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Finding my feet on a festive ice skating rink

December 13, 2016 in Participation

As Christmas approaches, ice rinks start to pop up all over the country, and novices like myself take to the slippery stuff, hoping to retaining as much dignity as possible when the inevitable fall occurs.

Tower of London was the famous landmark where my six friends and I decided to put on our skates for a catch up under a clear and starry sky.

Having only ever seen skating on the TV, I was wary of stepping on the ice for the first time and held onto the barriers like my life depended on it.

The trouble with ice is that it’s hard, and taking a tumble on it is going to hurt…

However, after watching the skate marshals prepare the surface for our session, it was time to take to the rink.  At this point, I was shaking but wasn’t sure if it was a result of fear or the cold.

Not all my friends were as unfamiliar to gliding on blades as I was, with Connor and Emmanuel ready to give Olympic champions Torvill and Dean a run for their money.

Finding my feet

After taking baby steps on the ice, I realised that it is very similar to roller skating (which I am good at), and that using the same principles of one foot in front of the other whilst propelling yourself with the forward foot would prove successful.

Ice skating is like riding a bike for the first time – you need stabilisers (in this case, a friend’s arm) until you learn to keep your balance and then off you go.

img_5037Having found my feet, I was able to join my friends in circling the rink, weaving in and out of people to try and tag my each other in a game of “ad on ice”. (I highly recommend against anyone doing this)

We thought we had mastered the art until we watched a marshal skate at full speed towards a sleigh in the middle of the rink and leap over it landing back on his feet like a pro.

Growing in confidence

The rink rules state that everyone skates in the same direction, with novices on the outside and more experienced skaters in the middle, which allowed me to gain confidence in my abilities.

We enjoyed our first session on the ice so much, that we decided to stay for the next one, which was less crowded populated and allowed me to move into the middle of the rink and skate more freely.

Our confidence could have been mistaken for arrogance when one of my friends went crashing into a group of ladies, but everyone escaped unharmed whilst seeing the funny side of the accident.

Giving it a go

After an hour-and-a-half of enjoyable skating, your legs start to hurt and your body starts to freeze, but I would certainly go again. Ice Skating is an enjoyable experience and surprisingly easy to get the hang of.

As it’s a seasonal sport, I would recommend you find out where your nearest rink is and get your skates on.

TimeOut provides a list of the ice rinks in London. The one at the Tower returns annually, offering skating sessions day and night in historic surroundings.

The sessions last 45 minutes, which was more than enough time for me to get used to being on the ice. The first is at 11am and last 9pm.

Prices are £13.50 for adults and £9.50 for children and concessions, and tickets can be booked online to avoid long queues in the cold.

To warm yourself up after an embarrassing 45 minutes of trying (and failing) to look graceful, I recommend visiting The Dip Dunk Lodge, where hot food and drink that will warm you up can be purchased with a view of the rink.

Finally, if the ice wasn’t cool enough for you, you can visit the Eis Haus which is exactly what it sounds like – a house made of ice, where you can enjoy a drink in a lounge filled with crystal-clear ice sculptures.

Me? I was cold enough already…

Duty calls in the paintball combat zone

December 12, 2016 in Participation

For members of the current gaming generation, the closest to ‘Call of Duty’ that most of us will ever get involves going paintballing.

So after endless nights of honing our combat skills as console warriors, that’s exactly what me and a group of friends signed up to do at the suitably-named Delta Force.

None of us were really up for rolling around in the mud on a cold, wet afternoon, but after a conference call led to arguments over who was the best at first-person shoot-em-ups, suddenly everyone was fired up and ready to literally give it their best shot.

Delta Force has 33 venues nationwide, and its Upminster facility in east London is regarded as one of the best, offering seven game zones which boast a jet aeroplane, four double-decker buses, armoured vehicles, forts and ‘jungle’ environments.

Established in Surrey 20 years ago, the company hosts 500,000 players annually and employs over 1,000 staff to make sure your day out is fun but safe.

Celebrities who have enjoyed the Delta Force and are pictured in its hall of fame include Lewis Hamilton, John Terry, Usain Bolt and Gordon Ramsey.

Safety briefing

The day started early as we had to be on site by 7am in order to get kitted up briefed for the day ahead.

