Ejo #99 – The Extraordinary People I Know: Terry Oubre

 

About a year ago I stormed one of the stages at an electronic music festival in Europe (coz that’s just how I roll, bitchzzzz). Alright, technically I didn’t “storm” the stage. But I did sneak in from the back when the security guard went to the toilet. Somehow I found myself in the middle of the stage, next to the DJ, looking out at the thronging crowd. And it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever experienced. My rock’n’roll moment!

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Make some noise!!!!  My three minutes of glory.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of getting to know an Actual Fucking Rock Star. The real deal, folks. Someone who spent years performing in front of millions of people, before moving onto a successful career as a producer. He’s the best electric guitarist you’ve never heard of – I’m talking about the extraordinary Terry Oubre. Let’s chat!

My one experience on (someone else’s) stage blew my tiny little mind. Tell me about the time you played with The Grass Roots in front of 600,000 motherfucking people in Washington DC on 4th July, 1982?
That gig was so surreal that I was totally relaxed. It’s like when my wife was giving birth to our son. The moment is so big and fraught with the possibility of something going wrong, that you just let go of the worry and roll with it.

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A news clipping of the event.  Over half a million people attended.  Let that sink in for a minute.

How long were you on stage for?
About one and a half hours. CNN and MTV were covering the event, and it was broadcast live over the radio. No pressure though.

Were you nervous?
No, I wasn’t nervous. We were so battle hardened from the road. We could have played through a hurricane. But, like I said, it was very surreal. Sometimes things are so huge that you just go with it. As long as the equipment didn’t blow up, I could handle it. Smaller clubs can be more intimidating, because people are right under your nose. At the DC gig, we were on a big stage and the crowd was a sea of people. And everybody just wanted to party. It was July 4th, Independence Day. They were ready to rock, and we did our best to deliver.

You recorded just one album with The Grass Roots, Powers Of The Night. Lead singer Rob Grill was supposed to be the heart-throb of the group, but you would have been my favourite, for sure. Definitely the cutest.
Haha! Thanks. We once played a big club near New Orleans, and the club owner and I went out for a midnight ride with a couple of women afterwards. He told me, “Women might wanna fuck Rob, but they wanna marry you!”

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A photo of The Grass Roots.  Check out the cutie on the right.

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A promotional photo of the band.  How adorable is Terry!!!!


You definitely have a wholesome nice-guy thing going on there, which is very appealing. So how did you end up in The Grass Roots? And why did you leave?

The singer of The Grass Roots wanted to go on the road, and he needed a band. My group had just moved to LA and someone recommended us. And things just began to happen. A record producer for MCA Records came to see us at a venue in LA, and wanted to sign us. The irony is, I went to LA to make it with my own band and do session work, not be in The Grass Roots. So, after about two and a half years I quit and moved to Austin, because I wanted to produce. I wanted to make serious music. Something that meant something to me, that was based on what I was about.

Can you tell me a little more about what you do? You’re a producer – what does that even mean?
A music producer is like a movie director. I do everything necessary to bring a song to fruition. Which means shaping the arrangement, sometimes helping with lyrics, coaching the musicians and vocalists on their parts and generally pulling everything together. We’re making a record – a fixed piece of art – and because my name is on it, it has to be as good as I can make it. And that means I have to be able to read people and get what I need out of them without hurting their feelings. I have to be convincing, without making anyone feel threatened. So, a good producer has to wear a lot of hats. I also do a lot of mixing and mastering. Mixing is an art in itself. It’s a performance. You can make or break a recording in the mix. I usually do a ton of editing and shaping of the sound, blending it all together which makes the sum of the parts stronger. Not unlike an orchestra conductor.

So how much of a record is your vision, and how much is the artist’s?
My job is to help the artist realise their vision. The listener thinks it’s all the artist, but I work my ass off to make it sound great.

