Aregu

  
«I am here since four years. I came for work. My mom and dad, I needed to help them. So, I came to Lebanon. I like sports, yes. But I never ran a lot there. I didn’t know I would run here.»

Aregu came to work in a household in Ras Beirut, off Caracas. She came from Wollo, Ethiopia.

«When did you start running?» I asked.

«Three years ago. I did the 10K at first. I ran in 41minutes.»

«And did you run the 42K?»

«Yes, this year. I did it in 3:30. I like running shorter distances. But it’s ok. It’s my first time, too! 42K is long!» she said giggling.

«You train every day?» I asked, rhetorically.

«Yes, at the Cite Sportive, or on the AUB track. I’m very happy here. Inter Lebanon [a Lebanese Running Club] is great. My coach is great. I was back home for 5 months, this past year. They were asking me if I had a coach. I said ‘Yes!’ I have a great coach back in Lebanon!» she was giggling again.

«Next time I will shoot you, while you run, OK?»

«Yes!» she said replied giggling still.

I did some shots of her, that day.

All runners are beautiful in motion.

Aregu was also beautiful standing still.

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Micki

  
As I entered the room, I couldn’t help but think of ‘Margin Call’. «I know the movie», said Micki while smiling, «you could say I’m a bit like Kevin Spacey’s character.» I smiled in turn, and understood how he could take a break and invite me for coffee at the Souks. He was the head of Capital Markets in the largest bank here.

A few minutes later, we were in the coffee shop. He was having tea. I took an expresso. «You need to stop me if I talk too much; talking about running, gets me going, and I don’t want to stop».

It had just stopped raining. It had been raining since early morning. He’d taken an umbrella for precaution, but we never had real need for it. The sun was shining again. He did run early morning, as usual though, under the rain. We sat down, and he just went on:

«I was never big on sports. I was raised during the war in Beirut, so from 75 to 85 we could barely make it to school. In 1985 at age 18 I left for Montreal, where my family was living, to get a university education – between part time jobs, studying, and all the home duties that a bachelor has to go through, there was no time for sports—

«Twelve years later, I came back to Beirut to Join Bank Audi — met my beautiful wife, got married than kids, in that particular order J still no time for sports . Gained few pounds over the years – . It got worse when I had to travel every week to Saudi Arabia – so between planes and hotels, eating habits gets worse – and than the crash of 2008 happened – Nothing seemed to work and I hit rock bottom in November 2008, away from the family, panic in the markets — my weight reached 84kg, and body fat of like 30 percent and the moral was clause to depression mode –

I just had to do something, you see? I cant stop the crash, but I had to change something in my life — So I started running on the hotel treadmill in Saudi Arabia, carrying all 84kg – it was hell at first, I barely could run 2km and I was out of breath, back in beirut, I kept running on treadmills, still 5km was my longest distance – until I joined a group of 4 friends, they jog 5 times a week around 10kms –

I cant forget the day I ran my first 10kms, it was a hell of an achievement for me, and I still remember all my friends running next to me, yelling at me cause I wanted to stop after the 7th kms – “today you cant stop, you cant walk .. I’m staying next to you until we hit the 10th km” That was it – I made it, and I became addict to running —

Forget about the fact that you lose weight, and become more fit. You just become a better person. As a man dealing with the financial market, you have to be aggressive and face challenging and stressful moments all the time, and the fact that you’re in Beirut doesn’t help; you have the stress of the country, of driving in the city. So many unknowns. All this used to get to me.. Not anymore. Now that I run, nothing gets to me. I was gliding over the things of the world.

“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live to the fullest” the best quote by Haruki Murakami –

«Walid, my friend from the Beirut Marathon association, told me to try the marathon. 6 months later. I ran my first marathon in just over the 4 hour mark (4.03) we ran as a group. Since then I love running. I run every day when I can. We still run as a group, nearly every day, and when we run we are all equal; from the delivery guy earning minimum wage, to the millionaires, we run, and we are all equal. My time improved to 3hours21.

I remember in 2010, I met with Roger- the head of inter Lebanon – Road running and Athletics club – we teamed up to form a sub group of inter Lebanon, called Maniax – we were 6 runners in that group – today we are close to 120 runners in Maniax – A big thank you to him, he trains us, prepare the daily running schedule and pushes us on a daily basis beyond our limits – we hate him during the training, but love him after the race-

I also do cycling, and I’m a better cyclist than I’m a runner – I will soon start swimming classes. Some day I’ll try the Ironman. For now, I run. I tried other marathons abroad, but still my favorite is Beirut, its my home town.

