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The shared roads we travel

Runners from all walks of life get together every weekend to run and when they do, they become better humans. Peter John Moses considers how much better the country would be if we all ran a little.

Runners from all walks of life get together every weekend to run. They do it for fun, for fitness, for numerous reasons. Many of these people who share the roads or trails together would not normally look at each other in their everyday lives. But while they are out running and all striving for the same goal, this brings them closer as humans.

It is a societal leveller

At any given race you will find doctors, pilots, teachers, professors, police officers and scientists all lined up with cleaners, security officers, maids, garbage collectors and the unemployed. You’ll even find a fair amount of homeless people stepping up to the start of the run.

Running doesn’t care what you do or where you are from; all it wants from you is the effort of giving everything that you have got. It is the great leveller. Things that the world out there told you were important, are actually immaterial and mean nothing. Very few run against other runners. Ultimately, this is a challenge for yourself.

I was working as a cleaner at the time I qualified to run my first ultra marathon. The day I went to fetch my race number I bumped into a doctor, an actor, a businessman and a detective. We would all run the race for the first time. We all grouped together and chatted for a bit. Chatting about the butterflies in our tummies and the nightmares we were having in the days leading up to the big race, not knowing if we had done enough in training but hoping that we had.

We wished each other well for race-day and promised to look out for one another before, during and after the race. We parted and went back to our daily lives.

On race day I spotted them all. We cheered, joked and motivated each other to keep going. At the end we congratulated each other for successfully taking on the challenge. I even shared a beer with the doctor and had him asking my advice on how he can improve his recovery and training.

Two days after the race, I was back at work cleaning up after other people and the doctor was back at his surgery looking after his patients – once again, worlds apart.  We would meet again regularly at races over the next three years and even develop what may be called a ‘running friendship’.

Unlabelling each other

This showed to me how powerful running was in taking away labels that society gave us. It took us from our boxes we had put ourselves in and opened a space where we could connect as equals – as personalities and souls.

Running as a lifestyle does not care what you do, what you own, how much money you have or where you live. All it cares about is that you put in what you want to get out. It will give you connections you never thought possible and make you a better person for it.

My best friend is a pilot at a big airline. We would not have met if it wasn’t for running. We have many of the same interests and can chat for hours about deep or often very silly things. But the fact of the matter is that if it was not for our love of running, we would not have had a reason to find out more about the other person’s life. Running gave us a big ice breaker and allowed us to see each other in a totally different light.

Now this former gangster, one-time cleaner and now writer from the Cape Flats, can feel free to spend hours in the company of an airline pilot and not feel out of place. Same goes for the Captain; he can feel free to bring me into his circle without a second thought.

Our friendship is not an isolated case. That is one of the magical things about running that can’t be experienced unless you are part of that world. Another is the care and concern that runners have for each other.

Running is a very taxing thing for your body to do. It has many health benefits but because of the strain it puts your body under it can also be a dangerous hobby to have. Many times runners pushed themselves to where their bodies can’t take it anymore. Then the body shuts down and lives are put at risk. This is when the camaraderie of runners shows itself.

I’ve seen it happen on more than one occasion and the way runners simply jump in to help when they see somebody in trouble is one of the things that give me hope for humanity. Whether it is medical assistance that is required or even protection from criminals, runners don’t give it a second thought to come to your aid. The running community shows me the best of all our physical communities.

From one community to another

I wish this was something that happened in the broader community more often. I wish society could be as caring as the majority of runners are about those who surround them. As a runner you see more. You connect to more people. You get a truer picture of what is wrong with the world.

A friend of mine wrote an open letter to the president of our beloved country a while back and asked him to put on his running shoes and join the rest of us on the roads. She wanted him to come to ground level and see with his own eyes the problems that we, as South Africans, face on a daily basis.

She wanted him to run through the streets of the townships with us. Through the shacks that line the roads. See the people and connect with his citizens as runners do daily. She is still waiting for his reply and so are the rest of us.

I realise it’s easy for runners to suggest running can solve problems for everyone – especially “running” the country, but you can see how we might think we have some expertise there! There’s no denying that the evidence presented to me every weekend when runners get together shows me that if we lived more like runners run, we would live a far better existence.

We would drop our prejudices (we’re all sweaty and tired at the end of the race), we would celebrate our achievements and losses (there’s not a dry eye at the cut off of Comrades as someone doesn’t make it; and we certainly don’t argue about who was more deserving of getting a medal), and we would help each other because we know help is always available to us.

Runners are just people – the same we pass daily in traffic, in our offices and in the shops. And because the running community keeps growing, I have to believe that South Africa is actually full of these kinds of people and I wish they would act as kindly in their running shoes and outside of them.

We are a rainbow nation of runners and we show the world how to live and we show what can be done when we decide to move in the same direction together. SA.


* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.