On Monday, some of us running the Palestine marathon met with Chris Rose from Amos Trust to find out more about the history of Israel/Palestine and to talk about what we’ll be doing when we’re out there. It was a brilliant evening that made it all seem a lot more real. I loved meeting the other people who’ll be doing this run and sharing the whole experience. We are lawyers, artists, priests, festival makers, social entrepreneurs and charity workers brought together by a love of running and the crazy idea that what we are doing might just contribute a tiny amount of good to an incredibly complex situation.
Bob Mayo is a priest in Shepherd’s Bush and will be flying out to Bethlehem overnight on the Saturday, arriving just before the race starts. He’d signed up for Gaza originally like the rest of us, and has a speaking engagement on the Saturday that he doesn’t want to miss. As he said, he’s determined to finish the story, to run the race, even though he’ll go from tube, to plane, to car, to starting line.
Bob talked about running as a subversive act. ‘When I run at 6 in the morning, the streets are mine, the city is mine. Running is a subversive act.’ I love that idea and I’ve been chewing it over ever since. This is how I think running can be subversive.
It subverts gender stereotypes and cultural traditions – as evidenced in Gaza where the thought of women running alongside men was so abhorrent that it was banned. Women running threatens the status quo; it’s dangerous and people have tried to stop it in lots of different places over the years. But we run, and things change, and so do we.
It subverts the norms of feminine appearance – when you run you don’t have to worry about what you look like. I throw on the same kit time after time, often leaving it to dry for the next day and putting it on again sweaty and muddy. I wear naff race t-shirts with writing on; I stuff my unwashed hair in a ponytail or under a hat. I get hot and sweaty and go red in the face. And it doesn’t matter at all. I experience my body as strong and capable. I’m amazed at how it works and how well it serves me.
It subverts the experience of living in a city, helping you reclaim the streets, redeem the commute, seek out the green spaces and river paths and parks and trails that are waiting to be found. It’s about taking charge of the way you move through urban spaces, owning the routes and choosing how you travel along them. It contradicts the idea that outdoor spaces are not safe for women to be in. And it subverts the urban interaction with outdoors, which sometimes feels like an inconvenient space between home, tube and workplace. I’ve done my fair share of moaning about this cold winter but we run whatever the weather – in rain, sleet, hail, snow, in the dark, under grey skies, through twilight and occasionally even in sunshine. I have spent hours running outdoors in these cold dark winter months and it’s done my soul good.
It subverts ideas about competition and achievement. When you start running later in life like I did, it’s not about winning races or being the best in a group. It’s about exploring what your body can do, how far it can go and trying to go further, how it feels to run a marathon, how to develop the mental endurance that enables you to persevere when you want to give up. It’s about being the best you can be and discovering who you are when you get there. So yes, I’ll always want to better my times, and if there’s a person just in front of me near the finishing line I’ll try to overtake them. But the person I’m wanting to beat is myself and that’s as much about mental endurance as it is about physical speed.
And of course, in Palestine, where movement is so restricted, where people are separated from their family, land and friends by 8m high concrete barriers, where it’s not possible to travel 26.2 miles in a straight line without encountering road blocks, when people from Gaza are forbidden to enter the country, then running a marathon is a wonderfully subversive act. The Palestine marathon is called Right to Movement and there’s a great quote on their website: ‘We want to contribute to tell a different story than the one of conflict and hate. We want to move. Move things. Move with us.’