I expect you’ve been wondering how my marathon training is going eh? Well, essentially like this:
That is a post workout photo not a pre workout one by the way, though frankly the differences in the before and after shots are relatively slight. Who knew training for a marathon could be this hard? Initially I figured that it wouldn’t be enough of a challenge for me to train for a marathon in the UK, so it would be way better for me to come and live in Phnom Penh for a few months and have the extra challenge of doing lots of running around where it is really hot instead. Turns out, training for a marathon, or even doing any running at all in Cambodia’s capital city is nigh on impossible Or at least it seems to me to be so anyway. The only upside of being super-stressed about how on earth I’m going to get my running training in, is that this is a welcome distraction from being super-stressed about how on earth I’m going to blag it as a TEFL teacher day after day, so every cloud eh, every cloud…
If you’ve not been following my progress, quick update. I unexpectedly got a place in the London Marathon Ballot (yay and oh my gawd) but had already committed to coming to Phnom Penh to be a volunteer teacher at CWF from November to end of February, not ideal timing for getting marathon training in. However, undaunted, I am determined to give it my best shot, but even though I anticipated challenges, it is way harder than imagined to do any running here. Matters were not helped by my being ill before I came away so I lost a lot of fitness anyway, then when I first came to Cambodia I did a group tour with Intrepid – which was fantastic, but left no window for running) the consequence is that I arrived and finally settled in Phnom Penh where I am to be based for the next three months with even less residual fitness than my usual pitiful norm.
Whilst I was out and about I did try for some fitness training, hoping that running by association or osmosis might work. So I was particularly delighted to see these for example:
Publicity for a half marathon taking place around the temples of Siem Reap. Just thinking about running in such heat would bring me out in a sweat if I wasn’t already perpetually pouring liquid out every pore in my body anyway. However, I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that you do actually burn calories by thinking about exercise, it certainly raises my heart – rate quite significantly every time I imagine having to run a marathon, so surely just by taking these shots I increase my chances of completing the London Marathon? I’d like to think so. It is one on my long list of unlikely-to-come-true wish list. But hey, you know what they say, you gotta have a dream, or how you gonna have a dream come true? I may not approve of the abuse of the English language that is associated with such a phrase, but you have to agree with the sentiment expressed.
In other running news, I made a half-hearted effort to get into the spirit of my Sheffield Running Club’s Smiley Days of Christmas ChallengeSmiley Days of Christmas Challenge offering up a couple of reindeer and some geese for Smiley bonus points. Inexplicably this did not catapult me to the top of the Smiley leader board, other having reconstructed leaping lords and other such shenanigans on the chilly streets of Sheffield. Crowd pleasing tactics for sure.
Anyway, the upshot is that I arrived in Phnom Penh with good intentions to get out and run, but oh my, the practical challenges are huge. Specifically:
- Phnom Penh does not feel like a safe place to run. I’ve already had one attempt made on my bag, and three of my fellow volunteers have also been targeted. One lost everything, one lost her bag, but not the contents as they spilled onto the street, and one hung onto his phone by throwing a punch (not recommended)
- Even without the bag-snatching fear, the streets are heaving with traffic that comes at you in all directions. It is nigh on impossible to walk the streets of Phnom Penh near to where I live, I can’t even cross a road, running is not an option
- Just walking is hard. The heat is unbelievable, and the humidity too, at one stage my back up plan was to put miles on the legs and just walk as much as possible, but that is really tricky. Every step of the way you have tuk tuk drivers and motos in a chorus of waves, offers of lifts and swerve bys which is at best an irritation and a worse a menace, it’s not conducive to walking anywhere, plus the density of traffic makes for slow progress. It can easily take 20 minutes to go a kilometer if you have to cross a road and negotiate wedding marquees that create frequent roadblocks at this time of year. And then there is the pollution. The whole place is choked with fumes from motorbikes and cars, but also from the ubiquitous stoves that are used for cooking at the roadside by residents and restaurants alike. Sometimes it’s hard to draw breath. Even if none of these obstacles was in place, the state of the roads, makes them dangerous to run. There are numerous potholes, puddles, debris, kerbs and uneven surfaces, mud and abandoned building materials everywhere. This is not a running friendly location.
So, for all these reasons, my running dream is ebbing quite significantly. I have researched some other options but with limited success. There is the Phnom Penh Running Club, but they are hardcore and I’m not fit enough to join with them. 24km jaunts each sunday, I can’t cover anything like those distances, I doubt I could run a full 1km in this heat. Then there is the Olympic Stadium. My students say I can just turn up and run there, it sounds boring, but definitely an option. However, it is a tuk tuk ride away so not really an effortless step out the door. I went along to a crossfit venue Amatak in Phnom Penh to join one of the bootcamp sessions. I figure cross-training may help me. To be fair, that was some work out, however their facility is not air conditioned and even at 7.00 a.m. I was hot to the point I thought i would surely spontaneously combust. Plus, it’s quite expensive to join. I think I might sign up once I have a bit more basic fitness, as it was, I was done about 10 minutes in, which is pitiful but true. I also didn’t find the staff very friendly… though I did get to hear a story from a fellow bootcamp member who inadvertently sat through a Skype interview practically naked, so that was clearly a bonus.
Honestly, I have felt at the point of giving up on the whole idea, it just seems ridiculously hard. However, that’s a call I don’t have to make yet, and I am still committed to finding a way through. I thought briefly about joining a super-duper gym with modern equipment and air-conditioning that is a couple of kilometers away… until I realised that getting there would involve crossing a 6 lane highway. There’s no way on earth I’d tackle that. Therefore, I’ve decided as my fitness levels are so pitiful anyway, I should just take what is near at hand and make the best of it. There is a gym near the school I’m working at, the Phnom Penh Sports Club.
