Category Archives: Sport

Postcard from Zapallar

Given that it never takes more than 20 minutes, it’s crossed my mind that my daily run over the course of the past week has been more ritual than work-out.

But that’s OK, I’ve got to start somewhere.

For all of 2011 I never got close to reaching any sort of stamina for running — at least not the level I’d mastered only a couple of years prior.

Finding myself, at the start of 2012, in a location of mind-stopping natural beauty for a 10-day break, I decided this was a motivational opportunity too good to ignore. I said to myself that all I had to do each morning was follow the trail from the house along the road to the cemetery, down the cliffs and onto the rocky beach path which leads back up to the house. A perfect loop with unnaturally spectacular views. If I had to walk part of it, or even all of it, that was fine as long as long as I tried to run it. Daily. Without fail.

And as of Day 7, I have.

Two things inspired me to kick-start my running again. Something I read and something around me.

The something I read was an article posted by my fellow blogger, Ruben. It tells the story of a guy who claims he needs help getting motivated to go to the gym. The author replied that motivation wasn’t the issue. The problem was follow-through.

Each attempt to “motivate” himself will only increase his stress and guilt as it widens the gap between his motivation and his follow-through, between how badly he wants to work out and his failure to do so. We have a misconception that if we only cared enough about something, we would do something about it. But that’s not true.

Having become the Queen of exactly this sort of guilt-stress over the course of 2011 regarding my inability to stick with running, I read on…

Motivation is in the mind; follow-through is in the practice. Motivation is conceptual; follow-through is practical. In fact, the solution to a motivation problem is the exact opposite of the solution to a follow through problem. The mind is essential to motivation. But with follow through, it’s the mind that gets in the way.

Here’s the key: if you want to follow through on something, stop thinking.

Thinking about whether I’ll start running again or maybe try something new — that’s fine. But once I make the decision that I’m going to run and that I’m going to run tomorrow when I wake up here on my holidays in Chile — from that moment on any “thinking about it” turns to excuse-making self-sabotage.

It really is as simple as the Nike advert says.

Something around me
While I believe that most in things in life can be solved by the right words at the right moment in time (in books or conversation), words fix the mind whereas nature (wordless as it is) cures the soul.

So on top of the pep talk brought to me by Ruben, what really inspired me to get moving this week was the call of the wild. Not just the views: savage waves smashing against a shore of rock, a string of 10 pelicans gliding by on their coastal patrol, the sight of the sun creeping down and then falling below the perfect line of a horizon — but the soundtrack accompanying the scene. This is the loudest water I’ve ever faced.

As soon as I arrived the gutsy performance raging just beneath the perch of our house seemed to lay down the gauntlet … ‘come run with ME!” … and how often do I get that chance? in my everyday non-coastal life?

The path from Cementeria de Papudo back to our house at Las Perdices

Even if it is only 20 minutes each day, the sharp descents and rocky paths and collapsed stone walls are a challenge. Though not as heart-stopping as the one-eyed German shepherd that sleeps in the shade of the bushes at the entrance of Cementeria de Papudo.

I’m sure I appear demented as I slow my pace when I come to the part of my run where the dozing canine crosses my path. Each day my aim is to assure him that it’s not fear he smells, I swear. I slow down, get closer, even hold out my hand (oh god …) while telling him I MEAN YOU NO HARM I’M JUST TRYING TO GET FIT. As the days pass, the expression on the dog’s face is becoming increasingly perplexed. I suppose he worries about my mental health. He probably thinks I’m an axe murderer. I used to think this of runners too.

Anyway, once past the cemetery beast …. my obstacle course along this small stretch of the Pacific Ocean is getting easier by the day. I’ve learned to trip faster down this or that path, not stop at the top of the next one and to keep very low as I get to the end and face the steep and tricky climb up to the house.

If I was here for another week I’d have to graduate to some next level – maybe a double loop?

