Friday, August 20, 2010

South Riding 4: Sutton

The first house I owned was one of these two up two down terraced cottages.

Looking round the street I am surprised how little it has changed - there is not even much double glazing. I was half expecting the area to have been gentrified: a conservation area of Victorian housing in a prosperous borough, with easy links to the centre of London would seem to tick a few boxes. But no, if anything it looks a little bit shabbier.

However it still has the sense of quietness I remember. It is odd how some streets, just a few yards from busy streets or near a town centre can be quite peaceful. Not picturesque but reasonably communal.

I am struck by the wheelie bins and how awkward they are for small terraced houses. There is nowhere for them to hide. Our modern townscapes are characterised by the difficulty of finding spaces for wheelie bins and cars.

From the point of view of a running blog the most interesting thing about my time in Sutton is that it was when I was the fittest I have ever been.

I worked in Central London and not only was I not tremendously well paid, I had a family with a young son and a new house. In other words money was very tight. So I cut the commuter bill by cycling: 14 miles twice a day, 5 days a week, throughout the year. It did wonders for my fitness but the strange thing was, as it was a by-product, I didn’t immediately notice the changes: they crept up on me when I wasn't looking. There were however a couple of moments that showed me something was happening. The first was when I went to buy a shirt. I asked for what I thought was my size but the man queried it and asked to measure my neck. He was right – my neck had shrunk by a full inch. The second happened on holiday, in a cottage with a paved courtyard. For no good reason I started to play hopscotch like a kid, bounding from paving stone to paving stone. My legs felt like springs and I just enjoyed the sensation of bouncing up and down. The feeling of being alive was like a surge of electricity; something I don’t think I have ever replicated.

From this I know the importance of consistent exercise. To get truly fit you have to exercise for a decent amount of time (but not necessarily at high intensity), nearly every day, week after week, without respite. I could do it when commuting because I had no choice but running is a voluntary activity and it is much more difficult. Too often I fall off the wagon, have interruptions, periods where I feel too lethargic and can’t be bothered, and there are long stretches where I fail to maintain a routine. The barriers are all mental: the need for self discipline and the ability to maintain an inner compulsion. They are made more difficult because the benefits are not immediately obvious - they arrive gradually.

These small houses on a very ordinary street remind me how great those benefits can be if you just keep going for long enough.


ron said...

i have exactly the same experience - i cycle regularly to work and didn't notice the difference it had made to me until i went away for a month and didn't ride at all. Then i realised how not doing it really affected me.

buryblue said...

LIke you I worked in central london for a number of years at Horse ferry Rd near Westminster. Money was tight and to save money I either ran or walked from Gloucester Rd . My employer had showers which made all the difference