Upon arrival, we were issued with jump suits and helmets as part of our protective gear. Underneath my jump suit, I’d taken matters into my own usain_bolthands and came wearing extra padding to reduce the pain of being shot.

Safety is taken seriously and the briefing to took almost half an hour, and then it was time to enter the field.

The marshals’s are very big on safety, once you exit the ‘safe zone’ to pick up your gun, your protective helmet can’t come off until you return your gun and re-enter the safe zone.

Not even when you have been shot and are out of the game – if you are found to have removed or lifted your helmet you will find it quickly slammed down over your face by a marshal and you are then on a final warning before you have to be removed.

All safety equipment is included in the adult entry price of £9.99, and the only thing you pay extra for are your paintballs.

These always seem to run out, no matter how many you buy, and the more you purchase the more you have to carry with you on the battlefield with the risk of losing them.

To avoid disappointment, at the beginning of every battle, I bought 100 for £7.99.

After picking up our guns, we had the option of getting our eye in on the shooting range, but as experienced Call of Duty players, we decided to save our bullets for when it really mattered.

Bait

The first zone was called ‘Jet Hijack’, and as the attacking team we had to storm an aircraft and free hostages from the ‘terrorists’ holding them captive.

Staying low and getting close to the plane was key, but because it was in the centre of a open field, its defenders had a clean shot at us.

“Shooting someone especially when it’s a friend is a great feeling and gives you plenty to boast about afterwards”

That’s where our gaming experience kicked in, and half of us acted as bait to draw their fire while the rest of the team played the role of assassins taking out the enemy one by one until the hostages were in safe hands.

Ambushing the plane to save the hostages meant I got shot and was out until the next time, and being shot by a paintball is one of the most painful things I have experienced.

Although I was wearing a protective mask, I was some how shot on my lip through the mask and had to raise my hand (surrender) to alert everyone that I had been hit and was out.

Once you surrender, people aren’ t meant to shoot you but some of the opposition see it as the perfect opportunity to test their long-range shooting and hit you for fun.

Being hit in the face is pretty painful, but most people tell me that being shot on your hand is the worst place to be hit because of the lack of fat.

In comparison, shooting someone especially when it’s a friend is a great feeling and gives you plenty to boast about afterwards.

Ceasefire

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Each game has its own objectives for the defending and attacking teams, and each team faces obstacles in trying to achieve their objectives, but ‘Jet Hijack’ was my personal favourite.

Six battles and countless hits, misses and minor bruises later, the day had ended and out of the 10 teams taking part we finished a respectable fourth.

Playing against experienced players and older groups of lads showed us that we need to play Call of Duty a lot more often to be able to mix it with the hardcore paintballers.

We were up against groups of friends who take paintballing very serious to the point where they bring their own guns, grenades and armour.

Recreating real-life combat situations is clearly very different, and a lot more demanding, than sitting on your sofa in front of the TV screen.

But I would recommend paintballing to everyone – the thrill of shooting your first round is like no other.

To find out where you can experience paintballing at Delta Force, visit their website.

Having a go at BMX racing

December 8, 2016 in Participation

Watching the BMX riders at the 2016 Rio Olympics riding at full speed and flying over those bumps made up my mind that I should give BMX cycling another go. 

The last time I tried it was was four or five years ago. It was a wet, damp day and I remember skidding on a curved bend in the track. Covered in mud and with cuts on my hands and knees, I decided to never try BMX again…

History

BMX cycling began in the 1970s in the United States where kids in Southern California rode their bikes on dirt tracks. The inspiration came from motorcross stars. The sport is hugely popular in the UK where it was first introduced around about the 1980s.

Since then, BMX racing has become more popular than freestyle BMX, eventually becoming an Olympic event at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Mat Hoffman is one of the best freestyle BMX in the world. Nicknamed ‘The Condor’ he is known for nailing dangerous tricks such as a 900 in events.

This video shows Hoffman showcasing his tricks at BMX free-styling events.YouTube Preview Image

Trying again

So on a sunny, winter morning, I decided to take my bike out and go for a normal bike ride through Brixton and Tulse Hill. I rode through Brockwell Park, where the BMX circuit was free and waiting for me to do my stuff.

