Triathlon Plus/TriRadar columnist Steve Trew pinpoints the moment he ditched cake and beer for an athlete’s mentality.

Triathlon Nutrition - Steve Trew columnIt’s a January evening down at the track. “Why do you run, Steve?” Who’s asking me? Stuart Storey. Fellow club member but most definitely one of the gods. Hurdles superstar. Olympics, Commonwealth Games, European Champs – Stuart has been there, done it and got more than one badge. That question made me think more than a little.

“Because I want to be good, I suppose,” I say.

“No you don’t, not really.”

What? Okay, he might be Stuart Storey, but that doesn’t give him the right to put me down, “Yes I do, I want to be a good runner,” I reply.

“No you don’t, not really. You like life too much.”

He did it again! I think to myself, ‘be calm, be slow, be articulate’. “Yes, I really do Stuart, I want to be good.”

A pause. Then: “What’s that in your hand?”

“A cake.”

“Uh huh. I told you that you weren’t serious about running.” And then: “What are you doing this evening?”

Slightly embarrassed: “Going out for a drink,” I say.

“Uh huh.” The pause hung on the air like a bullet, poised and waiting. “You see Steve, it takes everything. It’s not just the training – it’s how you live; what you eat, what you drink, how much rest and sleep you get. To be an athlete, you have to live like an athlete.”

“But I want to be good!” I’m beginning to get hysterical now. Or at least, on the edge of it.

“Okay, throw it away!”

Oh, the cake. I have to throw away the cake. And like some naughty school kid, that’s exactly what I did. It’s probably still there now – you’ll recognise it – a muffin with chocolate chips in it.

A REAL RUNNER

So I gave in. Being a good runner had all of a sudden become more important than anything. I begged. I pleaded. I asked questions, and more questions and more questions – what do I eat? How much sleep should I get? What time should I train? How much training? How do you balance speed and endurance training for an 800m runner? Can I drink tea and coffee (and the dreaded Coca-Cola)?

FOLLOWING ORDERS

And you know what? I did it. I did every single thing that Stuart Storey told me. This conversation was an entire generation ago – more than that – back in the winter of 1974, the Winter of Discontent. Everyone was on strike, TV closed down at 10pm in the evening. Stuart’s and my conversation (if you can call it that) was six weeks before the Amateur Athletics Association Indoor Championships.

So I did it. I lived like an athlete. I didn’t drink, I slept properly, I cut back on food and ate more of the right stuff. I trained at lunchtime and then again early in the evening. In the six weeks before Nationals I dropped more than a stone in weight – and that is one hell of a lot of weight for an 800m runner.

CRUSHED DREAMS

And then, one week before Nationals, I got injured. Dream over. All that effort for zilch. Except it wasn’t. Because I kept living like an athlete. The weight stayed off, the motivation stayed on. Just two days before the event I managed to run a little. The day before I ran a few fast strides. I was (sort of) ready to race. My coach drove us to the RAF Cosford base where the AAAs Indoor Champs used to be held – just outside Wolverhampton – I was racing the heats on Friday evening.

I came 2nd in my heat and qualified for the final. In the final on Saturday afternoon, I finished 2nd again, beating the guy who’d outrun me in the heat. The race was televised; the commentator was a certain Stuart Storey in his first broadcast commentary for BBC. I guess you could say that it was a pretty good day for both of us.

I was very tough, and didn’t cry (much) when I went up to the commentary box to thank him. It was almost a defining moment. Almost. The real defining moment had arrived six weeks before on a cold, windy track when someone who cared enough to give me the inspiration and the belief that – if I worked at it, if I worked bloody hard and gave it everything – I could be a runner.