Light Blogging

This week’s entry is about running.

Look, I’m not delighted with the title either. It’s meant to be a reference to ‘light jogging’, and I am well aware readers may misinterpret the second word to be either ‘dogging’ or, heaven forbid, ‘flogging’, but when the only alternatives I could come up with were ‘Going for a Blog’, ‘Blogging In Public’, and ‘Blogging Bottoms’, you can appreciate my dilemma.

Anyway, I’ve decided to start running again.

Well, strictly speaking, I never gave up. I distinctly recall running for my train to Newcastle a couple of months ago, and have a vague recollection of running to my car the other day when it was raining, but I haven’t run for exercise, or pleasure, in some time (and, in the case of the latter, never, because no one actually enjoys running).

I used to run quite a bit. Only a few miles, around Sandbach, but I got relatively proficient at it. I mastered the whole ‘right, then left, then right again’ routine, to a point that I was moving at a pace faster than mere walking, and after a few months of repeating this exercise a couple of times a week, I even reached a stage where I didn’t have an overwhelming urge to vomit up a lung afterwards.

Then, partly because I was running on pavements, and partly because I had always bought relatively cheap trainers, I began to develop the crumbling spine of an eighty-year-old (at less than half the age). And, if I were to list the medical complaints which scare me the most, my top three – in no particular order – would be my back, anything to do with my gentleman’s equipment, and man-flu (many people would also include their eyesight, but mine went a long time ago, and I’ve given up hope).

Recently, however, I decided to give running another try. This is not a decision I particularly relished, but if I am to halt my ever-expanding waistline, before it gets ridiculous, playing an hour of badminton every Friday simply isn’t enough (particularly when I immediately recover any burnt calories in the pub afterwards).

I got on to the topic of jogging, whilst talking to a colleague at our Christmas party in December, and since she runs regularly, I decided that this made her suitably qualified to offer advice. Admittedly, I was that drunk at the time, I’d have accepted running advice from Jabba The Hutt, but you get the idea.

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Jabba The Hutt – not built for speed

She suggested that, if I was serious about running (I’m not), and I didn’t mind the expense (I do), I should think about going to a specialist shop, and she recommended a place in Alderley Edge. I was initially reluctant, but when she informed me that they film you running on a treadmill, then scientifically analyse your gait, to ensure you purchase the right shoes, this convinced me that they knew what they were doing.

Having mulled it over whilst at the bar, I returned to our table and announced that I was going to follow her advice. I had no great desire to have someone watch me running (I was worried they might laugh, and shout things like “is that how you run?”), but a few minutes of humiliation, seemed a fair price to pay for a (partially) functioning spine.

It was only then, that she (almost dismissively) revealed they make you run in your underwear. The subsequent conversation went a little like this:

“I beg your fucking pardon? They do what?!”

“You have to run in your underwear, so they can properly analyse your gait.”

“My gait is staying very firmly in my trousers, thank you very much.”

“No, seriously, it’s the only way they can assess you.”

“Was it a man who told you this by any chance? I bet he couldn’t believe his luck when someone finally fell for it.”

My decision was reversed. There was no way someone was filming me running in my pants. I would just buy a decent pair of trainers, and they would surely be fine.

However, following a particularly worrying spasm of lower back pain about a month ago (caused as a result of dancing in the shower – the truly embarrassing part being we don’t even have a shower radio, so fuck knows why I was dancing), I once again reconsidered my position, and decided to spend my birthday money on some proper running shoes, to prevent further damage to my back.

I still did not want to run, semi-naked, in front of people, but so long as the treadmill in question wasn’t placed in the shop window, and would remain – along with my underwear – entirely concealed from the public, then maybe I was going to have to accept what the experts would be telling me – and they would be telling me to run in my pants, apparently.

So, a couple of weekends ago, I mentally prepared myself to run on a treadmill for the very first time, selected a pair of particularly ‘secure’ boxers (without a button fly – the embarrassment levels would be high enough anyway, without my lolloping penis making an unwelcome appearance), and off I went. I also opted to wear shorts, rather than jeans, in a vain attempt to look the part (not that jeans would have immediately exposed me as a running novice, mind, and wearing shorts in freezing temperatures just made me look a twat).

When I entered the shop, I was greeted by a pleasant lady, who asked if she could help. I briefly explained about my history of running, and recent back pain, to which she – as anticipated – suggested that they film me on their treadmill, in order to analyse my gait.

