crack cocaine of chocolate, it was a Cadburys Flake. Even writing those two words ‘Cadburys Flake’ evokes a neurological response. I can hear the sound of the wrapper being undone, feel the texture of the thin yellow plastic. I can sense the uneven surface of the chocolate, smell its intoxicating scent and worst of all I can taste it and remember the crumble as it dissolves into my mouth. Those things are truly evil. If I had 100 of those put in front of me I would eat them, I would eat every single one. My body would be satisfied way before my brain, and I would be controlled by my unconscious being to eat them all.
But a strange thing happened, not sure when, not sure why, but I stopped eating my body weight in chocolate. No longer would I find myself going into a shop and buying a cheeky bar, perhaps the urge went when I gave up Red Bull, maybe the pandemic cured my addiction as I wasn’t driving past a shop every day. Don’t get me wrong, if the chocolate was in the house, I would be tempted, and Christmas tins of Quality Street and Celebrations would get devoured. But it seems that Christmas 2020 was the last year, and since then I haven’t eaten chocolate and to be honest I don’t miss it. Its not like my giving up alcohol though. Every day I want to drink alcohol, still. I miss alcohol, every day I am tempted to open a bottle, buy beer, buy gin (I never ever drank gin), buy whiskey, buy vodka, but I don’t. I feel I have that demon well under control. But chocolate, don’t need that anymore.

That was until this week…

There was a chocolate bar left in the kitchen, part of a multi-pack the kids have. I didn’t want it, didn’t actively seek it out, but it was there. I made myself a coffee, took the chocolate bar and ate it – two moderate bites and it was gone. I have regretted it ever since, not emotionally, not some heinous guilt, but physically regretted it. For 24 hours after eating the chocolate I have felt ill. I have eaten everything the same as everyone else in the family and they are OK, so I don’t think it was something (apart from the chocolate bar) I have eaten. So, science-mode activated – I had another chocolate bar, and I started to feel ill again. What’s going on, my body is rejecting chocolate, even if I wanted to return to my previous ways I can’t – I feel like shit (literally), the choc is poisoning me.

So I have had to make a decision, and one that may make people weep (see I told you), but I am having to give up chocolate, I am going to have to say goodbye to the brown milky goodness from my life. If this is how it makes me feel, then I don’t want it. This is now going to be consigned to my ever growing list of previous addictive pleasures I can no longer have. Ahhh Bollocks.

You’re muted iain….iain, you’re muted….. for ***** sake iain, its been 61 weeks

“I need to speak to you about Coronavirus and CoVid-19……”

No, I don’t want to hear about it, f**k off Leo, I want my life back, I want to hug random strangers in the street, I want to cough in public and not be sprayed with bleach (that didn’t happen in case you were concerned), I want to be moody with my co-workers in person and not moody with my co-workers on a video call. When is that going to happen ? Well here is the answer I feel my employers are currently working on – take a 2022 / 2023 calendar, throw a dart at it and whatever date it sticks in, you are still going to be wrong. Don’t worry, we will soon be back to normal. Normal, NORMAL, last time I knew normal I was still filling my nappies, and at this rate I might be back to filling them again before I get back to work.

OK, rant over, I feel better for that (genuinely).

Here comes the Bobby Ewing Shower Moment
For those of you old enough to remember Bobby Ewing, congratulations on not being dead yet, you have obviously lived a long life. For those of you that don’t – its on YouTube.

This morning I got out the shower and said – “I need to write a blog post” like I had never stopped writing them. November 21st 2019 was the last time I made some digital imprint on this page and I am pretty much going to sweep under the carpet what has happened since then. For the Millenials/GenZ that couldn’t be bothered to go to YouTube – this is the Bobby Ewing moment.

What I will say is this – in the intervening 540 days the following has happened:
-There have been at least 4 more ‘Great Biscuit Massacres’
-The wagon has been crashed so many times that even Nikita Mazepin is horrified (Yeah, sorry, that is a very niche comment – you may need to Google that one)
-I still haven’t drunk either Red Bull/Monster or alcohol
-I tore some important bits in my left knee
-I tore some important bits in my right knee
-I put most of the weight back on that I lost in my great journey

OK, so that last point is why we are all here, its why I am here, and quite likely why you got invested in this in the first place. I was always told it was a risk, as soon as you start eating properly again, the weight will go back on. It wasn’t quite as quick as when I lost it:
November 2019 – 95.3Kg
January 2020 – 101.5Kg
April 2020 – 109.3Kg
June 2020 – 111.9Kg
November 2020 – 119.3Kg
January 2021 – 125.5Kg
April 2021 – 118Kg

January 2021 was a bit of a wake-up call for me, pretty much back to my ‘pre-journey’ weight and I was genuinely horrified. It was something I vowed never to do, the one promise I made to myself. In my defence, I didn’t expect a global pandemic and pretty much being confined to this desk in my attic – 61 weeks today (and counting). I didn’t expect that most days I would clock up less than 1000 steps a day, didn’t realise that my depression would get to me so bad that most days I didn’t really want to look at outside let alone take a step out there. In the early days of the pandemic I was good – I went out on the bike, I went for runs, I took walks. When we were allowed to have athletics training I was out there with the kids. The last few months have worn me down, if I showered every 2 or 3 days I was doing well, if I went to sleep much before 2am then that was a good day, if I did anything but watch trash YouTube/TikTok videos it was a rarity. I ate to make myself happy, and even that wasn’t working anymore.

Writing those things down make me feel sad, its not me, I’m not like that, I don’t want to be like that, I want to change. Today I am Bobby Ewing, today I pulled back the shower screen, looked at the World and said ‘Good Morning’.

BOLLO*ED

Bolloxed – such a great word, not a great feeling. Often used in sentences such as – “I’m bolloxed, I’m too old for this shit”. Well that is me at the moment, bolloxed and seriously too old for this shit.

