30 July 2008

I Still Use Real Butter

What does this picture have to do with food?
A lot of things went into this body to get me to that starting line.
A lot of things stopped going into that body to get me to the starting line.

The decision to begin running was interesting. It was Steve’s first visit to America, so I chose Texas as the first port of entry. We spent two weeks split between Houston and Austin [family in Houston, friends in Austin]. We ate 3 meals a day, drank beer from noon and drove in a civilian tank we Christened “The Orange Avenger”.

Flicking through photos near the end of our trip, I noticed our skin getting darker, and our bellies getting larger. In a land without public houses or public transport, the social fabric is stitched with corn based foodstuffs and picante sauce. I met friends at restaurants and cafes and coffee shops and at houses where we ate or shared food or made snacks. Beer always. Clicking glasses filled my dreams. Always scoping the price of gasoline at filling stations and quickly popping in to check the price of a twelve pack of Shiner.

About a week in, Steve and I stayed behind at ours hostesses’ house as they readied for work. We slipped off to HEB and purchased a bulk package of spinach, $10 balsamic vinegar, some olive oil and cherry tomatoes. We retreated to the house and quietly devoured the leaves in silence like prisoners of war with a secret allotment.

We were both clearly overdosing on carbohydrates. I purchased some New Balance running shoes at a sporting goods emporium near my parent’s house in north Houston a few days before our return flight. I can’t remember the exact thought, but I knew I would push myself out of bed on our return to England and go running.

It was difficult in the beginning, to say the least. I’ve lived in my neighbourhood for 2 years now, but until two months ago, I couldn’t tell you the names of the streets around me. It took me a month to discover a huge park 5 minutes jog away from me.

I started by walking down a side street, and then heading towards Leyton Orient Football Stadium, I knew the road swung around the bottom towards the 2012 Olympic site, and double-backed on its self. I would use this road route until further notice. It’s not exactly pretty, and I’ve come to learn I’d rather not run in front of too many pedestrians, especially in this part of town. They’re…mouthy.

At first I was running the long stretches of road on my route; roughly 200 metres at most, then semi-collapsing into a semi-swift walk completely out of breath. It’s no surprise [except to my parents, maybe…uhm, sorry] that I’d been a smoker for 7 years.

Comparably, this is nothing. I know people who’ve been smoking for double my own life span, and again, comparably, they’re doing all right. And for all the debate surrounding smoker’s rights and “I can do whatever I want with my body” and half my friends being smokers themselves, I’d had enough. The past year I’d not been as committed to it as I had been before.

The trouble with smoking is, you can’t do it by halves. [This is something I’m learning with alcohol as well. I’m sure that won’t be a popular message either] I’d been on roll-ups for years, but in general smoker speak, unless you’re on at least half-a-pack-a-day, I find the lungs keep thinking they’re going to win the battle.

For a smoker, the lungs have to never get back up off the matt. If I’m constantly trying to clear my lungs out, that means I’m coughing all the time, and that means I’m actually getting ill more often than when I smoked a whole bunch more. The conventional head-in-the-sand wisdom of smokers being “Well, I’m creating an environment where no bugs can take hold.” And while this is probably bollocks, the truth is I never really got sick that often. But when I did get sick, I was out for the count. It was like getting Chicken Pox for the second time. It’s got to be that much stronger for it to come back.

Anyway, I’d finally kicked the smoking out of my routine. It was easy in the end. I just made the decision. Nicotine replacements seemed silly and counterproductive. But running helped take away the “oh-I-could-have-just-one” moments when out with other friends who only have one when they’re drinking. [These people are lethal, bless their hearts]

But I did find a running route which roughly equalled 3 miles, and when I finally ran around the whole way it was pretty special. And it was all about little goals and little pieces to this puzzle I’m trying to complete. And my eating habits have certainly changed. I’ve not shied away from carbohydrates, but now I’m actively seeking them out because I need the energy when I’m running. It’s similar [to a point] to when I was doing gardening work, and I would eat anything I could get my hands on because I required the caloric intake.

I’m learning all these new words like Tryptophan and Glucosamine and why they’re important and what foods they’re in. So I’m looking at food for both fuel and pleasure. But I’m after balance. I’m not trying to win races per se. I may not be smoking but I still use real butter.

Here's to balance.

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