I began going around the track slowly, wary of skidding or falling again. It was fun but I felt I should speed up. Luckily the track was not damp and wet like the last time, so it was easier to go around the bends with ease.

I was not able to do fancy tricks or anything like that but being able to ride the track at full speed was an enjoyable experience – much better than the last time, that’s for sure…

Learning from the experts

A coaching session was just getting under way,  with young riders doing some practice laps to get them warmed up.

“Seeing them flash past made my earlier efforts look like a Tata Nano compared to their Bugatti Veyron”

I spoke to one of the coaches, Andy, who has been training BMXers for six years. He told me: “BMX racing is really competitive and a lot more goes into the sport rather than just riding a bike around a lap.

“The training consists of strength drills, a lot of cardio such as star-jumps. Riders can get serious injuries if they do not train right, follow the right diet and other small factors. Essentially they are athletes.

“I have seen many riders have their careers ended early because they did not listen to their trainers, but sometimes those injuries can come from during the races itself. It’s can be dangerous but it’s a competitive and fun sport to watch as well as participating in.”

As we talked, the riders began doing some fancy tricks as well as trying to beat their personal bests in a race. Seeing them flash past made my earlier efforts look like a Tata Nano compared to their Bugatti Veyron.

Give it a go

Andy decided to organise one big race with all the riders, and asked me if I wanted to join in. Despite my nerves, I said yes.

The race began and the other riders went flying out of the blocks as I tried to keep up with them.

My main aim was not to fall off and totally embarrass myself in front of everyone. Luckily, I didn’t and crossed the line in fifth.

I would really recommend anyone to give it a go. It can be so much fun to try and be extreme and reckless with a bike. It is also always good to try a different sport now and then.

There are some places around London where you can try out BMX racing. Brockwell park in Tulse Hill, South London is one place where you can try it out. Burgess Park also has a track.

For more information about how to get into BMX, visit the British Cycling website.  Feature image courtesy of Phil Connell via Flickr Creative Commons.

Addicted to the Ironhouse

December 7, 2016 in Participation

Rory Vanhorn trains at the ‘Ironhouse’, otherwise known as the gym, seven days a week in pursuit of a career as a physique model and bodybuilder.

Rory tries never to miss a session – even if the gym is closed on Christmas he has to do an intense workout at home.

He trains each body part once a week but makes it his priority to work on his legs twice as he feels that’s what he needs to focus on.

My gym fanatic friend Rory is 24 years old, stands at 5ft 9ins and weighs 13 stone, with less than 10% body fat.Post Workout

He has been training at the gym for five years, and in that time has developed a heavily muscled physique.

He plans to compete at the 2017 Miami Pro physiques competition and his main goal is to look as ripped as he can, to catch the sponsors’ eye and get signed up for a career as a physique model.

Physique models get signed to advertise gym wear, equipment and supplements.

Rory has previously competed in men’s physique and bodybuilding competitions in the UK and hopes to receive his IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilders) pro card in the long term.

This would allow him access to enter competitions such as Mr Olympia and Arnold Amateur which reward  bigger prizes.

Tips

Arriving at the Bodyworks gym in Tottenham, what first struck me was the testosterone-fuelled atmosphere at the venue where Rory trains to make his ‘gains’ – gym jargon for muscle growth.

The continuous grunts and heavily muscular physiques all around can make a newcomer feel very small and intimidated, but the giants of the gym were more than happy to help out a newbie, and offer tips on how to achieve the physique I was after.

My first day in the gym was ‘international chest day’ which is a gym in-joke as coincidentally in many gyms on a Mondays most people training are seen working out their chests.

Exercises included flat bench chest press, upper chest press and pectoral flies. Each exercise followed the same regime four sets and 10-12 reps on all exercises.

Fortunately I’d done a bit of this before as it’s the sort of activity I like to do whenever I visit any gym, but I didn’t manage to keep up with Rory, as he managed to squeeze 10 reps of 140kg on the flat bench.

Diet

My max was 10 reps on 80kg which is only half of what Rory lifts. I wouldn’t dare put that weight over my chest for one simple reason; I don’t want to be crushed.

We rounded off the session with a whey protein shake and I made sure I gave myself enough rest for the following day.

