Al Jazeera Correspondent

I run because…

We profile people from around the world, who all run for different reasons.


Sonu runs two kilometres every morning with a plastic jerry can to reach the government installed tube-well [Baba Tamim]

Name: Sonu Singh
Age: 22
Occupation: a daily wager
Lives in: E3 Kusumpur Pahari slums of New Delhi, India

I run … for water.

I have been running for water ever since I was 12. We do not have water pipes or government taps in our slum. So we do not get water to our houses. I run to fetch it.

I run two kilometers every morning with a plastic jerry can to reach the government installed tube well. The water is always dirty but we don’t have options. The tube well is located close to several public toilets. It usually takes an hour or more to bring water, given you are among the first few in the long queue.

In the rainy season, things get very difficult. Everyone runs to be the first [in that queue], that’s how life has been for many years. During election times, our politicians send us mobile water tankers. They know where their votes come from. We pay some $0.5 (30 to 35 Indian Rupees) a day for water, which is used for drinking, washing, and cleaning purposes. But that only happens once a month or three times a year.


Joonas Laurila was a semi-professional runner, but was diagnosed with cancer in  his left foot at the age of 18 [Maija Tammi]

Name:  Joonas Laurila
Age: 31
Occupation: product developer
Lives in: Helsinki, Finland

I run … simply because I still have two legs. Running gives me physical and mental satisfaction. It is impossible for me to imagine life without running. Running is my drug.

At the age of 18, I was a semi-professional runner, when I was diagnosed with cancer in my left foot. The options were amputation or moving muscle tissue from the other leg to the foot. I did not want the amputation.

After several years and several operations, I went for a run in 2006. In that first run, I could only run a few kilometers for 25 minutes, before my foot started hurting too much. It took several days to recover from the run, but I could not stop smiling, [just because] I could still run.

I run more than 100km a week. I run outside, mainly in parks and on shores in Helsinki. I spend around 25 hours each week running, training and coaching.

My biggest financial expense is running shoes, I use around 15 pairs a year, as one pair lasts less than a month. Some running shoes last just some 150km because of my foot. I need to change my running shoes for each run. To help with the expense, Adidas has been sponsoring me since last summer.


Rufus keeps pushing himself hard, believing that one day he will make it to the top [Adeola Olagunju]

Name: Rufus Kolawole
Age: 28 
Occupation: sprinter
Lives in: Lagos, Nigeria 

I run … because it is my passion. It’s a dream I want to live, irrespective of the discouraging circumstances I keep pushing as hard as I could, believing that one day I will make it to the top.

I started running at 18, representing my secondary school class during our inter-house sports. My interest in running has been growing ever since, leading me to run professionally for Lagos State Polytechnic.

My family are not really supportive, they desire I get a job that pays, especially now that I am done with my studies at the Polytechnic. But passion propels me to forge ahead as I’m not getting any financial benefit at the moment [for running]. 

I manage my life from the little funds I get from my parents for upkeep, this affords me the transport fare to the stadium for training and also to buy supplements for lost calories. There is a lack of government funding for sports, other than football.

My most challenging race was in 2008 at the West Africa Polytechnic Games in Cote d’Ivoire. It was my first competition outside of Nigeria, I had to compete with different athletes from West Africa, this made me very nervous.

Every athletes’ dream is to become the next Usain Bolt, Olympics will be a dream come true.


Running relaxes Kayane, and it is an outlet for her energy [Ahed Izhiman]

Name: Kayane Antreassian
Age: 28
Lives in:  the Armenian quarter of the old city of Jerusalem  

I run … to keep fit.

When I was a teenager, I found out that my family had a history of heart problems.

My family loves to eat, especially as my mum is an Armenian Jordanian and she cooks well. My dad had some heart trouble a few years ago which made me think about jogging, it’s a nice way to keep fit and I want to show my six pack next summer on the beach.