I’m hoping that my 10 days working this circuit has done the trick and that I’ll remember Zapallar the next time I lie in my bed on a wintry London morning and tell myself that it’s raining and too slippery or that more sleep would do more good than a run.

Perhaps I’ll ask the dog to wish me luck before I go.



Filed under Not in London, Sport, States of mind, Words

Just in time for New Year’s: The goal-less goal

Being overly concerned with achievements and material outcomes has traditionally been a Western condition. And in the last couple of decades more and more gurus are advising us that we must visualise our success — to see the scale hitting 135 pounds, to imagine ourselves crossing the finish line, to really feel what it will feel like when we finish writing that novel.

It seems logical that with any goal I should know the outcome I’m aiming for — that way I’ll know when I’ve reached it. And so in the past I’ve been committed to outcome-oriented goals… until a couple of years ago when I decided to learn how to run.

The first thing I did was sign up for a 5k race, to focus myself on a specific challenge that would arrive by a specific date. My 5k led to other 5k’s and eventually 10k’s. So having a specific outcome motivating me worked. Or did it? The sense of accomplishment I felt as I crossed the finishing line was not only fleeting, it was barely perceptible as it fleeted!

Only a couple of years before, running a 10k would’ve been inconceivable to me. I was geniunely the worst runner I’d ever met; people twice my body weight could run faster and further than me. For years I did everything but running to keep fit. Depsite this, completing my 10k failed to trigger a sense of pride or mastery or enhanced self-confidence. As I crossed the finish line, all I felt was a sigh of relief. Not even physical relief, but a psychological burden sort of relief: one of my more demanding to-do’s could be crossed from my list.

That’s how I discovered that outcomes aren’t necessarily what makes the goal worth the effort — it’s the process of getting there that is.

If the 10k gave me little satisfaction, the weeks of training for it did.

The sensation of running not only faster and further, but more naturally and comfortably, was deeply satisfying. Every time I hit the pavement, ran along the canal from Westbourne Grove down to Paddington and then into Hyde Park and along to Kensington Gardens and then up to the Caffe Nero on Hereford Road where I’d stop for my well-earned coffee — was worth it … both for how I’d feel at the end of each run and for the minute-by-minute pleasure of feeling my body in sync with my mind.

My trail along the canal and into the park was one little accomplishment after another. Foot in front of foot, in front of foot, in front of foot, my mind fell into rest as I pummelled along. My usual “should’s” and “must-do’s” and “why-am-I-so-bad-at-running” thoughts were finally overpowered and stunned into silence.

Here’s how another blog explains the benefit of process rather than outcome goals …

… people are too obsessed with outcomes and need to focus more on the process. This is captured in a lot of eastern-based philosophies that tell us … this exact moment is all we have so enjoy the present. Too much obsession about future results blocks our ability to grow and uncover hidden opportunities.

The Goal Triangle

The idea that process goals reflect a more Eastern outlook reminds me of Murakami’s book about running and being a writer.  Come to think of it, reading is the perfect example of process trumping outcome. All the pleasure is in the doing rather than the achieving.

Sure, there are things I want to accomplish. I want to complete a triathlon. I want to publish my book. I am not immune to wanting to reach concrete results, but I’ve come to realise that I’ll get a lot more pleasure out of the hours I put into trying to achieving these things than the hour I achieve it.

So happy reading, writing, walking, running, cycling, travelling, performing, playing, doodling, singing, skating, cleaning, cooking, chatting, dancing, sleeping, bathing and relaxing over the course of 2012.

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Filed under Self-help, Sport, States of mind

Tune in to tune out

I’m working in New York this week and have been walking the 30 or so blocks from my brother’s apartment to the office. For several mornings it’s been raining hard.

This, however, hasn’t stopped several fellow walkers from reading on their way to work.

Londoners walk and text. New Yorkers can walk and read and juggle an umbrella and a cup of coffee. And sometimes a stroller.

