Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Running in my blood

Niina Majaniemi
Pirkanmaa, Finland


Author running in a marathon
Picture from Marathon Photos.com. Source

Some people are drawn to dancing, others to traveling or baking cakes. My passion is to torture myself by running for twenty-six miles, usually in very hot weather. Why? I could give you countless reasons. The thrill. The sense of achievement. Pushing boundaries. The blood pumping in my veins so strongly that I feel alive. The reason for celebration afterwards.

Each year I travel with a friend somewhere far away from Finland to run a marathon or a half marathon. These trips have been life changing. We have met unforgettable people who have become friends. We have reached limits we never thought we would. And sometimes we have realized the value of our health—what a precious gift it is, something that cannot be bought with money.

When a Scandinavian woman comes to run in a hot climate, it takes a heavy toll on her body. Since we usually train in blizzards and not under the scorching sun, our body does not know how to adjust. At home in Finland two days before a trip to the Caribbean to run a half marathon, I felt happy and had set my goal time to be under two hours. But one day before the trip, I got sick.

My symptoms got worse on the plane: I lost my voice and could feel my mind falling into negativity, sadness, and frustration. I felt self pity for my bad luck; I was never sick. But now that I had left on this much anticipated trip, I felt weak, feverish, and nauseous. My sister suggested that my body was releasing stress after having been so busy at work. On the long plane ride I had time to think about my goal, all of the training toward that goal, and the shared experience with my friend. We always looked forward to crossing the finish line and later drinking champagne dressed in our party dresses, accessorized by race medals. If I did not get to experience that, would I even be able to enjoy the rest of the holiday? Was all the work for nothing?

Hours later I knew I was on the wrong path—the path of self pity. I was privileged. I was going to a beautiful destination in the Caribbean and would not let anything take away my happiness. There was more to running marathons than the actual race—it was a way of life and I needed to celebrate the journey, not just the wins. It is the journey that teaches us everything. Just as my training has taught me perseverance, work ethic, motivation, and focus, it was time to learn how to take care of my body and ensure that I stay healthy.

Running has been my tool to handle enormous stress and come out stronger. I have cried numerous times when running, and once I finish I feel better. It has been the sweet escape from worries. It has been the place where endorphins have filled my body and made my blood flow faster. When I run I feel like nothing in this world is impossible. Running has taught me to have an active lifestyle and to make the right decisions. How could that be for nothing?

At the hotel, I called for a doctor. He visited me, prescribed antibiotics, and gave me permission to run after a few days. I fell into bed not knowing what to think. I never recommend running sick. Our body is our temple and we need to take care of it. This doctor now told me I could run in two days—could I trust him? I was in another country, we did not speak the same language—could I really take his advice? A half marathon is a big physical effort. I fell asleep and did not know what to do. But the next morning the receptionist at the hotel smiled at me and said, “You have a voice!” I knew the doctor had been right. The medication was working and I was able to run.

It was just as incredible as it has always been when we race. The wonderful, warm-hearted Caribbean people were cheering us on the way. “You are stars! We could not do it!” someone shouted. There was music and smiles and small children giving us high fives—the smile on their faces when they touched my hand! I got such a rush of energy that I always ran a bit harder after getting a clap from a child. I had to walk a bit at one point, clearly feeling the results of having been ill. At that moment another runner slowed down to give me encouragement and wish me good luck. Small things from strangers can make a huge difference, and after a minute I was running again.

The race made me think about our bodies and how much they can do—if we do not limit our power with our own thinking. A marathon is just as much a test of the mind as it is of the body. You need to be strong to survive when self-doubt hits, the voice that tells you to give up. You need to win out over those inner voices and keep pushing until you see the finish line. We should not be victims of the limitations inside our heads, the false beliefs of how we should function to be a perfect performer. Those limitations only keep us down and prevent us from achieving better results.

I go back to that moment and that beautiful Caribbean night after the race, the sound of the waves as a sweet meditation, a glass of Prosecco in my hand, and the moon shining in the sky. I felt my blood flowing stronger than ever, making my love for running and traveling even stronger, eternally grateful that I had one of my best friends beside me. I thought back to all the races in different parts of the world and the people who had left an eternal print on my heart. That moment was pure bliss. Running would always be with me, whether or not I achieved my goal. It is in my blood—and I am thankful I can continue to do it.



NIINA MAJANIEMI is a Scandinavian with a Caribbean soul. She has worked for fifteen years in the international technology industry and is passionate about empathy in business, which she considers a leadership superpower.



Spring 2020  |  Sections  |  Travel

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