Independence Day

All my life, my parents have regaled me with their proud stories, of how they went “private” with their pre-natal healthcare, and how I was brought into this world by a very experienced Doctor, who no less wore a tux whilst delivering me after being paged whilst at some high class evening soirée.

They do not, however, seem to have any stories about the Doctor(s) involved in my subsequent healthcare. That worries me sometimes.

You see, I was born with a squint – aka “cross-eyed” – and, doing what was in my best interests, I underwent corrective cosmetic surgeries on my eyes at a very young age. We’re talking the first months of my life, which is fortunate, as I do not, nor do I want, even the vaguest recollection of how horrible a) the surgery must have been, nor b) what a mess I must have looked during recovery. I do however recall receiving an Optimus Prime action figure whilst in hospital. Which pretty much made my 80s, I think.

The point that I am getting to is that this was classic 1980’s cosmetic surgery. I was no longer cross-eyed, but nobody noticed – or at least nobody told me anyway – that my eyes were not therefore “normal” either. I have since learnt that this same procedure, since the 80’s, does not result in the following. So great…

At the age of 9, an opthalmic nurse came into Primary School to conduct routine eye tests on all the children in my year. I stepped up, and it was not until this moment, when she asked me to place a hand over my right eye, that I suddenly realised that my left eye was short-sighted.

Indeed, even after a swift trip to Specsavers and a pair of NHS standard spectacles were issued to me for reading, I still didn’t actually understand exactly what my eyes did.

Growing up through my teens, my mum would often tell me off for having a “lazy” left eye. It would wander slightly, and she would shout over to me, grabbing my attention, along with Mr Left Eye. And nothing more was really said about it.

It wasn’t until I applied for the Police Special Constabulary – around the age of 20 – that I had to undergo a more thorough eye test. Then, and only then, after 20 years, did somebody tell me that I had a “Hyper-Alternating Divergent Squint”. Luckily, this was the one type of squint that the Police would allow into their “elite” ranks.

In plain terms, or at least the terms that I have come to explain it to people – I have independent eyes. Since my corrective surgery, I have always, unconsciously at least, controlled each eye separately. My brain looks through one eye more than the other one at any given moment. For some reason, I chose to always do close up work – like reading – by selecting my left eye as primary, and when looking far away, I focus through my right eye. This has left me with very good short sight in the left, and very good long sight in the right. However, the left is useless as long-sight, and my right has slight straining up close.

Another quirk of the condition is that when my brain actually decides to switch between eyes, both eyes physically shift slightly. This means that when I want to use my left eye, both eyes flick slightly to the right, leaving the left lens pointing straight at my target, and vice versa. This is why I had a “lazy eye” when my mum looked at me – I was looking at something far away at the time – no doubt the TV – and that meant my left eye shifted off-centre.

‘This is all very interesting Gaz, but I came here to read about your attempts to run,’ you are no doubt saying right now.

Well, I’m telling you this just to explain why – much like why I can’t swim to keep fit – I can’t do ball games to keep fit either. The plain fact is that my independent eyes mean that I have crappy hand-eye co-ordination, as well as a reduction in depth perception (which also rules out things like 3D film or TV for example).

Sometimes I feel like going back to my former schools and telling every PE teacher that I disappointed, exactly why I couldn’t do what they asked of me. However, I then realise that I can’t blame my eyes on everything. For example, when I was asked to throw a javelin, I struck myself with the pole across the back of my head whilst trying to launch it, sending me to the floor in a concussed heap. Not really an eye problem.

So, if you are ever in my company, and a stray football rolls my way from a group of teenagers playing keepy-uppy (?) in the park, please understand why a) my face turns ashen at the thought of trying to kick the ball back, or b) I confidently go to kick the ball, and end up kicking a kerbstone 5 inches to the left.

Just let me try to run and nothing else. Please.

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Nemesis

I have a nemesis. This pleases me somewhat, as I am delusional enough to imagine that, should I end up being a superhero, or at least a masked vigilante, I already have an arch-nemesis in the wings to secure my status.

Like all good nemeses, he was born from a childhood incident. Actually, let me stop being so dramatic and spell it out. We’re talking about my old best friend. We went on a lads’ holiday to Ibiza with 8 other friends and the sh*t well and truly hit the fan. I went on holiday with 9 mates, and came back with maybe 2 friends. And one of them wasn’t my original best friend.

Anyway, after we drifted apart some 10-11 years ago now, I lost touch, and now only know anecdotes of what he gets up to through mutual contacts.