Rory’s diet includes chicken breasts and Caesar salads, vegetable soup and smoked salmon with boiled eggs which are all part of a plan he has been following over the last six months.No Carbs

I woke up on Day Two with slight pectoral muscle soreness but nothing serious enough to stop me training.

Today’s agenda was working on the back muscles, including exercises such as dead lifts, seated rows and lat pull downs.

Following Monday’s regime of 10-12 reps and four sets, we continued our intense training sessions.

What blew me away was Rory dead-lifting 200kg which is nearly triple his bodyweight as he weighs 82kg. I managed to squeeze a rep out of 110kg which isn’t even close but I guess not too bad.

I actually attempted Rory’s lift but the most I could do is push and roll the bar forwards and backwards as trying to lift it was a complete fail.

Insight

Due to the intensity of the back workout I had woken up with a stiff lower back and slight muscle soreness around my bicep, but I wanted to keep on training so I could have more of an insight into Rory’s regime.

Day Three was leg day – and for me, this was the most difficult one of the three as those are probably my least-trained muscles.

Never failing to impress, Rory managed to rep out three deep squats out of 160kg which is basically double his body weight.

My squat max was two assisted reps out of 90kg, and after the session I struggled to get home due to the muscle fatigue which makes you lose balance.

No need to fear as after a month of continuous exercise the muscle soreness and aches no longer appear as frequent because your muscles start to get use to the pain.

Social media

One of the common things you see in the gym world is people training their upper body at the expense of their legs. They are often labelled as ‘Johnny Bravo’ as they replicate the cartoon character’s top-heavy image.

Making sure every muscle is in proportion is why bodybuilders like Rory have a day for each muscle group, and even after just three days, I could see several muscles starting to bulge slightly on my own physique, and improvements made strength-wise by particular exercises.

Currently Rory looks up to bodybuilders such as Simeon Panda and Ulisses Jr who are very popular on social media with millions of Instagram followers.Back Day

They are known for their low body-fat, defined and bulky physique.

They also post motivational gym videos regularly on YouTube and footage from their training sessions at the gym.

What I learned from my sessions with Rory is that it’s all about consistency and hard work.

I seen more muscle growth over the few days training with him than when I trained by myself in my previous gym, which shows the intensity of the training he does on a day-to-day basis.

My sessions with Rory have been really inspiring especially when he shown me what he looked like when he started his gym work. It was very motivational and shows anything is possible once you put your all into it.

Indoor climbing and how it rocks

November 28, 2016 in Participation

I’m a person who tends to enjoy the security of walking on solid ground and not having to use my hands to get from point A to point B.

So when a friend who does indoor rock climbing (or bouldering to give this particular form its proper name) began asking me to come along and give it a go, I initially declined.

But he was nothing if not persistent, and I eventually gave in. Even then, I thought it would be something I’d have to endure for an hour or so then never have to do it again. But how wrong I was…

To my surprise, I actually found myself having fun. Yes, it was difficult and physically demanding but, at the same time, also very enjoyable.

No strings attached

The venue for my introduction to the sport was The Climbing Hangar in Chelsea.

As a first-timer, I had to fill in a waiver form and watch a mini-tutorial video. After that it was just a matter of putting on some special climbing shoes and we were on our way.

The Climbing Hangar has three levels, each filled with colourful grip rocks. In the middle of one is a climbing column which is a good change of pace after scaling the many strangely-shaped walls.

Inside The Wall Hangar

Before arriving, I’d envisaged being festooned with a variety of ropes, clips and harnesses in order to make our way up these obstacles.

But that turned out to be not the case as your feet are never higher than three metres off the ground. In addition, the floors are padded so it’s all perfectly safe.

Also, rather than climbing upwards, we traversed sideways along the walls, with the main challenge being to figure out where to put your hands and feet next in order to get from one end to the other.

Each route has a different colour indicating how difficult it is. Every few weeks the routes and colours will change, so regular visitors face fresh challenges.

Starting off at beginners’ level, I grabbed the closest rock and proceeded to move to my left-hand side.

My friend was watching me while cracking jokes such as “Don’t look down!” (I was half a metre off the ground) and “You’re an absolute rock star!” which didn’t help, but I spent at least two minutes without touching the ground on my first try alone.

