“Mr White, I am joining you,” announced Alfred when I greeted him at work 2 weeks ago. That weekend the man had gone cold-turkey on carbohydrates and he told me he was joining me in following a low-carb, high-fat diet.
I was admittedly a bit taken aback. We were standing exactly 2 months away from the Comrades Marathon, 90km of gruelling uphill road run and a finish line that so many can only dream of crossing. And here was Alfred, turning his back on the lifestyle that had helped him reach that goal 13 times before.
Without trying to sound too shocked, I asked him to explain the sudden change of heart and he had four main reasons: energy, recovery, overall performance and bravery.
“I am always tired,” Alfred explained to me. The sport that he had taken up for the challenges and enjoyment was becoming a burden. He had to force himself to train as the Comrades edged closer and closer.
Recovering after runs was also becoming harder. About a month ago Alfred found that his knee was hurting and injured, probably as a result of his worn down running shoes (which he is incidentally still using! If anyone knows of a good source of road running shoes please let us know. I believe Alf is currently using Nike Pegasus trainers). And he was struggling to recover from the injury even with rest and icing. This was a big factor in him needing to make a change.
Also the effect of the aches, pains and tiredness were boiling over into the rest of his personal life. He found that he was becoming short-tempered. “I am not that type of person,” Alfred lamented.
Basically Alfred had found that he was not the lean, carb-burning machine of his youth and this was affecting his overall performance (not just on the road but at home and work too).
Alfred’s performance in the Comrades marathon has seen it’s ups and downs (irrespective of the race route for that year). Here’s a graph of his times running up (from Durban to Pietermaritzburg) and down (from Pietermaritzburg to Durban):
“If you do things the same you’re still gonna get the same result. For the past years that I’ve been running the Comrades there was not much improvement. I felt that if I could change to something new then maybe I would see an improvement,” Alfred told me. He’s tried changing his training routine with little effect, but now he had decided to take a look at his diet.
At 81kg Alfred believed that he was weighing far too much to be meeting his targets for running. Why not try a new diet to lose that weight, he figured. He reckoned that he had nothing else to lose. If it didn’t work after a week he could always go back to his old ways.
This willingness to risk doing something new leads us onto the heart of why Alfred decided to make this drastic change… Bravery.
A month before he went cold-turkey on carbohydrates, Alfred had already tried Banting. It was after I had first introduced him to the diet and he thought he might try it out. He had reported back to me then that it was much too hard to cut out all the sweets, snacks and sugary drinks that were fueling his body. So we had to decide to discard the Banting idea for this Comrades Marathon.
But Alfred’s first failed attempt had triggered all sorts of questions in his head:
What was stopping him from doing something new? What did he have to fear? What sort of example was he setting for his son, to start something and then not finish it?
Alfred told Tamsin that one day his son had said to him, “Dad, you are always talking about this, it’s now or never.” And he knew then that he had to commit to making a change. He didn’t want his son to not trust him to follow through on his word.
“I did the Comrades the first time to do something unique that others where I came from had not done before. Now this is unique. It is better to use my bravery to inspire people then let fear stop me.”
Nearly every athlete reaches a point where their energy is low or they are struggling to recover. A drop in performance leads you to lose faith in your abilities and consider hanging up those worn out sneakers. But it’s the bravery in your heart that gets you back out on the road again, with a new game plan, to conquer those mountains that lie in your path. No one can sum this up better than Alfred did the day that he told me he was joining me. “We will make this work. People who fear change, they will instill their fears in us. We know what and why we are doing this. It is not about their fears, it is about our courage to change”.