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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Fitting in Fitness

Fitting in Fitness

I jogged home from work yesterday.  Which is possible as I live within trebuchet range of work.  I would say a stone’s throw, but I needed something that suggests a distance greater than one of my own weedy overarm lobs.

Walking in takes about 35-40 minutes.  This isn’t a great chore, particularly as the last part takes me through Cardiff’s fantastic Bute Park. I also get plenty of time to listen to podcasts or power ballads, depending on both my mood and whether there’s anyone around to see my air guitar solos.

Of course running is quicker than walking, but it isn’t my favourite form of exercise to be honest.   I much prefer a team sport or two.  I play football twice a week and would happily play more, but you need a fair few other people to do it and some flat open space, so it’s not always practical.

But, the great thing about running, and part of the reason events like Parkrun have taken off, is that you don’t need much equipment to do it and you can do it on your own as well, at any time.  All you need is a t-shirt, shorts and trainers (or not even the trainers if you’re a budding Zola Budd).

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Even better, for me, is that I don’t have to take extra time out of my day to exercise as the pavement and paths are my very own running track.  So I get a little bit fitter, a little less fatter AND my commute is only 20 minutes.  Win-win.  If you can find exercise that you enjoy, that’s great, but not everyone has the time and/or inclination to commit to as much activity as we all really should.  So, if sport is not a huge priority to you, what can you do?

Do little bits of exercise, perhaps. The internet is not just useful for finding amusing cat videos (though I suspect 90% of traffic is related to the worthy subject), it also has content on nearly every topic, exercise included.  And yes, there are many fitness videos online.  I’ve tried a few at Fitness Blender, for example, as this site allows you to set the time, difficulty and equipment parameters to suit.  Flexibility is the appeal here.  There are of course others around, including more free ones from sites like the NHS Fitness Studio.

So, if you can really only spare twenty minutes, you can do bite-size workouts.  That’s gotta be worth something, right?  Not too many calories burned perhaps, but do a few and it adds up.  Plus I understand that exercise releases dolphins, which is a nice, as they shouldn’t be captive.

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It’s important that whatever you do, it is something you can keep up.  Like the crash diet or the month off booze, a splurge of sport will have a short term impact and give you a nice rush, but it’s better to get to a level you can maintain over time.  A couple of games of football a week, plus two or three little runs is my level right now.  And I feel better for it, I really do.  Physically and mentally.  And, the more I do, the easier it becomes, which in turns means I might up the amount I do regularly.

And for now at least, while we enjoy some relatively bright, long days, I’m going to take advantage and turn my little commute into a little conditioning.

Max and his Magic Daps

Max and his Magic Daps

When I was at school (late 80s-early 90s) there weren’t many people with my name. The only ones I could think of existed on TV and they were either in cartoons or were dogs. I mention this because a) I thought about it and got all nostalgic and b) the title of today’s blog is reminiscent of an old kid’s show title (who can remember Jamie and the Magic Torch?)

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So then, the story of Max and his Magic Daps*.

There once was a young boy young man man called Max. Max loved football very much, but he really wasn’t very good. One day he met a wise man known simply as JK.  JK was the (self-appointed) leader of a group of mighty warriors called the Spartans. Named after their similarly chiseled, six-pack toting historical counterparts, the Sport Wales Spartans were a fearsome footballing bunch who terrorised the Gol Centre‘s five-a-side work league every Monday night, crushing all teams that stood in their path (and by all I mean a few). Despite Max playing the beautiful game like a blindfolded Bambi on ice, he was invited to join the team.

The line up of the mighty Spartans team included many legends.  Firstly, Twohey, a goalkeeper likened to a cat, due mainly to his lightning reflexes and partly his habit of occasionally coughing up hairballs.  Then there was Simon. A man of unbending self-belief. A belief that the ball should do all the work.  He may not have run around like Speedy Gonzales , but he didn’t need to.  The ball was always where he wanted it – on his foot or in the goal.

Next up was Ski.  His name was a mystery, but some say it was due to his ability to glide past defences as if he were a world champion skier and the opponents flagpoles stuck helplessly in the snow.  And then we come to Ben.  An enigma.  A force of nature.  The kind of player who covers more ground than a carpet fitter, but still has finesse in abundance.

