How running helped change Sam Cowan’s lifestyle
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. Not too long to go now to the 2016 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, everyone gearing up and getting ready. Someone who is also in the middle of training for the half marathon this year, although she’s struggling with a bit of flu at the moment, not the best of times to come down with flu, is Talk Radio 702 and Cape Talk, Sam Cowen. Sam, welcome onto the podcast, thanks for joining us today.
Samantha Cowen: Thank you Brad and you’re right, worst time in the world to get flu. I think the only worse time actually would be two weeks before.
BB: I was going to say, race week is probably the worst, but this isn’t a great time. Sam, we worked together, just to give you a bit of background, many years ago on 94.7 Highveld Stereo. I’ll be the first one to admit it, both of us would have been champion couch potatoes back then, how things have changed.
How Sam got into running
SC: Brad, we weren’t couch potatoes, I mean the two of us used to look at each other and go, at some point we one day will. You started it, you kick started it hugely with your running. You were a great inspiration for me as well.
I think I’d got to a point in my life where I just kept thinking, Sam, you’ve now been on a diet for over half your life, do you want to spend the rest of your life like that? I realised that I didn’t, I really didn’t. Diets are boring, you see-saw up, you see-saw down.
Eventually I thought, then, if I want to carry on losing weight and dieting is just boring, then I’d rather do it for something. I started with little swims and little runs. If you’d ever told that long ago I’d be training for half marathons and that this wouldn’t be my first, I think I’d have laughed at you and offered you some chocolate.
BB: Sam, it’s incredible what you’ve done, you talk about dieting and funnily enough, my journey is almost exactly the same. But you’ve lost an incredible amount of weight on this journey and it hasn’t been by following a diet, it’s by really changing your lifestyle. How much have you lost in total now?
Running has helped shed big weight
SC: At my biggest I was 102kg and I was fat. People get cross when you use the word ‘fat’ they say no, you were overweight. I go no, I was fat. I think a lot of my problem was that I didn’t admit it at the time. I’ve lost 40kg. Which is now, I’ve lost the equivalent of my son who is now 12, to put that in context. You’re absolutely right, it wasn’t from a diet. What I realised was the more I trained, the more I loved training and the more I tailored my eating to make my eating better.
For example, I knew if I was going to do a four hour session in the pool, to go and eat fast food or a cake beforehand, as much as I love cake and I will never not love cake, it was going to give me a terrible session. The first half hour I’d be fantastic and the last hour I’d be begging for mercy. It was almost as though the running and the swimming pulled me along into eating correctly, it wasn’t the other way around at all.
BB: Let’s just get this straight here, it’s not 14, it’s 40kg that you’ve lost, that’s two of the Jonas brothers!
Running has been combined with a love for swimming
BB: Sam, that’s incredible, I’m so proud of you, that is phenomenal what you’ve done. We’re here to talk about the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon, but swimming has become a huge part of your life as well. Not just let’s go down to our local gym and bomb out 10 lengths, you’re doing some really long ultra swim stuff. You’ve done the Robben Island crossing, you’re doing some really cool stuff in the water.
SC: I love it, it’s my first love and I’ll often say, ‘I could run today, but I could swim forever’. The reason I love swimming so much is when you are overweight, and I had never treated my body very well, but one exercise you can do if you want to get fit and quite quickly too is swimming.
There’s so little impact on your body and as much as I like running, my body takes a pacing. Your knees can hurt, you’ve got to be very careful. Whereas swimming you can just get into the water and give it as much as you can. When I first started swimming I would swim five lengths and then I’d pretend I was drinking water and checking the time on the pool clock, but actually I was just dying. Now a typical session is between 120-160 lengths.
I’ll make you laugh, in terms of weight, as much as I’ve lost 40kg and I have, before a big swim, I deliberately put on at least five. Because I find in the water, the skinnier you are, the harder it is swimming in the Cape sea, and the Cape sea is just the sun, the moon and the stars. To swim in the Cape is just the most incredible experience. I think it’s the closest you get to God in that water, it’s just exquisite, but that cold. So yes, big swim, 5kg.