After that my confidence grew and I began to genuinely enjoy myself. We moved onto the harder walls, a few of which I conquered.

Easily, the most fun part was when the grip rocks were so far apart, the only way to grab onto the next rock was by jumping and trying to catch it. After my third attempt I caught it but didn’t grip properly and fell.

Two more tries later, I got it right. The leap made me feel like superhero… well, a semi-super hero.

Intense 

Another of my misconceptions was that climbing is all about upper-body strength, but there is so much more to it than just that.

For example, it’s important to remember that whenever you can, you have to push with your legs rather than pull with your arms. I suppose it’s basic common sense as legs are a lot stronger than arms, and it’s all about spreading the energy used across the whole body.

The amount of aching I experienced the next day told me that I got a really good workout in my first experience of bouldering.

I have to admit I discovered a lot of muscles I never knew even existed through this pain, but that’s fantastic because I would never have exercised them at the gym.

 Where and how much

The Climbing Hangar is only one of  climbing centres in London. Just to name a few, there’s also Vauxwall in Vauxhall, the Castle Climbing Centre and Geckos Climbing for Kids which are both in Stoke Newington and Westway Climbing in White City.

The costs for one session usually range between £7-£10 depending on the centre and the time you go.

There are also membership packages. It’s well worth the price and I recommend it to anyone of any age and ability.

If you need any more incentive to try rock climbing, then a lot of these places offer taster sessions which are cheaper than standard prices.

For more information on where to go climbing in London, check out this web article. Also check out the website for the Association of British Climbing Walls.

Letting it fly at Top Golf

November 15, 2016 in Participation

How to stay awake between a busy shift at work and Conor McGregor v Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 on TV in the early hours of Sunday morning?

Luckily, two friends had a solution – playing Top Golf.

The thought of stepping outside on a bitterly cold Saturday night was not that appealing, but then neither was watching contestants on The X Factor make a fool of themselves.

So having been woken up by my friend Nasar’s phone call telling me to get ready, we were soon off to Top Golf in Watford along with another friend, Junaid.

But what is Top Golf, I hear you ask…

Relaxed

Founded in Hertfordshire in 2000, Top Golf offers golfing games for all ages and skill levels and advanced technology to track every individual’s shots.

It is currently played at four centres in the home counties, and the focus is firmly on relaxed fun as opposed to the strict rules and etiquette of golf itself.

Expansion in the UK and America has seen a total of 15 centres opened, with more planned for the future.

Essentially a two-tier, 240-yard driving range, Top Golf has 10 dartboard-style targets on the ground at various distances.

Each ball that a player hits has a chip in it and this records which target someone has hit and how close they are to its centre.

The closer a person gets to the flag, the more points they will earn, and these are automatically displayed on a digital screen in the bays.

Celebrities

Golf is facing a big problem in attracting new players to the game. In the last four years, it has lost 13% of its regular players while participation amongst 16 to 25-year-old’s has decreased 45% in the same period.

“The resident DJ was spinning tracks in the packed bar while groups of people were enjoying drinks and food as well as the golf in equal measure”

To many golfers, it would be easy to dismiss Top Golf as just a glorified driving range, but the numbers show that it warrants further attention.

With 650,000 visitors annually, two-thirds of Top Golf’s players are under 25 and 79% are aged from 18-34 and this is the exact demographic amongst which golf needs to gain in popularity.

According to Top Golf’s marketing manager Michael Angelides, 65-70% of visitors class themselves as non-golfers, and despite the crowds it attracts, celebrities such as Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and One Direction’s Niall Horan are regular visitors.

Preparation  

Regular visitors to Top Golf who have a lifetime playing card do not need to wait in line because there a £20 membership card allows them four free games.

In contrast, for any person wishing to have a night out, Top Golf offers a 30-day playing card at £2. With this, it will cost an adult an additional £6 per game and a junior member £5 per game but many deals are also on offer.

There was certainly a competitive feel to the atmosphere but it doesn’t have that stuffiness associated with  golf clubhouses.

The resident DJ was spinning tracks in the packed bar while groups of people were enjoying drinks and food as well as the golf in equal measure.

After warming ourselves up by hitting numerous of practice shots, it was time to get started.

Nasar and myself took control and fired some long shots into the distance as our points total tallied up early on. This only acted as motivation for Junaid who reminded us: “It’s not a sprint boys, it’s a marathon.”

Comeback king 

Nasar was supremely confident in his abilities but arrogance seemed to get the better of him, and after a strong start, he struggled to maintain his accuracy and slipped from 1st to 2nd.

As I got into the flow, I started to push on and smacked a humongous shot into the far end that earned plaudits from other people around me.

I was pumped.

But then I too started to get over-confident and my shots began to go all over the place. Having been hitting 10s, my scores plummeted to 3s and 4s.

After being on the back foot for most of the game, Junaid fought his way back into contention, and he dominated the closing stages, hitting a huge shot that landed him a 10.

With the last shots remaining for all three of us, Junaid needed a score of 5 or more to be victorious and as he hit the the microchipped ball towards the centre, myself and Nasar instantly knew it was game over.

Junaid’s 7 made him the winner with a total of 59, with me three behind, while Nasar’s confident start ended in tears as he finished last on 39.

The journey home was horrific, as  Junaid boasted: “Boys, I was just getting into the swing of things, next time I’ll give you a good thrashing.”

Give it a go

Regardless of your ability to swing a club and hit a ball, Top Golf is more exciting than a trip to your average driving range.

Whether you choose to visit with friends or family on a Friday or Saturday night, where the music and drinks continue to flow until 1am, or during the week, you will find that Top Golf offers something for every level of golfer, from a four-handicapper or someone who’s never even held a club before.

In the past, I didn’t think golf would be a sport that I would ever enjoy, but every time I have visited Top Golf, I have loved it and I would recommend everyone to give it a try.

To find out where you can give Top Golf a go, visit the Top Golf website.

Move over, Yianni – my supercar experience

November 1, 2016 in Participation

As a young motorsport fan, I always knew I had the need for speed and began taking driving lessons as soon as I turned 17. 

Four months later, I passed my test and bought my own car, only to realise my 1.2 Volkswagen Polo went from 0-60 in 14 v-e-r-y long seconds.

So I was going to have to get my speed fix elsewhere, and a birthday gift provided the perfect opportunity.

The Red Letter Days voucher for me and a friend to have a go at driving supercars was a dream come true.

The venue was at an old airfield turned racing circuit in Oxfordshire, and all the way there I imagined myself at the wheel of a Lamborghini Aventador, rather than my trusty but unglamorous VW.

Personal favourite

Supercars tend to be owned by the super-rich, but legions of less wealthy drivers aspire to one day put their foot down in vehicles worth more than Wayne Rooney’s weekly wage.

I was one of those people who only saw supercars on the internet or TV. Shows such as ‘Top Gear’ give you an entertaining view of what it’s like to drive and test them in ways most manufacturers wouldn’t dream of.

“I was greeted by the sound of beautifully-tuned cars which were lined up in a row waiting for me”

I also follow the social media accounts of many supercar owners and I especially like their YouTube channels as it feels more personal, as if you are riding with them in the passenger seat.

One of the best-known is Yianni Charalambous, better known by the name of his celebrity car-customising company Yiannimize.

Yianni customises vehicles for the rich and famous and also runs a couple of supercars himself: a light blue Ferrari 488 Spider and a stunning super-charged six-litre rose gold Range Rover SVR with a custom body kit.

My personal favourite of his has to be one of his previous cars, a rose gold Aventador.

Adrenaline

After arriving at the airfield after a sluggish drive up the M40, I was greeted by the sound of beautifully-tuned cars which were lined up in a row waiting for me to choose the two I wanted to drive.

“Going at 100mph without having to worry about police cameras was thrilling and not at all frightening on the track”

Before booking my driving experience, I had conducted some research about which of the cars on offer could go the fastest, and I found that the Lamborghini Gallardo and the Audi R8 were the ones for me.

Unfortunately, between them and me was a safety briefing which, at the time, went on for what felt like hours as I sat there full of adrenaline and ready to drive.

At all times in both cars, I had a member of the track team with me to ensure I kept things safe, but to me I was in a scene from The Fast & Furious and the person sitting alongside was Dwayne Johnson.

