DIARY: Festival Runner

Every year the last weekend of August comes around and a ‘old shores’ where I was born, along the harsh North Sea coast, close to Germany, call me back for a non-running related event – The Tønder Festival – one of the world’s blue-ribbon events for folk, cajun, jazz, blues, and other ‘hand-made’ music – an institution now in its 40th year which I have attended since my parents pushed me around the cobblestone streets of my medieval hometown in 1979.

Unbridled debauchery

When I was younger this was an invitation to unbridled debauchery – four to five days with barely a wink of sleep and certainly not a minute entirely sober. The music was just an excuse for a non-stop party with the big gang of guys that used to make up ‘our clique’ – more than 15 strong at some stage.

2014-09-02 17.32.47Much has changed since then. The ‘regular gang’ has whittled down to three or four souls who still feel enough of a connection with my home town Tønder to return there. Others have seen there parents move away or have simply lost interest, fully absorbed in their new lives.

A slightly tired but not too ragged ‘post-Festival’ selfie on the way home –>

I have lived many new ‘lives’ – first moving to the relatively bigger city of Aarhus for a six year long study to acquire my Master of Science degree. During those years I came back without a fail every August. So I did during my brief six months living in Sunderland as an Erasmus exchange student and so I have done every year since emigrating to Ireland and first spending a busy 5 years in Dublin before settling down for the more tranquil and sedate lifestyle in the Wicklow Mountains.

Before I was a runner…

Before I was a runner I paid scant attention to my health and, like most teenagers and young ‘twenty-somethings’, I had no regard for any damage done by alcohol and hard living. Running changed – first by dropping my long-standing habit of 2-3 nights out per week. For almost 2 years I barely touched a drop after first taking up the start. After that ‘cleanse’ I reverted to a more balanced approach of allowing a few rare occasions every year where the ‘temple’ could be desecrated.

The Festival falls at a slightly inopportune time for the running calendar, although not the worst, standing at the beginning of the Autumn season. Even with the type of well-paced, slightly moderated, drinking that you acquire in your thirties, and the copious amounts of fresh air and walking you do during such an event, it can leave you feeling less than ideal for up to two weeks and disrupt runner’s notions such as mileage and training.

I decided early on to make no attempt to run during the actual travel days and festival itself – getting my exercise instead from all the walking and standing and the job as a volunteer bartender which both myself, some of my old mates and my parents do for 20 hours each festival. In some years I have awoken in my tent and then started the day by running the mile back to my parent’s house for a shower before having a quick snooze and then hitting the main plaza again. This morning run works a treat to flush out potential hangovers.

Damage limitation

This year I was determined to avoid as much damage as possible, so I read Mark Sisson’s interesting piece on a natural approach to curing hang-overs. The best solution is naturally to not touch a drop but then you also have to eschew the fun at such events AND deal with a constant barrage of questions as to why you are not hitting the bottles. Since the point of a festival is to indulge in unrestricted lifestyle – i.e. living as if there is no tomorrow for a change, that approach doesn’t work. Early graves are full of worriers who think any toxin will confine them to an early grave. We are sturdier than that.

I followed some of Mark’s advice this year and also purchased a tablet that has come in vogue in Denmark made of a mixture of vitamins and extract from the Mexican Nopal cactus plant. I wasn’t too interested in the research on whether it actually works as it is one of those things that it is cheap enough to ‘just try it and hope for the best’. In addition, I took dioralyte before bed and upon waking up in the morning and focused on fatty food which helps fortify the body against alcohol. The last thing the body needs when drinking is to process tons of refined carbohydrates. That said, I now live by a principle during festivals and chosen festivities called ‘no guilt/no restrictions’ – so during the Festival I eat whatever I want.

I’m glad to report it worked a treat – I barely felt any hangover at any stage, came home without the usual bout of ‘post-Festival cold’ and could resume both work and training with only one or two days of feeling ‘sub-optimal’.

Is this the right approach? Here’s my take – if I was about to run a marathon in around 2 hours 30 minutes or similar standard – I might take a few years break from the Festival altogether. Until then, it’s too good an opportunity to reconnect with my ‘old life’, see old friends and catch up with family to take off my early calendar. My current athletic prowess simply doesn’t yet justify taking away the last few periods of ‘unclean living’ in each year. But while we do it – it doesn’t hurt to look after the body’s recovery from the alcohol as well as you would the recovery from a workout.