Pie And Chips

I know that as an athlete I really need to have a nutritious diet. It’s important to have the correct balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, salts and micronutrients to fuel performance during and sustain recovery between sessions. That’s all well and good but I am an afflete sometimes what I really, really want is a pie and chips.

The previous post about chocolate really should have been a clue to my attitude to food. Food isn’t just fuel. I’ve written before about the complex relationships some of us have with food. I enjoy it – cooking, thinking about it, preparing it, even peeling potatoes. Food for me is a celebration and how do you celebrate something as mundane as getting to the end of a Monday? Pie and chips.

It wasn’t even a good pie and chips. It was a dodgy chip shop pie and really ordinary chips but it hasn’t really been a very good Monday, as far as Mondays go. A better day would have meant I might have been more inclined to make some pastry, blind bake the bottom while I stewed some beef and onion before assembling the pie. Double- or even triple-cooking the chips so that the insides are fluffy and the outsides are crispy? A task for another day when I’m not knackered from work and then training.

And there’s the thing. If you’re serious about your training and performance (or you’re just not fit enough for what’s on the plan) then you’re going to be completely spannered at the end of the session. The last thing you can really cope with is putting together much at all. I had planned some grilled chicken accompanied by puy lentils and spinach tonight but leaving circuits with Mary I knew I was too tired to cook even that much. The chip shop would be open and they would sell me a sad pie and reasonable chips and I could at least fill my stomach with cheering food if not exactly good food. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

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Chocolate Is Life

I’m not going to dwell on another disastrous race for that way lies only misery and negativity. Instead, I’m going to reflect on the glory of chocolate because chocolate is happiness, chocolate is life.

Chocolate is dark and it is milk and it is white and it is hot. It is bitter and it is sea salt and it is chilli.

You can have it on its own or in cakes and cookies. You can have it as a spread on bread. You can have it as a mousse out of a champagne saucer or if you’re very, very lucky, licked from the nipple of an intimate friend.

You can plunge strawberries into a bowl of it. You can drown raspberries in it. You could have a good solid go at drowning yourself in there if you have a big enough vat of it.

It serves as an accessory in cute baby pictures where the baby has smeared it all around its mouth. You can’t do that with kale. You can do that with pea puree but that then it looks like something unpleasant has burst.

You can mould it into fruit shapes and pretend it’s an orange. You can flavour it with mint and delude yourself that it’s toothpaste.

It melts round about body temperature but good chocolate can still snap with a click like a tiger’s dentures when it’s cold.

Choccie isn’t chalky.

Just don’t overdo it and brush your teeth with proper toothpaste afterwards, not just melted After Eights.

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Desert Island Discs

What’s the soundtrack of your life?

At school it was metal like Iron Maiden and AC/DC. There was quite a lot of hell invoked for a religious boy. It was probably part of the appeal for some of the people but not for me because first of all I didn’t really notice the lyrics so much, not when the guitar sounds and rhythms were far more exciting. Secondly, if you’ve hung around Christian people much, you soon realise that hell gets a lot more attention than heaven does. So, Hell’s Bells is my first track.

Afterwards, Leo introduced me to Talking Heads, especially Stop Making Sense. There is something that will always feel comforting about sitting in the near dark listening to that album over a pair of warmed headphones. Other people’s heads can be very warming.

I discovered The Grateful Dead at university. I would work through the night on a Thursday writing an essay due at 10:00am on a Friday morning with American Beauty playing quietly on a cassette radio so as not to disturb my flatmates. I had the room at the end of a corridor on the upper storey of our student house. Darren downstairs would either be sleeping the sleep of the dead or awake himself. The room next to mine was empty, I think. I would keep myself going by stopping every hour to light a menthol More and wait for the sun to come up before I headed in to town to hand the essay in. They weren’t good essays.

I bought two CDs before I ever bought a CD player. One was the soundtrack to Ally McBeal because… Well, I don’t really remember why except perhaps I really fancied her. The other was First of a Million Kisses. I mentioned this to Eddi Reader on Twitter once and she was kind enough to Tweet me back. She said that they’d explicitly intended it to be released on vinyl. I think she said that anyway. I was so astonished to have her reply to me at all that I may be misremembering what she’s said. Perfect is still one of my absolutely favourite songs.

