Journey to the Six Star – The JoyRunner

Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.

Proverbs 72:1

One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.

Paulo Coelho

For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

1 Peter 3:17

The Running Journey

I never ran before, till work life, to keep fit. (Read my Comrades experience here). But why I began running is no longer important, what’s important is that, it generated a desire to just run, and joyfully so. I love to run, just like you do anything else. Running made me love the energy, and understand my body so much that things that previously exhausted me became a walk in the park. There is a saying that consistently doing one thing well will yield result over time and make it easier to master other habits later. The more I ran, the more I wanted to run, and the more I must keep running till am 94 years (so help me God 🙏🏽). It has become so much my play, an hour or more of enjoyment away from my daily routine, away from banking, from girls’ gossip, from TV series. Running complimented my faith in God to help me discover, and still discovering, myself and finally ,accepting myself. Many didn’t see it coming, and have come to the acceptance; some have even joined. Lol.

Fast forward to World Marathon Major (WMM): My “marathon” journey initially began in 2007, and then 2009 ,when a couple of us ran the first and second Glo half marathon. Go Slayer, JF, Breeze, Daddylet and Uche of blessed memory. The first was finished in about 2hours 15 minutes and second sub 1: 50 minutes, running non stop. And soon I received the shock and good “insult” that half is not the same as full and never to call myself a marathoner. Hmmmm, trust me, I was nicely vexed after that to run a full marathon. It never left me when a running coach said that to me as I prided to have run two marathons, that 21.1km is not the same as 42.2km. Happy to have accomplished a challenge (be it half or not☹️) I yearned for more. Globacom with their issues with the Athletics Federation stopped the race just as Uche and I began training for the 2010 version. Well, fate turned it all around with good connections and information and so I wanted to be a marathoner. In October 2010, I ran my first full marathon in Athens. Perfect choice, because it was where Marathon began (Or so they say). I ran it in 3 hours 49 mins and 53 seconds.

My First Marathon

Hurray! I ran my first marathon in Greece. Running my first marathon on the toughest hills of all marathons didn’t deter yet proved to me that I can actually conquer any 26.2 miles. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”. ~ Isaiah 41:10 KJV. Certainly I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. It has been proven and so has it remained. I am the JoyRunner and just as this running is far beyond me, it is also far beyond my power. It is all unto God.

Whilst I ran Athens October 2010, Uche was to run New York the week after. And we both have our different reason to run Athens and New York. Her reason to run New York filtered into my ears. Uche said, I am targeting the 5 World Marathon majors, she said it first and my Coach confirmed it. And then so shall it systematically be. 🙏🏾 Amen. 1st Timothy 1:7 – For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self discipline.

Quest For The Five World Marathon Majors

The most coveted of all Marathon medals. Then it was 5, there was no Tokyo. Now 6 with Tokyo. If care is not taken, soon it may be 7, with Paris looming. The Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM) is a series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world. The races take place in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. And yea, as I hovered through the finish line of the Tokyo marathon on Sunday the 25th of February, a day before my birthday, I celebrated being part of that group of runners from over 30 countries to bare the title Abbott World Marathon Majors Six Star Finisher. More exciting to be the first ever female Nigerian born and resident to run it. I understand less than 1000 or more runners have accomplished this. This has been 8 years in the making and a title that I am most honored and proud to own, and permit me to say, and one that I have worked extremely hard to achieve. Uche, this title is dedicated absolutely to you. Thank you. The first Nigerian Indigenous marathoner and Boston qualifier (well, I stand to be corrected) but continue to RIP sis. My first and original gym and running buddy.

Whilst I kept to “chasing” the WMM, PB and all, I continued to learn, grow and mature in this running journey. I learned that though we all want to PB and achieve our six star status, the happiness and growth occurs in the process, the training, the commitment, friendship and discipline to wake up to put in the effort. After all the Bible says “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ“. Col 3: 23-24.

I always run races according to holiday plan and not restricting to WMM. After Athens, next January 2011, I ran Dubai to shave off 13 minutes from Athens. I ran 3:36, which qualified me for the prestigious Boston.

Berlin, 2011. My first step to WWM

I ran Berlin on September 25th, 2011, clocking 3:28:00. I had to PR here. The highest number marathon world records for men and women have been set on the Berlin course. It was the year Patrick Makau broke Haile Gebrselassie’s record with a time of 2:03.38 to take the record back to Kenya. He was so happy to do that. And in 2013, Kenyan star Wilson Kipsang set a new world marathon record with a time of 2:03:23, until Dennis Kimetto, of Kenya, broke that record in a time of 2:02:57 on the same course in 2014, a record that stands today. The 2011 women’s winner was Florence Kiplagat, also from Kenya, won in a time of 2:19:44 hours, which made her the ninth fastest woman of all-time. Paula Radcliffe ran and DNF’d.