Running relaxes me, it’s an outlet for my energy. I put my headphones on and it takes me to another world, separated from the religious identity of the Old City.

I’m not a religious person and my relationship with Jerusalem is more than religion. I enjoy passing through all the historical places that I belong to, each stone in it. My family came to Jerusalem around 800 years ago, I was born here, I’ve grown up here, it’s my home. Religion is a guest at my home, so I can pretend to be very natural.

I manage to block the annoying scene around me otherwise I can’t stay here.

I am a Christian Palestinian from the Armenian quarter. My house is in the middle – it is 50m from Jaffa Gate, 50m from the Jewish quarter, and also 50m from the Muslim quarter.

From a political point of view, I can run whenever I want during the day. I prefer not to do it at night because of the tiny streets of the old city of Jerusalem and it’s not written on my head who I am. So maybe the Arabs think that I’m Israeli and the Israelis think that I’m an Arab, and anything can happen in this Halloween city. I’m a Palestinian-Armenian, not Arab and not Jewish.
Sometimes, I avoid jogging on Fridays at noon time because once I went jogging then, and there were clashes in the Old City, so instead of breathing clean air, I breathed in tear gas.


Silvania faced a lot of difficulties at school because of her disability [Eduardo Duwe]

Name: Silvania Costa de Oliveira
Age: 26
Occupation: runner
Lives in: Brazil

I run … to overcome my disability.

I was born in a small city in Brazil. When I was 11-years-old, I got an illness because of which I lost 95 percent of my sight. This was when I first started running. I was at school and had a lot of difficulties, because I didn’t accept my disability. I would hide myself, isolate myself. I suffered a lot of prejudice and bullying.

Things got better when I accepted my disability and started to run in school.

Running brings a lot of good things, good health and beauty, it also brings me an inner peace that reflects on the people around me.

by Silvania Costa de Oliveira

At the age of 20, I competed for the first time, running a 10km street marathon. But I had a lot of financial necessities then. I had a seven-year-old daughter and I was depending on the money from the race. When I reached the 8km mark [in that marathon], I started to think about my daughter and I kept running despite being unprepared for that competition. But I won, and after that I never stopped.

Two years from now, I hope to become a professional and only dedicate myself to professional running. I now train five to six days each week, for eight hours a day.

Running brings a lot of good things, good health and beauty, it also brings me an inner peace that reflects on the people around me.

The moment I arrive at the running track I don’t hear anything, I fully concentrate. After I hear the shotgun, the only thing I sense are the steps of my helper and those of my competitors, and the wind. I can feel when someone gets close to me or if they are tired, I can tell from the sound of their breath.

When I cross the final line I hear the public, their vibration and joy. It’s a fantastic experience. I thank God first for my life and then my idols – the other runners that inspired me.

Editor’s note: In September 2016, Silvania won the Women’s Long Jump – T11 at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.


My philosophy is that endurance is the currency of charity [Ayesha Sitara]

Name: Christopher Joannes Petrus Schrader 
Age: 21 
Occupation: student at Harvard University and social entrepreneur
Lives in: Boston and Hong Kong 

I run … for sacrifice.

To sacrifice a little of your time, effort and endurance, which is nothing compared to what trafficked people endure.

At the age of 17, I started getting into ultra-marathons. I did this jump from [running] 2km to 3km, to running a maximum of 100km. Since then, I have done half marathons, 100km-runs and 150km-runs, but not full marathons. I find running on tarmac boring and painful. Instead I like the dynamism of running in the mountains, using different parts of my body and constantly adapting the changing terrain.

Why We Run:

I run three or four times a week, and do five to eight miles. When I am training, I do 20km to 30km a day, and on the weekend, at least a 100km.

I think getting the right gear is important to a point but I don’t go Gucci. I don’t have a large expense. I have never spent anything over $300 on a single piece of running kit. I am sponsored by 2XU – two times yourself – who do cool running stuff.

