I used to work at Firebox with a Welsh middle distance runner called Matt Shone.
The 999th man to run a sub-4 minute mile (Mo Farah was 997th in the same race). He ran at the 2002 Commonwealth games. He’s an 800 and 1500m specialist. An elite athlete.
(Matt looking scared/focused/determined/comatose)
He needed a lot of calories to support his training. He needed a lot of fuel.
What you eat matters more than how you eat.
That’s what food was for him. Primarily an energy source.
Macros and pure numbers first. Taste and presentation second.
He didn’t get to ‘eat out’ at a restaurant that often as he’d always be training. So not only did he not have the time but he also didn’t really have the money. The life of a full-time athlete even with a full-time job isn’t cheap.
His dedication though was legend. He’d work full-time and still find the energy and drive to run before work, at lunch, evening and weekends. Come rain or shine. He’d plough through 40-80 miles a week when racing and up to 100 miles when training for the marathon.
To support this level of exertion he’d have to shovel in calories strategically and without mercy. He didn’t have time to make a nice sit-down meal. He didn’t really trust shop-bought ‘meals’ or lunchtime fare like sandwiches.
He took foods in one by one.
I can’t recall him ever really using a knife and fork. Or a plate. He’d eat at his desk. One thing at a time. Relentlessly power grazing. Refuelling his muscles.
He’d just eat individual foods that helped him hit his numbers.
Numbers which supported his plan.
The plan which supported his goals.
His goal to win titles, break records, push himself to the limits of his being.
He’d get up early and workout before eating, believing this fasted state burnt more fat. Then from 10am he’d turn into a machine.
- Loaf of bread (no butter)
- Baked potato in the micro
- Entire malt loaf from the pack
- Bag of raw spinach
- Raw carrots
- Wholemeal pitta bread un-toasted
- Sliced meats out of the packaging
- Loads of chocolate (90% cocoa solids)
All of it would be scoffed at his desk, no time to take a break that wasn’t training.
All of it would be eaten individually. Never combined. Not even in the mouth.
No cutlery. No plates. No pomp. No ceremony.
It looked joyless. We took the piss out of him.
But he didn’t really care. He knew what he was doing. He knew the steaks/stakes.
(Yes he occasionally had a takeway).
For many of you, this might not be a good look. Eating foods out of the pack. Hands over utensils.
No food porn. No Pinterest or Tasty recipes. No concern for eating as a time to connect with others. Breaking bread.
And ok he ate double what most people need calorie wise.
But the principle remains. As does the message.
(The blurred grimaces of elite racing. Potentially arrogant Frenchman beating lovely Matt as he lunges for the line/leers at his conqueror’s backside. Interesting to see the event being sponsored by Spar – a place Matt would no doubt find some excellent deals on massive bags of bananas)
Food is sometimes just fuel.
Of course, food is important. Cooking can be theatre. Culture. Connection. Ceremony. Desire and reward. Relaxation. Expression. An event. A skill.
But there’s a lot to be said for sometimes embracing a different approach. Eating for function and support of a goal. Not for ‘fitting in’.
To have extraordinary results, you must do extraordinary things.
Don’t get it twisted. I love dining out. Eating beautiful food. Gorging on the skills of cooks, chefs, and creators. Good food, drink, atmosphere, and company. A slice of hedonism.
But do I really need to eat a ‘sit down’ meal every meal? Do I need to make a complete plate of food that looks normal to other people?
How about I just eat by the numbers. How about I focus on what I need to hit my goals and not worry if it looks mad?
Eat for a purpose.
Then when you do cook a meal or eat at a restaurant you can really go to town. Appreciate it. Indulge in the sensory experience.
The key is to mix this focused no-nonsense approach to refueling muscles with an expansive hedonistic view of food as enjoyment.
When in company or celebrating, that’s when you dine out and enjoy the experience.
You don’t want to be eating out of your pockets in a restaurant like a psycho.
But on ‘regular’ everyday meals you eat by habit or those you eat alone – maybe you can drop the faff. Who are you trying to impress?
Sometimes a good bag of spinach and a pack of malt loaf is all you need!
Immediate satisfaction vs immediate gratification.
You’re not a child. Every meal doesn’t have to be your favourite.
You don’t have to give in to what tastes nice all the time. To immediate gratification.
You can have immediate satisfaction instead.
The satisfaction that comes with knowing you’re eating for your training.
Knowing you’ll do what others won’t.
What others don’t.
Let them eat their favourite food EVERY meal like a baby. You can choose your battles.
You should eat because it’s good for you.
It’s not always about what you want.
It’s what you NEED.
Matt Shone is a healthy hedonist.
But more than that he is an inspiring example of mind over matt(er).
His path to glory was unconventional. He decided in his late teens that he wanted to be really good at something. A sport. So decided, without any hint of prior promise, that would be running.
From then on he dedicated his life to it (and he only started track sessions at age 20!).
Just because he decided he would.
Isn’t that amazing.
What he lacked in ‘natural’ talent he more than made up for in grit, determination, hard-work, and perseverance. That’s what is ace. That’s what should be his legacy.
He trained like a mentalist and fulfilled his dreams of :
- Ran for Wales at the Commonwealth Games
- Represented Great Britain 3 times (including the Europa Cup in his Spar top above)
- Represented Wales over 50 times (including outdoors and indoors) from 400m to 5k
- 13 Welsh titles (including outdoors and indoors) from 800m to Ultra 40 miles
- Records of 400m in 49 secs yet marathon in 2:29 which is an unusual/massive range of distances
- PB of 1:46.72 over 800m
- Honorary Life Member of Woodford Green with Essex Ladies AC
- Also, he beat Mo Farah twice – which he can’t find any record of another Brit doing to Sir Mo more than once in a track race when Mo was competing as a senior (which Matt did)
Given the chance to cut loose, he was a thoroughbred hedonist as well (note: he rarely if ever boozed up when in full training mode and never in the months before a race).
He drank like he trained. Powerfully!
Vast amounts of booze poured into a finely tuned athletic engine made him go from 0 to pissed in super quick time.
This often led to him getting into scrapes:
- Running home 20miles after a night out in brogues.
- Sleeping on cattle grids.
- Getting late night takeaways and finding liver in his pocket from a meal earlier which he’d forgotten about taking as a nice bit of protein for the walk home.
- Being mauled by a Rottweiler (Matt was often chased by dogs and had numerous incidents of aggressive strangers shouting ‘Run Forrest!’ at him) yet completing the ‘chunder mile’ (4 pints of beer in 4 laps) in 6mins then going straight to A&E and trying to explain why he was in full running kit, pissed and sporting a handsome back wound.
- Chased from a bar by gangsters in Budapest
and from the middle-distance horse’s mouth:
Celebrating after a race in Cape Town…. I became separated from colleagues the wrong side of 10 pints and vaguely recall running then walking for several miles, into the early hours, looking for a light in distant fields, knocking on doors to ask for directions and water, the same doors more than once I was so battered and disorientated, then hailed a random rural taxi near a township, which turned out to be a police car, but on production of an English £5 banknote the 2 officers kindly returned me to my lodgings over the hill.
This is what it’s all about though right?
Stories to tell.
Stories worth telling.
One thing that I’ll never forget was seeing the state of Matt’s work chair. My god. Just like Arnie and his penchant for wearing nappies in the gym. Matt’s devotion to eating meant hygiene was a distant second.
The smears on that seat from his mucky hands as he snaffled desk-food were incredible.
What a guy.
We could all learn from him.
Photos courtesy of Matt’s collection of varying sized jpegs.