I bought a CD of Kind of Blue not long after I moved in with Jane. I listened to it first one night over headphones like I did with Stop Making Sense in Leo’s bedroom 15 years before. It was late evening, dark outside and I was sitting at the dining table while my partner was watching television with her sister. I think my life changed because nothing else sounded the same after that. Nearly everything sounded too simple and not quite good enough. Thrust was all the right kind of funky though.

In order to find something interesting enough, I started to dig through J S Bach because that’s what you do. Once you’ve done the whole Toccata and Fugue in D Minor thing and got that out of your system, pretty quickly you fall into the Matthew Passion and you will never, ever climb out. You could be quite happy there for ever as well as long as someone tosses Thomas Tallis’ 40 part motet Spem in Alium in there after you.

I heard the Tallis Scholars sing that in Beverley Minster one night and I don’t think I have ever quite recovered. The moment all forty voices come in together hit me like an old girlfriend’s slap. The choristers were all around us hidden in galleries and spaces above our heads. If nobody tells you what to expect, if nobody’s there to nudge you and say, “Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it… NOW!” then you’re going to leave a changed person.

That’s a little out of sequence. It should have come after Perfect. 

My friend Alison threw parties in Oxford where as part of the evening’s entertainment she would sing Tom Lehrer’s Poisoning Pigeons in the Park with piano accompaniment by Ian. Some of the best fun I have ever had.

Last track is My Baby Just Cares For Me. Nina Simone’s song was what we played as we left the Registrar’s Office when Anne and I got married. It wasn’t strictly true that I didn’t care about cars and races but compared to Anne, even McLaren in their pomp were as mud to be scraped from the bottom of an icky, sticky shoe.

That’s nine but I’m having Nina Simone as my luxury only to play that one song and Anne’s Night’s Masque trilogy as my book. Another cheat because they are three single volumes but I’m getting a special single volume binding just for these cheating purposes. If that’s not allowed then I’ll have Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy so I can live with those characters for as long as I’m on the island.

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It’s About Nothing

How do you talk about nothing with nothing but words? A spot of floccinaucinihilipilification. I’m not talking about zero. That’s just a number in an integer series between -1 and 1. I’m talking about nothing. The noise of no hands clapping. A tree standing in the woods and not falling down. A bear not shitting in the woods. Theresa May’s chance of getting a Brexit bill passed. You know. Nothing.

I was listening to the podcast of In Our Time about Samuel Beckett on the way home tonight and one of Beckett’s concerns was to reduce the role of language to nothing. Apparently. Maybe I misunderstood that. I should probably go back and listen again and do more reading but I had a blog post to write and it was either going to be about this or about fantasy and I think we’re all much happier that it’s about this tonight.

I have tried that form of meditation called mindfulness recently. Sitting quietly, listening to my breath entering and leaving my body. It’s not an easy thing to do especially if you are used to having thoughts zipping around your head like flies round a summer lampshade. When I try to meditate and focus on my breathing I might begin to hear the high-frequency zizzle of a dried-up bogie about to fall free inside my nostril. It’s distracting. No wonder my thoughts begin to wander.

A good Catholic boy like me would have meditated many a time on the Five Joyful Mysteries, the Five Sorrowful Mysteries and the Five Glorious Mysteries. Maybe he would have just made the attempt anyway. A middle-aged former altar boy can’t remember what they all are and hasn’t even thought about them for more than 30 years.

Nothing is a pretty good description of how much I understand any of this as well as how much I remember from my religious education. I’m not afraid of nothing in the same way I am of infinity. When I was very young I could give myself wasp-terrors by simultaneously counting quickly and slowly. It’s easy to say “don’t do that then” but once you’ve done it you can’t stop doing it, like thinking about pink elephants when you’re supposed to be thinking about nothing.

I should go and find some time to rest now. Is the dark unconsciousness of sleep before dreams the closest thing we have to nothing? I’d think about that but I’m going to have to try not to think about anything at all.

And breathe.

*zizz*

Bugger.

