One foot in front of the other – The Express Tribune

One foot in front of the other  The Express Tribune

By Nabil Tahir |

PHOTO: WNP Marathon Club

PUBLISHED January 23, 2022


You often try out new things and occasionally you end up finding something you love, are gifted at and end up pursuing professionally. Now should you decide to go the latter route, you have to have a supportive environment and proper facilities and if you don’t then it can lead to many unexpected struggles and hurdles.

The most famous sport in Pakistan is cricket, and you can find multiple venues to play cricket. But other sports and athletes have to struggle and if you are a woman then that’s an additional hurdle.

A very popular sport worldwide but not so popular in Pakistan is Marathon. A long-distance foot race with a distance of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles 385 yards), is usually run as a road race. More than 800 marathons are held throughout the world each year, with the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes, as larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants.

Another sport that can be said is an advance level of Marathon, is a Triathlon. An endurance multisport race consisting of swimming, cycling, and running over various distances and among the top competitions is Ironman 70.3. It is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organised by the World Triathlon Corporation, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run, raced in that order. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

However, Pakistani competitors, despite limited resources, are growing in numbers and are making a mark with their participation. The number of clubs, once limited, is also growing and more and more athletes are registering in it too. Recently, eight marathon runners participated in the Istanbul Marathon 2021 and made their presence felt.

Wednesday Night Pacers

The 40-year-old Ironman Danish Raza, the founder of Wednesday Night Pacers, finished on fourth for Pakistan at the recently held Ironman 70.3 Turkey. He believes that Pakistan will have to work a lot more on providing proper facilities only then Pakistan can perform better.

He has been running the club for the past three years and has participated in several international Marathons and Ironman. He and eight other runners from his club went for the Marathon, and he and Ammar Amin took part in the Ironman.

The triathletes at the Ironman 70.3 are involved in 90 km cycling, 21.1 km running, and 1.9 km swimming, all in the same suit. The swimming involved is of the sea which is really different from the pool. For Danish, this was something that he could not practice in Pakistan, especially Karachi.

Danish said that as winter in Karachi comes way after these competitions, they don’t get time to train in the sea. “The sea is too rough in summers and not fit for training; by the time the sea get settled, it’s way past the dates of international competitions,” he said.

He also said that the sea in Karachi is too polluted and not fit for swimming. They have to travel all the way to Gwadar to practice, which is not feasible.

As for the cycling part, he said that there are no tracks and no facilities for that. One has to go to the one road near the sea, which is 12 km long and loop again and again, which breaks the flow. Otherwise, one has to get out on the road between 5 am to 7:30 am for regular daily routine training. If one misses this slot, then the day is missed. According to Danish, the traffic is out after this time, and other cars and buses don’t care about cyclists.

He said that almost every cyclist in his club has met an accident. “The other cars don’t care about you; they just drive rash. This show the lack of knowledge about this. There is not much awareness. Not even at the government level. People don’t know about this and get surprised when I tell them that cycling, running and swimming is involved in this,” he said.

He added that the law and order situation is also unsuitable for cyclists, as the athletes often have their expensive gadgets snatched. However, he said that running is the easiest part to train in Pakistan, but people have to be aware of this sport for that.

Talking about the future of this sport, he said that the organisation Sports in Pakistan is planning to hold a local tournament in Gwadar on a small scale involving seven to eight triathletes. Once that becomes a success, it will be held on a higher level.

He added that the equipment for Ironman is costly, which can’t be afforded by many athletes as there is no support by the government, and anyone who is participating is doing it on his own. He also highlighted the upcoming star Amin Muktay, who he thinks can become a famous player for Pakistan if given the proper support.

Losing weight led to Marathon

A 20-year-old Triathlete Amin, who began running five years back to cut off his 110kg weight, soon got hooked to the Marathons when he met a runners’ group WNP led by Danish.

At the age of 15, Amin decided to lose weight with his friend and tried out different sports, including CrossFit, gym, running, and kickboxing, but ended up running. He was identified at a park near his house by Danish, the founder of WNP and his mentor.

Danish asked Amin if he wanted to join the runners who aim to participate in the international events. That was when Amin decided that he would now focus on running and seek global participation. He started off with a 5km race, then 15km, then 21km and finally reached 42km running. For him, this journey was something his destiny led him to.

Although Amin had not participated in the international Marathons, the secret behind his muscular body shows is the other sports he practices, including gym, CrossFit and kickboxing.

He recently took part in his first international event N Kolay Istanbul Marathon, and for him, the practice he did in Karachi helped him perform better than he did in the local event. His time of 2 hours 59 minutes and 55 seconds led him to the qualification of the Boston Marathon, which is the dream of every marathon runner.

His determination can be seen in the Istanbul Marathon, where after 30 km running, he had cramps but kept on running and finished the race. He was then unable to walk for four days but said that it was worth it. He is still recovering from the muscles injury.

Talking about the challenges for a marathon runner in Pakistan, Amin said that Karachi’s polluted air let him perform better in the clean air of Istanbul. But still said that the facilities and the support are nowhere near the other countries. Amin said that the condition of roads is not good in Karachi, the essential equipment like shoes and watches is not available in Pakistan and has to be imported from abroad.

