Thursday, September 10, 2009

Run Forrest, run!

Faithful readers of the Soderblogger, if you do not already know it, I like to run. Running is the yin to the yang of my unabashed admiration for hamburgers. They do not exist independent of one another. I run so that I can enjoy eating a good hamburger. A good hamburger is fantastic fuel for a long run. I experimented with this in Virginia and found that a delicious Five Guys burger two to three hours before a 8-11 mile run was fine, as long as I didn't overdo it on the french fries.

I also believe that the personal enjoyment I derive from running is karmic payback for all those times growing up when my father and I would see someone out running and we would say, voices dripping with sarcasm, "Look at that person out having fun." Most people do NOT look like they are really having a good time when they are running, and I might well be one of them, but I do know that I get a lot of satisfaction from running. Plus it's my "alone time" and when I think big thoughts. You know, thoughts like, "Should I grow my hair out or buzz it all off again."

Anyway, last Monday I decided for the first time since arriving in Thailand that I would venture outside the comfortable and predictable confines of our sheltered planned expatriate community. The risk in this plan is twofold. First is the quality of sidewalks in Bangkok and its surrounding environs, if there is a sidewalk at all. A lot of the walkways are made out of bricks, and the bricks aren't laid in any cement or mortar, so they aren't the most level and/or stable things. I think this is actually some sort of jobs program to keep people gainfully employed, because as soon as they finished the sidewalk in our neighborhood they went down to the other end of the street and started pulling up bricks to "fix" the sidewalk down there. You really have to watch where you step, and it ain't just because of "gifts" left by neighborhood pooches.

Speaking of canines, the second risk is the soi dogs. A “soi” is basically a side street. Soi dogs are basically strays, wild dogs, scavengers, whatever you want to call them, and some of them are rabid, scrawny, and mangy—I mean they really have mange, they aren’t just ugly and ratty looking, they are seriously in bad shape. These downtrodden mongrels like to harass runners. No problems with people walking, nor with bicycles, motorcycles, or motor vehicles. But anyone running magically appears appetizing to these mutts, and when a runner comes trotting by a lot of them quickly give chase.

By the way, as pathetic as some of them are, these dogs are a fantastic examples of Darwinian survival; the dumb ones get run over by cars. I was amazed to see some of them sleeping like cats on top of those concrete jersey barricades. One of these days I'll actually get a picture of it.

So last Monday I decided that I had had quite enough of running multiple loops around the lake here that nobody can swim, boat, or fish in. It is a nice lake to walk around, but it’s only about a mile in circumference. Running loops around the same route drives me nuts. In the ranked terms, running for me goes something like this:

  1. Running outside on meandering routes
  2. Running outside, making one circuit and then running that circuit in reverse
  3. Running down a dream
  4. Running on empty
  5. Running with scissors
  6. Running around a track (although I will grudgingly concede there are benefits to speed training at a track)
  7. Running fingernails down a chalkboard
  8. Running man
  9. Running barefoot on broken glass
  10. Running on a treadmill

But I digress. I headed out the back gate and I felt perfectly comfortable trotting through that neighborhood. Granted, a farang (generic Thai word for Westerners) running around is guaranteed to draw some very curious looks in most of Thailand, but this area is pretty nice and has very few dogs, which was quite lovely. I was only in that neighborhood for about a mile or so before I hit the main drag to loop around and come back into our area through the front gate.

The problem is that the street from which one turns to hit the front entrance is a very busy street. And by busy I’m not just referring to vehicular traffic, although the number of cars, motorcycles, and trucks is significant. There are tons of shops, with seemingly a million signs. Given that I have only approached the front gate from that route maybe three times in the month we’ve been here, it was only natural that I would run right past the sign that indicates the turn into our area.

Up until this point most of the dogs I had seen were laying in the shade, and the few that even bothered to crack open and eye and see what the commotion was had a look that seemed to say, "Are you kidding me? It's like 95 degrees and 90 percent humidity, crazy American!" Being dogs, however, it sounded more like a half-hearted "woof."

Naturally it wasn't until I passed the turn to get back into our area that the only soi dog in all of Nonthaburi with any ambition decided to get some exercise and run after me. And this wasn't the garden-variety soi dog, this was the kind of dog I never thought I'd see on the streets in Thailand. This was a big dog and it had long, curly, dingy white hair. The dingy part I expected, but the long, curly part, that threw me for a loop--that has to be really hot. Anyway, as soon as it started running after me I slowed to a walk, and that pretty much killed the dog's desire to give chase.

About a mile beyond the turnoff for our place I decided it was probably time to turn around and find the correct entrance.It meant that I had to run past that same shaggy beast, but by that time we had reached a detente and it barely even gave me a second look. I did manage to make the correct turn, and I was relieved to get back into our own neighborhood. The detour wasn’t really a big deal, to be honest, because I got my first run over 40 minutes since we arrived in Thailand, and that felt great.

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