Once I had confirmed that there were no treadmills in the window, and I was reasonably confident that my semi-naked jogging would be suitably clandestine (although I made a mental note to ask for the original footage, as I didn’t want my partially-clad derriere appearing on www.gulliblerunnersinpants.com – don’t bother clicking, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist), I reluctantly agreed.

She gave me a pair of ‘neutral’ trainers to start with, and we disappeared down to her basement of jogging-porn, to make our little film together. For security, I took Ollie with me, as I felt certain she wouldn’t try to seduce me in front of my son (regardless of the fact she was at least ten years my senior, and no woman has ever tried to seduce me, child present or otherwise), and I sat him down on a chair, while she got the camera ready.

“Ok, pop yourself on the treadmill when you’re ready.”

“Shall I take my shorts off?”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t you want me in my pants?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Never mind.”

At this point, I made a mental note to give my colleague a severe bollocking, when I got back to work on the Monday.

She then passed me to her male assistant (presumably appalled by my offer of stripping), and he asked whether I was used to running on treadmills. Ah, time to embarrass myself further.

“No, I’m a virgin, sadly.”

“Say again?”

“I mean a treadmill virgin. Not an actual virgin. That’s my son over there. Oh, I’ve had sex before, don’t you worry…”

“Just start walking.”

Now, those of you familiar with treadmills, may not recall your first time on one, but if you do, hopefully you found it as awkward as I did. I have been walking for roughly 36 years now, and never have I felt so weird doing it. I’m not sure what went wrong, perhaps it was the fact I had just tried to strip off (in front of my son), but I forgot how to walk. The closest I have found online, is this:

After about thirty seconds, the assistant gradually increased the speed, until I was running at a fair pace. Not sprinting, but fast enough to make me nervous, because it suddenly struck me that I had no idea how to stop. I panicked, and visualised my face slamming into the controls, before the machine catapulted me into the camera behind me.

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I was also becoming increasingly conscious that I should perhaps have worn a sports bra. It was all rather distracting.

In the end, my fears were unwarranted, because the guy came back over, and despite making some quip about me being a better runner than I was a walker (smart-arse), he gradually slowed the machine, until I was back at walking pace, and then stationary. I had survived.

The lady then returned, and we all watched a thoroughly uninspiring movie of my legs in action. She reassured me that there was nothing unusual about my running style, nor my gait, and actually complemented me on having ‘excellent calf muscles’ (see, ladies, I do have something to offer), before suggesting three pairs of trainers which would be fine.

I was going to opt for the middle-priced pair, because the first ones I had tried on were above what I was happy to spend, and the cheapest were bright yellow (plus, I didn’t want to appear miserly, by immediately choosing the cheapest), but Ollie then pointed out that these would be good for my safety, when running in the dark, and he thought they were ‘cool’. Besides, although they were the cheapest pair of the three, they were still the most expensive trainers I have ever purchased, so the decision was made.

And here they are:

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I have not yet taken these bad boys for a spin (gone running), because my new MP3 player was faulty and had to be returned, but so long as their maiden voyage is more successful than that of the Titanic (and I rather feel that, if I do run headlong into an iceberg, I’m doing it wrong), the prospect no longer fills me with dread.

Oh, and as for my colleague’s lies – about running in underwear – I was determined to get to the bottom of it (excuse the pun), so I confronted her the following week, and told her what had happened.

She immediately started laughing, then explained that it was her podiatrist who had made her run in her underwear, not the shop in Alderley Edge. It transpires that, whilst I was at the bar, deciding to follow her advice, I had missed a change in conversation.

“Oh God, you didn’t try to take your clothes off, did you?”

Erm, no, of course not.

 

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Blogminton

When our eldest son, Ollie, was a baby, my wife started attending various groups and classes in and around Sandbach, to mingle with other new mums, share any tips or concerns, and generally get out of the house to prevent that post-baby ‘cabin fever’ kicking in.

She made some very good friends via those classes, and a small group eventually broke off to form their own little gang of mothers, who would meet once a week for coffee and cake.

After a while, the topic of their respective partners apparently cropped up, and one lady mentioned how her husband didn’t really know anyone locally, and didn’t socialise outside of his school and work friendship groups. From what I can gather, my darling wife took this as an invitation to emphasise my own unbearable loneliness and social anonymity within Sandbach (which I hadn’t noticed until then), whereupon a few other ladies all concurred about their own other halves.

This then developed into said harem taking it upon themselves to become social secretaries for us, and arranging that we should all get together, post-haste, to bond and make new friends. Lovely. The fact that the only two things we all had in common, were the town in which we lived, and the fact that our wives were meddling gossips, didn’t seem to deter them one iota.

