Run, Again

Mo Isu
9 min readMar 3, 2024


This entire week, I have nursed the fear that this might be the end.

June 2023, SNF 5k Athens

13 weeks ago, I decided to start running again.

It had been 5 months since my last run, my first competitive race since 2020, the SNF 5k in Athens. I completed that race in a respectable time of 32 minutes; 10 minutes slower than my personal best. To be fair, I was under no illusion during that race that a personal best was possible. I was just happy to be running in a competitive environment again.

In the past 4 years, running has become a sore subject for me — It has become a sore endeavour too. It stopped being enjoyable in 2020 when Pain visited me and decided never to leave. I completed my most recent stint of physiotherapy in October 2023. I have taken drugs, done x-rays/MRIs, spoken to doctors and made lifestyle changes to fend off the pain. The biggest lifestyle change of all was that I stopped running, although that was not a voluntary decision. The never-ending back pain and sore legs ensure that even standing is an uncomfortable experience. This month marks exactly 4 years since Pain first came to me under the pretence that it would leave soon. When it came, I believed it could be treated, could be named. I thought it was a visitor, not a resident.

Before 2020, running was everything to me. When nothing else felt within my control, I controlled how much I ran. I ran farther, faster. I set goals and broke them. I ran slow runs and fast runs and tempo runs and recovery runs and all the runs that runners run. I ran for myself and for others and for everything and for nothing. I ran when I was sad and when I was depressed and when I was happy and when I was excited. Running was never about running. Running was about everything.

All the best metaphors come from running.

Then running just left, you know…

It went away…

Running wasn’t mine anymore. Not in the way it used to be. Not with a bad back. Not with the pain in my lumbar and my pelvis and my knees and my feet. Not with the tight muscles in my thighs and shin. Not at the ripe age of 26.

You know… when I was a younger runner who could complete a 2-hour run before having a full day, I imagined running would be something I did far into my old age. I didn’t fathom this. Not being able to run. Not being able to enjoy it.

Then 13 weeks ago, I decided to start running again.

I had been thinking about how running first came to me. Before 2015, I ran sporadically. I went on my first run when I was 12 at the National Stadium. Aunty Ify, a family friend in her 20s (who was not at all my aunty) challenged me to keep up with her for the entire 1-mile stretch from one end of the trail to the other.

I did. It was hard. I loved it.

I only started taking running seriously in 2016 when I signed up for my first 10km. I went to the National Stadium every Saturday morning to complete a 10km run. The effort generally demanded a 2-hour nap from me later in the day. I did this once a week for 3 months before completing my first competitive 10km. After that, running stuck and eventually, I was doing runs to get better, get faster, and go farther. I started monitoring the numbers on my fitness app. I saw the time it took me to complete 10km go from 70 minutes to 60 to 50 to 48. I saw my farthest run go from 10km to 13 to 15 to a half marathon to 24km to a full marathon. Running was about how I managed myself, managed my body, managed my mental health. Every run was an opportunity to get better, just a little better. I had big ambitions for my running career. I dreamt of completing ultra-marathons, and doing long trail runs in mountains far away. I dream of so much you know…

This was my way of thinking about life. This simple action of putting one foot in front of the other and just doing it again and again, this simple action made so many great things possible.

Where will my metaphors come from now that I don’t run?

13 weeks ago, I decided to start running again.

Just one run a week, only 20 minutes. I had no ambitions with these runs. I did not want to go fast or far. The number on my tracker did not matter. I only wanted to do this - run.

Running has changed for me. Where there was ambition before, it has been replaced with something else. The same thing has happened in my life.

In 2019, Gimlet Media, a narrative podcast production company, was acquired by Spotify for $230 million. 2019 was a big year for podcasting. It’s the year I joined the industry. The same year, the number of podcasts in the world doubled. Spotify splurged a lot of money acquiring podcasting assets like Parcast and Anchor FM. Gimlet Media’s purchase was the most interesting to me. It was an exciting end to the story Alex Blumberg started telling in 2014 when he founded the company. He made an entire podcast (startup) about the process, everything from coming up with a name to pitching investors and employing his first staff members. I remember in one episode while describing the type of business he wanted to build, Alex was interrupted by an investor.

“It sounds like you are building a lifestyle company,” he said.

A lifestyle company is one that makes just enough profit to have all its employees live a certain (comfortable) lifestyle and keep doing whatever the company does.

Alex Blumberg thought this sounded like a perfectly good thing for a company to do. The Investor disagreed. He told Alex that a lifestyle company isn’t what Investors are looking for, they are looking for ambitious companies where they can make a 10x return on investment.

