18 April 2012


Long time blog readers will know my health enthusiasm is manic depressive: I swing up, I swing down. For the last month, I've been on a down swing, resulting from a complex set of factors including, but not limited to:
  • Training for a marathon
  • Writing my thesis
  • Writing a grant proposal
  • Getting sick
  • Applying for and considering jobs in three countries
  • Injuring my foot
  • Marking for Birmingham
I have never really felt panic before in the way that I did last week when I couldn't run because my foot was injured and I wasn't going to work because of the holiday. Panic, yes, that must be the word. I am not a person who tends to lose control in many areas of my life, but eating is one of them. This lack of control with eating is directly correlated to my marathon training as my body revolted against my low caloric intake by getting sick. It would have been fine if I was running 25–30 miles a week, but I had to stop running for five days with the flu and then hurt my foot and didn't run for a week, all the time eating more and more. 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 kCals a day. And carbs–I can eat a box of cereal, fruit and fibre, one whole box, in a sitting. 500 grams, 150 kCals per 40 gram serving. You do the maths. My jeans are tight, but I can still button them. I look in the mirror and I see a body weighed down not by fat so much, but by water. Bloated like a water balloon.

As I said to Yoko, stepping on to the scale for the first time in two weeks: I need to shock myself. Unfortunately the shock wasn't quite there: I had indeed gained a significant amount of weight (high to low, maybe 7 kgs–average to average, less than 5 kgs), but the fat percentage readings had dropped, and after doing the maths again, I found I had not put on any fat, at least according to the scale that I have used for the last three years. This is to be expected with way I had binged: I hadn't eaten much fat and had still, despite not running, been standing all day, on the rowing machine, riding my bike to work, hiking with the family—general activity seven days a week. Still, I was back above what I am comfortable at and the swelling of my body was obvious: Yoko commented on it, and when I take my socks off, my calves looked like mushrooms.

The lethargy I was feeling about it, however, the depression of gaining weight and feeling slow, melted away when I started running again this week. I shouldn't say melted away, like in a moment. It's taken three days, but the backstop kicked in and I was .5 kgs down today from yesterday, marking a turn. I'm not gaining any more, at least. I iced my foot after running—I stretched and felt lighter. Instead of eating 600kCals before running and another 500 kCals after, I ate almost nothing before going and little when I came back, suddenly feeling my body start to react. I rode to school and instead of feeling exhausted when I arrived, I was ready to write.

I am in search of some sort of equilibrium, but it seems I will be unable to settle at least for the next 6–9 months, until I have a job, but even then the future may be uncertain, depending on where I am. I suspect that by the time I am thirty five, when we have moved some place we intend to stay for more than a couple of years, I will be able to settle into a routine of health that doesn't involve as much upheaval. Until then, I suppose I'll just keep trying and realise, at least in the short-to-medium term, it will be an issue for me. And that's okay.
.   .   .

I'm reading Murakami's What I talk about when I talk about running. A colleague gave it to me yesterday and I realised, reading it, that I am a runner, at least in the sense that Murakami understands running. I'm not a person who runs to stay fit. I'm not a person who runs because I enjoy sports. I run because it's a spiritual experience for me. Murakami has an excellent note on this:
But really as I run, I don't think much of anything worth mentioning. I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void... As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I'm not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.
I want to see the Japanese to see what word he uses here that has been translated as 'nostalgic silence'—it will be perfect in the Japanese, I imagine. But yes: Murakami puts his finger exactly on the feeling of long distance running. Yes, this is what I feel when I run. I feel alone, fundamentally alone. Alone in the awareness of my own morality and that there is, at the edge, nothing. This is how running is like meditation. It brings you to the end of things and instead of being cruel or uneasy or terrifying, there is the void. Just the void, nothing more, nothing less. And that's I why I run.