Monday, April 30, 2007

Food Obsession

Yesterday I had a really nice day. I took part in the first leg of a long distance charity walk, and enjoyed it more than I was expecting to be honest.

With an extra bit of mileage in the morning to get my car in the right place to be picked up at the end of the walk, I ended up totalling 26.5 miles over the course of the day (in about 7 hours of walking), and was on the go from about 8:30am til 10:40pm, once I took travelling, waiting around and so on into account. I was pretty much at the front of the group the whole time, and considering that they'd all been going on regular long walks to prepare, and the longest walk I'd done before was about 4 miles, I was pretty pleased with that. I was also pleased with the fact that the point at which I most wanted to run wasn't at the beginning when my legs were fresh, but right at the end when I just wanted it to be over. Wanting to run after 24 miles is a good sign that marathon training is working!

Anyway, if you're going to burn an extra 2650 (or so) calories in the course of the day you need to make sure that you're replenishing a fair few of them in order to have the energy to make it up that last hill. And I'm a bit of a food obsessive anyway.

No matter what I'm doing or where I go, I almost always have a food plan. I really hate it when I don't. It's not necessarily worked out to the nearest calorie, but even if I'm travelling I will have a vague plan such as "find a pub for a pub lunch at around x time", and I'll make sure that I'm somewhere where a pub is likely to be found around then. It might be a plan to find a sandwich shop, a pub, stop for pizza, whatever. I'm not necessarily always planning to eat ultra-healthy food, but I'll have a vague idea of what I'm going to eat and when I'm going to eat it. Actually, the timing bit is sometimes more important than the what I'm going to eat - if I at least have an idea when I'm going to eat it I can fit the rest of my day round it.

If I can research in advance and find likely looking stops with menus online, so much the better. I have "safe" fall back plans that don't involve fast food - like combinations of things I can buy in supermarkets to make up into a meal on the move. If I can't think of a convenient way to find food at the right time, I think about what I need to carry with me for hunger emergencies. I do laugh at myself when I'm sightseeing. Every restaurant, bar or cafe I go past with a menu outside gets checked out, even at 9am, so that when it does get to lunchtime I have an idea of somewhere to head to rather than just diving into the nearest place.

Indeed, I don't think I'm alone because this was one of the things I noticed at the Eve photo shoot. Almost without exception all us losers had bags filled with healthy snacks, just in case London was a complete healthy food desert and we needed sustenance during the day.

But if I can afford to be a teeny bit more relaxed about what I eat when I'm on holidays or days out, when I'm actually exercising I need to be more careful to make sure I get the combination of food I need to keep me going. So I decided that the only way to make sure I got through the day in one piece and ready to resume running as quickly as possible was to plan, plan, plan. I had a rucksack with me, and I filled it with all sorts of healthy but energy dense treats to keep me going. I have enough experience of endurance training to know what I can stomach, what I need to eat, and when I need to eat it. I know which foods make me feel more alert, which send the energy to my legs, which produce quick bursts and which give me solid, ongoing fuel. I also know which ones are likely to have me searching for the nearest loo, which is the last thing you want on top of the moors at 9.30pm, so I came up with a plan, and I intended to stick to it.

Of course, that opened me right up to criticism. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the organiser. On the one hand, he puts a hell of a lot of work into fund raising and organises things that should be impossible, but on the other hand he does like to be in charge, and he likes everyone (particularly the press) to know it. His nickname is the sergeant major. No matter what you do, you've done it wrong and he's right. He tells you to set the pace then has a go at you for being too fast. You fall back and you're dawdling. You slow down to stick with the rest of the group and he tells you that you look like you're flagging. You go ahead and you're not a team player. He sometimes winds me up, but I always end up joining back in with his next scheme.

We stop for a food break and I pull out my sandwiches. Of course that means that I thought his food isn't good enough for me, and why am I not sharing? Well, for one thing, you mentioned stopping for food but didn't say whether we had to bring our own, whether we were stopping at a pub, whether you were providing it, or how it was working, so I made my own plans. Also, I don't actually eat those chicken salads you've got in the coolbag because I'm veggie, and I didn't know whether you'd have anything suitable for me (as it happens, the hot meal they had waiting for them at the end was cottage pie, so I was glad of the pasta salad I'd left in the boot of the car). And I know that what I've brought with me is far more nutritionally balanced and suitable for my needs than a cheese salad from sainsbury's (aka grated cheese and a bit of lettuce), or a soggy white baguette with cheese on it. And as for sharing, if you'd asked me to bring extra, I would have done, but bearing in mind I had to cart it round with me in my rucksack, I didn't want to bring too much more than I'd actually need.

The same with my energy bars and tablets. I've brought enough to fuel me through the 26 miles. I'm not carrying enough for everyone else because it will weigh me down. I take responsibility for my own nutrition, and I don't want to be left in a situation where there's nothing suitable for me to eat. If other people don't plan ahead, that's not my fault.

Even before we actually stopped to eat I realised something. It struck me that the main reason I'm glad I'm not doing the full walk to Cardiff isn't blisters or tiredness or spending the week with that lot, it's the fact that I wouldn't be able to control my eating for a whole week, and that would kill me!

I know he was only teasing, but it hit a bit of a raw nerve because I know that sometimes maybe I'm just a bit too obsessive about what I eat. It won't kill me to eat a shop bought sandwich from time to time, or to just go with the flow and take a chance on finding somewhere to get something to eat. Am I too focussed on what I eat, when I ought to be a bit less fanatical about it. But equally, if I can make myself something that's better for me, and I can carry it with me, why shouldn't I? Why should I eat something that won't make me feel as good as the sandwiches that took 10 minutes at the most to make in the morning before I set off?

Ah well, at least they were very good sandwiches...


Blogger Shauna said...

i say good on you for planning and sticking to your guns! especially if it was one of those stinky cheese sandwiches where the grated cheese is mixed with mayo... where's the athletic fuel in that!?!! those things are viiiile!

just curious, what did you have on your sandwiches that you brought from home? :)

9:09 PM  
Blogger fluffyhelen said...

That guy sounds like a bit of a tool, thank goodness you aren't going to be stuck with him for a week! He was probably MAJORLY jealous that you could have organised the whole thing so much better than he did.

Plus you did the walk without the same kind of training which he'd done. Haha, in his face. =)

I do exactly the same thing with food but then I'm gluten/lactose and soya intolerant. I used to be veggie and the look on peoples faces when you say "I'm food intolerant" compared to "I'm veggie" is just pure horror. They panic! Oh no! What does somebody intolerant to burgers eat!! Hahaha.


Well done for sticking to your guns!

11:19 PM  
Blogger t__m__i said...

Long time lurker, first time commenter (I think).
I find the phrase "What is their problem?!" so very useful in a variety of situations. It reminds me that the "issues" are frequently nothing to do with me at all.

It was nice of you not to whip out a photo of yourself when you were carrying a lot of extra weight and say, "If this had been you, you'd be particular about what you ate as well!" and rub his nose in his tactlessness.

Anyway I enjoy reading the blog - also a relatively new convert to the joys of running, physical activity etc so it rings a lot of bells for me. Keep up the good work and be sure not to end up on the injury bench!

3:40 PM  
Blogger Nicole (SummersComing) said...

I always wonder if I can think about food normally one day. That fear of going backwards stinks!

6:54 PM  

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