Dana Seetahal (July 8, 1955 – May 4, 2014) was an avid participant in the Trinidad and Tobago International Marathon over its thirty-two-year history. In honour of her memory, this year’s event will be dedicated to her. (Please see our latest press release in the Trinidad and Tobago Express Newspaper.)
Here is an article Dana once wrote in response to the question, “Why do you run?” Her thoughts may well echo those of many other distance runners and athletes everywhere.
by Dana Seetahal
I am sure I speak for most runners when I say that this is the question most commonly asked of us. It is usually followed by an assertion “I hate running” or “It’s so boring”. Another question is “Are you still running?”
It is clear that the makers of these statements are not runners, they do not run. If they did they would not ask and even if they did ask they would understand when I respond “because of the feeling during and after the run”. It has nothing to do with how fast or slow you run and whether you did better than the last time you ran. It has all to do with being a runner. Here are some of the reasons, in no particular order, that came to mind when I decided to put into words why I run (I would never usually have to think about it).
This was the original reason that I decided to try and run. It is the most persuasive argument that I have used in urging my sister, my nieces and various friends to run and even to participate in Women on the Move. It is one of the quickest ways of burning calories and requires no structured classes such as aerobics for instance. As well it can, within reason, be done at any time. Your skin feels better and your legs firmer in short time. Of course for a total body workout, abdominals and upper body exercises should be added.
I soon found that running helped to relieve stress. The times I did not go I felt the irritations of the day weighing on my shoulders and in my mind. I was able to think out my work-related and other conflicts whilst running. Often I came to decisions on how to solve a problem or how to approach a task. Sometimes I even formulated great key sentences and phrases in my mind to deliver in a speech or lecture which I had promised to give. Sometimes when I finished my run, needless to say, I forgot these phrases! It seemed from the time I started running regularly that my performance in my professional capacity improved and I feel that I have since maintained that certain level.
Tied into the concept of mental alertness is the feeling that running is my solace. Once I can run I can never truly be lonely. It is as if “running” is something or someone tangible, a friend on whom I can depend. People come into your life and may leave; things are taken from you- money, a job, etc. but running is always there- offering comfort and continuity. When I need to make major decisions in my life I go for a run. It is as if I am confiding in a special friend who will never reveal my particular insecurities but will always be loyal. Sometimes it take weeks of running but eventually I come to the right decision for me.
My friend Michael, in explaining why after the marathon he did not come to meet me at the medical tent as arranged but waited by my sister’s car, said that he assumed I would return there. When I explained that I was very dehydrated and had to be put on drips for some time he felt, justifiably, put upon.
“Well,” he said “I don’t understand why anyone would put herself through that.”
“Through what?” I asked, puzzled.
“You could have died! Why would you continue to run if you were feeling upset? If you didn’t know before that you could run the whole 26 miles, why bother? You could be seriously ill.”
The questions posed in this exchange were so silly I thought until I realized that other person actually felt like this – persons who do not run.
The reason why I would run a race even if I felt uncomfortable doing it is because of the challenge. (I would not continue to run if I were actually hurt). I have always believed that people set their own limitations and many tend to set theirs at the lower end of the scale. Raise the level and aim higher. That is what running taught me. I remember how great I felt when I first ran once around U.W.I., then once around the Savannah, initially with a friend then by myself as I increased my distance. The day I ran twice around the Savannah was a landmark. I thought “I wonder if I could run a race”. I did and did not come last. In three years I ran a half-marathon. Then one day (when I saw the 1986 marathon and Kathleen Ramdial finishing) I thought “I wonder what it would be like to finish a marathon.”
Running let me achieve that dream and with it came a feeling of empowerment which touches all other facets of my life. I know that I can do anything if I really want/try and work at it. It can’t be more difficult than that first marathon nor each subsequent one!
Running has brought me a wide circle of friends. On the running circuit it is irrelevant what your profession/job is. What matters is your behavior and performance whilst running. Are you a selfish runner or do you willingly help out the back of the pack by going at a slower rate on long runs so we all have that feeling of togetherness? I remember once a fellow runner from another Club left his house in Port of Spain to come to St. Augustine at 5:00 am just so I would have someone to follow me for my safety in the first hour of my solitary long run. I was training for the New York marathon. Runners do these things. Curtis Cox for instance would do a run at 2-3 minutes per mile slower than his training pace as a recovery run for himself in order to help a slower runner complete a long run.
Persons of different backgrounds come together with a common interest in running. Appreciating the hardships of others keeps those of us who are better off on an even keel and may even result in the urge to assist or befriend a deserving but hard up runner.
Probably the most pleasant benefit from my running is that feeling of communing with nature and my maker which I especially experience in my long runs on weekends or on public holidays. Those early morning runs do it. They remind me of when I was a child and would get up at 4:30 – 5:00 am, bathe and then go to Hindu prayers with my mother. We had to take flowers, sikia figs and a lota. The prayers lasted 40 minutes or so and were held at the school building instead of a temple. (There was more). After this we went home and later I would go with my sisters and brother to the Presbyterian Sunday School for 8:00 am. We walked a mile to the Church through the back roads where even today you could smell the dew in the wild flowers growing along the roadside drains.
Sunday morning runs, usually for 2 – 3 ½, hours encompass this period. I feel as if God knows this is my recognition of him. It is now no longer structured religion such as when I was a child but the feeling is there. The feeling has more to do with an awareness of nature, those gifts we take for granted than piousness. I can run in the rain and feel free and blessed. I can see the dawn rise. I run in Gran Couva with my Club colleagues and think what is better than this life. Then I run at dusk with my neighbour and really appreciate the oranges and dark pinks in the sky. I truly feel that if I did not run I would not be able to really appreciate and acknowledge the Creator.
Yesterday, I told a friend of mine that my favourite runs were at Christmas time, New Year’s Day and other religious holidays- usually by myself or with one quiet friend. She did not understand then. I hope she understands now.
Do you still ask – “Why do you run?”