It turns out that David (which, incidentally, is a rubbish name for a nemesis and will need to be changed when the appropriate time comes) runs nowadays. (Note 2: Not to be confused with Dave, who is my friend. Too late, I’ve confused you, haven’t I?)

He was always something of a chubby lad. In high school, he packed a few extra pounds, and this meant that he grew up to be “the funny one”, and in turn the one everybody considered their friend, including all the girls in school who saw him in that same non-threatening way that a woman might find Gok Wan, and willingly disrobe in front of him (Gok Wan, not Dave…I’m getting lost in my own metaphor here). He even wore a t-shirt in the swimming pool of the aforementioned Ibiza holiday, he was so worried about his spare tyre.

So, Dave took up running about 3 years ago I think. He runs around our local village pretty much every day, on possibly 6 mile circuit (my dream 10km). Which is admirable truly. However, what is worrying is the fact that he apparently couples this new-found exercise regime with a diet of fresh air.

He now has one of those faces and bodies which you can tell is now thin, but used to hold some weight. As if he looked better fat, but now looks like he survived a plane crash living on his own urine for three weeks.

Based on the fact he has now developed epilepsy and faints at random times during the day, invalidating his driving licence, it sounds like the plane crash survival scenario may be a less embarrassing situation.

This is genuinely the first image that google offered me when I searched for "skinny man". Seeing as I found it, please take this to be my nemesis. My imagination is running wild with narratives now...

Anyhow, my point is thus – I don’t want to end up like my nemesis. I don’t want to turn into this freak of a runner, obsessing over weight and width and girth. I don’t want to stop eating what I want to. I just want to be able to run 10km / 6.2 miles and not collapse.

And if I do that, without living on lettuce and losing my licence, then I finally win.

Water

Another friend of mine, Dave, swims a couple of times a week to keep fit. He also swears by its de-stressing capabilities.
Sarah likes to swim too, and no doubt would swim more if it didn’t involve either our rather horrible local pool, or the £40 a month gym pool.
I didn’t mention this earlier (due to omission rather than anything else) but I’m also utterly allergic to swimming.
Like you’re surprised.
We had swimming class in junior school, which meant we went to the pool at a local high school once a week and were given the option of swimming or drowning for an hour.
Long story short, after 2 years (60 odd hours in said pool) I finished up with a green braid. Which basically meant that I pushed off from one side of the pool, used the principle of inertia to travel half the pool’s length (far less than an Olympic pool, I assure you) and then wildly kicked and splashed until a desperate hand struck the other end.

Not my class. I'm not that old.

Miraculously, I wasn’t the worst. There was literally 2 other kids worse than me (brothers incidentally) who couldn’t even do a width.
For a brief moment, that made me feel good. But then I would see the other kids diving for bricks in their pyjamas, and I would then remember my place in the universe.
Since school, as is my way, I stayed clear of swimming from then on. I seem to recall one holiday abroad, shortly after learning my inertia/flounder technique, and my Dad video recording me swimming a width of the hotel pool, probably 30 feet. That was a red letter day in our household.
Skip forward literally 8 years, and I ended up in the pool at my expensive gym, being expected to swim yet again.
I can’t even float, for crying out loud. My body just naturally suspends itself halfway between the floor and the surface. Basically, my body wants to drown me, it is so embarrassed.

If I could visualise the sensation...

At the gym, I learnt two things. Well three, if you include the revelation that a jacuzzi is the way forward. However,
1. I still can’t swim, despite hopes I may have learnt to do so in my sleep or something involving a bite from a radioactive goldfish.
2. I can *sort of* do the backstroke. To clarify, I can lie back for about 12 seconds, kick about and travel the length of small pool in a random trajectory (meaning the pool would have to be empty and without fellow swimmers who I may headbutt).
However, in conclusion, I can’t swim.
People often say I should try harder and that it’s a “really useful life skill”.
I live in one of the most inland counties in England, and as I have demonstrated, I can go for almost a decade between encountering any great volumes of water.
If my plane crashes, I will either be dragged into a lifeboat by some fellow passenger (maybe Sarah) or I’ll drown. Either way, I won’t die of embarrassment (water inhalation in one case, as I say).
So there you have it. One less way I could have stayed fit, and one more reason that running is my “only hope”.

Fat Old Gaz

It’s been an inevitable truth, stalking me for the past few, maybe five, years.

My childhood metabolism has left me. I’m now sat behind a desk for a living. You can’t make me eat anything sensible or portion-controlled.

I’m on a slow but clear path to getting rather fat. Heck, who am I kidding, I’m already podgy.

