My Marathon

Today, Hong Kong hosted the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon and the 8th Asian Marathon Championship; and I was there, filled with awe and anticipation at first, became rather anxious shortly after the start, and overcome with joy, excitement and contentment in the end.

It all started some months back when Standard Chartered sent round a flyer inviting our organization to field a team. I thought it was a good idea at the time, for it would offer unique brand building and team building opportunities, and we could also raise some funds for charity. We put together two teams, one comprising mostly aging executives and the other the young and fearless. A young colleague assured me that she would organize some training sessions to ensure that we would all complete the ten-kilometer course. Yes, it was the 10 km race we joined, not the Half Marathon and of course, not the Marathon. Due to work pressure and other commitments, I could not join even one session and I had no time to do any personal training either. Meanwhile, this colleague had trained herself to do 12 km in 80 minutes. You could imagine my anxiety from the night before to the start of the race.

The logistics were phenomenal. We had a support team of about a dozen colleagues – God bless them – who did a first class job from start to finish. Our two corporate teams agreed to assemble at 6:15am at the Cultural Centre, which means that I had to get to the Admiralty MTR Station shortly before 6:00am to catch the first train, and which means that I had to get up rather early. We were advised to eat some food and drink plenty of water. I did not have time for the food, but I drank quite a bit, which later caused me further anxiety.

The start was quite spectacular and the mood overwhelming. Reports had it there were 13,600 runners at the start at 7:00am. The Marathon runners went off on the dot, while the others ten minutes later. That was probably the only time Nathan Road is filled with cheering and smiling faces on both carriageways. It was not possible to move initially. Most people walked at first, then jogged and could only run later when the crowd thinned out. I had no problem with not running fast, for I reckoned that I could finish in two hours through jogging and brisk walking.

We covered the first kilometer after five minutes. Well done me, I thought. As I approached the Western Harbour Crossing, I saw a queue outside two portable toilets. Suddenly, the urge to get rid of the water I took in the morning grew very intensely and I stopped to join the queue. Unfortunately, the queue went too slowly for comfort and I waited some 15 minutes for the operation. With hindsight, that was not very smart, for the waiting not only stopped the momentum I built up, but had resulted in I having to run by myself for the rest of the race without my teammates.

Soon I found myself running alone among people walking, some rather leisurely, in pairs and in fours. I found myself joining their pace and had to remind myself that the Support Team and other teammates could be waiting. Soon, the organizers announced that the Half Marathon runners were overtaking us and advised us to make way for them. I was slightly worried and I tried to jog faster, and it was when I experienced once again the feeling of “the spirit is willing, but the fresh is weak.”

I finally met my Support Team colleagues at the Furama Hotel footbridge. They were overjoyed to see me. Later they told me that the last colleague passed five minutes before and they were making contingency plans for me not showing up.

Running alone however does offer time for some reflection. I saw a couple running with their baby in a push car – I wondered whether the baby carriage had its suspension modified. I recall the time I did the Trailwalker when the only thing on the mind at times was to finish the walk. That was the priority. All others had to wait.

The brain is certainly a funny and certainly unique organ. The brain has a life of its own and one theory has it that it controls what we think. Andrew Newberg is in his mid-thirties and is a leading figure in neurotheology, an emerging science which explores the relationship between spirituality and the brain. Dr. Newberg is mindful of the limits of science in the area and the inability of the human intelligence to find answers to certain religious experience and phenomenon. He said that by understanding how the brain works during such experience and practices, such as in prayers, we might begin to understand how religions can affect psychological and physical health. In his book “Why God won’t go away” he suggested that the human brain could be hard-wired so that human beings believed in God. He quickly acknowledged though that neuroscience could not answer the question of how the human brain was designed, but pointed out that the brain regularly performs two functions that religion also performs, namely self-maintenance and self-transcendence.

Self-maintenance is the process whereby the human body, largely through the working of the brain, keeps itself and its vital organs functioning by avoiding dangers, by going for objects that would be conducive to survival and by mating. Similarly, religion performs important functions that enable man gain control over the environment, reduce anxiety in man so that individuals can perform the necessary behaviours, help promote and sustain behaviours, and build, develop and maintain a civil society.

Self-transcendence is our inherent need to move from one stage of life to another, for example, from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age and to death. We are still ourselves at each stage, but we have transcended who we were in the previous stage. Religion is the ultimate expression of self-transcendence. Some religions allow for transcendence of the self while here on earth; other religions require death. Either way, religions help us to transcend ourselves as we move to our ultimate union with God or some other fundamental reality. Religions also help direct our daily self-transcendence by helping to prescribe ways in which we can grow, learn, and develop. Today’s reading from the Gospel was taken from Matt 17:1 – 9. It was about the Lord’s transfiguration which could be an illustration of self-transcendence.

Newberg argues that the main reason God won’t go away is because our brains won’t allow God to leave. Our brains are set up in such a way that God and religion become among the most powerful tools for helping the brain do its thing – self-maintenance and self-transcendence. He concludes that unless there is a fundamental change in how our brain works, God will be around for a very long time.

Vince Rause, a co-author of “Why God won’t go away” has quoted Albert Einstein as having helped him to appreciate incomprehensible wonders in a rational universe, “The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazements, is as good as dead.”

Back to my morning run, I crossed the finish line into nearly two dozens of friends and colleagues. “You have done well,” they reassured me, “and you are ahead of many runners.” I felt great. They had all waited for me for the finish photo which would go into the corporate newsletter. I was so pleased with my colleagues and myself.

Talk to you again later.

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