The Coach Milton training tool

I didn’t get in a run this weekend. Yet I suspect I may have gotten a tiny bit  faster by focusing on something a former cross country coach told me last year: Upgrading your diet is a great way to improve your performance without running a single step.

When it’s time for lunch, science teacher and former cross country coach Bob Milton doesn’t hit the cafeteria or the vending machine. He raids the storage cabinet in his classroom for natural peanut butter, fruit, or a can of soup.

It’s common sense advice, but all too often I do exactly the opposite — using running as a way to “burn off” excess calories. I’m well aware that if I weren’t working out regularly, I’d need to hold my daily intake to around 1,600 calories. Being able to eat more is one of the pleasurable side effects of running.

Lately I’ve been trying to switch over to more of a training diet — as opposed to a “eat whatever I want so long as I don’t overdo it” Weight Watchers way of thinking — but without much success. In the process of changing up my routine, I wound up actually gaining two or three pounds.

That may not seem like much. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the difference back when I was 90 pounds heavier. But reading about all the ways cyclists try to shave an extra pound or two off their bikes has made me more aware of the difference even a little extra weight can make to a body on the move.

As a former fat girl, I’m obviously also skittish about undoing all the hard work that helped me get into shape in the first place. So when I realized I was getting sick over the weekend, I was a bit unnerved because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run, and — unlike a lot of so-called “normal people” — I don’t automatically eat less just because I’m not feeling well. If anything, I have a history of interpreting unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings, both real and imagined, as manifestations of hunger. Was this the weekend when my weight would start to spiral out of control?

That’s when Bob Milton’s training tool came to the rescue.

He wouldn’t call it that, by the way. If you asked the former crazily successful Norwell cross country coach — who just happened to be Ben’s 8th grade science teacher last year — for strategies to gain speed, I’m pretty sure he’d send you out to the track for a gut-busting workout.

But what he had to say about nutrition during a blog interview last year really resonated with me. And condensing his advice into a virtual “tool” for my “dietary toolbox” helped me keep it in focus all weekend — reminding me not to panic, that I love running at least as much as I love eating, and that if I just ate sensibly I wasn’t necessarily going to gain a bunch of weight in a single weekend.

And I didn’t. In fact, I wound up dropping two pounds. Which means that, assuming I’m feeling well enough to run today, as I hope, I’ll have that much less weight to carry.

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