Next is Tom.  Those who wonder what Fergie’s infamous halftime hairdryer was like need only play on the same team as Tom.  Commitment is a word too weak to describe the Midlander’s passion, and that passion was often felt bellowing in your face when your desire was brought into question.  And last there was JK.  The man who took young Max and brought him into the Spartan family.  JK’s feet were something to behold. With the speed of Michael Flatley and the grace of Ginger Rogers, they bemused and confused the opposition into surrender.

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This group of men would take to the plastic crumb coated pitches on a Monday night and weave their soccer magic.  Goals would go flying in. Sometimes actually into the opponents’ goal. And everyone would chip in with goals. Everyone would tot up their tallies after each bruising victory.  All but Max that is.  Max’s headless chicken routine, while enthusiastic, only served to contribute fitfully and rarely towards the goal tally.

So, after another disappointing night in front of goal, Max’s wife Clare suggested that some actual football boots, rather than tattered trainers, might help.  Following a search that took the pair through the myriad malls and markets of old Cardiff town, some glittering golden boots were spied in a shop window.  Handing over the last shilling from their savings, the boots were bought and carried gleefully home.

The next match day arrived and Max pulled on his new boots. As he warmed up and took some practice shots, confidence flowed through him. His usual wayward marksmanship was seemingly much improved and his turning circle had gone from oil tanker to rally car. And then in the game itself, the unthinkable happened – Max scored a goal. He openly wept after that game, such was his joy.

And that wasn’t the end. Max went on to score TWO in the next game, taking the season’s tally to three. Wow. The crowds cheered raucously, and his teammates carried him from the pitch.

I know what you’re thinking. Magic Daps. Really? Well it’s true. In a way. You probably didn’t realise, but the Max in this story is me! And the magic was simply confidence. The new boots made me believe I could do more. I am never going to be a world beater, but it’s true that, with a good team around you and a little bit of self-belief, anyone can do more than they thought possible.

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*For the unaware among you, ‘daps’ is what some call trainers round these parts.

 

Screen Time

“Trust in meeeee…”

Kaa’s eyes turn to swirling vortices, his coils tighten and poor Mowgli is trapped.  Those spiralling, whirlpool eyes have hypnotised the little boy, sending him into a trance.

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Luckily for Mowgli, Bagheera the panther is on hand to put the python in his place and come to his rescue.  But you don’t need a Disney character to see the same mesmerising effect in recent years.  It can be seen pretty much everywhere.  On buses, walking on the street or in offices and schools across the country.  I refer to SIH, or Screen Induced Hypnosis.

If there was a self-help group called Nerds Anonymous (actually, there probably is), then I would be in that circle.  “Hello, my name is Max and I know Pi to thirty four places..”  I like love technology and am always happy playing around with the latest bits of kit.  But where cutting edge technology was once the preserve of the enthusiast, it has become an essential companion of the modern man, woman and child.

Yes, that’s right. Child.  I used to joke some years back that we’d soon have little kids with mobile phones, rocking round like miniature yuppies. And now it’s happening. In 2012, 75% of ten year olds had a phone.  But it’s not just phones of course.  The affordability of tablets has meant that anyone can carry a screen around with them.  We’ve all seen (or been) that person walking about with a screen inches from their face and little awareness of what’s around them (including lampposts, traffic and kerbs).  More cases of SIH.

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Though this affliction affects a range of ages, at least for us oldies, we have at least lived in a non-digital world. So, when we are digitally deprived at any time, we can regress to simpler forms of communication and entertainment easily enough.  For some children and young adults, it has become addictive, and herein lies the exercise angle.

When I were a lad, there weren’t as much in terms of sedentary entertainment.  There was one hour of kid’s telly each day and the rest of the time we were sent to play outside if possible. So, though I was never into sport early on (more spotty than sporty), I was active.  Even playing inside would mean running around the house endlessly (sorry Mum).

I can see the appeal of the phone/tablet for a parent.  Everyone has one so it’s hard to deny your own child one and it can also serve as a robo-nanny in the short term.  I’ve seen many a grizzling child silenced by Peppa Pig popping up in a portable format, in cafes, at home or on long car journeys.  But I’ve also seen how hard it can be to tear a child (and some adults for that matter) away from a screen to do something else.  Something active maybe…  So, in this age of expanding waistlines and childhood obesity, we need to be careful that today’s children do enough exercise and that screen time is limited to a reasonable level.

One study in 2010 showed that US teenagers spend over seven hours a day in front of a screen and there are many similarly scare reports to be found . That doesn’t leave a lot of time for running around and playing games or sport, sadly.  And this is the serious point – while keeping children entertained can be difficult and time-consuming, the very real potential for damage to current and future health from inactivity is too important an issue to ignore.  So enjoy your tech, but take a break and embrace the world beyond the peripheral from time to time.

