Marathon of Afghanistan 2020

Updated: Nov 8

On a warm Fall day in October, 600 Afghans came together to participate in the Marathon of Afghanistan's sixth annual marathon event in the capital of Bamyan. Several of our girls participated in the marathon with graceful determination.


Saeeda, Habiba, and Mahnaz share what this year's marathon experience was like for them:


HABIBA

They inspired us and said things like “You’re the best.”

Why did you participate in the marathon?

It was my first time that I heard about a marathon. I was thinking, "Let me see my chance, let me examine my power." Can I finish a marathon? Can I be one of those girls who can finish a marathon successfully?” Even if I can’t finish, I wanted to try it. It motivates me to try. I finished first from the Ascend team. They said “we are proud of you” and it made me feel happy.


How did you feel at the end of the run?

At the end I had the best feeling in my whole life because...I don’t know how to tell you. I thought I could be successful and I had somewhere in my goals this plan, but I never thought I could be an athlete like this. When I was thinking that Ascend helped me to participate here. I wanted to make my teammates proud.


What inspired you to keep going?

The most inspiring thing for me was when I was on the way and Rubaba, Saeeda, and Neki would come and tell me “We’re proud of you.” For them it was their second year and they thought they’d be fast. But I surprised them with my speed and they encouraged me. When I got tired, I thought of them and they expected me to hold my position as the fastest runner. So I decided to keep going and hold my position.


What was your favorite part of the marathon?

The time that two people, skateborders (boys), encouraged me and told me not to give up. They said good words to me and that I’m a successful girl and we have to stick together. That made me happy. They said I was faster than the girls from the previous year. Even those who finished before us would come back and run alongside us to encourage us. They were really great. They inspired us and said things like “You’re the best.”


Why is this marathon an important event for Afghans? Especially for women participants?

Women are really limited in their goals. Being unlimited and having the chance to participate in such events is really important. Like me, I never imagined I could do such a thing. Some girls who didn’t have good shoes or clothes for running, they were there and they were faster than me. Girls who don’t even have shoes for running are thinking “I can do it.” They are brave enough to finish a marathon.

SAEEDA

Afghans support each other. When they run, in a beautiful place, they feel like they’re free.

Why did you participate in the marathon?

It was my third time. Before that I never ran. And I wanted to get more experience, so I went last year and the year before. But this year I wanted to complete the full 42 km. The previous years I didn’t do the full marathon (10km one year, and part of the 42 the next year).


How did you feel at the end of the run?

I wasn’t the last but I felt like I was maybe the slowest runner. So when I came to the end I was very sore. Neki was holding me up and helping me. All of the marathon people were asking me what happened to me. My foot hurt a lot and I went slowly slowly slowly but I finished that. I felt such relief. I couldn’t believe it. During the race I wanted to quit but I kept thinking “Marina did this, I must do it too.”


What inspired you to keep going?

I kept thinking “all the girls are here.” I need to be a good role model for them. I need to keep going. The girls will be looking at me. I need to motivate them.


What was your favorite part of the marathon?

Neki told me, “Saeeda, come.” I said “I can’t, I need to stop for a minute.” Neki kept encouraging me and insisting that I keep going.


Why is this marathon an important event for Afghans? Especially for women participants?

Before we didn’t know about the history of marathons. We know now that different countries do this every year. When I understood this I felt like it was a good thing to do this and be part of it. The boys and girls run together and the boys encourage the girls, and vice versa.


Afghans support each other. When they run, in this beautiful place, they feel like they’re free, they have normal marathon clothes, some of the girls have no headscarves and no one says anything bad. We are all running together. We also like that foreigners come and run with us.

Afghanistan is not a place just for fighting, a place where foreigners can’t come. This shows that foreigners can come and run a marathon. It makes our country attractive to tourists.

MAHNAZ

During the race my husband was calling me every minute and telling me I could do it, to keep going.

Why did you participate in the marathon?

Ascend has trained me for a long time and I didn’t want to ignore all this training. Although I’ve had problems, I wanted to show that I could still do something and I could finish it.


How did you feel at the end of the run?

I felt really happy. Though I had some problems, when my husband’s family heard that I did it they said they were so proud of me. And they encouraged me.


What inspired you to keep going?

Though I was alone [because I was the only Ascend girl running the 10k], when I was tired I was thinking about Ascend and our leaders, Shogufa and these guys who told me “Mahnaz, you’re the best, you can do this.” During the race my husband was calling me every minute and telling me I could do it, keep going.”


What was your favorite part of the marathon?

The best thing was that I learned that I can do something alone. Before I thought, if I don’t have a partner I can’t do it. But this taught me that I can do everything alone.


Why is this marathon an important event for Afghans? Especially for women participants?

It shows girls’ abilities and it shows that girls can do even the hardest things.


Before the marathon, even if we ran 2 or 3 km we didn't have that much ability. We had training but we didn’t run that much. When I ran that much in Bamyan I saw that I have this ability. It made me proud to see that I can finish and not give up.

Learn more about Ascend by following us on Instagram @afghan_ascend or visiting our website. Help us continue our work by donating to our cause: https://www.ascendathletics.org/donate.You can also help by joining our team for virtual yoga sessions. Sign up on our website.

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