Winning starts with an attitude: the lagos city marathon

2nd edition of Lagos City Marathon

One of the most recognisable sports figures of all time, Vince Lombardi, once said, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing”.

People are always a product of the process they chose to go through. Nelson Mandela confirmed this when a journalist was interviewing him on his groundbreaking election as the first President of South Africa. The meticulous journalist asked the legend, “Sir, today you have become an extraordinary man, how do you feel about this?” The late Mandela shook his head and looked straight into his eyes and replied, “I am not extraordinary because I am the president of South Africa; I became extraordinary because I went through extraordinary circumstances.”

In life, there are many things that happen by accident but success is not one of them. Winning is never an accident; it is an accumulation of daily activities and sacrifices that are upheld consistently over time. There is nothing like sudden success or failure; people that will succeed or fail in life do it “instalmentally”. Lionel Messi emphasized the imperativeness of our daily routine to our success story when he said, “I start early and I stayed late, day after day, year after year. It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success”. Jody Victor said, “The secret of success is hidden in your daily routine”.

Have you ever wondered why countries in East Africa have always dominated marathon competitions? Countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Sudan have always dominated the marathon contest. Kenya and Ethiopia are renowned for producing some of the world’s top track stars. Runners from the two countries have dominated world athletics for almost five decades and their dominance does not seem to be likely to end anytime soon.

It was, therefore, not a coincidence when out of a total of 55,000 local and foreign runners that participated in the 2017 Access Bank Lagos City Marathon, East Africans came out unequalled in the thrilling competition as follows: 1st Prize (Abraham Kiptun of Kenya), 2nd Prize (Ronny Kipkoech of Kenya) and 3rd Prize (Regasa Bejiga of Ethiopia). Talented athletes have always emerged from East Africa, but no other nation on the continent has been able to match Kenya’s consistent ability to produce champions year in, year out. How did an ethnic minority that makes up 0.06 per cent of the world’s population came to dominate most of its long-distance races? Kenyan athletes are so dominant that the marathon race is now jokingly referred to as the “Kenyan Championships.”

Kenyan and Ethiopian runners first came to the limelight during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. It was during that event that Kenyan runner Kipchoge Keino defeated Jim Ryun, ushering in an era of global dominance of the East Africans in endurance races. What is even more surprising is that Keino had a gallbladder infection. He was running while in extreme pain, and he still won gold. So the question is, what drives such a type of extreme endurance?

It has been argued over the years that Kenyan runners may possess certain qualities that drive their ability to win. Theories abound as to why this is the case, but the one that stood above the rest is their culture of long distance walk to schools even at a very tender age! Others say a lot of runners hail from the Rift Valley, a part of the country with high altitude, and this gives the athletes an edge. The high elevation, about 7,000 feet, could help runners there develop lungs capable of functioning in thinner air. When these runners descend to the relatively low-elevation courses at Boston or Beijing, the thicker atmosphere there would give them, in effect, a sustained oxygen boost.

The combination of high altitude, optimal conditions, intense training and a culture of long distance strolls is said to prepare an average Kenyan to beat his counterpart to the marathon contest anywhere in the world. For an average Kenyan, marathon is a way of life as they are culturally nurtured to value long distance walk over the luxury of modern alternatives.

Recently, it has been validated that their daily routine, lifestyle and culture, coupled with a topographical advantage, is actually responsible for their record-breaking feats. The cultural argument has been that Kenyans become great runners because they often run several miles to and from school everyday. In addition, most kids usually run to school barefoot, which means they grow up being excellent runners because barefoot runners tend to strike with their forefoot or mid-foot, which is less stressful than landing heel first. When you see kids in the morning going to school, they’re often running. Kids travel some seven to 10 kilometers a day on foot, often running. How many Nigerian kids run to school everyday?

In Kenya, kids don’t see running as a contest, they see it as a way of life. Pick any long-distance race, you’ll often find that up to about 70 or 80 per cent of its winners since the late 1980s have been from Kenya. Since 1988, for example, 20 of the 25 first-place men in the Boston Marathon have been Kenyans. The Kenyans have imbibed the attitude of hard work, tenacity and resilience in a single dose of long distance walk from when they were kids. When the whistle is blown for the marathon race and the whole ‘world’ is struggling to reach for the prize, for an average Kenyan, running is not competition; running is fun, running is their nature, and running is their attitude! There are many truths about winning but the greatest of them all is that: it starts with an attitude.

It is appalling to see how some parents innocently prepare their children to be unfit for the future. They skip so many life’s processes for their children in order to fast-track their success; the same processes that are really significant to take the children to their destination. Many parents are the doom of their children. The contemporary Nigerian parents are endangering the future of their children by helping them skip the processes that are needed and mandatory for their ultimate survival. So many parents have turned their wards to mental handicaps and social imbeciles by not allowing them to experience life, thereby depriving them of legitimate adventures that are crucial to their survival in the future.

There are some adversities that come to fortify us towards a more dangerous “unseen”. The best way to help children out of future misery is to allow them pass through present challenges. Helping children is good but it must be timely and with godly wisdom. Great parents don’t do things for their children; they do things with their children. Some parents go the extra mile to “think” for their children. When parents think for their children, they destroy the future ability of their wards to think independently for themselves. Parents are meant to reason together with their children and not reason for them. Even the Almighty God said in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together”. We must nip the dependency dilemma in the bud and provide the processes that evolve functional adults.

As parents, we must stop ‘short–circuiting’ their process of growth and churning out emotionally stunted children to the society. A controlling parent and a dependent adult child are a great liability to the society. We must encourage decision-making from an early age. We must subtly expose them to the risk of choices and consequences in life. As an entrepreneurship coach, I have discovered that when process is sabotaged, the product becomes inferior. This is the core secret in the industry and production line system. Proper procedure eliminates unwanted consequences. The integrity of the product lies in the process; in fact, the process guarantees the product and not vice versa.

T. Alan Armstrong said, “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in hours, weeks, months, and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character”. Until you see success as an outcome of your daily routine, it will always be elusive. The easiest way to know how far a man will go in life is by simply looking at their daily routines. To all the parents out there, I am throwing out this big question: Are we daily preparing our children to become champions or victims?

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