My boss once told me that there’s more to life than running. There isn’t. In the context that he was talking in he was wrong. In that context I would say there’s more to life than work. Infinitely more. Running, climbing, cycling, playing the trombone, eating as many crisps as you can in an hour – choose our poison. It all beats work if work is what you ‘live’ for. Work allows you to exist; what you do out of the confines of work allow you to live.
It’s very hard to keep this in mind when you’re driving home after a particularly shite day with the rain pissing down on the windscreen of your car (not to me though to be fair, I love it when it’s crappy weather – look at me I’m sooooo cool). Regardless, let’s just say you really can’t be arsed squeezing in a run or a cycle or a session down the wall or on your fingerboard, all you want to do is wrap your tits in a blanket and ‘get into your jim-jams’. You’ve fully fucked your life. We’re all guilty of it – some of the time. Most of the time we get up and go out. Good on us. I like to think, for me anyway, some of that motivation comes from the desire to get better at my sport/hobby etc. I love the feeling of progression. I’m also lucky in the sense that the sports I’ve been drawn to offer an extra dimension to that desire for progression that, ironically, goes hand-in-hand with getting better. Aesthetics.
The refinement of technique is the layman’s interpretation of aesthetics in sport. Perfect technique provides decorum and grace, think duck paddling along a river if that helps. It doesn’t matter that they’re straining a bollock under the surface if on top they’re exuding the facial expression of a man who’s just shit his Y-fronts in the most important business deal of his, or his company’s, life – you don’t want to let people know that you’re shitting it even though you very much have. Technique or ‘tekkers’ as they shall henceforth be known, allow our shirt and suit clad soul to fly when we make the time for ourselves to live. A caged bird doesn’t sing my friends. So I want to focus on the most aesthetically pleasing of individuals in fell running, cycling and rock climbing. These guys don’t fuck about when it comes to dropping the hammer AND looking delectable. One from each then…..
Fell running: ‘King’ Kenny Stuart
Frankly, who else? He’ll thank me for saying this (if he has a computer. Does he have a computer?? If I was a King like him I’d get one of my concubines to own one and read to me from it. Anyway, I digress…..) possibly the sexiest runner of scree the world will ever know. And. I. Quote…..”in his racing prime, he was almost impossibly slight, with the power and delicacy of a pedigree whippet.” A man-child/dog mish-mash he may have been but boy what a runner. In his first ever marathon in Glasgow (where you wouldn’t be blamed for wanting to run as fast as humanly possible) he clocked 2hrs 14mins 3secs and three-years later he tea-bagged that PB with a 2hr 11min 20sec run over the water in Houston. C’est rapide no? We’re here to talk about aesthetics though right?
To dip once more into the book of fell-lore (street rhymes) – Richard Askwith’s excellent Feet in the Clouds – we find the following lyrical waxation “his 5-foot-5-inch frame was almost perfectly balanced….when he ran, it looked effortless; he seemed to glide.” Therein lies the essence of ‘tekkers’. The look of the casually deliberate i.e. giving a fuck without showing it. Incidentally if you want to know more about ‘not-giving-a-fuck’ in a non-sporting sense have a looky-loo here. The well-known chronicler A. N. Observer wrote of King Kenny “he just seemed to float” another, this time with a name (Trevor Batchelor) blubbered out, between tears at the beauty he was witness to, “he could run over scree and the stones didn’t even move, he sort of glided over it, he was so light-footed.” His technique was compared to the great Lord Coe – but that fanny ran on a track. Seb Coe is one of the most tekkers-blessed runners God has ever created, track and road-runners would sell their child’s organs to run like him and yet good ol’King Kenny did it for fun on the roughest terrain that Britain could cobble together.
Cycling: Francesco Moser
The link will become clear – see if you can spot it over the next few lines. Frankie Moser rode cobbles (there it is) like a bowling ball rides the wooden wave of the lane. Paris-Roubaix has had a lot of champions from ‘The Cannibal’ Eddy Merckx, to Mr Paris-Roubaix Roger De Vlaeminck (himself no unwieldy-teenage-sexual-debutant of a rider of pave either), to the stalwarts of cycling’s Golden Age personified by other people with mega nicknames like The Badger (Bernard Hinault) or The Lion of Flanders (Johan Museeuw). At Paris-Roubaix, so I’ve been told, you’ve got to ride like a set-alight bastard on the cobbles and rest your hands on your bars like they’re a baby bird’s head. You know that saying your parents told you when you were young? If the wind changes direction your face will be stuck like that? Yeah, that one. That came from Francesco Moser riding past like a fucking steam-engine, spinning the air into Picasso’s wet dream.
Francesco Moser was a floater, not the shitty-type – though his tactic to “provoke the maximum number of mechanical failures among the competition” by imposing a sustained rhythm at breakneck pace to destroy those on his wheel may suggest otherwise to his fellow riders – but rather in the way he glid/glided/glode (?) across the cobbles as if on a cushion of air. In cycling, as in fell running, great tekkers are very hard to spot to the uninitiated, spinning your legs about is, well, spinning your legs about, but once you’ve picked open the scab you get to see the real juice underneath. Fill your boots, mi amigos. You’ve only got to watch ‘A Sunday in Hell‘ to get a feel for the grace and subtlety with which this maestro covers the ground (start your viewing from about 1hr 13mins onwards……beautiful). I guess out of everyone on this mini-list he is the one who best encapsulates the sexy-use-of-the-hammer, giving it absolute Hacksaw Jim Duggan whilst maintaining the serenity of a Benedictine monk.
Rock climbing: Johnny Dawes
Gay as a bag of cocks. Shit the bed though, he could give John Travolta a run for his money with his dancing about on rocks. He’s still giving it licks now with his no-handed sorcery on the grit. Thorough bad-lad and daft as a bog-brush. When he wasn’t sprouting total nonsense and living in fields he was contortioning around holds like he was the groom in a snake’s wedding.
If ever there was a climber who achieved the ‘impossible’ it was him. To look at him, even in his prime, would be to look on a podgy, ill-looking dwarf (relative to the rock-star-rock-gods like Ben Moon or that French dude who climbs buildings to show off) but stick him on a bit of gritstone or some wall of Welsh rhyolite and he’d tear you a new one. His climbs are legendary. Indian Face (E9 6c) where “protection is at best illusory” and “should the leader fail to negotiate the crux, or be seized by a palsy high on the pitch, disaster must be imminent”; Smoked Salmon (E7 7a) with the crux moves involving three consecutive rock-overs where the correct momentum of the move before is the only thing that will enable you to do the move after; and The Angels Share (E8 7b) like the previous route with several rock-overs requiring exact timing in order to gather the momentum to progress to the next move.
He truly was, and is, the most naturally gifted climber Britain has ever produced. He certainly wasn’t the strongest or most powerful but then the ‘aesthete’ rarely is, but as the great Rio Ferdinand would say of him, he had “unbelievable tekkers” and that’s surely all that matters.