The headline can be interpreted in two ways.
The first, and most obvious, is the one that’s all about danger, escaping from someone or something that threatens you. It’s said countless times in bad action movies and sadly, it’s also a common sentence here in South Africa. We encounter danger on a daily basis, so most South Africans are pretty skilled at taking the second option in the fight-or-flight reflex.
The second interpretation: running can, and will, save your life by making you fitter and healthier. Even though that’s not as common as the first one, it’s said often around here in the MH offices. Running can help you drop the blubber that’s sitting around your waist and cut back on the cholesterol that likes sticking to the sides of your arteries. It’ll also train your heart muscle to tick more efficiently and for longer.
Alexandra township in Jozi has a reputation for being dangerous. Most are afraid to enter the narrow streets of the densely-packed informal settlement, even during the daylight hours. The Nike #Werunjozi 10km race was an ambitious one, it included one of the poorest townships along with one of the wealthiest suburbs as part of the route. This challenged the runners to see a different side to the Alex township: that it was also filled with friendly people that spent all morning supporting and welcoming the 20 000 black and neon yellow runners that crossed through their home.
The race achieved more than just getting new men and women into running (of all the entrants, roughly 80 percent were beginners), it also showed them another side to Jozi, one where tired, hot runners were supported and helped to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I was lucky enough to be there for the race, and being a newcomer in Jozi I was humbled by the reception we got in Alex. Men and women chanted us through the packed streets; sprayed us with hose pipes to cool us down in the 31 degree heat and offered ice-cold sips of Zamalek in frosty quart bottles. Swarms of barefoot kids followed alongside and kept us moving forwards through continual high fives and high-pitched encouragement, braving incredibly hot tar roads. There was no hatred, no suspicion and most of all, there was no danger. Comedian Deep Fried Man summed it up perfectly on twitter: “Today white people ran through Alex and no-one was even chasing them. Nice one #WErunJozi!”
I learnt a few lessons. Signing up for races like this one does more than just kick you out of your training comfort zone, it also forces you to change a few stereotypes you may have. I explored more of Jozi and got my endorphin high as an added bonus. Races shouldn’t be just about personal bests, it should also have a human element. A bit of personality. A unique flavour. This had one had it spades, right from the choir and 20 000 singing the national anthem at the start to the sticky-tar finish on the M1 South.
I’ll be there at the start line next year. You should be too.
Photographs courtesy of Nike South Africa.