How did you get into producing?
I think it was just an organic outgrowth of my love for music and creating music. Especially the idea of trying to create music that I wanted to hear, that nobody else was recording. So there was a strong desire to be inventive, to express myself in a personal way, rather than trying to emulate what had come before. Prior to becoming a producer, I listened to music. Decoding what they were doing to achieve certain sounds. Particularly the Beatles and Hendrix. I was interested in sound from very early on, even as a child. I would pay attention to mechanical sounds and sounds of nature. Like the way sound bounced off the walls of houses in my neighbourhood. We had large yards with a lot of space between houses and if you hit a baseball, the crack would echo in a very complex way. Also, the sounds of a marching band in a stadium, especially the drums. To hear those drums playing in unison and the way that sound reverberated. Or during a parade, hearing them approaching from down the street and how the sound changed as they got closer. The sound of trains on tracks, the horn and the “Doppler effect” always fascinated me, as did the sound of a jet flying overhead. I love that shit.

Can you study producing, like law or medicine or engineering? Or do you need to have some kind of musical experience?
I don’t know how far studying will get you. It’s more of an innate ability, based on years of listening and trying to understand how sounds are recorded and how a record is made. So, for me, it was just a matter of calling on my experience as a session musician and recording with various bands over the years. I got tired of arguing with recording engineers about what kind of EQ I wanted, so with the advent of digital recording I bought my own recorders and turned my garage into a recording studio. I would rather do it all myself than have some motherfucker tell me what can’t be done, just because the text books say you can’t do it. I remember reading about George Harrison asking the engineer to boost the treble of his guitar during Nowhere Man, and the engineer telling him, “You can’t do that”. At that point the Beatles had earned the right to demand whatever they wanted. So George said, “Turn it all the way up, and if that’s not enough we’ll run it through another channel and boost it there too!” It was good to know that even the Beatles had to put up with engineers and their rigid bullshit.

What advice would you give to someone interested in producing as a career?
Anyone with the desire to learn how to make records can start with acquiring recording gear, whatever they can afford, and just learning from their mistakes. At first, it seems really hard to make it sound like a professional record. You have to sweat bullets for a few years and continue to upgrade your gear and add to it. You have to be detail oriented. And you have to have a real passion for it. Just like any other form of self expression.

What kind of music do you produce?
I’ve produced singer/songwriter artists, old school country, hard rock, blues, pop. For myself, I plan to record a hybrid of electronic and raging electric guitar. Also, cinematic style instrumental music.


Woah, love me some raging electric guitar! Tell me more. Are you planning on recording just a few songs, or a whole album? How long has it been since you’ve made music for yourself?

If I record an album again I will make it vinyl only. With a vinyl record you have a flow, like a movie or a book. It’s a listening experience. You go on a journey. I mean, it can function just as a collection of songs, but I like arranging songs so that they have an ebb and flow. My first and only CD, Future Blues, came out in 1996. I’ve recorded since then, but not released anything.

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Terry’s album, Future Blues


Tell me about making Future Blues. And why you waited over twenty years before thinking about making another one?

The original plan was a band album, but that wasn’t working out so I decided to put out a solo CD instead. The intention was to follow up with the band album, but in the meantime I’d transitioned to full time music producer and became more reliant on that income than putting out my own music. And that’s been the case for over 20 years.

During that period, I was also raising my son. My life in suburbia overtook my previous life as a full time musician and I got stuck. My marriage was not what I had hoped it would be either. I’d lost touch with who I was and, frankly, I’m still a long way from getting my life back as a working musician. So, after a 20 year marriage we decided to divorce and I finally had the chance to get back to some semblance of my previous life, which is where I’m at now. I bought a 100 year old building in a small town about an hour outside of Houston, which I’m renovating as a studio/loft apartment. The place will be combination recording studio, listening room for showcases, man cave and Americana museum, with many artefacts from my life. And I may have some kind of teaching academy there as well. I figure I’ll get more done if I immerse myself in a lifestyle that revolves around making and recording music, rather than going back to a more conventional life. I’m happier now, and anxious to re-establish myself as a musician as well as continuing to produce.

What kinds of artefacts?
Well, when I was very young I wanted to play drums. My parents gave me a toy drum set, and I played it til it fell apart. I remember being around 4 years old playing the toy drums in the garage, along to my mum’s Elvis records, when the garbage truck pulled up. The garbage men saw me playing – a couple of black guys watching this little white boy getting after it on the drums. They were cracking up laughing, but they were loving it.  So I’m looking for a toy drum kit similar to the one I had to proudly display in my studio.

