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The Simple Life - by Phil Wain

The Simple Life

Article by: Phil Wain

Reproduced with permission of the author
When I first started running, exercising was as simple as putting on a pair of shorts and shoes (and shirt if you were female) and heading out the door. None of this, "what colour shorts am I going to wear today?" or "do my socks match my shoes?" The words cross-training and triathlon weren't even in the English language.

No siree Bob, life was a lot easier. I suppose that's why I choose running as my sport. There was a simplicity, a sort of "man was meant to run' attitude to it. Afterall, wasn't man originally a hunter, having to pursue his prey all day just so he could put food on the table at night.

So there I was, New Years Eve 1977. Pre-running boom, pre-yuppie, pre every­thing, deciding that my resolution would be to start exercising. But what type of exercise I asked myself as I stubbed out my umpteenth cigarette of the day and tore the scab off another stubby.

Perhaps I could swim? Nah, swimming was too difficult and besides, tipping the scales at just a tad over 86kgs, I looked like a beached whale in a pair of speedos. Also you had to pay each time you wanted to do it.

How about riding a push-bike, I heard someone say. Good lord no. At the time, my lily-white butt had never sat on anything other than a car-seat or armchair and I doubted I could find a bike with a big enough breaking strain to support my bulk.

So running got the nod. Afterall you didn't need any fancy equipment and you didn't have to pay each time you wanted to do it. So January 1st 1978 would be day one of my new running regime.

Yep, life certainly was simpler back then. Like going into a shop to choose a pair of shoes you were confronted with two choices, Adidas Rome's or Puma Pavement Joggers. Such a difficult choice, and the range of apparel? Well you could choose from plain footy shorts or footy shorts with stripes.

As for me, well let me tell you, no one and I mean no one was going to be checking out these pegs back then so the order of the day for me was an old grey pair of baggy sweats along with a pair of the aforementioned Puma Pavement Joggers.

And boy weren't those pavement joggers great. They held up even under the harshest treatment, and when they wouldn't hold up any longer I held them together with electrical tape, wrapped continuously round and around my feet. It got to the stage where all that was left was a piece of rubber taped to the soles of my feet, but that didn't worry me, afterall back then life was cool, life was easy.

So what happened you may ask? Well I'll tell you what happened, that god­damned running boom of the eighties is what happened, followed closely by the bloody health revolution. Life was no longer simple.

All of a sudden you had to make choices. Like, do I buy the blue shorts with the white stripes or the white shorts with the blue stripes, do these socks match my eyes?

No longer did you have just two types of running shoes, now you also had brands with exotic names like Nike, Brooks, Saucony, New Balance plus many more and the worst part of this was that as soon as you waded through all of them and found the brand you liked, chances were it wouldn't be on the shelves next time you went looking.

And they all offered something different, something that would make you run faster. Arch-cookies, Air-soles, Anti-pronation devices with shock-absorbing qualities unsurpassed, Propulsion plates, Varus wedges, Rollbar technology, Gel, Hydro-flow and the list goes on.

Thank-god I thought, the sport is safe from that dreaded computer-madness. Then it happened, the world's first computer-driven running shoe, oh no!

Now this marvel of the computer-age had micro-chips which told you how far and how fast you ran. How many calories you burned (if, after your daily run you hadn't worked off lunch you could always go out for extra), it probably even told you when it was time to take a leak. Life I thought was never meant to be this complicated. But then I made the mistake of taking-up cross-training.

Just as I thought it couldn't get any worse along comes heart-rate monitors, computerised training logs, wind-trainers, supplex shorts, coolmax shirts, branch-chain-amino-acid-electrolyte-glucose-fluid-replacement drinks, digital watches that do everything for you except tell the time (mine would probably do my tax for me if only I knew how to work it) and the list goes on.

There will even be a shoe on the market soon which has a tiny flashing light in its heel tab for when you run at night. I now find myself having to decide not only what colour shorts match my socks but now I've got to be totally colour coordinated right down to my speedos and swim cap (whatever happened to wearing stubbies in the pool).

And the training? No longer can I go out and while away my time doing an easy 20km or 10 x 400m. Nope, now I have to think about wind-sprints, cadence, pace-lining, tempo-riding, tumble-turns, catch-up with fingers trickling across the water, 10 x lOOm on the 1:45 (can anyone really keep pace with that damn clock), I.M's, hypoxic and bi-lateral breathing and much more.

The equipment list is endless with numerous types of shorts, tops and shoes. Wet-suit, swim-caps (I must have the world's most extensive collection of these), goggles, flippers (oops sorry, fins), kick-boards, pull-buoys, helmets, gloves, and socks (cotton ones, cotton/nylon ones, coolmax ones, coolmax/cotton ones, shesh!!!)

Even the humble Polaroids have gone up-market with brands such as, Oakleys, Gators, JT's and Bolles. It was hard enough in the old days, trying to train for one sport let alone three.

Back in the good old days, when you turned up to race it only took you 10 or 15 minutes to prepare yourself, now it takes me most of the morning, and in those days transitions were what you went through between jobs.

Now when I go to buy new shoes do I buy the size nines or the nine-and-a-halfs with the triple overhead-antipronating laces with iridescent stripes and see-through mesh which repels everything from water to mud and insects (if only I could find a pair which would actually fit). I like the feel of my Nikes I tell the store clerk but the Adidas' go with the new running outfit I've just bought.

Decisions, decisions. If only I could turn back time to those pre-boom days. Days when life was so simple, days when the only choices you had to make were what time of the day you were going to do your run and whether or not you would wear a shirt.

But as someone once said, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'. I certainly have seen a lot, running through 20 years of change in a sport which has given me so much, and as I run towards the 21st century I'm sure that no matter how much some things may change in the future, one thing is for certain, running will still give me that same thrill that it has given me for almost 2 decades.

This page last updated: Saturday 20 March 2010

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