Lets rewind.

Losing weight was always just step 1, it was a necessary step for a few reasons, firstly for my health protection, but also at nearly 20 stone I couldn’t do any amount of serious training. To be honest, I couldn’t do any amount of serious anything. As the weight came off I started to introduce running back into my life, and it became easier, but even that was just a means to an end. I needed to have a good level of fitness to be able to REALLY train. That fitness seems to be back, I can run for an hour, I can run on the track and I can get through a training session without a) puking or b) dropping down dead. So, check mark against step 2 – get fitness back after losing weight.

[Cut to present day]

But this is me we are talking about, never do anything by halves. I can see from all the numbers set out on my spreadsheet and apps that I can run for an hour and feel good after it. What would any normal person do ? More to the point, what would I advise any normal person to do ? – take it easy, build slow. Then why oh why did I think that as soon as I can jog I can sprint ?

I had planned to do a 10K at Christmas, but I needed a bit of speed. I am good at speed sessions, well planning them anyway, so should be no problem there. My body however had other plans. The senior club training plan for speed and tempo comes out every week and lands in my email box, and although in the 6 or 7 years I have been receiving these emails I have never ever done one of these workouts I thought it was about time to give them a go.

Session 1: 3x 6 minutes, off 2 minutes. I asked the person setting the session what pace I should be aiming for – I (of course) promptly ignored that advice and went out at 15s per km faster than 5k pace. I also got out on the roads to do this session. For those of you reading this from Athenry will know the new section of road from Raheen Woods, past the new Pres and upto the roundabout where Kevin Burke tyres have moved to – well I did it on there. For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, well it is a lovely stretch of road 1km in length and looks flat, but it isn’t, not by a long stretch, however if you are doing 1km repeats it is a great path to be using. Session complete – all on target, but was hard, a lot harder than I expected. By time I returned home (less than 15 minutes) I didn’t feel particularly well. Felt light headed, felt sick, felt about 90 years old. The next day it got worse, was almost like I had flu (but I didn’t). Was I dehydrated ? I took some time to rehydrate, took my electrolytes, but was I too late in the game, should this have been done BEFORE the run ? Took me five days to get over this session, a simple speed session had left me absolutely bolloxed this was not looking good.

Session 2: 2k tempo followed by 3x 250m at 800m pace with 250m walk break. This was done indoor in Athlone Arena. Absolutely no problem with this session, hit my paces, hit my times… hit the floor afterwards, but in a good way. Bolloxed for a good reason.

Session 3: aka ‘The one that broke me’. I suppose I was getting cocky at this point, 1 very bad speed session followed by a good one so I must be ready for some major work right ? errrr wrong. However, in my defence I was feeling good, I was feeling fit and chomping at the bit to do something meaty. Now, what is my real go-to session that I love, both to do and give to other people – 200m repeats. Yes, it was time for the 200s. One lazy Sunday morning I again found myself in the fantastic surroundings of Athlone Arena and its lovely blue Mondo track. Start off with a steady 20min jog around the arena to get myself warmed up before hitting a session of 10x 200m, all done in 42s with a 200m walk between – well that was the plan. Rep #1, 45s – hmmm, need to go faster. Rep #2-4, 42ish seconds, nice, I will have that. Rep #5 – 48s – oooooops. Time for a break. Give myself 10 minutes to recover and reload. Rep #6 – 42s, Rep #7, 42s. Rep #8 – I hit the 100m mark in about 22s, no problem there as I always power off the bend and down the straight. Rep #8 – 150m mark and I have already gone past 40s, what happened, my legs have stopped working. Cross the finish line in a little over 50s – thats it, I am done. I am bolloxed. Decide I need a quick lie down, feet up on a bench, the hard Mondo surface is nice and cool and brings life back to my body. However, something is not right. My groin is hurting, hurting bad. I have had a few issues with my groin since I have been back running, thought it was my poor running form, poor fitness and that I am still over 14 stone or even the runners I am using, but this is quite severe today. I join the rest of my training group for a cool down jog and I know I have done something bad, can barely move, my groin hurts but also my right butt cheek is throbbing. Feck it, I am bolloxed.

Not just bolloxed, am injured. First time in many many years I have picked up a bona fide running injury. Seems I have either a small tear in a glute muscle, or a slight strain in one of the ligaments (or both). Either way, I am going to have to rest, and I don’t do rest very well.

Bollox.

Bye Bye ‘Bully’

Little cans of heaven

Today I had to say goodbye to my love. I have finally had to turn my back on Red Bull. It is not that we don’t love each other anymore, my heart still races at Bullys touch, but Bully has made his way inside my head and I can’t cope anymore.

For a good number of years now I have suffered from migraines. For a good number of years now i have enjoyed the delights of Red Bull. My migraines are often of the silent variety – no pain but causing significant amounts of visual disturbance, nausea and general tiredness. I had tried to find the trigger for the migraines, and after a bit of trial and error I found it – Monster, Red Bulls big bad evil cousin. I was fairly hammering the Monster, often 2 cans a day and I was getting an increasing amount of migraines. I had started drinking Monster instead of Red Bull, mostly because my local shop stopped selling Red Bull and replaced it with a fridge full of Monster. Once I stopped the Monster, the migraines pretty much went away.

After a few months of being Monster free I drank a can of Red Bull and within 24 hours I had a migraine. Couldn’t be Bully – he never caused this problem before. As a scientist I would always look for cause and effect, and so approached this the same way. I withdrew Red Bull – no migraines. I drank a can, got a migraine. Stopped drinking Red Bull – no migraines. Left it a few months, drank a can – got a migraine. Hmmm, evidence growing here. Once more I stopped drinking Red Bull. A few days ago, drank a can of Red Bull – no migraine. Ha !! not the Red Bull. This morning, drank a can of Red Bull – within 60 minutes I had a real doozy of a migraine. If this was the cause, why didn’t it do it a few days ago. Well, I had that can in the evening which is not my usual time for drinking Red Bull. What is my usual time, well mostly when I get into work or even on the way to work. What is special about this time ? I have a morning routine, I get to work and then go and drink a double espresso. Thinking back to all the times I had a can of Bully or Monster and then got a migraine, it had pretty much always been followed by a double espresso. Bingo !

