It's Never Too Late to Start Running

By Nasser, Maher | UN Chronicle, September 2016 | Go to article overview

It's Never Too Late to Start Running


Nasser, Maher, UN Chronicle


As a child growing up in Ramallah, I never enjoyed running or ran much, other than short distances in games with other children, in physical education classes at school or fleeing soldiers during demonstrations. In 1986, I went running in Jerusalem with a friend who ran 45-50 minutes every day during his lunch hour. I was exhausted after 20 minutes and eventually took the bus back to the Arab Thought Forum, the nongovernmental organization in East Jerusalem for which we both worked at the time. That was the beginning and end of my running experience in my early twenties. It was not until 2013, a few months after I turned 50, that I took up running again.

On 1 November 2015, I did something I never thought I would ever be able to do: I finished the New York City (NYC) Marathon. It was my first marathon, and as I crossed the finish line, I told myself that it would be my last. I knew that running 26.2 miles (42.2 km) would be exhausting, but it was much more taxing on the body and mind than I had anticipated, and I vowed never to repeat it.

For me, finishing the Marathon was not an end in itself. When I completed high school, I received a scholarship from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The scholarship was greatly appreciated in my family of six children, as by the time I finished high school, three of my siblings were university students. For Palestine refugees, providing their children with education is the most valuable investment they can make. Families will sacrifice much to ensure that their children finish school and if possible, attend university and obtain the highest degree they can. Over the years, the number of scholarships provided by UNRWA to Palestine refugees has declined, and it is contingent on donor contributions. As a former beneficiary of the programme, I decided to do my part to help needy students finish the university degree that they dream of and that their families pray night and day they are able to obtain.

I became a member of the New York Road Runners organization, bought running shoes and ran my first 4-mile race in Central Park in April 2013. Since then, I have run around 30 other races, including three half-marathons, one full marathon, five 10-kilometre races and the rest mostly 4-5 mile events. When you run a race, you can't help but be swept up in the energy and zeal of the thousands of runners around you. Rain or shine, runners of all ages and abilities line up and eagerly await the start gun before taking off at different speeds and in varied styles. For the majority of runners, the goal is to finish and maybe achieve a personal best for that distance. For me, the races were also incorporated into the training programmes for half-marathons or the NYC Marathon. They provided me with great motivation to stick to the training and were a change from solitary runs along the East River, in Central Park or on the treadmill. Races also provide a means to obtain guaranteed entry in the following year's Marathon. You meet other runners and hear about their goals and aspirations and, in many cases, the causes for which they are raising funds, such as cancer research, a neighbourhood charity or the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF).

In 2014, three colleagues, having heard about my new interest in running, approached me about joining a race called Run 10 Feed 10, which was scheduled for 21 September of that year. The race enabled each runner to select their own cause for which to raise funds. I opted to raise funds for the UNRWA emergency appeal for Gaza to help feed 10 families for a month; $1080 would provide a family with basic monthly food supplies. …

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