What I talk about when I talk about running

This blog title has been borrowed from the book title by the writer Haruki Murakami and the main image is from the fan blog, http://www.haruki-murakami.com.

I have been toying with the idea of writing a blog post, inspired by the above mentioned book and my running habit. The book, a memoir, is a sort of autobiography which centers around the writer Haruki Murakami’s running habit.

Here is a small excerpt:

“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. ” – Haruki Murakami

Ever since I can remember, I have always been an avid runner, probably influenced by my father who at the age of sixty two still competes in marathons and runs on a regular basis. I keep track of his progress with my Runtastic App and can see exactly how many kilometers he has run for the month thus far.

I have fond memories of us running together, competing in races together and of him dragging me out of bed, telling (bamboozling) me, that we are only going for a quick jog around the block, which always ended up being a tough eight kilometers fast paced run around several blocks.

I don’t know why, but I always fell for his bamboozles.

Running on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
One side of running on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
Running on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
The other side of running on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

Also, I have many memories of primary school, of waking up at the crack of dawn only to run the two or so kilometers to my school’s sports grounds, and then starting my official running training.

After high school I became a lazy student, who neglected health and fitness by citing academics as an excuse. Once I started working I did not get any better at all, I did a few fun runs here and there but nothing serious.

At the age of 26, I competed in a half marathon (The Two Oceans) with absolutely no prior training, just will and determination. It was a horrible idea. Once I passed the three kilometer mark, I dreaded every single meter thereafter. At times, I thought of flagging down the medical team and tapping out of the race, and at other times I contemplated just giving up.

Luckily I did neither, finished the race, and vowed that I would never run a half marathon again in my life…

The next year I ran the same race but this time, I had trained for about three weeks prior to it. As expected, it was yet again a horrible experience.

I remember how angry I was during the race. Angry that I had entered, and angry that I allowed others to influence me to enter.Not only did I vow to never enter a race again, but this time I told myself I was done with running. I actually think I bought a mountain bike a few weeks later.

The point of the stories above is that I do have a certain degree of natural fitness, a bit of crazy, strong will and determination and an affinity for running, which I have only embraced again recently.

I ran a couple of random races over the last couple of years but never in my life have I run like I run now. Every run is a small competition. A competition to try and beat myself, beat my time, beat my pace, and mostly: beat my mind.

Running to me has become an escape, and definitely a small addiction. Yes there is the physical element, where the brain releases endorphins, but there is a lot more to it.

I have grown to love the scientific and mental aspects of running as a sport, where I challenge every factor which could have had an influence on my performance for a specific run.

For example, on Monday, I will do a ten kilometer run at 6:00PM, my time will be approximately forty six minutes and seventeen seconds. Then on Wednesday I will run the exact same route, also at 6:00PM, but this time, my results will be approximately forty four minutes and twelve seconds. Which results in a difference of two minutes and five seconds.

Now this is where my mind starts working, I consider each factor: from what I had for breakfast to what time I went to bed. Then I also consider the mental state in which I was in when I started my run, and once I finished.

I weigh each factor and determine the influence that it may or may not have had, then I take note on how I might alter an element to improve my run.

The other day, I ran without drinking coffee, and I did exactly the same run after two flat whites. Needless to say, the post coffee run was way better than the no coffee run, this article explains more.

The above example is a little self explanatory, but there are more examples which are a little harder to explain, like the Kanye West vs Chance the Rapper phenomenon…

I have found that I run way better while listening to Kanye West than when I listen to Chance the Rapper. There could be several explanations for this, but my friend’s explanation still remains the best: “If I had to listen to Kanye West, I would also run for my life.”

Hilarious.

All jokes aside, Kanye’s earlier, pre-dark stuff is actually pretty uplifting and inspiring, I use it all the time for training.

So now you know what I talk about when I talk about running. As the title suggests, I do in fact talk about running.

This is not a topic which I can and will cover in one post, as I still have a lot that I could say when it comes to running. With that being said, I will end this with another timeless quote from the book title by the writer Haruki Murakami, one which has been a sort of a mantra for me.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.” – Haruki Murakami

Sunday bloody Sunday

I spent my Friday evening with some friends in a smoky bar, surrounding by people drinking and having a great time, I do not drink myself but have no problem hanging out in bars and around people drinking.

I actually sat at the table next to my ex girlfriend and her new husband but neither of us made any attempt to greet each other as we carried on as if our three years were together never actually happened, I am not really sure how I feel about that…

What did get to me, was the smoke, I spent around four hours in the bar and it was clouded with smoke! I must have smoked at least five cigarettes with all the second hand smoke that I inhaled.

At the time I did not realize the effect that it had on me but while driving home I could feel my throat aching, scratching and my sinuses starting to act up.

