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

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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Week Four -Exhaustion, injuries and training coming to an end

My time at Suwit Gym is almost done, I have four more training sessions left before leaving for the Philippines. Unfortunately my last week has been plagued by both exhaustion and injuries.

The exhaustion is a common trend amongst the trainees, after a couple of weeks the body just seems to give up, it is as if the body had enough, especially since we are doing two very hard sessions a day. Some of the guys only do a single session per day but I have been trying to attend both.

I have also been focussing more on the sparring and boxing techniques with my coach which not only exerts you physically but mentally too. As if you are on full alert the whole time as you bounce around in the ring. Today and yesterdays training session were compromised entirely out of fighting. Without the stretching that comes to around a hour and forty minutes in the ring.

Due to the continues fighting I have also injured both my legs, my left foot has some serious bruising from kicks and my right shin is very swollen, also from kicks. I went for a massage last night but it only seemed to make the pain worst.

Apart from all the injuries, exhaustion and set backs the last few training session has been amazing, I have built a real connection with my coach and am very sad leave. I have also made some great friends and met some amazing people throughout my stay.

In all honesty I do not think that one month of training is enough. If you really want to learn the art of Muay Thai and develop some solid technique you need to commit to it at least three months of training but I can attest to one thing and that is the fitness.

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Week Three Round up

After a long silence, I return. All I can say is that time has ran away with me over the last couple of days as things have been really busy at the camp and we have also experienced some technical difficulties like power black outs and the internet was also down.

Let me start with training, the training has been exceptional the last couple of days, I have been making great strides with my boxing and my confidence in the ring has sky rocketed.

The last couple of sparring matches I have focused a lot more on technique, rather than running around like a headless chicken. Instead of constant attacking, I have slowed down my pace and would focus on the moves that my opponents make, learning from them and also looking to the coach to advice during the sparring matches.

This cool and calm approach has proven to be beneficial, as I have picked up several small techniques which I was oblivious to previously.

Otherwise the training has been going very well, I am still pushing myself to my limits and I am still rewarded with an aching body everyday. I must admit that the aches and pains have slightly reduced as my body and mind has gotten use to the twice daily training. This has inspired me to train even harder.

I have almost gotten the muscle up down, I would say that at the end of this week, I will be able to easily do a muscle up and if not at the end of this week, definitely at the end of my Philippines training as there I will be doing a strength and conditioning class.

Regarding the rest of the life at the gym, it has been a sad week, some of my very good friend have returned to Germany and my other good mate Tim has left for Boracay, who at least I will see next week.

Daniel from Germany on the left and Tim from the states on the right.
Daniel from Germany on the left and Tim from the states on the right.

We had a going away dinner for them at Ali’s BBQ followed up with some beers at the pool. The next day we saw them off at the pool as their taxi took them to the airport.

The rest of my time was spent exploring more of old town and Phuket, visiting the big weekend night market and getting a massage.

I had some real trouble sleeping this past week, I could not get my mind to shut down, this has not happened to me in  years and I did not think it would happen during training as I was exhausted every day… Luckily the last two days the sleep came easy as it really affected my training.

I also requested a breakdown of my medical bill which I actually should have done before paying it. What made it so expensive was the tetanus injections of which I received 5 at 6000 Baht per shot. If I had known, I would have doubled checked with the doctor if that was really necessary, I mean I am sure I could have gotten away with two…

On that note, it is time for me to go and get my third rabies shot.

Here are some photos from the last few days.

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Saturday and Sunday

So Friday night turned out to be a massive party. We had two members leaving us, returning to their home countries, Matt from Australia and Walter from China, so after the fights, we all went out for a couple of drinks. A couple of drinks ended up being beers in the swimming pool till the early hours of the morning.

It is great for team moral, hanging out with the guys that you are training with and I love hearing their stories, experiences and what actually brought them here.

The trainees are from all over the world and are all different ages but everyone seems to get along really well. Regardless of our late Friday night, everyone is really dedicated and committed to the training which makes it a lot easier for me to keep motivated.

Saturday we all missed morning training as everybody slept in a bit late. A few of us went for lunch at a Texas BBQ place we discovered just down the road and man, were we impressed. The ribs were smoked to perfection.

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The rest of Saturday was really chilled, napped most of the afternoon. I think the weeks training just really caught up to me as I was destroyed. Not just physically but even mentally I was exhausted. I needed the time just to chill out a bit.

Sunday was also relaxed, spent most of the day by the pool with my friend from Italy as he is already on his way back to Europe. Afterwards, went to a reggae bar with Nisha from my club and we just hung out for  awhile before returning and hitting the bed.

Sunday (off day) Recap

Firstly, I completely underestimated Saturdays training, my body was aching on Sunday. I could feel the strain from the continuos punches and kicks which I will have to get use to, as I will be training six days a week.

Sunday is my off day, so no official training but I decided to just do some stretches, core exercise and hand stands. I have decided to incorporate my own daily stretches into the program as I can feel the immediate relief after completing stretching yesterday.

Apart from stretching my day was spent just getting my setup up and running. I had to go out and buy a new monitor because the screen of my Macbook Pro broke in Cambodia, making it impossible to work. Yes, I did get a quote to fix it but it costs $700, which does not make sense as I can repair it under warranty back home in South Africa.

I also had my “cheat day”, wolfing down a Big Mac and a Coke. I will afford myself such “luxuries” once a week but the rest of the time, no sodas and definitely no Mac Donalds.

I went for a Thai massage from a lady who really knew what she was doing, I often go for massages and more than not, I am super disappointed but not this time. The lady was clearly a professional. I explained to her the parts of my body which were in pain and she paid special attention to them.

Overall a good relaxed Sunday, I think I will come to cherish these more and more as the month progresses.

Sunday lunch, roasted duck, pork wontons and noodles.
Sunday lunch, roasted duck, pork wontons and noodles.

The above pic is roasted duck, pork wontons and noodles and this was 70 Baht, which is about $2. Below is also noodles but pork noodles with some vegetables in a super tasty broth and this was 40 Baht, which is around $1.15. I am still amazed at the quality of food you can get for the prices in Thailand. I just visited Cambodia and I struggled to find a decent meal for under $3.

Pork with noodles and veg.
Pork with noodles and veg.