So, running Berlin helped to better my qualifying time for Boston, which was 3:40 (F34-39). Joining a running club and working with a friend and coach accelerated this journey to train on my long runs. I also began to research how to run better and faster. So now, I was on my way to the 116th Boston marathon on April 16, 2012. The second step to my WMM journey, and the most crucial for the quest. Susu was in Berlin 😘. Yea was sponsored by SPAR.

Berlin 3:28:00

Boston

Long running on Third Mainland bridge, Lagos, Nigeria.

There’s nothing quite like the Boston marathon experience. Qualifying, entering, being formally accepted, running alongside 26.2 miles with roaring crowds, and of course the infamous ‘Heartbreak hill.’ The kiss from the Wesley girls (guys you will love it so please just run it 😊). Telling family and friends, telling anyone who would listen, that you are going to be running the same streets, in the same foot steps as some of the most elite runners in the world. So now with a 3:28:00 I have secured “gidigba” myself a qualifying entry into the famous Boston. 12 minutes faster than the needed qualifying time. I ran and finished the Boston race in 3:44:03 against a sub 3:30 goal. I was very upset still being obsessed about my finishing time at the time.

Very upset because I trained really hard. With two hired soldiers driving my car, I ran from Bonny Camp to International Airport for my long run. Chai🤔🤔🤔😉But Boston 2012 was too tough a condition and called the “Survival Race” (best to Google it). Was an honour to meet Dick Beardsley in Boston, signing his book for me. 56 years old at the time and still runs sub 3hours, far better than I could think of. Broken many marathon course records and first winner of the first London marathon. I love heros like him. He was celebrating his 30th anniversary since the famous 1982 “Duel In the Sun” in Boston.

Boston 2012 3:44:03

London, 2014

I ran about 5 races in between Boston and the next WMM, London April 13, 2014., including winning my first infamous Accra Marathon; but this is about WWM. So London came and friends and family contributed to raise the much needed funds for charity. And on April 13, 2014 I was on “home” ground, home because there is family and friends and I love London and had wanted to run it in 2005 whilst living there. So with family and friends cheering me on, and great crowd support, British style, you see the best of British in the marathon. I did it. London was a special and exciting experience for me. Home and same course where Paula Radcliffe, marathon world record holder with a time of 2:15:25, and three-time winner of the London Marathon, three-time NYC Marathon champion and winner of Chicago in 2002. She did not run, I suppose due to injury. However, next year, 26 Apr 2015 · The greatest female marathon runner in Great British history Paula Radcliffe bid an emotional goodbye to the London Marathon by posting a time of 2:36.55.

I tried to do my donors proud with a time of 3:45:10 which was my worst case goal. Weaving through the crowd in the first half of the race got me a time of 1:56, so as the crowd freed I saw my three, no 4 support crew at km 22 screaming from the opposite direction, now that added some speed to the legs because all I looked forward to was to turn around and meet them on the other side (km 35 or so). I was to dig deeper in second half and run with a purpose according to 1 Corinthians 9:26 “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air” ….I had a plan and dug deeper to run the second half faster, my first negative split in a marathon race to redeem my lost time in the first half.

London 3:45:10

New York, 2015

With a bad jet-lag, and with my BFF and my big Sis on the sideline cheering at Km 22 and 37, I was oblivious of the hills (not really) and ran an unplanned 3:33:05 time in New York. Till today, it is still a mystery to me because I went out with a 3:40 fitness and 3:45 worst case scenario. So after NewYork, a new lesson learned. I learned quickly to quit complaining about race conditions. I read that the real question posed to us is the effort we are able to make and that available effort is always much more than we suspect.
It is not the weather, the tightness in your left calf, the tightness of the Achilles or upper calf; there will always be something niggling to deter you in a 42km distance. It is not a 10km distance it 42 plus 385 yards distance. The wall will certainly come at some point after the 20th mile. Be it fast or slow, there is no escaping the physiological breaking point that comes at, nearer or after mile 20 which has been debated is where the Marathon truly begins. That is where all your training should aim to break. It is what differentiates someone running a marathon and a marathoner. There is a saying that, “we live far below the energy we have and therefore must learn to tap these reservoir of power.” In order to use it at such times (the wall) be it in life and at play. So beyond having the energy and resources to 🏃‍♀️ the truth is Marathon mimics life. There is always a marathon playing out in every aspects of our life’s journey. What’s always important is to learn to dig deeper and tap into the reservoir of power within us to break every life’s marathon wall. I truly ❤️ Marathon. Marathon always calls for an inner will, strength and determination to succeed and achieve a set goal. And no way would that not translate to life. Marathon teaches you to give yourself grace. That you won’t always get it right but when you stumble, do fall forward, learn from your mistake and keep going. Even God will support you and be right beside you cheering you on.