Race ready

Driving the supercars was much harder than I initially imagined. It wasn’t all about sheer speed, but precision and timing. When it came to cornering, I had to be in total control of the vehicle in order to get the best out of it when exiting the curve.

Although taking part in lap time races wasn’t recommended for newcomers, my competitive nature and need for speed wouldn’t allow me not to.

In my head I kept repeating to myself, ‘slow and close’ (to the apex) when going into corners as I knew that would help my chances of getting a good time.

On the long straights, I was able to put my foot down and experience speeds in excess of 95mph, which for a supercar is not even a struggle whereas my own car would be likely to blow up before going that fast.

Going at 100mph without having to worry about police cameras was thrilling and not at all frightening on the track.

Anticipation

Short but sweet is the perfect phrase to describe the experience – it’s almost addictive as ever since my first visit I have been itching to go back.

“Not only had I won, but my victory meant he had to take the wheel and drive all the way back to London”

After taking off the overalls and helmet provided, I was ushered into a room where a small TV screen revealed my lap time.

At this point, I was sweating and leaning forward in anticipation of the result like a celebrity guest on Top Gear.

When my name appeared on the screen four places above my friend’s, a smile of sheer relief appeared on my face.

Not only had I won, but my victory meant he had to take the wheel and drive all the way back to London while I relaxed and thought back on my experience in the passenger’s seat.

Getting hooked on table tennis

October 26, 2016 in Participation

Glued to my sofa on a drab Tuesday night, having earlier consumed a kebab, I wasn’t necessarily in the market to try out a new sport.

However, my table tennis fanatic friend Junaid worked hard to convince me to come and give his game a try at a local sports club in Slough, Berkshire.

Despite my initial lack of eagerness, once we arrived I had a funny feeling in my stomach. At first I thought it might be something to do with that kebab, but it wasn’t.

It was more an adrenaline rush and a feeling of nervousness mixed with enthusiasm.

Being competitive by nature, I was filled with tension because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of experienced players, but in hindsight that tension ensured I was motivated to have fun and try something new.

Popularity 

Having become an Olympic sport since 1988, table tennis has been in the limelight for many years.

Its origins go back to the 1880s as game-makers tried to emulate the popularity of lawn tennis by developing indoor versions.

“As I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…”

The sport is simple. It is played by two players (singles) or four players (doubles) on a 2.7m x 1.5m table.

They repeatedly hit a 40mm-diameter ball made of celluloid and plastic over and around the net by using rackets (also known as bats) made out of wood that are covered by pimpled rubber.

The object is to score 11 points before your opponent.

In a game where each player has two serves, they hit the ball back and forth and must only allow a ball played towards them to bounce once on their side of table, and the opponent must return it so it bounces on the opposite side.

If the score becomes tied at 10 points each, the first player or pair to gain a two point lead will be victorious. In addition, a match will consist of winning the best of any odd number of games such as: 3, 5 or 7.

Serve it up 

As I prepared myself in the changing rooms, the noise inside the hall was pretty deafening. You could hear balls being rhythmically knocked back and forth and the anguished cries of those  struggling with the pace.

There was certainly a competitive feel to the atmosphere, even though – like me – not all the people present were seasoned table tennis hitters.

Finding a spot and table wasn’t hard due to the impressive facilities at the club.

My friend eased me in at first but as I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…

Junaid found an experienced partnership who were no doubt feeling smug about their prospects of victory, but I warmed up thoroughly, determined to not to be embarrassed in my first competitive table tennis game.

Surprising myself 

It was time for the showdown. At the back of my mind, I was thinking of when Mike Tyson the huge favourite, lost to Buster Douglas and it just gave me the confidence to surprise the other pair.

“After believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat”

I served first but my nerves got the better of me and it went straight into the net, but Junaid was quick to push me on and said ‘Continue doing that, it will pay off, trust me.’

As I got into the flow, I started to put my stamp on the game and alongside Junaid, we caused our opponents plenty of problems.

They were on the backfoot for most of the contest as our youthful energy paid dividends. My confidence grew and I unleashed a destructive hit that startled the opposition. I was here to play.