Who has been the biggest influence or inspiration for you?
Jimi Hendrix, to me, was the most important musician of the 20th Century. The Chili Peppers guitarist, John Frusciante once said that “when you hear Jimi Hendrix play, it’s a pure expression of him as a person. You see him on stage and there’s absolutely no separation between him and his guitar. They’re completely one, because he’s just putting every single bit of everything in his whole psyche and every single part of his body into his guitar playing”.

That’s how it feels when I watch the clip of you playing in Tucson. No joke. Like the music is coming from inside you, and the guitar is just a tool for that expression. It’s truly magnificent. What piece of music from Jimi Hendrix is your favourite?
I don’t think I could name one piece. If I had to choose his best album, I’d say Electric Ladyland. Listened to from beginning to end, it gives you that experience of having travelled through space and time. It’s transcendent music.

Anyone else?
Jeff Beck. One of the reviews I got for my album said, “If Jeff Beck lived in Austin, you have some idea where Terry Oubre is at.” There are many other great guitarists and musicians I love. Everything I love in music has influenced and inspired me. Hendrix is still number one for me though. I can hardly believe he walked the earth, even now.

So let me ask you something. You are an extraordinary musician. You have the talent, so why aren’t you a household name? Did you ever want that level of success? Or that level of fame?
In the past I pursued success as part of a band. My first band was considered the best around (or at least I was). But I couldn’t have gone on the road, because I was in high school. I wasn’t really driven to be famous anyway, I was more about the music. And I would have needed management that believed in me. In the ensuing years, I was in several bands and was a session musician. But bands are extremely difficult to maintain. So, if I want to achieve a higher profile, I’ll have to do it as a solo artist. When I put out Future Blues I got good reviews in all the guitar magazines. But the live music climate changed. Music doesn’t mean what it used to. People don’t support it like they once did, which is why I got more involved in producing. And I’m not someone who craves validation from people. I know what I can do.

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Are you still in touch with any of the guys from your old band? Would you work with them again?

The drummer, Ralph Gilmore, and I are still in touch. He played on Future Blues. Yes, I would work with Ralph again. He and I have played thousands of gigs together over the years. The keyboard player, Charles Judge, is working with all the big names in Nashville now. But he was jealous of me.

Why?
Because a fucking piano player can’t compete with a guitar player.

Oooh, can I publish that?
Sure, you can publish it. It’s true! I was always Charley’s biggest fan. He was the one with the problem. He can be a condescending fuck.

Hmm, I don’t like condescending fucks.
Me either. I eat them for breakfast now. I learned not to let them get away with that shit.

How do you feel about getting older in this industry? I mean the goddamn physical aches and pains of getting older versus the emotional and mental freedom and wisdom that come along with it? How does that affect the way you produce music, or play it?
Getting older hasn’t had much of an effect on me as a producer. There aren’t any physical limitations, yet. The good thing about it is that I play with more feeling, and more economically, rather than trying to play too fast with a constant stream of notes. Young players haven’t developed an appreciation for space in music. They overplay – and I did too, especially in my teens and 20’s. So the energy level has changed and I take a more thoughtful approach, which is a definite improvement.

But, what’s even more important is to explore new things, with a childlike curiosity. Experiment. And be fearless and take chances. Aging can soften you, and I personally don’t ever want to succumb to that.

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OK, this photo’s a private joke but it’s pretty fucking cool, am I right?  Just like Terry Oubre.  Also, I think he should use it as the cover art for his next album.  What do you guys think?

 

Ejo #98 – Drunk In….. Colombo

Last week David and I popped over to Sri Lanka for three days.  Yup.  We popped over.   I know, I know – don’t hate.  Look, Emirates Airline was having an amazing sale, so it was cheap to get there.  I’m talking dirt cheap.  And in terms of flight time, it’s not much further than flying from Melbourne to Cairns.  So why wouldn’t we go?  Sadly we didn’t have enough time to explore the amazing beaches and mountains of the country (which just means we’ll have to go back another time).   But we did manage to do a lotta eatin’ and a lotta drinkin’.  Coz you know that’s our specialty!

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So when we travel somewhere, we want to eat the food of that particular place. For instance, I would never go to Japan and eat Italian. That just doesn’t make sense to me, especially when there is so much amazing local stuff on offer. So the first station on our whistle-stop tour of Colombo was a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant called Nuga Gama at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Actually Nuga Gama was the second stop. The first was the Lagoon bar at the hotel, where we hydrated with a Seabreeze (for David) and a Salty Dog (for me).