So I have a choice – give up coffee or give up Red Bull.

Bye Bye Bully – you will be missed my friend.

From Boy to Man

We all ate more than 800 calories that day ….

Just over 14 years ago my life changed. At the end of September 2005 my wife gave birth to our first son, Liam. Things however did not go well from the first few seconds of his life. Liam, showing a glimmer of his impatience decided to take a breath too early, and instead of taking a lung of air he took a lung of meconium – the sticky gunk in which he had been living for the previous 40 weeks. Such was the seriousness of the condition that he had to be taken away immediately, had his lungs hoovered out and transported to neonatal intensive care where he would stay for the next 11 days. On the first night of his life Liam had several fits and dropped his oxygen saturation significantly and we were hurried into a private conversation with the consultant to say that there was a chance he wouldn’t make it through the night if this carried on. He survived. We were then told that it was highly likely there would be some brain issues and that a CT scan and EEG would be required that would show the level of brain damage. There wasn’t any. Liam has always defied convention. At birth he weighed just under 10 pounds, was 60cm in length and two of his front teeth were pretty much through. From day 1 his height for age was off the charts, where it has remained for the past 14 years. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Liam has a disability which was diagnosed very early in life. Liam suffers from DCD – Developmental Coordination Disorder an impairment in the learning and coordination of motor skills. Liam still struggles to use a knife and fork, and he still makes me sweat every time he picks up something sharp. However, in his usual defiance of convention he has become one of the countries top juvenile athletes, in perhaps one of the most technically demanding disciplines in terms of coordination and balance – throwing, and in particular, shot put. However this is not the place or time to discuss his prowess in the discipline, if you scan through my Facebook page you will see the stories and woes of competition. What needs to be discussed is another aspect of Liam – my training partner.

A life time ago I was a sprinter, and a quite useful one at that. I had ambitions of representing my country, but it didn’t happen for a number of reasons. When that dream died I got heavy, and found myself in 2005 seriously out of shape. When Liam was born I decided to raise funds for the neonatal unit at the hospital that cared for him and I hatched a plan called ‘Going the Extra Mile’ where I would train and run 101 miles in competitive road races, raising sponsorship along the way. The final act of the 101 mile challenge was running the Cork Marathon which I did in 2007, clocking a time of 6h10m56s – finishing in 1237th position. This was a real case of the wheels coming off as I was in 4 hour shape. Why I mention this is that on the morning of the race I weighed 14st 3lb. I have never got my weight as low as that since, and I only made it that low after suffering a bout of gastroenteritis 3 days before the race. I carried on road racing for a couple of years afterwards, never achieving the sorts of times I did in 2006/2007 and the weight piled on.

When I started my weight loss journey five months ago I couldn’t run more than 100m before having to stop and get my breath. I couldn’t train with my own athletes, and more importantly I couldn’t train with my own little elite, Liam. I would often read stories of top athletes that spent formative years running with parents and I was missing out on that, and I wanted to do something about it. When I started running again, albeit extremely slowly, Liam would always want the details of each run, how far did I go, what was the session, what was the pace. It was the questioning I would give athletes I coach, looking for the feedback. When I got a bit more comfortable with being back running, Liam would come to the gym with me, and this itself was a change, and a pleasant one. There is nothing more lonely than going to the gym on your own, and now I had someone to accompany me. Gym sessions with Liam got to be more frequent, and I reciprocated by taking part in Liams strength and conditioning sessions – even if it almost killed me. It was at this point when I came to realise that Liam is way way way way fitter and stronger than I am – and he is just a kid. I thought that might bruise my ego, but not at all, it gave me a target. I now had a training buddy, and a sparring partner in the gym.

One night in August Liam and myself found ourselves down at a training session for athletes competing in Community Games. Whilst we were waiting for them to finish their warm up we decided to get a few laps of the track in. Off we went, Pop and Pup running together, training together. Liam is quick, can run a sub-20 minute 5K. He pushed me on that session, which is what I wanted. He got me running at approx 20min 5K pace, and I held my own for as long as I could. He gave me encouragement, the same encouragement I gave him when he was a fledgling juvenile athlete and suddenly the roles were reversed. Later on that month when on holiday in Holland the final piece of the bonding jigsaw fell into place, we went for a run together. We planned the route together, we prepared together and eventually we hit the road together and for 5K we kept a steady pace together. I was still quite early in my return to running programme and Liam was patient and encouraging, helping me through the tough parts and not geting bored with his ‘aul fella’ and running off into the distance. I couldn’t have got through that run without him, although it did take me a couple of days to recover. Liam just got a promotion (or maybe it was me that got the promotion) – training partner.

Liam stands at just a touch over 6 foot 2, he weighs in a shade under 80kg and he looks like a person far advanced than his 14 years and there are times when I forget that. I have always probably treated him in ways not appropriate for a child, both in his athletic life and in our family life, but he seems fairly resilient and I know a few good psychologists if I have really screwed things up. Recently however, Liam made the final transition from boy to man and a very simple act showed that there may well be just 14 years on the clock, but in his head is a level of maturity that even I didn’t expect. As I mentioned in my previous posting, I recently ran cross country, and it was tough. I also mentioned that Liam ran with me, but that wasn’t the full story.

