Running as a Way to Build Resilience

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A frozen lake along Raul's running route.

Raul Kharbanda talks about the importance of running in his life in Central Asia.

People run for many reasons. Some run for a time. Some run for a sense of achievement, or to meet people, or to travel the world. In the past I have been motivated by all these reasons. A lot of our motivation depends on our situation.

Over the last few years, I have been based in Central Asia in the small country of Tajikistan. It’s 93% mountainous and when it was part of the Soviet Union it had the highest mountains in the country. It’s a place of timeless natural wonders. Upon the break up of the Soviet Union, it descended into a vicious civil war for some years, and today it bears the legacy of this. It’s in a troubled, fragile region, with Afghanistan and its own tragic history to the south. As I write, the Afghan border where the Taliban rule part of Afghanistan is only 1 hour away. With few jobs, it’s one of the main reasons why central Asia is a centre of migration for young people. It’s one reason why I am here working on a project.

A run across a snowy bridge.

In this context, running can be difficult, but it becomes more important as a way to handle the stresses and strains of the day. Running can put the security issues and problems into perspective.

Running can also build a bridge and build connections with local people. Culturally you don’t see many runners. Sometimes whilst running I am invited for a cup of tea. The locals are convinced it is unhealthy. Perhaps they are right, given the pollution levels! But the connection is made, and one learns their concerns and wishes. And that people are essentially the same all over the world, and have the same goals and aspirations; a better life for their children, a job, and for Manchester United to win the next match! Everyone supports Manchester United! Everyone is very well informed about the Premier League!

The prison next door to where Raul lives. (note: photo a bit wonky due to the soldiers on the watch towers)

I have failed to get anyone to join me on a run. It does not matter, as running, despite its challenges due to the situation, creates a safe place and psychological sanctuary for me. And by building a bridge with the local community it demonstrates that no matter how dangerous the reputation of a place, running can challenge these misconceptions, putting them into perspective and proportion. In this way, running creates a safe place. Running helps one to learn to respect a situation. Indeed, it can be riskier negotiating Hyde Park corner with headphones.

Raul Kharbanda has been running since the 1998 London marathon, and joined the Serpies in 2000 to use the power of social running to motivate him for his 2000 London Marathon. Since 2014 he has been based in the Caucasus and Central Asia, working for a development organisation. He is returning to the UK permanently in April 2020.