So let me give you the vital statistics. I’m approaching 28 years old, and I think the last time I did any sport was when I left high school at 16. And believe me, those five years of PE at high school were hours of expert avoidance.

I can’t do sport. I don’t even think “do” is the correct verb to apply to that sentence, that’s how disconnected from sport that I am. It’s all because of my childhood logic, I suppose. My parents did their bit, buying me footballs, basketballs, rackets, bats, clubs, you name it. Unfortunately, I’d try something once, fail miserably, and give up. Nobody told me that everybody started off crap, and eventually, by the time you hit junior school, you have some basic skills – the ability to catch and/or throw for example.

I can just about throw now. By that I mean I can throw a piece of garbage into a bin from a few feet away. And I can just about catch, but in that awkward, double-handed kind of way which is typically coupled with a look of dread on my face.

I can’t kick a ball. Well, yes I can kick it. But you remember kicking 101 – don’t toe-punt it? That’s pretty much where I’m stuck. I can’t play tennis or any other kind of ball and bat sort of sport. And don’t even get me started on snooker or pool.

I had three bikes during childhood. Unsurprisingly, I sort of enjoyed stabilisers. However, soon after they were yanked off by a proud and belief-filled father, I was defying the basic physics of cycling and usually falling sideways onto the pavement. I never did get as far as taking my proficiency test in the school playground, and when my friends rode bikes around the estate, I would haplessly jog alongside them and basically slow them down.

So yes, as I was saying, high school: disaster.

By this point, I was the stereotypical weird kid who understood and expected to be picked last. During football practice, I’d manage to play a defender, and then either saunter off onto the sideline at the opposite side of play, or even just sit at the side of the pitch when the teacher wandered off. Initially a joke, but eventually an outright fact, I became a rather good goalpost when there weren’t enough jumpers during lunchtime. Looking back, I could cringe. But that’s who I was. Who I am.

Since 16, I had a brief affair with a local gym – we’re talking four months’ worth of jogging on a treadmill, playing with some weights, and then the majority of an hour’s visit sat in a jacuzzi with some equally lethargic friends. And that would be that.

Up until I would guess the age of 25, a rather wondrous metabolic rate has digested my rather poor diet and kept me in 31″ waisted trousers, the same size I was upon starting college.

But, in the last twelve months, I’m buying 32″ trousers, and I’ve got what they call a “muffin top” on the increase. I’ve moved from a semi-active job (read: driving around in a Police car or filling in forms 90% of the time, 5% knocking on doors and 5% trying to chase kids), to a full-time desk job. Which, don’t get me wrong, I worked damn hard to get moved into, and I’m very happy. But, sitting on my derriere for as long as I now do at work, then swiftly exchanging a desk chair, for a car seat, and then my wonderful reclining sofa at home every evening doesn’t fill me with confidence that I’m doing myself any favours. I always said I’d like to die reasonably young and avoid the senile, drooling years, but seriously, I don’t want to end up on some Channel 5 fat documentary either.

A year ago, thinking the thoughts I’m thinking now, I splashed out on a treadmill and a cross trainer. Both of which now proudly occupy 30% of the floorspace of my open plan kitchen-diner, and occupy about 0% of my time. £500 later, and probably about 20 sessions on each, they are now very cool looking clothes lines.

God bless my willpower, eh?

But, things suddenly changed about a week ago from writing this blog entry – unfortunately this isn’t one of those blogs where I start the blog when I start “my journey”, but it’s as near as damn it.

Seemingly randomly, but in truth a consequence of the credit crunch, most of the local gyms – including my previous gym – have suddenly gone bump and shut up shop. To be frank, I don’t know why it hasn’t happened sooner. This is Stoke on Trent, and for pity’s sake, who can really justify £40 a month – per person – to join a gym?

Around the same time, I heard a new gym was opening its doors in September – “Pure Gym”. I read into it, and it turns out that (finally really) it’s one of a number of new “budget gym” chains popping up all over the place. You pay £10 a month and you get a no-frills gym. You do get plenty of gym equipment and a tidy environment, but you don’t get stupid things like a juice bar or a steam room (or for that matter, a tempting jacuzzi like last time). And that’s fine by me.

So, Sarah and I signed up to a no-commitment contract 2 weeks ago, and we sat back waiting for the gym to open…

…but then I got thinking, rather nervously, that I didn’t want to start a gym and look like a complete slob, panting and sweating everywhere, 10 minutes after getting changed into my shorts and trainers.

I have no idea why, but my brain somehow connected the dots, and suggested that I try and start running. And that was that. I was going to run and burst through the doors of that gym like a pro.

[To be continued…]