On cross country day Liam ran the 6km race with the big boys, he nearly collapsed across the line and his feet were in tatters. Inexperience had led him to put on a pair of normal socks and he had blisters on his blisters, and most had burst – he was in pain. As I lined up for my race Liam appeared by the side of me, he said he would run with me and he was determined to do so. I tried to let him know that I would be OK, and that he had just run hard and should just rest, but he was having none of it. However, within 50 metres Liam had to hobble out, the blisters were way too much for him. I struggled through the first 500m and when it was obvious I was plum last Liam again jumped in, but this time he was wearing just socks. I again tried to dissuade him, but no, he really was going to do this. So for the next 1700m, Liam ran by the side of me, in bad pain from the blisters and the 6km run, but for him this was important, he wanted to help me get around. If I am being honest I probably would have pulled out if it wasn’t for him running by the side of me, his constant chatter dragging me around the course. Even with just 100m to go he managed to pick up the pace and help push me on and over the line in a ‘sprint finish’. This time I collapsed. He wasn’t just my son that day, he was my comrade in arms – leave no man behind. In that 13 minutes I watched my son become a man, and those tears in my eyes at the finish line weren’t from the effort of running.

Cross (part 2)

Cross country – the Marmite of athletics

Cross

noun

  1. a mark, object, or figure formed by two short intersecting lines or pieces (+ or ×).”place a cross against the preferred choice”
  2. an upright post with a transverse bar, as used in antiquity for crucifixion.
  3. (abbrev) Cross Country : As much fun as one can have with their clothes on in the mud

So what did lead to the Great Biscuit Massacre of 2019 ? Well it all goes back to a decision I made mid-week, had been tossed around in my head for a good few weeks before making the decision. That decision was, I was going to run cross country this year. Something I hadn’t done for about 35 years.

I am currently training fairly hard at the moment. In comparison to the past 10 years, I am training EXTREMELY hard at the moment, but then that really isn’t difficult. Why am I training, well that really is the crux of Project 50. In August 2020 I intend to be standing on the start line of the 100m for the Over 50 Male category at the National Masters. However I am not just there to make up the numbers, as an athlete I want to win, but as a very good second best I want to be competitive, I want to give it everything, leave it all out on the track. In order to do that, I have to be fit and although I have dropped a lot of weight, my fitness still lags way behind where it used to be. There is a concept of ‘training to train’ where you have to prepare yourself for the rigors of a full-on training session. I am probably one step further back from that called ‘getting-fit to be able to train to train’.

In May of 2019 I was coaching a group of athletes. We train on a 300m track and I decided to run around the track with some of the athletes. I got about 150m before having to make my excuses and dropped out. If I couldn’t even make 200m at a jog, then I really wasn’t going to be able to train to sprint. I needed to go back to basics and build my fitness from the very foundations. I am very good at designing programmes for athletes, getting them to run good 5K times, or half marathons etc but nothing I really had in my arsenal was right for me. I knew I had to start slow and that there was probably going to be more walking than running, but even with that I didn’t know what was best to do. It is at times like this you need to consult with expert advice, so off I went to my laptop and typed in ‘www.google.com’.

I decided on a ‘couch to 10K’ programme, as much that I had a race in mind I want to complete and I needed to cover the full 10K. I came across a really nice programme that said would ease me into it over a 14 week period. The first week was a 5 minute warm up followed by 6 repetitions of run 1 min and walk 1.5 min and then the entire session ended up with a 5 min cool-down walk. That first day took me 25 minutes and I covered 2.47km. To run for 1 minute almost did me in – I was far from my 2006 Cork Marathon shape. I did that session three times that week. Each time I completed the run part as planned, and by the end of the week I was feeling like a God, I had completed a weeks training (because for me that is what it was), and I was going places.

The next few weeks built on that base, with the runs getting longer and the walks getting shorter and very quickly I started to feel like I could run again. Week 4 was 6 intervals of run for 2.5 minutes, walk for 30s – again, tough but manageable. On week 7 I was still taking walk breaks but the sessions were longer. Seven repeats of run for 4 minutes and walk for 30s. On week eight two very significant things happened. Firstly the sessions were without walk breaks. The three sessions during the week were run 25 minutes, run 28 minutes and then on the 3rd day, run 30 minutes. I nailed each and every one, finishing each with a 30s all out sprint. Secondly, juvenile training resumed and I ran with the kids for their two warm up laps. I think had tears in my eyes when I finished the second lap, not from the effort but from the joy of being able to run without fear of dropping down dead.

Runs on my programme became longer, even if there were walk breaks – 4 runs of 10 minutes with a 1 minute walk. Three runs of 15 minutes etc. All of them completed according to plan. I am not saying it was easy, there were many times where I could have walked or gone home, but I managed to push through those feelings and reach the target.

Now that I noticed I had a bit of fitness and could run without stopping I decided I needed to test the fitness, and what better way than a race. initially I had planned to enter a 5K road race, but that didn’t work out for various reasons. Then I saw an advert: Castlegar Open Cross Country, races for all the family. I have run a lot of road races over the years, but I haven’t run a cross country race since I was at school, 35 years ago. What were the options in the race – senior mens 6K race ??? I don’t fecking think so ! At the bottom of the flyer though was a final race – 2K open race, from 9 to 99 (or something similar). OK, where do I sign up ? Didn’t need to sign up, just turn up on the day. Hmmm, could be a problem, easy to find an excuse not to do it. I know, get someone else to do it with me and then they will guilt me into it if I have doubts. Only had to mention ‘race’ to Liam and he was in. So we were set, Saturday at midday we were heading to a muddy field to run around in circles.

