Artist envy

I think most office-bound workers have a desire, sometimes at least, to get out there and do something, well, a little more creative. If it weren’t for my lack of skills in these departments, I would love to do something similar, in spirit, to these two friends:

Klaus Thymann went with his camera and photographed these talented parkour artists / refugee camp athletes in the unlikeliest of destinations, war torn Gaza. Have a look at the magnificent photos, beautifully merging politics, athleticism and aesthetics, on the New York Times Style Magazine website.

Mateus Alves is a humble physicist turned double bass player and composer, studying at London’s Royal College of Music. His work, the Two Seasons of Brazil’s Northeast, merges conventional and Brazilian rhythms to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Go you!

Posted in Music, Sportish 1 Comment »

What I rant about when I rant about running

Allow me to tell you a thing or two about running marathons. It is limp-like-a-gangsta days for me, having just returned from Boston, where, I believe, the healthy bits of my legs are now scattered finely across the roads. They are nowhere to be found around here.

Given that it is one of the few races for which you have to qualify, Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of achievement for amateur runners. It is also the oldest annual marathon in the universe and part of the World Marathon Majors, the premier league of the running world.

All of the Majors sell out every year, so the organisers use various filtering mechanisms to keep numbers manageable. Boston recognises merit (how fast you can run), whereas London is primarily interested in the value you represent (how much money you can raise for charity), making it the planet’s biggest fundraising event.

This is obviously a great idea.

But having been born and bred in a country where the state provides most of the things that charities do here, I find it deeply embarrassing to ask friends, family, colleagues and (yikes!) clients to sponsor me to do something I really enjoy doing. On the other hand, I will never pay £2,000 out of my own pocket to run 42.2 km in the streets of my hometown. This is not going to earn me the Nobel Prize, but I find arbitrary ‘charity taxation’ slightly odd. Why not apply the same principles to child births, driving or travelling abroad? I hope the British charity bug does not spread to the other great races, Berlin, New York, Chicago and Boston.

Filtering mechanisms aside, running marathons has become a staple part of the global white middle-class self-fulfillment repertoire. The fastest runners are from Kenya and the rest reside in altogether different socio-demographic categories. Marathons are indeed made of the stuff white people like.

Marathon running is possibly the sport with the biggest gap between elite and mainstream practitioners, so the recent surge in popularity may not change this picture in the foreseeable future. Utrecht Marathon tried to promote ‘local’ winners by offering only 1/100 of the prize money if a foreigner (i.e. a Kenyan) took the first spot, a blatantly stupid move, offset ever so slightly by means of private intervention by a Dutch businessman.

Speaking of money, your average marathon runner has lots of disposable income.

This is reflected in the never-ending stream of kit, coaching and ‘nutrition’ products directly targeting runners. Colourful liquids (with fancy indicative names such as ‘hydro power recovery booster’, ‘space shuttle energiser’ and ‘enriched muscle power fountain’), compression bands for every imaginable body part, titanium discs that will take away any pain before it appears (click here for further inspiration) and, the big thing at the moment, barefoot running shoes (see the irony) at prices that would otherwise land you a small island, to name just a few. People love this stuff.

I highly recommend the PeBuPaPa diet, developed by neuro-biologists at Bordeaux University and scientists from the MIT biotech cluster/Harvard. This tried and tested pre-race combo consists of Peanut Buttered Pancakes and Painkillers (PeBuPaPa). They are working on a shoe made of uranium enriched organic peanut butter and stem cells, so watch this space.

While I consider running a most enjoyable activity, I have little desire to join the ‘running community’. People who get excited about the concept of a ‘pasta party’ – WHILE wearing a track suit indoors AND listening to loud ‘motivational’ music from the 90s – arouse suspicion in me. No offense, but I am just not that much into it…

What I do like, however, is the thrill of the race itself. Few things in this world stand up to passing through the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, allegedly the only (wo)man-made structure that can be heard from the moon, or running down monumental Unter den Linden in Berlin.

Talking to other runners, I am not the only one to have experienced brain tickles – like someone pouring small amounts of cold water directly onto your brain – when going through said tunnel or eyeing the finish line. This phenomenon, usually occurring well into the race, must have a medical classification that I am not aware of. While others will run for beer, I will continue pursuing that feeling. Right until the candle burns up my arm.

My annoying brother, who does not need to train to run long and fast.

