A number of people I interact with do not understand my passion for running.
Saying I am not any good at running is a gross understatement; I am a terrible runner! I was never a sporty person at school ( I played badminton for 2 years 😀 ). I did not exercise at all in my early and mid twenties, and only started running seriously in 2012 after recovering from a grenade incident where I almost lost my legs. By recovering I don’t mean full healing. Recovery for me means near constant pain (even when not running), shrapnel in my legs which I usually can feel very acutely after about 10km of running, malformed bones (my fracture was extensive so near my ankle, the two bones fused into one when healing), terrible knees, painful muscles because of tissue injury, etc. Basically if you were to pick a running candidate, I’d be the worst.
To make matters worse, I am not getting particularly good at running with time. Ok, maybe I am, but the fact that sometimes I run very slowly because I “feel like it” means I am not as good as I could be. And it doesn’t bother me one bit. For the Kampala Half-Marathon I had a 2;40 time to beat. I however finished 10 minutes later than my previous best time because for about 30 minutes I ran with this man who was running his first half marathon and needed encouragement. After investing training time and money to travel to Kampala, one would expect that I would feel bad about slowing down. I didn’t. I was happy I finished yet another half-marathon, and the route was fantastic! Many hills but fantastic.
On my way back to Nairobi, I had 5 minute chat with a random attendant at the Entebbe Airport, trying to explain to him why I flew to Kampala, to run a marathon, that I knew I wasn’t going to win. I have had similar conversations around, and most rational people usually recommend that I take up lower impact fitness methods, and the irrational tell me I don’t need to exercise at all, since I am genetically slim. So why run?
I have many reasons why I started running, but what keeps me running is the fact that distance running reminds me of a deep life lesson about life and competing: “There is room at the finish line for all of us”.
In the highly competitive environment we grow up in, it is easy to get sucked into the mindset that there always has to be winners and losers, and your sole purpose in life is to win. Joshua Becker writes about how running a marathon taught him that a successful life is about encouragement, not winning. In summary:
- There is room at the finish line for everyone. Running a marathon is often an encouragement oriented affair. You have crowds who do not know you cheering you from the sidelines. That amazes me! People leave their houses at 6am, to line the streets and cheer people they don’t know. In Nairobi, the crowds are not as impressive, but running the Moshi Half Marathon last year, I was amazed that there were singing crowds all through! Marathoners also encourage each other throughout. When you feel like you’re running out of steam, there’s always someone to encourage you to keep going strong. The aim is to help each other finish well. When I started running with the Urban Swaras, I was really terrible at it! Like really terrible. I didn’t understand why a good runner would want to slow down to run (and even walk) with me. A lot of times I would feel guilty, and was even tempted to leave the club because I felt I was holding people back. Now I understand that it is not about finishing well alone. There is joy in finishing strong together.
- Competition is based on a false premise: that the size of the pie is limited and for that reason success in someone else’s life means less success for me. This leads to practices like undercutting, and putting others down, in the belief that when we blow other candles off, ours will shine brighter. People who live well are good at helping others. They’re successful because they have helped others become successful.
To conclude, I share a comment on Joshua’s article:
My life became a lot better once I realised that being the best “one” has a limited life span. Whereas becoming the “best you can be” is a constant enjoyment of overcoming challenges and looking for new ones to aspire to.
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