Ian O’Riordan: Physical evidence of more time on the couch becoming apparent

All this sitting down watching events unfold on little screens should come with health warning

The UK government was this week urged to reclassify swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres as essential services vital to public health. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The UK government was this week urged to reclassify swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres as essential services vital to public health. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

It was Wednesday evening before I got out for my Monday morning run this week and straightaway the warning signs were not good.

The gentlest quivering of loose and fleshy biceps. The imperceptibly protruding and yet flabby tone of the underbelly. And then the ever so slightest wobbling of the backside.

When you’ve lost count of how many times people have told you that you’re too skinny and can still comfortably fit into the same clothes you wore at school then believe me this a bit of a shock to the system. Either I’m too sensitive or else I’m getting soft. Now read on.

Flaunted by the rock star, cursed upon by the junkie, strutted by the supermodel and not to be mistaken for the seriously frail or the dying, some of us are indeed simply forged with the appearance of that unattainably thin physique and it usually takes something exceptional to shift some weight onto it.

Truth is there’s been little or no change to my skeletal frame and pointy veined limbs since starting out on my college running days in America, 30 years ago now to be exact, and I’ve never had a soft belly even when I laugh. And even if there is a difference between being fit and looking skinny, same as there is between looking strong and being weak, touching on the unbearable lightness of being has always felt like a perfectly natural fit.

This turbo engine metabolism clearly runs in the family too, my brothers and sister equally famous for their bony hugs, and our dad is still suitably trim enough to wear his 1964 Olympic blazer. Our mother has long since ceased trying to fatten us up although we do have her to thank for our sweet tooth and rock star hair.

Being raised around other runners and athletes may have also played a part; people like Noel Carroll who would often greet you with a gentle little punch in the stomach, as if to say have you run yet today?

At peak fitness or close to race day most runners are still the enemy of the all-you-can-eat Italian restaurant and don’t start me talking on the bananas and dark chocolate, and even if my body fat is now safely above zero per cent and my vascularisation no longer a horror show there is still a desperate need for at least one cushion when sitting on a hard bench.

So this strange and sudden softness of arms and legs and underbelly can’t be without some reasonably scientific explanation, and seems to have come in naturally direct proportion to my increasing exposure to virtual sports reporting.

Take last weekend as an example; the fingers and cursor went from the London marathon to the Giro d’Italia in Sicily, from the Irish cycling championships in Knockaderry to the World Athletics Continental Tour in Nairobi, then from Liège to Bastogne and back to Liège again, all while my backside hardly left the couch, or the house for that matter.

Virtual reporting

On any given previous Sunday the only time the couch might be used was for some raised-leg sit-ups after a long run before cycling down the mountain to Croke Park to report on a GAA match.

Coming on the back of three weeks of virtual reporting from Tour de France, and, okay, an increasing fondness for the super Tuscan wines, something will have to give, especially as it’s no longer safe to run or cycle around the mountains here after dark because of the wolves that came back from extinction during the first lockdown.

Things were different that first time round, when the whole world was out on the bright sunny evenings and early deadlines left plenty of time to fully explore the 2km radius and then beyond.

Some people may think that reporting on sport has always been a sedentary pursuit, and sure it often is. But cut out even the running around for a quote afterwards and all this sitting down watching events unfold on little screens all weekend should probably come with some sort of health warning – and the same must go for the virtual sports spectator too.

There will be plenty more of it this weekend; back on the couch for the Giro in Italy, catching Sam Bennett race for the first time since the Tour at Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem classic in Belgium, and before that over to Poznan in Poland for the 2020 European Rowing Championships.

Everyone enjoys being the couch potato now and again, and everyone seems to agree too that playing out the GAA championship behind closed doors over the next two months may prove essential to the mental health of the nation, the same with whatever is left of the rugby and soccer season. Virtual or otherwise, it’s infinitely better than looking down the abyss of nothing at all.

Which is also why the Government and whoever else gets to decide on these various phases of lockdown also need to look out for the smaller sporting clubs and facilities, not just the elite or professionals, and come what may find a way to keep open for as long as possible the swimming pools and badminton halls and gyms and the like, all of which are equally essential for the physical health of the nation.

The UK government was this week urged to reclassify swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres as essential services vital to public health, especially given the prospect that thousands of facilities could be shut permanently if a second lockdown is introduced – and there could be similar health and business consequences here.

Because watching any live sport by virtual means only looks set to continue through the winter at a time when the motivation to get outside for a run or cycle or swim is wearing increasingly thin, even on me, if that’s not too much of a contradiction.

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