Afghan Ultramarathon Team to Take Part in RacingThePlanet: Georgia 2021

We are excited to announce that we will have a team of women from Afghanistan competing at 250km Ultramarathon, RacingThePlanet: Georgia!!
Completing an ultramarathon is an extreme challenge even with the best preparation. For three athletes training in Afghanistan, it's almost impossible.
Two Afghan women, along with Free to Run Executive Director Taylor Smith, comprise the Afghan ultramarathon team that will take part in the 250 kilometer, 7-day self-supported footrace across the Georgian wilderness. There is talk that elite ultrarunner Stephanie Case will also join the team and Carrie Highman, who recently filmed the documentary on Courtney Dalwater, will document the journey of the team.
The 250km race, RacingThePlanet: Georgia, is organised by RacingThePlanet and starts on 15 August 2021. It’s a 250 kilometer / 155 mile, 7-day, stage race in which competitors must carry everything they need for the race on their back. The average backpack will weigh 9 kilograms / 20 pounds. A group of international competitors from more than 25 countries will compete alongside the team from Afghanistan.

Raihanna is originally from a rural province in Afganistan where she grew up as a shepherd. In 2013, she moved to Kabul to attend university. In Kabul, she started pursuing work in media and discovered Free to Run. She ran her first marathon in 2017 and then continued on to volunteer as a Community Development Leader. Today she's the chief editor of a weekly news publication in Kabul and also works as Free To Run’s Kabul Programme Officer. Raihanna says that “Running makes her feel free”

Sakina was born in Iran because her family had to flee the war.  She returned to Afghanistan in 2004. She enrolled in high school and upon graduation started pursuing a degree in engineering. Unfortunately, she was not able to continue her degree due to the financial constraints of her family. In 2018, she heard about Free to Run through her younger sister who was enrolled in one of our programmes. She joined Free To Run’s training program and has since served as a Community Development Leader for several programmes and has run four marathons in Afghanistan. Today, Sakina works as an intern for the Northern Afghanistan programme where she is able to learn administrative and programme implementation skills.

Free to Run is a non-profit organisation that uses sport and fitness to empower women and girls in conflict-affected communities. The founder of the organisation, Stephanie Case, is herself a seasoned ultramarathon runner and RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon Series veteran. The idea behind the Afghan ultramarathon team came about in 2012 when she was working in Kabul and training for the Gobi March. “I told myself then that it was too early, too controversial, and too impossible to even try to attempt,” she says. That changed when Case made a trip back to Afghanistan to launch Free to Run’s projects.  “I was completely inspired by the strength and determination of the women with whom I met. Everything seems impossible until you try, so why not now?”
Once this initial idea become a goal, followed by a plan, there have since been three teams from Afghanistan who have taken part in RacingThePlanet ultramarathons. The inaugural team joined the Gobi March in 2015 as the first all-female team from Afghanistan, followed by the first mixed-gender team which joined RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka 2016. Most recently, the team joined the Gobi March 2018. All three teams have had their challenges and their successes.
 Free to Run
Zainab, 25, who participated in the Gobi March 2015, followed her mother’s footsteps in some way. "When my mother was a child, she used to run in Lahore desert of Pakistan. Her award was chocolate, but mine is being a messenger of Afghan women!"
Mahdi, the male team member in the mixed-gender team at Sri Lanka 2016 and now an aspiring coach, has high dreams for his fellow runners in Afghanistan. “We should learn and teach all Afghan [people] that there is no difference of rights between men and women.”
For most RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts competitors, getting through a 30-, 50- or 60-kilometer training run takes a great deal of effort. For a person training in Afghanistan, simply finding a place to run and getting there safely is a logistical Everest.
“It is unsafe to run outside in the city,” says Stephanie Case. “The idea of women running in Afghanistan is still shocking to many and we have to constantly keep that in mind.” Case has found creative solutions to allow the team to train, but under the current security environment, their training conditions are far from ideal.
Getting proper equipment into the country poses another challenge, involving shipping items by courier through trusted contacts into the capital of Kabul. Training with proper shoes, clothing and backpacks is essential to prevent injury and prepare them for the harsh climates they will endure in Georgia.
The Afghan ultramarathon team entries have been sponsored by RacingThePlanet. Regular race updates will be provided on the RacingThePlanet and Free to Run websites.