It was Danish who guided him, and he could finish at this time. He is now preparing to participate in the 2023 edition of the race, for which he will begin training six months before the Marathon under a USA-based coach.

The A-levels student aims to keep Marathon running as a hobby and passion, continuing his studies to become an interior designer. He said that there is no future for Marathon racers in Pakistan as the athletes are not supported by the government, and the runners don’t get much support from the sponsors.

Talking about the future of this sport, he said that there are many better runners than him, but they don’t have the proper facilities and support to participate in these events.

The Marathon Finisher

A 25-year-old female Marathon Runner Anum Jahangir, having the hobby of working out for the last five years, describes it as a warm steamy bath on a cold winter evening, “You never really feel like doing it, but when you do, you don’t want it to end. It’s always that good,” she said.

The business consultant at Aga Khan University, Anum, got into running during her work tour to Africa in February 2020. Her African colleagues requested her to join them for a run in a forest. Confused about either joining them or not, Anum decided to test herself. Five minutes into the run, she thought she was going to collapse. It was then that she realised how unfit she was.

Just like Covid-19 struck many worldwide, Anum arriving back in Karachi was welcomed by a country-wide lockdown. After going out with her lab for a jog, she first got an allergic reaction, then her first Covid infection, followed by another Covid infection. All these illnesses had taken a toll on her health, and she was told to not exercise for the next three months.

Aiming to go back to Africa to complete her runs, Anum, in the first quarter of 2021, decided to get out on the track and then take part in the 5 km racing event in Karachi organised by Sports in Pakistan. “Obviously, I didn’t do well that day but managed to complete my first 5 km run by taking several walking breaks,” she said.

She later joined a group, ‘Seaview Runners Club (SVRC)’, in mid-2021. There she met people who were preparing for the year-end races. After training with them for two months, she managed to run her first Half Marathon (21 km) at a racing event on August 14. She soon decided to get out of her comfort zone and sign up for a Marathon. “In reality, I was just tempted to test my potential and see whether I had in me to become a part of that 0.01% of the world’s population who have completed a marathon,” she said.

There were so many ups and downs during her training period of six months. She often questions herself if she is doing the right thing and will it go as planned? Showing up to the runs every single day, stepping out at dawn, all of this isn’t easy. She constantly reminded herself that she was doing it for herself, to trust the process.

“The most challenging part of this sport is to keep your head right and trust that it’s going to come around for you at the end, and it did on November 07, 2021,” said Anum, who participated in her first international Marathon N Kolay Istanbul Marathon, which she recalls as the best day of her life and the day when she fell in love with this sport.

Describing her experience, she said that the atmosphere, energy, and being amongst 40,000 people running 42.2kilometers on a Sunday certainly felt euphoric. “When I say I smiled my way through the Bosphorus Bridge all the way towards the finish, I really mean it. If time froze and my muscles could keep going, I could probably just keep going. I was happy to be crossing the finish line of the Istanbul Marathon. And I had a huge smile knowing I just finished my first ever Marathon that too in a great time,” said Anum, who completed in 4 hours 44 minutes and 11 seconds.

She also highlighted some of the challenges that women runners face in Pakistan. She said that she can’t even remember the number of times she has been interrupted in unpleasant and sometimes frightening ways during her long runs. She believes that it doesn’t really matter how fast you are on the roads. There’s no chance that you can outrun harassment. “It’s always best to run in a group or with a male runner. Running alone on the roads is not even an option for us,” she said.

This is not the stop for her. She wants to learn from the takeaways from this event and keep on going and doing better. She is now more focused on her new goal, which is time-based and no more distance-based. “Never say never. Maybe one day, I’ll be running my first Ironman. Who knows?” she concludes.

The new Ironman

Ammar Amin, the triathlete who finished second for Pakistan at the Ironman Turkey 70.3, says he has been preparing for the Ironman since last winter. As the sea are rough during the summers. By the time Ironman was held, the winters hadn’t arrived in Karachi, so he had decided to get hold of the sea a year before.

The 28-year-old triathlete had his first Ironman, and he knew from last year that he would participate in the 2021 edition. He made the best utilisation of the three-month period he had in 2020 and practised swimming in the sea.

While highlighting the same challenges that Danish and Amin did, Ammar said that there are challenges in Pakistan, but there is a way out of it if one has the determination to participate in the race. He knew that he had to be part of Ironman Turkey 2021, so he prepared himself according to that. After the three-month practice in the sea, he used all the learning in the pool and built his skills accordingly.

He thought that the support from the government and awareness in society is the need of the hour. The athletes are coming into this sport, but they need a safe, secure and supportive environment to practice.

Being a chartered accountant and running a family business, Ammar has no plans to pursue this sport professionally, but he is determined to take part in the Ironman once a year to keep his passion alive.

Although there are many difficulties for the athletes to pursue this sport as the requirement of this sport, they are not giving up and are on their way to making Pakistan’s presence felt at every event.