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The Internet Is Full Of Trouble

Yet another statement of the bleedin’ obvious, I know but bear with me. Way back then, in the long ago, when the internet was all static pages of text about particle physics and Terry Pratchett, it seemed to be that it was all about having new and interesting experiences at 56 kilobytes per second, or thereabouts. One of the happiest sounds I knew was a modem handshaking with the world. I remember getting my first email account at St Andrews in about 1988 before the internet was even a thing. I know that I didn’t use it much. I saw everyone else I knew with an email account every day anyway.

I used to read stories in the Grauniad about how the internet – now it was invented – was going to change everything. We would all be able to talk to one another, there would be no more barriers to communication and it would all be simply marvellous. Well then, that turned out to be one of those wishes about which we really should have thought twice. We can now all talk at one another, there seem to be no barriers to any fucking communication and wouldn’t it be simply marvellous if some people just fucked the fuck off?

I don’t think anybody imagined that neo-Nazis would get an internet connection too. It was unanticipated as the superabundance cat pictures. Controlling the media is a basic totalitarian tactic. Our political masters would love to be able to do the same but they lack the commitment to do it in a thoroughgoing fashion. A cynic or conspiracy theorist would say either that they already do control both the media and the messages on it, or that the owners of the media already control the politicians to a greater or lesser extent.

We all know how important the internet has become. Our body politic is a cyborg now and we can’t be sure where some of the signals controlling it originate.

What prompted all of this wasn’t politics but personal relationships. I remember having an absolutely wonderful time when I was single on the internet. Looking back, I was using my privilege as a middle-class, white man but I hope I was always respectful when I went out on a date. My wife and I met on a dating site well over a decade ago, on the forums first and then in person. I don’t think we matched with one another but we got on very well when we met up so sometimes those algorithms must have been talking mince.

I don’t think things are as easy now for people. I hear horror stories from my friends on dating sites of shitty behaviour from shitty people. When I were a lad and Shep were a pup and it was all fields round here we used to view internet dating forums and the like as just an extension of the social sphere and the usual social norms would apply. There were always arseholes of course but they were small in number, easily identified and isolated and we could look after one another. No real man would ever have identified himself as “involuntarily celibate” for example. The most we would admit would be a bit of a dry spell but it was all going to be fine. We were on a dating site after all.

Now we have toxic masculinity. The things which were once private – the domestic violence, the gaslighting, the belittling, the objectification, the denigration, dehumanising – now have a public outlet. The small men doing huge damage to wives, sisters, mothers and children can share what they do with other small men.

I’m not sure what I wanted to achieve this evening. I seem to have spent the last hour or so remembering how wonderful things were in the good old days and how fucking awful things are now. The best thing about the internet now is that like minds can now connect across the world much more easily than they ever have in the past. The trouble is that that is also the worst thing about the internet.

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Blog in Haste, Repost at Leisure

Another late, stream of consciousness blog post. I’m opening up my skull and having a rummage around in there to see what my hand can grab. When I was wee, we kept our Lego in an octagonal brown plastic bin. I don’t know what it had originally contained but at that time it never quite contained the bit I needed. There were all the Red Sixes you could ever want but if you wanted a Blue Four or a Flat Eight then you were probably going to be out of luck. Looking for a Clear Blue Flat One in a bucket of Lego could be a new version of looking for a needle in a haystack.

That means there is something unpleasant lying in icky water in the bottom of the machine. Bollocks.

Of course I’m doing this when I should be fixing the dishwasher. I’m going to have to go guddling in its gizzards in the morning because I just can’t face it before I go to bed. There is going to be something horrible in there somewhere and I would rather just have my hot chocolate and deal with it tomorrow. The process to clear all the filters and stuff is too nasty to contemplate at this time of night. It’s at times like this that I wish I had a lot more money ora much less vociferous conscience so that I could either call in a repair bloke or blokette or just go and get a new dishwasher. This sort of thing happens about once a month. At least it does it so often now that I can pull it apart and put it together again like a squaddie can strip, clean and rebuild his weapon.

Doesn’t mean I can enjoy it.

So, time to find that hot choc and try not to think about soggy ickiness until the morning.

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Free The Folksworth 15!