A funny story when we got to check in. I registered for my race, handed over the cash in exchange for a number with integrated timing chip and then they looked at Liam. ‘Senior Race is it ?’ the nice lady behind the desk asked. ‘Errr, he’s only 13’ I replied. They looked Liam up and down, scanning his 6 foot 2 frame before they came to the conclusion ‘he will be able for it – senior race !!’. So Liam was now going to run with the big boys of cross country which included international and national ranking athletes alike. Alongside them were a veritable Who’s Who of the Galway club running circuit. Liam went out on his 6K run, very much holding his own. He is something of an anomaly – a champion shot-putter but also able to run an 18 minute 5K, his level of athleticism is something to be admired. Liam crossed the line, collapsed and looked ill. I had 2K to do, and I knew I was highly likely to end up in the same state.

My turn to race. I lined up behind quite a mixed bunch – young kids, good quality teen runners, a senior or two. I felt a bit out of place. I didn’t get time to think about it too much before the gun went. I moved, the pack moved way faster than me, and very quickly I found myself right at the back and had to check I wasn’t actually running in reverse. The course was a 500metre-ish loop followed by 1500m of more open running. A few people had mentioned hills, but I didn’t see any. I covered the first 500m in about 2min 15 – not bad, but I could feel the unease already in my running form. Coming out of the 500m loop I started to overtake other athletes, well I overtake a few 6 year olds anyway which made me feel like Coe to their Ovett. At 600m they passed me out again, I never took the places back. Liam started to jog by the side of me. He was in pain as he had rubbed a serious blister on his foot, but he stuck by the side of me, encouraged me around every bend, over every hay bale got me to focus on the running. Quick looks at my watch told me I was past half way – just 1km to go. Liam then spoiled it by saying that the loop was probably closer to 2.2km than 2km. Those 200m were going to be the killer, I knew it.

With just over 300m to go the course turned off the playing fields and into a childrens playground. It was at that point that I ground to a complete halt. Here were the hills, and I had to get up them – without ropes. They were steep, they hurt but I dug in and got up them, walking not running. Down the other side, then there was another one and then another and then another. This was torture. I got up the last hill but my legs weren’t working anymore, I had to carry on walking along the crest of the hill and down the other side. Back into the field, finish line in sight. I got my jog back on and headed towards the line, managing to ‘sprint’ the last 20 metres. Cross the line, hands on knees gasping for any air that I can get in before requiring a little lie down. Less than 5 minutes later and I am good to go, back on my feet and now with the elation of doing the race. I had competed in my first race for nearly 10 years, and it was a cross country, and a pretty tough one at that.

Am I ready to start training, you bet I am, lets get this done.

21st September 2019, I raced cross country and came dead last (although I am claiming I won my age category) but I don’t give a shit, this really was as much fun as can be had with your clothes on in the mud.

John O’Connor captures the moment when I turned back into an athlete

Cross (part 1)

CROSS

adjective

  1. annoyed.”he seemed to be very cross about something”

It happened quickly, so quick I didn’t even know it was happening, but there was the evidence by the side of me – an empty packet of biscuits. It wasn’t a small pack either, it was the ‘extended edition’ pack of Chocolate Hobnobs. I had started at one end, and carried on eating until I got to the other end. It got worse though. When I had been in the shops to get the biscuits – yes it was a stop off just to buy biscuits, I bought two packets. One for ‘the house’ and one as a treat for Liam after a hard weekend of racing and training. After consuming the Hobnobs I wasn’t satisfied, I had to seek out the other packet we bought. Fortunately, Liam had already attacked it and there were just a couple left. They didn’t stand a chance, the ‘biscuit fog’ had descended and I was on the rampage. An hour later, the house was empty except for myself when I happened to find a packet of Kimberly biscuits, I noticed it was open and that was the red rag to this rampaging bull. Eight Kimberleys later and I have almost reached satiety, but not before I had consumed very close to 2600 calories. Then the guilt came …

My mass biscuit consumption was the finale to a slow escalation of biscuit abuse. Since coming off my FAST800 journey I have been trying to up my calories, but maybe I haven’t been too clever about it. I am eating well, I now have a great diet and I am eating good foods, but portion sizes are still quite small as I just don’t want to eat large meals anymore as they make my IBS flare up and I feel ill. So a consequence of this is my calorie intake is still quite low – usually 1500 per day if I am lucky. Therefore I have managed to square it away in my own head to eat a handful of biscuits or have an ice cream a day. Probably not too serious a consequence, but to be honest, I don’t think I can trust myself, and maybe the Hobnob consumption detailed above is testament to that. I do need to increase intake though as I am training 3-5 days a week and my running mileage is starting to go up, and my body has needs. I think I am at a point where I have to just cut out biscuits completely to remove the chances of excess. I always thought pizza was my Kryptonite, but perhaps those little baked circles of delight are my downfall.

What surprises me most though is the ease in which I reverted to my previous behaviour. Even with the large weight, body fat and waist size loss it didn’t trigger alarm bells in my head that what I was doing was probably not a good idea and was potentially setting a pattern to return to poor health. I quite literally was willing to throw it away for the ‘hit’ I got from the biscuits and it is something I don’t really understand why. I suppose the good thing is that I recognised it, and I did something about it, because I have done something about it and I have (hopefully) had a Holy Shit ! moment on biscuits. Will I sit down in a few weeks and have 2 biscuits with a cup of coffee ? Possibly I will, but if I do then I have to control it. Should I just cut them out completely and never eat a biscuit again ? Probably would be for the best, but there is a flip side in that this will probably make me really miserable. The balance between enjoying two biscuits and getting the chemical high from eating 20 biscuits is where my inner turmoil lies. There may still be some work to do here in dealing with that turmoil. Will keep you posted.

Postcript: It is now four days after my biscuit binge and although I saw a fairly big jump in my weight I am back down to 94.3kg and holding a steady 19.6% body fat. Blood sugar seems to be behaving itself. Guilt levels still high. Still cross with myself.

Holiday

I like these numbers

I have been a bad boy ! I haven’t blogged for nearly a month, and nothing about my journey since middle of August. Well sit down, buckle up and grab some popcorn because you are in for a treat this week – triple post coming up.

