Like many triathletes, Sunday is a day of worship for me as I take on the long bike ride, long run or, if I’m panicking about a looming race, a bike and run so long that afterwards my legs resemble fire-damaged Lego.
All this slogging means that Sunday evening has become a sacrosanct haven of relaxation, where I jealously guard a rare moment of rest by plonking myself in the armchair, burning every possible conversational bridge between me and my family until I’m finally left alone and can start preparing my mind for Monday morning’s swim training.
In reality, of course, what I do on Sunday evenings is lie on the floor in my Skins looking like a compression sock full of mashed swede and let my mind vegetate, while watching rubbish telly. Occasionally, though, a programme comes along which interrupts this empty-headed trance and makes me pay attention. One such programme was David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 and to say it has had a dramatic effect on my training this year is something of an understatement.
The normal reaction to watching any nature programme is to think:
Wow! That octopus/whale/coral/dreadful-killer-fish is amazing.
How the bloody hell did they manage to film that?
Humans are the worst species on the planet.
In Blue Planet 2, this last point was laid with a trowel thanks to the vast amounts of plastic swirling around in our oceans and the disastrous effect it’s having on sea life. What followed the programme was a call to action to help rid the seas of all this lethal tat by picking up plastic and other detritus whenever you visit a beach.
One of the downsides to being a Midlander, apart from the accent, is that I’m miles from the sea, so not really in a position to help clean our coastlines. Undeterred by this obstacle, however, I decided that I’d start doing my bit to cleanse our countryside of plastic by picking up litter each time I went out running.
It started out by just picking up the odd bottle or can that I saw and bringing it home to chuck in the recycling. But, thanks to the absolute tons of crap littering the hedgerows and ditches round my way, this soon escalated into carrying a plastic bag to fill. The trouble is, once you start noticing litter, you realise it’s absolutely everywhere, so I’ve now graduated to running around clutching two large bin liners, looking like a sort of bag-lady cheerleader.
Having embarked on this odd form of exercise, I’ve realised it actually has some added fitness benefits. Not only am I getting some extra resistance training by running around with increasingly heavy bags, but I’m also building my leg strength from scrambling around in ditches looking like a sodden chicken kiev. And doing a lot of bending down to pick things up is proving excellent for strengthening my core, as well as increasing the flexibility of my spine; no bad thing considering I once almost put my back out by wringing out a flannel. The fact that stopping to pick things up also gives me a crafty breather is entirely coincidental.
For a while, I wondered if I’d stumbled on a whole new form of training or perhaps accidentally invented a new sport, but, alas, I’m too late, because not only does this activity already exist, it even has a name. ‘Plogging’ (a combination of the Swedish word ‘plocka’, meaning ‘to pick’, and jogging) has been round for a while, with cities like Edinburgh even having their own plogging groups.
Taking to Twitter to see if I could persuade others to do the same, I discovered loads of people are either doing it already or have taken it up. Seeing their efforts has never made me prouder of being a triathlete.
The fact that I’m now running twice a day at the weekend suggests I may have become slightly addicted to my new regime, to the extent that my wheelie bins go out more than I do. Still, I’d definitely recommend it as a way to boost your fitness while making our countryside just a little bit safer for wildlife.