The Folksworth 15 could be a group fitted up and wrongly imprisoned in the 1970s for a crime against tractors. “Free The Folksworth 15!” chanted no righteous crowd ever. You know that in a better reality, that would absolutely have happened.

A brief race review. The race is excellent as long as you arrive in plenty of time and don’t have to park at the bottom of that hill at 14 miles. To be fair, the organisers lay on cars to get runners to the race HQ and back to the distant car parks after the race. I thought I would be able to get closer than that given that I arrived in Folksworth just after 10:00am. I got to race HQ to pick up my number 40 minutes later. I left the HQ with eight minutes to get to the start three quarters of a mile away. Thank God it was downhill all the way.

My own performance was poor. I was ticking along at just over 8:15 a mile for the first lap. My lungs were a little affected by the cold air so I wasn’t going to go much faster. My calf began to cramp after a couple of miles but that didn’t slow me down much. It got worse as I went round the first lap. I was wearing my inov-8 racing flats. I love them but they don’t half take it out of your legs. They’re zero-drop and now have no cushioning in them at all. I don’t think I have worn them since last spring and it was definitely a bit ambitious wearing them today.

My calf got tighter and tighter and I pulled up just before leaving Folksworth on the second lap. I stretched it out a bit as a marshal checked I was okay. I walked back up the hill to the HQ and saw chums running down past me, gathered my bag from the drop and got changed into warm clothing before heading back to my car. I saw more chums looking strong heading for the finish in their final mile. Congratulations to all of them for a lot of proper performances.

I don’t think my heart was really in it today. That my calf was sore gave me an excuse to stop. Sometimes races are like that. It was a glorious day for a long run on some soft trails. I just had something else to do instead.

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People Just Love To Play With Words

I love words. You can probably tell. So many of them spill over the screen after all. I try to ensure that I arrange them well enough that they make some kind of sense but I can’t always guarantee that. I’ll apologise now for anything more than usually obtuse.

I spend less time philosophising than I used to now I get sweaty so frequently. Unlike a Victorian Hearty, it’s not because I have no use for the aesthetic just that I don’t have the energy. When I did wonder about things, one of the things I wondered about was whether it’s possible to think about something if you didn’t have the language to describe it. It’s the notion behind Newspeak in 1984, after all. The Party was reforming language in its own image, to make deviation from the party’s imperative literally unthinkable and therefore impossible.

In spite of this there are things, emotions mostly, which we cannot always name and yet are real. I think the idea of emotional intelligence is to help us identify these emotions when we have them and therefore have more control over their expression. If you can identify the basic emotions of fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise and then control how the more complex social emotions such as jealousy emerge from them then you might not need to use so much time and so many words in dealing with the aftermath of a shitty situation.

I was listening to a podcast this week which was talking about gender differences in identifying emotions. I’ve forgotten which one so I can’t check the citations and I may be misremembering what was said. With those caveats… Young girls were capable of identifying a wider range of emotions in themselves than young boys. Young boys could only reliably identify anger as an emotion. Girls became better at identifying emotions as they became older but boys didn’t. However, both girls and boys were able to recognise the same range of emotions in their mothers. It would seem that boys were not willing to allow themselves to feel or admit to feeling the same range of emotions as girls but few boys displayed signs of sociopathy.

Playing with words in a political context is dangerous. Liberty and equality are enormous and enormously contested concepts. Individual liberty can infringe on communal rights after all and we need structures in place to guarantee some form of peace where the two are in conflict. Our own societies know what happens when lies become truth and truth is in turn contested.

And is there any objective truth anyway?

And now I’m doing it.

I was lying in bed one Saturday morning, years ago. My former partner and I were reading the papers and trying not to get toast crumbs on the clean sheets, bickering a bit, but amicably I thought, back and forth over some piece of nonsense in the Weekend Guardian. I can’t remember what triggered the real argument when it happened but it was over something that some other clever clogs had written that she read out and quite liked. I disagreed, probably with a disagreeable pun and she said said to me “You think you’re so clever, with all your words.” The thing is, I did. I do. The thing also is, she was more clever than me in practically every possible way that I was struggling to keep up. I thought her cleverness was as obvious to her as it was to me, to her family and her friends. She never played with her words so she never got to see how clever she was too. And I never told her how clever I thought she was in spite of that cleverness and shining bright intelligence being one of the things that attracted me in the first place.

