Friday, March 1, 2024

Size Matters: The pain in Spain stays mainly on the brain (and the glutes) as we warm up for the World Masters

‘It felt like the walls were closing in as we discovered some mystery court dimensions, but we still had a gas…’ 
By ORLA O’DOHERTY (Squash Mad World Masters Correspondent)

Size Matters. Knowing what you know about me at this point, I’d say that’s the last thing anyone would expect to hear coming from me! So let me explain . . .

If you’ve read about my campaign to compete in the World Masters next week, what follows is an account of my continued attempt to look somewhat like a decent Masters squash player.

In my quest to find a true ‘Gold-Jacket-worthy body’, (so I can parade around Poland), I headed off to Palencia in Spain last month with my partner, Annabelle. We were in search of a middle-aged Masters miracle: instant fitness and rapid weight loss without any risk of injury or brain damage.

We had the best of intentions – a five-day long squash camp, very affordable, and in a lovely place. What could possibly go wrong?

Upon our arrival, we excitedly checked into our digs. University accommodation, which was basic but clean. It had everything we needed. Two single beds, which we managed to haul around the large desks and lockers, in order to have a queen-sized bed (that was our first work-out), ample storage for clothes, a small bathroom with shower and miniature size bath-tub, which you would only bathe a small child in. We had a nice shared balcony with other ‘campers’, so we were happy enough with our set-up for the week.

The lane in Spain: here we are celebrating our PBs in the 100m sprints

On our walk to check out the squash facility, we found the locals very friendly. Despite our lack of Spanish, and their lack of English, it’s amazing how a smile, a wink, a nod, or a wave of the arm, can go a long way.

Eagerly arriving at the squash courts, we were greeted by a tall, bald man who had no English, but a welcoming, albeit toothless smile.

The courts looked nice, with springy floors, high ceilings, and spacious viewing area. No air conditioning, but I always prefer a hot court anyway, for the sake of long rallies and to prevent injuries.

We hopped on court, and three shots in, I turned to Annabelle and said ‘the court is too small’. She agreed, but suggested we do some boast/drive, just to get the feel of it. Maybe we were jetlagged, or just overwhelmed with the heat, and it just felt smaller?

Sure enough as we began drilling, I noticed that it took only one step to get to the ball (and Annabelle’s boasts are GOOD), so there was something amiss. Our brains instantly went to “oh *expletive*, we are training for the World Masters on small courts”.

What would we do? Panic ensued. Are we good enough to adjust to the smaller size? Why were all our serves going out, and cross-courts landing in the middle?
Despite being told that PSA events were held there every year, and no-one had ever commented on the court size in 19 years, I wasn’t convinced that the courts were regulation size.

Having spent 10 years working in Santa Barbara on converted racquetball courts (20 feet wide, as opposed to 21 feet), I pride myself in having enough experience to know they were definitely smaller.

I hosted many PSA events in Santa Barbara, including Greg Gaultier the week after he became World Champion. I was always told that the pros don’t mind about the court size, as long as they can play and earn a living.

I digress, as usual.

After a chat with the camp director and an Irish friend, we agreed that regardless of the court size, we would greatly benefit from the training. AND WE DID. It was a fantastic week of physical fitness, technical fine-tuning, and wonderful new acquaintances.

The parting gifts were brilliant – a lovely little bag in the shape of a miniature racquet bag that was intended for toiletries – I chose to put all my anti-inflammatory pills, bandages, grips, and reusable icepacks into it. The camp T-shirt was lovely, except even the XL ladies’ size was too small to fit over my head.

All this work will help me in Poland – the Irish would call this a diddly-squat!

After the first two days of training, four to five hours each day, this 51-year-old body had some serious words with my brain in the form of excruciating aches and stiffness, manifesting itself through my glutes down into my IT bands.

Those hips that I talked about in my last piece were shrinking, but not without some serious protesting. So, I took two afternoons off, went swimming, had an ice-cream, took my Voltarol tablets, and enjoyed a few siestas with my handheld battery-operated fan blasting in my face.

Anyone passing by the door, which was propped open, may have wondered why I was moaning with pleasure to the sound of something buzzing. (To the man in the next room, I swear it was my handheld fan).

Speaking of Voltarol, years ago while visiting friends in Fuengirola I was able to purchase these tablets over the counter. I chanced my luck in Palencia this time, and went into a chemist to buy a box. The friendly pharmacist glanced at her colleague who gave her a death stare. Her eyes darted back to me, as she whispered through her face mask “You’re supposed to have a prescription” in her best English.

I feigned disappointment and held onto my neck saying “Oh really, it’s just that I…” Her eyes squinted seeing that her colleague was now busy with another customer, so she nodded at me and disappeared behind a door. Reappearing 30 seconds later, she handed me a box of thirty-six 75 mgs tablets.

I thanked her profusely with as many “Gracias’s” as I could muster, waffling in fast Irish/English about how grateful I was, telling her that something good would happen to her today. I do tend to babble.

While we were at the chemist, Annabelle decided she’d stock up on magnesium tablets. She gets constant cramps in the right cheek of her bottom no less, almost every night, and wakes up in all sorts of contortions. Often times, I am afraid. It appears she’s having some sort of fit. So, I naturally encouraged her to invest in the magnesium.

Having a cramp in one’s bottom is difficult to ease out (if you’ve ever had an osteopath digging their elbow into your glutes you’ll know what I’m talking about). It’s not as simple as straightening one’s calf muscle or pulling one’s foot straight up towards the ceiling. I never really know what to do with her bottom, and nor does she.