Gimlet raised $1.5 million in seed funding in 2014. It made $2 million in advertising returns the next year. It raised $6 million in its Series A and $15 million in its Series B. It sold in 2019.

Since its founding, Gimlet has produced 27 shows. Only two of them are still running today. Spotify cancelled 11 of its podcasts at the end of 2022. Mid-2023, it let go of more than 200 staff members from its podcast division. Later in the year, it cancelled two of the most successful narrative podcasts in the industry including one that had won both a Peabody and a Pulitzer prize the same year it was cancelled.

This development left the entire podcasting community (at least the part of the industry I belong to) feeling dazed. How do the best shows of our time not have a home to continue existing?

One person said:

“If you cannot make a go of it with these incredible shows, you are simply bad at podcasting”

An article from Tech Crunch revisited a few years ago when the CEO of Spotify talked about ‘winning audio.’

In the words of Rob Rosenthal, ‘Win what? richest man in some graveyard?’

Rob Rosenthal in the opening of this episode of his podcast, goes on to quote Edward Abbey in saying

“unlimited growth is the logic of a cancer cell”

The recent development in narrative podcasting, and the loss of such much good stuff, has got me thinking about sustainability in a world obsessed with growth.

It’s a major obsession of mine lately. I think specifically about young people in my generation and their motivations for growth. Young people make posts on Twitter about leaving a company after a long journey with them, the long journey being 2 years.

So many courses being taught, so many talks being given, by people who have been working for less than 5 years. It’s a conflicting idea for me. I admire ambition and there are many instances where ambition leads to incredible things but at the same time, I am wary of exponential growth. It scares me. It makes me ask questions like where is it going and why is it going there so fast. What happens when it reaches its destination?

I used to care about this type of growth. I used to be interested in it too. When I first started writing on medium, I imagined each new essay as an opportunity to go viral. To explode into exponential growth. I don’t care so much about that now.

Because the thing with that kind of growth is that I can't explain it, I can’t control it, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Exponential Growth is not my motivation in life anymore.

These days, my motivation in life is very similar to my motivation for running.

13 weeks ago, I decided to start running again.

One run, every week. In the middle of my 4th run, I settled into the new meaning running held for me. I settled into a new idea. My runs were no longer going to be opportunities to get better at running because that was not possible for me. If I ran too hard on this week’s run, my body would be too broken to run next week. The repeating thought in my mind with each step became this

‘How can I run today to make sure I can run next week?’

My new life habits rotate around this question. When I wake up in the morning and stretch or the yoga I try to do before bed. My pre-run and post-run workout. My choice to not go out as often or stand for too long. My choice to run slow and easy and ignore the numbers. My decision to run only once a week, all of this so I can just keep doing it— keep running.

Since I started running again, I’ve had some really good runs and some really bad ones. Some runs where I felt good and strong and some runs where I wanted to give up. Each run has been the same in that its main purpose is so I can manage another run in a week.

I find that life is different when your motivation for it is to be sustainable. How can I live in a way that I can continue doing the things I love? It is not throwing away ambition, simply letting go of this idea of endless growth and replacing it with a more sustainable one.

I think back to some of my biggest examples of indecision or inaction and I wonder if, in some way, they were linked to the fact that I hadn’t yet found this articulation for myself.

Why haven’t I taken any serious actions to leave this country? Is it because I don’t have strong enough ambitions for life outside or is it because I have always wanted to sustain myself and it is difficult for me to fathom sustaining life elsewhere when I have yet to manage it where I currently find myself?

What will this new articulation change for me?

What will I do with my life now?

I was really scared I would not be able to run this week. Last week was a travel week. Travel weeks always take a toll on my body because I stand and walk more than I usually would. This hurts my back and feet. I also sit long hours in tiny plane seats which hurts my knees. All week my body felt punished and a run today felt like an impossible task. I did not feel equipped to run.

This evening, I put on my running gear and started my run and this thought came back to me.

“How do I run today so that I can run next week?”

Rob Rosenthal asked another question in his rant about the dead podcasts of 2023. This question for everyone else making narrative podcasts.

“Why are do you want to make and report stories? Asides from your wallet, What motivates you? Deep down what do you stand for?”

I guess for me these two questions are very similar. Or better yet, two sides of the same coin.

I know why I run, it keeps me going as a person. It quite literally brings me direction. All my metaphors come from running. And I take these metaphors into every other part of my life.

The second question is how can I sustain this direction.

I’m asking myself these two questions a lot.

Why am I doing this? and How do I keep doing this?



Mo Isu

Writing what I can| Being Vulnerable and confused| Making podcasts