«It stands apart?» I asked. Micki nodded.

«It does. Indeed. There’s something different about this city, with all the crap that we deal with, not to mention that it’s a very hard marathon, its hilly and most of the times its hot and humid;

None of this matters though. I love being among friends when we start out, and running in a city I know and love, going through places I usually hang out in, seeing them from another angle.

«There was this old movie: ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’.» I ventured. Micki smiled.

«My New Year’s resolution was to make more people run. I have witnessed first hand, how running changes you, and I want to make others find out for themselves.

Last year’s Marathon, I was about to give up. I think I took too much gel during the race, and having trained all year without gel, my body didn’t metabolize it well, plus it was hot and humid – When I hit 20K I was really hurting. We were in a group of 4, as usual. So I told them to go ahead without me and I slowed down. At the 25K mark I wanted to quit. I had never quit before.»

«What made you go on?» I asked.

«The people I was running for, I guess. I run for Oum el Nour. I raise money for them through running. A week prior to this race, though, I went up and met the people there for the first time. It really made an impression. At the 30K mark, heading from Gemmayze to Antelias, I saw my wife was there, she was filming the event. She asked me how I felt. And I told her I couldn’t go on, anymore. She just said: “You’ll feel worse if you stop now. Just take it easy and finish the race at slower pace”. A buddy cyclist, Mohamad, hung around with me all the way, cheering me up. Friends, and sponsors had pledge money for Oum el Nour, depending on how well I did. So that was a great incentive. They go like: ‘I’ll give a thousand bucks if you take part, two thousand if you finish, three thousand if you break your own record. I finished the race in 3h 29min, and ten minutes later, I passed out. Woke up in the hospital.» he said smiling.

«Just like that very first runner, who ran from the plain of Marathon, and reached Athens, shouted ‘Nike’ and then died.» I said jokingly.

«Well I advise Asics gear.» he answered smiling.

«So how much did you make for Oum el Nour?» I asked.

«Twenty-nine thousand dollars. I didn’t break my best time, you see? I’ll try next year.»

A few days ago, when I finally got around to writing M.’s story, I started running. I did 30 minutes on a treadmill, like he did when he started. I texted him afterwards: «30 minutes at 8 KpH»
«That’s great!» he replied. Another text followed: «Try 8.2KpH this time around, and when you feel ready, come run with us!»

Yesterday, I ran for half an hour again, at 8.5.

Ahmad

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It was a Sunday, at noon in the Beirut by Bike enclosure. Bikes going past me. Men, women, children. Parents and kids, enjoying a January sunny day before heading for lunch. I wasn’t there to meet a cyclist, though. I was there to meet Ahmad.

Ahmad is a hand cyclist, and that is something very different: He is a marathon runner, or what  people call ‘athletes with special needs’.

«You have to get on the bike.» he said. I was there to do photos of him for my new project, and I had two cameras on me. «my friend will hold your camera», he said when he saw my hesitation. I got on the bike. It was the basic trainer. We sat upright. He was on the pro trainer, a few inches from the ground. Ahmad seemed to be gliding on his. I followed his lead —after some tweaking of my regular bicycle reflexes— and we were off.

Ahmad was a firefighter. He had lost the use of his legs in the line of duty. On his hand cycle though, he was in a parallel universe where all that matters was how fast, and how long you could go with what you had. Nothing else mattered, not the job, not the fame, not the fortune. There was just the Will to never give up, and the road ahead; that road we all traveled, each at our own pace, each for a reason.

«This is great!» I shouted to him. He was in front. «We should definitely make more people pick up hand cycling!» I added.

«Such is my goal.» Ahmad answered back. «I want all people to try hand cycling. Hopefully we could launch a kind of biathlon for cycling and hand cycling.»

«That would be great!» I said. The idea was indeed great. I had never thought of it, but it suddenly made perfect sense. We did a few laps as a try-out. I told Ahmad that I wanted to try his pro trainer next time.

«It goes much faster, so you need to be on an open track, and not in this enclosure.» I looked at the Beirut waterfront strip. I could definitely see myself speeding down that road. At that moment I realized that getting to meet all these athletes and hearing their stories, but also training with them, was going to be my most exciting project.