When you think of healthy living, you don’t automatically imagine double chocolate muffins, right?
Think again, as this is one of the fringe benefits of running.
To most people running’s about exercise and fitness. For me, it was all about reversing a slow, but stubborn increase in my weight. So, three or four times a week, I left Crouch Corner, walked the five minutes to the gym and went through a pattern of routines on various pieces of equipment.
Then, the moment I left the building, sweating and tired, I would roll a cigarette and light up for the walk back home.
This wasn’t some kind of ironic statement or macho attempt to prove that smokers could also be fit, just the final flings of a habit that was about to become history.
And sure enough, I gave up smoking a few months later. By then, I was fitter and able to run for 15-20 minutes on the treadmill, prepared for the surge in weight that most smokers experience after kicking the habit.
Food replaces cigarettes.
And I was no different – except no matter how much I ate, I continued to feel hungry. This continued for months after I quit smoking. I ran further and longer, keeping my weight in check, turning flab into muscle, but the pangs of hunger pestered me day and night.
Then the reason dawned on me. I was eating rubbish food.
My body and mind were becoming leaner and fitter, demanding better quality nutrients. The pizza out of the freezer couldn’t sustain the running. Drastic action was needed. Out went most of the processed food and in came meals prepared at home, vegetables other than baked beans, and more fruit.
Running gave me better quality nutrition alongside all the health benefits.
But you wouldn’t class a double chocolate muffin as quality nutrition. It’s a rather tasty treat, especially if it has a gooey chocolate centre, but at 500-600 calories a hit, it’s hardly healthy.
And when I met up with an old friend and former colleague this week, that’s exactly what I thought when he suggested we treat ourselves to cake with our cups of tea. One look at the counter display or beautifully presented muffins told me I would need to run at least four to five miles to burn off those extra calories.
Yeah, it’s hardly rock and roll, but it stops me eating cakes and other treats. And I don’t need to move up a trouser size.
Another fringe benefit of running is the time it gives me to think about writing. Whether it’s plot or characters, an idea that needs fleshing out, or simply reviewing this morning’s writing, running can be creative.
The opening to my second novel, No Bodies, was shaped and refined while running along the promenade, enjoying the sea air. Numerous plot ideas, twists and developments have been shaped while I pound along the roads, or over the rolling hills of the nearby South Downs.
The secret is remembering all the thoughts, revisions and ideas that rattle through my brain during a run. I’ve considered taking a notebook, but all that stopping and starting isn’t my idea of running. And the notebook would need to be small to fit into the tight pockets of shorts and leggings.
I could use the voice recorder on my mobile phone, but during playback the panting and heavy breathing would make it difficult to understand what I’d said. A brisk walk would eliminate the panting, but it’s not running, is it?
So I rely on memory, which has improved thanks to running.
And talking of memory, I recall an article I read in the 1990s. The author advocated healthy living as the only way to be a truly creative writer. In his view, drugs such as cigarettes, alcohol, coffee and tea polluted the mind and stifled creativity.
Looking back, he may have had a point. Since I packed up smoking, started running and eating better, my writing has improved. I’ve found my voice, published two novels with a third on the way, built my confidence and improved my self-discipline.
It takes you away from the computer or TV. It gives you fresh air. And you’d be surprised how many friends you can make out there.
But don’t worry – I refuse to give up crisps, chips, sausages or my regular infusions of strong, dark tea. And I can’t remember the last time I ate a double chocolate muffin.
If you’d like to find out more about my murder mystery novels, please use the tabs at the top of the page to check out my website or visit my Amazon page.