Friday, April 8, 2016

Life's Odometer

Another birthday has come and gone, another click-over on life's odometer, 62 this time, so, once again, it's time to take stock of my health and fitness. I actually train for the week of my birthday as if it is a competition event that I want to achieve well at. Part of the reason is because I am a vain man who likes to impress people with the level of my fitness at what is perceived by most to be an advanced age. I hasten to point out that there are people with far bigger challenges than I, people who are older and fitter than I and people with health and injury limitations who would put my small triumphs to shame.

In fact I have an implacable critic that I desperately need to gain the respect of. It is someone from whom I cannot hide my weaknesses, who knows all the mind tricks, the gamesmanship that I use on myself and others to hide folly or lack of determination. Nobody knows my strengths and weaknesses like I do and because of that, like most, I am my own harshest critic.

My biggest challenge is I'm getting old, there's no denying it. Most mornings, in fact pretty much my whole working day, I feel and move like an old man. Taking stairs slowly, one tread at a time, holding on to the handrail, getting in and out of chairs slowly because of knee pain.

This is in stark contrast to how I feel and perform at the gym. I usually do Les Mills Body Pump and Body Combat classes which basically focus on aerobic training, burning off kilojoules and building lean muscle. I perform reasonably well, in the top 10% of the class. It's true that I am just about always the only man in the classes, but what of it? The average age is about thirty years my junior and if I could keep up with the best of them I'd be built like a Greek God instead of a medieval gargoyle!

My goal is to keep body fat down and build an ectomorph style body: a swimmers body, rather than a weight-lifter's body. This is mainly because my chosen sport is fencing epee for which I need speed and stamina. I've been told that I am a relatively strong fencer, in that I will knock an opponents blade away, but this is not an particularly good thing since it is not an effective offense or defense beyond the fact that I will continue to parry and riposte beyond the normal one or two exchanges.

My long-term training goal should be to increase my stamina so that, should I get beyond the first round of a DE or Direct Elimination, I will have the reserves necessary to play out a competition to the final rounds. I tend to fence on adrenalin, pushing hard and fast but getting drained before the end of the competition. My major training goal for my fencing should be skill-based rather than strength-based. My issue here should be that I need to be a better fencer, a smarter, more skilled fencer, rather than a stronger fencer.

Appearance-wise, I wouldn't mind putting some bulk on around my arms, chest and shoulders. What man wouldn't?. My issue here is that, in the past, when I have pushed myself to my limits of anaerobic weights, I have injured my muscles. This needs more study but my theory is that instead of my muscles developing microtears that heal into larger, more efficient muscles, they simply develop into full-blown tears.

Some days I feel particularly wasted and I know that getting enough sleep is a real challenge which I need to address more firmly. I try to eat more protein than carbohydrates and fats but this recent Easter vacation has been a real binge! Stopping off on two nights for hot chocolate and chocolate eggs particularly stand out.

Specific ideas...

  • Need to do something at home everyday, either planking or pushups, because my stomach and back are weak points
  • A regular stretching routine that I can do at any time would be good. I should perfect my Mok'bara
  • Likewise I need to do something about my posture
  • ...and finally I need to make sure my knees are strapped up for competitions, it took me weeks to recover from the last one and it's still giving me trouble at times.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Safety: Libertarian issue or gender issue?


I was embroiled recently in an online debate that got a little heated between myself and someone who I admire and respect, a free-spirited woman who took offense to a post from a man who was quite transparently wrong in his motives and point of view. I took the opportunity to make my viewpoint on safety known.

Safety is not a gender issue. I am a safety professional in a safety-obsessed industry. My life and career is founded on safety. I live and breath safety. If anything, safety is a civil rights issue. There is a perceived polarity between safety and liberty in that people see safety as an infringement on their personal liberty. Like a true Trekkie I'll try to give the case for both and see if I can craft a middle line that will cover the major issues of both sides.

As a young man, as is the wont of young men, I took chances. I loved to run the ragged edge of danger. In some cases I did it without knowing and I can only recognise it in hindsight. Walking though Capetown alone and calling into a random bar for a beer. Truly God looks after children, innocents and trusting Aussies. It is in the nature of young people to run the ragged edge of danger, some people never grow out of it and that is a viable choice for them to make with their lives.

However, whilst I agree with and support everyone's right to travel, practice extreme sports and take any chances they wish that are neither illegal nor unethical, I do not respect people who flount safety. I will support a person's right to do so if it is legal but, no, I stand fast on my principle that it is *NOT* something I admire in people to place themselves in danger needlessly. I don't care whether it is a boy, girl, Aussie, American or the King of France!

My daughter rides a motor bike. We've talked about it once and she knows where I stand on this: she is a grown woman and I support her desire to experience the thrill of riding a motor bike. I support her desire to be wild and free but I also admire her choice to ride responsibly and defensively. I would support her decision to ride no matter what she did but if I knew she was not riding safely I'd tell her she's a damn fool. I would have exactly the same conversation with my son if he rode a motor cycle but he doesn't, he rides a bicycle through Sydney streets which is probably more dangerous.

The media and the establishment have tried to use travelling safety as a rod to whip feminists, saying that they are foolhardy to place themselves at risk. I fully support feminists when they point out that, if this is so then the fault lies with the men who perpetrate the acts of violence and that the victims should not have to take any special care. As the Guardian points out in the case of the two young Argentinian women, MarĂ­a Coni and Marina Menegazzo, killed while backpacking in Ecuador, "All travellers should take safety precautions, regardless of age or sex. Nobody is suggesting that women shouldn’t make the same sensible preparations as their male peers." Women should not need to be placed under any sort of restriction, specific or implied, that men are not. Violence upon them is the guilt of their attackers and, even if they have not been prudent, even if they have taken chances, they have the same right to do so as any other person.

As a mature man I get stereotyped. I sometimes feel that people have a photograph of me - or someone who looks like me - in their pocket labelled, "Always supports the establishment: ignore". It gives them a a convenient 'get out of jail card' whereby they don't have to consider what I say because it's 'old fart talk'.

Never discount anyone. "Even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story." When I am trying to talk about are sensible safety practices, no one - male, female, white, rich or poor - is immune. Discounting my words as sexist or anti-libertarian is a cop-out. If you have a counter argument, great, I would love to hear it, but if you are riding on a wave of bravado, you're fighting a losing battle

I abhor the very real danger that some men represent. It goes against my upbringing, my instincts, my philosophy, my ethics... but it exists. It exists at home just as much as it does abroad, as my friend pointed out, she is statistically in more danger from someone she knows than a stranger. I absolutely agree that the fault lies with the perpetrators, the men who have these attitudes and the society that condones and perpetuates it. However you have to accept that the danger exists and take it into account. 

You can say exactly the same about racial discrimination and prejudice or road rage or gun proliferation. These are all contentious issues but ignoring them won't keep you safe. A fool buying a firearm without storing it and using it responsibly might puff their chest out and spout about their libertarian right, but if his son finds it and kills himself, it will not bring him back to life. A black man expecting white supremacists in America's south to respect his rights is being just as foolhardy as a white American frat boy expecting North Korea to have a sense of humour about a prank.

Do what you will within the law but if you ignore safety and tragedy strikes I shall weep with you. There are no winners when this happens. Everyone loses.