Cow Farts and Calf Cramps: Surviving Your First Park Run

Cow Farts and Calf Cramps: Surviving Your First Park Run

The day has finally arrived and you have run out of all the excuses. It’s time to do your first Park Run. 

It’s only five kilometres, but will you survive the crowds, bucolic terrain and mad, yapping dogs? Of course you will! Here’s what you need to know:

  1. How do you know you’re ready for a Park Run? Easy. Your friends will tell you. If you’ve just started out with casual solo runs and have vainly posted about this on Facebook, it’s guaranteed that more than a few of your mates will send you links to register (it’s free, by the way) and invites until eventually you submit. Don’t fight it. Just go with the flow.
  2. Early starts: if you’re a dawn runner like me, Park Run is a cinch, because it starts at 8am. That’s practically midday, even in winter. So bonus – you get a lie-in AND a work out. 
  3. Parking: Not sure if it’s called Park Run because you park your car and run, or because you run in a park-like environment. But here’s the thing – do your research and find a Park Run event that is not so crowded. If you make the mistake of going to a ridiculously popular ‘seen to be seen’ event like Root 44 Park Run, you’ll practically have to park there the night before so that you don’t have to run seven kilometres from where you’ve parked your car just to get to the start line of your five kilometre race…
  4. Cow farts: Running causes deep breathing. Personally, when I run I practice a method of counting to four with each breath drawn deep into my belly, and release it slowly for another count of four. But this method could kill you on a Park Run if your venue is a farm. Cow farts are a real thing, and if that’s what they smell like it’s no wonder they’re fucking up our atmosphere and greenhouse-gassing the planet to death. No, just keep your breathing shallow and methane-free. What’s a little light-headed dizziness on a beautiful morning run? You can always just faint next to the track for a few minutes. Plenty of marshalls there to wake you up after a brief rest.
  5. Tricksy terrain: Listen, I am a beach runner and I confess that I have terrible Beach Privilege. You know – soft, unobstructed terrain that you simply forget as you let your mind wander on your run. But this is very important – listen carefully: pay attention to the ground in front of you on a Park Run! No matter if the course seems flat and easy – there are hidden pitfalls everywhere! Loose rocks, stones, and tractor tyre tracks all waiting to twist your ankle if you don’t spot them in time. Cow pats and dog turds add an extra layer of adventure. So pay attention and you won’t end up a damaged, stinking liability.
  6. Mad dogs: Some runners bring their dogs running with them and despite all assurances, none of these are trained or controllable. So as you run you will be barked at, chased, tripped up by wayward leashes and if you get too close, licked ferociously like you’re the latest flavour from The Creamery. Steer clear of the dogs. They may seem cute, but mark my words – they all want to kill you. They make wonderful motivators to keep running, though.
  7. …and Englishmen: It’s a very social event and everyone chatters up a storm at the start of the race…and while they’re running. Now, if you’re anything like me your lungs will not be multitaskers. They simply cannot allow you to run and conversate at the same time. They will get on with the business of stopping you from dying and you will sound like sick freight train as you huff-n-puff around the track. This will not stop complete strangers from trying to jolly you along with some quaintsy pleasantries like you’re in a Jane Austen novel, all country and polite. Just pant and smile and keep running. Nobody’s expecting you to answer anyway. 
  8. Calf cramps and mad cows: Many Park Runs are on farms, and you will run among the livestock (refer to point four above, for breathing tips). Now, cows may seem docile and like they’re just standing around waiting to be milked or turned into a delicious steak, but don’t let your guard down. These are massive moo-beasties, and there are plenty of YouTube videos of rampaging rogues trampling unsuspecting farmers to a cow pat-ridden death. Do not run past yelling “Moo!” at them, unless you speak fluent cow and can talk yourself out of a bad situation in case you inadvertently set one of them off. If you fail spectacularly and you find yourself the centre of enraged bovine attention, run like hell, and screw the pain in your calves. An angry udder to the back of the head hurts more than any calf cramp ever will. 
  9. Toilet humours: Go before you go. There are no cubicles along the route and inquisitive farmyard animals can rather hamper your performance if you duck behind hay bales to speak to a man about a dog. 
  10. Pace and PBs: Use a fitness device to track your overall time taken to run the five kilometre route and to measure your pace per kilometre. This is a fun, competitive way to keep you engaged and inspire you to run faster each time, to beat your PB – your personal best. But shh…here’s a little secret hack I will share with you: the first time you run, that is your personal best. Think about it – as you haven’t run this race before, there is no benchmark to measure it against. This is the fastest you have ever run it, because it is the only time you have ever run it. So if you never run it again, you can never go slower than that pace you ran today. See? Clever. You’re welcome.

