Afghanistan’s Debut Marathon Woman

‘Everything is in the mind, you don’t have to train a lot’

Apparently, I’m not entirely convinced, but who am I to argue with the wonder woman Zainab, who last year, became the first woman in Afghanistan’s history to run a marathon within her own country?  That is brilliant of course, inspirational too.  But there is still a long way to go given that The Guardian article on which my post is based,  tells the reader that ‘* For security reasons Zainab’s last name and her home province have been omitted’

Zainab Afghanistan Guardian

The potential of running to bring about change, perhaps starting with individuals, and then widening outwards from there, is, I would hope, not all that contentious.  But I do think it’s easy to forget how some people , particularly women, are genuinely pioneers for the sport even today in the 21st Century.  If I have a ‘bad running’ day, I mean I lack energy or motivation, not that I have been pelted with stones en route or accused of being a ‘whore’ for having the audacity to pull on my running shoes and set off on a half-hearted jog.

It’s all in The Guardian article to be honest, but to tempt you to read it in full there follows an extract that I hope will illustrate just how the personal is indeed political, as well as how important it is to support such women pioneers in every way possible.  Money is great obviously, but recognition too, spread the word that she (and others too) is/are cutting a lonely path through so hopefully others will not only be able to follow in their wake one day, but have the confidence to do so…

‘Sport has become, for Zainab, a tool to encourage Afghan women to defy cultural norms and assert themselves in society. As part of a generation that hardly remembers Taliban rule, and whose values evolve faster than those of society, Zainab has seen many male figures of authority try to thwart her few options to exercise…

… Zainab’s participation in a marathon in Afghanistan holds more symbolic importance as it “opens up a large amount of space for other Afghan women to follow in her footsteps”, said Free to Run’s founder, Stephanie Case. “In Afghanistan, where women are largely confined to the indoors, when you run and when you hike and do outdoor activities, you are reclaiming public space,” Case said…

… Pushing herself, like most long distance runners, to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion, has taught Zainab a lesson she now applies in life. “Everything is in your mind,” she said. “You don’t have to train a lot. I didn’t have training but I have done it.


Thanks to The Guardian for the thoughtful article from 2015 all about how Afghanistan’s female marathon runner defies danger to go the distance they also have given us this ‘video‘, where Afghanistan’s Marathon Woman shares her experiences.  It is indeed ‘really worth watching – for women running in Afghanistan there are often immense challenges and personal risks. Last year Zainab became the first woman in Afghanistan’s history to run a marathon within her own country. The pioneering female runner talks about her training, her experiences, the opposition she faces when participating in sport, and her hopes to inspire other women and engender change.’

At a time when the world seems to be collapsing around us, Zainab’s endurance, literally and metaphorically perhaps gives a little ray of positivity, which we should nurture.

Incidentally, the Marathon of Afghanistan are fund raising at the moment, in order to increase the number of Afghan participants in this event.  So too are Free To Run, just so you know.

marathon of afghanistan

The Marathon of Afghanistan is a non-profit organisation and the race is free to enter for all Afghan runners. They explain the ethos and importance of the event better than I can:

‘All race entry fees collected from international runners are used to help fund the cost of arranging the marathon. Any surplus funds will be distributed to local charitable causes. …  

Why is it important?  Afghanistan suffers from many problems. An ongoing insurgency, ethnic divisions, drug addiction, economical stagnation, a lack of opportunity and equality for women. It also is a starkly beautiful country with a remarkable history and a wonderful culture and people. The Marathon is an event that gives normality and purpose to runners in Afghanistan. It helps to develop the sports events economy in the country. It allows runners from different countries and regions to meet and explore each others cultures. It is also the first ever mixed sports event in the history of the country. It is an important and symbolic event which provides a great sense of pride and hope to all those who are involved.

Free to Run‘s mission is

‘to use running, physical fitness and outdoor adventure to empower and educate women and girls who have been affected by conflict. We support those living within conflict areas as well as those who have been forced to flee and live as refugees outside of their home countries’

It was they, Free to Run,  who made possible Zainab’s Afghanistan Marathon debut.

Inspirational women are out there, let’s take a moment to celebrate them for being awesome, then lace up your running shoes, and get out there and run because we are so lucky that we can!  If that isn’t enough motivation for you, then remember, if you do run, you don’t have to feel guilty about that scrambled eggs on toast afterwards. Or cake, you could have cake instead if you like, with a latte, the choice is yours.  Or even just bathe in the explosion of post-run endorphins that are whizzing round your blood stream,  whatever works for you!

You’re welcome.


Categories: running | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Post navigation

8 thoughts on “Afghanistan’s Debut Marathon Woman

  1. Amen!!!! Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Smiling Pilgrim

    I would love to run around Afghanistan some day and meet all the wonderful people 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: 在這裏,女生跑步會給罵「臭雞」 | 陳伯 Yiu Kwong Chan | Fitz • Get Moving

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: