If I waited to be well-informed and brilliantly researched on every topic I write about then I’d never write anything at all. You may think that would be way better than having to be subjected to my incoherent ramblings, but I say, never let little details get in the way of a good story, and this story is truly inspirational.
I haven’t quite decided, but it may be that this is just the first in an occassional series of posts drawing attention to some pretty awesome women runners (maybe even some men too if I feel like it) who have suddenly popped up on my radar. Now I’d love to think that I haven’t heard of them because I’m relatively new to this running malarkey and despite what you might think I don’t get to mingle with the stars all that much (though I have been in the same field as Nicky Spinks if that counts at all?). However, I suspect it isn’t helped by the fact that nowhere near enough recognition has gone the way of some of these women. Today I therefore give you (drum roll) Mahsa Torabi.
Mahsa Torabi, also known as the woman who broke the rules and made history by running the First International Marathon in Iran.
On it’s own, that’s quite good. Running a marathon, and a hot one at that, but there’s more! She did run it, oh yes, but it is more correct to say she is the first to ‘publicly finish’ the marathon, her ‘participation’ was unofficial. She set off bibless,trackerless, and without access to water stations or other support at 6.30 a.m.. Someone took a photo of her at the official start line in the dark, before she made her solitary departure 2 hours ahead of the official line up of 250 runners from 26 countries who were taking part in the I ran Iran event. The official runners were all men. Interestingly, (I think), this ‘race touted for its ability to unite cultures and an international community… (had) ... no women among them, as has been the case for decades: There has not been a mixed-gender race in Iran for at least 38 years.’ (Jezebel, online). So, that means, other countries were happy to support the event by sending their athletes apparently comfortable in colluding with the exclusion of women by only putting forward male competitors. I do understand the argument that ‘anyone running in Iran is better than no-one running in Iran‘ I understand it, but I disagree with it. You can’t put on such an event with a strap line relating to unity and just go for a little bit of equality or just a tad of inclusion, and simultaneously pass over a massive propaganda win to the host country. As Stephanie Case said ‘I fundamentally disagree with the notion that a discriminatory event can be seen as a positive step forward‘ and ‘Holding a race that excludes women entrenches discriminatory beliefs about women—it signals to everyone that women are second-class citizens.‘
The event itself was apparently organised by Dutch entrepreneurs by the way… just saying. Anyway, this brave woman, bloomin’ did it anyway, and her – well let’s call it ‘parallel’ – participation seems to be what educated others to what was possible. She even had support on the way round by the end of it, police offering her fruit and water in the final miles.
With support in advance from Stephanie Case, a human rights lawyer who is/ was the power behind the inspirational organisation Free to Run, she completed the distance. You really should read the account yourself, most of what I’ve written here is taken from the Jezebel article. I’ll share with you the happy ending which concludes it:
‘Just like that, Torabi had made history: she along with a woman named Elham Manoocheri who competed without help from Free to Run are the first Iranian women in at least four decades to complete a race also run by men. They are the first women runners to ever finish a modern public marathon in the country.
She’d also influenced the race itself. The organizers of I Run Iran gave Torabi a medal after the race and added her photo to their website, which now boasts that they invite “men, women and children from different cultures and continents to participate’
I can’t help but notice there is another woman mentioned here, who should also be celebrated Elham Manoocheri, let’s not allow her to go under the radar too. Also Canadian woman Stephanie Case, who has driven forward opportunities for women to run in all sorts of unlikely scenarios through the Free to Run initiative.
I’m glad Torabi got her medal. I hope Manoocheri got her’s too. Torabi went on to run 250km ultramarathon through the Dasht e Lut – where temperatures reached 50C during the race. This, the Iranian Silk Road Ultramarathon, a 155-mile, six-stage race in early May, did have women participants, including a team supported by the Free to Run Foundation.
I don’t normally do entirely serious posts, but this is a serious issue. When I think about finding running hard, I don’t mean that others are actively preventing me from doing it. I mean I get demoralised because I’m a bit crap and lack motivation. It rarely occurs to me that even being able to step out my front door in running gear is a seemingly unwinnable battle for some women. Running a marathon takes enormous commitment and courage for anyone. To undertake it against such a background is a whole new order of courageous. Torabi and Manoocheri, I salute you. On days when running seems hard, maybe we should spare a thought for this impressive duo.
So I’ve been scanning the official photo page of the I run Iran event 2016, and these are the only two women runners pictured, so I’m going to take a wild guess and say this must be the amazing Torabi and Manoocheri in action. So after the event it seems it wasn’t so hard to include them in the photos, or give them medals and it doesn’t seem that anarchy followed in their wake as they ran. Here’s hoping these two are just the first sign of a turning tide. Yay, go them! It remains to be seen if a 2017 event will happen and if so whether or not cynicism or inclusiveness will be the order of the day, but I like to think change is coming… public images of the women participating – albeit bibless – is surely a good start. The event seems to have claimed these pioneers as their own. That has to bode well.
However, a final thought… we shouldn’t just shake our heads in disbelief at such attitudes being prevalent in Iran. There is no room for complacency here, it was only in 1966 that Bobbi Gibb and in 1967 that Kathrine Switzer managed illicit completion of the Boston Marathon without their uteruses exploding – a seemingly impossible accomplishment according to race officials at the time. All of these achievements are within my living memory at least, and women still couldn’t officially enter the Boston Marathon until 1972, so no immediate accommodation of mixed gender events, (and don’t get me started on current gender inequality in other sports – prize money, media coverage, male only cycling events… blah de blah). Unbelievable.
The least we can do by way of solidarity is surely to remember all of these women. Trailblazers in the extreme!
To assist you in this task, I leave you with the eloquence of the lyrics that accompany the theme tune for the iconic TV series Fame, what could be more apt? Dance along if you will, Fame is calling…, you know you want too.
Remember my name
(Fame) I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna learn how to fly (High)
I feel it coming together
People will see me and cry
(Fame) I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame
(Fame) I’m gonna live forever
Baby, remember my name
(Remember, remember, remember, remember)
(Remember, remember, remember, remember)
How does the saying go ‘dance like nobody’s watching‘? Well wouldn’t it be great if women everywhere could run like nobody’s watching too?
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