Monday, November 22, 2010

Fit to Sail?

Do I sail a Laser to keep fit? Or keep fit to sail a Laser? What's the relationship between fitness and sailing for me?

As they say in one of the Facebook options for Relationship Status ... it's complicated. It's both I suppose. And neither entirely. Is the prop driving the wheels or are the wheels driving the prop? It's complicated.

My personal relationship with physical fitness is complicated for sure. At school I hated sports and avoided them as much as I could. It was probably something to do with the way the English educational system worked at the time which meant that, while I might have been one of the smartest kids in my class, I was also by far the youngest (18 months younger than the class average) and therefore one of the smallest and weakest and least physically developed of my so-called peers.

Rugby? Big kids knocking me over in the mud.

Cross-country? Big kids running faster through the mud than me and leaving me behind.

Cricket? Big kids throwing a hard ball at my head.

What was there to like? There was no me in team.

I never really got over my aversion to sports and physical exercise in my college years... apart from my brief flirtation with rowing which was fun if not exactly a huge success.

In my first job after graduation I was lucky in falling in with a group of guys who were into hill-walking in all weathers in the mountains of Wales (where we lived.) I began to appreciate the joys of the great outdoors and even to take a pleasure in overcoming physical challenges.

I tried white-water kayaking too. Disastrous.

I tried rock-climbing. Whoah. Not good for someone scared of heights.

In my next job the folk at work played games like squash and badminton, and I joined in. But it was more for social reasons than anything else. I was never any good at either game really.

In my thirties I started running. Entered some races. Was never any good at that either but for some weird reason I stuck with it. Probably an ideal sport for an anti-social bastard like me.

I had tried sailing on odd occasions but had never done it regularly. That all changed when one day on vacation in Menorca I had my first sail on a Laser. There was something about the responsiveness and acceleration and closeness to the water of the experience of Laser sailing that grabbed me in the first few minutes... and it hasn't let go of me for nigh on thirty years.

I was somewhat surprised at first to discover that you need to be physically fit to sail a Laser properly. But after a while I began to appreciate that Laser sailing gave me a good workout and also gave me a motivation to keep fit.

So do I sail the Laser to keep fit? That's not the prime reason I sail it by any means, but it is a beneficial side-effect of sailing the Laser. That's probably one of the reasons I keep sailing the Laser rather than a boat which wouldn't physically challenge me so much. I like it that it challenges me. I don't always like it when I fail the challenge, but hey that goes with the game.

When I fail to perform on the water at the level I expect of myself because of a lack of stamina or strength or flexibility or agility, it (sometimes) motivates me to work on my fitness to improve my sailing. I'm very much in that phase now. My pathetic performance at the Laser Masters Worlds in September made me angry with myself. I channeled that anger into working on my fitness. In the last couple of months I have had a much stronger motivation to work out than I can remember ever having before. And I have been able to work consistently on various aspects of my fitness. I hope I can maintain this momentum through the dark months of winter and into next summer's sailing season. Then we will see if it pays off in sailing performance.

So do I keep fit to sail? To an extent. That may be a major part of my motivation to work out and get fitter. But of course the more important reason is that we all need to stay fit, especially so as we grow older. As I wrote over four years ago in How to Grow Old...

It's better to have a long, healthy, active old age than to be a grumpy old geezer who can't climb upstairs without running out of breath or breaking a leg...

And study after study has shown that loss of muscle strength, not disease, is the major factor that limits the chances of older people living an independent life until death. And the natural decline in muscle strength that sets in after the age of 50 can easily be reversed through a simple training program.

It's complicated. Is the prop driving the wheels or are the wheels driving the prop? I don't know. It's magic.

I think I'll go to bed now.


Mike said...

Aw, can’t I stay fit and be a grumpy old git as well?

Tillerman said...

Sure Mike. That's my plan too.

B.J. Porter said...

I'm thinking "motivation to get more fit" here after I am hobbling around on aching quads on Monday from Saturday's sailing.

I dislike working out for working out's sake, one primary reason is that it hurts later if I do it hard enough to make a difference and it is really tedious and not fun at all. But I love sailing the Laser, even though it hurts later when I push it. Saturday's big (for me) breeze was one of those days.

In theory the Laser should make me more fit but I don't do it routinely enough for a "regular" workout, but I'm beginning to think that doing something else to be able to sail better (and hurt less later) makes more sense...

Somehow in my mind going sailing for exercise seems ...frivolous... because I enjoy it a lot, whereas going to the gym to workout is unpleasant and therefore must be worthwhile and good for me. I think that is a societal convention as well.

I think I need to work on that head trash too.

Tillerman said...

Well said BJ. Sailing a Laser is fun but, in my experience, just sailing a Laser doesn't actually make you fit enough to sail a Laser well. Weird! And I agree with you that working out in a gym isn't any fun, or at least not as much fun as Laser sailing.

So the trick is how to motivate yourself to work out enough to improve as a Laser sailor. Anger is working for me right now but I suspect it won't sustain me for ever. I have some other ideas and suggestions on the conundrum which I will probably blog about in the next few weeks.

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