Some things in life are worse than death.

Remember those PT classes back in school? Or rugby practice, where they’d make you sprint to a cone, then back, then to a further cone, and back again, and on and on until you collapsed? You probably remember them by the smell of grass, grinding up your face every time your legs gave out. We used to call them suicides.

These things. These things are worse than death.

“H”, the new chief instructor at The Armoury Boxing Studio, who served for 20 years in the UK military’s Airborne division, has been brought in as a training specialist. He and Alex, who’s also new, are here to give Capetonian hipsters like me a kick up the backside. To change what I might think of fitness, or white collar boxing, or what it means to be ring-ready. To help me defend myself, by showing me my limits.

To get boxing fit, he says, I’ll have to do a lot of running. Up hills, across bridges, in parking garages, between cones, up and down impossible flights of stairs, I’ll have to run. None of this three-days-a-week stuff, that’s weak. We’ll be back tomorrow, bright and early. And the next day, even earlier. We might be jogging, or sprinting, 50% or 70 or 100. But we’ll be running.

This is new to me, of course. The running, the straining, the staggering. The hating of everything. The stiffness. Oh God, the stiffness. I’ll get to know it better, just like I’m getting to know, intimately, the struggle of walking up stairs.

The problem with school PT classes, or cricket practice, or anything when you’re 16, really, is that the guy yelling at you to run, he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know you, or want to get to know you, or even care about what you’re doing. You’re just a kid fulfilling his job requirements, filling in the numbers on his KPA. Calling you by your surname ‘cos he can’t be bothered to actually remember who you are, what grade you’re in, how many suicides you’ve run already today. Shouting and threatening, like that’s going to make you run any faster, be any stronger, try any harder.

It’s easy to hate that guy, even now – even though you know, all these years later, that he’s not the issue. Not him, his whistle, his weird moustache, in his weird sweat-stained tucked-in polyester work shirt, straining around his beer belly. It’s not that you know he couldn’t run half the distance he’s yelling at you to do. The issue is you. It’s that you can’t deal with him, sure, but mostly it’s the way you can’t deal with the fact that you can’t deal with this running.

This solid lead, in these heavy legs. This feeble disaster of an unfit body. This cardio struggle. This pounding heart, this worn out ego.

“H” knows I have a limit. He also knows that I know I have a limit. But he knows that my idea of my limit is, well, limited. He knows I can run some more, just when I think I can’t. He knows that this running, this act of pushing through my small ideas of myself, will teach me how to think bigger, be better. He knows I can grow, way more than I do. He knows that he needs to teach me how.

Not by shouting or blowing a whistle or being a big boorish bastard. By making an effort to understand me. By recognising who I am, what I’m trying to do, and why. Maybe it’s just the way he says he’s impressed with my progress, which I can’t even see. Maybe it’s the way he tells my wife how he likes my positivity, or how he SMSes me thumbs-up emoticons every now and then, but I know that he knows what I need.

He knows my body can change my mind. And suicides are only the start. Let’s go another round, he says, and I smile, head down, sweat pouring off my nose. Get used to this, he says.

Photo via Flickr by goodcraicphotos