The Marathon of Afghanistan

The Marathon of Afghanistan

In the past I’ve taken running for granted. It was so easy to lace up a pair of trainers, head out the front door and within two minutes be on the Cochrane pathways. From there the options seemed limitless, along the Bow River and down to the rodeo grounds, up Big Hill Creek past the Cochrane Ranche House to Fosters Ranch or tackling the killer hill on Towers Trail to Wine Glass Ranch.

That all changed in February this year when I was diagnosed with a clot on the brain. No more running. Over the following four months I was allowed to walk but that was it. Then a month ago the specialist gave me the green light to start hitting the pavement again. It was like I had my freedom back. Now I’ve returned to training looking to run a marathon on December 31st at my 6th Annual Run / Walk at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sport Centre.

So it’s hard to imagine a situation where running is a luxury and a country that has never had a marathon. Well, this was true of Afghanistan until two weeks ago. On October 16th, the “Marathon of Afghanistan” was held in Bamiyan, high in the mountains west of Kabul. On a cold clear morning around 35 runners lined up at the make shift start line 3,000m above sea level. International athletes came from Canada, US, and Belgium, with local Pashtan runners, making up the numbers.

This group included 25 year old Zainab, the lone Afghan women. Zainab only started running a year ago when she applied for a grant from the organization “Free to Run” to complete in an ultramarathon in China’s Gobi desert. Free to Run is a non-profit organization that uses running, physical fitness and outdoor adventure as a means of empowering and educating females in conflict-affected communities to overcome the harmful effects of gender, religious and ethnic discrimination. To Zainab’s surprise she got the grant and her running career started.

She had many challenges during her Marathon training over and above the usual hydration and nutrition issues. “The children were stoning us, the people said bad words like ‘prostitutes, why don’t you stay at home? You are destroying Islam,” Zainab recalled. But, with her parents support, Zainab persevered and in the late afternoon on October 16th completed her first marathon.

Another runner, Baryalai Saidi, summed up the feelings of many who took part in the first Marathon of Afghanistan, “Every run is a victory”. Faced by a host of challenges, that the race even took place was a victory in itself, showing that things can be done and people can come together through things other than war. In fact they have already started planning for the 2016 “Marathon of Afghanistan”.

I’ll never take running for granted again.

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