Culture of runners and beyond running

By Maitphang Syiem

“Culture of runners” is an uncommon and encouraging catchphrase as it does not only talek about the idea of running as a sport but speaks about building a community to be  fit, healthy  resilient at large and which also indirectly corresponds to reaping and honoring nature’s bountiful gifts which are making it conducive to build such culture. It is even more motivating to hear that such statements are made by people who are engaged in such activities promoting such culture and helping to bring such changes in the mindset of the populace. The captivating part is that anyone young or old can take a step forward participate and cultivate to bring about that culture in simplicity with finesse. Going by the statement of the WHO of health being a “state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, we clearly see the importance of the three levels in particular. We are deemed healthy if those three are met. To be upfront the said culture would undoubtedly help the populace be it young or old to enhance the health capacity, build resilience and immunity against any kind of unforeseen health hindrances.

If we ponder on the science of running, or perhaps walking, there are a lot of things to take which perhaps we as laymen would not understand but in general it is reflected  to be simple like anyone would simply say “ well it is just a simple run” nothing much about it. Have we ever thought of the fact how it is even possible for humans to run that many miles? How men and women go running and walked distances to fetch water, to hunt, to tame live-stocks etc? These are just a few examples but there are a lot of things such as recuperating, building immunity, endurance, initiating, adaptation and acclimatization etc. Perhaps experts on the subject can better explain. But isn’t it unique for the human system to achieve such unbelievable feats? Just take out a few minutes and think about how blessed we are with such a powerful machine. But as is the case with every machine if the system is not augmented with some activities it is definitely going to go haywire. Our old Khasi connotation which says, “Ka met kaba khih kaba ksar ka dei ka met kaba koit kaba khiah,” ( a body which is engaged in physical activities is a healthy body) is justifiable on the above-mentioned fact and is in conjunction with what running as a culture can bring, which is the multi-dimensional change in the populace as a sport, a hobby, a conscience of valuing the natural aesthetic components, building the spirit of support, fellowship and sportsmanship.

With regards to running as an activity, it already existed way back in the early times. There were messengers who would run from place to place to deliver messages. In the ancient days running was a skill highly regarded by the royals as it was considered an asset, so we have a clear idea that it is already a natural trait that all of us already have. An interesting fact about Marathon a well acclaimed sport in the running arena is that it originated in the early times and legend says that Pheidippides a Greek army man who was also the King’s messenger ran that many mythic distances from Marathon to Athens to deliver the victorious message to the king and on reaching he delivered the message but died due to exhaustion. This is the origin of the long distance run called the Marathon which was eventually incorporated into the modern sporting event in the Olympics and during the first Olympic held in Greece in 1896, Marathon was introduced to commemorate Pheidippides’s run; the same locations was kept which was from Marathon to Athens – a distance of 40 Km or 25 Miles back then.

On a general note we associate a culture with the kind of life, food habits, and many other aspects which perhaps anthropologists can elucidate on, but how is it even pragmatic that running can also be a culture? It is quite uncommon indeed, but the fact is yes “Running “as a culture does exist in communities around the globe and it is associated with the way of life and how people connect with each other, with the landscape , nature or a perhaps a religious affair. In other words it is their unique lifestyle. Surprisingly somewhere in the remotest place of Mexico, the Copper Canyons, there exist a native American tribe called the Tarahumaras the “Running Tribe”, or “Runners on Foot” as they say and they are born to run literally. This unique culture runs in the Tarahumaras young and old folks, both men and women. Interestingly their running kit is nothing fancy. It is just a simple  indigenous sandal called Huarache and with that they set out for long distances. Legend says that when  the Tarahumaras were invited for a Marathon race the local governor sent women to compete and to the inviters’ dismay they were surprised at the governor’s reply that a 42 km distance is a mere distance for women, so we can understand what kind of a tradition and running culture the running tribe has.

The Tarahumaras don’t know what high blood pressure, diabetes, heart diseases, obesity etc is because this does not exist in their dictionary. Therefore, the point to emphasize here is that running or jogging as a lifestyle can really cut down on the major ailments which perhaps may arise out of a predisposed sedentary lifestyle and this learning from the Tarahumaras is a major take-away.

Similarly we have a running culture among the Native American Navajo tribes and they believe that when they run they build a connection between the sky and the earth. Some take it as a ritual of prayers when they run and to some it is a way to be closer with nature and people. Legend says that the native Navajo American tribes run distances to understand the landscape and the environment. It is seen that running as a tradition is a way to appreciate nature. The writer here wishes to emphasize that running as an activity is beyond competition. There is more to what running as a culture can bring such as building a healthy lifestyle. Also running as an activity builds our self esteem, enhances our endurance, increases our perseverance and helps stay focus. From the legends of the indigenous communities of the world it is indeed a great learning how running as an activity can change and touch lives and it is something we need to incorporate.

On the other hand, believe it or not, we in Meghalaya are so blessed because we have the best AQI; the best scenic beauty and terrain which undeniably makes it so conducive to cultivate running as a culture packed with the essence of appreciating nature and leading a healthy lifestyle. On a serious note we can be a hub of runners who can be of the world class level. Perhaps we need to look much deeper on how to help build that culture of runners who not only run to compete but to runs with nature.

(The writer is a Geospatial Expert and an avid runner)

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