There’s something about running that never quite made sense to us. Running after a bus, yes. Running away from a cop, of course. But running for the sake of running? Well, if that seemed rather besides the point till now, Fauja Singh has clammed our dropping jaw moments after it dropped open in sheer amazement. Born in Jalandhar on April Fool’s Day the year the capital of India was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, this 100-year-old Sikh gentleman from Ilford, east London, has become the oldest man ever to complete a marathon.
For those of us who didn’t quite see any point in getting out of bed before 10 o’clock in the morning, never mind running 42 km at the age of 100, we have been gobsmacked by the sheer tenacity and wonder of Singh’s feat that was on display at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Monday.
The marathon is a metaphor for life. The need to pace oneself through the 42.195 km distance mirrors that of the other journey we all undertake. Peak too soon and you become one of those ‘child prodigies’ who are forgotten by the time they turn 15. Peaking too late isn’t much of an option for most of us, especially considering that ‘peaking’ at all can be a problem for most people. And yet, Singh, the former farmer from Punjab who took up running in 2000 after his wife and son died, has made running a purpose of his life and his life a purpose of running. If the physical part of a centenarian completing a marathon sounds daunting, think of the mental strength that propels such a heart and legs.
Fauja Singh is an inspiration to us all, runners and non-runners, senior citizens and not-so-senior citizens. Understandably, we seek the ingredients of Singh’s powers. Some of us will focus on his vegetarian diet — peppered by “ginger curry and tea”. But the secret of Singh’s powers may lie elsewhere. As he said after his remarkable feat in Toronto: “The secret to a long and healthy life is to be stress-free. Be grateful for everything you have, stay away from people who are negative, stay smiling and keep running.” Quite.