Zatopek’s Breakfast

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September 6, 2009 by markstani

(this story first published in the Dublin Quarterly)

I am not going to win the big race because I am on hunger strike. I am on hunger strike because of the food. It is called ironic. They are trying to make me eat something I do not want to eat. I have decided not to eat anything as a protest.
They know I do not like Start, the breakfast cereal for people on the move. This is because it tastes like cheese and onion crisps with milk poured onto them. I know this because I did controlled scientific experiment. I put some cheese and onion crisps in a bowl and poured some milk onto them. Then I put some Start in a bowl and poured the same amount of milk onto it. Then I shut my eyes and ate a spoonful from each bowl, and I could not tell the difference.

Here is a league table of my favourite cereals out of a Kellogg’s Variety Pack. They are in order from the best to the worst. The best is at the top:

1 Ricicles
2 Coco Pops
3 Frosties
4 Rice Krispies
5 Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes
6= Corn Flakes
6= Special K
8 Start

My mother and father will not let me open another Kellogg’s Variety Pack until I have eaten all of the one that is currently open. It is called the root of the problem. It is also sometimes called the crux of the issue. I will not eat all of the one that is currently open, because I will not eat Start, because it tastes like cheese and onion crisps with milk poured on them.
My mother and father say, you are not letting perfectly good food go to waste, and, money doesn’t grow on trees you know, and, beggars can’t be choosers. Sometimes when they are not quite so angry, they say, if you’re not going to eat it will you at least please have a piece of toast or an apple for goodness’ sake. But I will not. It is called the principle of the thing.
Bobby Sands went on hunger strike. He was a Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer.
I do not know exactly what that means. I do not expect to go on hunger strike for long enough to die, like Bobby Sands did. Anyway, this is not possible, because my hunger strike does not include bread or pineapple chunks. Except nobody knows this. It is a secret.
I am an extremely talented cross-country runner. It is not blowing my own trumpet, because it is not me who said it, even though it is true. It is Mr Brearley the Games master who said it. He said I am a precocious talent who, if guided correctly and willing to make the required sacrifices, has the potential to make it all the way to the very top. He did not say this to me. He said it to my parents.
Mr Brearley says I am going to win the big race. Mr Brearley is very excited about this because nobody from our school has ever won the big race before. Mr Brearley says I have only got to turn up and provided I do not turn my ankle I have got it in the bag. He says it is a foregone conclusion and the only person who can beat me is myself.
One day I will be allowed to do proper marathons. I could do proper marathons now but I am not allowed, because my bones are still growing. There is a danger that sustained stress of the kind inflicted by running long distances will cause them to fuse incorrectly and lead to problems in later life. My bones will stop growing when I am 16. I cannot run a marathon until I am 18. This is unfair because even when my bones have stopped growing I have to wait for two more years. It is also unfair because if I did a marathon now I would do it faster than the man in the ostrich suit, or the man dressed up as a waiter, or the man with no arms or legs. But they are allowed to do it and I am not.
Mr Brearley said, there’s plenty of time to worry about things like that, and, it’s is their prerogative. I did not understand what he meant, even when he explained it to me, but I think it is a bit like the principle of the thing.
The furthest I have ever run without stopping is 8.2 miles. I know this because I asked my father to drive along the course after I had run it in order to measure it exactly.
If you are to become an extremely good runner it is important to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet. The main food groups are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Examples of some foods which are good for running are chicken, pasta and fruit. Examples of some foods which are bad for running are chips, cakes and fizzy drinks. Also, smoking cigarettes or taking drugs which are not considered performance enhancing, such as cannabis, heroin or crack cocaine.
Kellogg’s Variety Packs are also good for cross country running. Ricicles contain seven essential vitamins in every bowl. These include riboflavin B2, thiamin B1, and niacin. They also contain zinc and iron. Some people say they are bad for you because they are full of sugar, but this is not true. One bowl of Ricicles contains 12 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of sugar. This means you can eat ten bowls of Ricicles before you have had too much sugar. Kellogg’s Variety Packs are also good for you because breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Mr Brearley does not know I am on hunger strike. This is probably because I am eating a lot of bread and pineapple chunks. I do not think it is having the desired effect. I have decided to also stop eating bread. I will now only eat pineapple chunks for a whole day, and see what happens.
Mr Brearley would not like me only eating pineapple chunks. Mr Brearley thinks nutrition is a crucial part of the training regime which is often overlooked. He is worried, because he does not want me to lose. He thinks it will reflect badly upon him and the school. He says I am the star he has been waiting for. He says lots of important people will be coming to watch and I must not let them down.
When I have finished my hunger strike I am going to find out what Emil Zatopek had for breakfast.
Emil Zatopek bravely defied an oppressive regime to claim four Olympic medals, and his driving spirit allied to a notoriously gruelling training programme enabled him to establish a legacy as one of if not the finest endurance athlete in history. Emil Zatopek won the 5000 metres, the 10000 metres and the marathon at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. His time in the marathon was two hours, 23 minutes and three seconds. This is not the world record but that does not mean he is not the best. This is because of evolution.
This means he ran each mile in an average approximate time of five minutes and fifty seconds. I can do a mile in nearly that time. However I cannot do twenty six miles and 385 yards in nearly that time. Emil Zatopek also trained by running through forests wearing heavy army boots. I do not have any heavy army boots. I have Wellington boots but I cannot run in them.
The best foods to eat for running are carbohydrates. Common examples of carbohydrates are bananas, brown rice and potatoes. Here is a league table of the Kelloggs Variety Pack in order of which one has the biggest typical value of carbohydrates in 100 grams:

