The Run For Peace Blog: What's Happening?
January 23, 2016
2015’s motivators: the people who drive you to go the distance
Great encouragement from one of my younger supporters!
It’s the people around you that make the difference between motivation and giving up. In 2015, I was amazingly lucky to be surrounded by people who believed in me and the work I do, both on my daily runs and in my work at Generations For Peace. Sometimes when you’re working and training full time, it’s others’ positivity that pulls you towards your goals. Ramadan this year fell in June, the first month of high mileage in my training to prepare for the Berlin Marathon. Doing long runs and workouts in the Jordanian summer heat while fasting is almost impossible and can be dangerous, so I decided instead to run after midnight on the road between Amman and Jordan’s main international airport. Running in the middle of the night on an empty highway, chased sometimes by guard dogs, isn’t something you can do alone, and I was lucky to have some good friends to drive with me and sometimes actually chase the dogs away!
But even when you don’t need friends to literally watch your back on the road, support from those around you is key to performing successfully. In May, I was fortunate to be selected to participate in the Swedish Institute’s Young Leaders Visitors Programme (YLVP). This made a big difference to me, as I really felt that my hard work in promoting sport in the Middle East and supporting peacebuilding through GFP was being recognised. Then, in October, I was featured in Runners World as one of Top 50 Influencers in running worldwide. I was excited to be featured right next to Sebastian Cole, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), because his example of leadership in raising the standards of athletes’ behaviour inspires us all to hold ourselves to higher standards of clean performance.
Looking forward towards 2016 here in Amman, I see a great year ahead as a member of the DNA Gym team, with the support of KABS Fit Factory. So far, the support of my friends at KABS has helped me stay motivated in a tough period of training. Over the past month, I’ve combined around two hours of running per day with strength training sessions with my personal trainer at DNA Gym, along with nutritional support from KABS Fit Factory and encouragement from all the other coaches and instructors there. In the coming months, I’ll continue to work hard and stay mindful of all the support I’ve received. As Jadranka Stikovac Clark, Institute Director at GFP, told me, “GO, MO, GO - NOTHING CAN STOP YOU - REMEMBER THAT!"
December 23, 2015
Beirut and paris: marathon runners against extremist violence
The terrible violence which followed the Beirut marathon in November just showed how much we still need these events to show that it’s still possible to come together peacefully in countries suffering from violence and conflict. Along with my Lebanese friends and colleagues, I was both shocked and saddened by the explosions in Paris and Beirut that happened right after the Beirut marathon. When we see both a giant marathon in support of peace and tolerance and terrible acts of violence within the same city in the same week, we know how much work lies before us in building peace in this region.
What is the role of athletics in responding to these events? How should we as athletes lead the refusal to give up on peace and to spiral down into hatred and retaliation? I see international marathons as a critical expression of support for all the people in the cities suffering from extremism and other forms of violence. For that reason, the most important marathons in 2016 for me will be the Paris Marathon in April and the Beirut marathon again next November.
Marathons aren’t easy to plan for, and some people can’t make it to these races or don’t have the time to prepare. However, those of us who can get out and show support to other runners and ordinary citizens in these cities need to prioritise races in areas of conflict. It’s easy to be afraid of these mass events, but that’s exactly what extremists want: for people to be afraid to come together in peaceful ways. Defeating that agenda is increasingly important. I hope to see as many of you as possible joining us in Beirut and Paris in 2016, and let’s keep in mind these wise words from May el-Khalil, President of the Beirut Marathon Association: “Peace is a marathon, not a sprint.”
November 5, 2015
One woman making real change: may al-khalili and the beirut marathon
There’s something unique about the Beirut Marathon. Worldwide there are very few annual events that are devoted completely to peace, and that’s especially rare in the Middle East. Every year, I look forward to watching runners from all different ethnic, national and religious backgrounds participating in the Beirut Marathon. We all understand that Lebanon faces some very serious challenges today – as a Jordanian, I know what it means to live in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, and sectarianism is a constant threat in the region. Despite the security challenges and all of the forces of violence that surround us, the Beirut Marathon provides an amazing chance for athletes to come together and run together, regardless of our beliefs, our genders, or our nationalities.