The majesty of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon
BB: That’s incredible. Sam, running in the Cape is not far behind either, it is magnificently beautiful down in Cape Town and you’re readying yourself for another Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon, how many have you done now?
SC: I’ve now done two, I had to pull out of the one last year for injury, which broke my heart because it really is the most beautiful half marathon. I know they say it’s the most beautiful marathon, but that’s just 30 odd kilometres is a bit far for my brain to handle.
But that 21km at sea level, to run past Kirstenbosch, even the university, everywhere is beautiful. There’s not one part of that route that isn’t amazing. People say to me, what kind of time are you hoping to do and I’m going to disappoint you terribly Brad and say, I look for a finish because I don’t run fast.
I never will. I don’t swim fast either, at all, but I just love the journey, I really do. In terms of those things, with any endurance sport, I think, it’s not about the finish unless you are competitive, for me it’s entirely the journey. So, spending three hours on the road is an absolutely joy, except – EXCEPT – Southern Cross Drive, that’s not a joy!
BB: Sam, if it makes you feel any better, one of my big running mantras and saying is: there’s no hill that’s never been walked up and I live and die by that. Don’t feel bad about walking up Southern Cross Drive, you won’t be the first and you definitely won’t be the last!
SC: And it won’t be the last time I do it this year either, I’ll be doing it next year and the year after and the year after that.
We are living in a more fitness conscious world
BB: Exactly! Sam, I find it really fascinating, just the change in lifestyle from the life you were leading, as on Jo’burg’s biggest Breakfast Show, to this healthy new fit you and it’s not just Samantha Cowen. If I look at the radio landscape, when we both first started our career and you think of the typical radio jock, it was this coffee drinking, cigarette smoking and there’s stories abound of presenters sitting in the studio having a cigarette. We’ve all seen it.
It’s all changed and if you look at the radio landscape now and you look at the likes of Ryan O’Connor who is KFM’s breakfast jockey, he’s really fit, you look at Redi Thlabi who you work with at Talk Radio 702 and Cape Talk, you look at somebody like Aki Anastasiou, the traffic guy who we’ve spoken to on this podcast. I mean Aki is running, what is this world coming to?
SC: You know, I think we’re all of a similar age and I think we all got to a point in our lives, and I really believe this, where you look around and you go, I’m on my way downhill, physically. When you wake up in the morning and you’ve got to kind of ease off the edge of the bed cause your hip is hurting. Or you run after your kids to play a game of touch rugby, or in our case touch soccer cause I ain’t touching that sport, and you’re out of breath within 5-6 minutes. You realise that life is going to pass you by and however much you love series and I’m a complete TV addict from that perspective, there’s not ever going to be enough series to make up for the fact that there’s a world out there and you’re not in it.
There’s only so many hours you can sit in the shopping mall and so many times you can go past a shop and wander through and think, one day, one day, I’ll wear these clothes. Then realise it’s actually not what you care about. I never dreamt I’d be excited every time I saw a new pair of Adidas or ASICS takkies come out cause they’re the only ones that my feet fit. I never dreamt I would get to a point where I was like oooh, those are something I must try.
Yet we’re all at that point, I think, where we’re realising, at the risk of sounding terrible cliché, that 40 is the new 30 if you want it to be. Instead of trading our dreams for reality, a lot of us are trading our reality for dreams.
The things we didn’t do because we were so busy building careers and family and security. It’s great to have those things, but what are you going to do with the rest of your life once your kids are in school, once you’ve driven to work, once you’ve paid off your bond, what do you do? Sit on the couch and feel sorry for yourself?
In fact, when I first started training, I trained with Lisa Rally who at that stage was the coach at The Biggest Loser, that ETV ran. She has gone from strength to strength, as a wellness expert because she is very hardcore and she’s lovely and caring, but she can really sock it to you.
