In the last few weeks, people who really shouldn’t feel any right to comment, have told me I ‘look heavy’. Then back-tracked, and said, ‘strong’. And then other people have said ‘you look lean -you’ve been training hard’. I find these comments hard to ignore sometimes.
Triathletes, like cyclists, are on the whole, obsessed with weight. Whether you are at the pointy end of the field, or a back marker, figuring out how to get from A-B quicker, you will most likely be advised to scrutinise your diet at some stage. Even with a couple of ‘sporty’ friends in your life, you will probably find your Facebook feed bombarded with articles about which diet ‘melts’ away fat, and when is the only time (ever) you are allowed to eat a carb. Your friends will put out pleas of ‘where can I buy gluten-free X, Xylitol, coconut oil?’ etc, and share recipes that omit ‘BAD’ ingredients. Even if you live in a health and fitness free bubble, you will maybe then be exposed to parenting advice on which foods prevent ADHD, night terrors or other anti-social behaviour (that most normal kids experience at some stage).
It is enough to drive even the most well adjusted person insane.
There are probably very few people with genuine food allergies, and many people with intolerences that are aggravated by diet. It is a fantastic feeling when you finally crack the code of ‘what makes you feel rubbish and how to avoid it.’ It is more difficult to sustain if ‘feeling rubbish’ was more about ‘carrying a couple of kilos’ and you are effectively omitting foods in order to keep your weight down. Trying to pick the fine line between making your engine function better and being obsessive to the detriment of your friends and family may be an issue, long-term.
If you are a professional or an up and coming aspiring pro age group athlete, you are expected to be a role model AND prepare to the nth degree (think Lance and his measured portions of food (yes, and drugs), and Team Sky and their marginal gains). But even the pro’s have a lifespan in sport, are not really the healthiest role models for long term active participation. You have to be on the extreme end as a pro, if you want to fight for the top end paycheques. As amateurs, even competitive ones, we have a life outside of sport that should be of higher importance.
As a parent, I am a role model to my kids, and whilst I am happy for them to see just how hard I work to reach the level I am at in sport, I also want them not to see me have any kind of a dysfunctional relationship with food. We shop together. Alright, not all the time, but enough that my kids don’t expect bribery to go to the shops, and know if I say ‘no’ to sweets by the checkout, that I am not about to crack and say ‘oh alright then’. They know we cook in our house. They know I frown upon white sliced bread but we agree to alternate which bread we buy between shops. They know that if I buy mince, it is cow or ostrich and we look for hormone free stuff. And they know I think ‘cronuts’, coca-cola and vienna’s are the probably work of the devil.
I was a vegetarian for 25 years, vegan for 2, had a difficult relationship with food for a long time in my teens and twenties, was never happy with my body shape, and yet I appreciate each year my body enables me to do more incredible things – Ironman, for one. Even though people joke that ‘anyone can do an Ironman’, I am truly amazed at how well my strong and not perfect body gets me through the training and the race day itself. There is such a huge mental aspect of Ironman that I honestly believe I would sacrifice not only physical strength, but also mental strength if I spent 365 days a year counting calories and analysing food content. I’d rather eat real food with the family, eat ‘pretty well’, be acceptably lean, and use 110% mental energy on controlling my effort in racing and training. I am by no means ‘perfect’, but I strive to be content, and I am pretty certain that I will always be faster if I’m happy and well balanced!
Please feel free to follow my road to Kona: