Adedayo Akinbode… Nigeria’s serial marathon runner, ‘Ambassador’
It is not every day that a Nigerian quits a lucrative job at Shell to focus on running marathons across the world. But that is what Adedayo Akinbode did, and within 10 years, she has participated in over 100 marathons across 77 countries on five continents.
And guess what, she is far from resting on her oars, as her goal is to push that figure from 77 to a record-breaking 196 countries around the world. Speaking with The Guardian, Akinbode said her participation in marathons has created awareness about Nigeria, adding that visiting countries where Nigerians are rarely heard of pushes her even further.
“It is quite a challenging endeavour, especially considering that I don’t have the necessary funds readily available. To date, I have managed to run marathons in 77 countries, fully self-funded. However, I am reaching a point where I require additional support to continue pursuing my goal.
“The more I visit countries where Nigerians are rarely heard of or where they have seldom encountered a person of African descent, the more determined I become to explore even more of these places.
“The highlight of my participation is when I hear the announcer proclaim, ‘Here comes number so so, Adedayo from Nigeria’, and regardless of whether they have heard of Nigeria before, everyone in the vicinity shouts, Nigeria!
“This moment, for me, is the epitome of accomplishment, as it signifies that I am effectively promoting Nigeria and spreading awareness about my country.”
A graduate of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering of Obafemi Awolowo University, formerly the University of Ife, Osun State, Akinbode did not start participating in marathons because she was jobless.
Career-wise, she started as a Management Trainee at Cadbury Nigeria Plc, where she rose to become the Planning Manager. Thereafter, she joined Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company where she rose to become the Low-Risk Contracting Team Lead. She is now a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS),
Even though she participated in her first two marathons as a corporate executive at Shell, her love for marathons fostered her quitting the job to enable her to continue to participate in marathon events across the world. She, however, maintains that participating in marathons is not for profit, as she does not run for the money involved.
Surprisingly, her foray into marathon events came from initial efforts to keep fit and healthy.
“I would say that running marathons didn’t choose me, but rather I stumbled onto running in 2012,” she said. “It happened during my annual checkup when my doctor informed me that I was obese and had high cholesterol levels. He advised me to change my lifestyle, and eliminate certain foods, warning that if I didn’t make these changes, my life could be at risk. However, I struggled to make those necessary changes and simply ignored the report.
“Fortunately, in 2013, my company introduced a programme called the Global Corporate Challenge. This initiative involved participating in a global event where each individual was encouraged to achieve 10,000 steps per day. Before the challenge began, we were given speedometres to track our steps without making any immediate lifestyle changes. After two weeks, I found myself consistently recording 700 to 800 steps, making me one of the highest achievers in my company.
“When the event officially started two weeks later, we gained access to see the step counts of participants from other parts of the world. I noticed people from Canada and Germany recording an impressive 20,000 to 30,000 steps per day. Being a highly competitive individual, I didn’t like being at the bottom rung of the ladder.
“There was a particular person in the forum who recorded over 27,000 steps, so I asked him how he achieved the steps. He explained that he avoided using the elevator, walked to work, and even ran sometimes.
“After hearing his advice, I decided to stop using the elevator in my office building, even though I worked on the 14th floor and the conference room was on the 16th floor, while the canteen was on the 10th floor. Previously, my driver would drop me off near the building entrance to go park in the car park. However, I instructed him to park the car in the farthest spot, away from the entrance. He was concerned about how I would reach the office from there, but I assured him that I would walk.
“By making these adjustments, I started increasing my step count even before the day officially began. Initially, it wasn’t easy, but I gradually became accustomed to the changes. My daily step count went up to 5,000 and then 6,000, and I was quite pleased with my progress. However, one day I arrived home with nearly 9,000 steps, and I realised I was so close to reaching the 10,000 mark. Determined, I decided to walk on my street to achieve my very first 10,000 steps. It was a success.”
As a result, Akinbode discovered that it was relatively easier to reach the 10,000 steps on weekdays, though her step count would decrease on weekends. Recognising this pattern, she decided to make a change.
“On Saturdays, I intentionally started walking around the streets, not necessarily running, but maintaining a brisk pace, to ensure that I reached my 10,000 steps. On Sundays, I attended church and danced energetically, which contributed to my step count as well.
“So, one of the weekends, I was walking and it started raining. I contemplated returning home without reaching my goal or continue walking in the rain. I decided it was better to continue in the rain to achieve my 10,000 steps despite concerns from people in the neighbourhood who started talking and questioning my actions.
