A Race Against Myself

I have always struggled with running. It is not my sport. I usually resort to it only when I absolutely must. When I’m in

Running in Cairo with the totally awesome Cairo Runners.

Running in Cairo with the totally awesome Cairo Runners.

Egypt, my treadmill becomes one of the few means available to me for a daily workout. I stopped going to the gym in Egypt a few years ago because it took too long to get to it in Cairo’s horrendous traffic.

My problem with the treadmill is the mind-numbing monotony that comes with using it. After running for a kilometer or two my whole body feels like giving up because I am simply too bored.

I tried picking up running properly when the wonderful initiative of Cairo Runners started with weekly Friday runs. But due to my irregular participation, I was suddenly running distances that I had not properly trained for or graduated up to. My knees were unable to take the pounding from running long distances on pavement. I had to give up running completely for a few months to nurse my knee back to health. In the meantime, I focused on other forms of low-impact exercise.

Once my knee was better, I wanted to take up running again. I don’t like thinking that there is something out there that I cannot do. I find running boring, it hurts sometimes, and it requires tremendous endurance and willpower from me that I do not always have. But what all that really means is that I need to engage in a battle with myself and win it.

So I signed myself up for a 10 km race in the UK. I gave myself about four months of training before the race.

This would not be the first time for me to run in this particular race nor was it the first time to run 10 km. I can’t say, though, that my “long distance” running experiences have been positive.

I have a very competitive mindset. There isn’t much I can do about it. It’s just the way my brain is wired. If you are going to call something a race, I am going to want to win it. This is an absolutely ridiculous thing to think when you are 100 percent certain there are thousands of people in that same race who are much faster and fitter than you. Nevertheless, that is how my brain works.

My first 10 km race went better than it should have given this mindset. It was my first. I had never run a full 10 km before. My goal was to simply finish the race. I did. And I felt very proud of myself.

My second 10 km race was an absolute disaster. Since I had run 10 km a year earlier I was pretty confident that I would do this one much faster. MUCH faster. I thought this not because I trained much harder for it but because The Little Man in My Head was telling me this. That just would have been the natural order of things, he convinced me. The reality was that I was one of the last to finish that race. I started the race in a sprint, keeping up with all the fast guys for about one minute. And then my body broke down and would move no more. I walked part of the way. I cried part of the way. And I jogged part of the way, focusing on someone ahead of me (one of my inspirations was a very overweight young man) to pace myself at that person’s pace. I got there in the end, but I was crushed to see that almost everyone who ran that race, including a 50-year-old disabled man, beat me to the finish.

You see, when I run, I find it terribly demoralizing to watch people pass me from behind. And it isn’t that they simply pass me. It is more about WHO is passing me. When I run, I see overweight women passing me. I see women with huge hips passing me. I see 70-year-old men passing me. I see 55-year-old women passing me. I see people passing me who, if I met them on the street, I would not have thought for a second that they were physically capable of running a single kilometer, let alone 10 km at a very decent pace.

This is exactly what happened during this last 10 km race that I ran. All “the wrong people” kept passing me. But because I had several bad experiences with The Little Man in My Head while running before, I was prepared for him this time. I saw all these people passing me just as I did during my first and second 10 km races. But whenever Little Man yelled how incompetent I was at running, pointing to the large-hipped 50-year-old woman who just passed me as evidence, I would focus my eyes on the pavement in front of me and just keep running. “Good for her,” I told Little Man. “She has obviously been training hard and she deserves to be this good at running. She is an inspiration. If she can run that well, that means I should be able to train harder once this race is over and try to run just as well as she can. But for now, I am running this race against myself. I am not running against her or anyone else.”

This conversation went round and round and round in my head with Little Man. He was working very hard at putting me down and I completely refused to accept his arguments. My main goal was to run the full 10 km without giving up. I hadn’t run a full 10 km since my knee was injured earlier in the year. Even so, I did train and I did increase my distances gradually. I was ready for this. I could do it. Once I got through the first 5 km and I felt confident that I had it in me to finish the race, I decided that my next goal would be to try to beat my previous time on this exact same race two years earlier. “I am not racing against the big-hipped woman! I am not racing against the 70-year-old man! My race is against myself!” I kept telling Little Man.

My eyes focused on the pavement and on my watch. If I kept at this pace, I just might beat my previous time. If I beat myself, that would be AWESOME! Come on, Nadia! You can do this!

I did beat my time from two years ago by 6.5 minutes. That might not sound like a lot to you. But it is a lot to me. It signifies that 45-year-old Nadia was able to out-run 43-year-old Nadia and that is pretty awesome.

The real pride I felt was not in running a better time, however. My real pride was in winning a mind-battle with myself. I

At the finish line.

At the finish line.

would not let me2 demotivate me1. Me1 dominated the mind games and me1 got me to the end.

Two days after the race ended, the official race pictures appeared online and I learned another important lesson. When I run, I only see the people in front of me and those who pass me. I never have any idea who is running behind me. Well this picture at the finish line says it all. It really is worth a thousand words and to me, it is worth a thousand lessons learned.

Nadia, woman, look at all the guys those large-hipped women – and you – beat! We rock!


  1. Hello Nadia! My name is Leslie McAllister and I’m in artist who’s in Cairo right now doing a project for which I am interviewing and photographing women runners in Egypt. Would you perhaps be interested in participating? I would love to talk to you! IF so, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks in advance! Leslie

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