When I awoke Saturday morning, it felt like I had the flu, my head ached, my nasal cavities were all blocked up and I was in a down right foul mood. It felt like nothing could go right and everything just felt off, it was a sort of angsty depression, very strange sensation.

I can only deduct that this was caused by the smoke in the bar as no other external or internal factors changed except this. All my clothing from the night are still tainted with the smell of cigarette smoke.

I don’t judge people who smoke but I do hate smoking and as an ex smoker, I do believe that I have the right to hate smoking, as I know from personal experience the terrible health risks that smoking holds, it actually blows my mind that people still smoke but admittedly I was one of those people, not too long ago.

It seems that addiction trumps all sense of self preservation. Horrible really.

Saturday morning after finally getting put of bed, I had an insane training session, it was great, I trained in the sun, worked up a great sweat, followed it up with a cold shower and a great lunch but still I could not kick the dreaded feeling, the dreaded feeling followed me until I fell asleep and I finally managed to shake it the next day, which is today, but only after a yoga session, meditation and a run.

So the time is now 11:00AM on Sunday morning, it feels like my day can finish already as I have been so productive but alas, no rest for the wicked, I still have tons to do.

Once I finish the blog post, I have to pick up some ingredients for a herb, parmesan and steak carpaccio salad that I making for a lunch that I attending a bit later. Then I have some work to do afterwards and also some planning and decision making, I need to do, to ensure that this week and months goes as smooth as possible.

On a side note, I ran my fastest kilometer of my life today, with a flying speed of 3:35 for a kilometer, it was downhill but it was also on a trail, so I am sure that I can improve this on a tar road!

Its been a while…

Things have been extremely busy on my side…

For the first time in my life, I really know what it feels like, not to have any time and even when I do have time, there is always something that can and should be done.

It is not a bad place to be, as being busy… Keeps you busy and being in this situation has also forced me to revaluate what I spend my time on and also what my time is really worth.

The above actually has nothing to do with the infrequent blog updates. What has been a really tough mental barrier to break through has been the content of the blog and my subject matter.

How I feel about the content I write is also greatly influenced by whether I am inspired to write or not, and if I am not inspired, I feel that my writing has a very forced feel to it. I am not really comfortable to put out any content with which I am not entirely happy with.

I have also made peace with the fact that whilst traveling, the content came easy and I could write something everyday, as each day was filled with new adventures and exciting events which were in line with what my blog is about.

The subject matter, which I am referring to is my training and my travels. Currently my travels are non existent as I have been living in South Africa for the last couple of months and even though I have technically lived in four different towns since my arrival, I still do not consider this traveling and it would be a dreadful bore, typing out my daily routine of buying household cleaning products and hanging up laundry to dry.

Now as for the fitness, training and exercise part which in my opinion has always trumped the traveling, eating and adventure part. Although I have not been blogging about it does not mean it did not get a lot of attention.

Upon my return, my father said to me “The way you have been training is unsustainable, in a few weeks you will be unfit again.”, which naturally inspired me to train furiously with new inspiration.

Funnily enough, a sort of similar comment sparked the same reaction when I first left South Africa to travel abroad. A friend of mine said that I will not be able to train whilst traveling, too hell with that I decided.

This was before the idea of doing a Muay Thai camp even remotely crossed my mind. At that stage I did not even know that these existed. her comment also sparked a fever in me which drove me to seek out training places regardless of the 45 degree weather in Vietnam and the tropical rain falls in Cambodia, trained, I trained!

The above both led me to where I am right now as I am typing this and ironically I am now a lot fitter, stronger and leaner than I was while traveling, even though whilst traveling I did focus on exercise and diet, here at home I can be a lot more scientific and measure exactly what I put in my body and when.

I also have a routine, schedule and places to train. I think that this makes a massive difference as I have found that the most important aspect with exercise is definitely the consistency.

It is amazing that you do not realize any difference in your body until one day you just do. This does not happen overnight but rather over the course of several months or in my case, it took me well over a year to personally see any change although I knew that there was.

Today I feel like I can keep on writing and writing as I feel super inspired but I will have to cut it short as I have some work to do before going for running time trials in about an hour.

I have been running a lot lately. I actually have a goal to complete a 21km race with one and a half hours but this goal has changed to completing it in one hour and twenty minutes.

I will update with how it went and afterwards, I will be doing some calisthenics training.

Back in Africa!

I have been delaying writing this blog post for the last two months, which coincidentally is about the same amount of time that I have been back home in South Africa.

I started the blog whilst travelling and training in Thailand and the Philippines, in Thailand I spent a month doing Muai Thai training and in the Philippines, I did three weeks of Western boxing training.

Both were great and both were hard.