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A Salty Dog for a salty lady, at Lagoon Bar.

Ready for dinner, we headed to Nuga Gama, where we were greeted by staff dressed in traditional village outfits who just went ahead and painted ceremonial red dots on our foreheads. Turns out they were having a Jaffna Festival!! How lucky are we!?

So, Jaffna is a city in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka, known for its traditional Tamil cuisine.  And let me tell you, it’s bloody delicious.  We felt so incredibly fortunate to experience this amazing celebration of a region we’d never even heard of before that night.  We ate egg hoppers (check out the slideshow below of how a hopper is made), we ate curries, we ate breads, we ate traditional seafood soup (called Jaffna Kool), we ate ten different types of sambol (mmmmm, sambol).  And of course we drank.  We were offered two typical Jaffna choices – a sickly sweet, viscous rosé wine or arrack, which is a spirit distilled from the sap of the palmyrha palm tree (think coconut flavour, without the sweetness).  We went with the arrack.  It’s 60 proof, and it goes down easy, so the choice was a total no-brainer.  The rest of the night went by in a swirl of food, arrack and trippy dance performances.  It was a total blast and a wonderful introduction to Colombo, and Sri Lanka.

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Getting into the Jaffna spirit!  In more ways than one.  😉

 

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We were offered cutlery, but chose to eat the traditional way, with our fingers.  It’s the only way to go kids.

 

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I’d like to say we finished this whole bottle of arrack in one night, but alas we did not.  We must be getting old, or wise, or something.

 

Jaffna Kool – an amazing soup made with seafood and palmyrha flour.

 

Ceremonial Jaffna dance (either that or someone slipped us a mickey!!)

INFO:
77 Galle Road, Colombo 03
+94 112 437 437
Lunch: 1200-1430
Dinner: 1900-2230
CLICK FOR MAP

 

MINISTRY OF CRAB

Ministry Of Crab does what it says on the box.  Crabs.  And lots of them.  In all sorts of different sizes, and all sorts of different cooking methods and sauces.  And they’re super fresh and super delicious!!!  Even better, they are sustainably fished so you can enjoy them totally guilt-free.  We arrived about ten minutes early for our reservation so we went across the street to the Taphouse for a couple of ice-cold local Lion beers.  Perfect start to the meal.

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Pre-lunch local beers at The Taphouse, right next door to Ministry of Crab.  

 

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David ordered the specialty Sri Lankan pepper crab.  So much peppery goodness. 

 

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I went with butter sauce on the side.  My doctor would probably not be very happy with that choice, but my tastebuds surely were!

 

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Thank god for bibs!!  Crabs are messy bastards to eat.  But totally worth the stains.  

INFO:
No 04, Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo 01
+94 112 342 722
Lunch: 1130-1530
Dinner: 1700-2300
CLICK FOR MAP

 

“EAT, EAT REPEAT” BY COLOMBO URBAN ADVENTURES

We don’t normally do tours when we travel.  Of any sort.  But since we had such a short time in the city, and since we wanted to eat as much local food as possible, and since the tour was called “Eat, Eat, Repeat” we figured it’d be worth a shot.  And it totally was.  Unfortunately, because I was constantly stuffing food in my mouth my fingers were always smeared with delicious food, so I didn’t really get a chance to take too many photos.  But trust me, if you want to sample Colombo’s finest street foods then you should definitely do this three hour walking tour of the city.  We ate fried pastries, nuts, pickles, lentil cakes with prawns, porridge, ginger tea, hoppers, paratha and kottu roti (a delightful blend of veggies and chopped up roti bread).  We also got the chance to walk through Pettah vegetable market which was a wonderfully riotous attack on all the senses.

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+94 76 831 6000
info@colombourbanadventures.com

 

THE MANGO TREE & THE BERLIN SKY LOUNGE

While the Eat, Eat, Repeat tour introduced us to many of Colombo’s yummy treats, most street vendors in Colombo are Muslim, and so there was no alcohol involved (just one cheeky beer, dodgily wrapped in a white paper bag at the end of the tour).  So once we were done, David and I went off in search of cocktails.  Thanks to Google Maps we found The Mango Tree and The Berlin Sky Lounge close by.  The Cosmopolitans were huge, strong and very tasty!

