Saturday evening I headed out for a 24 km training run, but was confounded as darkness fell and I became geographically embarrassed in the streets of Riverview.
For those unfamiliar with Riverview, it is a leafy enclave of a suburb nestled snugly in the North Shore.
From Riverview you are able to enjoy spectacular views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and running at first I saw it over my left shoulder, and then later (thinking I was still headed in roughly the same direction) I saw it over my right shoulder as I looked around to check on surrounding landmarks. As soon as I realised I was going in a big circle I stopped to ask some kids kicking a footy on the street how I might run back to Sydney. They thought that was one of the most ridiculous things they had heard in their life…too far away for running!
Riverview is a privileged suburb, and enjoys beautifully designed large houses, sporty cars, and well maintained gardens. Speaking with the kids playing kick-to-kick I soon discovered there were no buses operating at that time of night, and the nearest train station was miles away.
Not only was I miles away from where I would have preferred to have been, but I became aware I was worlds apart from the situation where people live in extreme poverty- the two environments are almost without comparison they are so completely different.
With no option but to run my way out of the problem, it became a problem solving exercise and a test of mental stamina and toughness that running training develops. After a certain stage in training when fitness has been proven, much of the training becomes more about a competition within yourself: will you blow off training one night? can you run hard when it hurts? will the small niggling pain that you feel (which every athlete gets and endures) eventually make you decide that it is just not worth it?
I worked my way out of the situation and salvaged the run. I passed an unfortunate car prang along River Road and thought that things could always be worse. When I finally was back onto ground I was familiar with and crossing the Fig Tree Bridge, then across the Gladesville and Victoria Bridges, I felt a great sense of achievement known to those who have experienced ‘the loneliness of the long-distance runner’.
As I came off Victoria Bridge, I felt I had proved enough to myself and a bus came tearing along the road, close enough for me to catch back to Town Hall.
For a short period of time I was contemplating: ‘was the seemingly impossible possible?’ The discipline of overcoming small challenges gives us the strength to combat the larger problems we encounter. Maybe this has some relevance to how we can address the situation of extreme poverty: a lesson from the most unlikely of places, Riverview.