Everyone knows that the global pandemic has greatly affected many different facets of our life and society: small businesses, the restaurant industry, the way we educate our children, and our ability to attend Mass have all been impacted. Something else that has taken a hit is the running community. Races all over the world have been postponed and canceled, bringing to a halt the very thing that many runners, both elite and amateur, work toward everyday. Many races are fundraisers for charitable causes and organizations that have lost this much-needed source of aid. While virtual races are still a thing, they can’t come close to the sense of camaraderie and accomplishment that one feels among other runners at a start line and along a shared course. Even group training runs have been discouraged during these days of social distancing. The pandemic has turned running into a very lonely sport.
With all of my races canceled and without a specific goal to train for, it wasn’t long before my own motivation to run started dwindling. Sleeping in on Saturday mornings started to feel preferable to lacing up and completing mileage with no clear training plan. Even though I often use my runs as a time for prayer and reflection away from the craziness of raising small children, my running started to feel directionless. Fortunately I was able to find encouragement in an unlikely place.
Like many other moms, I signed up for Disney Plus excited to share many animated classics with my toddlers for the first time. I didn’t know that the streaming service would include one of the most inspirational running documentaries that I have ever seen: Breaking2.
I stumbled across this 2016 film recently after putting the kids to bed. My husband, who is not a fellow runner, agreed to watch and soon got sucked into the story as well. For this documentary, Nike conducted an experiment to see if it was possible for a human being to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) in less than two hours. They recruited three elite runners (Lelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge, and Zersenay Tadese), and assembled a team of scientists and running experts to help them achieve what had never been done before.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that it’s a documentary worth checking out for a number of reasons. I’m far from a professional athlete, but I still felt extremely motivated by what these elites are able to do and how much work they put into accomplishing their goals. Watching professionals doesn’t dishearten me even though I know I’ll never be as fast as they are; instead, it encourages me to know that improvement is always possible if I keep working hard. It reminds me of the beauty of the body God designed and what it is capable of.
Breaking2 also gives a close look into the background of each runner in the experiment. This provided me with a lot of perspective on how fortunate I’ve been in my own upbringing. Desisa hails from Ethiopia, Kipchoge is Kenyan, and Tadese comes from a country I never even heard of before watching the documentary: Eritrea. The shots of their home countries show a world very different from the one I grew up in, and it’s evident just how much they have had to persevere to get to where they are today. For example, Tadese shares that he originally wanted to be a cyclist, but he turned to running because he couldn’t afford a bike. He had already started honing his running skills because he often ran the 14 km (8.7 miles!) to and from school each day.
Desisa recounts his own story of winning the 2013 Boston Marathon at the young age of 22; an achievement that was soon overshadowed by the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. In response, Desisa gave his hard-earned gold medal back to the city of Boston in a show of support. He then came back to compete in the Boston Marathon the very next year – despite protests from friends and family members who feared for his safety – and won the race for the second year in a row.
Of the three athletes, I found myself most impressed by Kipchoge. The documentary points out that while he has made millions from success in his sport, you would never know it from the humble way he lives. Kipchoge advocates for a simple, honest, low-profile life. He also reveals his challenge of growing up in a single-parent family while families with two parents had a distinct advantage in his community. He had to work harder at a younger age than his peers in two-parent homes in order to help his family survive. Later in the documentary, we see Kipchoge today with his own family, and it is apparent that he is a doting husband and a loving father to his three children. While the film never touches upon Kipchoge’s faith life, it is easy to see that he holds solid Christian values. I wasn’t surprised when I Googled and found out that he is a devout Catholic.
Breaking2 is a shining example of how the sport of running is not just about running; it’s a testament to the potential of the human spirit and the human body. It’s proof that sometimes the achievement of a goal itself becomes secondary to the journey it takes to get there. It’s a portrayal of the beauty of the running life, and of life in general. I know 2020 hasn’t turned out the way we had hoped it would when we woke up on January 1st, but still, “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Saint Sebastian, patron saint of runners, pray for us!