Running is a natural thing as everybody can run, so I thought it would be fantastic to set up an event where young people could get a taste for endurance and charity.

When I started the Hong Kong 24-Hour Race, I approached a few friends at school and we co-directed the first event. Eight international schools and 180 runners took part in the first event. We have grown since then, and now 20 schools take part with more than double the number of runners. In the first year, we raised $32,241 (HKD250,000). This year, we are looking at just under $200,000 (HKD1.5m).

I was looking for a cause that appealed to everybody. Everyone can relate to it. I met David and Stella McCracken who are very active in the anti-human trafficking scene. The statistics they gave us were really shocking. This is one of the top three criminal institutes in the world and basically no one is talking about it seriously. 

No matter what your background is you can care about human trafficking. You will want to change the situation of those over 20 million people who are stuck in bonded labour or [those who are] sexually exploited.


Rida has to often run for her university bus, or  be prepared to wait at least an hour for the next one [Ahmad Hasnain/Hn Solutions]

Name: Rida Mahmood
Age: 20 
Occupation: Fine Arts Student at the University of Punjab
Lives in: Lahore, Pakistan 

I run … to catch my university bus.

I remember first running for my school bus when I was in eighth grade, I continued running for the bus during my college days, and now run to catch the bus to my university. My university timetable and that of the bus tend to clash. On most days, after my last lecture finishes, I have to run really fast to catch the bus back home, or endure at least an hour-long wait for the next one. There is hardly ever enough time for me to get to the bus stop at a leisurely pace.

On average, I spend 25 to 30 minutes each week running for the bus.

I don’t have to pay the bus fare as it is covered by my university fees, but if I miss the bus, I have to take public transport, which as a student I cannot afford easily.

My most difficult or challenging run was last year in June, when I almost missed my bus at 6am, on a day when I had an exam at 6.45am. I had to run almost 200 metres, frantically waving my arms to catch the bus driver’s attention so he could stop the bus for me. But I just love running for my bus.


Annika has an exercise blog and is currently preparing for the 2014 London marathon [Johannes Ledel]

Name: Annika Persson
Age: 26
Occupation: public relations officer
Lives in: Stockholm, Sweden

I run … because I like entering races.

I spend most of my free time exercising and a lot of that exercise consists of running. I have two Stockholm marathons under my belt and am gearing up for the 2014 London marathon. I also have an exercise blog. During the summer months, I run about three times a week and in winter around two, but one of the runs is usually a longer stretch meaning a three to four-hour run.

I wouldn’t call myself a runner, but I like running. I like entering races and then I have to keep running in order to get through the races. And since I often have races booked, I end up running quite regularly.

I also like getting outside, running early mornings, late at night, after a hard day’s work or before heading off to work in the morning. It’s not the same as going to the gym and lifting weights or running on a treadmill. Maybe it’s the fresh air that I want. It’s a nice way of exercising and it isn’t difficult either, you just go out with a pair of shoes and some clothes and you can do it wherever you are. 

I prefer running in the fall, and I don’t like [to run] when it’s too hot. I don’t have any problems running when it snows, if you keep at it during the winter season, it becomes so much easier when the snow starts melting. You really feel the results of your efforts during the winter and it feels great when things start going easier in April and May.

Some people use special shoes with spikes, but I do alright without them. When you run longer distances, you don’t run that fast, so you just slow down when there is ice on the path, and you just wear winter padded tights and few extra layers of clothing.


The invitation to participate in the 2012 Olympics came about a month and a half prior to the opening ceremony [Sarah Attar]

Name: Sarah Attar
Age : 21
Occupation: student, represented Saudi Arabia in 2012 Olympics 
Studying in: California 

I run … to explore what I am capable of, and to explore the world.

I have been running for seven years, and now I spend around 10 hours each week running.

My biggest financial expense is travel related. Flights and hotels, on top of entry fees add up. But you see the cool thing about running is that it really doesn’t have to cost anything. You can literally just pick up your feet and go. But I go through about three pairs of running shoes a year.