When I started training with her I said, Lisa, what are we going to do and she gave me the diet. Brad, I’d done so many, it really wasn’t that much of a surprise, but then she said: I need you to do 20 minutes exercise a day. I said: Lisa, I don’t have 20 minutes, I have kids and a job and a life and she looked at me, she let me go on and she kept nodding and she went: Okay Sam, how many minutes a day do you think you sit on the couch eating chocolate and feeling sorry for yourself?
It took my breath away and I looked at her and I said, probably about 20 minutes and she goes: right, let’s use that 20 and she was so right. She was so right. We don’t realise how much time we waste and how much we have left, we don’t know. I laugh now, when I think I spent 20 minutes getting to the pool, I spent an hour and a half to two hours in the pool, I leave, I spend 20 minutes going home, I do not consider that time taken away. I will get up at 4:30 or 5:00 to get to that pool so I can do what I want to do in the water and it is never a chore.
You can start small, but start!
BB: The truth of the matter is, you don’t have to be putting in that amount of training. You mentioned the 20 minutes that Lisa mentioned to you, that’s all it takes to get going. That’s what I love about it as well and I’m sure you do too.
SC: Brad, I’ll tell you, when I did the Robben Island swim, a lady emailed me and she said: I now feel like I need to tell you a story of me. I said okay, people do send you congratulations or ‘oh you’re crazy’ emails and this was such a good story. She was very overweight after her babies and she’d kind of given up on life.
She hadn’t seen any pictures of me until this Robben Island swim and she said, she went straight after she read the article and she got an old pedometer out of her drawer. She said, if you can go from being as fat as you were to doing this, I can walk 10 000 steps a day. She said, I’m writing to tell you this is my second week and I’m nearly up to 10 000 steps a day.
Brad, I burst into tears and it’s the same with running. People go, well you do a half marathon, they kind of cut you off as somebody who is desperately athletic or somebody who has got some kind of special talent and I don’t believe that’s true, I really don’t.
I believe if you set yourself a goal, those Park Runs are amazing for that. It’s 5km and you can walk every single step. I did a Valentines Run two weeks ago and people were there wearing their tutus as usual and their alice bands with the hearts on, and I had a bit of a knee injury at the time. It wasn’t a serious one, but it meant I had to walk.
I walked six of the 10km, I had as good a time as if I’d run the 10. There was no time for it, so when people say, oh, I can never do that, I go, yes, you could, if you want to. Go and do one of those things, find a Park Run, they’re all over the place. Go and walk 5km, it doesn’t matter when you get in, nobody is judging, nobody is judging, only you.
Weight loss changes the way you shop for cloths
BB: That’s so true that Sam, that you do, we’re all our own worst critic. Before we get onto one of the reasons why you’re running this year’s Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon as well, you mentioned clothes shopping and shoe shopping.
This is something that I absolutely loved on my journey as well. Tell me about shopping for a 60kg Sam Cowen as opposed to 100kg Sam Cowen, the options, that is in itself worth all the hard work that you’ve put into being able to shop for clothes at that size.
SC: Brad, I’ll take you from the sublime to the ridiculous. I used to be a 6.5 shoe and I went down a full shoe size, I didn’t even know that was possible. I Googled about it and apparently you can if you lose weight. I will never ever wear a big floral shirt over stretchy jeans again. I will never do that.
I will never wear flip flops because my feet hurt and of course they hurt because you’re putting so much pressure on them every time you move cause you’re carrying that. If you don’t think you are, go and add 10kg of sugar and carry that around.
If you can’t understand what 40kg extra feels like, go put 10-12kg of sugar in your handbag or in a kitbag and walk around with it and think wow, she did that to herself. Going and buying things where, buying belts Brad cause I’ve got a waist now, that’s very exciting.
Buying jeans that don’t necessarily stretch and when I use the word ‘necessarily’ that’s the operative word in that sentence is necessarily because if it didn’t stretch, I couldn’t wear it. Being able to wear stuff that tucks in, yes, I’ve had two kids, yes, my stomach is forever going to look like the Witwaterstrand Street Guide, but I don’t care.
