Former Hilo resident, Karl Kunz, running well in Thailand
The following post was published in a local Thailand newspaper:
That a man joins 630 running races including 96 marathon distances (42 km or longer) would be enough to surprise anyone. However, it would be more intriguing and surprising to learn that he achieved that in the span of 20 years and that he started running at the age of 45.
“I quit playing basketball at the age of 45 and switched to running,” said the 65-year-old Karl Kunz who has been living in Thailand for more than four decades
Realizing that many older basketball players had injured knees, Karl stopped playing basketball and then took up running which he found a wonderful sport, requiring a healthy lifestyle and providing many intense challenges, physical and mental.
“I find that sweating every day helps flush toxins from the body,” said the American.
“However, running done inefficiently can damage the joints so avoiding injury is important.
Karl also recommended googling the Pose Method by Dr Romanov or Chi Running by Danny Dreyer.
Like many runners, Karl, who speaks Thai fluently, added that running opened up a whole new world of running friends and venues in every corner of Thailand, Asia and the U.S. Runners everywhere are very friendly, probably partly because of all the endorphins in the body at the end of a race. He loves keeping a race log, noting lessons learned, and also collecting photos to recall ambiance and friends.
“Running has indeed shown me that strangers everywhere in the world are just best friends I haven’t met yet.”
The most memorable for him was his 86th marathon in sunny Townsville, Australia.
“I had been trying for 15 years to master the marathon, tinkering with tactics and running form.” said he.
“My personal best of 3 hours 21 minutes had been set at age 47 but at age 62 in Townsville I ran 3:15 hrs.”
“That is equivalent to a 2:36 marathon for a young man.”
However, Karl recalled the bad time in Hawaii where he was forced to withdraw from a race. When he was 10 hours into a 100 km (a hundred) race, and reached the top of a mountain and started the long downhill, his new shoe inserts injured his foot and he could not take another step, even downhill.
“The lesson is ‘don’t do something new before a race’.”
Karl came to Thailand in 1969 as a volunteer in the American Peace Corps programme.
His work was promoting pigs and chickens in the villages in Buriram where he met his wife Noi. After two years as a volunteer, he worked in many diverse agricultural projects involving small farmers in every region of Thailand.
Karl said that the final L in his name is difficult to pronounce in Thai.
When he first came to Buriram, no one could speak English so his name was changed to be Karn. Now everyone just calls him Khun Karn.
Living for 42 years in Buriram, Karl has seen health awareness increase over the last decade among the northeastern people. For example, in the past many husbands did not really support their wives to join group aerobics, but now it is part of the culture.
Many communities have central, daily exercise venues that are quite popular. Buriram town is now completing an extensive central park around its ancient moat for walking, jogging and other exercise. Many road races are staged throughout the northeast, and in Buriram there are 3-4 road races every year.
He has himself organizes an annual race in Buriram to get people, especially young people, to enjoy the running.
“I want to them to see how much fun running can be”, said he.
“Running is just controlled falling, harvesting the free energy of gravity. Racing is just a child’s game that adults also enjoy.”
There are about 2,000 participants every year and the sixth annual run is set for Sunday, Feb 19, 2012. The event includes 3 km, 5 km and 10 km distances and also collects funds for small continuous scholarships to over 100 needy kids. For information google Wiwat Run.
Karl trains twice daily, at roughly 5 am and 5 pm, for an hour or so each session.
For him, that means twice a day he plants himself firmly in his body and takes a rest from thinking. This centers him in moment-to-moment mindfulness of body movement.
“I did not appreciate the benefits of this fully until I started doing vipassana meditation retreats in the Thai forest tradition. Meditation is a very similar activity”
“My wife Noi and I do the retreats together.”
“We used to race together too but she retired from racing but still jogs 5 km every morning.”
Karl still enjoys racing nowadays, running 2-3 races a month. However, to avoid burnout, he will take a break for a month or two every year. He hopes to be able to do continue for another 20 years and after that try something new.
“I plan to continue until I am 85 when I will take up swimming!”