The Running Paddler

From Mathlete to Athlete


(Strap) MY STORY

Mathletes have a hard time out in the field. You head out in a pair of killer heels to one of the many malls in sunny SA, then walk for miles before eventually heading back out, adorned with as many designer bags as possible That was my perception of a good training session. My perception of a gymnasium, on the other hand, had always been that of a torture chamber. All the equipment, sweaty people, reps and reps of mindless pulling and pushing – definitely not a Mathlete’s idea of fun!

But then life dealt me a most unexpected card. I joined the ranks of Boost Juice Bars and found myself surrounded by people with a love for life, vegetarianism and being naturally high. This was, of course, as far removed from who and what I was, as the Sahara Desert is from the Pacific Ocean! Furthermore, as part of my job I was surrounded by smoothies filled with good-for-you TD4 yoghurt and fruit, and going to look-good and feel-good expos. It was at one of these expos that my transformation began.

Surrounded by beautiful size-eight women in skimpy gym clothing, the men of the Boost Bar could hardly contain themselves. Being who I am, this behaviour hardly went down well, and amongst their comments, the ‘Oompa Loompa Programme’ was born when a colleague, known to us as the ‘Dark Lord Vader,’ happened to mention to me that I belonged in the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, surrounded by my partners the Oompa Loompas. My vanity was struck!

Towards the end of 2010 we embarked on ‘Mission Impossible’ at work, which ended in success when we opened a Boost Bar within two weeks at Gateway in KZN. This journey saw me in the company of another colleague, a vegetarian also known as ‘Buzz Lightyear’ who one night over dinner sweetly suggested that I should consider running the Zurich Marathon. God help me, I was surrounded by men insinuating that I join the ranks of the ever dreaded Exercise Clan. Buzz leaving every morning at 5am to easily run 25km started me thinking: What if?

The dawn of 2011 saw the return to work and the challenge was firmly planted in my mind. The belief was born: “Yes, Claudia, you too can be Lara Croft.” And why not? Millions of women worldwide embark on exercise programmes every day in pursuit of perfection, Kim Kardashian claims her three hours a day in the gym is the reason for her fantastic body, and many insignificant others, like Kelly Osbourne, credit their new and fantastic bodies to this foreign concept called ‘exercise.’

So this Mathlete headed out to the mall – after all, the first thing one does when faced with great adversity is go shopping! I mean, how hard could it be? You buy a pair of running shoes, some really cute outfits and join the ranks of the ‘sweaty one’s’ out in the world of fitness.

To my utter disgust, the malls were full of smiley, happy people wandering in and out of the fitness sections. I managed to fill up many shopping bags with the latest and greatest sweat towels, socks, tension bands and many other things I am yet to explore. What an education! I realised that sporting sections in fitness stores are filled with goodies and gadgets for every type of sport, and butt-ugly running shoes. What was I to do? So after hours of hunting – and never one to shy away from a challenge – I purchased my first pair of Asics, blue and white ‘beauties’ that the sales person assured me I would never regret buying. Well, I had my doubts.

Initially, I thought this was going to be easy: Simply put on the shoes, wear some training clothes and off to the treadmill we go… Well, what a surprise the last 11 weeks 6 days and 18 hours have been. I have learnt that running is for the brave, weight training for the exceptionally talented, power boxing something I really enjoy, and spinning classes the ultimate workout. My primary goal was and still is to look like Lara Croft. What I didn’t realise was that it would take hours of dedication, much perseverance and many early mornings. A true test of self-discipline.

The first two weeks of my conversion were slow, to say the least. I hadn’t fully grasped the magnitude of reaching my goal. I walked into the gym, found a treadmill and pranced away on a 27-minute programme feeling like Everest was my next stop – while looking at everyone around me with suspicious eyes, wandering what could possibly draw so many relatively normal human beings to this every single day.

After the first couple of sessions, I could barely walk the next day… and for a few days thereafter I had aches in places that I didn’t even know existed. But I continued on my journey with ‘Ooompa Loompa’ echoing in the back of my subconscious and Lara calling me from the crypt. I’d show those unbelievers what a true Princess could do!