On one level this is just an example of multi-tasking, but when people tune out of their environment in order to tune into a book or a radio show or a newspaper or their itunes, it’s also a bid for personal space.

These people are transporting themselves elsewhere. They’ve checked out of the hustle and bustle under their feet, over their head and shoving on past them.

We urban souls fight noise pollution and cramped body space by creating these sensory barriers (achieved through headphones or miniature video screeens or hard copy reading material) that shield us from sensory attacks from sources we cannot control (that siren, the contruction drill, that mother screaming at her child.)

I’m old enough to remember the outbreak of Sony Walkmans back in the 80’s. At first being surrounded by headphoned people seemed wrongfully anti-social, but then I got one and life no longer seemed complete without the ability to control my own soundtrack.

Creating our own experience amidst chaos feeds that most primal of needs — the urge to control our environment. The more anxiety ridden some of us are, the greater that urge.

These days I rarely ever listen to music on my way anywhere — but this is the subject of another blog … the way some of my life phases demand music vs times like now, when it just wouldn’t cross my mind and even if it did — I wouldn’t know what to pick.

Instead, in the past six months or so I’ve fallen prey to a different distractor — if I’m commuting to work or burning fat on the treadmill, I’m hooked into a podcast (once known as a webcast as in a broadcast published on the internet, now “pods” in a nod to Apple’s role in making this sort of media so popular.)

I can’t remember how and when I downloaded my first podcast, but I do thank both my mother and my friend Dave for routinely offering me excellent recommendations.

This weekend’s blog series will share some of those (and I’d love it if you replied with your own listening suggestions.) 

First up is a podcast from RadioLab which was brought to my attention by Dave in response to the recent Question of Sport blog-off with Charlotte.

Featuring stories from Freakanomics author Stephen Dubner,  Games discusses what it means to be a hero-worshipping fan, the nature of child’s play and why some games are better than others. Whether you’re on a long walk, doing the laundry, hitting the gym, pottering around the house, cooking up a storm or just trying to tune out from the noise around you to tune into something more meaningful and worthwhile, this is a great listen.


Filed under Bibliotherapy, Sport

Me vs You

Well, I’d call Friday and Saturday’s “blog-off” (as coined by Charlotte, everything’s a competition!), a result.

A. It now appears I am officially invited to the 2012 Olypmics (even if I am not worthy)
B. I think I’ve worked out what’s going on with Me vs Sports Fans

Once, when I was depressed about the direction of my life, I remember watching a bus go by with a movie advert plastered along the side of it and thinking to myself, “well, things could be worse, I could be an actress; then my life would be really pointless.”

And the poster featured Kristen Scott Thomas – who I ADORE, so that’s how black and white and tragic my thinking was at that time.

I mention this now — with respect to a question of sport, because the trouble I’ve had taking the sporting industry seriously is a bit like thinking actresses have no purpose.

There are things in life I’ve considered “real” and things I’ve considered “not real.” On the real end I would’ve listed work, health (and death), family, friends. On the not real end I would’ve listed fiction, TV shows (even reality ones), theatre, the movies, sporting events. I would’ve parked politics somewhere in between. Fairly unreal but with real consequences.

Not sure if that list confuses or explains the particular version of The
Matrix I created and lived within. This real/not real categorization is not reflective of conscious decisions I made. I’m just aware that for some reason I’d long assumed that work was real and sport was not. Therefore spending a disproportionate amount of time watching and reading about sport has struck me as reality avoidance.

But just as I recovered my senses with respect to the pointlessness of being Kristin Scott Thomas (who, if I wasn’t myself, I would very much like to be), I think I’m coming around a corner on the sports fan thing.

