Secret marathons held in support of Afghan women who face threats, insults for running
CTVNews.ca staff, with a report from CTV's John Vennavally-Rao
Published Wednesday, March 6, 2019 10:00PM EST
Thousands of runners in countries from around the world, including Canada, took part in so-called secret marathons Wednesday in support of women in Afghanistan who often face threats and insults for participating in marathons.
The marathons were organized in 16 cities ahead of both International Women’s Day on Friday and the release this year of a new documentary called “The Secret Marathon,” which highlights the trailblazing Afghan women who run marathons in spite of the “cultural and social barriers” and risks to their personal safety.
“Some women were being called prostitutes just for going out to run and getting terrorist threats from some groups for doing so,” Hirra Farooqi, the documentary’s production assistant, told CTV News.
The documentary also features the story of the country’s first female marathoner, who in 2015 ran with the men despite threats the Taliban had made against female runners.
Katie McKenzie, the documentary’s co-director, was inspired by renowned Alberta marathoner Martin Parnell to make the film. Parnell, who suffered a life-threatening blood clot, was encouraged to lace up his runners and to race again after reading about the pioneering Afghan women who risked their lives to run freely.
The group Free to Run, a non-profit that uses sport to empower women and girls living in conflict zones, was also involved in organizing the secret marathons and helping Afghan women to train safely.
It will often take women in unmarked vans to places where they can train. The marathon’s route is kept secret until just before the race begins so that it is not targeted.
“The recent amazing news is that some runners from Free to Run have been able to qualify for the Olympics to represent Afghanistan,” Farooqi said.
The filmmakers hope that the documentary will resonate with women runners elsewhere in the world, who may not face threats from terrorist groups, but who nonetheless often don’t feel safe when running alone.