But on a serious note – Park Runs are the most fun you can have with a couple of hundred strangers with your clothes on. 

Get out there and get moving!

© Dave Luis 2017. All Rights Reserved.


Life in the Laughter

Life in the Laughter

Now you’re finally home with your sisters and Johan, we know there is peace for you, and stillness from the fragility of body and the pain of heartbreak.

I lose myself in memories of old, of your house – warm and light – filled with laughing children and the aromas of lekker boere kos, and if we were lucky – the best scones in the world for afternoon tea.

I hear the joyful, playful shouting out by the pool. Cousins playing in the sunshine while you old fogeys hung around the braai, talking, smiling, sharing love and comfort.

I feel your hugs, like a giant warm bubble of love. A safe space. A space that told me I mattered, I was loved, was part of your extended family not so much because mom was your sister but because you opened your heart, your home and your spirit to us.

I am grateful – you were there for mom when she needed you, when she couldn’t be the strong one and needed someone to catch her, and shield her from the pain of divorce and again when she grew old and ill. You always made space for her.

I age and see that growing up meant we grew apart, I weep for this chasm.

I ache because I knew that day walking out the hospital I was saying goodbye forever. It was the hardest goodbye I’ve ever said, because I knew you were watching me walk away, and you were still smiling, still loving, still here.

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I am relieved that you have let go, and claimed the peace you deserve.

I will find you again, in the smiles, laughter and love of Anemari, Chris and your loving grandkids.

Goodbye, Aunty Zanne.

A Lesson In Humanity

A Lesson In Humanity

A battered wreck of a car follows me into the deserted parking at the secluded beach I sometimes visit.

I sit with my engine running, watching the four silhouettes in the car which has parked a little way behind me. They don’t move. I don’t move. 

Seconds tick by. I reach for my hijack panic button, unease seeping out of every pore. Friends have warned me about this beach; a man was stabbed here – he died. Right here. 

Two more cars pull in and drive to the end of the parkway. They turn, manoeuvring through broken bottles and late night beach party debris and stop between the suspect car and me.

 Witnesses. Panic fades. Nothing can happen to me now, right? Too many people around.

Car doors open and eight people climb out the three cars, and start putting on their church outfits. 

It’s a church gathering – a beach baptism is about to take place.

These people aren’t vicious hijackers, they’re ordinary folk, just like me. And just like me, they’re here for spiritual reasons. For them, church, worship and a baptism; for me, meditation, serenity and a silent prayer of gratitude for my overcoming drug addiction.

Leaving my car, I scale a rocky outcrop above the crashing waves, drawing in deep breaths of ocean air. 

I am profoundly sad that the South Africa I grew up in has conditioned me to react like I did, to react to other people in fear, because we are not the same race. I am sad, and ashamed. 

I have let our collective mainstream past and the present onslaught of news stories highlighting murder and racial clashes overwhelm my humanity. 

Today, instead of my usual offering of gratitude, I stand here and beg for forgiveness. I am the intruder here, in a place of incredible beauty, I have brought an ugliness. I have brought fear. 

As these thoughts wash over me, a young woman surrounded by members of her church strips and steps into the icy ocean. A baptism of faith. She has chosen life, and hope, and love. How different we must be, standing so close yet in spirit so far apart. 

How I long to be the one drowning in love and spirit, like she is. How I ache not to feel the shame and fear I have carried onto this beach. 

I want to feel what she feels.

I kick off my shoes, roll up my jeans and step into the water. It is ice cold and punches the breath out of me. I can endure no more than a few seconds before I withdraw to the beach. There is no absolution in the waves. They do not wash away my shame. What was I really expecting? 

Eventually the tears come, masked by the ocean spray. I close my eyes and draw deep breaths, unmoving, losing myself in the sound of the waves breaking on the shore. 

Time moves on while I am anchored to this spot. Calming. Breathing. Feeling. Not thinking. 

I open my eyes at last, ready to leave. There is no one else on the beach. They have silently prayed and left. 

I am alone. 

I have been given a lesson in humanity, and in fear.

One I will take with me, the other I offer up to the sea.

© Dave Luis 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Survivor: O.R. Tambo Airport

Survivor: O.R. Tambo Airport

I’ve been here a long time. Too long. Travellers who came here after me have already landed at their destinations. Still I wait.

I’ve been here a long time. I’ve seen the duty shift change. New guards watch as I wander with no destination in mind. New servers ply their wares as I drift past. “No thanks,” I say. I already ate. Twice.