Just as I understand that fiction and the movies — that stories — maybe appear to be an optional, random, not-so-real feature of life but in fact are impossible to live without (they create meaning for us, break down stereotypes, help us reflect, teach us to think differently, have the power to inspire world peace and failing all that, entertain), I think I’ve taken away from Charlotte the importance of being a fan. Fanhood offers:

  • a sense of community and affiliation
  • a channel for our competitive natures that’s a whole lot less destructive than war
  • meaning and ritual
  • escape and entertainment

And all these things are real and essential to life. (Maybe even more so than work?) It’s just that it’s not in my nature to access these sorts of things by following a football team. But I’m pretty glad that a whole bunch of other people do.

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Filed under Sport

Charlotte replies to a question of sport

As a fervent sports fan who deals with sports on average every 10 seconds per day, I am going to try and sway Nathalie from a non-carer to a carer. This is going to be VERY DIFFICULT but I will at least give it a shot, and if all fails, perhaps I’ll convinced other non-believers that watching sports can be so damn exciting. If there’s no light switch, no falling of coins, perhaps my words may reveal what’s going on in the mind of a sports freak.

Why do I pull out the sports section of a newspaper first? The answer is I MUST know results, who beat who, and by how much, what happened during the race/match/game. My passion comes from having been thrown into tennis, football, running, ballet and more as a young girl in Belgium. Playing a sport competitively as a child made me understand that sports is all about learning a skill and performing that skill to the best of my ability and consistently.

Steffi Graff’s forehand cross-court winner during the Wimbledon final looked significantly easier on TV than when I (tried to) replicate the same shot on a sun-burnt grass court at my tiny local tennis club. The grass was greener in Wimbledon, both figuratively and literally speaking. Watching the great elegance with which Steffi made her opponent squirm — the way she used her physical strength, agility, mental toughness and perfected technical shots all the while being surrounded by the prestige and history of Wimbledon, that’s what had me glued to my TV screen as an 8 year old. That’s the first memory I have of how my slightly abnormal following of tennis began.

Why do 50 English men squeeze their fat Carling-filled bellies in a cheap 20 seater-bus to endure an 8 hour long hellish ride to an obscure town in the North of England to watch their Southern football team get absolutely nowhere with a lifeless 0-0 against a team at the bottom of the table? I believe it is the love and affiliation you build up over the months and years with a team … by watching your 11 men (or women!) perfect their bodies and skill to become the ultimate footballer, to reach the top of their ability week in week out and work together in unison with their teammates. All this to strive for that common goal of beating the twats (I mean the opposition) and to wiggle their way up the table ahead of all the other twats. And although a 0-0 draw may seem duller than a dishwasher, I can guarantee that those 50 beer-bellied men would still have felt an enormous satisfaction from seeing their team try to kick a ball in the back of their opponent’s net for the duration of 90 minutes.

The passion and love for a sport, never mind a team, once ignited can never really die.

I could write a marathon on this and never even scratch the surface of this sport-watching mystery. It’s the affiliation, it’s the competition, it’s the mastery and perfection. But above all it’s something beyond words. So on that note — brace yourself, housemate, I invite you to accept a ticket to watch the volleyball semi-final in Earl’s court at the Olympics with me. I defy you to do that and then turn to me and ask, “Charlotte, why are we here?”

* * *

Note from Nat – shortly after I received Charlotte’s reply, I got an urgent facebook message:

nat i forgot a part about when a fellow country person plays and feeling the pride of when a fellow belgian plays and wins. And the pain of when they loose. DAMN IT!

As Charlotte said, her explanations may only scratch the surface of what drives her sporting passion — with anything so primal, the energy runs so deep it’s hard to answer WHY.


Filed under Sport

A question of sport

My attitude towards sports is something I’ve been meaning to confess. I needed the right confessor, and now I’ve found her — my housemate, Charlotte.

So here’s the thing: I don’t get sports.

I don’t understand why people care so much about it.

I realize this is an odd complaint, but now that we’ve got the Olympics coming to town I need to say something.

