Against a backdrop of violence and insurgency, the first Marathon of Afghanistan took place on Friday, 16 October 2015 in Bamian province, a mountainous hidden valley suspended in the midst of the Hindu Kush in central Afghanistan. Intrepid athletes from Canada, United States, Belgium and Britain joined locals in the race, which became an unlikely but inspiring news story.
Around 35 runners took part in the marathon, including Zainab who became the first Afghan woman in history to complete a marathon within her own country. Zainab ran with one Canadian and one Belgian woman from Free to Run – an organisation founded by human rights lawyer (and ultra-marathon runner) Stephanie Case, working with women and girls in conflict areas to give them confidence and education, along with exercise. Eighty people competed in a simultaneous 10-kilometre race; most were teenage schoolgirls.
James believes the unprecedented race has inspired many young girls to take up running and, security dependent, he hopes the marathon will return again in 2016.