|Date: Apr 2, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Racing toward gender equality|
|Emily Lewis| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: At 7:30 Sunday morning, the Orient Queen cruise ship, docked at the Beirut Port, blasted its foghorn, signaling the start of the 2019 Women’s Race.
Off went hundreds of women and children, their sneakers laced, braving the rain to participate in the classic, relay and para-athlete 10-kilometer races, as well as a 2-kilometer parent-child race and a 5-kilometer fun run.
Lea Iskandar, who is Lebanese, won the 10-kilometer race, setting a new record time of 37 minutes and 39 seconds.
In the para-athlete races, French national Marie-Noelle Japy topped the hand-cycle category with a time of 25 minutes and 30 seconds, Lebanese national Fatima Daaboul won the wheelchair category in 65 minutes and 48 seconds, and Lebanese national Kawthar Taleb took home the trophy for the visually impaired category with a time of 66 minutes and 28 seconds.
Nour Saffiddine and Sarah Awally from Tyre’s Phoenicia Club won the two-person relay in 46 minutes and 22 seconds.
Runners participated under the slogan “Draw Your Path,” which according to the Beirut Marathon Association is a “call to action for all women in Lebanon to keep moving forward and to rise to the challenges of every day, no matter how big or small.”
A hashtag for the event, “#AnaMaaki” (“#I’mWithYou”), provided a way for spectators to support the runners and their cause.
The Women’s Race was created “to give women the right platform for long-distance running and the chance to compete against other women,” said May El Khalil, the association’s president.
In previous events, Khalil told The Daily Star, there had been a noticeable lack of women competing.
To encourage women of all athletic abilities and backgrounds to compete, in the weeks running up to the race the association ran a free five-week training program.
But Sunday’s race allowed runners to do more than show off their sporting prowess. It also provided an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for charitable causes.
Some runners ran to raise cancer awareness, while others participated on behalf of organizations such as the NGOs Sawa for Development and Aid and Beirutiyat Lebanon.
Estelle Nassar, a Lebanese student in London, said she had to decided to run for women’s rights NGO Abaad after learning that nationality laws in Lebanon prevent women from being able to pass their citizenship on to their children.
“It was a great feeling running for all these causes,” she said.
A strong sense of empowerment seemed to be a uniting theme among the participants as they pounded along the asphalt.
Mira, an 18-year-old student at the Lebanese American University, said: “It was beautiful to see all the ladies running together - people in their 70s alongside people who are 10 years old.”
Rita Chemaly, who ran with the National Commission for Lebanese Women, tweeted: “We kept going, we kept walking under the rain! Nothing can stop women and men walking for equality.”
Beyond the mix of athleticism and activism, runners Sunday had the added bonus of seeing a side of the capital less commonly traversed from day to day.
This year marked the sixth edition of the race, and the first not to take place in the streets of Downtown Beirut. Held in the Beirut port, the 10-km course hugged the coastline before turning inland and snaking between the brightly colored cranes and cargo containers.
To keep spirits lifted, a stage at the finish line provided entertainment for spectators and runners alike, with dance performances and a live fitness class.
Many competitors said they had never visited the port before, as access is usually restricted to truck drivers and port authority staff.
“I live in Lebanon, but this is the first time I have seen this view,” Diana Fakhran, a 20-year-old runner, said.
Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon Emmanuelle Lamoureux - who ran in both the 10-km race and the 2-km family run, also said that she had enjoyed passing under the cranes.
“It’s such an iconic location in Beirut - it gives you a sense of perspective,” she said.
Although about 5,000 women were expected to compete in the race, in the end Khalil said about 1,000 women ran the 10 kilometer race - perhaps a result of the morning’s heavy rainfall. Large puddles inundated the course and gathering area, forcing race organizers to put down sandbags to allow people to cross the ankle-deep water.
Fakhran said the rain made the course “tricky” and significantly slowed down her time.
“I ran [the 10 km] in 47 minutes, but I normally do it in 44,” she said.
And more than just the runners braved the stormy conditions. One of the volunteer team leaders at the starting line said that “standing in the rain was an experience.”
“People have told me so many stories of the rain in the 2012 marathon, so I needed to try a race when it’s raining for myself,” she said.
“Every single marathon is a new experience. It’s always exciting, fun, entertaining and energetic,” she added.
The organizers at the Beirut Marathon Association have ambitions to expand the scope of the race for 2020. “Next year, we have a vision to have a pan-Arab women’s race, and we will continue supporting women running for their causes,” Khalil said.