Racing the Planet 2 : We Heart U!

I started running a little over two years ago, shortly after my 35th birthday, in January 2010. A couple of months later I stumbled on the 4 Deserts website, found it familiar (a good friend had participated in two races and had recounted the experience to me at some point), found the Sahara Desert race in Egypt for October 2011, paid thousands of dollars to register for it and locked myself in. I proposed tying my effort to Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO)  – an organization with an honorable mission and commendable people who are intent on positively changing the Middle East one woman and one child at a time, through education, through health, through entrepreneurship and through community.  This link to a cause that mattered became my biggest motivator through those sometimes awful and miserable months of training and through the actual race itself.  This cause brought friends and family closer together, across the world, and we formed a community of supporters, cheerleaders, fundraisers, and humanists alike.  And so in my darkest moments, with enormous physical pain and strain, when there seemed like there was no end in sight, when resignation seemed so reasonable, when the disconnection from the world became acutely painful – because all my time was devoted to training and working and little else – there was the cause and the community and my contract to both that somehow made it all still work.

I swore never to do this again during the actual Sahara race, or let’s say probabilistically in my state of mind and state of pain then, I wouldn’t have bet on me doing this again.  But by December 2011, I had already signed up for the next one, a similarly formatted 160 miles self-supported race through the deserts of Jordan, in May 2012.  I had made so many obvious and stupid “first timer” mistakes in the Sahara race, that I felt compelled to go back and retrace my steps, but better, this time.  Although, I won’t do it again, I am serious.

After the Sahara race, I took a week off from running, and quickly went back to my old routine of 40 miles a week – wow what a treat!  Starting in mid-January of this year, I have gone back to training for the long run.  Training in the Connecticut winter, where I now reside, running longer distances of 15-18 miles, feels like torture. The darkness is abysmal, dreary, and compounds the hardship.  And I long for the “easier” runs of summer 2011 instead, such imaginative tricks of the mind.

This time around, I have added new training regimens to keep my body healthier, I am going to the gym to bike and use the elliptical that helps get rid of the knots and pains from the running.  The weather is starting to turn now, and I am actually starting to enjoy this period of spring long-distance running.  More daylight, beautiful temperatures, lots of old New England suburban beauty.  I am also finding that I run better and with lesser pain with my backpack on.  Somehow the weight stabilizes me better, and my IT bands and knees complain a little bit less.  And like last time I continue to find my motivation in my darkest hours from my commitment contract.  Once again, I have the privilege to raise money for TYO through our $50K in 50 days campaign that officially launched on March 24th.  And this time, my sisters, through their generosity and kindness have formed an organization called “I Heart U” through which they will be selling “I <3 U” and TYO branded t-shirts to raise additional monies for TYO.  The “I Heart U” part is on the one hand my sisters, my niece and nephews, and the remainder of my family supporting me with their love, and on the other hand it’s their broader message and connection to the world.  And then there is the re-coalescing of my global community … it’s these connections and these narratives that make moments rich and meaningful, and that make even solitary and confined parcels of time worth living, or at least surviving.

Well this is the beginning of a dialogue with a broader community that I hope engages with TYO and supports our $50K in 50 days campaign over the coming 7 or so weeks.  The next chance I get, I will try to describe to you what I think about, if I think about anything, when I am running long distances.  And expound on the relationship between running and music.  If there is interest or curiosity around specifics, I’ll welcome the questions and ideas and do the best that I can to engage on them.  Thank you for following us, and importantly thank you for being part of the community, supporting TYO and spreading the word.  I heart you.

-Usama Usama Malik is a committed and longtime supporter of Tomorrow's Youth Organization