Spierkater is a Dutch word for delayed onset muscle soreness. Its literal translation into English is muscle hangover.
Spierkater is written and drawn by Roger Overall. He hates it when people talk about themselves in the third person.
The book was a gift from Peter Jan, an old school friend in the Netherlands. He’s a runner. He said I should read it. I can’t remember why. Anyway, I ignored the book for a long time. It lay unloved in my office.
I’m hazy on why I eventually picked it up. But I’m very clear that it was a turning point in my life.
I’d run before, but it was never part of me. I used to run so I could enjoy the company of a great friend in England.
On Sunday mornings, we would run around Richmond Park and talk about food, travel and Frasier.
On Wednesdays, we would run at Twickenham Rowing Club. That was a hard run, let me tell you. Those rowers really went for it. The reward was good, though. They stocked Gambrinus and Staropramen at the club bar. Sitting out on the balcony in the summer evening sun after a run, drinking and chatting about this and that, is among my fondest memories.
I wouldn’t say I was a runner then, despite the regular running. I even ran a marathon, but it was bucket list stuff, rather than part of who I really was.
I moved to Ireland on Halloween 2003 and stopped running for over a decade. Without my running partner, I lacked the motivation and discipline.
I grew fat.
I became middle aged.
In early 2015, aged 47, I started running again. I can’t remember why. I ran a kilometre while walking the dog and didn’t die. We were both surprised. The dog may even have been disappointed. We have a complicated relationship, DunderDog and I.
I started swimming too.
The next bit is all jumbled up in my memory. But as far as I can tell, my friend Paul O’Mahony is at the root of what happened next. Which is no doubt a surprise to him because he isn’t the least interested in running. Nor is Chris Brogan, whom Paul introduced me to. Through Chris’s podcast, I learned about James Altucher. James isn’t a runner either. But Rich Roll is. He appeared on James’s podcast. (I listen to a lot of podcasts.) Rich is an ultra-endurance athlete and vegan. His story was very attractive, so I started listening to his podcast as well. That was the thin end of the wedge. James Lawrence appeared on Rich’s show to talk about his attempt at 50 Ironman-distance triathlons in 50 different US states in 50 days. Luke Tyburski was a guest too. He wanted to swim from Morocco to Spain, cycle through Spain to France and then run along the French coast to Monaco—2,000km, in 12 days.
I started thinking I could do a triathlon. The swimming was going well. So was the running. And with Dutch and British genes, how hard could the cycling be?
Round about that time, I uncovered the forgotten book in my office. The one my Dutch friend had given me. Born to Run.
By the time I had finished it, I knew that after I completed an Ironman-distance triathlon, I would run an ultra-marathon. Wouldn’t that look magnificent ticked off from the bucket list? Lookee me.
Since then, something has changed. I don’t want the bucket list anymore. I don’t want to dip in, claim a solitary boast and then leave.
I want to stay.
It's full of people who are challenging themselves to run, anything from 5km to ultra-marathons. That appeals to me more than I can put into words. Ultra-marathons in particular.
To be honest, I’ve become an ultra-marathon junkie, even though I haven’t run one.
So, almost by stealth, I have become a runner. A proper one, this time round. This time, running isn't in service of a short-term ambition. Rather, it’s one of the pillars on which I’m building my life.
Running brings me peace. Each run is a pocket of tranquility in an otherwise quite anxious life. Running also offers the certainty of accomplishment. If I do the work, I will achieve my goal. Running gives me a sense of control in a world that seems to have gone rogue.
My ambition is to complete a 100-mile race. I reckon I have until my 90th birthday to do so. UTMB or Western States, either will do me. I'm not fussy.
Please say hello on:
A gelatinous blob on a skateboard. That was the first cartoon I can remember drawing. I was very young. Eight years old, maybe. Nine at the most.
The blob was some kind of superhero, I think. It's difficult to remember now. Other than being able to ride a skateboard, I don't remember what superpowers he had.
I do remember that he was the main character in a weekly comic I had decided to produce every Saturday for my parents.
It lasted two issues.
Story of my life. Start things with enthusiasm and then taper off into oblivion.
The comics that made the greatest impression on me when I was young were the adventures of Tintin. The first album I ever got was The Black Island. I still have it, though it's in a pretty poor condition. Held together by determination more than physics. I think my mother bought it for me at an airport to keep me quiet. Maybe a ferry port. Later on, my stepfather bought me Asterix albums. I adored those too.
I moved from England to the Netherlands in early 1979 and was introduced to a much broader range of comics than I was used to in the UK. Comics were held in much higher regard on the continent. I was given a subscription to Eppo. Its range of styles was bewildering and utterly appealing to me as an 11-year-old.
From then on, I wanted to be a cartoonist. Throughout my early teenage years, I wrote and drew many comics. They ranged from short three-panel gags to pages-long adventure stories.
But how do you become a cartoonist? What's the career path? I didn't know and nor did anyone else I knew. It seemed very difficult.
My stepfather gave me a camera. A Canon AE-1. He was a keen photographer, with ambitions to go professional. He had a stack of Amateur Photographer magazines. Victor Blackman's column spoke to me like nothing else at the time. He was part photographer, part James Bond, it seemed to me.
I wanted that.
Around that time, I think, my father gave my sister a subscription to National Geographic. (I got Smithsonian magazine, which I never really cared for.) The National Geographic photographs sealed it. I abandoned the childish notion of cartooning. I would become a globe-trotting photojournalist instead. The camera-slung equivalent of my childhood hero, Tintin.
I had a cousin who had been accepted into the photographic academy in the Hague. Unlike cartooning, the career path into professional photography was clear to me. Get into the academy as well, just like my cousin. That's all I needed to do.
I didn't pass the selection process.
Worse, I didn't have a plan B. It hadn't occurred to me that I wouldn't be allowed in.
Worse still, the rejection knocked any faith in my ability to ever become a photographer clear out of me. That was in 1987. I didn't take another photograph until over a decade later.
After failing to get into the academy, I was all for a year on a kibbutz in Israel. My mother convinced me to go instead to the university in Nijmegen and study English. After a year, I switched to anthropology.
During my year in the English department, I drew some cartoons for the student magazine. Helped run it for a while. Was on the editorial team of the anthropology student's magazine as well.
After graduating, I moved to London (Richmond to be exact) and worked in maritime publishing. I learned to write and became captivated by sitcom. I wrote many, many scripts, but nothing progressed beyond meetings with young executives looking to find the UK equivalent of Friends.
While in lived in London, I drew some cartoons for a couple of shipping magazines.
By the turn of the century, I'd started taking photographs again. Initially, for my own articles in the shipping magazines I was editing. Later, for other people's magazines as well.
2003 was a big year. I moved to Ireland and set myself up as a professional photographer. Experience: zero. But by then, I'd come to realise that in the creative space, you are what you say you are. The market decides if you're good enough to make a living.
By 2016, I had come full circle. I'd taken up cartooning in my spare time. To give it direction, I decided to bind it to something else I'd rediscovered.
In 2017, Spierkater was born.
See a run you're doing too? Please say hello.
28th October, 2017—Hallow's Eve Trail Marathon, Foretrails Run Series, Vancouver, BC, Canada
9th December, 2017—Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon, Clonakilty, Co. Cork, Ireland