And for my next trick … From Eton Mess to Fat-Burning Glory

So how on earth did that happen?

It all started with a random tripping-over of a RunKeto discussion group on FB, via someone tweeting a link to it. I happened to be accepted to join the group when a quick scroll down led me to a link dubbed as

“one of the best podcasts I’ve ever listened to about LCHF and ketosis. If anyone asks me why I’m doing this, I will now be directing them to this podcast.”

A while back I tried listening to an audio book on a run.  I don’t normally run with anything in my ears – I know my coaching by heart 🙂 – and whilst the subject matter was interesting, the narrator’s voice drove me mad and I didn’t ever get to the end of the story.  Off the back of that experience, I hadn’t ever bothered downloading a podcast, never mind listened to one.

I had recently celebrated one year of ‘Paleo’ eating – 16th September 2012 was the day I stopped the complex carbs and simultaneously stopped the daily hypo attacks I’d struggled with my entire life – and had about 6 months of Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) eating under my belt.  Whilst I felt I’d made huge progress in balancing a very active life with high energy demands with meals that gave me enough energy without the yo-yo effect, I still felt my learning journey was in its infancy.  My iphone was in my hand, I pressed the link, found the download button, and within moments jangling hideous music emanated from my palm.  I knew these blasted things were too complicated to bother with.  But then an American voice started chatting & I realised that I had, in fact, succeeded in my first podcast download – a minor triumph in my little world of unused gadgets.

I decided I’d go for a run and see if it engaged me … it was so interesting, I had run out of run before it had finished … without even noticing the run (which is really unusual for me – I love to LOVE my running!).  I started cooking dinner whilst continuing to listen.  Fascinating, fascinating stuff, with peer-reviewed evidence linking a high carb diet to not only obesity but also to dementia.  I put the link on the BlackFish team FB and my FB.  Just as it had been shared, I needed to share it too.  Then I decided to tweet it, and directly linked it to Professor Tim Noakes, author of Challenging Beliefs and Waterlogged and who, I knew, was on his own LCHF journey, and able to assess it from a scientific minds perspective.  He retweeted the link to his many thousands of followers, which resulted in many responses, including one from an Assistant Professor at University of Colorado School of Medicine saying that if you were fit and healthy you could eat whatever you wanted, citing carb-loading of Japanese, African & Mediterranean folk and their good general health and reduced incidence of dementia.

Now I was confused.

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of the brand Patagonia, quoted one of my favourite lines:

The more you know, the less you need

Now I was feeling that the more I learned, the less I knew!  But I had been hypoglycaemic my entire life, had struggled with keeping energy levels stable, had tried every ‘diet’ known to man (or so I thought), been tested for diabetes because my blood sugar levels were so erratic.  My pasta was wholemeal, my bread was wholemeal, my rice was wild and/or wholegrain, I didn’t eat desserts.  I ate healthily!!  The one consistent positive thing I knew for certain was that if I ran first thing in the morning, fasted, I didn’t have issues – ever.  My sugar crashes only began once I began eating.  And my sugar crashes stopped the day I stopped eating sugar.  It sounds so simple, so obvious, so … IT WAS UNDER MY NOSE MY ENTIRE LIFE AND I DIDN’T SEE IT!  WHY??????  Because the food pyramid we’re urged to adopt is … upside-down?

I rarely visit my doctor, but was called in for my 10 year health screen.  Turns out I was fitter and lighter than I was a decade ago (I could have told them that for nothing).  I told them that ‘yes, and I’ve got rid of the lifetime of hypos – you tested me for diabetes last year’.  They asked how and when I told them Paleo followed by LCHF the conversation just stopped.  The minute I told them I ate saturated fat – a lot – the doctor just didn’t want to know.  Full stop.  The place being of germs, I didn’t care to hang around to tell the full story to deaf ears.

But whilst the points the Ass Prof was making in disagreement with the Prof (and of course, by inference, the neurologist Dr David Perlmutter, whose book Grain Brain was the centrepiece of the podcast) seemed logical, it just didn’t make sense as a whole.  How can it possibly be that I could eat anything I wanted just because I was slim, healthy and active.  I was slim, healthy and active precisely because I wasn’t eating anything I wanted!!  Clearly, I didn’t know NEARLY ENOUGH to NEED LESS!

