ABSOLUTELY BARKING - Memories of a Fitness Fanatic

"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too
much space"

It was that time of year, post Christmas anti-climax. Eroded income, escalating costs. A period for many of increasing and, for some, extreme discomfort. Winter lethargy, enfeebling illnesses, respiratory crises, coughs, colds, cracked fingers and chilblains, dispirating lack of light, perpetual gloom - all this and depressingly too, everlasting austerity.

On a bitingly cold late morning in mid-January, a fierce blizzard was raging down the relentlessly cruel north easterly wind attacking a wild, wide open common in the South of England.

The heather was already flattened by the battering. the gorse, blanketed, was now distorted by the ever increasing weight of its bright, white burden. An infinity of assorted conifers carried the snow bravely, but the deciduous trees, seasonally stripped of all their leaves, stood out stark and skeletal, surreal before the savage onslaught on this white wasteland.

Through the swirling obscurity of the storm three indistinct figures emerged from behind tall, sentinel-like pines lining the edge of the track.

The man stood motionless in the clearing, relaxed, easy, listening for any sound that might penetrate the smothering silence cloaking the landscape.

Steady grey eyes squinting under the furrowed brow against the driving snow, swept slowly, systematically across the clearing and returned. He was alert to any movement and every detail, sights, sounds, the damp smell of pinewoods behind him.

Intuitively he placed the palm of his left hand on the great domed head of the male Rottweiler sitting patiently beside him. Beyond the dog sat the bitch, smaller but bright, alert, attentive. She blinked as the snowflakes stung her eyes, but otherwise remained motionless. This harshest of winter weather was of no consequence whatsoever to these tough, amenable dogs with their thick, heavy black coats.

The three of them formed an unsual group, their calmness set against the chaotic weather. But it was this man's dress which really stood out. He wore running shoes, black shower proof training pants, black gloves, a skull-hugging black beanie ... and absolutely nothing else!

He was completely naked from the waist up. The snow melted as it settled on his bare torso. It was cold, bitterly, bone-achingly cold.

He was tall, slightly built, lean, muscular but he didn't look cold. And he didn't feel cold because incredibly, he had quite simply programmed his mind to enable him to feel comfortably warm so that he could enjoy his regular air bath.

This idiosyncratic man was the extraordinary, and surely eccentric, Tim Laskey.

Sixty nine years old, still evidentially fit, strong, tough, durable, determined. He was confident, calm, at ease with himself. His training load was still enough to embarrass professional sportsmen less than half his age, but his own training was in many ways incidental.

I was born in Lincoln, England on April 1st (possibly significient) 1942. I was always precocious, curious, inquisitive and , generally, hyperactive. I have always been imaginative, creative, idiosyncratic. But actually for most of my childhood and all of my early teenage years I was a complete nightmare, an unmitigated little shit. And that is, perhaps the biggest reason I NEVER had any desire to be a parent/father. The prospect of having a youngster like I was, living under my roof for 16, 18, 25 years was always completely untenable - actually the very idea was anathema!

Some things never change. I'm still curious, inquisitive, extremely active, imaginative, creative, idiosyncratic. Many believe highly eccentric to be a more accurate description of some of my behaviour. Indeed those who know me best would not stop at "eccentric," but would question the sanity of some of my stunts.

I must admit to enjoying excitement and to accepting risks as part of that. But I'm not suicidal, I always plan my stunts carefully and, where possible,prepare for them, There is always a reason for each of them. Normally that reason has to do with the power of the mind to control emotions, overcome fear or circumstances and to achieve the stimulating, the challenging, the difficult, perhaps even, the dangerous. Why? Simple - because I can.

The snow scene above is possible because, inspired by my study of Tibetan Buddhist monks who practise "Tumo Breathing", I can use my mind to control my body temperature ( to a large degree ). I have to declare, however, that my ability - unusual as it is for someone in the western World - doesn't even start to compare with the scarcely believable ability to endure, routinely demonstrated by these utterly amazing Buddhist monks.

