A little while ago I went swimming in the ocean and rolled my ankle on a rock, and the water was cold enough that I didn’t notice until it’d swollen to the size of a baseball. I could barely walk, couldn’t even imagine the thought of running, so I took two weeks off my regular boxing training schedule and got really, really lazy. By the time my ankle had sorted itself out I’d almost forgotten how to get to the gym. One morning I decided enough is enough and went down to the garage to get into my car, and the battery was completely flat.
He’s a little blue VW beetle and he’s amazing. Reliable enough to go through anything, even when I treat him like crap. So it was a genuine surprise when he didn’t want to start. I’d honestly – and obviously unreasonably – expected that when I was good to go, he would be too. My wife looks at me like I’m an idiot and says, Um, you know car batteries can die right? I did not know this.
We got him going again, with help from my wife’s big new Touran. The cables were looped through the windows and everywhere and I had to climb into the front seat, through the back, to get to the accelerator to rev his engine, so I lay across the seats with my legs all twisted and awkward, and it was a hack and annoying right up until the moment he rumbled back into life. That sound reminded me why I love this old car and will never ever give him up.
I’ve been running for some time now. About a year, and absolutely everywhere. Sports fields and car parks, up hills and just plain haywire. There are different ways of doing this, of course, along with different reasons. So far my pattern has been to sprint, then slog, and stumble home. Strictly speaking this isn’t serious running but road work, the grinding chore of building a stronger heart, and none of it has been any kind of fun, and why? This time last year I was hitting Sea Point promenade because I had to, and ever since I’ve been stumping around Wynberg High because I want to.
The Cape Town One Run is coming up, sometime in May. It’s 12km, from Milnerton’s Woodbridge Island all the way to freaking Bree Street in the city centre. What’s interesting about this race for me is not so much the distance or the scenery but the fact that it comes with its own training programme. I started it last week, with a light and breezy 3km on Tuesday and Wednesday, a few sprints over 3K on Friday and another easy-going 5km on Sunday. This together with my standard exercise routine: run 2km to an hour’s boxing training in Woodstock, and run back, three days a week.
In total that’s 20km. That’ll go up next week, to 22, and up again each week for three months. It’s not a linear progression, day to day – I’ll do 5K, then four, then three, or six, or whatever the schedule says – but the total always goes up and up. Apparently there are hill sprints coming up. I’m not looking forward to those. The variety is good though. So far, it seems whoever put the training programme together knows what they’re doing; I’m getting quicker, and stronger.
A few weeks ago I was running, if this makes any sense, almost exclusively in my legs. This has changed pretty quickly, and I feel in a way that I’m moving, now, from a more upright position. My legs are swinging, not straining, and I can feel just under my ribcage a kind of heat, a kind of quiet rumble, like an engine. And I’m feeding that space with deep, calm, even breaths, through the nose, even when I’m pushing hard.
This is only important because it’s new. Before, I’d hit my max heart rate pretty early and look to maintain it for as long as possible. When you’re huffing like this you’re not really having a lot of fun, and it becomes a lot like a chore. So the first few weeks of the CT12 schedule are designed to build aerobic capacity, or the space inside you responsible for running in an easy and controlled state. When you’re running in a way where you feel you can regulate the fire in your chest, it feels like you’re growing into the distance, not revving all out and getting nowhere for nothing.
I’ve not been much of a numbers guy, or a numbers runner. I’ll probably have to be more focused now, but usually I’ve just been getting it done to get it done. For example, I’ve always done 5K in under 30min, but the goal is to get that under 25. I’ve been using Plot a Route’s Routeplanner app to plan my early morning runs, and on weekends I just hit a trail near my house. And I’ve been wearing a Fitbit Charge HR to monitor everything from my heart rate to distance covered and calories burned. So far it’s been fun to see my fitness levels change, with all the graphs and charts, but I’ll have to tune in to how those figures actually work, and how to fix them.
Numbers are confusing. I was told the trail was 4k there and back, but my Fitbit says different, about 400m under. So I managed what I thought was 4K in 22 minutes, but my Fitbit app then tells me it was only 3.6km. Then I did 4.5K on the trail when I was supposed to do six, but I didn’t realise how much tougher it is to run through sand and forest and moms walking their kids. I also fell over a few times and got attacked by a dog too. So all of that slowed me down.
But I’m getting to where I’ll need to be, even if it is slowly. It’s not linear, but it’s something. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks. I’ve worked out that according to this schedule, I’m taking two rest days out of seven. Boxing, running, running and boxing, rest. Then running and boxing, then rest, then running again. I’m hurting everywhere. My legs are killing me. My shins are cramping and even my bum is sore. But I’m in the driver’s seat again. And my engine is rumbling.