What’s the secret to this success? The Beirut Marathon managed to overcome all of the odds to become the most successful peace running event in the world, receiving the International Road Race Silver label from the International Association of Athletics Federation in 2010. Driving the great progress that this race has made is May al-Khalili, founder and President of the Beirut Marathon Association. I first met May in 2008 at the beginning of my running career, and looking back over the years since, I see how much difference her motivation and encouragement made for me as an athlete. May has always gone above and beyond to encourage and support me in my Olympic dream, even when I was just starting out as a runner.
It’s unusual to see an Arab woman who both achieves athletically and leads a major road race from concept to international success. May founded the Beirut Marathon in 2002 and has led the race from strength to strength ever since, receiving the Fair Play for Peace Award from the Premio Fair Play Mecenate in Italy in 2014. She is a role model in a region where women’s leadership is badly needed, especially in athletics and especially now. Every year, May goes the extra mile to encourage women and to participate in the marathon, as well as providing great positive leadership that’s felt at every level of the event. May is also committed to organizing outreach to encourage people from all areas of society in Lebanon to participate in sport – not just the privileged and the wealthy.
We’ve got just a few days to go now, and it’s an exciting time in Beirut. I’m looking forward to the inspiration I always get from May, and to seeing the Beirut Marathon spread the message of peace and tolerance for another year.
October 7, 2015
Allez Allez Allez! The secret of reaching a new personal best at the Berlin marathon
What motivates us to run? What motivates us to run marathons, or to train for months, just for one race? For me, there are many reasons that I’ve written about here, but in Berlin on September 27th, I was reminded of something special: that amazing connection you feel with the other runners and the crowd around you. When you run with 41,000 others, that’s a lot of family and friends watching and cheering. Even if your own family can’t be there, you still feel a wave of encouragement from everyone around you – and that’s what makes the difference.
In the days leading up to the marathon, as everyone arrives and prepares for the big day, we don’t think of each other as competitors. In a sense, each of us is racing alone, trying to beat ourselves – our own personal bests. We’re all united by that goal, and those numbers become the language of the runners. When we have to travel a long way to get to a race, we get there early to acclimatize and prepare for the big day, getting some easy mileage in in the days leading up to the race. The three days in Berlin before the race were challenging for me, as I had a hard time getting used to the German climate after coming straight from an extra hot Jordanian summer. What helped get me to the starting line was the team spirit surrounding the whole event in Berlin, from the moment I arrived. I was excited to see many friends among the elites already preparing for the race, especially my friends Shadrack Biwott and Gabe Proctor from Mammoth Track Club in California and the inspiring German elite runner Anna Hahner, one of the top German athletes today.
On the morning of the race, the elite tent was a busy place. Everyone has their own routine to prepare for those 42.1 kilometers, whether it’s stretching, listening to music, massaging their legs, or something else, but this year, most of us had the same goal: qualifying for the Olympic trials in our countries ahead of Rio 2016. I did a few minutes of warmup and then some drills. A lot of the preparation before the race is achieving that focus that will carry you through those grueling two-plus hours. The team spirit that we create as we wait for the starting gun helps us to focus on our goals and making the day count. In the elite tent this year, I met Josh Cox, whom I used to train with in California. “It’s the perfect day for getting your personal best,” he told me. “Just go for it!”
One of the things that’s really special about the Berlin marathon is the number of people who come out to watch it and cheer us on. Although I stuck with the group paced for a 2’28 finish until kilometer 35, I started to feel my pace falling after that, and I was very worried that I was close to hitting the wall. It was then that I realized how much I needed the support of the crowds around us, and that I wouldn’t get that motivation unless I asked for it. As I passed the crowds, I raised my arms, asking them to cheer me on to the finish – and the response was amazing. Hundreds of people who were watching quietly suddenly started to yell all kinds of encouragement, waving their arms and shouting “Allez! Allez” (I think they thought I was French or Italian!). I’m sure that that’s what pushed me to complete the race in 2’30’57, which improved my personal best by four minutes.
