Nothing like the Dame

Refuelling Gravesend Pier

Half a beer, by the pier. My body being a temple and all


We have this land of plenty to blame for the fact that disordered eating is taking on ever more bizarre and exotic guises. From the now much vilified ‘clean eating’ craze to the sort of food fetishising that has people going into orgasms over a cheese board, the idea of a ‘balanced diet’ seems ever more difficult to pin down.

The running community does not always help matters when it comes to being rational about food. The whole ‘run for cake’ business sweeps away all the joy runners derive from their sport and replaces it with a need for greed, rather than speed.

It may well be that the thickening of girth that occurs after the age of 40 has led many a midlifer (myself included) to try jogging before breakfast. But it takes more than spare-tyre loathing to lead you to join a club, revel in parkrun, exalt in cross country and go all starry eyed wondering if maybe, just maybe, you could run a marathon one day. That’s true love, and has nothing to do with cake.

Cake was an option after last Sunday’s long run, but it wasn’t my choice when it came to the brunch.

For a few weeks now, a few members of our club’s What’s App group have been discussing either cycling or running to Dame Kelly Holmes’s Café 1809 in Gravesend, Kent. Actually that’s what I was discussing. It turns out the other two that agreed to cycle over to join me there were talking about the one in Tonbridge.

And so it was that I ran a surprisingly scenic 19.5 miles from my house to Cyclopark, which takes up 43 hectares of Kentish greensward not far from the thundering A2. There’s a BMX track, mountain biking trails, a road track and all kinds of fitness related activities.

Then there’s the café. Perusing the menu as I waited for the cyclists to arrive (hang on a minute, isn’t a bike supposed to get you there quicker than Shanks’s Pony?) I decided that this was the day to get serious about my blameless runner’s diet, and plumped for the Dame’s Healthy Breakfast.

A few WhatsApp exchanges later, when it transpired I’d be eating alone, I settled down to my healthy option.

The Dame’s Healthy Breakfast (no, I did not photograph it. The reason why is in first paragraph) consists of four egg whites, scrambled with spring onions and chilli, served with griddled field mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Toast is optional (I opted in). It sounds virtuous, and tastes delicious.

Would Dame Kelly, double Olympic gold medal winner over 800m and 2500m (2004) and 3hours 11 minutes marathoner (2016), have chosen toast? Please let her have chosen toast. I’ve met her on a couple of occasions: she’s radiant, slight and sinewy and looks like a sportswear model. It’s not a body you’d associate with the sort of toast-and-peanut-butter habit I swear I need for fuel.

In any case, it’s not the body shape but the marathon time I’m really interested in. Kelly trained properly for her race, and probably had access to all the physiotherapists and nutritionists she needed, but in the run up to that impressive marathon result she was typically self-deprecating ‘I’m not a marathon runner’ and certainly sends out the message that, yes, she would have chosen toast.

That piece she wrote for The Guardian was a joy to read, and the woman, in the flesh, is a joy to meet. She turns out in all weathers to support runners, particularly charity runners. She gives motivational addresses before firing the starter klaxon at races all over her manor (Kent, Sussex) and is always generous with her time.

After my Dame-inspired brunch there was a walk of a mile or so to the town to catch a train home (no ultra runner, me) so I indulged in a couple of hours’ sightseeing in downtown Gravesend. I had a butcher’s at the pier, the art gallery and the Pocahontas statue, and a beer in the town’s oldest pub, The Three Daws, which, according to the Daily Telegraph ‘conforms to all the requirements of a Proper Pub’. The delighted reviewer goes on in praise of the ‘belly busting Sunday lunch’ served here.

I witnessed the good burghers of Gravesend busting out their bellies and was struck by the contrast between Kelly’s sportive café and this gravy-scented hostelry. It wasn’t just the menu. At both ends of the town on this sweltering late summer Sunday, sweaty folk were refuelling, but almost every pub luncher in the Three Daws was at least twice the size of the handful of lean brunchers I saw in Café 1809. Strolling through the town, it was all too easy to conclude that the default body shape in this land of plenty is, increasingly, obese.

‘Inspirational’ is an adjective often applied to Dame Kelly Holmes, and for good reason, but it seems to me that The Dame is going to have to muster every drop of that famous, infectious enthusiasm to get Gravesend cycling for its supper.


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