And so three weeks into my training programme I decided that I needed a path to reach my goal. After all, how was I to track my progress through these precious little 27-minute bursts of sweating? And in true Mathlete style, I pulled out my Apple and surfed the net. Fingers need exercise too, you know!

I searched every website there was on running, read the most interesting articles in Modern Athlete, found out how to join an online running programme that tracked your progress, read articles on injuries and how to avoid them, read stories of triumph from the mouths of Modern Athletes, found out about the nutritional needs of athletes, and basically how to conquer the mountain whilst embracing the road, and my still very ugly running shoes.

The next day I woke up with newfound vigour and determination. I looked at my little Asics that had been placed in the bottom shelf of an extensive shoe cupboard and held them close. Silently, I whispered in my head:“Friends.” Armed with this new arsenal, a low-calorie diet and an extensive training programme, I left home at 4:30am, determined to conquer every instrument of torture I found in the gym. I vowed that one by one these Vikings would be brought down and claimed as my personal trophies of transformation.

The next five weeks turned into complete days of glory. Every morning I got on the treadmill and pushed myself just a little further. I ran before the sun rose and attempted every class, no matter how torturous the name sounded: Ab Blaster, Body Worx, Power Boxing and Boot Camp. And each day, before the sun set, I put on my running shoes and bore the pain the tar produced, and still I didn’t give up. This transformation was amazing; exercise twice a day and no complaints from myself – what was going on?

The road has not been without many tear-jerking moments. The day I walked into the office and ‘Dark Lord Vader’ – the instigator of the programme – looked at me and exclaimed, “Wow, look at those pants, they’re falling off you!” was truly a day I will never forget. My Boost colleagues have embraced my newfound lifestyle, sharing healthy lunches with me and encouraging me in the ways of no cheats and no treats. They are the best! My sister and I have also found each other across the gymnasium floor. She has been an inspiration. Others have noticed the Phoenix emerging from the ashes, regularly commenting how well I look, how tiny I have become and how gloriously muscled my arms appear. Fuel for the fire. I tell you. Fuel!

Next I purchased a heart rate monitor. After all, what athlete ventures out into the world of fitness without being able to track their heart rate? I now have new and improved running kit, a pink sweat towel with zips and pouches to accommodate the Ipod filled with inspiring numbers by Rammstein, Disturbed and Boney M, a new kit bag for all the goodies, and above all my commitment to the Lara Croft episode of my life.

I now head out every morning and every afternoon not only to transform myself into the most gorgeous play station character ever created, but I head out in pursuit of more calories burnt, a better time and a longer running distance.

Today I am proud to say that I am able to run 8km without wanting to die, I successfully push through hours of vigorous cardio classes and am up to 10kg in weight training sessions. My diet has embraced vegetarian substance, no sugar and loads of healthy snacks, leaving me with a complexion of radiance and health.

The best part of this journey has been the fact that I now sleep three hours consecutively a night! Being a Class A Sleepless in Seattle insomniac for the last 15 years, 45 minutes was my max stint, so three hours is a world record for me, and I have managed to pull off this great feat for the last few months, thanks to the power of running, sweating and weight training.

In retrospect, I cannot understand why it took me so long to realise that there are definite benefits to a high fitness level and training. It seems to me I was deluded into believing that mall-trawling was the only exercise required to keep one healthy and happy. Boy was I wrong.

I have learnt many lessons on this journey, but by far the greatest has been that there is a time and place for everything. A time to shop, a time to train, a time to sweat in a class filled with other maniacs and a time to try on every pair of shoes on offer. Above all, I have learnt that the Christian Louibitons have and always will be a very big part of my make-up and shoe collection, but that there is a definite place for those faithful little Asics that keep me company on my journey to being able to trawl the malls in nine-inch heels, exuding fabulousness beyond magnitude.

So will this newly converted Modern Athlete ever conquer the Comrades, possibly just the Two Oceans Half Marathon, or maybe something a little more glamorous like the Zurich Marathon? Who knows? The last 11 weeks have taught me that nothing is beyond reach when one truly sets one’s mind to it.