Posted in Sportish 3 Comments »

Blackberry-free zone

Regent’s Canal, connecting Paddington with Limehouse since 1820. I spend 80 kilometres of my time there every week, so I decided to bring along a camera. I never understood why some people get bored when they run, there is just too much to think about, too many things to look at. Hipsters, hippies and hamsters, to name but a few…

Posted in Picture posts, Sportish, Urban No Comments »

The irresistible brand

I can’t quite figure out what it is exactly, but there is something about Rapha that draws me in as if I’d never heard of the concepts of ‘marketing’ and ‘consumerism’ before:

A passion for road riding means Rapha is more than just a product company. In addition to its online emporium of performance roadwear, accessories and publications, Rapha also boasts an ever-expanding archive of news, features and events, all celebrating the glory and suffering of road riding.

Take a look at the website and see for yourself how beautiful it is, from the colours on the screen through to the products and services. Also, the short films are in a league of their own.

And then take a look at the price tags…

The future of high-end brands in this bracket no doubt belongs to small, highly specialised outfits that are what they sell. Perfection as such doesn’t exist, but like the Higgs boson it may be created temporarily if you know what you’re doing.

Posted in Design, Sportish 1 Comment »

Becoming one with nature in London

At £20, becoming a member of the Serpentine Swimming Club does not cost the world. It is one of the few places in London where triathletes can train in open waters. The membership application form suggests there might be another ‘fee’ to pay, though:

Tests over the years have shown that without chemical treatment bacteriological contamination can occur in the Serpentine. We are advised that swimming in contaminated water such as untreated Serpentine may render the swimmer open to such diseases as:

a) Salmonellosis or Shingellosis – at worst typhoid but more generally stomach upsets;
b) Amoebic dysentery;
c) Poliomyelitis;
d) Infective hepatitis;
e) Sore throats, noses, ears etc. caused by streptococci psdeudomonads or staphylococci.

These are only some of the possibilities; there are others, including Weill’s disease and botulism.

It has been agreed that members of the swimming club may continue to swim from the Lido between 06.00 am and 09.30 am when the water is untreated, but any club member who chooses to swim does so at his / her risk. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will not be responsible for any injury or infection caused by contamination of the water.

I have read and understood the contents of this application form / letter. I realise that the water in the Serpentine may be untreated, contaminated and unsuitable for swimming. I accept the risk of injury or infection if I choose to swim there in spite of this warning. I understand the rules of the club, swim times and permitted areas.

My colleague tells me her friends always finish off a Serpentine swimming session with a glass of Coke, apparently it sanitises the system…

Speaking of fitness regimes, this is seriously interesting stuff: Evolutionary fitness.

Posted in Sportish 3 Comments »

Instant autumn karma

There is nothing like an early morning run in Holland Park while the city is still asleep. This morning the paths were covered in crisp, yellow leaves, flanked by carved-out pumpkins that had barely survived the night. Not a single person in sight, it was raining cats and dogs, with bitter leaves still being hurled down from above. There is but one appropriate soundtrack for an excursion like that:

Next time I come there, it will be for the Belvedere and the tune will undoubtedly be different.

Posted in Sportish 1 Comment »

‘Four of you will have to go, sorry’

If one day they decided to organise themselves in unions, my life would become much more difficult.

Posted in Picture posts, Sportish No Comments »

Confessions of an addict

Despite swearing that all those lonely hours on the bank of the Thames were a thing of the past. Despite reaching the conclusion that there is absolutely nothing worse than passing the 38-kilometer mark on foot. There is only one way forward, and that is Boston.

London Marathon would, of course, be the obvious choice, but it is only open to runners who can raise at least £1K for charity. This makes it the largest annual fund raising event in the world; the 2009 race alone raised more than £47.2 million. The runner in me thinks it is rubbish that participation is virtually restricted to wealthy people or those with generous friends (I find it incredibly embarrassing to beg for money for something I love doing). On the other hand, it is great that so many charitable causes come to benefit so much.

Posted in Sportish No Comments »

An ode to Norway

Aside from the unique summer light and the fit people, one of the great things about Norway is the unspoilt nature. People tend to asume that Scandinavia is all pretty much the same but unlike Denmark, Sweden and Norway are packed full of mountains and forests – and not so much people.

Along the mountaineous fjords outside Stavanger and beyond, the landscape is dotted with cabins within walking distance of each other. Many of them unstaffed, the door is never locked and everyone can enter anytime. They are clean, tidy places equipped with wood burners, food and all reasonable amenities. Best of all, they are run according to an ‘honesty principle’, whereby people leave the place as they would like to find it and pay for whatever they have consumed. And that is it. (more…)

Posted in Environments, Picture posts, Sportish 2 Comments »

The 42-word novel

Overheard on the tennis court. A couple packing their bags getting ready to leave, both of them clearly uncomfortable.

She: You just have to focus on what he told you to practice.
He: But, baby, you know I can’t return your serves.

Posted in Sportish No Comments »