Thursday, 31 March 2011


The latest entry on Alison's blog deals with stress and 'over exercising'. Interestingly her experience is very loosely related to what I'm going to witter on about today.

I'm not over exercising though. Not in the taper. After Tuesday's 6 slow miles, I headed for the gym yesterday to do a short intervals session. That was partly for the change of scene, partly because the treadmill would force me to keep up the paces and partly because it allowed me to swap the warm up and cool down miles for 2 x 10 minutes on the cross trainer. All done easily enough, all quite enjoyable. Its another rest day today.

No, my similarity with Alison is to do with stress and exercise, and more specifically to me, diet.

I feel a certain amount of pre-marathon stress but I don't think its a huge amount in itself. I have no fear of running 26.2 miles, no fear of running 18 miles at marathon pace but enough healthy fear of running 26.2 at that pace, and the recognition that 24 weeks of work all gear up to this one race. That's only to be expected though.

Add to that stress the stress of travelling to Paris, packing etc. Not that that is a huge stressor in isolation either, but it does add another layer.

The big one is probably work. Without going into detail, I have a certain amount of fear for my job and have had it since mid 2009. Over the last 6 months things looked better but the loss of a couple of contracts in February as well as the economic downturn since the change of government make things look rather less stable. They weren't my contracts, and my performance is very good this year, but neither factor might be taken into consideration if major cost cutting were needed. On Tuesday of next week there's an internal meeting which might not be very pleasant - in terms of warnings about the future. I might be worrying over nothing, the trouble is I don't know.

So, marathon stress feeds off work, and work stress feeds off marathon and travel. The result is that I'm sleeping relatively poorly and feel 'under pressure' all day long. Its difficult to explain but when I feel a lot of stress I reach a point where I get moody and spend the day feeling like all the muscles around my eyes, forehead, jaw are all held tense. When I get like that little things take on epic proportions.

The other typical symptom is bingeing on crap.

On Saturday I started off the day carb loading but this evolved/descended into a junk-fest in the evening including a large bar of Dairy Milk, a Daim Bar, half a dozen digestives and 2 bags of sweets. Sunday was slightly better as I limited myself (roughly) to maintenance levels. On Monday I was back on track, until sore quads gave me the excuse that I needed to eat excessively and another large Dairy Milk and bag of sweets followed, amongst other things.

Tuesday I did stay on the waggon but was then disappointed yesterday morning to note that the scales said I'd put on one pound since Friday. I hoped that was a temporary water/food gain from the weekend and, like Monday, got through the day very well only to fall apart in the evening. Between seven and eight last night I managed to put away three huge bowls of ice cream, several slices of cheese, the last 4 biscuits, 2 packets of crisps, half a dozen slices of toast and marmalade - all within an hour of finishing my tea. Then, having gone to read I ate a 'spare' Easter egg - the chocolate shell and the 'Caramel Creme Egg' inside. I don't even really like Caramels, and went to sleep at 9pm feeling sick.

Having reached 11st 11lbs last Friday I was hoping to get down to 11st 9lb by next Monday, after which carb depletion and loading govern my diet. At the moment though, it's one step forward and two back. In itself that's annoying - and stresses me further - but I don't feel like I can remove that stress by ignoring diet and switching off for a few days. That would stress me further still and eating junk leaves me feeling sluggish and bloated.

I'm going to try and get on, and stay on, track for just 4 more days. Exercise wise there's not a whole lot to do: 7 miles tempo tomorrow and 10 miles steady on Sunday so I'm going to try and devote my focus to diet.

Wish me luck.


Alison said...

God, I stress eat sugar like it's crack. I also find that once I start, it builds momentum. You hear that a lot about sugar -- that once you start it's hard to stop. I used to think it was crap, but the more I succumb to sweets and cake when I'm stressed, and experience that Must. Have. More. feeling, the more I'm starting to believe that's true.

I have read that sugar has a similar effect on the body to serotonin and other mood enhancing drugs, which is why we comfort eat it. I also read recently that insulin helps counteract the stress hormone cortisol, so there might be something in that. The thing is, these effects are only short term, and the damage that you ultimately do is far greater.

I have a lot of sympathy for the stress you're under at the moment though. The feeling that it's one thing after another, and the constant low-level hum that it gives off, manifested in tense facial muscles, loss of sleep, panic eating. Food is an easy and immediate way of trying to deal with it. I mean, what other measures are available when exercising is out, reading doesn't help, you can't leave the house because of the kids...

The only thing I can suggest is annoyingly "literal", and that is to launch an offensive on sugar. It's something I'm considering right now -- by which I mean cutting it out completely, fruit included. I'll still eat other (complex) carbs, but no glucose, fructose, lactose... To be clear though, I'll be eating whatever the hell else I want apart from sugary stuff!
It'll be rough, but making a conscious decision and putting up a fight feels like my only option now. This perhaps isn't an option for you pre-marathon, but is perhaps something to think about post event? It definitely seems like it's the sweet tooth that gets you...

Good luck with the run!

~Jessica~ said...

I went through almost exactly the same process on Monday: my Dad hasn't been well and I'd had a lot of anxiety building up in relation to worries about my Mum, Uni, upcoming tests and assessments. My Dad being taken to hospital just flipped some switch in my brain and the stress totally overwhelmed me, so I ate the same amount of sugary crap you describe and perhaps more. At the time it seems so soothing but afterwards there's the feelings of a sugar crash, bloating, self-disgust and sickness.

I always wonder if there isn't some kind of other coping mechanism that would provide a similar kind of catharsis, but the only one I have is running, and when injuries surface the first instinct is to turn to food: the passage where you directly equate your sore quad to an episode of overeating sounds like something I experience every day.

Thanks so much for this post, because it does make me feel less alone even though I wish there was a way of removing all of those stress sources from your life, because you're a fantastic guy that doesn't deserve to have such a low opinion of himself and be plagued by so much self doubt.

I have no qualms in saying that I am sure you'll get back on track, and that this blip will just be a memory when you cross the line with a sub-3:30 at Paris.

I empathise a lot with the need to panic-eat, but all we can do is pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on. I am sure your pound will be gone by tomorrow!

P.S The word verification for this comment is 'pridebug!' I think that's a virus you need to catch :)

Maria said...

I think you are right with the added layers of stress- on their own they are manageable but as they pile up it gets harder. PLus some things are out of your control. So take charge of the things you can control (eg diet, sleep, training, travel plans) and try not to worry (I cannot practise what I preach though) about things you cannot control (eg work). With the sugar it is certainly what I go for but I think that is because I get tired and grab something quick instead of taking 2 minutes to cut up an apple or something- then the sugar gives you a temporary boost and then a crash, so you need more to get the boost. I also love crunching foods which I am sure I read somewhere help to take out nervous energy or something?