On Sunday I took part in my very first official race within the growing running community of Johannesburg. What I encountered there was a community feel that really stuck with me and so I want to share that with you today.A few weeks ago, I entered myself into my very first 21km run at the Soweto Marathon taking place in November. The reason for this was simple - by putting my money where my mouth was and booking my spot, I would set the stakes for myself and that would give me the motivation I would need to train. In essence, using my competitive streak for my own benefit.
Sunday's race was the very first training run in my journey towards that goal. I arrived at Wits bright and early, along with hundreds of other people, young and old, to take to the streets. Now being a first-time runner in this sort of event, I didn't quite know what to expect - but I didn't anticipate the level of organisation, spirit and camaraderie that I encountered. It truly was unlike any other community I've been a part of.
The basic premise (as I can gather) is that each running club around Johannesburg organises their own race around a route close to their club and all the runners come together to run each weekend. The club who is hosting the race takes full responsibility for its organisation and planning - in order to provide the most seamless experience possible for the runners. This truly is a thankless job - as the club is made up of runners themselves - so they have to skip the race in order to serve their fellow community.
However, as I found out - that is where the magic is.
The runners from the host club collect entries, organise refreshments, marshall the route, hand out refreshments along the way, provide support to those participating and many other bits and pieces that help to make a race worthwhile. They get up early to serve their community with the understanding that the people they are serving, will do the same for them when the time comes.
It was extremely refreshing to see all the runners thanking each marshall individually as they run past, truly appreciative of the fact that they got up super-early to come and show them the way. This greeting was met with an enthusiastic 'Keep going! You're almost there!' which can only help to spur you on. Some of the marshalls had even set up their cars on the side of the road, pumping music to push everyone forward. Something small yes, but with surprising value.
All of this added up to a wonderful experience - a feeling of togetherness and understanding that transcends all boundaries. I can now understand why people become lifetime runners - it is a real community. One where every individual cares for another, where positive reinforcement is the status quo and where young and old can gather to move, stay healthy and enjoy the sport that they love.
It's a type of community that we don't often see these days. A breath of fresh air.