Man, they say, cannot live by bread alone. They’re wrong. I know, because I’ve done it. It worked just fine – except that three months in, they had to knock out the window frames and hoist me off my groaning bedstead with a crane. There’s nothing like simple carbohydrates for turning you into a grotesque parody of the human form, somewhere between a waterbed and an elephant seal.
So, when it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to wriggle out of Rory Coleman’s awful Marathon Of Britain, I knew I’d have to downsize.
I gave up bread, beer and pasta. Instantly, my body went into shock. The weight fell off me. For six weeks, I was the Incredible Shrinking Man. As the nutritionally informed amongst you will have recognised, my regime was a sort of girl’s blouse version of the Atkins Diet.
I’m talking about the real Atkins – not the diet pioneered by my college friend Dave Atkins, who, at 21, was voted by the Junior Common Room ‘Man Least Likely To Make 30’. Dave was the inventor of the legendary ‘Amphetamine Sulphate & Cider Diet’ that, in his case, was so effective that he eventually slipped into a crack between two paving slabs on Middlesbrough’s Linthorpe Road and vanished into a parallel universe.
The real Atkins Diet, of course, is merely the latest in a seemingly endless succession of nutritional fads, designed to exploit the unfeasible aspirations of the discontented and the gullible.
Old hands like myself will never forget the macrobiotic diets of the Sixties, when the cardboard packaging of a Kelloggs’ breakfast cereal provided more nutrition than the ingredients of your typical mess of brown rice, lysergic acid and boiled- to-buggery courgettes.
Or the Raw Pork Sushi Diet of Thatcher’s heartless Eighties, which involved slicing rump steaks off live pigs and finger-feeding them to one’s partner from the bloodied pages of the Daily Mail.
Compared with these, the Girl’s Blouse Diet is almost innocent. It works by depriving you of the opportunity to eat anything at all, ever. It’s starvation by stealth. After all, without fried bread, or cornflakes, or croissants, or brioches, or Danish pastries, what is breakfast?
Without beer, pasta or bread rolls, lunch is a ghostly, insubstantial affair. So you console yourself with wine, which, on an empty stomach, quickly renders you insensible. By the time you regain consciousness, you’ve missed dinner.
The effect on one’s running is dramatic. You feel as if someone’s lifted a hundredweight keg of lard from your back and grafted wings to your shoes. It’s like walking on the moon. Your power-weight ratio has soared to that of the red ant. But beware – so has your calorific intake.
The organisers of the Jordan Desert Cup recommend – stipulate, in fact – that you take on 7000 calories a day. This represents a stupendous amount of food. It exceeds the gross annual consumption of the entire population of Mali. To comply, you must lug around your bodyweight in filthy, freeze-dried risotto and energy bars of the size and consistency of breeze blocks. And still you lose weight over the course of the race.
With the Girl’s Blouse Diet, deprived of all the foods that make life even remotely bearable, you are in real danger of disappearing up your own fundament. I arrived at the Nottingham finish of the Marathon Of Britain in shorts and a T-shirt that had seen me though six days and 175 miles. Having forgotten about the evening’s Gala Dinner, I had to go straight into town to buy something to wear. Anything would do, provided it didn’t smell like condemned goat cheese.
Suffice it to say that I turned up at the dinner in a sailor suit from Gap Kids.