Free to Run's third Afghan ultramarathon team just weeks away from the 4 Deserts Gobi March
As an ultrarunner, I'd like to think that I'm pretty tough. I've run hundreds of kilometers in blistering and freezing temperatures, through snow and ice, over mountains, across rivers, and through nights and endless days. But our athletes at Free to Run are continually teaching me what the meaning of tough really is.
Zeinab and Hasina are currently training for the 4 Deserts Gobi March, a 250 km self-supported footrace in Mongolia. They are following in the trail-blazing footsteps of Zainab and Nelofar in China in 2015, and Arzoo, Kubra and Mahdi in Sri Lanka in 2016. Each of these ultramarathon teams have had to train through insecurity and violence, deal with restrictions on their ability to move safely throughout the city, and brave disapproving stares and comments from those who believe a woman's place is in the home. What makes our 2018 team incredibly unique is that given the timing of this year's race, Zeinab and Hasina are hitting their peak training time right in the middle of Ramadan.
Ramadan is observed by Muslims around the world who mark the occasion with a month of intense prayer, reflection, and dawn-to-dusk fasting. In Afghanistan, the sun rises around 4:40am and doesn't set until 7pm, which means that Afghans are rising around 2:30 or 3:00am to have breakfast before starting their day. No food or water for over 14 hours, every day for thirty days, is hard for many of us to fathom. Now imagine adding in training for an ultramarathon on top of that.
Zeinab and Hasina didn't let this deter them. They have started to run at night, after 'iftar', which is when Muslims break their fast. "It's a little bit hard because we don't have much energy after fasting," said Zeinab. "But we try our best." Hasina has even started to enjoy the night runs. "It's our first time running at night," she said. "If Kabul had security, we might prefer it, without any stress."
Having recently returned to Kabul full-time myself, I can vouch how tough it is here to drag oneself out for a run at the end of the day in this environment - and I'm not even fasting. I had the chance to run 20km with Hasina shortly before the start of Ramadan, and it was her laughter and cheeky attitude that kept me running in circles. I know that both women will bring their energy, positive spirit, and never-give-up attitude to Mongolia and help the other competitors on their way as well. They will undoubtedly face immense challenges during the race... but after seeing what they can do here during Ramadan, I am excited to see what they will be able to accomplish with a few chocolate bars in their pack!
We are hugely grateful to the continuous and generous support of the 4 Deserts / RacingThePlanet. They have kindly donated the race entries for Zeinab and Hasina, and helped to create this once-in-a-lifetime experience for them.
If you would like to help with the other costs associated with their participation in the race - visa costs, training and domestic transportation costs to safe training locations, and flights to/from the race - please go here or click the donate button in the upper righthand corner and specify 'Gobi March' in the comments. Thank you so much! And stay tuned for more updates.
-Stephanie Case, President and Founder