The Olympics came into my life rather unexpectedly, making me the first female runner from Saudi Arabia, to compete in the Games. For most people, it's what they train for.

by Sarah Attar

Last April, I completed the Boston to Big Sur Challenge. This consists of running the Boston Marathon, and then two weeks later doing the Big Sur International Marathon. This was probably the most challenging thing that I have participated in yet, but I loved every minute of it. I am signed up to do it again, and they are actually six days apart next year. These are both wonderful races, and I love how they test resilience, dedication, and passion. The beauty of the marathon to me is the ratio of the mental to physical challenge.

I like pushing these limits. We are capable of so much more than we think.

The Olympics came into my life rather unexpectedly, making me the first female runner from Saudi Arabia, to compete in the Games. For most people, it’s what they train for.

For me, the invitation to participate came about a month and a half prior to the opening ceremony. There was mention of this possibility that I would compete a couple months before, but I never expected it to come to fruition. You really never know where your life will take you.

My family in Saudi Arabia and the US were very proud, and equally astounded by this opportunity that came into my life. They were all very supportive – I was overwhelmed with supportive congratulations from so many people. The other Saudi athletes, who we met during the opening ceremony, were also very welcoming and accommodating. 

Running is simple and beautiful. I love seeing where my own two feet can take me, and finding out what I am capable of, both mentally and physically. Running has allowed me to explore the world around me. I am always motivated to see what’s around the next corner or what the view is like from the top of the mountain. Running is uniting and empowering. It connects you to the earth, yourself, and the people around you.

Editor’s note: Sarah also competed in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics.


A former rugby player, Fiachra gets such pleasure out of running that he can no longer imagine life without it [Paulo Nunes dos Santos]

Name: Fiachra Lennon
Age: 38
Occupation: creative designer
Lives in: Dublin, Ireland

I run … to exercise.

I am a former rugby player from Dublin and started running on a daily basis around a year and a half ago. I now run around three to four hours a week and recently ran my first marathon.

After 20 years of [playing] rugby, when I made the decision to stop playing, I felt the need to keep exercising. At the time, running seemed the easiest option. I love that to run, all one needs to do is to put on their running shoes, walk out the door and go. Running gives me such a pleasure. I feel incredible after a practice. I can no longer imagine life without a few laps around the park every other day.

I often run around the campus of the University College of Dublin in the mornings before my working day starts. I also run in Phoenix Park, one of the largest city parks in Europe. It’s here that I practised for my biggest challenge so far as a runner, to participate and complete the Dublin Marathon last October.

The marathon was a big personal achievement. With that done now, my next goal is to be able to run 5km under the 20-minute mark.

The biggest expense I ever had with running was to invest $110 in a pair of running shoes which I used in the marathon. There are no excuses not to run. Everyone has a pair of old shorts, T-shirt and trainers somewhere at home.


The evening run is relaxing, running along the quiet and long stretch of coffee plantations near where I reside is an experience that is out of this world [Alex Kamweru]

Name: Mukami Gitonga
Age: 32
Occupation: works in finance
Lives in: Nairobi, Kenya

I run … to shed weight, a lot of weight gained after my daughter’s birth.

I have been running since I was 10. I run for an hour each day, mostly evenings after work, approximately 7-8 hrs each week.

My biggest financial expense is the running kit, especially getting the right running shoes which wear out too fast. I participated in the Standard Chartered marathon in Nairobi which is 21km – that remains my most challenging race.

I find the evening run relaxing – running along the quiet and long stretch of coffee plantations near where I reside is an experience that is out of this world.

I run for fun and to keep fit. At the moment I’m running for one main purpose, which is to shed weight, a lot of weight gained after my daughter’s birth. With consistent running, I know I’ll get my sporty body back. 

Editor’s note: This article was first published in 2013.