It’s almost exactly one week to the hour since I arrived in Chiang Mai. I’ve been training every day since Sunday and my body feels exactly like it should given that situation. I’m sore and exhausted, yet excited and energetic, getting stronger and faster in my response time in the ring.
This morning’s run was a perfect metaphor for the whole week of training thus far. Andy drove us up to the lake, but looped around to a back side of it where we’ve not yet parked. Driving up in the back of a truck full of Canadians is a perfect illustration of the bizarre western luxury and exception to some of the training here – driving twice the distance you will run in order to have a nice view around while you do it. I’m not complaining – it’s a luxury I quite enjoy, actually. But I’ve had my best runs through the city, up hills to waterfalls that spring out of nothing.
Hopping out of the truck, we’re instructed to run for 20 minutes and then turn around. The strongest runners will get a good run in and then turn back to pick up the beginners, wherever they may be along that road, so we can all return back to the truck at about the same time. Everyone performs at their own ability and we get to feel together on it at the end. The catch is that the road is only flat for half a kilometer before it angles nearly straight up; the unspoken catch is that it only goes up and does not level out again for the distance we’ll be going.
The half kilometer to the base of the hill is a good warm up. You’re surrounded by tropical vines, trees, grasses and general flora that is totally unrecognizable to westerners like me. There are little camps along the way where the inhabitants are just waking up and starting their fires for breakfast, the harsh smoke billowing up and out and into my lungs in measured breaths. And thus comes the incline.
The road is a hard, red clay that offers no cushion and is cracked and broken into ankle-breaking angles all the way up. My calves began burning immediately and when I slowed or walked or had a momentary reprieve of semi-flat surface, the burning did not stop. The saying goes that what goes up must come down, but in this case – in a temporal sense – what goes up just keeps going up.
The kid at the head of our line was instructed to run for 20 minutes and turn around, but given that I didn’t know his name, I cursed his damn face and everything I could think of about him as I muttered to myself that this bugger was going for way longer than 20 minutes. My body’s resistence to the effort began to feel ever more like the mythical struggle of Sisyphus pushing his stone forever up the hill, only to have it force him back down.
Such is training, where the body is pushed and pushed to exhaustion and, as it gets stronger, can be pushed harder and longer to new heights and possibilities. There is no top to the mountain; you just go as far as your feet and heart can take you, then return to the bottom to start again.