Mur­phy’s Lore

It’s Sam’s mince pie: hands off

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents - Sam Mur­phy tweets @Sam­mur­phyruns

’Tis once again the sea­son of

fes­tive ex­cess, and while I re­main highly com­mit­ted to be­com­ing the best run­ner I can be, I will be gob­bling mince pies and knock­ing back mulled wine with the best of them. And the worst. Non-run­ning friends and ac­quain­tances of­ten ex­press sur­prise when they see me eat­ing cake or hav­ing a glass (or two) of wine. It’s as if they as­sume that be­cause I’m a run­ner, it means I steer clear of ‘vices’ such as al­co­hol, but­ter ic­ing and sugar.

Lit­tle do they know just how of­ten the words ‘run’ and ‘cake’ turn up in the same sen­tence when run­ners are talk­ing. And the fact that there are cake-themed races (such as the Cakeathon), run­ning clubs (Cake Run) and blogs (Runs for Cake) stands tes­ta­ment to the duo’s long­stand­ing sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship. For many run­ners, the abil­ity to eat cake – or, far more im­por­tantly – en­joy eat­ing cake or other calo­rie-laden treats without wor­ry­ing too much about their waist­line – is part of the re­ward for putting in the long miles.

When it comes to weight loss, you of­ten hear men­tion of the ‘calo­ries in, calo­ries out’ equa­tion: keep­ing both sides bal­anced is the key to suc­cess. How­ever, many peo­ple who are try­ing to lose weight fo­cus only on the ‘calo­ries in’ side, try­ing to shed ex­cess pounds sim­ply by eat­ing less, rather than by mov­ing more. Not only is such an ap­proach far less fun, it can also back­fire: a 2012 study found that at­tempt­ing to deny your sweet tooth can lead to in­creased de­sire for the for­bid­den food – and sub­se­quent un­seemly and guilt-filled gorg­ing.

We run­ners, on the other hand – wise old hands at carb-load­ing and postrun re­fu­elling – have a crys­tal clear un­der­stand­ing of what ‘calo­ries in, calo­ries out’ means. We get that up­ping our train­ing miles puts us into a calo­rie deficit, which we must ad­dress in or­der to keep weight and en­ergy lev­els sta­ble. And conversely, we know that a few days lan­guish­ing on the sofa watch­ing Christ­mas spe­cials with a box of chocolates builds up a debt that needs to be re­paid, in sweat.

But there’s no doubt that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween run­ning and food goes be­yond a sim­ple equa­tion. While many of us feel that we have ‘earned’ the right to treat our­selves rather more than our seden­tary coun­ter­parts, we have to be mind­ful not to frit­ter away our gains through overindul­gence, be it of food or booze (an­other word that you’ll find is used re­mark­ably of­ten in con­junc­tion with run­ning). It’s an un­fair truth that we nearly al­ways over­es­ti­mate how much en­ergy we’ve burned through ex­er­cise, and un­der­es­ti­mate how much we’ve con­sumed in much-de­served postrun meals. And calo­ries aside, there’s our health to con­sider, too.

A study pub­lished ear­lier this year had many a run­ner rais­ing a ju­bi­lant glass. It found that reg­u­lar phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity (three hours a week) could off­set the detri­men­tal ef­fects of drink­ing al­co­hol in ex­cess of the rec­om­mended lim­its. The study shows the im­por­tance of reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, even in the ab­sence of other healthy habits – though the re­searchers rightly warn that it isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. My in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that while healthy habits are al­ways valu­able, they can’t can­cel out bad ones.

But that doesn’t mean you can never stray, or that you should feel guilty for do­ing so. I’m mind­ful that af­ter a run, a glass of sparkling water and a quinoa and chicken salad is a far bet­ter re­fu­elling choice than a slice of cof­fee-and-wal­nut cake and a beer. But I run for many rea­sons. Main­tain­ing a healthy body is cer­tainly one, but so are hap­pi­ness, fun, chal­lenge and escape. Like­wise, I eat and drink for many rea­sons – for plea­sure, com­fort and so­cial con­nec­tion as much as to re­fill the tank. I do not want to re­duce my eat­ing to a mere mat­ter of ‘calo­ries in’, nor my run­ning to noth­ing more than a means of achiev­ing ‘calo­ries out’.

So, if we hap­pen to meet at a fes­tive gath­er­ing this Christ­mas, ex­pect a fight over that last slice of cho­co­late log. Come Box­ing Day, I’ll be lac­ing up my train­ers to bal­ance the books. And I’m pretty sure I’ll en­joy pay­ing off my sticky, sug­ary debt as much as I will creating it. Happy Christ­mas.

Lore Mur­phy’s SAM MUR­PHY

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