September 9, 2015
There’s 25 minutes between my personal best and the times that the world’s best runners achieve. Many of the best marathon runners clock in at a 2.05 or 2.07. For me, that’s a dream. As someone committed to both working full-time to create positive change and to cutting minutes off my personal best, I’ve learned just how much sacrifice those 25 minutes mean, and I’ve been faced with a very personal choice: work for change, or work for better times?
I look around my community here in Jordan and the areas where I work abroad – refugee camps in Lebanon, schools divided by regionalism in Tunisia and ethnic conflicts in Rwanda – and the choice becomes easy: sometimes, changing the lives of children and youth has to come first.
A lot of people ask me how I can run a sub-2.30 marathon while holding down a full-time job that requires frequent travel. Sometimes I feel that I have two different jobs with the same goal: encouraging others to come together through sport and overcome their differences. Right now, I’m promoting the Beirut Marathon in Jordan, encouraging Jordanians to run with other athletes from the Middle East and all over the world, embracing the marathon’s message of togetherness, tolerance, and positivity. Beyond just running fast, these goals help me stay motivated, as I start my day with two hours of road running and track workouts before I clock in at the office, and end it with another hour when I get home.
25 minutes may not sound like long, but cutting it means hours of training – and that means hours less of the peacebuilding work I’m passionate about. My mission now is to balance both as I prepare to represent Jordan in the Berlin Marathon on 27 September.
June 4, 2015
How does it feel representing Jordan in sport?
There are a lot of reasons why we run. Some of us run to be fit, or to be healthy, or to change our lives on a more fundamental level. I shared a little bit with you in my last blog post about my own transition through sports from fighting those around me to fighting my own limits as a marathoner. But if you’re Jordanian, especially in these challenging times, you have a completely unique set of reasons to run, and to run well.
We can’t all be superstar athletes or war heroes. I didn’t start running until I was 20 years old, and I continue to struggle against the consequences of that late start. Contributing to my country through military service wasn’t an option for me. Nonetheless, it’s extremely important to serve my country in a peaceful and positive way, and for me, that means showing the world what Jordanians can achieve in athletics. That’s especially important now, in this region that is so often represented internationally only in terms of conflict and violence. I’m proud that my country has weathered this storm, and racing with the Jordanian flag on my singlet is my way of contributing to a different image of our region – one that is peaceful, positive, and healthy.
On February 13, I competed in the Ras al-Khaima Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates. I left for the UAE after a week of flu and hard and successful fieldwork for Generations For Peace in Lebanon, and I went knowing that Ras al-Khaima would be a real challenge for me. The beginning of the race felt normal, and I covered the first 5k in 16 minutes. After the fourth mile, however, I realized that something was very wrong. The flu was clearly not done with me and I found myself in more pain than I’d ever experienced in a race.
When you’re a runner, you don’t quit. Even if you have to walk to the end of the course. Even if it’s hard. You fight yourself and discipline your brain and your body to keep going. But on February 13, the thing that kept me on track and pushed me through the pain to finish the race was the encouragement I heard from the spectators lining the course. Wherever I passed, I heard “Jordan! Jordan! Jordan!” and “Hayyyanishaamah!” For Jordanians, nishaamahis a very powerful word – it means pride, strength and bravery all at once, and it also means a Jordanian. In the past few weeks, we as a country have had to actively prove that nishaamah in our response to the atrocities happening just across our border with Syria. Those events never left my mind as I ran.
In the end, I didn’t make the time I’d hoped for. I finished the course in 1:14:00, coming 23rd overall (and 6th in the Arab category). It wasn’t an amazing result, but I managed to fight through the pain to the end. At the finish line I was surrounded by spectators asking all about Jordan and sharing their hopes that we would stay well in spite of the violence and chaos around us. I knew I’d done the best that I could, and I’d achieved one of my most important goals: representing my country.