I’ve been here a long time. Crisp morning air sublimated as the highveld sun warmed the earth and air outside. Not that I ever felt that. Inside the terminal silent heaters wilt every living thing here, baking us into a fetid, teeming mass.

It’s been nearly 8 hours now, that I’ve been trapped here at O.R. Tambo, recreating myself as Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s 2004 flick, Terminal. My flight only leaves in another three hours.

I’ve been here a long time. Long enough to know all the junk sold in the kiosks. Long enough to have used at least four rest rooms. The most jocund restroom attendant, Justice, stationed near the food court is a man whose spirit is not thwarted by his daily entrapment in this building. He seems more proud of his workplace than any person I’ve ever met claiming they’ve landed their dream job. What is his secret? Stockholm Syndrome? Maybe.

I’ve been here a long time. I’ve tried catching an earlier flight, but today is not my lucky day. So I wander the terminal like a hobo, unfocussing my eyes to the sights I cannot escape.

I’ve been here a long time. There are precious few chairs for the inert traveller to use. I suspect that’s done on purpose, to drive us into the gaudy eateries and coffee shops. No sitting for free. No loitering. Make like you mean business, and pay your share, dammit! So I’ve snuck into international arrivals, and am sat here next to my cling-wrapped luggage, looking for all the world like I’m waiting for a lover or a colleague, so we can catch our connecting flight to Somewhere Else. Anywhere but here.  

I’ve been here a long time. Even turned off my phone to save the battery. I’m now cut off from everything outside this terminal. There are no cat memes here. No Twitter outrage. Any conversation will have to be with a real person. There will be actual eye contact.

A small child climbs onto the seat next to me and stares at the words I am writing on my laptop. He is not having this nonsense of me losing myself in a world of my own. He pulls down my hoody, pulls my head phones out my ears and yells “I’m going home!” 

Good luck, kid. So am I.


© Dave Luis 2017. All Rights Reserved.


Young Enough To Learn

Magnificent views...much later when the sun rises.
Magnificent views…much later when the sun rises.

A mere 5 hours into my 43rd birthday and I have already learned 3 very valuable lessons, proving this old dog can learn new tricks:

  1. Dawn may have been at 5:15 a month ago, but it’s a lot later now. Check the sunrise times before leaving home for your dawn run.
  2. Weather happens. A bracing breeze will cool you down on a long run; a howling gale makes it impossible to run, walk and sometimes even stand. Google the weather conditions before leaving home for your dawn run. 
  3. Energy Gu really works, and if you suddenly find yourself back in bed just 40 minutes after eating a whole sachet because it dark and tempestuous outside, and you are not able to run, you won’t be able to sleep, either. Make sure you’ve done step 1 and 2 above and that you can leave home for a dawn run, before eating your Gu.
Dressing the part is not doing the part...
Dressing the part is not doing the part…

© Dave Luis 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Beach Running for Beginners 

Beach Running for Beginners 

A complete guide to the things they never tell you about beach running, but that you’ll soon discover. As a seasoned beginner, I feel compelled to enthuse thusly:

1. Running barefoot: as much as you want the support and stability of your favourite cross-trainers, beach runs are barefoot runs. The sea makes your shoes smell. Mostly of dead seaweed and Athlete’s Fish. A little bit of sand between the toes never killed anyone and on the plus side – no blisters! So, basically, winning at life.

2. Sunrise and tide times: as romantic as sunrise or sunset runs sound, do your research and run at low tide, whenever that is. Less beach camber and a harder surface to run on, see? Thank me later. Also – arriving before sunrise means it is inevitably cold and your paranoid mind will populate the bushes and dunes with all manner of scurrilous miscreants and creatures intent on eating your beating heart out of your chest. Not the ideal cardio workout you wanted.

3.  Ocean ambush: you’ll run along the water’s edge because the sand is more compact and easier to navigate here. But pay attention! Incoming waves (especially of the Atlantic Ocean kind) are colder than that woman from Game of Thrones and if you’re a screamer like me, will elicit squeals that will remove what little dignity you have left. Side note: there is no dignity in running. It is not a pretty or graceful hobby, but you shouldn’t lose sleep over the fact you look and sound like the Elephant Man as you lumber wheezingly into the waves by mistake. 

4. Chafe vs. beach sand chafe: runners’ thighs chafe. If your thighs have chafed because you forgot to lather them up in Glide or Bertram’s Baby Bum Cream, then beware the added joy of beach sand chafe which is a dreadful thing to have happen to any part of your body, but most ‘specially to the bits close to your Unmentionables.