So where did I leave things, ah yes, holiday and plans to go running every day to counter excesses. Well that didn’t quite work out as planned, but I have excuses. I really was looking forward to the holiday, it has been a tough year in terms of work, and the many external projects I am involved in. Coaching of Liam has been intense, but obviously has paid dividends in terms of his athletic development this year and the successes he has had, so a chance for us both to get away together and not have to pack a shot was inviting.

I wanted to go into this holiday and not have to worry about what I was eating, I still wanted to be sensible, but as I was trying to transition out of FAST800, I wasn’t too restricted on what I could eat. On the morning we left I stood on the scales, and they said I was 96.9Kg and 20.9% body fat. I had put on just over a Kg in the preceding week but wasn’t really worried about this. I still knew I was 10 inches slimmer on my waist, and although I was still far from the popular media ‘beach ready’ body I knew I wouldn’t have marine scientists trying to roll me back in the water if I fell asleep on the beach.

We were staying in a Eurocamps site in South Holland in a place called Duinrell. This is a site in the middle of a forest just 5Km from an amazing golden sands beach, with free access to an on-site amusement park complete with scary roller coasters. We were there last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but for me last year was a painful experience and highlighted my health problems. I was suffering from a knee injury which limited my mobility and several times I had to turn around on cycle journeys both because my knee hurt and also I wasn’t able for that level of exercise. This year, those issues had gone away and I was going to make up lost ground from last year.

One thing I noticed on landing was it was hot, very hot and a lot hotter than the wet and windy Ireland I had left behind a few hours ago. Weather in Holland hadn’t been so good in the previous few weeks but we had heard rumors of a ‘heatwave’ across Northern Europe. Weather app on my phone said 23C, and to be honest it seemed warmer. A quick swipe right and said that following day would be 27C – mmmmmm, that sounds promising. Cooking was going to be an issue in that heat, and no air-con in the shack we were staying in, so on the first day we did what every self-respecting tourist does, and something I haven’t done for a long time, we got a takeaway. In Holland they obviously don’t have a potato shortage, well not if the bag of chips we received is anything to go by – was called a family pack. Obviously in this part of the World, family means 12 grown adults, 16 hungry children and a bit to spare in case any more of the family drop by unexpectedly. Chips have been on my banned list since May, and so this was a real treat, and I can tell you, they tasted absolutely divine. Now, I didn’t go completely mad and instead of going for the burger option or the battered fish I went for a tub of olives and feta cheese with a light oil dressing which surprisingly went quite nicely with the chips. I am sure I watched my stomach expand that evening.

This pretty much set the tone for the holiday, I think I had takeaway 3 days and went out for a meal at a nice beach side bistro for one night. I also drank (non-alcoholic) beer for the first time since May and it went down a treat in the hot weather. The week got warmer – hitting 32C for several days in a row. Even first thing in the morning the heat was intense and eating breakfast outside was very civilized. I stuck to my usual breakfast – eggs, avocado, cheese and olives as I really have come to enjoy that and don’t think I will ever go back to slices of toast for breakfast.

What the heat did do however was dampen down my running ambitions for the week. Whereas I had planned to go every day – get in a few miles before breakfast, or go last thing at night, it was just too damned hot. Maybe if I was a lot fitter than where I was, then maybe just maybe it would have been an option, but this was not the time for heroics. On the second day of the holiday I did venture out for a 5km slow jog, and boy was it painful. The Netherlands, and in particular Holland are supposed to be flat. In fact I have heard rumours of little dutch children playing billiards across a 100 acre field and the balls not rolling around at all. If the country is so flat then how on Earth did I find myself at 2.5km running up a bloody great hill !!! My Garmin said the hill was a 14 metre rise – FOURTEEN METRES. Cycling to the beach later that day – I had to go UP multiple hills, there was then no downs to make up for this, I just kept going up and up to the beach – something has slipped in the time fabric continuum (or something like that). Anyway, back to the run. I got to the top of the mountain (almost needing supplementary Oxygen), turned around and retraced my steps. What made this run particularly pleasant was the Dutch ability to separate cars from bikes from people in a relatively small space, and so I had a lovely pedestrian route to run along. The run finished through the local forest, and the soft underfoot was just enough to lessen the impact on my by now sore joints. I was accompanied on the run by Liam, but I am going to leave the importance of this to a future post this week.

Ragweed – not nice !!

It was three days before I ventured out to run again, between stuffing my face with bread / cakes / biscuits / chips / sweets and visits to the beach I just couldn’t find time. When I did run I had a really strange incident. I was about 2km into the run when I started to cough, it was like I had run through a cloud of dust and whatever I had breathed in really was starting to sting my lungs. When I got back to the shack I really didn’t feel well – even clearing my throat with 4 cans of beer made no difference. Within 2 hours I really had started to go downhill, my eyes were streaming, I was coughing, my nose was like a tap – I wasn’t well at all. I didn’t sleep through the night, I couldn’t find an angle to hold my head at to drain the snot from my head, every time I turned to one side, green goo poured into the other side. It seemed like I just spent the entire night spinning in the bed. Although I wasn’t 100% I found that being in/at the water at the beach made me feel better, and this started me thinking – could it be hayfever ? This was late August in Northern Europe, but it was hot so anything was possible. A bit of reading and some Google searching led me to the door of Ragweed, an invasive pest from the US that has recently arrived in Europe – I had to look twice to make sure I hadn’t put TRUMP in the search bar, but no it was definitely Ragweed. This was an aggressive weed, recently emerged in Central/Northern Europe and pushing its way Westwards. It was creating some difficulties for Europeans as we have never been exposed to it before and so highly allergenic. Sounds plausible to why I was feeling like shit – will stick with that explanation.