Orla and Annabelle pass with flying colours as they work on squash’s Olympic bid

How boot camp turned in to a boob cramp…

Leaving the chemist, armed with Voltarol and Magnesium, we paid a visit to a new sporting goods store that was selling ladies tops for next to nothing. We thought we’d try some on, and treat ourselves to a new outfit.

It was then that we realised that Spanish ladies ARE TINY.

We were quite chuffed with ourselves, grabbing a few sleeveless shirts, size medium and large. Off we trotted towards the changing room and it was as if the checkout girl KNEW we were not going to be successful. She had a look at the 10 tops we chose, glanced up and down at our physique, smiled a little, then unlocked a room for us.

All ten tops did fit over our heads, tightly, but neither one of us could accomplish getting two arms in. The laughs we had trying to squeeze every ounce of spare flesh into these tops.

Remember those squidgy toys we had as kids where you squeezed one end and the other got fat, and then you’d squeeze the middle part and both ends would expand, and this could go on for hours? That was us. If one boob stayed inside the shirt, the other flopped out. If I pulled the shirt down over my stomach, both boobs oozed up under my chin. We tried the XL shirts too, but to no avail.

We left the shop feeling rather deflated (although clearly not nearly enough). And back we waddled to our dorm-rooms, to dream of skinnier bodies and smaller boobs.

One evening, our illustrious head coach took us on a fantastic tour of the local area, stopping off at a delightful and historical village called Fromista. We visited two beautiful churches and ended up in an old monastery that had a well-hidden restaurant, where about 15 of us cosied up for a fantastic meal.

The décor was impressive, though had a mysteriously haunting feeling. Even the toilets had Gregorian Chant music playing, which was quite frightening if you stayed too long. The lights were on a timer and the place went pitch black after about 60 seconds. Imagine being in a stall in an old monastery, the lights go off, and all you hear are monks, faintly singing, their eerie voices echoing throughout the stone walled darkness.

It is enough to scare the bejaysus out of you. I suppose it’s a good thing I was hovering over the toilet when that happened, however the hard part was waving my hands around to get the lights to come back on, while in the squat position. It’s all part of the training.

I digress. It was a fabulous meal. However, I noticed Annabelle had left the table quite often, disappearing into the toilets for extended periods of time. On the way home, her stomach was making churning, gurgling sounds, loud enough to be heard over the radio playing in the car. She looked uncomfortable and as soon as we arrived to our residence halls, she dashed to our room. For some reason, she had incredible amounts of gas that of course she needed to expel.

What did she have at dinner? We wondered…same as me. Lunch? Same as me. Her stomach was so bloated, it was like a balloon sitting on top of her pelvis. The release of air went on into the early hours of the night.

I didn’t need any medication to relax my restless legs, (caused by the peri-menopause), as the fumes emitting from beneath the sheets completely knocked me out. Interestingly enough, she did NOT get a cramp in her bottom that night.

I woke up humming “You are the wind beneath my wings”. I wonder why…

The next morning, we figured it out. The magnesium tablets. She’d taken four times the recommended dose, for the last two days. It nearly killed both of us. I suggested she stick to bananas for her intake of magnesium from here on out.

By the fourth day of camp, our legs were so exhausted from training, that we chose to take the elevator from the ground floor to the first floor where our room was. The stairs were just too daunting.

This sign needed another sign next to it, saying “Warning! Low Sign”

On the fifth day, while walking to the courts, Annabelle walked into a signpost, that was simply hanging down too low on the street. She’s only 5 ft 7, but I imagine most Spanish people would manage to walk right under it. She’s fine. But it was a bump to the right forehead above her eye and a guffaw on my part, although my abs were too sore from the previous morning’s core session for me to laugh too much.

The camp was a success. The courts were indeed smaller than regulation courts (yes, we did end up measuring them, just to prove we weren’t insane) but the upside to this is that we played with the pros (gorgeous young men, all of them) and were able to have long rallies, which really built up our stamina.

The technical instruction of the camp was spot on, and the overall balance of fitness and squash was very good. I am not a fan of yoga, but I did benefit from it immensely. Despite the tiny clothes, the smaller squash courts, the miniature size bath-tub, and the shorter signposts, the tapas and beers at the end of every exhausting day were just what the doctor ordered. Maybe size doesn’t really matter…

In just three days, we will head off on the Road to Poland for the World Masters Championships. I’m so looking forward to seeing Masters players there from all over the world.

I will be equipped with my Gold Jacket (free try-on and selfies for everyone), Voltarol in abundance, and extra magnesium tablets should you need it!

Thanks again for reading my articles on Squash Mad. I do hope you get a giggle. Us Masters players are truly blessed to still be able to run around a court chasing a little black ball. Some are not so fortunate, so let’s enjoy ourselves next week, and not take things too seriously.

I just remembered something. That throne room at the monastery reminded me of the ladies and gents in a restaurant I visited in France. They were located at the end of a long corridor with a low ceiling.

At the entrance to the corridor was a sign saying: Two loos. Low trek.

Packing for Poland: getting all the goodies in the case before we leave Spain

Hasta La Vista, Baby! Stay tuned to Orla’s Daily Blog from the World Masters

Orla will be penning a Daily Blog from the World Masters being held in Poland from August 21-27. Even though the event is taking place at the world’s largest squash club (the Hasta La Vista in Wroclaw has 33 courts) you will NOT be able to hide from Orla’s eagle-eyed gaze.

As well as going for gold, Orla will be celebrating her appointment as a World Squash Day Ambassador with a special brief to put the fun back into the game after two challenging years.

So watch out for Orla and her briefs from Poland. And please tell all your friends to bookmark Squash Mad, the home of intelligent debate.

Pictures courtesy of Orla O’Doherty


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