Running Adventures Around The World: What do Hash Running, Leg Warmers and Black Mambas have to do with it anyway?
I'm asked when running became such a fundamental part of my life from time to time. I did what probably some of you did in primary school, running in regional sports competitions, and I dabbled in other sports… For me, netball (the English version of basketball) and field hockey were my "non-running" sports, although I didn't have much of a passion for either. I had no idea that my love of running and life as an ex-pat would collide most unpredictably.
May 1986 – Mumbai (formerly Bombay, India). I am alone in an exuberantly decorated hotel room staring at four walls and struggling to not get any more homesick than I already was. My first husband had transferred there to continue his career, which is a theme that explains all the places I will mention in the following paragraphs. The loneliness was deafening and daunting, and I resolved I would not sit there and let fear sweep over me.
July 1986 – somewhere in the middle of nowhere, near Mumbai. I don't even remember how I ended up at a Hash House Harriers run (I was there for the running, I promise...). Yet here I stand awkwardly smiling, discreetly casting my eyes around the circle of primarily English-speaking people gathered around what appears to be the leader of this motley tribe. He's espousing wisdom about this "Hash" run and how one should try to keep up with the "Hare", and directions like "On On." Dial back to that whole running becoming "such a fundamental part of my life" as something resonated with me in that unexpected moment.
November 1987 – Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Hash House Harriers are again, the connection to my love of running and finding commonality with like-minded people. At weekends, we would gather at a random location and just go running for the joy of it and the adventure. I would find myself "running" through swamps, wading through rivers, and trying not to step on a black mamba snake. I am convinced that the locals thought we were a bizarre lot! Every day running was not an option as it was not safe for a woman (much less a man) to be outside alone doing that. So I found a way to engage the ex-pats around me who were also thirsting for physical activity by teaching aerobics. I fondly think of it as the years of the leg warmers and leotards! It was a social outlet for me as "in those days" there was no internet, and barely any form of communication besides mailing a letter! (I know, I KNOW … hard to believe I'm that old!)
In quick succession between September 1988 and February 1991, I found myself in Cairo, Egypt, and Luanda, Angola. Once again, running was not an option (due to cultural norms and respect for that) and a less than safe environment (due to civil war), and I missed it tremendously as mentally, it was and continues to be a kind of therapy for me. I kept myself "sane," playing softball and working out every day in a room I converted to my "workout" room. The only time I ran when living in Angola, was when I and some other ex-pat friends would go to a beach hut outside of the city to enjoy some solitude and peace. I recall it was so freeing. As I reflect on this part of my life, I am amazed at my fortitude and optimistic outlook as this was a very challenging time.
February 1991 – Cape Town, South Africa. Imagine a place so beautiful that you just want to run every day. I found a running club, and it was the first time I really focused on pushing myself to see what I was capable of. But, alas, we didn't spend enough time in this incredible country, and when I heard Moscow, Russia was the next stop, I had mixed feelings.
May 1992 – Moscow, Russia. I embraced the experience as I am, by nature, a positive person. After a few weeks of deepest darkest winter weather and extreme cold, I found a (ridiculously expensive) gym where I could treadmill run to my heart's content. To this day, I am convinced it was run by nefarious people as there were strange goings-on, and briefcases being bandied about. (I'm visualizing large sums of money inside said briefcases!)
By the time I started life in the USA in May 1994, I had experienced many cultures, very different living situations, a difficult marriage, and many rich experiences. Yet I would not exchange any of this for a best-selling book deal. Running was the thread that remained unbroken – albeit thinner and less apparent in some seasons of my life – but still, always there like a faithful friend who constantly encourages you to do what is good for you.
May 1994, Oklahoma USA. I have now lived here for 28 years, and in 1995 I did my first marathon. It has taken me the best part of my 59 years on this amazing planet to become a more confident, wise, and empowered woman. I attribute that to the "life stages" of running that have paved the way for my passion of ultra-running now.I always tell anyone who asks why I love ultra-running so much and why I love to run "so far" that it is my passion. I follow that up with, "Find YOUR passion and hold on to it." My hope for you is that whatever form of physical activity you enjoy, you find a way to harness your passion and you find that it gives you what the gift of running has given me.