It looks fabulous in photos, with a huge pool area and loads of machines… plus they had a special 15% discount for Christmas offer on. BUT, there is no air conditioning, all the machines are sweat and dust splattered and most are broken altogether or in a dubious state of repair. Is it OK that I’ve had electric shocks from every machine I’ve tried to date, or is that just static? I tell myself my rubber containing running shoes will probably save me, but who knows.
The one good thing about being so horribly unfit, is that frankly, even the facilities at this gym will be enough to get me started. We commenced teaching on Monday, and I’ve tried to get into the habit of going to the gym every morning around 6.30 (it’s quiet enough to walk their without too many obstacles, and a bit cooler). So far (but it is only day three) I’ve gone every day, and do 5km on the treadmill and then a minimum of 10 lengths in the pool, which I know is pitiful, but I’m not really a swimmer, more a human buoyancy aid as has already been established.
I can report that running on the treadmill is simultaneously boring as hell and somewhat fraught. It is soooooooooooo hot, I was literally slipping in my own sweat pools ten minutes in. The electric shocks do enliven the situation somewhat, and there is a view of the pool area and hilarious posters around it to alleviate some of the tedium. I didn’t think running a treadmill would ever replicate off-road running, but periodically the machine shudders and the belt takes on an undulating twist as it tries to disentangle itself from its works, so maybe it’s a bit more technical than I first thought. Despite the sophisticated looking buttons, the only one that works is for speed, the incline one sometimes does and sometimes does not, contrary. All of this matters little, it is so hard in this heat that I have yet to run a full 5km without having to slow to a walk. I’m spectacularly slower than my parkrun speeds, despite it being ‘easier’ on a treadmill. I’m pretty demoralised to be honest. However, I cheered a little today. I met up with another volunteer at the gym, and he’s younger and ostensibly very much fitter than me. He also really struggled to do 5k, and periodically had to stop and walk and even stop altogether, and he also sweated pretty impressively so it clearly isn’t just me finding the heat debilitating, it is a real issue. What i do about it I don’t know. I’m also finding that after about half an hour I feel quite faint. I don’t know if this is heat exhaustion or dehydration (you can’t drink fast enough to replace the liquid you sweat out) or if it might be that I need to eat before exercise. My teaching time-table is from 5.00 – 8.00 p.m. each evening. It’s too early to eat beforehand, and too late to eat afterwards, so I’m skipping meals, plus it’s hard to find food that suits me over here. I’m sick of rice and veg. There’s a lot of sugar in things like coffee, so nutritionally it’s not great. I miss my pre-run porridge.
On the plus side, the gym is hilarious. I love my membership card, and it is very near, so going every day is realistic and not too time consuming. Surely if I do 5k and swim daily my fitness will eventually pick up. I’m planning to try out the Hash House Harriers to join them for their off-road run on a Sunday, and probably keep Saturday as a rest day broadly. I’ll up my distances week by week. Once my residual fitness improves, I’ll think about cross training with Amatak a couple of times a week. I’m a bit lazy on the treadmill, I need to pick my feet up more and I think the all over workout at Amatak would be beneficial. However, I would really welcome any top tips from anyone out there. Running on the roads is not an option, it isn’t safe. I’ll have to do the bulk of my training on the treadmill, and that doesn’t have any pre-programmed interval training or anything like that. It’s going to be a tall order. The gym has a sort of shallow goldfish pool on the way to the gym, in the early morning, a cleaner uses a bucket to scoop water from this pond which is then liberally sloshed down the steep stone stairway that leads up to the gym hall. I wonder if this practise is why the stairs are so very slippery (added alga to increase the lubrication as you ascend them) and/or why there are only two fish in the pool. I just feel there may once have been a few more.
Oh well, the gym has other features. Like the ‘snooker room’ which actually contains a couple of table tennis tables, which are used with noise and enthusiasm each morning as I pass. There is a jacuzzi and steam room area that I will not use as it seems rather public and people sit around the edges tucking into rice and meat and vegetables like a sort of private picnic which is culturally alien to me. The gym is a nightmare breeding ground for all sorts of biting insects, so it isn’t somewhere you want to linger. I’ve been stung by something so vicious I started panicking that I’d get cellulitis like my hobbit running buddies, but although my arm is swollen and really hurts a lot, no oozing ulcerating flesh as yet, so that’s good.
So, essentially, it’s not game over yet. I figure, that I need to work on my fitness anyway, and I have to start somewhere. As I get more settled in Phnom Penh, and hopefully my stamina in the heat improves I’ve still got the Olympic Stadium track to try, and I could get a tuk tuk down to riverside where there is a 5km loop that is apparently safe to run (I’m not sure, but would try when I know I can run without stopping for that far). Also, the Running Bong Running Bong are a group who claim to have some beginner runs. They meet at 6.00 a.m. on a Thursday, but cancelled last week as they were all resting after the Angkor Wat half marathon – which makes me think they may not be beginnery at all. We shall see.
So I’m still trying, I’m down but not out, but if I do make it to the start of the London Marathon it will be a miracle. However, it’s not over til it’s over. Lamentable as my fitness feels right now, I’ve only been back in a routine for about 3 days after several weeks of no running at all. It’s frightening how much fitness I’ve lost so quickly, but then again, maybe I will be amazed at how quickly it returns (ah hem). I think I’m also hoping that although exercising in the heat is horrendous, it may help me lose weight and surely it will be easier when I finally get back to blighty. As long as I stay well, I’ll still have 6 weeks before the marathon to get road miles in.
So top tips on a post card please.
I thank you.
Happy running y’all.
I’m still a signed up sporting enthusiast though – look!