However, experienced eventually told and they rallied to earn a 3-2 victory.

But afterwards they came over and said ‘We didn’t think you had it in you, that was a good workout. You better be here next week – we will certainly have a rematch.’

Those words gave me so much encouragement. At first, I thought I would be a disaster and there was no hope, but after believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat.

Try it! 

Football is my main sporting passion, but table tennis was tremendous fun. Despite it being a challenging sport to master at first, it’s one people of all ages and abilities can enjoy and it also gives you a really good workout.

There will almost certainly be a club in your area that welcomes newcomers, and if you are feeling spontaneous you could even try it at home!

Just watch out for your mum’s best dinner service if you do decide to give it a go on your dining table.

By deciding to give up my sofa for a strenuous cardiovascular work out, I not only improved my endurance levels but I enjoyed doing something different and I would recommend everyone to give the sport a try.

To find out where you can give table tennis a go, visit the Table Tennis England website.

Beach volleyball – Sri Lankan style

October 13, 2016 in Participation

Obviously, the national sport of Sri Lanka is cricket, right? Well, actually, it’s not. Try swapping the sound of leather on willow for that of hand on volleyball… 

Yes, despite the fact that cricket is played everywhere, from beaches and backstreets to parks and school playgrounds, volleyball is officially the nation’s the No.1 pastime.

On a trip to visit family in Sri Lanka this summer, I decided to give it a go – but with the Rio Olympics and the Copacabana in mind, it had to be the beach version.

So we headed for Unawatuna, a coastal spot near the town of Galle, to play the with a couple of locals and some of my relatives.

Mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness were running through my mind as we made the bus trip from Hikkaduwa, but I was determined to have a fun time and enjoy a new sport.

Popularity

Beach volleyball originated in Hawaii in 1915 but made its name in Santa Monica, California, in the 1920s.

The sport began to gain popularity and was played across Europe in the 1960s and finally made its way to Sri Lanka in the 1990s. It has been part of the Olympics since 1996.

The best achievement in beach volleyball by Sri Lankans came at the 2010 Asian championships in Lipanshui, China, where the pair of Mahesh Perera and Wasantha Rathnapala achieved a silver medal.

The sport is played in teams of two rather than the six in volleyball itself, and the scoring system is different too, with matches being played in the best of three sets to 21 points. In addition, 15 points for a deciding set.

Finding a spot

Once we arrived at Unawatuna, we made the short walk to the beautiful beach nearby. The heat was intense and it was only midday.

“Other guys playing were making suicidal dives and flips in the scorching heat to save or win a point”

There was certainly a touristy feel to the area as there were many restaurants serving western-style food, as well as hotels, and shops selling souvenirs.

Finding a spot to play volleyball was not that hard. There were a couple of nets that were free to use or you could bring your own.

I decided to get warm up, get used to the conditions and have a feel of the ball before we actually played.

There were other guys playing too, and they were making suicidal dives and flips in the scorching heat to save or win a point.

Time to play

It was time to play and I teamed up with my uncle to take on a couple of locals who were willing to play us.

I was made to serve in the first set – and put my first effort straight into the net. My uncle was laughing as he knew I never played the sport before.

“I managed to leap in the air and unleash a powerful forearm smash”

However, after that poor start, I managed a better serve and the rally was underway.

There were many challenges as the match was happening. A language barrier was one of them. The guys and my uncle were speaking Sinhalese and I didn’t really understand what they were saying, having only a few basic phrases myself.

So our main means of communication was my uncle pointing and showing me what to do and where to be. I began to pick up the pace and manage to get involved in a long rally of about 10-15 hits.

Running barefoot on the sand was hard too, as it was really hot and dry.

Smash!

As the match continued, I managed to leap in the air and unleash a powerful forearm smash to earn a point. My uncle was laughing and the locals smiling at my joy.

That smash left my hand stinging in pain, but I shook it off and continued to play until about 3pm. I enjoyed every minute of it and would definitely play again.

Beach volleyball was a new experience for me and I would recommend anyone to give it a go. It’s a good way to be active, have fun with friends and family and a great chance to feel really competitive.

You can play beach volleyball in London – check out the London Beach Volleyball Club website, and British Volleyball also has a beach volleyball section on its site.

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