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Finding the Balance

Posted on 16/07/2020

About the Author: Julian Dean-Brown is one of the newbies in the RUN fam, although he has firmly cemented himself there. He’ll often be found shooting the breeze, and full of chirps. Or on a mountain.

Sitting down is pretty great, right? I think so… sitting down at the beach, sitting down in the car on a road trip, sitting down with a cup of tea and a rusk. Perfection… as long as I don’t have to sit on a bicycle. 

In fact, a lot of my early fun times were spent sitting down. Sitting down to read, sitting down in band practices, sitting down watching cricket (I was a bit of a cricket badger from a young age), to name a few examples.

While I did do my fair share of adventuring on sports fields (as a mostly-average cricketer until I hit 17 and started growing), athletics tracks (where I would cross finish lines just as the cheers for the winner doing likewise were beginning to die down), mountains, and other places where it’s rather impractical to sit down, I was mostly content in the seated position… right up until around the first year of university, when sitting down started to become more stressful than before. “Sitting down to read” became “sitting down to complete tomorrow’s project report”, “sitting down in band practices” became “sitting down in lectures”, and “sitting down watching cricket” became “sitting down watching YouTube maths tutorials”. And so the need to venture seriously out into the standing world had arisen.

Getting into gear

The first step I took was to join the UCT Athletics Club, where I had about five weeks of dreadful (over)training on track before a calf strain set me back a couple of months. I then decided to slow things down and do a bit of road running. Unfortunately, that meant meeting and doing a fair bit of running with the speedwagon that is Bianca Tarboton, so I didn’t actually do much slowing down… and now I was running further than before too. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the shin splints came a’calling and I was relegated to another few months of stressful sitting that rounded off 2016. 

My solution was to forget running for a while (pretty much the whole of 2017) and go back to cricket, my first sporting passion, at the start of 2017. Joining a club (Claremont Cricket Club) where I was the youngest member, and knew nobody there, was a bit intimidating, but I got over that as soon as I got ball in hand on my debut for the mighty 5th XI. The months of injury and frustration suddenly weren’t so bad now that I could run in hard and bowl. Side note: hurling a cork-and-leather ball in the general direction of a batsman (his outside edge, stumps, or body) is a fantastic stress reliever.

By the end of 2017, I was starting to gain the first hints of a reputation in my cricket club as a bowler who could occasionally be trusted to give a decent performance, and so progressed up a team. Now, between my academics and my cricket, I believed I was challenging my mind enough to ensure I didn’t lose it (and producing decent results in both spheres). That said, I was itching for a bit more adventure.

The introduction to Trail

What followed, at the start of 2018, was an introduction to trail running. While I had been on one or two previously, I had never considered taking it all that seriously. That changed after my first run with Kristen Heath in Newlands Forest. I thought, going in, that we would be at a similar level of ability. Oh, how wrong I was! In between wheezing like an asthmatic smoker, and with the taste of blood in my mouth, and the sight of blood on my knee from a spectacular early fall, I decided that I wouldn’t again experience such torture at the hands of Hout Bay’s favourite space cadet. What followed through 2018 was a steady build up… of tolerance for those trails that normal people would view as “really rather unpleasant”, as well as my enthusiasm for running in general… and by the time the leaves turned green after winter, I was ready to reap a few rewards.

First, the strength built up over the winter meant I could run in harder and bowl faster, so moved up two teams to the Claremont 2nd XI, with whom I shared an almost-successful 2018/19 season, finishing 2nd in our league. Disappointing, but still personally my best season to date. Secondly, I was able to take my base fitness to the track, where I managed to qualify for the UCT team to race at the 2019 Varsity Cup athletics in Potchefstroom, and to USSA student champs in Stellenbosch a month later. Finally, because I was able to take meaningful breaks from sitting down with work stuff, I was able to bring my university results up to something I could be pretty chuffed with. 

2019 then went on to produce my first few trail races, sneaking into the top 10 at the Bastille Day 25km, as well as a few wine farm race podiums. By the end of 2019, I had also established myself as one of the worker-bees at RUN, and I could start getting to know the awesome people that make up the trail-running world. Eventually finishing my Mechanical Engineering degree that year became more a sidenote to my year than a focal point, such was the attraction to the trail running world. 

Getting Serious

2020 has seen my introduction to a coach (Erin at Flat Rock Endurance), with whom I enjoyed a whole three awesome weeks of running before lockdown entered the game. What was a pretty exciting-looking race calendar has been thrown out, what would have been gruelling training weeks have become home workouts, and moments that would have been “sitting down on the peaks of mountains” have become “sitting down on the same couch every day”. And that’s given me more than enough time to reflect. On the running journey, and just about every other thought it’s possible to have. 

Finding the Flow

On the running side, I think I’ve realised just how important my friends are to my running. It might’ve been a cousin that got me into sport (we’ve played just about every sport together) but it’s been friends that have kept me running. It started with the day-one homies, who I’ve spent way too many years chasing (unsuccessfully) on track, and who now chase me on the mountains. Then came Bianca the OG Training Partner, always a delightful, soft-spoken (yet still somehow bossy) individual, with whom I’ve shared many a mile as well as many a Maths tut. The adventure through Claremont Cricket Club also saw the ever-entertaining Rogue Unit that is Brandon Keeling enter the mix, and together we’ve shared peaks, pints, as well as match-saving partnerships. Brandon and I, being superstitious cricketers, have also taken to running the same 7km Constantia Greenbelt loop before each home cricket match. While unspectacular in scenery, that route has to tank at the top of the favourites pile, as it has without doubt been the sole reason behind many a triumphant Saturday’s cricket. 

I think my overriding feeling towards trail running is that it’s helped me achieve that all-important Balance I had been seeking… between work and play, responsibility and relaxation, and between running a good time and having a good time.

Is there really anything more to ask from a sport?

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