Newyork left 2015 in 3:33:05 and London right 2014 in 3:45:10

My Hobby

New York left 2015 in 3:33:05 and London right 2014 in 3:45:10.

Point to note… New York and Boston are some challenging courses. Boston topping the lead with the wicked heartbreak hills, but for the guys, the real life and real time kisses from the Wesley College girls will always see you through. (Now I see every guy wants to run Boston…lol).

Chicago, 2016

Chicago Marathon, October 9th 2016. If you read my Windy City race report you would know how much I enjoyed not just the race, but Chicago. I am almost tempted to do it again. A large beautiful and vibrant city. I was enthralled by the sheer number of people walking around the city 24-hours a day. The race was well organized and was a relatively flat marathon which had runners winding through every neighborhood, as well as downtown Chicago where I stayed. The weather was perfect for me. I was trained. So I had everything in the bags to nail a PB. Flat course. No injuries, no pains, no twitch, yet was not another marathon PB for me. Chicago was also where my two running friends joined me from Wisconsin in my quest to run the fifth WMM. In Chicago, I had a plan to run a good race. I missed the plan by forgetting my watch and being in the 4:30 coral, so I adjusted my expectations and enjoyed the race yet closing at 3:38:37. What’s even better? After the race, I met up with some Naija Runners for dinner.

Chicago 3:38:37

Tokyo. And then there was one!

My, I think, 21st official marathon (I have lost count). Tokyo February 25th 2018. The race also happened to be a birthday celebration for me. A most historic day. Having tried unsuccessfully to gain entry through the general lottery, and a semi-elite lottery, my two friends and running buddies and I opted to go through the marathon charity. As always I had to plan this race into my vacation and I would run this race with just two hours sleep due to 9-hour time difference for my body clock. This race was different for me in so many ways. As I passed through the finish line of the race, I was not only going to have lived through an experience of a lifetime, but I would finally complete all six Abboth World Marathon Majors, 10 years after I had set my dream in motion. Now I became very happy Tokyo was added to the Abboth WMM. I was crowned with the king of all marathon medals, and baring the title of Six Star Finisher, have done it! Running a 3:30 time and Setting a 6 year PB after Berlin. Like my Coach commented, my body approved that it is faster and stronger at 42 than it was at 35. Isaiah 40:31 “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”. Glory be to my God of running who made this happen despite tedious work schedule and commitment that came with a new job role. I wanted to succeed in both. God did not just give me success with Tokyo, God showed favour at the new job role.

Tokyo Training

So……..one, I was coming from a lingering Dubai 2017 “DNF” injury. Two, I had less than 4 months preparation. Three, I wanted to run the final WMM in a respectable time, and with class. I learned to train well and give every marathon some respect but I also learned not to ever be under pressure training for any race again. Just enjoy it!! But for Tokyo, I wanted it to be special. So I decided it was time to charge up my training and break into a sub 3:30 or worse case 3:30 marathon race time. I knew I could do if I prepare. I said 3:30 to everyone who asked. I have done enough research and read enough running and training books to help set up a training plan. I also consulted my former coach for accountability and it was very helpful. Coaching one-on-one, and running alongside my Road Warriors and sharing running information with DV, afforded me the opportunity to add mileage, strength and speed to my training. My work schedule was tight hence I missed some training and would head out straight to the gym late after work and run on the treadmill, causing them to close much later most nights. The workers hated me for that but I loved them right back. I tried to hit all the training plan and adjusted where I had to e.g running the pacers 21km and Lagos Marathon 10km. Long story short. Tokyo with its long and fast course added into my most favorite of all time, setting a 6 year PB at 3:30. All glory to God.

In a nutshell…

The plan, the journey, The mind blowing Tokyo technological advancement, even the #shithole techy advancement, the contrasting ancient people with sophisticated nation, the self honor and respect of the Tokyo people, the class. The preservation of culture and tradition yet with the most sophisticated brain. The cleanliness, the discipline. The overall Asia experience… Oh Tokyo! Why will Tokyo not remain my best “move” of all time? I mean, why not? If you have any plans please run or be a Tokyo supporter, if you can! Experience Japan, they are in my opinion the highest, best and classiest of the Asian race. Run Tokyo and everything else will be worth it. OooooMyyyyGoood!!!! Abeg, I will soak the garri later but I will ever remain thankful to Baba God.