1 Ricicles 89
2= Frosties 87
2= Corn Flakes 87
4 Coco Pops 85
5 Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes 82
6 Start 79
7 Special K 75
8 Rice Krispies 71

Ricicles are at the top of both league tables. This might be because carbohydrates taste nice. This might also be because of something called a coincidence. Start is also very low. This means it is not as healthy to eat if you want to be a runner. I do not know if Start is healthier to eat than pineapple chunks, because pineapple chunks are in a paper bag which does not say the typical value of carbohydrates in 100 grams. But even if Start had a typical value of carbohydrates in 100 grams of one million, I would still not eat it, because it tastes like cheese and onion crisps with milk poured onto it.
It is very hard to only eat pineapple chunks for a whole day. This is because they hurt your teeth and they do not fill you up. Mr Brearley says if I bugger it all up I’ll have hell to pay. This is because Gareth Lewis told him I am on hunger strike. Gareth Lewis is the second best runner in our school.
Mr Brearley is very concerned about me eating only pineapple chunks, but he is not very concerned about Gareth Lewis eating Cornish pasty and chips, which he does every day. Mr Brearley said, Gareth Lewis can chomp his way through Cornish pasty and chips all the way round the bloody race for all I bloody care; it’s you I’m worried about. Mr Brearley is so concerned he is going to come round to my house and tell my mother and father to let me not eat Start.
Mr Brearley came round to my house. When he had gone my mother and father said I did not have to eat Start. They said they were angry with me for telling Mr Brearley I was on hunger strike, and that if they had known the trouble it was going to cause they would never have insisted I ate Start in the first place. However there is not another Kellogg’s Variety Pack in the cupboard. I have decided to stay on hunger strike until they buy another one. I have not told them this.
It is impossible to stay on hunger strike when people are watching you. Mr Brearley is following me to check I am eating a balanced and nutritious diet. I have tried to save the food in my cheeks to spit out later. But it only works until I have filled my cheeks, then I have to eat it because he is still watching me. Or because somebody asks me a question which I have to answer, and I do not wish to spit food upon them. I do not like this. I have had an idea to go on opposite hunger strike. This means when Mr Brearley is looking I will eat chicken, pasta and fruit. Then when he is not looking I will eat chips, cakes and fizzy drinks. Also I will smoke a cigarette if I can get one. I would also take non-performance enhancing drugs like cannabis, heroin and crack cocaine if I could get some, but I do not think I will be able to do so.
Also if I get another Kellogg’s Variety Pack I will eat Rice Krispies. This is because Rice Krispies have the smallest typical value of carbohydrates in 100 grams. This means they are the worst breakfast cereal for running in the Kellogg’s Variety Pack.
Emil Zatopek’s support for the reformist Czechoslovak Prime Minister Alexander Dubcek incurred the wrath of the authorities and resulted in him being stripped of his Communist Party membership and forced to work in a uranium mine for seven years as punishment.
It is the day before the race. The school field has got flags on it to show the route. I know the route already. I could run it blindfolded. I do not know this because of a controlled scientific experiment. I know this because Mr Brearley told me. The day before the race is the time to carbo-load. This means to eat lots of carbohydrates, for example chicken, pasta and fruit, in order to get energy for the race.
Today for breakfast I had a Mr Kipling cake. It was not one with icing or cream on, because they were not on offer this week. It was a country slice. Country Slices are the only ones we ever get, because my mother only buys the ones that are on offer. Country Slices are the only ones that are ever on offer. This is because nobody ever buys them, because they know they will soon be on offer. My mother says it is a question of looking after the pennies and letting the pounds take care of themselves.
Here is a league table of my favourite Mr Kipling cakes They are in order from the best to the worst. The best is at the top:

