Tell people you are training for the New York City Marathon and they will be impressed. They might even download a marathon training program app for themselves. People love the idea of marathons that will transform them into more disciplined, deliberate, healthy, and strong people who will never fall prey to procrastination or laziness again.
The only problem is that many of us find we love the idea of training for a marathon more than the reality. Hours of running before or after work, possibly in the heat or the cold or the rain, are less romantic than the image of running through cheering crowds to the finish line.
When we look at successful people, it is all too easy to celebrate what seems like spontaneous glory while overlooking hard work. Most people who accomplish great things labor for endless hours in pursuit of their dreams before they see positive results.
The fantasy of quick and easy glory is an entrenched narrative in our culture. In reality completing a marathon or reaching any difficult goal requires persistence and stamina. Short spurts of enthusiasm do not yield long-term results.
The same principles that apply to training for a marathon apply to responding to the Ebola crisis. The public, the media and aid organizations reacted with a burst of energy when the crisis first emerged in West Africa. Stories of dramatic, heart-wrenching suffering, heroic medical relief, and political posturing abounded. After the initial enthusiasm, however, attention wandered away from the crisis. It's not that people stopped caring; they just had a hard time staying focused.
When it comes to ongoing national and international problems, we too easily fall into a crisis response mode: We only pay attention when the problem becomes extremely acute. Afterwards, we immediately slack off. You can't solve international health problems using the crisis response method any more than you can successfully train for a marathon by sprinting once a month.
Partners In Health (PIH) was founded in order to provide more than crisis medical relief. PIH works to train, equip and eventually build sustainable health systems that prevent as well as resolve crises. Despite their strong record as one of the most effective health organizations in the world, few in the U.S. have heard of them because they are long-distance runners. They build infrastructure incrementally and thoroughly with the aim of creating healthy societies. As the world shifts its focus away from West Africa, PIH continues to heal the victims of Ebola as they work to prevent the disease from recurring.
To emphasize the importance of long-distance training in achieving lasting results in world health, PIH plans to sponsor runners in the NYC marathon. Whether you are out there training in the mornings and evenings or plan to watch the runners push through their fatigue toward the finish line, you will see what can be accomplished through discipline and focus. In the end, success is hard to resist, so when the race is over it's not over. The finish line is not the end because there is always another race. In order to become lasting partners in each other's health, we must become marathoners.