Back to my learning journey, and my ever-growing library of books that get excitably bought, dipped into and left with bookmarks 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 way through, because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  There must be something there to help me.  The podcast mentioned Mark Sissons – his Primal Blueprint Cookbook was one of the first Paleo books we bought – so we bought the source of the recipe book ‘Primal Blueprint’ and started to delve deeper.

On the surface (I’m still reading!) his views seem refreshingly balanced.  The fact that his Primal Blueprint book has been rewritten already (first edition was 2010 I think), and he states where he’s made his amendments as a result of thousands of interactions with folk, including doctors and professors, on his Mark’s Daily Apple Blog, gives him credibility.  After all, opinions change when science is open-minded.  There was a time, in living memory, when no-one considered smoking cigarettes was unhealthy … it would appear that science is now unanimous in considering smoking as detrimental to good health … so, changing your mind when evidence swings you in a different direction is a big deal when you’re ‘known’, and I respect that.

My first 50 miler is in 3 weeks, and still my nutrition strategy is up in the air.  My most recent Ironman was such a nutritional disaster that I still haven’t been able to face writing my race report (very unusual for me).  I get sick and can’t eat anything.  That’s the beginning and the end of it!  Sugar makes me sick because it generates air in my stomach which I can’t release because I can’t burp (never have been able to – despite my children trying to teach me).  So – no sugar.  Easy-peasy.  Not.  Air makes me sick, because air gets stuck in my stomach and I can’t burp it out.  So even when I don’t eat sugar, I get sick whilst exercising because I swallow lots of air.  ‘Don’t swallow it, breathe it’ I hear you cry … well, you try not hyperventilating when 3000 people are entering the same lake at the same time with the express intention of trying to swim over and drown you.  Anyway, we’re scarily close to me facing my demons and writing ‘that’ race report … moving on …

What to do?  Can’t eat carbs, don’t want to eat carbs, don’t understand how it can work that when not exercising I should be LCHF, and yet when exercising, carbs are OK.  So just when I want optimum performance from my body, I force the pancreas into emergency insulin production to cope with the deluge of sugar into the blood?  I just don’t get it.

Time to go out to dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary and order … oh my, they make Eton Mess to order and

Half way down the Eton Mess Tower

Half way down the Eton Mess Tower

‘yes madam, if chef has raspberries he can make it with those’.  I’m allergic to strawberries and generally spy on Eton Messes longingly, unable to partake because they’re ‘premade’ (yuk!) and, of course, they’re rather high in sugar … the photo you see is of my raspberry Eton Mess at about half-height!  I salved my conscience through chef’s helpful addition of lashings (and I mean bucket-loads) of fresh, thick cream.  Cream was indeed the main ingredient, and the overall experience was that of my taste buds flying down the helter-skelter at the funfair.  I’m smiling even remembering it!  After very sensible steamed cod and extra green veg in lieu of potatoes, my taste buds went on vacation briefly 🙂

The plan was to run the next day, in celebration of 2nd Wedding Anniversary (last year we ran 4 days in a row in the Cotswolds – heavenly!), but where?  We’d dashed to Brighton in the day to visit the jewellers where we’d bought our rings, but had failed to find any accommodation there.  Googling ‘quirky accommodation in South Downs area’ we’d come across St Mary’s Hall in Alton.  It looked lovely, so we grabbed it.  Jack met us at the door, made us tea and lent us a collection of local area walking books and an OS map.  In the room was a ‘useful information for guests’ file with a print-out from The Times “10 best Autumnal walks in the UK”.  No 1 was “Hanger’s Way”, a 21 mile long distance trail from Alton to Petersfield.  Sometimes, life just throws a gem at you and if you’ve got any sense, you catch.  Not knowing how we were going to work the logistics, we decided that was the next day’s agenda … after negotiating a towering Eton Mess of course.

Breakfast needed to be LCHF of course.  Jack didn’t blink when we asked for 2 more eggs on our already full plate of egg, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon and sausage.  He just delivered with a smile.  Then, with beyond-the-call-of-duty generosity, he drove us to Petersfield so we could run ‘home’.

