The race to improve lives
Running as recreation and exercise is not something one would associate with the typical Bangladeshi. After a long day of wrestling with traffic, work and traffic again, going out for a jog around the block or in the park is not the first thing that pops into the mind. Running marathons, then, can justifiably be said to be the furthest thing from our minds.
Sayyied Kabir, in March earlier this year, in Rome, did that most un-Bangladeshi thing: he ran a marathon. He travelled to Rome for that purpose, and he ran the full 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km). In a chat with Star Lifestyle, Kabir talked about his experience, and the various positive knock-on effects of having a culture of mass-participation in such athletic activities. Forty years old, Kabir works as a Media and Broadcast Consultant.
“This was not only my very first marathon, but I've never even run a long distance race before,” said Kabir. “The world's top five marathons are considered to be London, New York, Berlin, Chicago and Boston. I wanted to run the London Marathon. Since it is so popular and there are forty thousand places available, the applicants are chosen through a lottery. Unfortunately, I didn't get past the lottery.”
After he lucked out in London, he headed to Italy to apply for a place in the Rome marathon. “Since it wasn't quite as popular as the London marathon, I applied and got a place.”
As most will know, charity forms a major aspect of marathons around the world. It is through a charity that Kabir plans to fulfil his desire of running the London Marathon in 2011. “There are charities like Oxfam and CSUK that hold a certain number of places for the marathon. I applied to Oxfam and got a place for the 2011 marathon.
“The applicants chosen will run the marathon wearing Oxfam t-shirts. Their mandate is to raise funds for Oxfam. Everyone has a target, there is a minimum amount, and on top of that whatever you want to pledge,” explained Kabir. “Your job is to galvanise your friends and relatives, telling them 'I'm running the marathon, on behalf of such and such charity. If you want to support it please send in your donation.'
The concept is that one would be more likely to be interested in making a donation if they know that a friend or a relative is making a big effort by training for months and running a marathon on behalf of the charity. Using this method, the London Marathon - which did not start out as a charity event and only has been one since the eighties - is the world's largest single day charity event.”
The inevitable question pops up: how is the running of marathons relevant to Bangladesh? How will it benefit Bangladeshis?
“First of all, we all know that running is good for health,” Kabir said, and continued, “A lot of people walk as a form of recreation, and you will see that they have to walk at least once during the day. It becomes an addictive habit. Similar with running; once you start doing it, you will feel the need to keep doing it, probably as long as you can.
"I know people who are still running well into their seventies. It's a healthy habit to have, and will help avoid numerous illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, that are common to our country. And unlike other sports or fitness activities, running has a low cost of entry. All you need is a pair of shoes; you don't have to join a club, or buy any equipment.”
He is not concerned over whether the trend will catch on in Bangladesh. “I know someone living in Canada, in his seventies, who ran the Toronto Marathon in the 1970s. Then it was a small event, with only about four hundred participants. Now the Toronto Marathon is a huge event involving tens of thousands of runners. It is all about reaching a critical mass.
“You don't have to start by running the full 26 miles. For that one has to train for four months, and not many will have time for that,” he said. “It could start out as a 5 km or 10 km run, just to get the ball rolling.”
According to Kabir, the benefits of running a marathon extend beyond the physical; it has social benefits too. “Dhaka's parks are in a sorry state. If more and more people start running and using the parks, they will improve, and more parks may be built in residential areas.
"It promotes unity among city-dwellers, when a large number of people take part in the same activity. Also, when it comes to charity, the mass participation will help raise the profile of the cause being promoted. People will also be more likely to support a charity since so many are taking part. It builds pride in one's city.
“It is also a character building exercise, because the focus in marathons is not on winning, but on completing the race. Running over 42 kilometres in a matter of hours is no straightforward thing and needs months of training and sacrifices have to be made” he added.
Kabir thinks that the coming holidays such as 16 December would be perfect to host such events, and that it would be a great opportunity for charities to call attention to their causes.
It is clear from the chat with Kabir that running marathons hold benefits both to the individual and to society. In our fragmented lives, where the opportunities to interact with others are becoming rare occurrences, taking part in such activities builds social identity and unity, as well as improves our lives and makes us fitter individuals.
It is not as un-Bangladeshi as we might think. There is already the precedent of the Bangla Marathon at Cox's Bazaar, with 97 people taking part in it 2009 edition. A lot of Kabir's Bangladeshi friends have run marathons multiple times, and plan on doing so again. In a Bangladeshi context, just building a culture of running will present numerous boons, as pointed out by Kabir. We can all take a leaf out of his book and start a journey, or more appropriately a jog, toward a better life and a more involved society.
Photo courtesy: Sayyied Kabir