The race to Zermatt

My trusty old trainers

As a kid I was massively into sport. At one point, aged 13 or so, I was doing so many different sports there simply wasn’t enough extra-curricular time in the week to fit them all in. My mum made me write a list in order of preference and the sports at the bottom didn’t make the cut.

At that time I was running, swimming, skiing, playing tennis, squash, golf, and football. It was football and swimming that didn’t make the grade; football because I wasn’t very good at it and swimming because the training was ridiculous – six times a week, including three 6am morning starts and once a week during the school lunch hour.

Anyway, I continued with the others and, I suppose, as a result was pretty physically fit through my teenage years.

When I went to University, other activities outside academia began to take up my time. Some were athletic, others less so. But I continued to go on the odd run and, occasionally donned my boots to play Sunday league football.

All through my 20s, golf was pretty much the only sport I focussed on, very rarely doing anything to build up a sweat. Yet to Jessie (wife) and friends’ annoyance I somehow retained a decent level of fitness. When a hike, sponsored run or other such event, required a gritty display, I had it in the locker. I still think it was a result of all the running I did when I was a youngster – my body just had a supply of residual fitness that I could tap into if needed.

The thing is, now in my 30s that residual fitness is definitely gone. We’ve decided to go on a ski holiday next year, just to try and break up the monotony of the grim North East winter. In fact, we’ve already booked to go to Zermatt.

I can’t wait because we haven’t been for a few years – having kids has made it rather unappealing. This, though, is going to be the last ski trip we go on sans famille – the girls are going to Granny’s for a week.

I decided a few weeks ago that, in order to get the most out of the holiday, I ought to make sure I was fit enough. I decided to go for a run. It was the first time I’d had such an inclination for over two years.

I didn’t even think of that at the time, I found my tracksuit bottoms, dusted off my running trainers, looked out my digital watch and got ready to head out. One of the things I love about running is that you can do it from, and back to, your front door. There’s no need to get in your car and drive to a sports centre or pitch, or pool. It’s by far the least time-consuming athletic activity.

Anyway, I set off from the house at a pace that seemed steady, something like the speed I remembered running at in my heyday. The route from my house starts by winding up the road towards the woods at the top of the hill. I was feeling strong for approximately 400 metres before my legs began to feel like lead weights and my chest began constricting as if I was on the final ascent of K2, without oxygen. Another 150 metres or so of increasing pain and I had to stop for a little walk. Yes, my residual childhood fitness was gone.

The remainder of that run was not a pleasant experience. The bike ride I went on two days later was similarly challenging – both required a very long bath, multiple cups of tea and a little lie down to recover from.

For the last couple of years, a group of my friends has become seriously interested in endurance sports – marathon running, Iron Men, triathlons etc… I’ve struggled to understand the appeal, but now I think I get it.

As we get older, we have to exercise regularly and vigorously to stay in any sort of shape and, in order to find motivation for regular exercise, there has to be an objective. For my friends, it’s whatever their next insane event is – the Marathon des Sables or some other nutty undertaking.

For me, this ski holiday has been enough – I’m doing pretty well in the “Race to Zermatt,” as Jessie and I have coined it. I’m almost a month down the line now and am noticing a slight reduction in the length of my, still rather time consuming, recovery routine. After yesterday’s cycle I needed only one pint of Ribena and one cup of tea before I could get out of the bath.

Obviously, when this trip is passed I’m going to need some other motivation to keep up with my exercise regime. I’m not going to plan a polar expedition or attempt to run the length of the Great Wall of China, but maybe I’ll enter a 10k race or something similarly straightforward.

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