Yesterday, I completed my 6th marathon by successfully finishing the Philadelphia marathon. This was my first marathon in 2 years after being forced to miss the run last year due to relocation to Liberia. This Sunday was a glorious day for running. The temperature at the start was a slightly chilly 38 F but it gradually crept up above 50 F as the day wore on. The leaves were turning yellow and red all around and the slight chill made for a picture perfect autumn day.
This year’s marathon was easily the toughest of all the ones I have done till now. Training in Liberia proved to be very hard. All the little things that you never even think about became significant issues. First was the question of where to run. For a long time, I ran outside on the road but the constant worry about the heavy traffic and the thick smoke coming from the vehicles made the option not very appealing. When I looked around for a gym, there was none close by and getting to the only gym available presented it’s own challenges. The office vehicle was not available when needed. I tried going by my bike but there was no street lighting and I hit a man on the very first day. Lesson 1: A dark African on a dark street makes for poor contrast and visibility!!! I was forced to ride pinion on the dangerous but only feasible local transport, the ‘penpen’ aka the motorbikes. Then was the question of managing the heel injury (plantar fasciitis, for those of you who know). Getting ice to ice the injury became a project by itself. How do I get ice when I need it? Do I buy a 5 lbs bag everyday for the few pieces that I need? For a while I managed by asking a friendly shopkeeper for a few pieces of ice every couple of days. A friend helpfully suggested that I should buy a refrigerator and I said,’Umm, you know the bigger question is where and how to get the electricity to run the fridge.’ I finally did get a fridge but still the ice was not available when needed because there was no electricity during the day. The heel kept bothering me till the race day (and even now). I just kept going courtesy some vitamin I (ibuprofen). Finally, controlling weight in Liberia, where trying to decide what to eat for every meal is a decision, is a story in itself.
Till this race, I have always been improving my personal best in every marathon and I was very keen on keeping up that streak. During the race, even after running for 4 hours the result was still not a given and I was losing speed fast. At mile 23, I tried to stretch my quads and felt my hamstring cramping instead. Thankfully, it turned out to be a scare. At mile 25, I really wanted to walk but there was no time left. It was only an excruciating push in the last mile and a half that finally got me there. When I crossed the finish line with only 38 seconds to spare, I had tears in my eyes. It was an emotional experience. An improvement of 38 seconds over a distance of 26.2 miles, over 4 hr and 17 minutes does not sound a lot but I know how I eked out those precious seconds. This was undoubtedly the toughest and perhaps the most fulfilling marathon to date.
It was tough for me but it pales in comparison to what Liberians face every day. You might know that I am as passionate about providing every child an education as I am about running. I strongly believe that education is every child’s birthright. Providing children the opportunity for them to achieve their true potential is not an act of charity. It is our generation’s debt to the next generation, which we often fail to fulfill in adequate measure. To me, a child is a child, the future of humanity, irrespective of whether he is Indian, Liberian or American and it pains me so much to see so many Liberians going without educational opportunity. There is Christopher who is in 4th grade and whose mother, who herself could never go to college due to lack of money, has now no money to keep sending Christopher to school. There is David who finished high school in 2004 but had to sit out for 8 years with no money for college and poor job prospects. He now goes to college with my support. Then, there is Clarence whose life got disrupted due to the civil war and who at age 31 is finishing high school this year and dreams of starting a vocational training institute one day. I run for the educationally starved children and adults like them.
With all the things going on in my life, I could not do an organized fundraising this year. At this last-minute, I would ask you for your support to expand educational opportunities for under served children. You can contribute to a charity focused on Liberian girls, More than Me foundation, or to my regular favorite, Asha for Education.
If you contribute, do drop me a note as I have no way of knowing otherwise. Thank you everyone for your support – material, physical and spiritual. This journey would not be possible without your support.