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Month: September 2019

Cross (part 2)

Cross country – the Marmite of athletics



  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 ‘’.

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)



  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.


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: 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

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