Running connects people
When the girls and I were traveling I stopped running. I missed it. Every time we were leaving Oman, I packed my running clothes, but each time Nick came to visit us on our travels, I gave them to him to take home because I hadn’t used them. I wanted to run so many times but the idea of leaving the girls on their own in a hotel room so that I could disappear felt irresponsible. Whenever I felt the urge to go for a run, the guilty part of my brain would start showing me horror movies of road accidents, or back alley rapes set against scenes of my girls worried and alone as the time for my return expired and overran. I don’t normally have such dark visions, but when we travel, of course some extra sensibility for safety clicks in, and so the running doesn’t happen.
There is no better way to get to know a place than to run through it, with no plan, no agenda just to run. And whenever I can and I’m not too lazy, I do just that. Two years ago I was in Zanzibar alone to meet a friend, and as I had woken up at six, I just pulled on some clothes, shoes, sunglasses and earphones and I was gone. My head was clear and I could explore both the island and my own thoughts. If I run with music rather than an audiobook, then running is the perfect theatre for my private thinking, planning time.
I remember that run very clearly, first the beach, then on a red earth road, I remember the poor-looking women in colourful dresses with yellow water canisters on their heads. They were barefoot, or in flip flops. I wanted to stop and take pictures of them, but I was too shy. Or rather, it was I who was the spectacle. The women and their children laughed at the strange blue shiny Lycra blonde running through their fields in her Five Finger shoes. I must say every time I passed a group of people I found myself making an effort not look like a lost woman in need of help and water. I ran thirteen kilometres that morning, and I loved it every step of it.
And so now I have signed up for the Muscat Marathon – though only for 10k. After two years without regular running and only one month for preparation I thought a little discretion was needed.
The Muscat Marathon organisers have arranged free Saturday morning training sessions. I’m not a fan of group exercise, or rather, I actually dread that kind of interaction. I prefer solitude while running, but because I had also signed the girls up for the children’s race, I decided to attend the training session so the girls will meet other participants.
We went for the first session. My girls attended the children’s group and I went to do warm ups with adults.
We started running. Fast runners at the front – the 5minute kilometre bunch, and the slower ones were placed behind. I put myself closer to the rear. After a while I saw in front of me an older man with a white beard and I thought “If he can run so fast, so can I.”
So I put myself about 100 metres behind him and let him pace me. I didn’t want to be too close to him – I was using him without permission – and it felt like we were worlds apart. I was in thigh length skin tight coloured running shorts and he was in an old dark floppy track suit and white wooly beard. I guessed that he must be one of the devout Muslims who won’t allow their hands to touch those of a female or sometimes won’t even talk to her . . . So why get into all that awkwardness? Gosh, he was running well. Not very well but fast enough to make me sweat and and forcing me to push myself to keep up with him.
We finished our 6km practice run and I approached him, “Thank you very much for motivating me. I was trying to keep up with your pace.”
He looked me with surprise in his eyes – I guessed this was an unspoken “Why are you bothering me, woman?” But he said “You’re welcome, though I didn’t see you.”
I told him that I had kept behind him, and while others were running erratically, I had enjoyed his even pace which had motivated me; and I thanked him.
Next Saturday I didn’t notice my “motivator” in the pre run warm up. I put in my earphones (this time I was ready) and started on the track. After a couple of hundred metres I saw him next to me. He ran at my pace for a while and then gradually started to run faster. I kept with him and we started to overtake other runners though still some were overtaking us. We ran together, uphill and downhill pace for pace, shoulder to shoulder. There was a moment about three quarters of the way around when he indicated to slow down. I was ok with that – according to my Nike running app we were well inside 6 minutes per kilometre and I didn’t mind slowing down. It was kind of pleasing that it wasn’t my idea.
After the run he came over thanked me for helping him to run faster and I replied, “No, Thank you.”
And I went to girls he went to his male friends. And I felt that running connects people. Normally this man and I wouldn’t have shared anything other than a word acknowledging our existence. Now we were running pals and he made me run faster.
We did run together two more times every time faster. Race is this Friday.