Sunday, 27 December 2015

Rejoicing in Mediocrity

When it comes to belts, you can be sure that Mo Farah and Chris Froome own the 'one-groove' variety. That's because they are immesely fit athletic machines at the top of their game, and they win big, big things that you and I can never aspire to. That said, I wonder how happy they are? After all, if you or I spent a weekend blobbing out on the sofa with endless cake, well, we might feel a bit guilty. But if they did that it would leave their intricately planned 'taper' in tatters and cost them very dear. Whereas we might be able to salve our conscience with a brisk walk and thinking half-heartedly about 'cutting down a bit', they would instantly need a 6-month detox and 2-year rebuild.

Years ago, when I did a bit of running, I never, ever aspired to win. Why not? Because I wasn't a deluded idiot; I knew my capabilities. But I could still set reasonable goals that were achievable, thereby giving me just as much potential satisfaction as (and maybe more than?) the fast blokes who realistically could win, and frequently did.

The principle applies equally to birding. We cannot all have an east coast patch or live on Fair Isle, and many of us are never going to tally even 100 species in a year. Mediocre at best. And yet, a mediocre patch is still capable of producing genuine moments of enormous satisfaction, even joy. Take Staines Moor. Inland, not much water, overflown by Jumbo jets every three seconds. Yuk. A chap called Lee Dingain plugs away there and recounts his exploits on his blog Almost Birding. The subtitle - A Naturalist Struggling to Survive in Birdless Surrey - says much about the day-to-day reality of such a patch, yet last autumn he found a Barred Warbler there and had a fly-over Black Stork! Add in Wryneck and Great Grey Shrike and suddenly even mediocre sounds hugely appealing doesn't it!

And going back to the athletic perspective for a moment, what about cycling? For my age I'm possibly in the top 25 percentile, potential-wise. Again, never a winner. But, according to the mighty Strava my mediocrity is sometimes less mediocre than that of others. For a mildly competitive person like me this is a source of regular satisfaction. There are plenty of cyclists (whom I've never met, incidentally) whose names are frequently vying with mine for higher ranking on our local climbs. None of us is going to be a Strava 'King of the Mountain', but that does not detract in the least from the joy we derive in our mediocrity!

A couple of days ago I wheeled out my bike, pumped up the saggy tyres and wobbled forth. It was pitiful. Several weeks of inactivity has left its mark. Determined to know the worst I headed straight for Eggardon Hill. The summit peaks out at around 800ft, and it's well over 600ft of climbing in all, a nasty portion of it steeper than 15%. According to my Strava records I have been up it 24 times.  Friday's ascent was my slowest ever. My poor heart maxed out at 170 beats per minute - a rate it sees very, very rarely these days. Here's the sorry data...

Latest effort is over there on the right, at the ...er...bottom

My best ever performance up Eggardon Hill apparently places me 177th out of 766 Strava users who have climbed the beast. Friday's effort would put me equal 441st. Supreme mediocrity indeed. Mind you, if I adjust the figures so that just my age group is included things look altogether different...

...until you realise that I am one of the very youngest in the category!

Anyway, enough of this laughable competitiveness. Should know better really. And, of course, I do! I suppose it's obvious - like any mature person I know that the real joy in mediocrity comes from simply doing, seeing, being... What could give greater cause for rejoicing than the sheer pleasure of gasping desperately to the top of a hill where the wind is blowing so hard that you have to lean your bike at this kind of angle to prevent it from hurtling across the road...

Behind the camera is an immensely happy bloke, beaming from ear to ear and jigging up and down in little paroxysms of infinite joy

12 comments:

  1. Gav, in these physical endevours of ours, we rarely realise where the peaks are until we've passed them. I've long passed mine but but take satisfaction from accepting I can only be as good as I am at any moment in time.
    If that moment includes the results of much beer and chocolate then sobeit.
    I guess that's why I like open ended challenges. There's no apparent finish line, if at all.

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    1. I must say, Ric, perhaps because my efforts tend be sporadic rather than consistent the concept of peaks passed never really occurs to me. Physically mine must have, of course, but there nevertheless always seem to be lots of new challenges to meet, goals to set. Plenty of mediocre potential to realise yet!

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  2. Gav. I must have had a birding peak once. I found an old diary the other day and discovered an entry for a Richards Pipit. Problem is, I can't remember seeing it. I guess I'll have to give that one back and stick to Meadows.

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    1. Good thing it wasn't anything too gripping. Be a shame to have to hand back something as dazzling as a Double-crested Cormorant or something...

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  3. I might start cycling in the New Year. I will chronicle all the resulting injuries meticulously.

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    1. Ooh, I really hope so. The cycling I mean, not the injuries.
      Er...ok, the injuries too if I'm honest.

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  4. Wow Jono on a bike! & on strava??! Roll on 2016!

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  5. Lets hope that Jono's biking lasts longer than the running did. Those London Marathon pictures take some beating for capturing the occasion though.
    Double Crested Cormorant! Gav. I believe you have some pictures of the masses being dazzled by the momentous occasion.

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    1. Top highlight of 1989, challenged only by demolition of the Berlin Wall. Outcome never in doubt though. After all... Concrete wall vs Cormorant? Ha ha! No contest!

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  6. I was there! I too was dazzled!

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    1. Sight in my scope eye never been the same since...

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