Upon learning of this plan, I tried to protest that I could make friends myself, thank you very much (at which point, my wife highlighted that we had been in Sandbach for three years, and I was yet to make one), and I found the whole thing very embarrassing and awkward. Annoyingly, however, the wives were right (as, I am informed, is standard practice) and we ‘Dads’ are all now good pals. Well, I consider them to be good friends, but they probably think I’m a dick.

Anyway, one of the husbands – who I now know very well – is a keen badminton player, and has competed semi-professionally in the past. Consequently, since he was eager to get back to playing locally, his good lady wife suggested that this would be an ideal way for us to mix, enjoy some sport and exercise, and perhaps go for a beer or two later. After all, we men often find forced-social outings somewhat awkward, and sport + beer is usually a good ice-breaker.

The first I knew about this arrangement, however, was when I returned home from work one evening, to be informed that I would be playing badminton – a sport I had last participated in (only twice), nearly twenty years earlier at school – that coming Friday. No amount of ‘I haven’t played since 1994, and I was shit then’, ‘but I’m fat and out of shape’ and ‘I haven’t even got a fucking racket’, was going to persuade her otherwise. It was happening.

Of course, she quickly responded to each of my protests with ‘it’s ok, none of them have played in years’ (conveniently omitting the aforementioned semi-professional), ‘anyway, you’re not that fat’ (back-handed compliment) and ‘don’t worry, someone is bringing a spare racket for you’ (oh, so they haven’t played in years, but they have more than one racket?). As usual, she had a response for every excuse I could muster.

I was then told that ‘Mr Semi-pro’ – I shall refer to him as that for now, since it would be unfair to use Doug’s real name without his permission – would pick me up at the end of our road at 7.45pm on the Friday evening, and he would indeed bring a spare racket for me. Ok, I thought, what’s the worst that can happen?

So, having asked my wife what car he drove, and having received the very unhelpful response of ‘a red one’, I stood at the end of our road that Friday evening, and waited for Doug to arrive (fuck it, might as well call him Doug now). Sure enough, shortly before 7.45pm, a red hatchback pulled up next to me, and in I got. The conversation which ensued, went very much like this:

“Hi! You must be Doug?”

“No, I’m not. Get the fuck out of my car.”

My initial reaction to this, wavered from ‘is he joking? Because if he is, it’s not very funny’, to ‘oh no, have I got his name wrong, and he’s massively overreacted to being called Doug?’, before it eventually dawned on me that no, this chap was very much not Doug, and it was far more likely that the red Honda Civic, which had just pulled up directly behind us, was in fact the vehicle I was looking for.

Having apologised profusely to ‘Not Doug’, and having tentatively got into the car of ‘Actual Doug’ (‘please, God, let THIS be the right car’), I then had to introduce myself, again, while explaining that I am not normally the sort of gent who car-hops on street corners of a Friday evening. Fortunately, Actual Doug saw the funny side.

Since that fateful evening, when I first demonstrated how pathetically woeful my badminton was (no surprise there), I’ll admit that I have improved a great deal, but then again so has the rest of the group, so I am still one of the worst players (if not the worst). It’s just that now, as a group, we occasionally look quite good, rather than cripplingly shite – or so Doug kindly tells us.

Even though I’m certain he will be embarrassed by the moniker of ‘Mr Semi-Pro’ which I have thrust upon him, the truth is, Doug’s miles better than the rest of us, and clearly has the ability to win a game in a matter of minutes, if he so chooses.

But, to his credit, he rarely does. He is incredibly patient, especially with me, and will often smile politely, while I make countless childish references to the ‘cock’ (to the uninitiated, that’s the thing with feathers you’re supposed to hit), in order to try and disguise my inadequacy at his chosen sport.

I have no doubt that, while I’m larking around, a small part of him is dying inside, but he’d never let on. Every so often, you can see the precise moment when his brain thinks ‘right, fuck this’, shortly before he destroys the opposition, but it’s then out of his system, and he’s back to playing more at our level.

There have been times, when I have naively convinced myself I have him beaten, with a particularly clever shot (these are, of course, rarer than unicorn shit), only for him to somehow contort his body and win the point. I barely have time to think ‘he’ll never get to that’, before the cock is whizzing back past me. *sniggers*

This sort of Jedi shit

As for the rest of the core group (as there have been a few others who have played a handful of times over the past few years), there is a good range of ability.

I don’t think anyone would mind me saying that Richard and Chris (whose names have been swapped around, to preserve their anonymity) are two of the better players, and Richard’s (well, Chris’) determination to throw himself at every shot is commendable.