On the eve of our last day of the holiday we continued as we started off, with the carrier bag full of fried potato goodies. I did my best to finish everything in the bag, but even I was defeated and so a fantastic 7 days of sun and food came to an end. This was probably the closest I have ever come to a sun holiday, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and even though I ate everything around me, there was no guilt about doing it at all. I would pay the piper later for any consequences of my actions, but for now I was a happy, potato stuffed man.

As we got in the taxi to head to the airport it started to rain, literally within 30 seconds of sitting in the car. For the entire time we had been out of the country, Galway had been battered by storms and heavy rain. Landing back on Irish soil and heading across to Galway was done in glorious sunshine, with a temperature of about 18C. Seems like the Gods had decided to give me a good week for once and gave me some bonus time when I returned.

Then a little bit of doubt crept into my head – what if eating all that food wasn’t a good idea, had I undone the good work. I really didn’t want to see some bad numbers on the scales, but my trousers were that bit tighter than when I headed out of the country. I probably hadn’t been back in the house 5 minutes when I was stripped down to my jocks and standing on the scales – 100.4Kg and 21.5% bodyfat. OUCH !! That was not what I wanted to see at all. Important thing – don’t panic, you can sort this out. I have the tools available to deal with this, seems like FAST800 was going to be making a quick return.

Next few days went like this in terms of weight: 99.6kg, 98.1kg, 95.6kg, 95.2kg, 95.0kg, 93.9kg. Now, it must be said that I was VERY strict with my 800 calories and that I also ran most days, usually for 5k at a time. I also went to the sauna a few times – hence a few days where there were very big drops – probably a bit of dehydration here. Holiday excesses dealt with by one very swift application of FAST800. What FAST800 couldn’t help me with however was the quick return to wet and cold weather, that holiday seems such a long time ago now.

Part of the solution, or part of the problem ?

OK, this is likely to be a rant, containing not very well formulated arguments, incoherent (no! I haven’t been drinking), and most likely very biased – you have been warned.

In the past few days I learnt a new word, ‘Orthorexia’. It has been bandied around the media, particularly the ‘sloppy’ media (Sky News in particular) and the finger is pointed at people like myself for creating the problem. I will explain, but maybe first a definition of Orthorexia may help:

Orthorexia is the term for a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet.  Orthorexia sufferers often display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders that frequently co-occur with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders. ‘

First off, I have no issues with Orthorexia as a diagnosis. I fully understand eating disorders both from my own and from others around me and those I know. I can also understand how pursuit of a ‘healthy diet’ can become obsessive, both from the ‘good buzz’ it can create in a person and with a modern society where there is still a focus on super slim models as the role model for adolescents and adults alike, continued size-shaming, and also a growing level of, and I am going to use this term in what I believe to be a just use of the word, ‘bullying’ of people that pursue what would be regarded as an unhealthy lifestyle.

I don’t drink, I gave it up a few years ago as I realised I was developing an unhealthy relationship with drink. However I would never ‘bully’ someone into giving up drink saying it was unhealthy etc. There is a wealth of scientific literature supporting the notion that over consumption of alcohol is linked to a myriad of adverse health outcomes – but it really isn’t for me to ‘shame’ someone into giving up. The same is for food. Just because I have changed what I do, I would never push this on to someone else or say they are wrong because they eat junk food, or food from a different ‘diet’.

Where I do have issues with Orthorexia is how it is being used as a tool by media to villify people who write about healthy eating and wellness, to make them look as if they are causing the problem. Recently Sky News posted an opinion piece on their website: https://news.sky.com/story/social-media-influencers-fuelled-my-clean-eating-disorder-11798392. This tells the story of Pixie Turner who developed Orthorexia, subsequently acknowledged her problem, became a nutritionist and highlights the dangers of following advice you see on blogs/social media on healthy eating from people who are not qualified to give that advice. I have no issue with the fundamentals of what Pixie is doing, in fact I will most likely buy her books as I think we probably agree on a lot of things around society influences and over focusing on ‘going on a diet’ and all the psychological connotations of that word.

No, what I have an issue with is the way Sky News picked up this story and portrayed it as bloggers and social media ‘influencers’ (I hate that word/concept SO much) are the root cause of people with eating disorders, It took a very one sided view of a single person who developed an obsessive, and medically acknowledged, disorder following reading social media content. At no point did it explore if Pixie has other obsessive compulsive disorders, had previously had an eating disorder, had other aspects of her life which influenced the decision to seek out ‘clean eating’. Instead the focus was on the Orthorexia being solely caused by social media content, because we all know that social media is all fake news and causing the downfall of the planet, society and indeed all humanity.

Cigarettes get stamped with a government health warning, and social media should carry the same warning – I agree with that. There is an awful amount of shit on social media, ‘facts’ with absolutely no basis in reality, ‘scientific evidence’ which is neither scientific or evidence and this can lead to serious issues, I think Pixie and myself are in agreement here. BUT, don’t tar the entire social media spectrum with that brush. Some responsibility has to be taken by the social media consumer. There is a latin term ‘caveat emptor‘ – ‘buyer beware’ or the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made – and that is a principle that should be applied for all social media consumers. This I believe is one of the ways in which Pixie went wrong, she consumed social media content and didn’t check if the ‘goods’ she was consuming were suitable for her requirements and she got caught out because of it. Now, she eventually acknowledged this, did something about it, found her own ways of checking for quality and suitability based on sound scientific evidence and for that she should be applauded.

So, Sky News, I say to you, thank you for highlighting an important issue, Orthorexia, it is an issue that a few more people will be aware of today because of you. However, as usual as ‘sloppy media’ you fucked it up by wrapping it into a story that is pretty much aimed at having a pop at an aspect of social media without giving it any balance, and as such it makes people like myself angry.