Course Fuel and Food

Pocari Sweat and water are the beverages offered along the course. Pocari Sweat I learned has MSG in it (I had no clue. I should have done my research ahead of time!) so please read about it during your time. There were also bananas and tomatoes along the course. Volunteers wore gloves when handling food, for those health conscious individuals. They are clean and health conscious, with the finest and cleanest environment I have ever seen yet most citizens wear mask. I later learned sick people would usually wear mask to prevent others from being infected and know not to give a hand shake. So much honour and respect. To be safe, I carried my own gels so the only thing I needed was water and Pocari sweat. However, some Amino value with BCAA 2000mg bought at the Expo for muscle recovery did magic. I can swear by the relieve it gave my muscles after KM 37 when legs almost locked. You can try it in training to gauge. My running buddy also seconded my claim, I hope😊👍🏽Small advise….if you haven’t started yoga or strength exercise as a runner please commit to it.

The Crowd. Oh the crowd!!

The crowd also were my favorite. There were people everywhere! I believe more than 1.5 million spectators. And they cheered with joy, heart and soul. They spoke one or two phrases in English to cheer us on. And they LOVED high-fiving everyone. I felt bad not hi-fiving everyone because it was a bit more than London or Chicago fun run where I did hi five a lot of people. But it’s so refreshing to see the excitement on their faces especially when hi fived by a foreigner. They took it so seriously and it seemed like they were so honored to entertain the runners. They are so nice to foreigners. I got folks thanking me for visiting when I make enquiries. When you ask for direction, they don’t just point to the direction they drop everything else to take you to the location. I saw such gesture last in my village where villagers are excited to help you because you are visiting from “abroad”. Tokyo, kept their tradition. They sent their finest brains and studied in and learned the Western education to develop their nation but kept their core values. Tokyo was and is an experience of a lifetime. A new whole version of learning.

I regretted that I did not have a phone to take pictures because I wanted to run a good race. But happy I soaked it all in. The entertainment and dancers. Simply beautiful. One reason I don’t listen to music while running a marathon is to soak it all in. Complete strangers come out on their day off to cheer me on. The entertainers are there to entertain. Why put all that away for music. Though I plugged my ears for about an hour to listen to a special message and prayer after that I freed my ears. Why would I block all that out by listening to music? I love hearing the crowds and being aware of what’s going on, especially when I’m in a different country. In Tokyo course, you don’t need music. Please soak up the experience. Be present. Enjoy the gift of running. Tune-in well because the crowd has better making for your fun.

Finish Line

After you cross the finish line, you are given a very fine towel not those yeye foil. 😂 And then a finisher’s medal. Walk down a bit and get a good food bag, then turn right was the 6 Star medal location where the memory was created😊😊. Then we walked a bit to join the charity bus to take us to the bag pick up location and after that, another walk to the entertainment centre. It was exhausting walking all that after 26.2 miles but expected with almost 40,000 crowd and to keep it flowing and tidy. The end was organized. The centre had Starbucks and Mac Donald’s nearby where we used our voucher to devour some Big Mac before heading home.

Lessons

Running has taught me not to be a mediocre, in life, at work or at play. It has taught me to always be present. It has taught me to always tell the truth and to manage “lies” especially when managing clients (jokes)😂😂😂😂. It has taught me love, forgiveness, not to quarrel, not to envy. It taught me, me. It complimented my knowledge of God in many ways than one. It teaches me life daily. If these are not wrong then join me to continue this race till age 94, when I intend to stop. So says and help me God. Amen!!!

What next?

I am taking a break from running marathon but I love Manchester and been wanting to do their marathon. I am a huge Man-U fan. England will always be easy with a sister and brother, relatives, grad school friends, bffs and more. For me, that’s what being a runner is all about, supporting and sharing each other’s amazing experiences and accomplishments.

Thank you to my Nigeria Runners. You are amazing running buddies. The energy and lessons we learn from here is more than just a “show off”. I love this forum and pray God helps us “run” our lives as we run the asphalts. I find myself blessed every day to be a part of this group. You make me a better runner me a better runner.

Thank you for allowing me to share my experience of a lifetime with you, and I hope in our different life pursuits we continue to share our various blessings to encourage one another. God bless you as you “run” your life. Amen.

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Written by

Esther “The Whip” Obiekwe