Honestly, he dives more than Tom Daley and Cristiano Ronaldo put together, and spends a good half of each session leaping through the air like a salmon. I tried this once, when a particularly low shot was creeping away from my (admittedly considerable) wingspan, and I completely knackered my knee. I now leave the diving to Richard (Chris).

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Not actually Chris. Chris isn’t even remotely Chinese

We have another Richard too (I know what you’re thinking, two dicks!) and, again, I don’t think he would mind me saying he’s more at my level. In his defence, he only joined us a few months ago, so to think he’s already caught up with (and probably surpassed) my abilities, says a great deal about either my slow progress, or his quick advancement.

Rich is also, like me, partial to a bit of double entendre (which is French for ‘two entendres’), and in a sport where there is a very real chance of getting ‘a cock in the face’, this is often too good for us to resist.

Finally, Rich has one secret weapon, which none of us can possibly match. He is, without doubt, the owner of the most disturbed digestive system of any man I have ever known. I’m not sure what he generally eats (decomposing road-kill, presumably), but there is not a week goes by, when he doesn’t clear the court with an air biscuit of catastrophic proportions.

Naturally (although there is nothing natural about it), he can be a useful ally with this weapon up his sleeve – or shorts – but such is the potency of his rectal turbulence, even his own teammate at the time (and, indeed, anyone within a half-mile radius) is exposed to the chemical warfare, and usually ends up with their eyes stinging to the point they cannot focus.

All in all, we now have a weekly excuse to get out of the house, enjoy some good-humoured sport, and then put back on whatever calories we may have burned, by going to the pub afterwards.

And, rather annoyingly, it’s all thanks to our interfering wives.

Damn. I hate it when she’s right.

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As Fit As A Butcher’s Blog

A couple of months ago, my wife suddenly announced that she was thinking of getting a ‘fit bit’, and wondered if I wanted one too.

Initially taken aback by the fact she had paused Pointless in THE MIDDLE OF A ROUND to ask me this (it’s like she hasn’t even read my ‘house rules’), I took a few seconds to process what I had just heard. Of course, by ‘fit bit’, I naturally assumed that she was looking to broaden her horizons with a toy boy, and was offering me the freedom from our marriage to find myself an equally young and flexible plaything.

Having immediately shown far too much enthusiasm for this suggestion, and begun reeling off a list of potential names, she interrupted me (by way of a slap to the face) to explain that a ‘Fitbit’ is in fact a device which monitors your daily exercise.

After an awkward silence, during which time I was made to delete certain female contacts from my phone, she went on to show me some examples online – ranging from the basic systems, right up to the ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ top of the line models.  We quickly agreed that neither of us really needed to know our precise location on earth at any given moment in time (although she was now keen to keep an eye on mine), how much sleep we’d had the night before (easy: very little), or the weight of our last bowel movement (ok, I made that one up), so thankfully the cheaper end of the spectrum seemed to suit our requirements. Ultimately, we opted for the ‘Zip’, which is the entry level product. I can only assume that the person hired by the company to come up with the names, had been poached from Kia or Volkswagen.

Despite being the runt of the litter, the ‘Zip’ is still pretty clever. You attach the device to your clothing – I’ve opted for the belt loop or waistband, depending on whether I’m wearing trousers or shorts at the time, and apparently it is common practice for ladies to clip it to their bra – and it monitors how many steps you take in a day, the distance you have covered, how many minutes you have been ‘active’, and what calories have been burned in the process. You can also track any exercise that you have done on a little map for others to see, but I am yet to indulge in that particular humiliation. Then, periodically, the device syncs with the app on your phone, laptop or tablet (via Bluetooth), and it records your progress in pretty-coloured bar graphs, so you can see just how woefully inactive you really are.

When you first install the app, you have to register your height and weight, so that it can work out what distance you have covered each day and how many calories you have burned doing so. For example, due to our difference in height, both my wife and I could cover the same number of steps during a 24 hour period, but my distance travelled would be far greater, since I have big gangly legs, whereas she is a borderline dwarf.

You have targets to try and hit too. Apparently, the recommended daily number of steps you should cover is 10,000 and, if I’m honest, I don’t tend to get anywhere near this during the week, as I’m mostly sat at my desk working hard (well, writing blog entries and checking Facebook). At the weekend, however, when I take the dog to the park, run errands, and endlessly chase Ollie around soft play equipment at yet another birthday party, I tend to hit that target quite easily.

