Jekyll and Hyde Park – original post 27/8/13

I have spent the past week in London.  Mainly trying to get some things moving for my new business but also catching up with some friends and playing a bit of golf.  I enjoyed myself for most of the week both socially and from a business perspective and I certainly felt as if I achieved quite a lot.  However, I must say that I also found it a very draining experience.  Ultimately, I was a zombie by Sunday.  This really brought home to me how much I have been taking out of myself for the past fifteen years.  It also set me reflecting and this turned my mind to running and specifically, what is it that I have been enjoying so much for the past year.

I did run a fair bit while I was down south and because I was staying in Belgravia at the Caledonian Club, I was mainly on new routes.  This included full laps of Hyde Park which was very enjoyable.  Once away from the main drag alongside Park Lane, it was also fairly quiet.  Finding new places to run and embracing the scenery is definitely one of the motivating factors.  Even here at home, the last couple of weeks have been fun because I have started using some new roads.  Generally, finding parks, countryside, beaches and other “back to nature” running routes has been best but occasionally industrial landscapes or residential districts can also provide an engaging backdrop to a run.

Looking across Hyde Park from near Marble Arch
View across Hyde Park from near Marble Arch

The biggest thing which has kept me running though is the way it makes me feel.  I am not someone who feels an immediate and physical rush as soon as I step off the road.  However, I do find an hour or so after I have finished a run, even a rough one, I feel great.  I am confident, focused, full of energy and bursting with desire.  Mostly, this lasts all day provided I eat properly.  I also notice the difference.  On days when I don’t run I become edgy and a little frustrated. I achieve less.  Whatever tasks are on my to do list are much less likely to be completed on a rest day.  Even if I really need the rest and have no desire to run, by the end of the day I will be missing it and wishing I had gone out after all.  One of the distinguishing factors about the last week is that I didn’t feel this way at all on Sunday.  I was so tired I just wanted to veg out.

I don’t generally feel this way while I am actually running.  Rarely, I will slip into a zone where everything feels easy and I just seem to be floating along, but this never lasts for long.  Not that I am straining for every breath but just conscious of a pleasant and continuous level of effort.  What I do enjoy during a run is the peace and quiet.  Sometimes this enables me to think more clearly about a problem or idea, sometimes I just lose myself in the music and other times I become absorbed in the immediate world around me.  Almost always, I am transported to my own world and I am convinced this is the best form of relaxation.  The other great thing about my own world, everyone there knows me and leaves me alone.  One side effect of this is that I am not a big fan of running with other people.  I enjoy parkrun and I definitely feel the adrenaline flowing in a race but it is just a nice change rather than the way I would like be every day.  I have read a lot which advises finding a running buddy or group as a method for motivating yourself to start and continue running.  I am sure this works for many people but it is not for me.  The solitude and freedom of the road is a big plus.

The other obvious benefit to running is health and well being. From the outset, my objective in running was to get fit rather than explicitly to lose weight or to look better.  Obviously, the weight loss follows but it is not how I set my goals.  I also think about being fit in terms of longevity rather than immediate physical changes.  I played a match in our club championship a few years so against a gentleman who was 76 years old at the time.  I have known my opponent all my golfing life and I was deeply impressed by how active he still was (and how good his golf was – he took me to the eighteenth!) Although it took time to sink in, the idea of being able to enjoy a fully active life for as many years as possible was really my core motivation for change.  I have always been lucky enough to enjoy very robust health so I can’t point to any specific improvements even with the dramatic weight loss I have achieved.  The increased energy and focus described above is obviously closely linked to health.  In addition, when I have a medical check lots of things point in the right direction like blood pressure, resting heart rate and so on.  Apparently, once you reach middle age, any weight loss comes first from the fatty tissue which has accumulated around our internal organs so this is also an unseen but potentially long term benefit.  I will let you know in twenty-five years whether it has really worked.

I should also mention diet.  Because my motivation was primarily fitness, I did not set out to diet and I certainly did not follow any set plan. However, I have found that high levels of exercise and increasing fitness have led to changes in the way I eat.  My body simply demands different things. Sometimes, this is very subtle.  Over the years, I have looked at many menus and thought how interesting and healthy the fish option looks…..and then had a burger anyway! Nowadays, I am much more likely to decide to give the sea bass with sweet chilli and lemon grass a try.  I also eat carbs in a different way.  White bread and other processed stuff genuinely bloats me and very quickly, within 30 minutes or less.  Oat or whole grain based products simply don’t have the same effect.  I still enjoy chocolate and sweets, I love a few beers with good friends and there is nothing better than a good curry.  But, these have become exceptional treats rather than my daily bread.  My diet consists of fish, chickens and whole grains with nuts, fruit and vegetables as flavourings.  Let the exercise lead the nutrition rather than the other way round.

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