The Marathon is the king of all races. It is a game of life played on the roads of a city. It presents the ultimate individual test for every participant in preparation, strategy, discipline, plan, training, endurance, focus, singlemindedness, frustration, commitment, dedication, patience, fun, pain, anxiety, loneliness, teamwork, determination, elation, and victory because everyone wins something in the Marathon.
Indeed, for everyone that completes the race, it is a personal sense of victory, measured not in arriving first at the destination but in finishing the race. There is no better race that exemplifies the true spirit of Olympism than the Marathon where ‘You do not have to come first, to be a winner’. As it reminds us that we could all be winners. Indeed, there is no better allegory for the race of life, that the pleasures, lessons and power of the race are in the journey, not the destination. So, today, in the city of Lagos, there will be a showcase of the best and most beautiful parts of the most populous Black City on earth, when runners, elite and ordinary folk, assemble in the largest single conglomeration of humans around an event in Africa, each person running for money, pride, a cause, fun, health, or for socially interacting with other humans. Over 120,000 participants have registered to take part in this year’s race – a record in the history of the Marathon in Africa, even where the Lagos City Marathon is only in its fourth edition and is considered in the third tier of Marathon racing in the world.
Expectations are that, if the present exponential growth is any measure to go by, in the next few years, the Lagos City Marathon could grow to compete in size and quality with the best city Marathons in the world – London, Milan, Boston and so on!
On a lighter note, a local in Lagos, remarked on The Sports Parliament, a weekly authoritative sports programme on Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, the largest television Network in Africa, that the 42 kilometre stretch of the Marathon route around the city of Lagos does not have any potholes. It is an observation that took many Nigerians aback because, in truth, Nigerian roads are generally noted for their potholes. So, 42 kilometres stretch in one city in Nigeria is a huge achievement worth showcasing and celebrating. Something is surely working in Nigeria after all!
This year’s winning price for the elite athletes is 50,000 US Dollars. It pales in comparison to prize money in other bigger events around the world. That’s partly why the Lagos event is still ranked in the Bronze category in the world. Interest in the Marathon is growing at a very fast pace. The gold ranking may just be down the road with the followership and interest this year’s event, in particular, has generated. Already, the 120,000 registered participants for the 2019 edition make it the biggest single sports event in Africa in terms of participants. Add to that the millions of people that will line the streets in this 18 million population mega-polis. Add to that the huge potentials when properly marketed as a business. Nigeria may have in her hands an event well on its way to becoming the biggest sports festival and party in the African continent, and possibly in the world, in the next few years.
Lagos is fast catching up with the Marathon tradition that promotes the Olympic mantra of participation being more valuable than winning. The vast majority of runners involved in the Marathon are not in it in order to win the race. That honour is left to any one of the least number of group runners in the event – the elite athletes. It is most likely that the first person to cross the finish line will not be a Nigerian. He (and she, for the female category) would be any one of the several masters of the Marathon from East and North Africa, particularly Kenya and Ethiopia, that have made the race their bread and butter. They have dominated the Lagos podium in the last three events and are likely to do so again. Ironically, once again, it is not the elite race that interests the army of Marathon race followers, participants and bystanders that observe the event. Their interests are varied. Everywhere the race passes through in the city of Lagos becomes a potential centre of some social activity typical of the Lagos life of endless celebrations – the eating and drinking spree on the streets all day long, as people come out of their homes, sit outdoors and watch the passing sea of humanity. There are also the endless mini-dramas within the race itself. These are the real true-life unforgettable experiences where ordinary folks run for reasons and causes that range from the bizarre to the noblest. It is a 42 kilometre stretch of a party in motion. For many people the Marathon is a personal test, a personal journey that stretches, tests and builds their personality to the limit – the loneliness, the aches and pain, the ceaseless temptation to stop, the frustration of a race without end, the joy and relief of seeing the finish line, and the exhilaration of a personal conquest. It is the ultimate test that requires and demands uncommon self-discipline, patience, determination, preparation and focus, endurance, never-giving-up spirit, focus on every inch of the journey and not the destination, and so on. Many organisations and the well-to-do in society team up with individual runners to support, promote, condemn, or draw attention to a cause in humanity across the spectrum of life. These become incredible individual stories of runners that would make great movies. These are all noble acts driven by a simple sports event.
A lawyer friend, Osaro Egobamien, is running in today’s race to draw public attention to the prevailing desecration of the values system in the judiciary through sharp practices that are contrary to those espoused in their solemn oath of service to the law. So, Osaro has been preparing to run in the past few months, going through a rigorous preparatory period that has required supreme discipline, healthy state of mind and body, focus, determination and a spirit of running against himself rather than against any opposition out there.
Indeed, the Marathon is a personal test of the self.
Osaro’s intention is to remind his colleagues in the Judiciary of their sacred oath to uphold justice without compromise or bias, restoring the dignity and pride of place of judges, and respecting the sanctity of their offices and of law. He will carry the banner of that message as he runs the long lonely race on behalf of those closest to God in the dispensation of human justice. Osaro’s 83-year-old father, a distinguished Senior Advocate of Nigeria himself, and his equally distinguished friends from other walks of life of about the same age would join the race at the finish line to support the cause. Osaro’s example, highlighted on television a few days ago is going to be only one of the hundreds of such other good causes that will be promoted along the 42-kilometre distance by ordinary as well as well-known Nigerians, each telling their own story. Even for me, the Marathon has opened my eyes to glimpse new horizons, and also to remind me about what it takes to live a good simple life. Lagos will be locked up, wherever the race passes through, for several hours whilst the race lasts, with each runner nursing their individual purpose and motivation for running the ultimate race of life.