The novitiate who wishes to pass into the higher order is taken through an initiation ceremony that is the stuff of myth and legend. Taken out at night the novice is stripped and seated by the side of an icy, glacier fed stream. A rough blanket is dipped in the water and wrung out before being draped around the subject. He then employs his meditative skills, combined with specific breathing practices, to raise his own body temperature to the point where the formerly freezing, damp blanket is dried out. Not just once, but SEVEN TIMES BEFORE DAWN.I will always be grateful to them for giving me a glimpse of something very different - "Tumo Breathing.....meditation on the fire within."

From my teenage years when I learnt how to perform the advanced "cental abdominal isolation" and, subsequently, the very advanced "lateral abdominal isolation", I have been interested in, intrigued and, even, fascinated by alternative, complimentary and esoteric practices.  I first heard about "Tumo Breathing" close to thirty years ago and was instantly attracted to the concept. The prospect of being able to strip off - train, meditate, perform breathing exercises and enjoy an "air bath" in the bitterly cold weather of our normal English Winter appealed to me immensely. There was the excitment of the project, there was the challenge, there was the question - "How far can I take this?" And then, of course, as a spin-off  there was the huge personal entertainment factor  provided by the invariably incredulous reactions of people I encountered out on the commons while I was engaged in my  "enduarnce" tests.

I really got started on the exposure to cold venture on Christmas Day twenty-five years ago. I'd been to see my Mother and Step Father at their home in Tilford to deliver my presents. As usual, they had invited me to stay for lunch. As usual I'd declined, as graciously as possible. I always spent Christmas mornings - unless I was organising a Hill Running Session for my sportsmen - getting the visits out of the way. Then I could spend the day with my dogs, training, reading, writing, relaxing.

I'd sometimes fast ( as in abstain from food ) over Christmas which, of course removed the necessity for all that frantic, invariably last minute, shopping. I was always a contrarian and furthermore really didn't care for all those parties and family get togethers - particularly during daylight hours. I couldn't see the point of being shut inside for hours watching people stuffing their faces and listening to endless inconsequential pleasantries. I got bored. I always had more important things to do. I repeatedly declined invitations to parties until the invitations to parties declined completely. Result!

We had endured weeks of the usual cold, wet, windy, relentlessly grey weather and this Christmas day was just more of the same. Icy rain was falling as I pulled the Patrol into the parking area on Hankley Common after my visit to Tilford. Brigand and Cassie, my two Rottweilers were restless. They were ready for their run. I sat there for a moment thinking that I was in for another soaking, but realising that the waterproof jacket in the back of the car was wet inside and out.

It was then that I decided that this would be my first Winter stripped to the waist training run. I wore showerproof training pants, my black beanie and I found a pair of neoprene surfing gloves. And so, with my dogs, I set off into the misty, icy rain at about mid-day that Christmas all those years ago. The results were spectacular. Mentally, it took a bit of doing - no turning back and all that sort of thing. Physically it was a bit of a challenge initially, but, of course, it eased as I progressed. However, it was the reaction we got from the "normal" Christmas Day walkers that was so extraordinary - or not!

As we emerged from the mist people were literally leaping off the path along the ridge to get out of our way. There was absolutely no need. It's a very wide path. But presumably they were alarmed by the sight of two Rottweilers even though they never left my side. Cassie was a large bitch, but Brigand was a very big dog at eleven and a half stones, 160lbs, c73 kilos! Yes, must have been the dogs!!!!!!!!

                                                                                 Military Manoeuvres

Hankley Common in West Surrey is Ministry of Defence (MOD) land. This is where, for the past 47 years, I have done most of my running and almost all of the running training sessions I have conducted for clients. And that includes steady state running, variable pace, long slow distance (LSD), intervals, circuits, acceleration runs, ripple runs and, my all time favourites, lapsed time repetition hill running on sand(y) tracks.

Regular encounters with the brilliant military personel using Hankley were inevitable. Great people. When they are on exercise they are always focussed. When they're off duty they are terrific fun.

Their camouflage (clothing and blacking up) is so effective that, together with their concealment training, their presence sometimes comes as a complete surprise. And very occasionally an embarrassing one at that. There was the unforgettable time when, in a break during a three hour training session, I needed to take a leak. The athletes were sitting around at the base of the hill we had been working on, relaxing, recovering, before we moved onto the next work station.  

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