Project 50 deals with my own struggles with health issues, how I have personally tried to address them, how I have altered what I eat, how I live my life. This blog also gives links to evidence based research on how the changes I have made are anchored in science, they are not fad. I know that as a result several people have made similar changes in their own lives, and from what I am hearing this is producing good outcomes, and for that I am glad. However, here is the problem, I am not a nutritionist, I haven’t gone down the Pixie route and become a RNutr and got a Masters in nutrition so does that mean my blog should be struck off the face of the Earth because I don’t know what I am talking about ? Of course it doesn’t, although the Sky News article might hint it should be. What is important is that blogs like my own become part of ‘the dialogue’, allowing people to add the messages in here into their own decision making processes, it becomes part of caveat emptor.

So Sky News, you pissed me off with your handling of the subject, so much so that I was forced to write this and have a rant. Social media, yes, it can be part of the problem, but it most certainly can be part of the solution.

So I am going to leave the last word to Pixie, as I think this is only fair as she ultimately led to me writing this post. It comes from her own blog, and I think that for anyone who blogs, these are wise words.

Postscript: For anyone who feels that my blog contravenes point 1 made in Pixies post just remember that I am not actively recommending my approach to life, but rather putting it out there as what has happened to me – consider it a very extended gym selfie.

Caveat Emptor

Yes, it’s me

32 in ch waist jeans and a medium T shirt

Strange things have happened this week, I appear not to be me anymore. Well that is what I would be led to believe based on three incidents that have happened in the past five days.

Andrew. Wednesday 14th August and I find myself in Cork for the 68th running of the City Sports. This is a truly fantastic event, an international athletics event featuring some of the World’s top athletes and it is right on our doorstep. It is an honour and privilege that I can play some role in this event and it is one of the highlights of my personal sporting calendar. Andrew is one of the national photofinish team and we have worked together for several years now on a multitude of events. He is, like me, an out and out geek and for anyone listening to us we must sound like we are talking a different language – call it technobabble. Well this day was no different to any other day – I was talking away to Andrew about something techy whilst he was doing something equally techy with a computer and wires. We had a conversation and then suddenly he stopped. You could feel the synapses working over time and then he looked at me and said ‘ Jesus Iain, I didn’t recognise you, I genuinely didn’t realise it was you’

Lisa. Lisa, like most of my circle of friends is completely dedicated to athletics. She is a coach who I have the utmost regard for and she has a great family dedicated to the sport, and she is dedicated to them. Today is Sunday 18th August and I am in Limerick at the Aldi Community Games National Finals. I am on duty providing photofinish services at the games, and today it has been a bit of a slog as the rain has been relentless and brutal. Local Galway athletes have been performing well and I find myself at the end of the long jump pit as one of Lisa’s kids is competing in the long jump final. I am wearing my wet weather gear, so I am done up a bit like the Michelin Man so in fairness may not look like I normally would. Lisa is about 6 feet away from me watching her daughter and we are in the middle of a group of Galway athletes, parents and coaches. We are all talking away making comments, giving advice, but the main focus is on the event. Then it happens. Lisa suddenly turns, looks me straight in the eye and the recognition dawns on her ‘Oh my God Iain, I didn’t recognise you, you look great’. The usual conversation ensues about the weight loss – 30+ kilos, health markers normalised. She really hadn’t recognised me, I had stood within a few feet of her for about 10 minutes and although she was distracted with the competition she had looked at me a few times. This was starting to get weird.

Karolina. I have worked with Karolina for over a year, she is part of my Operations team at work and we pretty much see each other every day. Monday 19th August, first day of my vacation, and as usual I am in work. I am not dressed in my usual shirt and trousers but have jeans and T shirt on. In work for 10am, walk through door, first stop the coffee dock and a double espresso to jolt me into action. Walk through the foyer at work, see some of the team having coffee break, wave, say hello and walk on up the stairs to my office. Jump forward a few hours and I am down in the nerve centre of Operations where most of my team are based. Person I need to speak with is at Karolinas desk. I start talking to them and then Karolina hits me with it, ‘Iain, I didn’t recognise you this morning. You walked past and I just didn’t realise it was you’. This is a person who can’t claim that they haven’t seen me for months, they saw me on Friday !! This was really beginning to get strange – 3 for 3 in non-recognition.

In the previous week I have walked past a sales rep I have known for years (probably 10+ years), I said hello, they looked up, looked at me and there was absolutely no recognition there at all. Arriving at Community Games and the team I worked with last year pretty much didn’t recognise me, all eventually commenting on that I was half the man I used to be.

I am now firmly in the transition phase out of the FAST800. I am starting to eat a few more treats, and my meals are larger. There has been a re-introduction of bread and other carbs (rice / pasta) and I must say, I haven’t been feeling too well since doing it. I think this really is the word of warning I would give people who have been on calorie restriction – transition out is likely to be uncomfortable. I was 13+ weeks on FAST800 and my body had got used to the food I was consuming, much smaller meals, and a very different nutritional balance from previous normal diet. Whether it is the larger amount of food, or the type of food I don’t know but my IBS has flared up, I feel somewhat bloated again and I am quite tired of a night time. Maybe I have done too much too soon, maybe I should only make small increases to transition slowly, maybe I still need to keep off the bread. I have also broken one of my new rules – I have been eating way past 6pm and I think this is having an impact on how I feel. Once I get back into my normal daily routine after I return from vacation then I will have to address the late eating, no point undoing all the good work and making my self recognisable again.

I am hovering around the 95Kg mark, and low 20% body fat, so even with a very quick return to ‘normal’ food I seem to be maintaining the weight which is good to see. The next 10 days will be a challenge away on holidays, but hopefully will get out for a run each day with Liam and counter any excesses.

Postscript – the new look. I went to the shops yesterday as I needed to buy new clothes for holiday. Thought I would have another go at trying on 32 inch waist trousers – they fitted. Just for a laugh – medium slim fit T-shirt – it fitted. What have I done to myself, who is that guy in the photo ? Yes, it’s me.

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