Since my return I have started doing gymnastics, I know, a bit of a change from the fight training but it has been great. Initially I thought of joining a boxing or Muai thai club again, which I still have not ruled out.

I chose gymnastics because over the last few months, I have been increasingly intrigued with callisthenics and body weight fitness and gymnastics seems to slot right into this.

I have been testing out a few different training routines and I have also incorporated some long distance running. Where I am staying at the moment, Fish Hoek, Western Cape, South Africa, I am surrounded by mountains, beaches and beautiful natural scenery. I am lucky to be able to walk out of my flat and in a few meters I am on the beach, which makes for great bare foot running.

Back to my point about the blog, I am not really sure how to pick it up again or what to really write about. SO I have decided to just take it as it comes.

Sunday a friend and I did a 16 kilometer hike up a very steep mountain, here are some pictures of the six hour adventure. img_1018

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And then we finished the day off with some lunch at the Waterfront.

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Goals and how my single one panned out.

A couple of months ago I set a simple goal, maybe a foolish goal for a thirty year old but regardless, I set the goal and since that day, I have been working towards it, consciously and subconsciously (I think).

My goal was to be able to do a handstand and hold it indefinitely in three months time.

It all started on the beautiful stretch of beach, in Au Luek Thailand. The water was really shallow, about ankle deep, you had to walk around 500m just to be waist deep.

It was in this shallow ocean water where I suddenly had the urge to do a handstand, with the ankle deep water to break my fall and a relatively deserted beach, I thought, “Why not?”.

I tried my first handstand and as I expected, I immediately fell over with a small splash into the water, but at least it was fun, so much fun I continued to do it for the next twenty minutes, and right then and there I decided that in the next three months I will master the art of the handstand.

Just some background information: At this time I was not really following any exercise routine or fitness program, I would do some daily push ups, crunches and I went for a run every now and then.

My first attempts were miserable failures which is to be expected of someone who has not done a handstand in twenty years and who has also not practiced it at all.

I went to Google for help and quickly realised that there is no quick and easy way to do a handstand. I found several tutorials and guides which explained the motions and movements but they failed to explain the muscles and strength involved in actually doing an actual handstand.

The one tutorial promised that you will do a handstand in 28 days but when I forwarded to the end result, it was not a real handstand but a handstand against a wall, I mean really who wants to do a wall handstand?

So after more Googling, I found an entire exercise routine dedicated to bodyweight exercises and it also happened to include handstands. Having committed myself to the goal of doing a handstand I was thrilled at finding this routine.

The other great thing about the routine was that it was all based on bodyweight training, which meant that you could do it pretty much anywhere and as a traveller this was a really important as you cannot seek out a gym in every location that you end up in.

The routine includes pull ups which I could do on hotels doors with some support underneath them, dips which I could easily do between two chairs and other than that, all I needed was enough space to do a push up in.

This is where my obsession with body weight exercise started. I committed myself to the routine and would do it every second day, usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On my off days I would still practice handstands but as a beginner, I mostly did it against a wall. Sorry to all hotel and guest house staff, where I left my feet marks on the walls, I did always try to clean it but I most definitely missed a spot or two.

My first month of training and practicing handstands were very disheartening. The act of doing a handstand made my entire body feel weak. My wrists would ache, my shoulders would pain, my core would hurt and the blood rushing to my head actually caused the veins in my cheeks to burst, giving me the appearance of a ageing alcoholic.

In all honesty I almost gave up and told myself that I will get back to my goal once I stop traveling and can routinely practice. My mind was making a ton of excuses as why I cannot do a handstand and why I should just stop trying.

Somewhere in this time a mental shift occurred and I told myself that I will do a handstand even if it kills me. So over the next couple of weeks I would wake up and immediately practice my handstands and I would repeat this before going to bed. At this stage I was still confined to doing my handstands against a wall.

I slowly began building more and more confidence until I was able to start practicing my handstands without the wall but I could only keep them up for a few seconds at most. The handstand practice and the body weight exercises started paying off.

A handstand relies heavily upon your shoulders and your core muscles to keep you upright and balanced. Before I started with the body weight training my core and shoulder strength was pretty much none existent.

Over the next couple of weeks I would do handstands everywhere, everyone who was with me during this time can attest to this, some people would even get annoyed as I would break into handstands at popular tourist destinations or even in bars where other people were drinking.

As of today I can confidently say that I have achieved my goal, although there is always room for improvement, I can now hold a static handstand for almost a minute (if lucky) and I can walk on my hands for as long as my muscles can carry me. I find walking on my hands a lot easier than just doing a handstand.