You need to play with words, to find the joy in them just like you did when you were four or five or six and played in puddles, splashing around in your wellies. Were your wellies too big because you had inherited them or just got a new pair, or too small because your feet had grown two sizes since the last time you went out in proper mud and rain? Words are messy and have multiple meanings depending on who says them and when.

“I love you”

Saying that to your partner of many years is different from saying it for the first time. All the times you’ve said it before roll together creating a sea of emotion with waves of meaning and meanings.

Saying it when it isn’t true and your heart has almost stopped from the sadness of it all. Or saying it with a lack of care, or side-spun with sarcasm just to hurt.

Saying that drunk to someone, not necessarily your best mate. Cliche. Sorry. I should avoid them like the… Like an ague.

The same words, different contexts, different meanings. All a bit messy.

You can try to pin words down but even the simplest of words have become messy. I’m thinking here about she and her and trans and non-binary folk and nothing I say will improve the situation for anyone so I will say no more. Whereof I know nothing and all that.

Perhaps pinning down words like beetles in the Natural History Museum is a bad idea. Better to trap them in the leaves of poetry books, or let them skitter through children’s minds as they grow, telling them stories or reading to them.

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TFIF

It’s Friday night. All those gnawing feelings about things I needed to do have begun to fall away. I’ve even done almost some of the things I really needed to do this week. Almost some of them. I had a list on Monday. It got longer as the week went on but I’ve finally managed to get almost some of them scored off the list.

Except it’s an electronic list and scribbling on the screen with a biro is frowned upon.

Forgot to mention that.

One of the things I really need to add to my list every day is have some sodding lunch. Then I need to put it on one of those timer things so it pops up on my screen to remind me to have some sodding lunch. An afflete deep in training, such as me, needs to have more than a coffee at breakfast time and one of those service station sausage baps, three Creme Eggs at lunchtime and an apple spotted on the floor as it rolled out from under the passenger seat of the car. Healthy.

That was yesterday. I was working from home today so of course I had time to eat properly at breakfast, have a sensible, nutritious lunch and go shopping after my swim in the evening. I had time for all that but I didn’t even do nearly some of it. In fact I did almost none of it. Breakfast was fine but I didn’t do a #porridgereport. (Ideal creamy consistency, topped with an entire, sliced banana, a little maple syrup and some flaked almonds, if you really want to know.) Then nothing all day because the emails and additions to the to-do list just kept coming and suddenly it was half past five and my eyes were rolling around and that noise wasn’t Tilly snoring adorably, it was my stomach rumbling.

So one emergency fish supper later while Anne got stuck into some steamed vegetables and brown rice, it would seem that Anne is on the athlete’s diet. I’ll aim for better over the weekend. I’m running around Therfield Heath in the morning before having breakfast in the cafe. Proper food later in the day too because I’m racing at Folksworth on Sunday morning.

So, TFIF. Saturday Night’s All Right For Eating.

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Delusions- and why they are useful

The following is a response Mel sent to my post on delusions the other day. I’ve asked her if it’s okay to post here.

Delusions are defined as… an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument.

Before I begin, I do want to outline the times when I believe that delusions (and I am talking grandiose delusions here) are completely unhelpful in running. It is often unhelpful in a race (particularly a marathon) to have a delusion that you can on this day hold your 5k pace for 42 k. It is also unhelpful (but perhaps easier to recover from) if you think that you can run at you 200m pace for 5 x 1k. Perhaps the worst time to hold a delusion is when there are signs that an injury is emerging. How many times have we ignored that niggle as nothing, believed it is possible to run it off or ignored pain that seems to dissipate during a run but hurts like hell after? Deluding oneself that this will go away without changing something is pretty dangerous. So when are delusions useful and important?

Firstly, there are those times when privately you have imagined or fantasised about achieving a particular time, despite there being no evidence in your training, or previous race performance that you can achieve it, but you hold it anyway. You ignore those calculators that are based on carefully researched formulas and you believe that enthusiasm and spirit will get that goal anyway- and sometimes it does. There are just those days when your delusion come true.. those days where everything goes right. Believing in the delusion helps you to run with it.. and not freak out.

