OYNB: Christmas Shopping with Eyes Wide Open

It’s a funny time of year… Seasonal madness has well and truly taken hold. The high-streets are crammed with frantic faces attached to stressed bodies dashing about. Agitated lines of men-folk worm their way uneasily toward perfume counters, Pandora stores have barricades and security to manage the crowds and the supermarkets are stocked to the gills with millions of unnecessary calories and gallons booze.

Last night I was quietly wandering the isles of my local store making my usual purchases. I was struck by how many staples were missing. Gone were my favourite mushroom pastry thingies and, in their place, were extra-rich and extra-large versions of Christmas fare, most with added booze… chocolate with Tia Maria, pate with cognac, pies with ale, champagne sorbet, cheese with gin (?), Prosecco flavoured crisps (I kid you not), red wine gravy, vodka marinades, chutney with port and the traditional but gout-inducing brandy butter.

Since starting and alcohol-free lifestyle, I have started to notice the pervasive nature of alcohol and how it is, quite literally, everywhere. There is no escape and is almost as if alcohol has become the foundation of our modern culture… we all know us British can’t have a party of any kind without an intoxicating drink to oil the process, but it now seems that we can’t eat in December without experiencing the marketing onslaught. Indeed, the addition of alcohol now appears to transform any moment into a special occasion worthy of a cheer and any food-like substance into a seasonal luxury item.

Last night I found myself shopping with my eyes wide open and, slightly horrified, came away with much less than I had anticipated… I must confess, needing no excuse to get both fat and shitfaced and using Christmas as an excuse, I have been known to tuck into an entire round of brie with little more than a cheese-knife and a bottle of red. This year will be different – OYNB is teaching me to be alert and prepared. I now see that brandy butter without brandy is just butter… the addition of brandy being the only reason to buy it.

On day 58 I can see that the system is out to hijack our sensibilities. It wants us to think that Christmas can’t be Christmas without spending £200 on a single trolley of food and drink items to feed a small family for a day. You can’t have fun without a champagne breakfast, fancy pre-lunch drinks, expensive and attractively packaged drinks to compliment your meals, rich and potent post meal drinks and an evening of further imbibing to ensure the party goes with a swing.

If, like me, you are embarking on your first Christmas for decades which will be alcohol-free, it’s time to strengthen your resolve, double down embrace the true spirit of Christmas: to create memories not hangovers, to tell people we love that we love them, sing ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham very loud, embrace family and to give what we can to those less fortunate than us – if we stay strong this will be a season to remember. Merry Christmas.

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A Moment of Clarity in the Darkness

It’s 4am in the morning. Tuesday I think. I’ve not been able to sleep, which happens occasionally. I usually have no problem. I get up early, battle through my working day, get home, make some excuses and sink a few drinks. I then resign myself to a night of restless and uncomfortable sleep, countless toilet visits and a thick head in the morning. It’s the same old pattern… ever since I can remember, coffee has provided my get-up-and-go and alcohol my means to relaxation. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise from the pages of this blog, but appearances can be deceiving.

Until recently I never realised I suffered from anxiety. Or perhaps I did, I just didn’t acknowledge it for what it was. Just lately I have felt a new wave of all-too familiar anxiety rising up, and it’s threatening overwhelm me again. Anxiety about work, my physical health, my weight and appearance, my relationships, money… I’ve been here before, only this time I have recognised the signs. The happy smile is becoming harder to fix and the air of ‘joire de vivre’ less convincing. My mood has been deteriorating and my drinking to relax becoming steadily heavier.

I’ve dabbled with the notion of going alcohol free for a while – even entertaining Dry January one year. I remember it was a challenge… but I felt great and wrote about it with gusto… I ran every day, waxed lyrical about sobriety and told the world how awesome I was. I stayed true to the end and eventually broke my 31-day booze fast with a huge blow out – the account of which is somewhere in these pages. At the time, it was like the hangover dragged me down from the pedestal I’d built for myself, gave me a good slap and I simply fell back into my old routine. That was several years ago.

Now, the fact that I am up in the small hours, on a school night, means that it is on my mind… I can see it now, on top of my other constructed anxieties. A moment of clarity in the darkness. I’ve decided to document my reasons to change, for no other reason than to get them down in black and white.

  1. Alcohol is making me ill. I am so used to the headache that it barely registers and the booze messes with my guts. I constantly worry about what I’m doing in the mornings and how far away the nearest toilet will be. I can no longer go running in a morning – I desperately want to run. Why would I want to be constantly ill?
  2. It increases my blood pressure, for which I take medication. Yes, you heard that right. I take medication to reduce blood pressure in order to reduce the pressure on my kidneys. This, in turn, will ensure I live longer and in good health. Why would I want to increase my risk – quite substantially – of a premature death?
  3. Alcohol doesn’t make me happy. In fact, it makes me downright miserable. Guilt, tiredness, lethargy and emotional turmoil are part and parcel, but it’s a habit that’s become so entrenched it’s become my way of life. Why would I want to feel guilty and miserable?
  4. It costs a fucking bomb. Four cans of cider costs £4-£5… and if there’s wine involved, it’s a tenner… a tenner a day! And I’ve just told you that I’m anxious about money. I mean, what?
  5. Alcohol makes me a slave to the sofa. The ironing doesn’t get done, I don’t prepare nutritious meals, I forget important tasks, can’t be bothered to go shopping, I casually neglect my family and I have lost my running-mojo. I can’t run when I’m drunk and don’t want to run when I’m hung over. This is no good for anyone.
  6. Alcohol makes me fat. I’ve often said that weight loss is 90% diet and 10% exercise. I can run 50 miles a week and not lose a single lb if my diet isn’t on-point. Having battled with my weight for 2 decades, I’m still kidding myself that ‘liquid’ has nothing to do with diet. Get real. There’s one primary reason I’m overweight and we all know it.
  7. It’s socially irresponsible. I can’t drive when I’m drunk, but because of my routine, I have to drive when I’m hung-over. This comes with obvious risks, and when I neglect my social responsibility, everyone is at risk. I never knowingly drink-drive, but I’m sick of the guessing game.
  8. It sets a terrible example to my son. He’s 12 and impressionable. He also loves his Dad and looks to me as a role model and for guidance. One day he’ll turn into me and whilst I fundamentally like who I am, I wouldn’t choose this path for anyone.

