Much of the summer (such that it was in the UK) around work was taken up with landscaping our garden; physical to be sure, but laying paving was not the type of training I had been planning on ideally in the context of this blog. In the scheme of things, it just demonstrates that life all too easily gets in the way and threatens to stop you training, despite your best intentions, and you have to take time or make time wherever you can until it is so ingrained in your routine that it seems impossible not to do it. I managed to keep my running and cycling at least ticking over, and stole a day towards the middle of September to escape with my Taiji instructor and fellow students to practice at the beach up our stunning Northumberland coast, which left me with a renewed vigour for being outdoors and training (rather than labouring).
Shortly after my wife and I were off to Gran Canaria, to enjoy some late summer sunshine and escape the early throws of autumn in the UK; following as it was on the heels of a below average (even by our standards) and wet summer here. Being in the Canaries with long, hot, dry days in the sunshine certainly topped up Bergson’s Elan Vital for me; and after lying around on the beach, alternately listening to music, reading Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles and watching the world go by while the Atlantic breakers blew in to the shore, I was taken by a new impetus: water sports.
I’ve always felt a great affinity with the ocean; matched only, unfortunately, by my lack of skill, ability and confidence in the water. I have jealously watched people playing in the ocean for years: swimming, surfing, water skiing and riding jet skis, and always thought ‘some day’. So after a day or two of idle deliberation watching the water sports on Taurito Beach unfold (and in the spirit of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ which I have been fostering for a few years now), I decided without a great deal of fanfare one Thursday morning that today was the day. As I have always had some significant fear of both heights and water, I decided that parasailing seemed like the thing to do.
In fairness, heights have not been such an issue for me since I allowed myself to be tipped off the top of the 1150ft (350m) Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas a couple of years back on a thrill ride; of more concern was wading/swimming through Atlantic breakers to pull myself on to the back of a jet ski to ride out to the boat; but as I would be wearing a life jacket, I figured what could really go wrong?
Having practiced a little Taiji waist deep in the surf a day or two earlier, and kitted out with a life jacket by the fabulously well organised and professional staff at Gran Canaria Water Sport, I managed to get out to the ski and subsequently to the boat without too much trouble, even though I was saddled at the last minute with a two litre bottle of drinking water to take out for the crew. In addition to some core strength and balance, one thing that Taiji has certainly taught me is the more you can learn to relax and be ‘in the moment’, the more you can cope with a whole host of concurrent challenges (like holding on to the back of a fast-moving jet ski as it bounces across the breakers with a bottle of water in one hand) and worry less about what might happen.
Arriving at the boat, we helped retrieve a flyer who had just had an unscheduled dunking from the water, as the crew quickly retrieved, inspected and prepared the canopy for flight again. Before we knew it, despite this hiccup, my tour group were soon in harnesses and starting our flights along the coast. I was the last to fly, solo, and gliding gently and silently along the coastline above the ocean at about 100 feet with the boat distant at the end of a 250 metre cable gave a fantastic sense of freedom and great views of the resort. It also, I fear, gave me a taste for not only water sports, but also perhaps parachutes!
Returning to the boat, I found I had just missed my scheduled ride back to the beach. Apologetic, the pilot seemed to be saying I would have to wait at the back of the boat for a jet ski to pick me up. Then, as I unclipped my harness, I realised he was saying I would have to jump off the back of the boat and wait for the jet ski. This wasn’t something I had bargained for, and in days gone by the idea of jumping off a perfectly good boat some 200-300 metres or so off the beach (with my 10 metre swimming award some 35 years distant) even with a life jacket would have made me more than a little apprehensive.
But I figured what the hell: I had the jacket on, and what’s the worst that could happen? If the current was going in the wrong direction North Africa wasn’t so far away! So I jumped, and sure enough by the time I broke the surface my ride home was swinging the tail of his ski round for me to climb onto.
All in all, being out in the water was truly exhilarating, and has only made me more determined to improve my fitness and particularly my swimming and general ability in the water, so I can do more. Importantly, what might have looked like utter chaos from the beach, turned out to be well organised and efficient, with all the ‘watermen’ employed by the operator being extremely capable and safety conscious; everybody knowing at any given moment where everybody else was (and indeed in constant radio contact). So all in all it just goes to show that sometimes you should put your faith in the universe (and in other people) and stop worrying about what might go wrong. That’s not to encourage people to be reckless and unthinking; but life is risk, and the older I get the more I realise that perhaps it is better to run a small risk of regretting something you did do, than constantly regretting something that you didn’t.
Indeed I was reflecting on this when I returned from our trip, as I read (unsuprisingly) a number of scare stories on the internet about the dangers of parasailing. In parallel, a news report was saying that fewer people will die of cancer in the next twenty years due to improvements in treatment; but unfortunately that means that more people will die of other things, as we have to die of something. My mind wandered to what these other things might conceivably be: anxiety, stress, lethargy, obesity and boredom! I’ll take my chances with the watermen. . .
Goals and Cross Training
Having returned from holiday, I am redoubling my efforts, determined to build on my recent experiences. In my Taiji, in addition to continuing to explore the deeper internal aspects of the practice with the ever-steady guidance of my teacher, I am finally overcoming somewhat of an impasse in learning the long form (Yang family, 108 postures) which I have been struggling with for some time now, as having gotten some sense of the deeper training, to go back and learn a whole bunch of new external choreography seems such a chore; but these are the things that test our commitment, and having experienced a similar difficulty as a younger student himself, my teacher’s wise decision to ‘just get the bloody thing learned’ seems like sage advice. After all it’s really such a small investment for the sense of achievement it gives and more importantly for the lifelong benefits it can help unlock which will surely outlast any short term distractions, social fads and fashions, job/career priorities, or the vagaries of government and global economics.
In addition I’m ramping up my running and cycling, and new experiences in mind, investigating how I might best improve my swimming; as it is becoming glaringly obvious that my ability or lack thereof is partly due to fitness and partly down to poor training.
I read recently somewhere (and I forgot where – apologies) that this type of cross training is not only beneficial compared to training a single discipline, but also offers opportunities to train through minor injuries which might otherwise stop you in your tracks. I have experienced this recently myself; a couple of minor niggles (not crucially caused by training, but day to day activity) which threatened to stop me running for a week or so, but which would not for instance have prevented me from cycling (and certainly not swimming) as the impact on the joints in question (toe and neck) would have been so much less.
Again I find these disciplines slowly but insidiously knitting together. My running these days seems more efficient due to my Taiji; using the body’s natural unstretch and crucially not contracting muscles which are not required for running (again – staying as relaxed as possible) seems to pay dividends.
With all this in mind I am already formulating some fairly challenging goals for next year, which I hope to share with you soon. Meantime, stick with your own personal goals (and if you have none, why not set some?). After all, there’s a great big world out there just waiting for you to unleash yourself on it; you’re a long time dead, and it’s never too late.