“Even my security guard asked if everything was all right. With these thoughts in mind, I was afraid that everyone would think there was something wrong with me because I was walking in the rain.
“Fortunately, while contemplating this, I noticed another woman, Tayo Badejo, walking towards me in the rain. I felt relieved and excited to see her. She expressed her gratitude, saying she was glad that people wouldn’t consider her crazy for walking in the rain.
“I responded, sharing that I had been thinking the same thing. She then mentioned that they were doing a similar challenge at her workplace. One day, when we were out running, she said, ‘Oh, do you know we can register to run a marathon?’ I asked, ‘What is a marathon? She explained, ‘It’s when people run 42 kilometres.’ I questioned, ‘Why would anybody run 42 kilometres?’ She replied, “When you get home, go to YouTube and search for the New York Marathon or Boston Marathon.” So, I got home, watched it and I liked it. I did a lot of research and only one per cent of the world’s population have run marathons or can run marathons.
“I made a decision that I must be part of that one per cent. I told Tayo that I wanted to go for it, and she suggested that before we attempt the full marathon, we should start with the half marathon, which was coming up in Accra, Ghana. Other people joined, and she trained us.
“Then, in September 2013, we all went to Accra for a half marathon. It was my very first, and I had a big number with my name on the vest. On the streets of Accra, there were people lined up, especially towards the finish line, and they would shout your name. My number was 607. ‘607, Dayo, go go go!’ I felt like the whole world was giving me attention. I loved it so much.
“After that race, when I got back to the hotel room, I wanted another one. So, I went online to look for another half marathon, but I couldn’t find one. However, I found the Dubai Marathon slated for January 2014, which had a 10-kilometer race and a full marathon. Since I just finished running the half marathon, which is 21 kilometres, I said to myself, ‘I traveled from Nigeria to Ghana to run 21 kilometres. I cannot go from Nigeria to Dubai to run only 10 kilometres. I will go for 42 kilometres,” she recalled.
Akinbode stated that before she had the opportunity to talk to anybody, who might have either encouraged or discouraged her, she registered to participate in the Dubai marathon.
She added: “I booked my flight ticket and hotel. This was in September 2013 for an event coming up in January 2014. To the glory of God, I completed that marathon. When I crossed the finish line, my friends were nowhere to be found. I returned to the hotel, and informed them I finished; they couldn’t believe it. However, it served as proof that with determination and preparation, you can achieve what you set your mind to. It is worth mentioning that at the time, I was 46 years and had never participated in any sport as a child. I was more focused on academics.
“In 2014, at the age of 47, I ran my very first marathon. Around the same time, during my comprehensive check-up in 2013, I discovered that a lot of positive changes had taken place in my body. I was informed about no longer being obese. My cholesterol levels became normal, and my endurance improved.
“After completing the Dubai Marathon, I had the desire to run another one. My initial goal was to join the one per cent club of marathoners, but I found so much enjoyment in it that I decided to pursue another. Thus, I traveled to Tanzania for a marathon. It was in Tanzania that my life truly changed, as I met people from various parts of the world, who were somewhat boastful about their achievements.
“I remember encountering a Japanese man who proudly declared that the upcoming marathon would be his 1000th, while others mentioned it would be their 10th or 20th marathon.”
To boost her participation in marathons, Akinbode joined several clubs including the Marathon Globe Trotters Club. She revealed that as she participated in marathons across the world, she discovered that many runners often aspire to run in Nigeria to advance their ranks.
“At that time, Nigeria didn’t have a marathon that meets global standards. When I shared the idea of starting one with my fellow runners, they encouraged me. I initially hesitated; they assured me of their support in organising it. In 2017, we gave birth to the Ile Ife Heritage Marathon, which we meticulously organised to meet global standards.”
“Every year, my runner friends from around the world come to participate in this marathon. Remarkably, we had 30 participants in the inaugural edition. They returned to their home countries and began sharing their positive experiences in Nigeria.
“The marathon takes place in Ile Ife, starting at the University of Ife. The vice-chancellor inaugurates the event, and we run through the campus before reaching the finish line at the residence of the Oni of Ife, accompanied by cultural dances and festivities. Participants expressed excitement at having the opportunity to meet the monarch and cherish the handshake they received from the king of Ife.
“As a result, visitors leave with fond memories and spread the word about their positive experiences in Nigeria. To date, we have welcomed people from 16 different countries to our marathon in Nigeria.”
Credit to: Theguardian