I was just poking around the web looking for the James Baldwin quote that I used to open my book, when I found a financial blog that has adapted the first couple of pages of 'The Gloves'. It's written in the first-person, like my book, and the writer uses a number of my best sentences. Uncredited, needless to say. It's having an actor play you. It's like I stepped into an alternate universe.
‘The male cannot bear very much humiliation; and he really cannot bear it. It obliterates him. All men know this about each other, which is one of the reasons that men treat each other with such a vile, relentless, and endlessly inventive cruelty. Also, it must be added with such depthless respect and love, conveyed, mainly, by grunts and blows.’
James Baldwin, The Evidence of Things Not Seen
The gym becomes a way of life. Arrive at 4.30 am after just a couple of hours sleep. Park the car, on with hooded top over 3 t shirts, lace trainers, find the torch. No one about – today is ‘roadwork’ day. That means 5 miles through wooded terrain at pace. Roadwork is a boxing euphemism for running at pace interspersed with sprints, hill climbs, shadow boxing.
It’s tough. Tough enough at -5C temperatures to make the sweat freeze to your scalp and burn your eyes whilst you squint through tears. The torch is a poor substitute for daylight, holding it distorts your natural running rhythm, there’s no street lighting where I’m running this morning, the local council don’t see the need for it in Bracknell forest which is where I’m headed.
Check running watch, deep breath, here we go. The freezing air greedily sucks oxygen from your lungs, hamstrings lengthen, abductors, gluts, and quads all start to protest, aching from yesterday’s sparring. The rubbery sheath of my skeleton is fatigued, just not up for this today.
I start a debate in my head, figuring out whether my opponent is going to be out at this time. No matter, I am, I have to be, I’ve got my fight date and now all that stands between then and now is what is known as ‘boxing twilight’, a world of punishing yourself for up to four hours daily at a level you would find in an Army Paratroopers selection process.
The 5 miles that I’m doing now is the precursor to meeting Matt the guy who trains me, schools me, and mentors me in the art of the ‘sweet science’. He’s a professional boxing coach, intelligent, articulate, and street tough. He’s fought a few times too, there’s intensity about his personality and economy in his movement that suggests he could have been a very good fighter.
Matt specialises in ‘taking you to places you don’t want to go’, for once the spiel lives up to the reality. Today is Tuesday, which means 90 minutes of being in the ‘don’t want to go’ zone, it’s brutal but effective. The highlight is 3 minutes on the punch bag, interspersed with 30 seconds of all out punching followed by 30 seconds of non-stop jabbing and head movement. Every muscle fibre screams for oxygen that isn’t coming anytime soon, hyper ventilation takes over after the first 60 seconds, sweat runs and streams and pools in your eyes so you see double and your hands and arms are like anchors, breathing in gasps, there is no air. In between this Matt is shouting commands, ‘get your hands up, ‘left hand back to chin’, ‘hit it harder‘, ‘you gonna hit your guy like that he’ll laugh’, ‘work harder like it’ s your last round’. In between at the ‘rest stages’ as I am bent double trying to catch breath Matt looks on dispassionately whilst uttering ominous sounding sentences like ‘we’ve got to get you fitter for this fight’.
An old boxing maxim is that ‘power thrills but speed kills’. We’re working on speed today, the innocuous sounding ‘foot drills’ which involve excruciating power jumps , sprints, Matt’s speciality the ‘duck walk’ and of course the infamous burpees.
All that after the run and I mean run that I am on at the moment. Four miles to go, three months to the fight, and thousands of boxing rounds ahead of me. You don’t play boxing