Show/Hide Navigation

Intense Living Becomes a Compulsion

Phil Packer and Kate Silverton climb the National 3 Peaks for Sport Relief

Simon Barnes, the Chief Sports Writer at the Times is one of my favourite sports journalists. Unfortunately online his work is squirreled away behind the Times’ daft pay firewall so I’m afraid I can’t link appropriately. Instead I’ve typed out excerpts from a piece I tore out of the old-school print version a while back. He is writing about sport, but it’s also one of the best answers I have seen for the old question of “why do you go on expeditions?

Sportspeople not only put themselves through the agonies of expectation. Most of them must also accept the possibility -many of these the near certainty- of physical pain… Most of the reality of sport is pain and anxiety and defeat.
My suggestion is that sport is about the human need to live intensely. To live with ardour. We tend to believe that what we want out of life is comfort and security and absence of stress, but that is only half right. We also want to experience heightened emotions. It’s not that we accept pain, fear and anxiety as an acceptable exchange for moments of euphoria. We also crave the pain and fear. We crave the whole package of despair and delight.
In former times there were things such as sabre-toothed tigers to add intensity to human life. More recently there were at least wars and civil unrest and lawlessness to keep up your interest. But recently life, for most people, is comparatively comfortable. So much so that we had stuff like spare time.
So we filled it with a way of being uncomfortable. We invented sport. Sport provides people with a way of living intensely.
For some people, intense living becomes a compulsion… It’s about balance. Without intensity, life has no savour, but without safety, life becomes, for most of us, unliveable. Sport fills the 21st-century shortfall in intensity.

Read Comments

You might also like

What is Stopping us Living Adventurously? Fear? Over recent days I’ve been asking a series of questions on social media to try to figure out what is stopping people from living as adventurously as they might wish to do, and exploring whether — at its heart — […]...
How to Improve your Email Newsletter I’ve been half-heartedly sending email newsletters for 17 years. But only recently have I started to make a real effort to make them good (do you subscribe? If not, you probably should). In order to learn what my audience was […]...
Bavarian Microadventure – with a difference I was worried, eight years ago, when I first began sleeping on local hills and swimming in rivers to get my prescribed dose of adventure. I had just, barely, hardly, got to a point where I felt confident that enough […]...


  1. That’s spot on.

  2. Could not agree more.

  3. So, so true. I went to Chamonix last year to have a crack at Mont Blanc, all with the idea of taking myself out of my comfort zone.

    Thanks for typing up Al! Nice one.

  4. We are happy to experience the pain and anxiety because it is only temporary and the adrenaline fuelled highs that we so desire can be just a moment away at any time.

  5. Nail hit firmly on head!

  6. Bang On!

    Maybe we should be considering introducing Sabre Tooth Tigers to urban areas to regain that edge? Commuting would be a lot more fun if it involved running a gauntlet of big predators ; )

  7. Amen !!!

  8. Read Mike Stroud’s book “Survival of the Fittest” …it makes perfect sense as to “why” we do what we do (that is on the rather bold assumption that anyone reading this has adventure and challenge as part of their day to day)

  9. I agree with this.
    Sports took off when society became civilised and people had more time on their hands.

  10. the other week i was talking with a friend about caving/potholing. not my thing! we were wondering what the coal miner of a few hundred years ago would have thought of us doing these things for fun, and even paying to take part.

  11. Raph Taylor Posted

    As though the words were frommy very own mouth – I have always extolled these exact virtues and for the same reasons; even down to the bit about the tigers!
    While I take part in a very minimal amount of high adrenalin sport currently, my vocation is not set firmly within the bounds of confort: I get to use chainsaws, climb trees, and make a wide variety of artefacts (I am a woodwork and Greenwoodwork teacher) with my students. I can experience highs and lows through this, sometimes emotions too…

    A friend of mine, hosts a blog, and last year he was – as part of his job – breaking rocks for a pathway in the Peak District. He received regular comments from passers-by, and they mostly remarked on the ‘hard work’ nature of his vocation. This then led him onto thoughts about how the majority of work undertaken by people is sedentary, and to counter this, so many then take out gym membership to get their dose of physical movement/exercise however you wish to call it – and their adrenalin comes in their ‘leisure time’ – he on the other hand, has no need for gym membership…

    I recently came off my bike and landed hard on my shoulder; this has resulted on no riding for 3 weeks, and I realised yesterday that I have become quite grumpy through missing out my regular (if only short) rides – my wife, while not wholeheartedly agreeing, was in no hurry to correct my observations!

    So, back on the bike today, and I’ll ride along with thoughts of those Sabre teeth snapping at my back tyre…



Post a Comment

HTML tags you can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

© Copyright 2012 Alastair Humphreys. All rights reserved. Site design by JSummerton