I do understand playing sport (exercise + fun + friends.) I don’t understand watching it or reading about it. Or rather, I understand only a teeny bit. So the sounds of a tennis rally, the whack and pop of the ball hitting a racket will always make me think of my grandfather. Summertimes in Ireland, sitting in the TV room on that grey-black 1970’s sofa furniture where the cushions rested on very thick bands of rubber that creaked loudly if we did not sit stoney still, Papa watched Wimbledon and from time to time, passed us the brown bag of wine gums if we were good.

And yes, under the right circumstances, I can get excited about the World Cup: in 1994 when I was in Italy by myself I did of course head to the nearest Irish pub (and isn’t there always one) just in time to support Ireland vs Mexico.

But that’s about the extent of my appreciation for the watching sports thing.

Except — wait, ice skating — I can watch that any time and get transfixed. In fact I had a weird thing going on with me and ice skating. When I used to be an insomniac I’d listen to music to fall asleep and no matter the tempo or style (from Vivaldi to The Eagles), I’d imagine I was skating to it — pulling off moves that made the audience gasp. I could play that video in my head for hours. And many sleepless nights, did.

Ok – but that’s really it.

I don’t otherwise understand the enormity of the sporting industry. I don’t get how so very many people devote large chunks of their entire lives to being fans and doing fan-like things. I don’t understand the TV coverage, the emotional urgency of it all. I really want to. But I do not.

I moved to London in 1996. I came because my brother had been transferred by his bank for a stint overseas. When I got here I did all the right things – I read Nick Hornby, went to see Colin Firth in Fever Pitch and did in fact go watch Arsenal play a few times. My brother shared his beautiful South Ken pad with me and while I was happy to live with him, I was not happy about the football (American). My brother invested in SURROUND SOUND and there was absolutely nowhere in that flat to which I could retire peacefully without either American football or Star Trek  booming out from the large flat screen. Which, when we were home, was ALL of the time. And while I hate to deny my brother some light R&R, the sound of sports commentators small-talking and seriously debating followed by speeded up mounting alarm punctuated by shrieks of mild hysteria, well, it’s now my least favourite household noise.

So enter Charlotte. My housemate. She loves me just enough to tolerate this heresy of which I write.

Sport is Charlotte’s life. Not that there isn’t a whole lot more to her – but I’ve really never been friends with someone so sports-infused 24/7.  She rides her bike to work everyday, does extreme races on the weekends, heads down the park to play rugby after work — while a tad excessive, all this I can get. She also works for the International Tennis Federation,  is constantly rescuing the sports section from the pile of newspaper ready for the cat litter and frequently makes reference to people and places and events that mean nothing to me — until I realize from her arched brow and gentle head nod, that yes she is once again attempting to talk to me about the sort of sporting hero that she finds it unfathomable that I HAVE NOT HEARD OF.

Several times, Charlotte got up at a time of morning that I call night in an attempt to win the Olympic ticket lottery.

She gets the whole thing I do not get.

And so tomorrow I hand over my blog to Charlotte who shall attempt to explain to me why sport is so great.


Filed under Sport

Save someone from drowning

For those of you holding your breath for the Me & My Money survey results, stay tuned later this week. Thanks to all contributors – it’s making for fascinating reading and some interesting findings.

Today I bring to your attention an article a Facebook friend posted on his wall. Drowning doesn’t look like drowning

As I recently learnt researching my own piece on drowning (which is concerned with what near-death experiences teach us about time management), the Hollywood version of a drowning person bears no resemblance to reality.

Someone really drowning is physiologically incapable of flailing their arms and making a noticeable commotion.

The author of this piece references some of the same sources I found along the way and importantly, lists the signs that someone has started to drown, while there’s still time to save them. Cheery, I know — but well worth a read as the Summer arrives.

PS. On a related note, I had my 1st swimming lesson (as an adult) last week at the Marshall Street pools; 3 days later and my legs still ache and I found the whole thing so much harder than I was banking on …. Still, no pain, no gain. Right?


Filed under Random idea, Sport