By Craig Jarvis (@red_elvis)
I woke up at 4am recently, and realised it was time for a mid-life crisis. There were a number of reasons: work, marriage, kids, being overweight, the loss of my youth – all quite typical. Staring at that dark ceiling, I decided to retrace the journey I’d made across Sumatra 20 years ago. All I needed were two surfboards, a pair of boardshorts, and Imodium.
Later that morning, the household awake and screaming, I checked in with my wife. After some serious negotiation, it was agreed: I wanted 42 days (to match my age) in Sumatra, eventually bargained down to 31 (“babe, I’m giving you a full calendar month to go and do what you have to do”); and in return, the wife could adopt a Labrador to add to our three-dog, one-kid-and-one-on-the-way family. I know, amazing wife, right? I checked the slush fund.
You can’t travel far from Cape Town with four grand. I figured I might get as far as Margate before klaaring the petrol bucks I’d need to get me and the kombi straight back to the Cape. It’s a sobering moment, comprehending the horror of not being able to afford a mid-life crisis.
So, a staycation crisis then. I’d have it here. However, the choices were limited. Surfing rebellion is passé, drinking and taking drugs is lame; and while young, nubile girls are always nice, I love my wife – which kinda takes care of the traditional, cheap-and-nasty solutions.
I’ll never know what made me decide to head for Sportsman’s Warehouse (people in crisis often don’t think rationally), but my R4k got me a set of entry-level running shoes, a few pairs of socks and shirts, a heart-rate monitor (hypertension being one of my crisis tick-boxes), and a set of headphones for the iPod.
And then I planned my crisis. I wrote lists. I was going to work through this thing, systematically and methodically, by running it away, using running to totally exhaust all existential angst. (And to get fit and young and strong again, and regain the schoolgirl complexion of my youth.) It’s easy on paper: run around the block, then follow your training list until you have a flat stomach and can klap a marathon. Thing is… it doesn’t work.
On my first run I stopped to get my breath back after three minutes of slow jogging. I walked up the (gentle) hills to prevent my heart exploding, and I walked down the (even gentler) slopes to stop my knees jarring out of their sockets. I invested in Deep Heat.
On my second run I was harassed by a dog the size of a horse that pretended it wanted to run along with me, but secretly (I suspect) wanted to eat me. I tried staying calm, but my torrential sweating transmitted fear to the hellish creature, which nipped good-naturedly at my heels with jaws that could have taken my head clean off my slumping shoulders. But I persevered.
It’s testament to my perseverance that after a week of hitting the tarmac, I developed a fairly sensational groin rash. I piled on all sorts of creams and anti-rash jellies, but there was serious damage done; I had to sit it out a day or two.
Eventually I cracked a five-kay. I started off all strength and bluster, chest out and confident; but by half-way I resembled ‘Loop-en-Val’ Motshwarateu, ready to collapse, plunking one foot down in front of the other. Still, I made it. Eventually.
It does sound a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? Going through such hell just to run five kays. But it’s not. What many people who read this magazine may not remember is that this running thing is pretty difficult when you’re coming off a zero base. No matter how you analyse it, plan your training schedule, and visualise your fitness going up and your weight coming off, it’s still about physically running the distance as often as you can, fighting tired muscles, gravity and aching joints. It’s about stamina, and it’s about pain and personal limits. Running is a gruelling physical and mental endeavour.
But the rewards are sweet. A monumental sense of accomplishment; a powerful feeling of worth; a body zinging with all sorts of feel-good liquids and tingling nerve ends. And that’s just from a five-kay! Sumatra probably isn’t how I remember it anyway. Imagine if I completed a marathon…
This “Planet Runner” column appeared in the August 2012 issue of Runner’s World.