The Gift

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‘To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.’
‘Redefine your impossible.’

I cling to inspirational quotations as a way of getting through life, and often have them scribbled over my body on race day too. Those two above are the mantras I reliably turn to year on year as a way of getting through things and keeping myself motivated. Recently though I’ve been repeating them more and more whilst my health has taken a bit of a nose dive, forcing me to pull out of a few events and making me re-evaluate where I place my ‘self’ in my list of priorities (turns out it was pretty far down on the list…which I’m sure is something we can all relate to on some level).

There have been days recently where everything has felt like a struggle, and I think when your body is at that point where it feels broken and heavy, it begins to affect your state of mind too. I could see the warning signs but chose to ignore them until I hit a wall; I’ve been travelling too much, I haven’t eaten three meals a day for longer than I can remember, I’m doing way too much in my day job, I’m getting far less than seven hours sleep each night, I’m still heavily reliant on caffeine to get myself through a day and on top of it all, up until last week, I was still trying to train just as much as usual. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to find out that once again I was low on sodium and potassium, and was suffering from anaemia. Poor life choices really do equate to poor health.

The problem with getting yourself into that kind of rut is that it’s very difficult to crawl back out of it, because generally, the other pressures don’t stop existing. It takes real effort to make positive changes to improve your health and I just haven’t really been keen to do so, or rather I felt like I couldn’t do so because in my head I still consider certain things to come before my health…I’m under this naive assumption that my body will just adapt and learn to cope with feeling like this. Because, after all, I like to think that I’m invincible and that my body really can do anything. As it happens, being forced to slow down has helped a little bit and I’m beginning to really focus on fixing these issues…because I really do love it when my body and mind feels strong. And that’s a state of being I want to be back at as soon as possible.

And so that first quotation about sacrificing the gift, that’s quite important to me at the moment because by not taking care of myself in the appropriate way I am wasting that gift of being active, effectively sabotaging myself. And self-sabotage is no good when you’ve spent years getting your body to a state where it can race well. As for redefining my impossible? Well, recently my inner self-critic has been a bit too vocal; telling me I’m not good enough or that my body is weak and rubbish and not worth the investment, telling me that life in itself is impossible. But actually, that’s just the irrational side of my brain talking, and that side of my brain can always be put back in its box…which is exactly where it’s going.

So now is the time for a bit of self-care, some good nutrition, and focussing on what I can do, rather than what I think I can’t do.

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The Importance of Sodium

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Now, I’ll preface this by saying I have no medical background whatsoever so please consult a medical expert if you have any concerns about your own mineral levels rather than self-diagnose.

Recently I was diagnosed with a few mineral deficiencies, including very low sodium levels. Low sodium levels in the blood is also known as hyponatraemia and, amongst other things, can cause nausea, tiredness, unconsciousness, muscle cramps and death. Whilst I have always been conscious of this condition as I have read plenty of articles about marathon runners and endurance athletes suffering during an event, it was something I hadn’t really associated with myself – despite being the prime candidate for it.

I’m very careful with my diet, I track my macros, I drink upwards of 3L of water per day, I eat nutritious food and avoid processed food like the plague, so on the whole I feel like I am doing fairly well with my diet and leading a nutritious life. However eating a relatively healthy diet does unfortunately mean that I lose out on easy-access to salt foods (ie. crisps, salted nuts, processed meats) plus I don’t add salt to my vegetables or food when cooking (my papa will be horrified when he finds out!) and I am rather obsessive with my meal planning so I essentially eat the same food every single day. Combine a healthy diet with somewhere between 8-12 hours of exercise per week, and therefore a lot of sweating, and you have the perfect recipe for someone who will be feeling weak, nauseous, irritable and all-round exhausted due to a lack of salt in their blood.

I knew something wasn’t quite right with how my body was feeling but assumed this was low iron or potassium levels which is something I’m all too familiar with. So to be told that I now need to add an entire teaspoon of salt into my diet each day is proving to be quite the task. When you think about it, a teaspoon of salt is a huge quantity to disguise in food, especially as I need to start adding it as soon as I wake up…which means my beloved porridge has now become victim to a salt invasion. I thought this would taste grim, but actually as I made my way through the bowl it became quite palatable and interesting. It did leave my mouth feeling salty for the rest of the morning though which isn’t quite so great and left me wanting even more water, which I obviously now have to monitor.

And whilst I’m still quite averse to junk food, I am coming round to the idea of needing to be more flexible in what I eat on a daily basis and perhaps a packet of crisps won’t actually cause the world to end. I also now have a bucket load of vitamins I need to start taking on a daily basis, which for someone who cannot swallow tablets without causing the biggest scene in the world, is proving to be quite the nightmare. Oh, and then there’s that small issue of figuring out what I’m going to fuel myself with during my races to ensure I keep my sodium levels up (if you have any good ideas, please let me know).

Here’s to a saltier future!