5. Leopards, blue bottles and Surprise Labradors: you will encounter a whole range of critters on your beach run. Just this morning I trampled a blue bottle hiding out in the tide line. We’ll call him Eric. Eric’s ignominious death caused much pain and whining and a vague memory that the cure involved having someone pee on the wound. I stopped whining and pretended it never happened. Once I was also running merrily along with music blaring in my ears and setting the pace, when a Surprise Labrador bounded up at me from behind, thinking my Herculean efforts were a game of tag. I squealed much like I do when cold waves surprise me in the same way that dog did. There are also Cape Leopards in this part of the world, and possibly on the very beach I run, as evidenced by the dry white critter poop I found on the trail back to the car one morning. Dr. Kelly Marnewick, famed animal scatologist, confirmed as much. Could also have been poop from the Surprise Labrador, she says, but I like my life a little more dramatic, so we’ll opt for leopards until proven otherwise. 

6. Runners’ High: you don’t have it because it’s further than you can run and takes more energy to achieve than you can give while running on the beach. That ’90s rave laser show in your head as you’re beach running is just a mess of endorphins hitting you harder than Thai White at the after party.

7. App-solute distraction: you will lose focus on your running while you try interpret all the data streaming in from your heart rate monitor. Ignore it. It’s almost impossible to run and stare at your phone without falling over and looking like a pratt. 

8. The Surreptitious Dune of Death: when your run is over and you’ve managed to catch your breath and regain some composure, you’ll suddenly discover that the car park is at the top of a steep dune that somehow wasn’t there when you started your beach run. At this point you will also discover that your calves have already had all the workout they’re prepared to allow, thank you very much, and you’ll hobble back to your car like your granny hobbles to the loo.

9. The Strava Rule – Reality Bytes: if you didn’t record it on Strava, it never happened. 

10. Beach sand and bed sheets: always shower after your beach run. Always! Even when you’ve gone out at a ridiculously early and god-forsaken hour of the morning and just feel like falling back into bed when you get home, take that shower – because once beach sand gets into your bed sheets, it’s there for life. Even if you change sheets, burn the bed and move to another country. It Will Follow You! 

11. Fifty Shades of DOMS: after my first run I had painful legs. And a sore bum. And aching sides. “Ah! DOMS!” said Samantha Perry to me. “Can’t be. I haven’t been to a warehouse BDSM party in a while.” I replied. There followed an awkward silence until Sam explained DOMS is an acronym for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, a result of exercise – and not Doms-as-in-a-Dominatrix-flogging-your-ass. Still, the thought of a leather-n-PVC-clad woman chasing me down the beach with a flogger in each hand is not a bad idea, but I don’t think it will catch on. For now, keep those hobbies separate. 

No doubt you’ll make your own discoveries as you start beach running. Just get out there, get active, and enjoy it!

© Dave Luis 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Image: Summer Running by Avery D’Allesandro at Unsplash Free Images

And the beat goes on…

Johan ‘Junior’ Botha 1956.03.19 – 2016.07.24

My amazing, talented cousin! 

We were not ready to say goodbye. How could we be? A life as full as yours should never come to an end – a man so loved for the smiles he brought through the music he made should never have to be mourned. It just doesn’t seem fair.

Johan, we can never understand why you chose to leave us. The shockwave after your Facebook farewell post and the awful news that followed has touched innumerable lives. Proof, if it was ever needed, that you were so deeply loved. 

The ripples spread out and sting. Family. Friends. Fans. Your mom and dad; step parents. Sister. Your brother. Your beautiful daughter. Your soulmate, Laetitia. 

God! If only we knew your pain! If we knew beforehand, we would have stopped you. Could we? Would we have a right to? Could we understand and protect you? Could we help you find healing, and peace? We’ll drive ourselves to the edge of sanity trying desperately to answer these.

But perhaps we shouldn’t. Perhaps as we alternate between intense agony and numb despair, we should accept for ourselves that your soul has done what it set out to do in this lifetime, and it’s on its way home, to find its own peace and rest. 

You’ve gone home, Junior. And we have to find a way to let you. 

Though you’ve discarded this life, your touch cascades out through Candice’s eyes, and through your mom’s; it warms in our hearts as we think of you in happier times, and it roars out loudly through your music, drowning out our pain as we close our eyes and see you take up the sticks once more, test the cymbals and kick off in a raucous celebration of everything that you were: a man, and a musician, and a father, and a friend. A son. And a brother. A mentor. And our beautiful, creative, thoughtful, sensitive Junior Botha.

May your soul rest in eternal peace. 

For those of us left behind, we’ll hold the memory of you tightly in our hearts.

And the beat goes on…

© Dave Luis 2016.