Friday, October 17, 2008

North to South RUN/ Day 5 / October 14th

North To South – 14th October 2008 – Byblos to Beirut - 40.5 kms
Imagine you have been running four days in a row, you have covered almost 90 kms. Imagine waking up in a new bed every morning having slept a maximum of five hours per night. Your legs are exhausted. In fact, you are exhausted from head to toe. The alarm rings, your eyes feel like sand paper and your legs feel like lead. Today you have to run 40.5 kms, just shy of a full marathon.
The start is delayed for some time as we await the arrival of Miss Lebanon. Each moment we wait, the higher the sun gets in the sky. Still, the scenery is stunning. We are surrounded on all sides by Phoenician stonework, dating back over six thousand years. The people of Byblos turn out in numbers to offer Ali and I drinks and fruit to nourish us for the day ahead. Eventually we set off, unfortunately without Miss Lebanon.
Joining us for the run today is an old and dear friend of mine, Dr Ahmad, the first person I met in Lebanon when I came here in 2007. He had developed my enthusiasm for the country and its people. Together, Ahmad and I had covered tens of miles and hundreds of conversations whilst running all over Beirut. Indeed, the genesis of the North to South Run had begun during one such early morning run with Ahmad. Needless to say, his company on the run made me feel extremely happy. I trust him deeply as a runner and as a friend.
Once we had kicked off the tiredness in our legs we got into a nice pace, somewhere around six minute per km (though as a treat to myself, I have chosen not to wear a watch nor to count the kilometers, but to enjoy the running without the pressure of time).
Have you ever wondered how hard it is for an average runner like myself to keep up with a top athlete, a guy running in the prime of his life? Let me tell you, its not easy. Ali is a consummate running professional. Spending time around Ali makes you realize that greatness as an athlete is something that needs to be nurtured and fine tweaked at every opportunity. But this is far from enough in and of itself. Ali has a deep desire to be the best, to run the furthest, to be the strongest and to make Lebanon proud of his efforts. If as a country you had not noticed it, Ali Wehbe is one in 10 million. His sturdy shape belies the fact that he has the heart of a true competitor. When the average or even exceptional man would fall to the roadside with exhaustion, Ali would be able to keep on going with ease. At times his running is mechanical. He has an ability to zone out, put his head down and to endure pain like no one else I have ever met before. I have some of the same qualities as an endurance runner, but I am distinctly average in comparison to Ali. If you have not run with him, and if you have the opportunity to try to keep up with him, I highly recommend you do as you will receive a master class in what it is to be a running professional.
The run itself is fantastic. We move through small towns like Bouar and Aamachit, past the magnificent Casino du Liban. In Jounieh we take a break at the invitation of a local municipal officer who delights in giving us a guided tour of the local municipal offices, built in the latter part of the 19th century (1859 I think). Wiping the sweat from my eyes I was astounded by the black and white, and sepia style photos which adorned the walls. Images of yester-year portraying a rich and proud heritage.
As we continue I change my soaking tee-shirt for the third or fourth time. Ahmad, Hamed, Ali and myself are joined by the fresh legs and smiling face of Joe, who has managed to convince his bosses that he needs a day off in order to come and join us for the last 21 kms of the run. With the security arrangements around us, it is a unique occasion to be allowed to run into Beirut, against one way traffic surrounded by police and cameras.
Having stopped in with Nike in the centre of Beirut we run the final two kms to the Corniche waterfront basking in the fact that we have run a marathon distance and that we were all still smiling. Today was perhaps my strongest day of running. Like Ali, I think that the greater the distance, the better I feel and do. Perhaps the day’s success was down to Marlene and little Ali (that we met on day2) racing through our minds.
With their strength we run.

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