I agree with you Richard that there is a grey area where delusion/ positive thinking/ambition and visualisation may overlap, but ultimately it started out as a delusion in the strictest sense of the definition. Because some visualisations/ positive thoughts have no evidence to support them. Really, when I said the line “ we need delusions..” what I was really referring to were the times I tell myself in the morning, when it is dark, windy and wet that “There is no other option, you must get up” (because this is of course not true, I am choosing to get up, I could stay in bed). Or “This will be wonderfully refreshing” (when actually it’s fucking miserable), or when I pretend that I am not really tired or that it is not really dark. Or I tell myself that running every day, doing this session will make me a better runner. Yes I know there is some evidence for this, but only when it is followed properly with a proper programme. I make mine up, taking random bits from other people’s, then lie and tell myself that this will help. If I began to look at the evidence I would realise I am doing lots of things wrong, not enough of one thing too much of another. Thinking about what I should be doing may inspire me, or make me feel a bit sad and frustrated at myself, for not being sensible…Ultimately, all these logical thoughts would stop me from getting up and just running.

I also invent stories for myself so that I run my long runs no matter how hungover. I lie deliberately and tell myself that this is really good for me. It probably isn’t. Again this is a belief I held that has no evidence base. Not that I have really looked it up, I just create the belief to do it.

Then there are the bigger delusions like “Spending my time running and devoting all this time to running is the best way to spend my life or going running training 7 times a week is more important than…”sleeping/ working/ relaxing/ calling my mother/ learning something/ seeing friends/ spending time with a partner. ” Not necessarily a true delusion but more a tendency to only see the confirmatory evidence and ignore evidence that contradicts this. I need to do this or I end up stuck and confused about how to spend my time. The complicating factor here is that human beings including myself rarely appraise our beliefs, particularly those we are invested in, in a systematic way. Instead, we engage in heuristics/ biases. The most common bias in runners like me who are delusional is the “confirmation bias”. Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.

Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.

Take my belief that I if I need to run every day and do a certain amount of miles I will be a better marathon runner. Or my belief that my legs feeling heavy is just a sign that I am just doing the necessary hard training. Or my belief that getting up each day and training in the dark makes me a mentally tougher runner, capable of more grit in a marathon. What signs do I look for that prove my theory? I am certainly going to ignore any times where I feel slow, in fact I will deliberately not look at my watch at these times. I will take notice of the times I place in the top five, but ignore the time, and the number of people in this race compared to other races where I placed this high. Sometimes I plan to deliberately avoid any information that disproves my theory, particularly in longer races where staring at splits that are slower than the year before is not going to inspire me for 42k. So instead I race by heartrate, this is a kind of conscious delusion, and avoidance of disconfirmation.

Then there is the self serving attribution bias… In situations with definite outcomes (ie win/lose), our perceptions of why we either won or lost have important consequences for our affective states (eg feelings of pride, anger or shame), self-esteem, future motivations and behaviours (eg persistence).

It is evident that different people can have widely varying perceptions about the same event or situation.

I like to really take advantage and maximise my ability for “self-serving bias’ – a tendency to attribute success to internal factors, such as ability and effort, and failures to uncontrollable external causes such as luck or weather conditions. In simple terms: when I win it’s all down to me and my efforts (good for confidence), but when I lose it wasn’t my fault (a form of ego-protection and a way to maintain self-esteem. I have a lot of these, usually with some kernel of truth. For example, if I hadn’t been injured or if I had chosen the other shoes. All these delusions have some basis in reality. I know a lot of people who attribute a slower training session to a hard session the night before, to protect their self belief. Often people deliberately defend their self belief by sabotaging their performance in some way e.g. drinking the night before and using the hangover as an excuse.

My point it that sometimes we need to believe in things that don’t seem at that time possible, and ignore the evidence around us that may discourage us from training that day, or continuing to train in order to keep doing it, because sometimes training is quite hard within a busy life. Doing this to the extreme is a problem. Perhaps a more important learning outcome from this whole exercise is my realisation that I should never give a flippant, badly thought out comment to Richard Lyle…

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