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The £650,000 question

by Sarah 

Posted: 04 July 2003
Word Count: 771
Summary: This is something I wrote for Runner's World... they rejected it mind you, but...

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My friend Alex, a marathoner, lived in Honduras a few years ago on the island of Roatan. She worked as a sea kayak guide and also strummed guitar in one of the local pubs, playfully singing folk songs. She sent me a picture of herself dressed in the local weave, sitting with a group of beautiful children on the beach. She kept a gun in her house because she’d been robbed a couple of times. This was hard for me to understand, tucked away in Canada, but made sense to her in that time and place. She’s always been an amazing runner, and continued training on Roatan. This confused the Hondurans in her neighbourhood, and one day she was approached by a shop owner who asked her, "Where do you keep running to?" The man whom she hired to repair her bicycle took an even different approach, and asked her what she was running from.

I met an amazing woman last year in Cambodia called Babette, a volunteer nurse. Babette also ran, and braved the dusty roads that I wouldn’t dare. She ran in the evenings along the river road towards Angkor Wat temple, skirting near-rabid dogs, madmen on motor scooters and temperamental monkeys. She trained for six months for a half marathon that one of the local NGO’s organized for the expatriate community (and Cambodians, of which there were few entries) as a fundraising event. For six months she ran alone under Cambodia’s blood-injected, setting sun and was cheered on and laughed at by toothy children. She astonished the farmers and roadside food sellers, and confused the curious motodups (taxi drivers on scooters) who honked after her in offer of a ride. The morning of the run, Babette woke early, dressed, and went downstairs to put on her running shoes. But they weren’t by the front door where she left them. One of the house security guards hired by the hospital she volunteered for had taken her shoes that morning to visit his sister in a nearby village. He didn’t think Babette would mind. He asked her later, through a translator, "why didn’t you run in your sandals?" Our friend Mahendra, a volunteer from Sri Lanka, lent her his sneakers for the run and her toenails are only now growing back.

Why do we do it? Where do we keep running to? If you step outside the thousands of kilometres you’ve clocked and see that you’re virtually standing in the same place, it almost becomes absurd. Indeed, this scenario ignores the great physical and mental gains we get from running, but it's interesting to change your perspective. Look at it from the viewpoint of other cultures, who for reasons I can only guess at, perhaps social or economic, just haven’t caught onto the sport. Some people, like those in Cambodia, can’t fathom the idea of walking when you could cycle, or even cycling when you could motor. And running some arbitrary distance simply to turn around and come back again? They’d rather use their brief spare time to escape the heat, sway in loosely hung hammocks and snooze.
It makes me think that perhaps running is a luxury that some of us are very lucky to be able to afford. It represents a freedom to spend time idly, simply for the pleasure it brings – a win, a high or better yet, the coveted PB. My answer to the "why" is too simple to win me the £65,000, but it’s all I have. I run because it hurts and because it feels good.

Three years ago I joined a running club in Seoul, Korea called Yonsang Kimchi Hash House Harriers. This is a transnational club and Hash House Harriers playfully terrorize cities all over the globe with their trademark songs and droppings of flour and fruit loops, used to mark each week’s new inner-city trail. We blazed through the streets of Seoul every Saturday morning – stopped traffic to cross eight-lane roads and squeezed through tight alleys, careful not to upset tables of dried fish and sacks of rice, beans and spices. I remember being lost once, picking my way through someone’s vegetable garden with about six other runners. We didn’t see her at first, but the owner of the house, a miniature octogenarian, was leaning on her hoe in the corner of the garden. She watched with suspicion as we hopped over her carrots, side-stepped the broccoli. How did she interpret this surprise visit by a random group of strangers dressed in wicking and lycra, a veritable threat to her cabbages? She must have wondered where the fire was.

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Comments by other Members

stephanieE at 11:34 on 04 July 2003  Report this post
Why didn't they publish it? A great boundary-crossing tale of the addiction of running. I don't, but reading this, I almost wish that I did...

Sarah at 12:36 on 04 July 2003  Report this post
They didn't publish it 'cause they're a bunch of illiterate fools. Hee hee hee. Ah well...

Nell at 15:19 on 04 July 2003  Report this post

This is fantastic. Held me all the way through. Can't you send it somewhere else - not necessarily a running mag.? It deserves a good home - Readers' Digest perhaps?

Cheers, Nell.

noddy at 20:52 on 05 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Sarah,
Runner's world. Definitely illiterate fools. Time to get my trainers out, I think...

Tarbra at 00:09 on 13 October 2003  Report this post
As an ex show-jumper your piece made me remember why I still on some days long to do it all over again! I felt the passion although I am not a runner but liked what you wrote, it kept my attention. There are many magazines out there, you should just keep sending it out till you find one for it, it could get published by the next one you send it to? One just has to keep on going, never give up, and you will get it placed in my opinion, believe me I have had more rejection slips than hot dinners, but if one constantly knocks on doors from time to time one will open. Good luck, Tarbra

scoops at 15:14 on 11 November 2004  Report this post
Sarah this is an excellent piece, but I can see a few reasons for the rejection, which are fairly standard. As reportage, it doesn't have an intro, which is vital - a paragraph that talks us into the subject. Although the linking thought is clear as one reads through, it needs to be explicit, so each vignette must be tied to the last and lead naturally into the next. The stories you tell are vivid and really good reading. The only bit I'd lose is the 'playful singing'. Also, I wasn't entirely sure who was paying the £65,000. If there'd been an intro contextualising your report, that would have covered it. I think with a bit more structuring, this would still make a lovely magazine piece. Are there no running bounties on offer in the near future to which you could peg the piece and resubmit? Shyama


PS just went back to the top and 'got' where the £65,000 comes from! For reportage, don't set a question in the headline or title: it must be part of the intro...

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