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Alcohol.  Training, Eating and Recovery.  My own journey.

By John Ward

So this was what I did for 2 of my 4 years as a student in France

  • Train for rugby with my local team (Epernay) on Monday and Thursday evenings
  • Play for this team on Sundays
  • Play University rugby matches on Thursday afternoons and occasionally on a Saturday

Post match Uni drinking was limited but not eliminated by the fact that I had to train on Thursday night.  Friday night was Uni night out with high alcohol consumption.  Thursday night after Club training meant a really good meal at the Club and good wine and Champers (I was lucky enough to play for Epernay). I chose not to study European Law as the lecture was at 8am on a Friday.

After graduation, I worked in London in the financial sector for 8 years.  Entertaining clients was a must and although I nearly always went to rugby training on a Tuesday and Thursday, there were often client lunches on other days.  I very rarely drank at all on Fridays as matches were on Saturdays.  Saturday nights were nearly always big.  In the Summer, I played cricket Saturdays and Sundays and Saturday nights were like the Winter, with Sundays a little more circumspect.

When it got to the stage when I realised that I couldn’t play Rugby forever I discovered triathlon.  This was good as it required different training strategies and disciplines, and meant that I would need to be able to train on Saturdays and Sundays when, because of the above I would normally have a headache!

A few years later I realised that I would only be a Triathlete in my own mind if I had completed a full Ironman event.  I completed my third Ironman in 2012 in Port Macquarie and it was during training for this that I realised that stopping drinking completely was, without doubt, going to be the best way forward.  Ironman is an event where planning and state of mind are very important and the smallest detail can be the difference between finishing a race and not.

The times when I was drinking alcohol around sport in the UK were a lot of fun and I don’t regret them at all.  A rugby clubhouse after a match with 100 or so people discussing the game they have just played or watched is a good place to be and has a sound all of its own.  Standing with a pint and being part of this is great.  Many amateur Cricket and Rugby Clubs in the UK depend on bar sales to be able to keep going financially and I’m sure that if I still lived in the UK I would still be a drinker for a few reasons, not the least important being that my circle of friends knew me as a person who liked a beer.

So, after moving to Australia and doing a few more local tris, (Noosa, Mooloolaba, Bribie Island, etc) I decided that I needed to do a third Ironman.  Training here in Queensland is a different kettle of fish when you consider the hours required to prepare for a long event.  You can’t train in the heat of the day.  In the middle of the Summer you can barely train outdoors when it’s light.

I reduced my alcohol consumption to nearly zero. Once I’d completed that event there didn’t seem to be many good reasons to go back to having a beer or wine or two.  There were also many positives that I had experienced first-hand from not drinking.

I consistently woke up earlier and feeling fresher and ready for the training sessions.  When you do drink you are not even aware that some of the time you feel a bit sluggish, and it’s the alcohol that’s making you feel like that.  In comparison for my preparations for other long events I was much less susceptible to small annoying infections, sore throats, colds, etc. which can easily hamper training quality and quantity.

I found that my eating patterns improved without making any conscious efforts.  I was eating more and I rarely chose any of the easier, poorer quality options that I would reach for if I was feeling off from alcohol.  Again, when comparing to previous race preparations I was less prone to annoying injuries and tweaks which were probably the result of dehydration and therefore poor repair during what should have been recovery time.

No one can really decide what you drink, when and how much but, as the TV adverts currently tell us, it’s worth looking at your relationship with alcohol every so often.  I looked at mine and eventually reached the conclusion that I’m healthier and feel better about myself for being able to say that I don’t drink.

So, in thinking about alcohol you could ask yourself some questions:

  • What do I enjoy about drinking?
  • What do I think would be missing if I did not drink (so much)?
  • Which drinks do I enjoy?
  • Would it be better if I drank less? How could I do this?
  • How are those around me affected by my drinking habits?
  • When do I drink?
  • Am I drinking out of habit rather than for any sort of pleasure?
  • Do I use alcohol as a way of celebrating or as a way of dulling some sort of problem?
  • How is my health now and in the future really being affected by my alcohol consumption?

It’s all about balance and trade-offs.  If you enjoy a drink then have some but remember that alcohol is a poison.  As I used to say to some of my clients in London, “It’s great to celebrate Christmas but if you have Christmas every weekend and some nights during the week then you can probably expect a few problems”.

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