December 8, 2014
Sport for Peace and Development
What does sport have to do with peace? If you’d asked me even a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, and probably most athletes don’t associate sport with conflict resolution. My perspective is a little different. As a kid in middle school, I had serious problems with teachers, to the point where I was expelled from school after school, moving through eight or nine by the time I reached high school. I knew that fighting my teachers was getting me nowhere, but it wasn’t until I began sport that I learned to use the frustration for something greater – something that could contribute to my own future and to others around me. I joined a school soccer team in ninth grade, and although I still got into fights on the soccer field, sport helped me to focus the energy from my frustration and to channel it into something productive. Sport for me, was a source of peace, both for myself and with those around me.
Now that I work in Generations For Peace, I see the same transition in the boys and girls in our programmes. Our programmes in Jordan follow the “sport for peace” model, which suggests that many of the skills taught by sport – self-control, cooperation with others, the ability to envision a goal and follow through to make it happen – can actually contribute to peacebuilding in communities experiencing conflict. In Jordan, our programmes focus on teaching these skills to boys and girls in some of the poorest areas of the country on the outskirts of Amman, the capital. These students are in 8th and 9th grades – the same age I was when started to find my own peace through sport. Our activities aren’t exactly organized sport, but sport-based games following a specific curriculum to teach conflict resolution skills. It works, too. I’ve heard from kids who (like me) found a sense of belonging in sport and discovered that it gave them the one chance they needed to change their own behavior.
Take a walk or a drive through a low-income city neighbourhood after school gets out. It might be in Rio de Janeiro, or Capetown, or Kigali, or Moscow, or Bangkok – or even Amman. I think you’ll probably see groups of kids, maybe girls, maybe boys, maybe both, with shoes or without them, but one thing that you might notice in common is the game they’re playing. Sport is accessible. Sport doesn’t cost much. And it might just have potential to change things – a potential I’m working to realize. Stay tuned to hear more about how sport can make a difference for youth in the Middle East!
December 1, 2014
Back to Jordan: from New York to Amman
When you think of Jordan, you probably don’t think of elite runners. While our country is wealthy in many ways, we don’t have an established culture of sport. We do, however, have an amazing young population. As a Jordanian and as an athlete, I’ve set my sights on tapping that potential. After five years of living in New York City, the dream of bringing sports culture to Jordan brought me home to Amman in 2013.
Sports culture – it’s about discipline, it’s about self-respect, and it’s about resourcefulness. You don’t need to have fancy shoes. You don’t need to have national teams and well-funded college programs. You don’t even need to have a history of athletics. We aren’t talking about the drinking culture that surrounds sports in the United States, or even a high level of athletic achievement. What I hope to see is a group of young Jordanians who see sport as more than entertainment on TV, and who understand what sports can mean for their own lives.
What does sport teach? Let’s think about how you run a marathon. You need to plan ahead, to understand your own abilities and your limitations, and to learn that you can push past those limitations – with a little discipline. When I run a marathon, I resist the temptation to push for speed at the starting line, because I know my own strength and I know that I need to pace myself. If I don’t, I hit the wall after 37 kilometers. Succeeding at the marathon isn’t just about speed and strength, but about self-knowledge and self-discipline. Add these skills to the physical benefits of training and you start to see what I mean: sport is a powerful force for good.
Sport as more than just a form of exercise or something to watch on TV doesn’t really exist in Jordan. Physical fitness is often the last thing on many Jordanians’ minds. While Americans spend a lot of time and money on trying to get fit, Jordanians focus more on their appearance. Sometimes I smile when I remember running in Central Park with thousands of others on a weekday morning, even in the cold New York winter. This morning I ran alone on a track in Amman, after climbing through a hole in the fence to reach it. I do this almost every day. More than anything I would like to see other young Jordanians on that track, able to access it freely and motivated to train and learn all the lessons that sport has to offer. Realizing that dream has motivated my work for Generations For Peace, a Jordanian NGO that organizes sports activities for kids in Amman’s inner city neighborhoods and communities hosting Syrian refugee families. The students in our GFP programme show us every day that the benefits of sport don’t require a big investment or great athletic skills. These programmes are just the beginning for me, though – this process will be long, and I know that bringing sports culture to the Middle East will pose some major challenges. Despite that, I’m committed to working to make sure that young Jordanians have the chance to realize their athletic potential, just as American teens do. Keep an eye out for the next post to hear more about my work in sport for development in Jordan.