1 Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewells
2 Mr Kipling French Fancies
3 Mr Kipling Mini Battenbergs
4= Mr Kipling Apple Pies
4= Mr Kipling Almond Slices

On my way to school I had a can of coca-cola. I did not like this. I could not have chips because the chip shop is not open in mornings. I did not have a cigarette but I breathed deeply when I walked past anybody who was having one. I could not find anybody who had cannabis, heroin or crack cocaine. Mr Brearley asked me if I was being sensible. I said yes. Mr Brearley said, get as much rest as possible, don’t do anything silly, and focus focus focus, this is your big chance.
I went to bed early but I did not go to sleep for a long time. This was so I did not raise suspicions. I tried to stay awake all night but I could not. Fatigue has a detrimental effect on athletic performance.
Emil Zatopek was nicknamed the Locomotive. He had an anguished, head-rolling style which rivals often fatally misconstrued as a sign of weakness. I have not got running shoes with spikes in them. I have not got shorts with slits in the sides or a vest with breathable material. I stick out like a sore thumb, but money does not grow on trees.
Gareth Lewis said, what are you going to do. He asked me because sometimes I do not do what I am expected to do. I am an enigma. I said, I have not decided yet. Gareth Lewis said, if you don’t win Mr Brearley will have an epi. Epi is a slang expression for an epileptic fit. It is a distasteful expression, even when aimed at those who do not have epilepsy. Epilepsy is a common chronic neurological disorder affecting more than one in one hundred of the population on a daily basis.
Everybody is pushing to be on the front row. I am not. It does not matter because I can catch up. I can only beat myself. It is three laps. I have got a tactical plan. It is not mine; it is one Mr Brearley told me. I should attack the hill because that is where the race will be won and lost.
I am not winning after the first lap. This is because I do not want to be. I do not want to attack the hill. Mr Brearley is standing at the top of the hill. He is shouting, what the bloody hell did I tell you, attack the bloody hill for Christ’s sake.
I am winning after the second lap. This is not because I want to be. It is because everybody else is going too slow. I do not attack the hill again, but it looks like I do, compared to everybody else. Mr Brearley is standing at the top of the hill again. This time he is shouting, well done son, that’s the spirit, keep it up.
I have got it in the bag. I cannot lose unless my reserves of energy become sufficiently depleted. There is an increased possibility of this because my diet has not been balanced in recent weeks.
When I am running I do not think about running. I do not think about winning or attacking the hill. I think about a house. It is empty apart from curtains flapping around an open window. There is a bright white light. It is so bright you cannot see anything beyond it. It shines through the open window onto the bare floorboards. I do not know where this house is, or why I think about it. But I like this house very much. One day I would like to live there.
The house is no longer empty. There are people in it. I do not recognise these people. They are smiling at me and holding out their hands. I do not wish to shake hands with them. I do not want them to come into my house without asking. I try to remove them, but I cannot touch them. They cannot hear me. I do not like this.
I am winning after the third lap. I attack the hill. I can see the finish line. I can see the finish line. The people in the house are crowding around me. They are still smiling. Although I cannot touch them, I cannot escape.
I do not turn onto the cricket field like I am supposed to. I turn the other way. I climb a fence and run down a field without a path. I can hear Mr Brearley shouting but I cannot hear his words. I am going to run a marathon. It is twenty-four miles to Scarborough. The house is empty again.
I have got one photograph of Emil Zatopek. It is out of a newspaper. He is running and in the background there is nothing. There are no other runners. There is no crowd. There are no stadium lights. There is just black. It is my favourite photograph.


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