The International Peace Marathon is less than a week away. This is my third marathon and I am better prepared than in the past. And in much better shape too. As I stand at the start line in Kigali later this week I should feel some confidence. At least as long as I don’t think about 75% of the runners being Kenyan or reflect on the irony of running 26.2 miles in a place called the “land of a thousand hills.”
Fortunately for me, the race itself doesn’t really matter.
My running partner and I have run over 400 miles in preparation for this race. We’ve traversed many hills in Blantyre, run through countless villages and around mountains (notice I didn’t say “over”), and into valleys as the sun was rising. We’ve run in moonlight and in total darkness. On several occasions we’ve gotten lost in the bush. And we have been saved from being lost more times than I can count by asking for directions in our broken Chichewa. We’ve been greeted by barely-conscious drunks emerging from all-night binges at the bottle store, and been joined by numerous kids for portions of our runs. On our last (and final) run around Sanjika hill (location of the president’s palace estate), we were met by a machine-gun toting soldier who asked us where we parked our car and informed us, “You can’t go that way,” pointing in the direction from which we had just come.
In all of these runs I have been struck by the beauty of creation. A few times the beauty literally stopped us in our tracks. Jumping across a creek on wet wobbly stones, scrambling down a dirt path that is barely discernible, or running through a field of maize in a valley glistening at sunrise — I would just start giggling. I’m actually glad that I did not have my camera because taking time to compose the perfect shot would have distracted me and kept me from appreciating the moment. It’s all so impossible to describe or capture. The best I can do is realize what I have at that moment, receive the blessing, and keep going. Keep going. And try to be present for the next moment.
Also through this experience, God blessed me with a dear friend. In many ways Vince is the guy in development I want to be. He runs a terrifyingly ambitious NGO that is not afraid to learn from its mistakes while transforming a neighborhood with the next small idea. He is far too humble to claim any victory or much progress, which makes him all the more enviable. I am honored to know Vince. And my life is more deeply enriched because of our friendship. Vince and I have solved many of the world’s most intractable development problems over hours of conversation on the road. Sadly, we had no pen and paper to capture the solutions.
And this has been the past 417 miles of my life.
The greatest blessing is realizing that it had nothing to do with running. But I kept running anyway. And I will keep running after July 13.