Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's An Odd Boy Who Doesn't Like Sport!

The whole noisy controversy surrounding the recent France vs Ireland match, which has certain excitable types on the web and beyond worked up into a veritable frenzy, puts me in the mind of the whole sweaty, repetitive, tracksuit-wearing topic of exercise. Not that I care about the result of the match – I’ve never had the slightest interest in soccer and the weird tribal activity that surrounds it – but this week sees me starting an exercise regime in our local gym and I felt that, in addition to providing a contemporaneous opening to my little article, it demonstrates the total indifference towards sport that has coloured my perception of exercise since my teenage years, and which has left me the physically feeble and puny specimen that I am today. My energy levels are so low that it is affecting my work, and seeing as I have no underlying health problems that could otherwise explain my lassitude, I’ve come to the conclusion that twenty-plus years taking no serious exercise have left me as weak as a rotten twig. This must change. Above pictured is the Egg digging his small vegetable patch, a little garden of plenty to keep all at Chez Doubtful fed next year (for at least a day or two, anyway), the sort of physical activity which, like exercise, has been foreign to me until recently. But no more, as I have transformed from the kind of indolent aesthete who disdains any activity which doesn’t have a fluffy, delicate pastry at the end of it, to a weight-lifting, jogging, sweating, “feel-the-burn” type of keep-fit enthusiast that would bring Charles Baudelaire out in a rash by his very presence.
You know, in school, those guys who are always picked last when teams are being selected for football (or whatever)? That was me, back in my teens (and the end of every year is a celebration for me as it is 365 days further away from secondary school). I was small, frail, wore glasses, read science fiction, and couldn’t see why the hairy hell I should be interested in charging around a muddy field after a ball while some stubbly, hungover adult with a grubby tracksuit and a whistle shouted at me. Doing it was pointless and uncomfortable, while watching other people do it was tedious in the extreme. I also hated the whole competitive aspect of sport; in any match that I did end up watching, I would always take the side of whichever team happened to be losing, and I always felt sorry for whoever didn’t win in the end. So once I shook the dust of my school off my heels, burned my uniform, and flung myself into the boozy, badly dressed, bearded, anarchic world of art college, the part of my time devoted to physical exercise (never that large even in school) shrank down to a tiny point and imploded. And this remained the state of affairs for nearly two decades.
Of course, the side effect of this neglect of the body was a conspicuous lack of energy. My endurance was pitiful, my physical strength laughable, and work colleagues found it hilarious that the most frequently uttered phrase on my lips was “I’m tired!” But my contempt for exercise was such that it never occurred to me that this could aid me in increasing my vitality; besides, working as a waiter kept me on my feet, and cycling around the town no doubt gave me the bare minimum of aerobic exercise needed to prevent total collapse (I am also blessed with a naturally slim physique, so I rarely put on weight). However, as I proceeded into my thirties, and especially once I fled, laughing, the by-then tiresome world of catering, this disregard for my body’s condition began to take its toll on my constitution, and certainly within the last two years it has combined with anxiety and depression to seriously affect both my work and my life. When I read accounts of other people’s lives, I marvel both at their achievements and at their energy, and I began to seriously ask myself: why can I not maintain such a work rate? Why do I get headaches and exhaustion after the slightest exertion? I went to several fine physicians, who prodded me and bled me and gazed knowledgably at various fluids that I produced; they concluded that, slightly high cholesterol aside, I’m as healthy as a well-fed flea. But the real shock was when I went to the gym in a nearby town and did a fitness test, which revealed that I am (unsurprisingly) grossly, even dangerously, unfit; testing my lung capacity, they pointed out that 80-year-old men could do better than I. This clearly cannot stand!
The reason I went to a gym is because exercise is a tricky thing to do down the country. Communal sports (like football) are impossible, as I hate the competitive, tribal behaviour that accompanies them and my endurance is such that I wouldn’t last ten minutes in such a fast-paced environment. Jogging is both excruciatingly boring and hard to do safely, as well as being conditional on the weather; the torrential rains we’ve seen recently add little to the experience. Cycling, which I’ve always enjoyed, is too dangerous on Irish country roads; one quite literally takes one’s life into one’s hands amid the tyre-bursting potholes, hurtling lorries, and careless speed-freak drivers. Besides, for someone as unfit as I, a trained assessment of my capabilities and limitations was necessary before embarking on any life-changing courses of action; I could just picture jogging for six months on the nearby beach and due to my appalling jogging techniques, my kneecaps one day exploding off my legs like mortar shells and greviously injured a passing walker. And so, finally, after several years of prevarication and dawdling, I began my set programme of cardio-vascular exercises, weights, and stretches, which should, in a few months, have me on the road to full fitness, increased vitality, and the ability to crush bowling balls to powder between my thighs (one never knows when that skill could come in handy!). So, as this is my absolute priority for the next few months, I hope y’all wish me luck. And, after two sessions this week, my first response is: “Damn, I’m knackered!” My feeling about sport hasn’t changed, of course, and here’s a song I particularly like on the subject:


