There’s nothing as natural as running. As anyone who’s ever survived a school holiday knows, children run all the time. You tell them to stop, mainly because it’s annoying, distracting, stuff breaks and you can’t focus enough to finish a bloody blog post. But parents also fear the horrible accidents that might leave them unable to run, climb or jump ever again – and so we’re always telling them not to run, climb or jump.
Kids don’t ‘jog’ or ‘do exercise’. They don’t run because they missed the train. There’s the sheer joy of movement, even before we were upright, and the language of running is universal. Among my daughter’s first Spanish words was “chapadas”, “tag” (in Peruvian Spanish).
Last Sunday, over 1,500 adults were playing catch in Lima in the Wings for Life World Run global event that drew over 100,000 participants in 35 different countries. Irrespective of time zone, the clock starts at the same time for everyone, but whether you’ll be running a 10k, a half marathon, 42.195 km or even an ultra is up to each runner. Winning in the race is not about being the fastest but also about running the furthest, because once a ‘Wings for Life’ car catches up with you, your life as an antelope is over.
But it was a good life nonetheless for the Lima participants – no rain, no blaze and temperatures of around 20C. I don’t know whether the race organisers do something to ensure that the race conditions are as level as possible, but in any case, it seems for the top Peruvian runners there’s no mountain high enough. Last year’s men’s silver medallist Remigio Huaman running this year’s race in Austria came third in the global category. Remigio made it to 78k, a distance equal to London to Cambridge. To give perspective, he’s had to average 3:50min/km. I just got out of the city onto the motorway as my journey stopped at 23k (So it would have been Uxbridge and a zone 6 travel card for me).
I have nothing but awe for this humble runner, who I was lucky to meet at the North Face Endurance Challenge earlier this year. The father who doesn’t speak any English, says he could have never imagined travelling the world with his young son, which is what he did with his last year’s prize. Social mobility as literal as it gets.
The event was organised for the first time a year ago to raise funds and publicity for spinal cord injury research. In Peru, the charity running format is still relatively rare and no-one’s heard of fund raising. There are probably various reasons for this, including socio-economic, but I feel that as in Peruvian society in general, there’s also a strong sense of entitlement, with little sense of responsibility. For example, “banditing” – joining races and taking advantage of facilities without paying the registration fee – is not frowned upon like in Europe. In fact, the Spanish expression “correr libre” (run free) has a cute anarchist ring to it, a personal choice a bit like the Paleo diet but less annoying.
As this scenario inevitably changes – Peruvians are getting richer and international donors are pulling out one by one which means fundraising will become vital to the survival of many charities – Wings for Life seems a completely appropriate cause in Lima. Most spinal injuries are caused by traffic, and Lima’s traffic being among the most dangerous in the world with nearly three deaths per 100 vehicles. There was some finger in the air pleasure in facing the anger of Lima’s drivers stuck behind the police lines that were providing security for the runners.
It is said that spinal injury is among the worst pains one can experience. On my personal pain scale, I’d give birth without epidural anytime over having vertebral compression. The nights before I’d convinced myself that it might be a good idea to pop in the clinic, I would lie on the floor in spasms, unable to finish my sentences, while my 6-year old would be fetching pain killers, water and warm towels, or massage my back by walking on it. How we were up for school and work a few hours later, I can’t remember, but if I was a grumpy bitch to be around, I’m sorry.
I know I’m bit of a broken record about the (once) broken back, but it’s partly for me not to trivialise or forget the memory only because in my case it turned out well. For many, especially in lower or middle income countries like Peru, it doesn’t. But it’s also partly because the Wings for Life asks ‘what’s your reason to run’, and the experience just gives a bit more depth to the ‘because I can’.