I Am My Own Experiment
Some months ago, I wrote the Introduction to my book, Racing the Reaper Man which I am initially serialising on this website, and will add to as time progresses. To make it authentic for my target readers in the 50 – 60+ age groups, I had always planned to use 2023 as the year in which I literally lived all of my own methods ‘live’, to underpin the advice in the book. After this I would pull the book together for publishing in a viable format. That target year would see me in retirement, so I could focus without other commitments. But, life is not that simple.
2020 became the most bizarre year of the century. The Covid-19 pandemic’s effect will be remembered by all the generations who lived it. It was no different for me. Working from home and spending around 10 months out of 12 in isolation, I found my enforced solo lifestyle had stealthily ingrained some destructive habits. To those on the outside looking in, I was a healthy living, dedicated runner, but that was only partially true. To paraphrase Dean Karnazes, I had become so comfortable, I was miserable. So it prompted me to use 2021 as a new start, even though the pandemic was still firmly in control.
As I ground out 141 miles in December to reach my 2020 target of a nice, round 1000, the bad habits I had allowed to affect my daily life became an unwanted burden. Circumstances had put me in the right place to make 2021 the perfect Racing the Reaper Man Year. My daily mileage from 27th December was: 6; 10; 10; 10; 6. I had a momentum I did not want to break, so on January 1st 2021 grasped the nettle. As I state in my book’s introduction, I had ‘pressed the reset’.
Serendipitously, coinciding with this dynamic decision, my Personal Trainer, Martin Sorenson, needed a long-time subject for his MSc dissertation. As my goals of losing weight, strengthening my core, improving speed and training for 3 ultramarathons fit his requirements, we formed a partnership. My book and Martin’s MSc became the focal point we both needed. It also reduced any chance of a way out for either of us, so we are committed.
2020 – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Until the Covid-19 Pandemic took hold, I was still commuting to London three days a week. My life had structure. I had control of food intake and alcohol consumption. In 2015 I had reached a point of fitness where I could run 28 miles in under 4:45:00 in training. My low point in life during 2008 was behind me. I’d dropped from a peak of 16 stones, to 12 stones and 7 pounds. I hit 2016 travelling in hope, but little did I know I had 3 years of illness and turmoil ahead. Minor bad habits became major crutches and the after effects of severe illness and a course of Ciprofloxacin saw me dealing with various tendon pains until the end of 2020. Last year was to be my first year clear of major issues, but, of course, life has a way of confounding one.
Lockdown, from March, became a two-edged sword. I had no need to commute, but also lost 15 hours a week reflection and reading time. The train was my reading and writing place. It allowed me to dream of many things. Working at home meant I was always in the office, and Covid-19 was also part of my risk management role, so the pressure was sustained and relentless. I could never shut off as my decisions always had long term ramifications – I had to keep people safe. I had a bit of a crisis in April as the unrelenting pressure left me emotionally shattered. Yet, I rallied with the coming of spring and slipped into a comfortable routine that encompassed my best and worst habits.
16 weeks of isolation were eased by taking to my local trails. I did long runs of up to 20 miles in the sunshine, and set about exploring every local footpath I could find. I ran up onto the chalk downs and scuttled around the coastal trails. I introduced more core work and maintained a reasonable level of fitness. That I was in good shape for a 63-year-old was enough, and turning 64 was no issue. However, my two ultra marathon debut races had been cancelled, so I had no real goal and slipped into a daily cycle that may surprise a lot of people. I drank an average of 31 units of alcohol a week! The calories I burned running barely balanced the excessive intake of booze. Running had become an enabler to pour alcohol down my throat and stuff convenience junk food snacks into my face.
Looking at my training log for the year, several statistics jumped out at me:
- My alcohol consumption of around 1630 units worked out as 96,000+ kcal.
- That added around 2000 kcal of useless input to my weekly intake.
- Without that I would be around 14lbs lighter.
- My barrel chest was also a barrel gut.
- That 1000 miles was achieved in spite of not running at all for 195 separate days!
- My diet still included lots of junk, even though I do not eat meat.
- I achieved my running in constant hangover recovery.
- I was underachieving and unhappy with how I felt.
- My health recovery had paused at the altar of perceived comfort.
- The ‘comfort’ was not real – I was often depressed.
- My habits gave a bad example and enabled others not to get fit.
2020 – the final 42 miles to The Reset
A six miler, three 10 milers in a row and a final six: I’d reached my 1000. Every mile I was in deep thought, but over those 5 days I still consumed 43.6 units of booze! I was sick of alcohol, but poured it in every evening; then, the next day, ground out those miles. Yet, for once, it was considered: I had been reading, strategising and planning. By New Year’s Eve I had juxtaposed how I felt against what I desired. I knew January 1st 2021 would be a very new start.
I had initially had a rough idea as to what I wanted to achieve in 2021. Then, I read Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new book, Eat Better Forever. I collect cookery books of favourite authors, and usually skim through the prose and use the recipes, but this one was different. It explained the differences between food groups, how our ‘treats’ and food preferences are most often based upon manufacturers understanding our primitive minds. They create food we crave, hit our ‘sweet spot’ and we up our consumption thinking we enjoy it. A packet of crisps is a case in point: the more we eat, the more we crave. Science and marketing, pure and simple. The proof of this marketing brilliance is the increase in obesity in the western culture. Even being overweight is now acceptable, as there are so many much heftier people about to dilute the perceived lesser danger.
I have become sure that we no longer wean our children into a wonderful world of subtle and fantastic tastes, rather they tend to be hit with mighty junk food taste bombs. In a short period, a healthy diet becomes ‘bland’ and unappealing. It is hardly surprising. I grew up in the transition culture. From lots of exercise and unprocessed home cooking, to becoming adult and getting into the convenience food and social media driven world. Urgency in everything overtook gentle reflection. Food became something to stuff quickly in ones cake hole, and the taste bomb took the place of savouring new flavours. Thus, I too had weaned myself into bad habits, born of incipient junk food propaganda and chemical wizardry. So, The Reset: for the whole of 2021 I will live the adjustments I conceived and apply Martin’s strength and speed techniques. I invite you to watch what can happen if you reset your life by positivity and shrug off learned bad habits. At all times, remember I reached over 16 stones (225lbs/102kg) at the age of 52, so reaching this point has taken years of reflection, application and, at times, demoralisation. Also remember, I have the same cravings as any one and subconscious weaknesses to grab for a reward – junk food, booze and prolonged arse-sitting. I am human. I am 64. But I know older age can be loaded in our favour. My January overview will appear here very soon.