I hadn’t packed for an adventure – I’d only packed for a run!  We started with the Hangers Way leaflet, 2 OS maps (the lovely lady at the Queen Elizabeth County Park shop told us we would DEFINITELY get lost if we just tried to follow the ‘clearly marked trail signs’, and we’re glad we believed her), 2 palm-sized bottles of water (4 gulps each), and just ran.  The weather couldn’t have been better; partially cloudy, light breeze, mild, dry under-foot.  Brian wasn’t in training for a 50 miler, and all I needed was ‘time on my feet’ so we took it really easy, kept stopping to check the maps, and didn’t get lost once.  The only diversion came when a big herd of enormous cows blocked our way … moo’ing cows.  I know that’s what cows do, but it felt to me that they were signalling in code to stampede.  Local walkers coming in the opposite direction had diverted round them and advised us to do the same … since our encounter with excitable heffers wanting to play with us in Wales, we didn’t need any encouragement!

The leaflet described the route as “a 21 mile long-distance walking route through the lush Hampshire countryside, along a series of steep-sided wooded hills, known as ‘The Hangers’, and probably the richest woodlands on English chalk; the way is divided into 8 sections, each providing a really good day out”.

A hidden lake between Hangers

A hidden lake between Hangers

He was enjoying himself really!!

He was enjoying himself really!!

Autumn has started - just!

Autumn has started – just!

Working backwards through the leaflet, by the end of the 4th section and 11 mile in,  we’d run out of water and were feeling the need to quench our thirst.  It wasn’t raging, but the next section was to ‘Noar Hill’ so we knew that we’d probably feel better if we drank before climbing a steep hill.  We were in the village of Hawkley, where the OS map told us we’d find a pub.  Tucked down a lane, in the opposite direction we were going, we found it – The Hawkley Inn.  The innkeeper is a larger than life chap called Nick who couldn’t have been more friendly.  His card describes his pride and joy as a “totally independent, rather quirky country pub” and on discovering we were new to the Hangers Way, and were so enamoured we would return, whisked us straight upstairs to be shown round a rather lovely en-suite bedroom with 4 poster bed!  Plans began immediately to return for a weekend and do the Hangers Way from the middle, whilst sinking a large bottle of really refreshing sparkling water and a packet of salted peanuts each.

Onwards.  4 more beautiful sections to complete, including the Selborne area, home to Gilbert White, the famous 18th century naturalist and author, and Captain Lawrence Oates who accompanied Scott to the South Pole; along the section of the Oakhanger Stream, reputing haunted by the ghost of a monk; up another hanger – Wick Hill – and finally across newly-ploughed (help! where’s the bridlepath gone!) fields to our base at Alton.

It was the best day’s running we’d ever experienced – and the leaves had only just started turning on their autumnal show.  Another week and it’ll be even more stunning … only an hour’s drive away and we only discovered its existence through pure fluke!

Back to the story, and … no sickness, no loss of energy, no feeling of needing to eat (the packet of peanuts were poor nutritional ‘insurance’ in the absence of anything else with fat in it, but without carbs!) … just relaxed, comfortable running at low intensities (except the hills – even walking some of those was hard work!).  Time moving 4 hrs 43 min, distance run 22 miles, total time adventuring, exploring and enjoying life just under 7 hours.  Lessons learned?  Well, although it’s really liberating not having to carry much, a pocket of fresh macadamias wouldn’t have killed us, and would have been infinitely more nutritious than the salted peanuts.  And with the bonk (which you’d be forgiven for ‘expecting’ given the amount of magazine copy afforded to the ’18-mile phenomenon’) being conspicuous by its absence, it has once again confirmed – to us at least – if it doesn’t go up, it can’t crash down.

By the time we got back, the daylight was fast diminishing, the evening was drawing in and our hosts were relieved to see us.  Joan, who’d been in Glasgow when we arrived, was about to send out the emergency services and an amused Jack commented “you know we get plenty of people staying with us doing the Hangers Way, but it takes them 2 days, not an afternoon!”

Three, freshly poached, bright orange-yolked eggs fought for space on our full breakfast plate the next morning :0)

Oh, and last thought on sugar for today, nicked from Mark Sissons:

‘desserts is ‘stressed’ spelled backwards!’

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