It’s 7pm. It’s dark and I’m performing my 17th hill rep on the steep street of a quiet housing estate. It hurts. My lungs burn, my legs ache and nausea rises from the pit of my stomach each time I reach the top of the hill.
I am alone. No one is making me do this yet I find myself in similar situations several times a week. If it’s not hill reps then it’s cycling laps, swimming in the sea, circuits on the beach or ab sessions in the living room.
When people ask what I’m training for I say: “Life”.
It’s a joke of course. I don’t take myself seriously enough to say things like that with a straight face. Recently, however, I’ve started to wonder whether there might be some truth in it.
Last month I walked across a desert. It was a simple trip but a hard slog. Not superhuman but enough that my friend, who I would describe as having a decent level of fitness (he’s a full-time tennis coach), had to give up after the first day. I hadn’t given any thought to training for the crossing but I’m sure those hill reps can’t have hurt.
Similarly, I built up from running 13 miles on the Circle Line to 45 on the Central last year with no training outside of a half dozen Tube runs. And on Christmas Day I cycled 90 miles in the heat of the Gulf and still had strength enough to open my presents at the end of it.
This isn’t bragging. I have no doubt that most people reading this could just as easily do most of these things. My point is that when I crested a 100-metre sand dune with a 16kg rucksack and reached West Ruislip after 12 hours of running, I would turn to Laura (who tends to be with me on both the hill reps and the adventures) and say:
“This is what we have been training for”
To give us sufficient fitness that we can do the things we want to do. So that we can enter a race at the drop of a hat, hike for twelve hours without worrying if we’ll make it or commit to swimming a river despite no preparation.
Perhaps for you it’s not exercise. Maybe it’s tirelessly writing a blog that no one reads so that when the opportunity arises for publication, you know your skills are honed. It might be practicing your navigation in the mountains even though you know exactly where you are, trying to cook elaborate dishes when there’s no one around to eat them, or busting a gut to produce your finest work despite knowing it will go unnoticed.
But you do it anyway because it’s what you love and because one day it might just pay off. Don’t wait for an opportunity to arrive before you begin training. Start now. Train for life.