I can wear the things I want to wear. I feel younger, I can do more. So I wear a lot more active wear, funnily enough and I’m a sneaker fiend, I really am. My son said to me, I’m supposed to have this thing for takkies and sneakers and I’m like, yeah, yeah, you’ll get there, get a salary first! It’s amazing, you know it’s amazing.
BB: Sam, for me, I’m not a huge, I’ve never been a massive clothes shopper but the biggest thing for me was to be able to walk into a shop and buy jeans. I love jeans and buy jeans that I actually liked, not necessarily just because they fitted me.
That for me was the biggest thing, going in and buying jeans that just looked good and amazing, they fit afterwards which is incredible. Sam, let’s talk about why you’re running, or one of the reasons why you’re running the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon? Old Mutual have a big drive to do these sort of events for More Than Yourself and you’re doing exactly that.
Two Oceans is about More Than Yourself
SC: Well, I’ve always gone the other way around and I’ll tell you, often for something like this, and you know yourself cause you’re in the industry and you’ve been kind of in the forefront of fitness for a long time. Often a charity will approach you and say: would you mind running for us or swimming for us.
I actually went to Pink Drive and said: Can I buy an entry and can I run for you. I’ve done a lot for Pink Drive, as much as I can over the years, but that’s become my charity of choice. The reason for that has been a very tragic one. My mom died in January last year and she was my best friend.
It was, without doubt, the worst day of my life and you know, when you’re young, you say, this was the worst day of my life because you failed an exam or a guy didn’t phone you, in your case a girl and you phoned and they maybe didn’t answer the call and you throw it out there as though it means nothing, but that day I really understood those words.
She had fought it so valiantly and so bravely and because so many people have breast cancer or have suffered or who know someone, as much as it’s prevalent, it’s almost become something that we take for granted that it’s going to happen and I had fallen into that category a little.
I just thought no, I don’t want to watch anybody else go through that, I don’t want to go through it, I don’t want my daughter to go through it. Wherever I can do something, wherever I can promote that cause and can appear and say, if it helps to say hi, here I am and I’ve been touched by this. I would like very much to bring awareness to it. I want to be there, I really do.
Brad, I’ll tell you something about Pink Drive. They did an advert, which I appeared in last year, for nobody else and this is now on record, would I have done anything in a swimming costume that involved a camera, for nobody else! There I am, in the advert, in my pink costume, smiling and laughing, praying that it’s a very short clip so you can’t see any of the other flaws and imperfections, so that’s how strongly I feel about it. That’s how passionate I am about it.
Pink Drive is about more than just charity
BB: Sam, it’s incredible. Obviously you know my journey as well and Pink Drive is something that’s very close to my heart too, also losing my mom to breast cancer in 2010. So I think what you’re doing is amazing and thank you. It’s a heartfelt thank you for someone who has seen someone suffer through it, who has been affected by it and what you’re doing for the cause is incredible. If people want to support you or find out more, is there anywhere they can go? Are you raising funds or is it mostly awareness, what’s the deal?
SC: It’s awareness, but pinkdrive.co.za or they’re more than welcome to email me at email@example.com and I will happily pass on banking details for the organisation, they do phenomenal work. I can’t say enough nice things about them, I can’t do enough nice things for them. As I say, anything, anyone related to breast cancer, the Pink Drive has had an enormous impact on me because they are so prevalent at athletic and sporting events and that’s where you and I fit in. Isn’t that weird but that’s where you and I fit in now as opposed to big and tall jeans and stretchy pants, we don’t fit those anymore!
BB: It’s crazy Sam, I’m having this moment where I’ve been thinking back to the mornings where I was working overnight on Highveld, you guys were coming in at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and how things have changed, man, it’s incredible.
BB: Samantha Cowen, it’s been awesome catching up once again, best of luck in the final build up. Get over that flu, get healthy and we look forward to seeing you on the start line, but most importantly, we look forward to seeing you at the finish of this years Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon.
SC: Absolutely and this time Brad, I shall definitely be looking for you and the two of us will do something crazy together. You know what we’re going to do? We’ll get a drink, a full fat Coke.
BB: I love it! Sam, thank you very much and look forward to catching up, take care.