Those 10,000 steps equate, roughly, to 5 miles, which again is the recommended distance you should walk or run each day, and these miles accumulate until, every so often, you get rewarded with a nice little badge. For example, after a couple of weeks I was informed that I had earned the ‘Marathon’ badge, as I had completed my first 26 miles, and more recently I was the proud recipient of the ‘March of the Penguins’ badge, as I had reached 70 miles. Apparently this is the distance covered by Emperor penguins during their annual trip to the breeding grounds, so you learn something too. I’m now really looking forward to achieving my 150 mile ‘Restraining Order Taken Out By Holly Willoughby Against You’ badge, which should be any time within the next few weeks.

The targets aren’t just distance based though. The app tells me, and I have no reason to doubt it, that for someone of my height and ever-increasing weight, I should ideally be burning 2,877 calories a day, before I will see any improvement in my doughy physique. Now, I understand that the calories I burn can be roughly calculated from the amount and type of exercise I am doing, but how in the name of all things holy does it know what I have consumed in the first place? I mean, I know what I’ve eaten each day, but I haven’t the first clue what actual calories were consumed (and I have an inherent distrust of anyone who does have that information to hand, if I’m honest), so how can the Zip possibly know? Unless it can actually see me stuffing Chocolate Hobnobs into my face of an evening, then for all it knows I have just had salad and water all day.

Of course, it rather defeats the object if you’re trying to deceive the system into thinking you’ve been healthier than you actually have, but as long as I hit my targets, even if I eat my own body weight and get pissed in the process, then I count that as a win. I’m certain this is wrong, and I should in fact be keeping track of my calories to make sure I don’t go over 2,877 each day, but there is an enormous amount of satisfaction to be had from eating like a pig and still getting a big ‘thumbs up’ from the Zip for doing so well. Man 1, Machine 0.

I do wonder whether it is that easy to trick the top of the range products though, like the £200 ‘Surge’ for example. Perhaps, just as you’re dozing off to sleep at night, there is a little beep which wakes you with a message, like: ‘Oh, and don’t think I didn’t see you stuff that second piece of cake into your colossal gob earlier, you fat bastard’.

Then, not only do you have your own individual targets to try and meet each day, but you can also set daily, weekly, or weekend challenges against other Fit Bit users, and see who wins. My challenges are all against my wife, as she is the only other person I know with one of these gadgets, but she is also in a league with about ten others, all competing to see who can walk the farthest every week.

Such is our competitive nature, we’ve now started walking as far as possible each day, often unnecessarily, to try and ensure victory against the other. I recently went for a long walk on my lunch break, for no reason at all, just to try and beat her. It’s ridiculous.

A few months ago, if she’d looked at me pleadingly and asked if I could pop into town to get her something, I’d have told her to piss off and fetch it herself. Now though, I’m only too happy to insist that she stay on the sofa, before setting off in the rain to walk the longest route possible to our local shop. One time, I even deliberately forgot to pick up some milk while I was there, knowing we had run out, so I’d have to go back again. Silly me.

We’ve also notably started rushing to Isaac every time he wakes up during the evening, whereas before we’d have played rock/paper/scissors to see who would have to deal with the screaming little shit this time. Now, we’ll quite happily push past each other and sprint upstairs to comfort him back to sleep, even if it only means getting an extra 20 steps in before the challenge ends at midnight (30 if you also check on Ollie in the other room).

The other night, she was slightly nearer the stairs when we heard Isaac crying down the monitor, and therefore managed to get to him first. Disappointed at a lost opportunity, I decided to go in the other direction to the downstairs toilet, to try and equal the distance she was travelling. I didn’t even need to go. I just stood there, trying to squeeze a little trickle out to justify my visit.

Of course, with such a competitive nature and urge to win, the temptation to cheat is strong. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Zip is monitoring how many times it moves up and down with each step. So, by holding the device in your hand, and shaking it vertically, it registers this as further steps when, in reality, you haven’t moved anywhere. I’ve only tried this out of curiosity you understand, as I’m far too honest to actually cheat, but I can’t promise I wouldn’t think about it if there were only 50 or so steps between us at 11.55pm.

In fact, I am so honest, I recently decided to show my wife how easy it would be to cheat via this method, if I were the sort of person who would comprehend such underhand tactics – which, of course, I am not. As I demonstrated that you can actually record extra steps by simply shaking the device up and down, or standing on the spot and bouncing, she pointed out that, like most women it seems, she clips her Fitbit to her bra. Apparently, it isn’t very practical or comfortable to clip it to your waist if you’re wearing a dress or skirt. She therefore explained that, in order for her to cheat, she would have to stand on the spot and bounce her chest and up and down for minutes at a time.

Well, if she wants to cheat, who am I to argue?

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