The Sawhili word harambee represents the idea of pulling together as one to accomplish a common good. It is a driving force in the Kenyan culture, represented above in their Coat of Arms. It permeates everything they do, including athletics. Positive thinking and a supportive community let them excel as some of the worlds most accomplished runners. A recent article written by David Alm in RunnersWorld introduced this concept to me. He suggests that being an elite runner and an elite athlete is more than just putting in the training, being naturally gifted, or being genetically predisposed to perform at the highest level. It requires a certain way of thinking, a certain psychology.  He writes:

This ethos

[harambee] translates to their athletics, he says, inspiring hundreds—if not thousands—of young runners to join the fray each year. "People will look at other runners and say, 'That guy is the same height as me, the same weight as me, comes from the same town as me. Maybe I can do it, too,'" he says. "So you have this group of positive-thinking people, and positivity spawns more positivity—people encouraging you to do more."

In high school, I was a part of a crew of students who provided technical support for our theater productions. We had a motto, and before each show we would all circle up and chant, "PMA, PMA, OH WE FEEL SO GOOD TODAY. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY IT'S OK!  IT'S OK!." —PMA stands for positive mental attitude, something we valued highly as a team. The chant was pretty simple, but it did the trick, it immediately lightened the mood. For those of you who aren't familiar with the chaos that ensues during an amateur theater production, it is unreal. People flying all around, actors forgetting props, set pieces snapping in half, and a whole host of other electrical and audio issues far beyond our expertise can, and will, pop up without a moment's notice.  For us all to function as a well-oiled machine and pull off a good show, we all needed to be positive and on the same page. Our chant was our own version of harambee.

So, how do running and high school theater tie into each other? I suppose they don't, really, except that when we lose sight of the end goal—a great performance or having fun and getting in good health—things can begin to run amok quickly. In theater, missed ques can cascade quickly, throwing off the rhythm and scenes. Worrying about what other people have to do rather than doing your part often leads to you yourself screwing up.  In running, its easy to become focused on the competition with others, beating each others' PRs and constantly trying to set new records to prove some sort of self-worth.

Lately I've fallen into the trap of comparing myself to others. I've been fixated on trying to figure out the proper training paces that will help to edge out friends and to stay on my game. I want to consistently improve for myself, and to prove I can. Over the past few days, my wife has pointed out to me that I should focus on my own training and improvement and not make everything a competition. I should encourage others to do their best, without worrying about how it might compare to my own times. I realized after reading Alm's article that Ellie was 100 percent right (as usual!). I need to just relax and get back to why I do this in the first place: I do it for fun and for my health; it truly isn't a competition. I lost sight of that over the past few months.

At the end of the RunnersWorld article, Alm states four keys to an Elite attitude:

  1. Don't treat training runs or race times as indications of your self-worth.
  2. Value every runner's efforts, success, and potential.
  3. Don't beat yourself up in training or in evaluating your workouts and racing.
  4. Recognize that your running ability is a result of many factors, not just how serious you are or how hard you push.

I'm going to take these keys to heart and follow Ellie's advice. I'm going to try to get back to the basics of having fun and working hard to do my personal best, whatever that might be. Everyone has their own potentials that they need to realize, and as a group we should encourage each other to strive to do our best, hit our ques, and always have a positive mental attitude.

Besides, as Alm suggests, true elites will smoke us all without trying (it's just who they are!), so there is no point in comparing our slow-ass times anyway.