I have a love/hate relationship with running. 80% of the time, I love running. Running is my preferred method of meditation because I go running and don’t think about anything. I focus on my breathing, occasionally get a good look at the scenery around me (although some dogs still take me by surprise), and don’t really think about anything. It’s beautiful. The other 20% of the time, I hate it because I have side cramps, knee pain, can’t breathe, look like an idiot, or all of the above. The problem with running is the idea of running. It doesn’t sound at all pleasant. What, you just run for 30 minutes down the road? No music (because not all the cars are loud enough for you to hear them coming up behind you)? And you end up drowning in a pool of your own sweat, completely out of breath, and a good 10 degrees hotter than the human body can survive? And that’s only in normal circumstances. Don’t even get me started on the heat and humidity in Samoa. If the sun is even remotely in the sky when you run in Samoa, you can feel the heat of the road burning through your shoes within five minutes of starting to run. Running for exercise? No thanks, I can sit and sweat to death here. Running for fun? Ridiculous.
This is just a quick list of all the difficulties, problems, and hindrances to running in Samoa
• Children who laugh at you
• Children who throw rocks at you
• Children who chase you
• Limited availability of athletic gear in Samoa
• Inhibitive cost of any athletic gear available in Samoa
• The destructive power of Samoa (I’m on my third pair of running shoes in a year and a half. I can make each pair last at least 2 years in the States)
• People who laugh at you because nobody in their right mind runs in Samoa
• Roads riddled with potholes
• The possibility of drowning in your sweat
• Heat and humidity
Despite all that, I still manage to run on a semi-regular basis. Forget any real training plan – weather and life in Samoa don’t allow for planned schedules like that. It’s unbeatable for clearing my mind, and it’s the easiest way to exercise. Not to mention, it’s part of my Pisikoa identity now. Everyone in my district knows that I’m the palagi who runs on the road. I go both directions out from my fale. For short but high-intensity runs, I turn to the left. It’s all rolling hills, with a couple that feel more like mountains than of hills. For long runs, I turn to the right. Past the first mile, it’s basically flat, and it’s all along the coast so the scenery is gorgeous. And no matter which direction I go, I get people waving to me and calling out my name.
I prefer to run alone because I see it as meditation, so I always try to gently but firmly discourage kids who chase me or run alongside me. If I can’t discourage them, they eventually drop out because I usually have more endurance than them. However, more and more kids have been asking to run with me. The other day, one of my Year 5 students brought it up in class, and all of a sudden the entire class was begging to run with me. What could I say to that? So I told them we would go running together after school on Friday (schedule a specific time to run with kids so I can still keep my other runs to myself for the purpose of peace of mind).
Year 5 quickly spilled over into Year 6 and 7, then Year 4 and 8 heard about it, and by Friday, almost every single kid in school was planning to run with me. What could I do with 170 students on the road? Nothing, so we limited it to Years 4-8 because those are the grades I work with and they are familiar with me. I sent up a frantic prayer asking that no kid get hit by a car, and we set off. We left from the school, went to the edge of the village, and came back to the school. We encountered plenty of cars, but all the kids have enough experience with the road to know to get out of the way when cars come along, so fortunately there were no casualties. We ran a little, walked a little, ran a little more, and then took a break at our halfway point. Then we repeated the whole thing until we got back to school. A couple kids looked like they were going to pass out or maybe die by the end, but they all just walked it off and everyone told me it was great and that they’re going to do it again next week. Who knows? Some of them were still really excited about it when it was all over with.
I took my camera running with me, but unfortunately the battery died shortly after we hit our halfway mark, so I missed the best pictures – the ones of all the kids lying sprawled out on the road and the lawn during our walking/break periods. Next time. Also, for your viewing pleasure, my three pairs of running shoes, and what my laundry water looks like after I wash my running clothes. That particular picture actually shows the second round of soaking, not the first. It was a particularly sweaty and busy week, so I only washed my clothes once at the end of the week instead of rinsing them after each run.