Doorstep Paradise

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Doorstep Paradise

Stop what you’re doing.

Think.

Do I live in Wales?

 

If not, you should visit of course, it’s lovely. A beautiful land of fine food, drink, song and sport.  As an Englishman, it can be mildly perilous around Six Nations time, but as long as you don’t go round the streets of Cardiff belching ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ (no seriously, don’t do it), it’s really a genuinely friendly place.

If you are here though, I urge you to consider this – how long it has been since you last went to the Brecon Beacons?  In my case, other than a couple of times passing through, it has been about 26 years.  Shocking.  And totally inexcusable.  I could pretend I didn’t know what I was missing, but I did.  I was just lazy/unimaginative in planning my weekend activities. Like the distant aunt you really ought to call but don’t, or clearing out the cupboard under the stairs, I just hadn’t got round to it. I also had the crazy notion in my head that the Beacons were a million miles from Cardiff and not somewhere to go without serious planning.

But this simply isn’t the case.  If you’re in South Wales you’re likely to be only an hour away from some seriously sexy landscape.  That’s practically on your doorstep.  So take the plunge, you won’t regret it.

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My adventure took place over the Easter weekend and my wife Clare and I were lucky enough to be able to spend a good five days in the wild paradise of the Brecon Beacons.  First stop was two nights up at the Penderyn Bunkbarn.  A great little place based at Pantcefnyffordd Farm which has all your standard issue cute farmyard animals, but also some actual peacocks.  I’m not sure if one keeps them for their eggs, but they do make a fabulously camp addition to any menagerie.  The bunkhouse itself was clean, warm, cheap and within booze-soaked stumbling distance of the legendary Penderyn Distillery.  What a stroke of luck!  Of all the places I could have picked to stay, eh?

And this brings me on to an exercise-related point.  Work and reward.  I didn’t think you’d ever find me exerting myself physically purely for the sake of it, so it was important for me to have something to treat myself to after a bit of walking.  So that was the plan on the first day – walk to Sgwd yr Eira waterfall and then come back for a whiskey tasting lesson and distillery tour.

However, as it transpired, and became increasingly obvious during the holiday, the walk really was its own reward.  The views were so sublime, they were all the motivation I needed to keep going.  Just as a rousing piece of music can help you keep up your pace or manage that extra mile when running, the splendid, rolling hills of South Wales made me want to keep going long after my legs had put in a written request to cease and desist, to seize up for good.

The waterfall was spectacular.  It took a bit of mountain goat style clambering to get to, but it was certainly worth the effort.  You can walk beneath it and just stand and listen to the unending roar of tonnes of water falling past each second, just a few feet in front of you.  And after the light trek to the waterfall and back, we hit the Penderyn Distillery.  A funny and fascinating tour of the facility by the irrepressible Alan was followed by a tasting.  I’m a malt whiskey aficionado so I was very surprised at my restraint, only purchasing one bottle to take home with me.

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The following day, with both of us nursing very slightly foggy heads, my wife and I headed off to tackle Pen Y Fan, South Wales’ highest peak.  Given it was Good Friday and the weather was fine, the traffic in the area was pretty heavy.  This meant it was easier to stop a couple of miles short of the peak itself and set off towards it over the bracken coated hillside by the Beacons Reservoir.  And a good choice it was too.  The peak itself was thronged with people, most of whom had trekked up via a gently sloping path.  This meant that the summit was fairly busy and noisy and so the couple of hours we spent walking across the rougher terrain of the surrounding hills was a magically peaceful experience.  We stopped to sit down on several occasions, and on the whole this wasn’t to rest, but more to drink in the landscape, the greens, browns and reds of the grass, heath and ferns that coat the mountains in the area.

This blog is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up here.  I’m still learning the art of writing, but I doubt I’d ever be able to put across the majesty of the mountains in the Brecon Beacons. Even with a few photos thrown in you only get a hint of what’s in store if you go yourself.  My childhood involved many trips to the Scottish Highlands and so I know what beauty the UK has to offer, but I am certainly also now in love with the Beacons too.

I suggest you do what Visit Wales are encouraging locals and visitors alike to do and ‘Find Your Epic‘, your own adventure.  And for those in South Wales and nearby, you have an adventure waiting for you on your doorstep.

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