REVIEW: A new religious cult for Thai middle-class?

Kamin Kamani (คามิน คมนีย์). เย็นวันเสาร์-เช้าวันอาทิตย์ (The Sunday Morning Club)
Bangkok: Amarin Publishing, 2004 (1st edition); Banbook Publishing, 2014 (2nd edition).

Kamin Kamani (คามิน คมนีย์). หัว*ใจ*เท้า (Head, Heart and Feet)
Bangkok: Banbook Publishing, 2014.

As symptoms of determination, disciplines, and somehow addiction, running has become a routine for certain people. Like a determined religious person who prays and meditates daily, they do running everyday or as much as they can find time. Indeed, running is simple to do, no complicated steps and sport gears to use. But it is difficult to achieve over distance if one’s physical condition and mindset is not ready. Many runners may confirm that ‘running’ is a work of mind to overcome their limitations while also a self-discovery. It is true that many runners are motivated by something internal to enlighten themselves, finding their ‘nirvana’ on their own way of running.

Running, however, becomes more challenging when it turns to be a full-marathon, a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 km. It is the ultimate test of determination and physical endurance for runners, resulting from a dedication of training. Besides a full-marathon race, long-distance running race includes 5 km or fun-run, 10 km or mini-marathon, 16 km or super mini-marathon, and 21.1 km or half-marathon. Moreover, there are special events of running race such as fancy running like maratoonz for kids, charity run, color run, or ghost-run. Many attractive running races are also created to attract sporties whose interest to be more extreme, such as in a gravity-run, running trail or even adventure run.

Unlike the marathon of ancient Greek to deliver momentous message of victory in a battle, modern marathon is a running race. Major marathon races appear in major cities of the world, including in the globalizing Southeast Asian cities like in Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok. Similarly to other big cities,. In Bangkok, there are several race events organizing on every Sunday early morning by different themes and organizers that draw thousands and more of runners to the race each time, becoming a new fest of urbanized life style every weekend. Apparently, running becomes a new lifestyle of Thais middle-class in Bangkok and main cities in Thailand for those who concern on healthy, and as a plus, to fit in a new social trend.

Running has became a habit of the town among the middle-class. People come out early in the morning or in the evening to jog around the city park, regularly with their smart and colorful outfits and music earphones – a common currency to show one’s urban-chic sportiness. In this social trend, there is an increasing number of ‘runner’ and ‘runny’, people who want to run, participate in events organized every Sunday morning. Many of them are serious and professional runners while others are just social media runny, running to post on Facebook to be able to say ‘be there, done that’.

Head, Heart & Feet

It is in this context that we are now witnessing an increasing number of popular books on running. As books can inspire people from times to times, books about running also motivate people who choose to be a runner both as hobby and profession. In the Thai context, runners often mention a set of two books that share running thoughts and experiences, written by Kamin Kamani, an awarded winner writer and a marathoner. Kamin also has several pieces of writings – both fiction and non- fiction.

The Sunday Morning Club was designed to consist of two sections: a first-half and a second-half – similar like a timing of any sport games. Kamin starts with the reasons why he becomes a runner after he resigned from his full-time job. He confesses that at first he wanted to be a novelist in the first hand but became a marathoner instead, then a writer. The first chapter tells about his first marathon race in Bangkok Marathon 2004 and the last chapter ends with a year later in Bangkok Marathon. Throughout this books with 26 chapters, Kamin shares his story about his plan of running, achieving of running performance, running icons, thoughts that he has gathered from running practices and races. Aside of that, of course lessons learn from his ambition, success, and failure that finally have enlightened him on self-discovery from his running achievement. Kamin admits that to have a living with no full-time job but instead running as a life-drive was not easy as he could not afford to have a sustainable life.. But inspiration to run is stronger than any living constraints. Thus, he believes that self-sacrifice has more value for the training of one’s body and mind to gain a better life’s perception with positive direction. The book receives Naiin Literature Award for best nonfiction in 2004 and with this, he started his life to become a full-time writer.

The Sunday Morning Club

Head, Heart & Feet is published in 2014, 10 years later after his first book. Kamin writes this book with a more humble character but deeper in thoughts. After a long absence from a marathon race due to physical issue of overtraining, unexpected weight gain, and changing life expectation, Kamin returns to run again. This time around with a different perspective of running. In this book, he shares the reason why he returns to run, that is because he simply enjoys running in long-distance, not fighting for personal best record with aggressive passion and high ambitions anymore nor searching data to write a new book. With this simple reason of happiness to do things, Kamin finds a balanced living for body and mind, and in that he shares all experience of a new self-discovery. He is a reborn runner.

Kamin’s duology books are in fact his memoir on pathway to the running world, expression of his thoughts and feelings, his marathon race experiences, and sharing a story of life balancing of body, mind, and soul. It is a story of passions, perceptions and prevail of self-determination and discovery through a simple happiness of running. These two books are well-known among Thai readers, runners, and wannabe runners, especially the middle-class, who are looking for motivation to overcome life constraints through running philosophy and races. They can relate their own experiences in the book as they are looking for someone who can publicly share experiences in the same given world. This also includes those who are looking for an icon, a cult, a prophet to follow for their self-development. Has running became a cult with the runners as a pilgrim?

Reviewed by Kannapa Pongponrat
Ph.D. (Thammasat University, Thailand)

Issue 17, Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, March 2015

Runners at the Standard Charter Bangkok Marathon, November 2013 at Banglumphoo, Bangkok Thailand.