jams o donnell said...

Good luck with the training. My own fitness regime was banjaxed by my snapping my tendon. I am probably fit enough to try the gym again now. All I need is to overcome the inertia!

A Doubtful Egg said...

Thanks, Jams. A snapped tendon - ouch! While going to the gym, I think the twin enemies I need to watch for are inertia and its opposite, over-enthusiasm, i.e. overdoing things in the early days and injuring myself! However, at least I can bring my little iPod shuffle and listen to music while doing it...

Sean Jeating said...

You look extremely busy, D.E..

Seriously: Beware of overdoing.
A friend of mine - a rugby-player and -coach - was able to do 600 push-ups in one go.
When I told that I had never done more than 100, he explained.
You don't have to do 600 in one go. 120 times five push-ups are also 600. Just start with as many as you can do, and add one more every day. Soon you will see progress.

In this sense, D.E.: Just do it! Every day a tiny bit more. Your body will like it.
Well, and not only your body.

Stan said...

Very funny post, Doubtful ("the ability to crush bowling balls to powder between my thighs"), and a good picture! I think that if we meet sometime I will expect your head to look like that. Maybe you should make a mask of it, to avoid confusion.

I was pretty sporty in school, but any whiff of competitiveness and I get turned off. It's not worth that. I see the difficulty of exercising in the country, but is jogging really that boring, and does it depend on the view? I hope your regime is going well, anyway; disciplining yourself into making it a habit can be the trickiest part.

A Doubtful Egg said...

Thanks for the encouragement, guys. My internet has just returned after being absent for two days (and it went down on the same day that both my car and my washing machine irreparably broke down also, so I'm in no good mood). I'll reply to your comments in more detail at a later stage!

Claudia said...

Never liked team sports either. Nobody wanted me anyhow because I was short, and not very defensive. I truly enjoy swimming, but not in pools (hate the chlorine water). Presently, I do stairs, down and up my fifth floor, and every place I go to, in town.

I was ordered on the treadmill, a few years ago, to keep me fit. It gave me the time to listen (twice) to Beethoven's Nine Symphonies, one after another, first led by von Karajan, and then by Bernstein. A truly enjoyable experience.

Here's wishing you luck, perseverance, and a good music program to make the adventure palatable. Please, keep us informed. It helps to report to a few friends who care.

A Doubtful Egg said...

Claudia: The most important piece of equipment I bring to the gym is my iPod! The only problem is that, like a lot of gyms, they have really loud, generic, and usually awful pop playing there, so whatever I listen to needs to be fairly loud and driving (it's hard to exercise to Satie or Webern in any case!). At the moment, a lot of hard dance keeps me motivated! I find this exercise is a bit monotonous but ultimately practical, like tap water. However, my favourite form of non-aerobic exercise is, as it's always been, a very long walk through an undiscovered area of a large city (I walked so much of London when I lived there!) I envy any city dwellers this luxury...

Stan: I find jogging boring because, unlike walking, it's not leisurely and you can't be stopping and starting to take closer looks at things. Besides, you have to watch the road closely to ensure you avoid any ankle-twisting potholes or irregularities. And jogging round and round a track has the tedium of gym work combined with the inconvenience of outdoor conditions!

Sean: 600 push-ups! That's probably 590 more than I can do. I fear this man-mountain already, and I've never laid eyes on him! My 20-year-old self (clutching a kebab and a bottle of brown ale) would laugh at my new-found interest in exercise, but I've rarely been more determined about anything as getting fit. Onwards and upwards! (Gosh, I'm tired after typing all this...)

Stan said...

Doubtful: Although I don't see why you couldn't stop to take looks at things, your other arguments against jogging are very reasonable. Especially the surface irregularities one. A friend of mine recently damaged his remaining good ankle (by over-enthusiastically joining in a kickaround with kids) and is now very frustrated by the imposed inactivity.

Have you tried yoga? It doesn't have much direct effect on fitness, but it is excellent for mind and body, and could function as a warm-up or warm-down either side of more vigorous exercise, or indeed any other time. It can be done in the comfort of your own home, it keeps muscles supple and stretched, and it is very suited to Satie & co.!

Sean Jeating said...

Oh, D.E., so much pity I do feel for your poor fingers being forced to typing so much. :)
And now - surprise - the very man mountain was even a tiny bit smaller than me; and that's not easy, I can tell you. :)

My experience / feeling the older I got: I am a villager.
Once, after atotally quiet fortnight in the Wickows (staying in Avoca, visiting Glendalough, Glenmalure Glenmalure, Sally Gap etc., talking, contemplating, writing etc.), even the first day in Dùn Laoghuire was a shock.
However, awakening after having had the first two pints of plain and after a marvellous breakfast I thought by myself: Hm, perhaps it's a fair city, indeed?

Certainly not fair is what has happened to your car and your washing machine.
It's a good feeling to know, however, to trust on that, like the humble bankers of Ireland, you will certainly get bailed out.
The peace of the night.

A Doubtful Egg said...

Stan: I have never tried yoga, and to be honest the thought hadn't occurred to me. I can't imagine it would do me any harm, and I think the meditative aspect of it might do my mental balance some good! As for stopping while jogging: I take your point, but when jogging my mind tends to be focused on maintaining my rate of speed, and when I walk through the country I stop every two or three minutes to pick up stones, admire the view, take photos, squat down to watch tiny bugs crawling across paths, and so forth, therefore making very slow progress. Stopping this regularly while jogging is probably not useful!

Sean: No disrespect was intended toward your energetic friend! I guess I just tend to associate such activities with large, burly types rather than those built like myself (slight, slim, and average height).
Having lived in cities all my life and only recently become a villager myself, I find the urban environment still feels like home to me (although i must confess that I have an intense dislike of Dublin, and only visit because it's a) near, and b) the capital, and therefore better stocked culture-wise than, say, Waterford, which is equally far (let me not imply that Waterford is any higher in my affections, though; it's a historically interesting but dismal place)). If I lived within driving distance of London, I'd probably never go to Dublin at all except for the occasional concert or exhibition.
Our washing machine has thankfully been replaced, but the car remains up on blocks (metaphorically speaking). And today is Ireland's Budget Day, so we peasants are to be crucified to pay for the sins of the privileged. Ireland's never really come out of the 18th century...

Stan said...

Doubtful: Your walks sound like my own, with their stones, views, photos and bugs! Thanks for explaining the jogging thing; what you wrote makes sense.

Another advantage of yoga is its versatility: there are many different styles and approaches to suit people's various requirements and anatomies. I will stop advocating it now before I begin to sound like a cult member.