By Brenda Lee, Senior Donor Communications Officer
Why do you want to run a marathon?
If you ask 100 people, you will hear 100 different reasons and their stories.
Here is Lei Guangqing’s story.
In 2015, at 44, Guangqing started running. At that time, he had been working at Oxfam for 10 years. Prior to that, he had worked as a clinician for nine years, and had engaged in drug research at Fudan University for another five years prior.
Why did he give up being a clinician to become a development worker? I didn’t ask. All I know is that he enjoys his work of helping people help themselves, and he is happy to be able to contribute his medical knowledge in his development work.
Life is a marathon
We all hope to live a happy and fulfilling life. However, the older you get, the more fragile you understand life is. The past few years were very tough for Guangqing – dealing with challenges and setbacks at work, taking care of his wife who was battling cancer, and his son who was preparing for the National College Entrance Examination. In 2016, he ran his first marathon. He ran for his ailing wife. He wanted to encourage her not to give up. He also ran for himself as he was becoming overweight.
In a marathon, if you want to win, you must outrun other runners on the track.
In your life journey, if you want to succeed, you just need to beat yourself!
Marathon running offers physical and mental health benefits.
‘For me, running marathons train me to become more resilient and more able to cope with adversity,’ said Guangqing. He explained, ‘Marathons let you communicate with your body. When you are running, you are also entering a state of meditation in which your mind that is clear and focused. Many runners drop out in the middle of the race when they hit the wall. I have learnt not to give up easily and this spirit I’ve learnt through running marathons has enabled me to overcome the hurdles in my life over the past few years.’
Achieving your personal best is much like achieving happiness – it can only be obtained by hard work and continued efforts.
In July 2016, Guangqing finished his first marathon in 5 hours 27 minutes. Over the next two years, he ran 13 marathons and four ultramarathons. In the 2018 Chongqing Marathon, he finished at 3 hours 30 minutes 36 seconds; his personal best continued to improve by almost one hour every year.
We may be able to beat physical limits and achieve something great, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot beat death. Guangqing’s wife passed away last year. His son also moved to Beijing to study.
He suddenly felt the unbearable lightness of being…
Life must go on
He works very hard at his job.
He continued to run every day and took part in many marathons in different cities in China. Whenever he gets home now, tired from work and exercise, there is no one to greet him or comfort him.
Life is a journey people need to take alone sometimes.
His marathon journey is not one he needs to take alone though. He has inspired and encouraged some colleagues at Oxfam’s Guiyang office to start running. In May this year, I was on a work trip in Guizhou with Guangqing and two colleagues. We visited women of the Miao ethnic minority in Danzhai County to see how Oxfam’s project is empowering them to earn an income, enhancing their confidence to take part in the development of their community, and encouraging them to learn and share their traditions through Miao batik handicraft. I remember seeing Guangqing and our colleagues jog early in the morning and after work at night every day during the six-day trip. They have also registered to join the 2018 Oxfam Trailwalker which will be held in November.
Guangqing said, ‘I will keep running, as this is a responsibility to me. I hope to inspire more people to run, and let more people know, if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.
‘There is one thing in common between development work, marathons and the Oxfam Trailwalker: If you set a goal and work hard to achieve it, you will achieve it, no matter how painstaking the process is.’
I am not a marathon runner. I may not understand why so many people love it. But I do believe that it can humble you, transform you and empower you.
Brenda Lee is Senior Donor Communications Officer at Oxfam Hong Kong. She visits Oxfam’s development programmes around the globe to see how our work help people help themselves.