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UPALI’S BY NAWALOKA

In our tireless search for quintessential Sri Lankan food, we booked lunch at Upali’s, a very popular restaurant in town.  We were taken to our table by the owner, who picked up on our Australian accents and asked us if we’d been to the sister restaurant in Melbourne, which as it turns out, is about a two minute drive from my Mum’s house!  It’s a small world, people!  We’ll definitely have to try it next time we’re in Melbourne and see if the quality of food is as good as the Colombo branch.  Lamentably, as seems to be the case in a lot of yummy eateries in the city, Upali’s doesn’t serve booze – the Melbourne restaurant bloody better!!  😉

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In the absence of beer, a crisp ice-coffee hit the spot while we waited for our food.  Sparkling water sufficed for the rest of the meal.  

 

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We ordered a crab pancake, paratha with chicken curry, fried rice and fish head soup.  Mmmmmmm, all the flavours were amazing.  My mouth is watering just looking at that fish head!!!  

INFO:
65 C.W.W. Kannangara Mawatha, Colombo 07
+94 112 695 812
Mon-Thur: 1130-2230
Fri-Sat: 1130-2330
CLICK FOR MAP

 

CARNIVAL ICE-CREAM

Colombo was hot.  Stinky, sweaty hot.  And when it’s hot, and I can’t find a beer to save my life, I turn to ice-cream.

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INFO:
263, Galle Road, Colombo – 03
+94 11 5 346139
Hours: 1000-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

CAFÉ FRANÇAIS

So, as I’ve already implied, we would never EAT at a French café in Sri Lanka.  But nothing’s going to stop us from DRINKING there.  We turned up to this French bistro at about 1.56pm and asked if they were serving drinks.  The two barmen looked at each other, then they looked at their watches, and then they looked at each other again and said, “Of course, take a seat at the bar – but we have to stop serving at 2pm”.  Legends!!  Turns out there’s a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol between the hours of 2pm to 5pm.  We snuck in a couple of Negronis, tipped the barmen handsomely, and then walked home for a lovely afternoon nap.  Coz that’s just how we roll.

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48 Park St, Colombo 07
+94 114 502 602
Tue-Sun: 1000-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

TRAVELLER’S BAR & SEASPRAY AT GALLE FACE HOTEL

OK, so, I have to admit I don’t like eating or drinking at fancy places anymore.  I like to keep things real.  I like to keep things authentic.  Genuine.  Down and dirty, even.  But sometimes, keeping it real means embracing history.  And Colombo’s history is steeped in colonialism.  There’s no getting away from that.  The Portuguese, the Dutch, and most recently the British have all put their stamp on Colombo and, despite how I might feel about that, it has become an indelible part of the city and its history.  And so, it was that we found ourselves at Galle Face Hotel on the last night of our trip, having sundowners at Traveller’s Bar.  And, check this out!  At sunset, a Sri Lankan man with lovely legs wearing a rather short kilt played bagpipes while another dude lowered the flag out the front of the hotel.  Talk about a flamboyant (and not a little bit ostentatious) mixing of the cultures.

 

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Cocktail Round #1 (the one in front was made with my new favourite booze – arrack!!!)

 

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Cocktail Round #2 – A sangria thingy and a minty thingy.  

 

IMG_4488Cocktail Round #3 – a couple of pink grapefruit numbers.  David had the negroni and I had the margarita.  Most refreshing.  

 

We had initially just planned to go to the hotel for drinks but we were lured by Seaspray restaurant advertising “a traditional Sri Lankan seafood experience, crafted entirely from fresh seasonal Island produce and coastal seafood”.  Hard to say no to that.  So we had drinks and dinner (and then drinks again) at the hotel.  It was pretty nice.  I’d recommend it.

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The menu at Seaspray.  You can mix and match, but their recommendations of cooking style and sauce with the featured seafood is pretty spot on.  And the seafood itself?  Super fresh goodness.  I don’t know how, but we managed to score a table right on the beach, and we literally got misted with seaspray.  It was pretty fucking romantic. 

 

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Whitebait with fresh lime and chilli salt (and the ubiquitous and delicious curry leaves).

