I really, really need to address my Tank Girl fixation.
I'm not one of those people who have been racing since Jesus played football for Israel.
Despite being of an age when school P.E. was most definitely competitive, seemed to occur twice a day and with the exception of swimming, was always outdoors, I dodged extra curricular competitive sports like a champ. Instead my time was spent terrorising the great outdoors with my mates, equipped with pen knives, catapults and fishing tackle, all of which seemed designed to inflict maximum damage to the user and everyone around him. Fishing hooks stuck in fingers and, on one memorable occasion an ear, catapulted stones bouncing off each others' heads and during one famous catapult battle, a pair of teenage testicles (sorry Neil), every spare hour was another step towards tetanus, blindness and infertility.
My teenage years brought big hair and an obsession with all things indie. Sport was about as far from indie as you could get, so I stuck to boots, beer and bands.
It all caught up with me in my twenties. My old man had been a runner since quitting smoking when I was young. His eighties' high-cut running shorts, slashed up the sides as far as the waistband to maximise exposure of pasty English thigh would bring taunting howls of laughter from the family as he slunk out of the door. But then I found myself living in Holland, overweight and loving all the things that life in Holland could provide. When you are skint, in your twenties, and have just been humiliated by some old duffer gliding past you in the swimming pool, running seems to be just the ticket. At least it was once I realised that this was definitely not an activity for boots.
I did my first event at the age of 24. Me and my Dad had a rare moment of father-son bonding and ran Tough Guy together. For the uninitiated, Tough Guy is a combination of a cross country run and near-death experience, as a day in Wolverhampton tends to be. Then from the mid nineties onward it was a whirl of racing, training, racing, getting injured, but still racing...As runners living in a city, we could often race three times in a week, and have raced twice in a day, which is a never to be repeated experience.
Tough Guy Jesus Warriors. I shit you not.
I've often fallen in and out of love with different forms of racing. Our last block of half-marathon training was so goddam tough that we swore never to repeat it, despite awesome PBs and the ability to eat 3000 calories a day. XC mountain biking has let me down more times than the England football team and despite still loving riding my bike, I just can't face a winter of training for events that I feel, at best, ambivalent about.
But I still love training, and love the pain of a good workout, so step forward the Big Guns Challenge. This was inspired by a mate of ours, who was also in his forties when he toddled off to do his duty in Afghanistan. He vowed that while there he would devote all his time not spent marching and dodging bullets, in pursuit of a long coveted set of guns to be proud of. As a long term endurance nut, this really resonated with me. I am clearly more suited to sports involving skinny hips and Tyrannosaurus Rex arms, but neither are any use when it comes to pulling chicks or looking buff on the beach.
The rules of the challenge are simple. The participants are myself, Maddie and our mate Stocker, the illegitimate offspring of the Tetley Tea Folk and Tom Cruise. We have all measured our pre-training upper arms, once we found a measuring tape in small enough increments. We won't see each other until next May at the first Tough Mudder event of 2017, and with great ceremony the tape measure will come out again. The one with the greatest percentage growth on their upper arm circumference will win, and bingo wings are not allowed. The winner will receive a Wetherspoons voucher equivalent to the percentage that they have increased, and in the past month I have gained enough for an unlimited coffee and a danish.
We all know that Maddie will win as she has got the DNA and shoulders of a scaffolder, but if I manage to get a body that doesn't need to be permanently covered by a t-shirt I'll be stoked.
Winter is a funny old time at Fully Sussed.
Our main event season concludes, in a blur of tape, stakes and mud, in October. Once the aches and pains are healed and Laundry Mountain has been conquered, we are faced with a gap in the diary. The initial joy of being able to have a lie-in, lounge around on the sofa and do some PE at times other than 0600, doesn’t last too long and soon the Jimminy Cricket work ethic is chirruping about finding some gainful employment.
BUT I DON’T BLOODY WANT TO! A great skill among the self-employed, or as Del Boy called us “the self-un-employed”, is to live on beans and fresh air and wear a puffa jacket / woolly hat combo indoors. One of our bezzie mates is also self-employed, and a proper pikey skip-rat to boot. He can often be found with his legs hanging out of a skip when diving for treasures. He has standards just above eating road kill and has his arse hanging out of most of his clothes and kit. But he is the most talented surfer, kayaker, windsurfer, climber, mountain biker…the list goes on. And his chosen lifestyle means that he has time to invest doing these things, and dragging us along with him. Do we admire him for his sartorial elegance, flash car and gentlemanly grooming? Of course not, we love him because he is a walking, talking boys own adventure.
When we are choosing our latest Podcasts or Blogs to follow, do we choose people who are ‘doing a bit of agency work’, or those that are out and about in the great outdoors getting up to all manner of mischief? We would never put ourselves in the same category, but how gutted would you be to find that Ranulph Fiennes, on return from some highly sponsored bit of derring-do, got a job at Tesco in the winter? No, you want to imagine him training for his next futile but very exciting adventure, pulling tyres across the wilds of Exmoor rather than pushing trollies around Asda. That also leaves you the outside chance of shouting ‘Get a proper job!’ should you ever meet the work-shy weasel.
Still the niggling voice remains, and probably belongs to our bank manager. So we next find refuge in our stand-by position of self-justification, which goes something like – when I am inevitably shuffling off this mortal coil, assuming that I have the chance to leisurely reflect rather than a second of blind panic before I head-butt another tree, I don’t want to be looking back in relief at all the times I worked for minimum wage during the winter. I want to look back with a smile on my face, knowing that I humped every bit of life out of my aching body, albeit on a limited budget.
So during the winter we reach a compromise and manage to persuade ourselves that there is nothing better we could be doing with our time than building trails in Newnham Park! The South West racers are a demanding bunch who expect see something new when the Soggy Bottom series roars into life again, and who are we to deny them? We get to spend the day outdoors, playing with power tools and shovels, working out in nature’s gym. Just don’t expect a Christmas present.
Hand on hips, like a rock garden building, I'm a little tea-pot.