So there, in no particular order, are eight huge reasons to change. Each has been playing on my mind, and each has been sloshed crudely away with yet another swig of Thatchers. Change starts at home but I’m petrified. I know I can and will deal with the fear and I can and will get my shit in order. I’m making the change now.

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#Janathon Day 17: Ouchy Arms

Today I went to the gym for PT… Scott wanted me to do an isolation session, so arms it was. I spent an hour pushing, lifting, pulling and swinging heavy objects about until my arms and shoulders screamed. Somehow I managed to drive home and get ready to lead the beginner runners at Trentham RC. They’re on ‘couch to 5k’ and to be fair, they’re smashing it. Second week in and we’re running almost all the way – they’ll be all over the 5k in no time at all and pushing on to greater distances. Although tonight it was a relatively slow and short run for me, my aching arms let me know about it… I dread to think what tomorrow will bring – I have a feeling that ouchy arms are here to stay.

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#Janathon Day 16: Soggy Stafford

Its been a soggy day in Stafford… there has been a constant drizzle didn’t really fall, but hung heavy in the air. The town lies low and is surrounded by marshes which flood every year… The river Sow was swollen and throughout the course of the day the waters rose, so much so that one of the main car parks in the town began to fill up. Colleagues had to leave early to rescue their cars from the raising waters and as darkness fell, a chill descended. I was time to wrap up and run.

There were six of us for the SCC runners tonight. Keeping away from the river and any potential floods meant hills… we ran away from the town in the direction of  the castle, the spray from the road soaking us through. We soon warmed up and got into our stride as we wound around the Western Downs and through puddled residential streets for a steady but highly enjoyable 10k. As we arrived back in town the river had risen some more and it was still raining – It looks like Stafford will be pretty soggy for a few more days yet.

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#Janathon Day 15: Father Son Time

Everything I planned to do today didn’t happen – and it’s no bad thing. The bodywork that is hanging from my car has been there for 2 weeks and will be there next weekend when I come to re-attach it… C’est la vie… I was ready for a rest. And so it was at 7 this morning when I read a text that let me know the morning run was postponed… I could have got up and run solo, but I was cozy and warm and not in the mood, so I stayed put. Besides, the weather was vile. Later in the day, I knew I had to #Janathon. Having done not a lot, besides listen to Jnr on his Xbox, I decided to uproot his now, not insignificant frame from his gaming chair and take him swimming.

We had an hour of much needed father-son time in the pool… I did a few token lengths, but spent most of the hour or so having ‘holding breath’ competitions, underwater wrestling, doing handstands, playing sharks, hilariously freaking out the lifeguard by lying lifeless on the bottom of the deep end, bombing the old ladies (politely, of course) and chatting to the young ladies in black Speedo swimsuits… It was a lot of fun. Who says Janathon has to be hard work?

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#Jananthon Day 14: Saturday Happy

It’s been a good day today. After a lie in and slow breakfast of peanut butter and tomato on toast (don’t ask) and a Nespresso, we headed up to town to enter the Potters ‘Arf Marathon – early bird entries for Stoke’s premier and most glamorous (?) running event opened today. It is also taking place one week before IRONMAN so should be a nice little leg-loosener for me by that stage. We saw loads of our club mates up there taking advantage of the generous discount, The Green Army always puts on a good show at Potts.

We then headed off to the local super-food bar, RAWR, in Hanley for some lunch. Their bulletproof coffee is to die for and my sandwich of hummus, avocado, sweet chili jam and baby leaves was superb (see pic below)… Even the Pizza-crazed lad yummed up his smokey beans on sourdough toast with gusto, which is a good sign.


After a spot of shopping and my picking up a couple of records (Arcadia and Paul Simon – joy!) I went for my #Janathon run. On top of the world for a quick 4 miles (Strava) I sailed along, head to wind, not giving it much effort and thoroughly enjoying myself. I am now sipping on a real ale having scrummed down home made cottage pie and now Red Dwarf is on the telly.

Do running days get any better than this? Happy Saturday peeps 🙂

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#Janathon Day 13: Friday 13th

Freak out, it’s Friday the 13th! To be honest, it’s been like any other Friday… apart from the snow, the interesting commute (almost hit a guy on a good £2K worth of road bike on the dual carriageway in the snow, in the dark, with no lights!), faulty iPhone’s, office drama and the turbo training… The turbo training was deffo the best part of the day. I put on youtube and settled into a half hour of pedaling and random video’s about health… I learnt how the food companies calculate their % fat label’s and was horrified. I am now wise to their tricks… look up ‘fat content by weight’ compared to ‘calories from fat’ and be prepared to be appalled. Is it time for bed yet?

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