I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who famously asserted that death and taxes were the only two certainties in life. However, most of us will also recognise that, as we get older – unless we are diligently alert to the issue and retain a strong degree of self-discipline – we tend to succumb to a growing tendency to take less and less physical exercise.
The joys of feeling fit – and exerting oneself – are not to be dismissed lightly. It’s something to do with the production of endorphins and/or hormones, allegedly. Other key motivators in prompting the average human being to take exercise include satisfying our inner competitive urges, determination to retain or improve our health, and straightforward vanity.
Although I have always enjoyed sport and taking exercise, over the past eighteen months or so, for a number of reasons, my systematic activity regimes have been close to non-existent.
We can always find excuses for our frailties.
When it comes to losing weight, there are always those ‘annoying’ or inconvenient obligatory dinner parties or functions in the engagement diary that we might as well attend before beginning our new diet. We can always start tomorrow, at the weekend or – more conveniently – next Monday morning. And then those future meal invitations or obligations keep winging in …
With physical jerks, it’s very similar. Too many meetings to go to, too many bills to pay or calls to make … no real time to get out there and jog around the park, or visit the gym … and we can always begin the regime next week. (Whatever happened to ‘If you want something done, give it to a busy person’?).
Over the past year, recognising my sloth, I’ve tried to kick-start a programme of exercise many times. Obviously without much determination, because I’ve only ever made token attempt to actually go out and do it. More recently, having injured myself on the golf course last October, I have been hampered ever since by acute discomfort in my right hip/thigh that prompts me to avoid even walking when I don’t have to.
Why am I informing National Rust readers of this sad state of affairs?
The answer is that yesterday morning (Sunday 30th March), I drove up to the Chiltern Open Air Museum in Buckinghamshire in order to watch my daughter and five other friends – two male, three female – take part in one of two Chiltern Warrior 10 kilometre runs.
The course consisted of two circuits of a 2.5 kilometre ‘flat’ (straightforward) cross-country section and then a similar-length ‘obstacle’ section. At intervals the latter involved a requirement to hurdle bales of hay, surmount a fifteen feet high wooden gallows-type barrier, jog along a 400 metres ditch with four tunnels (one wet) to negotiate by crawling on all fours, ascend a steep (12 feet) pyramid hill and finally crawl under a 25-metre rope-netting section.
The weather was sunny and warm. Approximately 250 people had given up their Sunday morning to submit themselves to the ordeal, split equally into two events, one commencing at 10.00am and the other an hour later.
T-shirts and lycra leggings, with or without shorts, seemed to be the sartorial ‘orders of the day’. The age-range was 18 to 70, the body-types from anorexic-looking skinny to wildly obese, the state of fitness from glowingly-sleek elite to (frankly) classic couch-potato fare.
What impressed me, as a non-participant voyeur, was the uniformly-positive, matter-of-fact, attitude of those taking part – whether they were naturally-fit twenty-somethings or middle-aged housewives. Laughing and joking, getting bedecked in ‘native American’ grease-paint markings on their cheeks and foreheads, nipping for one last comfort break before the ‘off’, chatting as if they had just gathered together for a Sunday school parents’ meeting rather than a considerable physical ordeal.
Ninety minutes after setting off, my daughter’s group had all finished. The consensus was that the course had been jolly tough and – in the warm conditions – the organisers had not provided enough watering stations. But other than that, they were all restored to full health and ‘resting’ heart-rates within ten to fifteen minutes, ready for whatever the rest of the weekend might offer.
In my lazy, fat, sedentary condition, I found this Sunday morning expedition and experience both fascinating and heart-warming. I have already pleaded guilty to spending far too much of my time doing things like sitting at the computer, passively watching television and/or reading.
This was the other side of the coin – groups of friends and colleagues deliberately gathering together to put themselves through a physically-demanding event. The necessary technology was in place, but nobody was worrying about their time – not least because the courses at such events are individual and incapable of being compared.
The goals of the day were the twin achievements of taking part and reaching the finish line. As a chronically-unfit onlooker, I was conscious that I could have attained neither.