The Marathon of Afghanistan

The Marathon of Afghanistan

Posted by martin.parnell | Afghanistan Marathon Overcoming Obstacles Women Leaders

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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In life, it's not about reaching the finish line, it's about getting to the start line.

Martin Parnell
Sports for Life: Never say Never

Sports for Life: Never say Never

Posted by martin.parnell |

Over the years, I’ve played many sports, badly. As a lad in England, I was a huggable child. In today’s politically correct environment I would be known as fat. At school I was usually picked last for the soccer, rugby and cricket teams. This was pretty disappointing. However, it was offset by my parent’s love of racket sports. In the evenings and at weekends we’d play tennis, badminton and table tennis. The key wasn’t how good you were but playing for the love of the game.

I immigrated to Canada at the age of 21 and took a job at the Sullivan mine in Kimberley, B.C. This town is known for two things, Happy Hans, the Bavarian yodeler and skiing. At a ski swap I picked up a set of Lange racing skis, Nordica boots and poles and headed up the mountain. Next on the list was hockey. In England I had only skated once so, in my first season in the Kimberley recreation league, I looked like a week old banana with bruises on my hips, knees and elbows.

At 25 I moved to Yellowknife, the land of ice and snow. New sports included cross country skiing, curling and golf. Yes, golf. The fairways were sand and the greens were oiled sand. I even played snow golf with hockey sticks and an orange tennis ball. Over the intervening years, other sports included squash, snow shoeing, and fencing. At the age of 48 I entered my first 5km race and sprint triathlon, at 56, lacrosse and 58 it was Quidditch.

Now it’s time to try sport number 53, ski mountaineering (skimo). My friend Glenda suggested I check out an event call the Vert180. I didn’t have a clue what skimo was but a quick Google search explained that it’s something like running up hill with skis on then skiing down. Last Saturday, I had a clinic with Kylee Toth Ohler, one of Canada’s top skimo racers. For two hours, Kylee showed me how to attach skins to the skis, adjust the bindings for climbing up hill and skiing down and strapping the skis to the backpack for the “March of Death” section of the race.

The Vert180 is taking place at Canadian Olympic Park (COP) on Saturday December 5th from 6pm to 9pm. The objective of the race is to complete as many loops up and down the mountain as you can, in 3hours (180 mins). I think there’s going to be a few aches and pains the following morning.

So what’s next? Well, plans are under way to tackle sport number 54, pickle ball. Stay tuned.

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