Tuesday, September 22, 2020

My Life In ... Sport

The seventh in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

So my life in sport: stop sniggering at the back! I’m not renowned for my sporting prowess. To quote Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee referring to roast goanna lizard: "Well, you can live on it, but it taste like sh*t." I feel that way about sport: I can do it but I don’t like it and I’m not very good at it.

Rugby: I went to a rugby playing school. As a very myopic, non-sporty schoolboy with a father who considered all team sports “macho bullshit“ I was not in enamoured of this game. Kenilworth Grammar School playing fields were on particularly poorly drained clay soil and in winter turned into a horrible quagmire. Obviously I had to play without my glasses and I could not see a brown ball on a brown field. 

I could never understand the point of the game: you had to throw the ball backwards and you were supposed to tackle the opposition by throwing your arms round their legs and risk getting a mouthful of boot. Nobody explained the rules to me. It only occurred to me many years later that they must have assumed I knew what they were.

There were 33 boys in my year and 15 boys to each side. The captains took it in turns to pick players from the assembled company. In direct contradiction to the childhood trope of "fear of rejection" I was hoping not to be chosen. I used to stand there trying to look round shouldered and consumptive, praying "Please don’t pick me." As they knew I was hopeless at the game I rarely got picked. The three usual rejects were the wimp with glasses (me), the fat boy and the guy with the glass eye (with apologies to Brian Burton and Nigel Walden).

We were told to go and run round the sports field. We never did of course, we ran to the far corner then sat under a tree as far away from the rest of the game and had a natter until it was time to go in for the shower. 

Other School Sports: As every Wednesday afternoon was sports lesson and over the seven years of secondary school I played cricket, ran cross-county, threw discus and javelin, jumped (high, long and triple), vaulted over horses of the wooden variety and ran various distances. In the 6th form I even played a round of golf. All of which left me devoid of any enthusiasm for physical activity. 

Canoeing: (or should that be Kayaking?) In my first year of college I was persuaded to venture out on the River Isis in February by a friend called Peter Friend. It was cold out there and ducking under a low hanging tree a branch caught in my buoyancy aid and flipped me over. I wriggled out of the inverted canoe and into the icy water, my scrotum shrank to the size of a small walnut and my testicles tried to retreat into my body cavity for warmth. It was enough to make my eyes water with the pain. That was the end of that outing. The following week I spent an hour in an indoor swimming pool practising the eskimo roll. I more or less got the hang of that but never went out on the water again.

Cycling: I have cycled many thousands of miles but mostly for commuting not for pleasure. It is only since knowing Mary that I’ve started doing charity bike rides (including London to Brighton and London to Paris) or going out for the "fun" of it. For more see "My Life In… Bicycles".

Running: I tried running for a few weeks in my early 30's but found it very boring so gave it up. Fast forward 30 years and I ended up training for not one, not two, but three marathons. The backstory is that I was inspired by some friends doing Couch to 5K and so went for my first run in about 30 years and managed 2 miles. Two days later I went for a 5K run. Well that was easy! “How hard can it be to run a marathon?” I asked. "Hundreds of thousands of people do it every year." “Try a half”, my wife advised. So I did the Royal Parks Half with no problem and then entered the Brighton Marathon.

I found out how hard it can be! My first two marathons (Brighton 2017 & London 2018) were both done in record temperatures. I completed Brighton but only by walking the last 4 miles; I was unable to complete London and withdrew after 18 miles. In 2019 I was fortunate to get another place in the London Marathon and learning from the previous two I managed to complete the course in a respectable time (05:15:05). 

Much more running than I had originally intended: when you add together the training and taking part for three marathons and the half marathon it was a total of 221 runs covering 2,340 km!

Now that bucket list item is done I say sod that for a game of soldiers. I am down to one parkrun per week. For more see http://blog.mmenterprises.co.uk/search/label/marathon.

Yoga: 

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head-
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

The only activity which might be considered sport and that I have continued to practice for over 45 years is yoga. Quite why I cannot say given my general view on things sporty. I think in part it may be because I can. I am reasonably, naturally flexible. My mother when she was a small girl had a party trick: she would kneel with a handkerchief between her heels bend over backwards and pick it up with her teeth. I was never that bendy but inherited some of her flexibility.

I was introduced to yoga in 1975. The first teacher I had was a guy called Kofi Busia. He was pretty hard-core Iyengar style, we had to work on each pose holding it for some minutes, very static, everything had to be at right angles or horizontal or vertical. Some years later I googled him to discover that he is now one of the world's foremost yoga teachers having studied many times directly under Sri B K S Iyengar. I must have been in one of his very first classes. The disciplines he instilled have stood me in good stead over the years.

My party piece is doing the headstand which, because I’ve done it for so many years, I find very easy. However there are some poses that I just cannot do, and will probably never do especially as I get less flexible with age. Even at my most practised the lotus posture eluded me, I never could do the pigeon properly, and with old age one legged poses are beyond me, I wobble too much. Still I will keep up my practice.

Edit: added a video of Kofi being taught by BKS Iyengar in 1985.

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