Risking Arrest, Women Barred From Iranian Marathon Run Their Own Race

Risking their freedom, these brave women launched their own race in defiance of strict Iranian religious authorities. Now, they vow to compete in the next one.


A group of brave female runners risked their freedom after being barred from participating in the first ever “TehRUN” marathon in Tehran, Iran.

While 160 women out of a total of 600 runners had been registered to participate in the 26-mile race, they were told last minute they would not be allowed to take part in the full competition. But that didn't deter them in the slightest, as they staged their own race instead.

According to The Guardian, non-profit Free to Run, a group that encourages women and girls from conflict areas to participate in sports and outdoor activities, told followers in a Facebook post one week prior to the marathon that Iran's track and field federation had listened to the concerns of female runners. To the organization, this seemed promising, as the agency appeared to have allowed women to compete after all.

Nevertheless, when the day of the race arrived, authorities said that women could only take part in the 10 kilometer run, and not the full or half marathons. Women who insisted on participating would have to use an indoor sports stadium track instead of running in the streets.

The TehRUN website asked female runners coming from abroad to “dress modestly to respect local customs and religion.”

It seemed as if Iran's strict religious authorities had finally been able to bar women from taking part in the event.

Professional runner and Nike coach Manal Al Rostom told reporters that as soon as she arrived at the location to collect her runner's number, or bib, her €125 ($155.29) entrance fee had been completely wasted.

“It was totally chaotic, even the runner’s numbers had been mixed up. I was arguing and arguing with the registration guy because I came all the way from Dubai for a marathon, not a 10K,” she said. “He told me in the end I could show up and run outside if I wanted, but I risked getting arrested.”

Karin Brogtrop, a Dutch runner, also reported being stressed by the entire ordeal.

In light of the discriminatory policy these female runners and others decided to set their anger aside and put their heads to work. Together, they created their own “secret” marathon, moving to the hilly Beheshte Madaran park where the runners did 700-meter loops for 32 kilometers. After that, they joined the official 10K race for women at 4 p.m., where they put on head scarves and other modest gear handed out by marathon organizers. The total 42K was equivalent to 26 miles.

Many of the women who made it to the 10K race carried bibs or banners that read: “See you next year, 42K.”

“I’m a hijabi and the dress code for this race was in hijab, so this was a great representation of peace and tolerance and the spirit of sport, I think,” Al Rostom said.

Nevertheless, she said she's determined to head back to Tehran next year to take part in the full marathon. Still, she said she's proud of having stood up for herself and others like her.

“I’m glad we spoke up. I just feel that when women speak up for themselves that’s when real change comes around. As a Middle Eastern woman to see women being empowered in this way and see women run in the streets for the first time means a lot to me, of course.

It lets [women] know there are no limits and they can do anything they want.”

This year's TehRUN was the second incarnation of a marathon held in 2016 in the city of Marvdasht, which was not open to women.

To many, the fact this year's race was at least, in part, open to female runners seems to indicate that Iranian authorities were starting to warm up to the idea of equality. Still, there are many gender equality battles women across the globe are still fighting. Highlighting these stories of courage in the face of prison threats helps to encourage other women struggling to have their rights upheld to continue standing up to authorities who are keeping them down.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Morteza Nikoubazl

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