The River of Life, as best I remember from my student days, is a metaphor of us being different people with different needs at different points on the wibbly-wobbly river that is our lives. We are physically the same body; maybe a bit fatter, maybe a bit slower but our needs, aspirations and outlook change as we are exposed to life’s events. I certainly no longer need several bottles of wine before a night on the tiles, and having recently heard an ex-girlfriend describe me as being ‘happy-go-lucky’, it’s pretty clear that I was emotionally a different person several years back upstream.
When we do something on the xcracer website, it always makes me chuckle to see our profile describe us as ‘prolific racers’, when in reality I can’t remember the last time we zip-tied on a bike race number. But that would have been an accurate description back around 2010, although I still don’t remember being happy-go-lucky. We’ve moved on, the sport has changed and our priorities lie elsewhere.
Those that have read any of the previous blogs will be aware of our Big Guns Challenge – the quest to beat our mate Keith in the bicep growing championship of the world. We’ve been doing this since October, and while there were some initial ‘beginner gains’ my body soon cottoned on to what I was doing and over-ruled every effort I made in a bid to stay exactly the same bloody size. While I was having delusions of intimidating adversaries with a flex of my mighty triceps, my body was clearly going to rely on the ability to out-run any predators and squeeze through tight spaces. But we are still getting stronger, and probably heavier, so I suspect that we have some impressive muscles that are defying the rules of nature and actually growing inwards.
You’ll probably also be aware of the kind of gym we use for our iron pumping. Bodylines in Plymouth has been the most intimidating place I’ve been since trying to get past the line of massive Welsh trannies outside a Dolly Parton concert. The tales of 50% of the gym users wearing offender tags is overstated, but they probably don’t have 2 ‘A’ levels to rub together between them, and are still the nicest bunch of people it has been our pleasure to share a squat rack with. At the back of Bodylines is the fabled boxing gym; just a small ring, a load of punch-bags and a box full of the worst smelling gloves and pads since my last 12 hour MTB race. We used to use the boxing gym for circuits occasionally but always scuttled out of there tugging our forelocks if anyone menacing-looking came in, yellow bellied, submissive weaklings that we are.
Then we were given some money for Xmas. I am sure the giver envisaged ‘something nice for the house’ being purchased, but there’s no pockets in a shroud and as givees, we’d rather blow the cash on life experiences as we drift aimlessly down our river. Maybe we should learn metaphoric paddling. Last winter we spent time and money learning to cross-country ski in Canada, with the aim that we get to such a level that we wouldn’t look like complete bell-ends next time we had a go. After Xmas we had a Horton meeting about our next bid for sporting fame and decided that it was clearly going to be boxing. Obviously. With our background of skinny ass endurance sport and dinosaur arms, boxing is a natural fit, isn’t it?
Our first lesson saw us lying on the floor exhausted after an hour, unable to hold our glasses of prosecco when we got home, which is a problem Rocky Balboa suffered from, but it was the most addictive thing I can remember since discovering my favourite adolescent ‘hobby’. Our house is now full of boxing gloves, pads, whey protein and hand wraps and throwing a decent punch combo is our Holy Grail. Imagine jumping on a MTB for the very first time, and within an hour of coaching you’d be able to nail a decent jump. In most sports there is a varying degree of buggering about and hours of frustration before you get to any level of feeling like you are actually doing the sport. You might hit a golf ball / tennis ball / football with the orgasmically satisfying noise of the sweet spot, that gorgeous ‘DONK!’ that means that the interface of body, bat and ball was bang on the money. But the chances are that the ball will then spin off into the near distance, nowhere near where you’d imagined it might go, cancelling out all the glory of the ‘DONK’. With boxing, we were throwing punches within minutes of the start of the lesson, and threw so many punches in the space of an hour that we actually started to get a decent strike rate of ‘DONK’s. When you get the range, your feet, the twist and strike just right it feels like you could punch through a wall, and if you don’t get it right you can have another go immediately rather than having to line up again, retrieve the ball or set anything up. You just keep on swinging.
A lot of it is down to Del, our instructor. For those that know what I mean, Del is a classic Janner and is actually Del junior, with Del senior (his father) also being a boxing coach. And they are bloody good, with the right level of encouragement and positive reinforcement that sees you push yourself beyond your usual limits and puking out of the window. They turn you into a complete puppy dog, and you strive for a positive comment like it is a Scooby snack. What started as ‘having a bit of a go’ has turned into an obsession and my latest long term ambition – to have an actual boxing match before the age of fifty. The choices at fifty are to either join the ranks of the grand-vets, or get in the ring for one last grand hurrah, death or glory, carry me out on a stretcher and tell my mum I did my best. I choose the latter. The river of life may turn into a river of blood, but what a way to go.