Achieving the Impossible: A Conversation with Saqeb Lone

    Written by: Ismail Umar
    Posted on: March 04, 2016 | Post your comment here Comments | 中文

    Dubai Marathon 2016
                                        - Saqeb Lone Athlete, Marathon Runner

    Dubai Marathon 2016                                        

    It would not be an overstatement when I say that Saqeb Lone is one of the most inspirational people I have come across in my life. Through an undying passion and persistent self-motivation, he has managed to accomplish what many might consider, at his age, physically impossible: he is perhaps the only Pakistani who has run a half marathon (21 km), that too at the age of 69. He has taken part in five 10k races, finishing in less than one hour. He gives his young competitors a run for their money (so to speak), and proves beyond all doubt that where there is a will, there indeed is a way.

    Ever since he was a little boy, Saqeb was fascinated by muscle speed and strength, and his passion for sports developed very early on in his life. Having moved to Uganda, East Africa with his parents at the age of 4, he was a football and swimming enthusiast since a very young age. By the age of ten, he already had dreams of playing in the school football team. Sure enough, when he turned fourteen and was in grade seven, he had already been selected as a key player in the school team. “It was a good life. Football was my dream, my love, my happiness…in fact it had become my entire world”, Saqeb recalls.

    Saqeb Lone Athlete, Marathon Runner

    Competing in Mr. Asia contest at Manila, Philippines (1974)

    As Saqeb Lone ventured into young adulthood, his love for sports only increased further. He joined the gym in his early teens, and took up cycling as well. At the age of sixteen, he took part in an 80 km cross-country bicycle race, and won the runner-up position. His healthy lifestyle and his obsession with sports allowed him to get acquainted with many like-minded individuals and expand his social network.

    Saqeb Lone Athlete, Marathon Runner

    80k cross-country bicycle race at Kampala, Uganda (1965)

    Saqeb Lone Athlete, Marathon Runner

    Saqeb with his wife Nighat

    As the years passed and Saqeb matured, he decided to settle down and get married. Eventually he got caught up in the whirlpool of daily life and the race to earn a living and support a family, which presented him with a difficult, life-altering decision. “I was compelled to choose between bodybuilding and a hotel career. But I opted for the latter, because I wanted to be financially stable and secure.” Saqeb spent 41 years of his life working in the hotel industry. A significant proportion of this time was spent working at Pearl Continental Hotel. Of course, being a top-of-the-line hotel manager meant long working hours (16-18 hours a day), and led to him losing touch with sports and physical activity for a long period of time.

    After several years, however, Saqeb reconnected with his love for sports and became involved in one of the simplest yet most challenging sports of all: running. By this time, he was 60 years old. “I weighed 228 lbs at a 5' 8" height, and I was sixty years old – all the wrong stats for a runner!” But none of these obstacles could thwart this man’s passion. Within a short period of time, his love for running took a hold, and he began to seriously pursue this sport.

    “In the beginning, I would get out of breath fast, and running a mere kilometer was a struggle. It took me a full year-and-a-half before I could manage to run a kilometer in one go. I was simply too heavy!” Saqeb never came close to giving up, however. By the end of two years, he had lost several pounds, and could run three to four kilometers thrice a week. In the following year, he became one of the few Pakistanis competing in 10k races. Once a year, he would save whatever money he could to travel abroad and take part in running events, as Pakistan unfortunately does not host any professional marathons or races. “In Pakistan, there is not much appreciation or encouragement for a runner. Many would consider a runner above forty to be insane”, he remarks. 

    Saqeb Lone Athlete, Marathon Runner

    Posing for a runner magazine cover in Singapore

    Saqeb, who has now been running for almost nine years, believes that his greatest strength is a sky-high level of self-motivation. “It is solely this factor that prompts me to go for the impossible. However, at 69 years of age, I have to reconsider the whole picture…make resolve, train my mind, strictly adhere to a training routine, reduce weight, and overcome obstacles.” Having completed a half marathon for the first time this year in front of 50,000 people from all over the world, Saqeb now aims to represent Pakistan on an international level and run a full marathon (42 km). “I want to be the first Pakistani to complete a marathon. This will take me at least another 2 years of extensive training. My knees have started troubling me this year, but that won’t stop me from striving towards my goal. In fact, I'm motivated by the mere thought that few would take up such a difficult challenge so late in life.”

    Decades of experience in diverse fields – from football to swimming to bodybuilding to hotel management to running – have taught Saqeb a great deal about hard work, success, satisfaction, the occasional but inevitable frustration, and essentially about life itself. “It is my belief that nothing worth having ever comes easy, and that is true of any sport…or anything in life, for that matter. One may look for shortcuts, but to achieve greatness, success and glory, there are none. An athlete has to be dedicated, hard working, and willing to sacrifice for the love of his game. For nine marvelous years, I have been on this incredible adventure – my running journey – and each step on the way has enriched me, and brought happiness to me”, Saqeb reflects on his journey as a marathon runner. “Remember: you are never too old to begin this adventure. Always maintain a positive mind before a training session or a competition. I CAN DO IT...Let this become your mantra.”

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