On Travel, Fitness and the Longest 26 Miles of My Life

You could say that I’ve had a varied sporting career.

I played both football and cricket as a kid, but gave them up by my mid-teens due to a lack of both time and skill. When I had the choice of either attending cricket practice or my after-school job, those fifty bucks a week seemed a better option than having my gentle off-spinners smashed around the local park for a few hours.

Like many people, any fitness I once had disappeared fast once I hit university. A steady diet of fast food and cheap beer didn’t do much for my waistline, and exercise seemed far too much like hard work. After four years of that, I was developing an impressive middle-age spread … at twenty two.

Moving to London at that point didn’t help — working out was still something that other people did. While lycra-clad hotties jogged past my office on a Friday lunchtime, I’d be waddling off to the local pub for a couple of pints. The most exercise I’d get would be standing on a dark platform at 6am in the middle of winter, shivering as I waited for the Tube to arrive. It didn’t burn as many calories as you might think.

Years passed, and I regularly changed jobs, friends and countries — but not my aversion to exercise. It seemed to be easier to relocate to the other side of the world than it was to put one foot in front of the other for more than a few minutes, and I became an expert at adding extra notches to my belt instead.

As with a lot of things in life, it took a major event to shake things up. A long term relationship ended, and I found myself fat, miserable and alone in a grey Sydney winter. With no reason to rush back to an empty apartment after work, I started walking instead of taking the bus. Finding that I actually quite enjoyed it, I started jogging short sections of the route, the pain in my legs a welcome distraction from the pain in my heart.

It took several months before I could make it all the way home without stopping, and a few more before breaking the 10km barrier. I ran a 12km race… then 15km… then a half marathon. Just before I left Australia a little over two years ago, I ran my second half marathon — in a school dress.

Dave and Chantelle

I was in the best shape of my life, slimmer than I’d been since high school and feeling great.

And then I started travelling permanently.

This life of ongoing travel is wonderful in most respects, but it’s destroyed my fitness. Based mainly in developing countries, the tropical heat and cracked, crowded pavements make running for more than a few minutes very unpleasant. While I’ve used treadmills where I can find them, they’ve been rare — and typically not in air-conditioned gyms.

Even on the rare occasion that I’ve been in more temperate climates, it hasn’t been for long enough to get a routine going. By the time I’ve found a good running route, it’s time to head to the next city. Trying to balance working and sightseeing with limited time usually means that something has to give — and that something has been, more often than not, my fitness.

As the months have passed, I’ve found myself putting the weight back on, and being less and less happy about it. I’ve tried other forms of exercise, but don’t enjoy them in the slightest. Pounding the pavement is a form of therapy for me, and nothing else brings the same satisfaction. Not even close.

Dave - fit and fat

Just after starting this trip (L) and in New Zealand 18 months later (R). Note the double chin. Not cool, Dave. Not cool.

So that’s where I found myself late last year, unhappy with my lack of exercise and not sure what to do about it. Rapidly approaching 40, I didn’t want to end up like many guys my age, overweight and miserable. I had enough of that a decade ago, thanks. Something had to change.

And so it has.

I’ve committed to running a marathon next year. With any luck it’ll be the London Marathon in mid-April, although getting an entry spot isn’t automatic. If that doesn’t work out, there are several others in Europe — but either way it will happen before September. That’s when I turn forty, and if that’s not a good incentive, I don’t know what is.

I’ve got around fifteen months to train. Under normal conditions, that would be relatively easy — but these are not normal conditions. My initial plan was to spend all of 2014 in Latin America, moving every few weeks to a different town or country. Although there might be a few places where I can run, trotting out a quick 20 or 30km along the equator in Ecuador in the middle of summer just isn’t going to happen.

So I’ve changed things around, at least a little. Some cheap flights from the US to Australia sealed the deal, and there’s now a month in Portland and a month in Melbourne booked from March to May. I also arrived in Playa del Carmen last week, and although there are too many tourists for me, the weather is reasonably cool in the mornings and evenings, and there’s a 5km stretch of flat pavement to run along, so I’m here for a month.

Running in Chiang Mai

It hasn’t been easy getting back into it. From being able to run a half marathon in well under two hours, I now need to walk once or twice before hitting the 5km mark. It’s demoralising, in some ways, and yet damn motivating in another. I know that I can do this — it’s just a case of convincing my legs and lungs of that.

I’m going to run 10km at least once before leaving Playa, and will add an extra five kilometres in the Portland drizzle by the time I fly out to Melbourne in April. I’ll have to, really — the same 15km race that I ran a few years back is on again, two days after I land, and I’ve booked a spot at the start line. Sure I’ll be jetlagged, sure I’ll probably have no desire to drag myself out of bed and round the city with a few thousand others… but I’m going to do it anyway.

I don’t know how my training will go after that. I’ll just have to do the best I can, seizing whatever limited opportunities there are until I head to Europe for Christmas. After that I’ll find somewhere to live for a few months and be in full-on training mode until the big day. It’s hardly the perfect preparation — but it’s about the best I can do.

Wish me luck. God knows I’m going to need it.


10 Responses to “On Travel, Fitness and the Longest 26 Miles of My Life

  • Good luck, Dave. I can tell you from experience that losing weight gets harder as you get older—well, at least for women it does, so you’re wise to get it off (and try to keep it off) now, while you’re still young (yes, 40 is young). Why not consider the Honolulu marathon and visit our beautiful state. Lots of places to run here.

    • Thanks Jennifer! With Christmas booked in Europe — and hopefully a trip to Antarctica in Nov/Dec as well — I wouldn’t be able to make the Honolulu marathon in Dec this year, and doing it in Dec next year would be too late. Shame — I wouldn’t mind an excuse to spend a few months in Hawaii!

  • Good on you for making the commitment! Best of luck, and looking forward to hearing more about it!!!

    • You’ll definitely be hearing more about it, as a form of accountability if nothing else!

  • good luck! I feel your pain! its certainly a lot harder to priorities exercise over going and seeing cool things or priorities some small portions when some of the worlds best food is sitting right in front of you. you have done it once you can do it again!!!

  • Good luck! You can do it. For me, the hardest part of maintaining fitness while abroad has been the attention, and I’ve considered wearing a tshirt that says “yes, the tall gringa is running on purpose, get over it!” But I’ve gotten used to it and running has slowly gained in popularity in South America over the last few years, and I ran the Costa Pacifica marathon last October. Go get ’em!

    • Hah! You should definitely get that t-shirt! And that marathon sounds fantastic! 😉

  • Good luck Dave! I got to the ‘mid-life weight crisis’ at age 21 too (for the same reasons) – running worked for a while but for me cycling has been the one. 30 mins to work and back each day keeps me in decent shape now and it sure as hell beats the tube at rush hour (cheaper too!)! Don’t forget to look after your diet too! Will be important for prep. Maybe you could do a bit of swimming here and there too whilst in latin america and maybe cycling? Obv different to running but better than no exercise… all good cardio…

    • Yeah, the diet part has been tough, especially when there’s so much delicious food here in Mexico! It’s a little easier now than it used to be, though, now that we spending longer in each place than we were a year ago — and usually trying to find an apartment rather than staying in a little guesthouse room with no fridge or kitchen. If I can’t get out on the streets due to heat or whatever over the next several months, I’ll try to find gyms with a treadmill – not ideal, but a lot better than nothing!

  • God speed and good luck Dave! I need to get back on the exercise train myself (shame, shame)…

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