December is a month of extremes isn’t it? There’s the volatile weather. The temptation of eating to excess. The bedlam of booze. It’s a month that can really challenge a runner, an athlete, to stay on the right path.
It’s actually OK not to be wholly monastic in your life and diet. People can get so hung up on trying to avoid everything that is bad for them that much that when they slip it careers into day after day of misses. Almost as if the subconscious rails against the denial of enjoyment that you had put it through.
Now, I am not advocating that you get smashed and eat the kebab shop out of its lovely wares every night. There’s a balance to these things. So, let’s keep it simple. A beer or two with your dinner once a week isn’t going to harm you at this stage (let’s assume a Spring “A” race). That’s a beer or two. Likewise, a wee treat every now and then won’t destroy you. If you are training hard then you do need to fuel. I am working on the premise here you are not racing an “A” race early Jan of course.
A good rule of thumb at this time of year is to make 90% of what you eat excellent, nutritious and a fine balance of really healthy foods. You know, salads, veg, fruit, good protein, good grains and carbs augmented with plenty calcium. The other 10% might be your Friday almond croissant, for example *coughs*.
When you start to think about it like this it becomes much less intense. Many runners end up creating an unhealthy relationship between their exercise and food. Trading one off against the other. You see phrases like “I’ve earned this”, “running off the beers” etc. Or worse still, people scrimping off their foods on rest days when that’s exactly when they should be refueling properly.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Renee McGregor over the last couple of years and it is always insightful to hear her speak. She’s a massive advocate of avoiding the pitfalls of extreme healthy eating and wrote about it in her book Orthorexia. This is when healthy eating goes bad. A good place to start if you are interested in hearing more is here, a podcast on the subject by Renee herself.
All too often we are presented with what we should avoid. Food and social time is meant to be fun. Make it fun. Don’t do anything to extremes. Whether it is food, drink, exercise, relationships, or whatever, it is inevitably unhealthy. And that goes both ways.
So, train hard in December. It is a brilliant month to get those base miles in and embed good habits ahead of January. If you do the chances are you are already ahead of your peer group no matter where you are in field. But don’t be too afraid to enjoy yourself.
Be sensible, be aware and be happy.