Some may say it is a futile goal at the age of thirty and even I laugh at it sometimes, but committing myself to this goal has not only helped me achieve it, but also introduced me to a whole new world of calisthenics, which will now always be a part of my life and something I will continually strive to improve.

And also I will be damned if it does not feel great to achieve a goal after months of hard work and dedication, no matter how big or small the goal is. Although I cannot do an handstand indefinitely, holding one for a minute and then doing a “hand walk” is great and I will continue practicing my handstand and working on my form.

So without further ado here are some handstand pics from all over South East Asia.

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Back at Kuala Lumpur airport en route to Bangkok

Little restaurant where I am writing this post.
Little restaurant where I am writing this post.

It was almost two weeks ago that I was also here at the Kuala Lumpur International airport, blogging about my final days at Suwit Gym in Thailand. Well here I am again, this time I am blogging about my final days in the Philippines.

My last week at Boracay Legacy gym went past in a blur. I contracted food poisoning and this stole an entire day from me, which I spent lying in bed, nursing my dehydration with blue Gatorade.

In six months of traveling through South East Asia, regularly eating street food and drinking water or tea from jugs on the table, I had never once contracted food poisoning. The closest that I came, was a slightly upset stomach, which was more than likely my own fault, caused by dousing my food with enough chilli to kill a small elephant.

But this time it was different… I was completely void of all energy and strength, simple movements were a real struggle and I could not stomach any food, I only just managed to keep liquids down.

It was not only me who fell ill, another trainee and one of our trainers also got very sick and their symptoms aligned perfectly with mine. The strange thing is that we were five people who ate at the same place and three of us got seriously ill, whilst the other two were fine. We may have all had different food but I cannot recall exactly what I ate.

Apart from the food poisoning, two girls, who train with me, had an official boxing match, this will be its own blog post and we had a barbecue party at the gym, also a post on its own and I also had a few final great training sessions.

So I have a lot of writing and catching up to do but right now I need to head over to my boarding gate to catch my red eye flight to Bangkok.

Impressive airport ceiling.
Impressive airport ceiling.

Back in action at Boracay Legacy Gym

I woke up feeling a whole lot better today, my energy levels were still not 100% but I was ready to train. The wind was so loud, it drowned out the roosters, that normally wake me up. I did not think that there will be beach conditioning due to the windy weather, but at 8:00 AM I got ready for it anyway.

Despite the windy weather, the group gathered and we made it down to the beach, where we had another intense session of sprints, jumps, crawls and push ups on the beach.

It was not the hardest session ever, we have had worst but I was thankful as I am still recovering from the flu.

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After the morning session Tim and I went for fruit shakes, I had a banana, peanut and chocolate shake, no sugar. Melissa who runs the little shake and breakfast shop already knows the drill, no sugar and no milk, just the fruit, some cocoa powder and ice, simple but makes for a great shake.

We were planning on doing boxing training after our shakes but training had been cancelled, which again, I was thankful for and took the time to rest before going out a few hours later for lunch.

Lunch was at our old time favourite Na-Meet, we had the usual of rice with a couple of side dishes, delicious home cooked food.

This afternoon I had an interesting training session. We did our warm ups and was immediately told to wrap our hands and put on our gloves. We were paired up with a partner and did two rounds with that partner before moving on to a new partner.

My first partner was great, he is very fit Filipino boxer, who clearly has some great experience, he gave me a real run for my money with his ducks, dodges and side steps, very good session.

After two rounds I moved on to Christiaan, with whom I did spar with before but very lightly. Today it seemed that he had some kind of score to settle up as he threw punches hard enough to take my head right off. Keep in mind, the sparring sessions are supposed to be without real power, therefore I don’t even wear a mouth guard.

So after repeatedly asking Christian to take it easy, the coaches also told him to control his punches from the side, I realised that I have to fight back. One of his weaknesses is his fitness, I definitely have the upper hand when it comes to raw fitness.

So I started dancing around him, staying out of range of his punches and just coming in close when I wanted to attack. I could immediately tell he was frustrated with my tactics as he was hell bent on hitting me even harder.

After dancing around him a couple of times and also hitting back with all the power I had, he stopped me and said, “You are hitting hard.”, I said “Yes off course!” and showed him my bleeding lip where just moments before he threw a straight punch which I could not block and the inside of my lip exploded.

The last few seconds we went very hard, it was more than just sparring, it was a personal little battle but it was still good fun. In the end we bumped gloves and moved on but I am sure that I could take him if we were to have a proper one on one boxing fight.

My third partner was Leah, yes a girl who packs a mighty punch and also knows some pretty wild combos. By the time I sparred with her, I was exhausted and barely finished the two rounds.

It was great. I think to really compete I need to take a private lesson or two which I might do tomorrow or Thursday. That is it for today, here are some more Boracay shots.

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