 

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The most tender salt and pepper cuttlefish you’ve ever eaten in your life.

 

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Condiments.  

 

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The pièce de résistance, local fresh rock lobster.  YUM!

INFO:
2 Galle Road,Colombo 3
+94 11 254 1010
TRAVELLER’S BAR
1000-0000
SEASPRAY
Lunch: 1130-1430
Drinks: 1700-2230
Dinner: 1900-2230
CLICK FOR MAP

 

Ejo #97 – I Am Not A Runner

I am not a runner.  I do not gracefully traverse this earth.  Rather, I lope across it like a teenage elephant.  I am not even built to be a runner, in case you hadn’t noticed.  I am not exactly in possession of a lithe form, designed to cut through the air like a blade.  Rather my big bones and big boobs keep me in pretty close proximity to the ground at all times – no prancing around the running track for me (again, it tends to be more of a loping action).  I am not a runner, and yet, I run.  What the hell is that all about?

Despite not being a runner, I’ve tried to run my whole life.  A couple of times I even got pretty good at it, running 5km comfortably, without stopping.  This might not sound like much to you, but that’s my personal best, right there.  I’m not even going to talk to you about “times”, because who gives a shit how long it takes me to run it.  I’m just flabbergasted and amazed whenever I’m able to do it at all.  Because, don’t forget, I am not a runner.  A few years ago, I tried to rise above my station and started training towards 10km.  I injured myself on the third day and didn’t run for months afterwards.  I now happily accept that 5km is my limit.  And I’m OK with that.

Until recently, I hadn’t run in a very long time.  Last year was not a good year for my body.  I suffered intermittent lower back pain, piriformis syndrome (butt cheek pain) and totally fucked up hip flexors.  My entire pelvic area was a mess.  And on top of that, in January 2017, I had a bit of a skiing mishap and tore a couple of ligaments in my left knee pretty darn good.  It took six months for me just to be able to walk any distance without limping.   Running was completely out of the question.  And by the time all my hard work and physio started paying off, and my knee was in good enough shape to run, it was the middle of summer and the idea of running in 47°C sort of made me want to vomit.  And then, when the weather started cooling down, I was so goddamn unfit from the lack of exercise all year that the idea of running made me want to vomit even more.  I was so unfit, that walking just 100 metres left me short of breath.  I was a disgrace.

So when we got back from our trip to Australia in early December last year, I made the decision to start exercising again.  We are lucky enough to have a 2.7km running track out the back of our apartment building and I was planning on just starting off with some gentle walking.  You know, just ease on into it.  But then I saw an advertisement for the 2018 Dubai Marathon and noticed that they also had a 4km Fun Run event.  I signed up before I even had time to think about it.  And certainly before I had time to change my mind.  The next day, I started running.  It was 5th December 2017.

Ostensibly I had 52 days to train up from zero to four kilometres.  In reality I had a very busy work roster, a four day trip to Bangkok and a sixteen day trip to Japan to work around.  In the two months between signing up and actually running the race, I was only able to do eleven days of an eight week interval training programme.  Not a very auspicious lead up.  But still, I was determined.  And two days before the race I actually ran my first 3km without stopping.  Yay!  I was good to go!

So, on Friday, 26th January 2018 I took part in the Standard Chartered 2018 Dubai Marathon.  I ran the 4km Fun Run, stopping only twice.  Once to ask a distressed looking kid by the side of the road if he was OK (he was fine, just freaking out about losing his headphones), and then again with about a kilometre to go, in order to stretch my lower back for about 15 seconds.  I didn’t want to stop, but I figured that stopping to stretch and being able to finish without an injury would be better than powering through and fucking up my back even more.  I do not need to be an overachiever.  😉

Here are some photos of the day.

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A quiet spot to calm my pre-race nerves.

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Heading towards the starting line.

 

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I was…. so excited when the race buzzer went off.  What better song to play.  The rest of the race was brought to you courtesy of the album “Rising” by the 70s metal band Rainbow.

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Um…. OK.  I hope she didn’t beat me.

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Alrighty, then!

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The face of a non-runner who has just finished a 4km run in 27°C heat.

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Yep, I’ll take one of those please.

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Man, this baby went down a real treat.  Soooooo good.

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Can you tell I’m feeling pretty proud of myself?  🙂