24: In Km and Hrs
Last weekend, I bestowed upon myself the hefty task of running the annual 24 Hour Race here in Hong Kong.
As someone who is far from being a cardio fanatic/professional runner, I initially received a lot of curiosity as to why I was signing up to basically run a half-marathon in twenty minute increments. Personally, I had two reasons: firstly, the anti-slavery cause Running to Stop the Traffik advocates seemed incredibly worthwhile, and secondly, in a life that is essentially a blank canvas, trying something new and different never hurts. (Figuratively, that is. Because running 24KM in 24 hours did hurt, for obvious reasons.)
Within the circumstances of my life, I often find it difficult to feel qualified enough to say I am devoted to a certain cause or altruistic ‘good’. It may sound selfish, but I don’t necessarily think this is so. Nowadays, I often find myself so bombarded with different manifestations of ‘charity’ and the ways I could help every single one of them, to the extent where a lot of the meaning simply, well, evaporates. It is a shame which I regret to confess: in the same way the significance of a tweet is drowned in the deluge of chitter-chatter splayed across the World Wide Web, ‘altruism’ and ‘charity’, for me at least, has lost a lot of their emotional leverage. The way these concepts are presented to me prioritizes efficiency and clean ‘sound bites’ as opposed to giving me the time to put myself into somebody else’s shoes and understand what it would mean to me, and them, if I were to lend a hand, and I find this increasingly problematic. As people who require time to think things through and truly realize what is at stake, I feel as if many of today’s youth simply don’t have the freedom to empathize… even when they wish they could.
That is why at first, the latter reason for my participation sounded more convincing even to myself. What with the social media movement surrounding the event and all, I somehow felt as if the charity side of the matter was being over-sensationalized and thus, slightly inflated in significance. It felt superficial for me to claim I was a vocal advocate for anti-human trafficking, simply because I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t connect the dots between the circumstances of my life and the particular cause.
But I continued to think about the matter, because I realized how significant it was for me to digest exactly what I was posing as a figurehead for. It may have taken me until the day of the actual race, but as time went on I was slowly able to feel the stronger link that consequently strengthened my chain.
I cannot deny that I am in a very fortunate position when I consider the fact that school is a daily given, my home unyieldingly constant, and food, water and resources available 24/7. Everyday I feel like I take this for granted. This feeling is only exacerbated by my knowledge that across the world, there are teenagers my age who not only do not have the same privileges, but don’t have the raw choice in the first place to pursue or access them. When I bemoan the stifling rigidity of my daily routine, I think about how terrifying it must be for many of my peers who cannot choose to have a routine. For many, life is a constantly changing entity in which it is impossible to anticipate anything, and I think this is a scarier reality than one I will ever face. When I think about how safe I feel in my life, and how I know that the people around me will not exploit me in degrading ways, I think about how horrible it must be to be a victim of the sex trafficking industry especially when I myself am coming to terms with my own body.
Thoughts like these were ones I were hooked on during the weekend of the race, and ultimately creating that connection in realities was what made me feel confident enough to say that I ran the 24 Hour Race for a reason. And now that I reflect upon my reflections, I’ve realized that that’s what everyone needs: time to think. And although I will never be able to know what it is truly like being a victim of the trafficking industry, and what it is like to be robbed of choice; although I know it is unfair for me to assume the assumptions I am making, I still think it is worthwhile for everyone to stop every once in a while and consider the societal implications that hover around us day by day. Mental devotion is what makes us human, and I wish schools and service programs could notice that too. If only we had more time and the impetus to devote our time accordingly.
To reflect on the overall experience, I’d say that it was definitely something I’d be willing to do again. This is where my second reason – to raise awareness in a very different way – hops into relevance. Putting yourself in both a mentally and physically strenuous condition for a cause really makes you remember for what exactly you put yourself out there to do, especially if the event is truly one of a kind. Being able to say that I’ve run for 24 hours non-stop (albeit in a relay format, because otherwise I don’t think I’d be writing this article right now) is something that’ll always be on the tip of my tongue.
I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve been able to achieve. Once again, I was never a runner… yes, I do enjoy it and engage in it when the confines of my room get too stifling, but all in all I wouldn’t say it is something that defines me. But now, to a certain extent it does. Why? Because I made a conscious decision to want to be one, even if it was primarily for 24 hours, and the amount of dedication and motivation I put into wanting to be one made me learn something about myself. If there are any things I can be proud of so far, they are the milestones I’ve achieved whilst preparing for the race: being able to run the uphill slope of the bridge near my house without wanting to die, falling on my palms and cutting them but continuing for 3KM anyways, feeling invincible, writing poetry about running… the list goes on.
And these personal accomplishments make my participation in the race something I’ll never, ever forget. This realizaton, coupled with the insights I’ve gained on the trafficking industry and how altruism can be made more relevant in our hectic student lives, has really made the 24 Hour Race something that has been immensely worthwhile for me not only as a runner but as a person.