A MarathonWomanAmong Muslims
New England Runner, July/August 2013
by Caitlin Hurley
y biggest concern had been mywardrobe selection. What doesone wear to run a marathon ina Muslim country like Iraq?Since my children and I hadmoved to Erbil, Iraqi Kurdis-tan, two months before themarathon (which took placeon October 19, 2012) to join my husband on awork assignment in this booming region, I hadyet to even bare my knees while running. But26.2 miles in 80-plus degree temperaturesseemed to warrant skimpy apparel, no matterwhat local custom dictated.When I spotted a woman wearing shorts,I gleefully pulled off my running pants. I had alike-minded ally, who turned out to be thecountry director for UN Women in Iraq, akind, petite Scottish woman named Frances,who had come up from Baghdad to run the2nd Annual Erbil International Marathon “to be able to go for a long run outside,” since inBaghdad she could only train on a treadmillinside her walled compound.
As we nervously waited for the delayedstart, the mercury rising with every passingminute, Frances and I marveled at thefootwear selection—everything from soccercleats to slip-on skater shoes to Converse AllStars were sported. I particularly want toknow how the young man with the black busi-ness shoes fared. We were asked to be in nu-merous photos, the sight of two Westernwomen—in shorts no less—giving us unso-licited celebrity status.Although therewere a few otherwomen running, wewere by far the mi-nority. It felt like be-ing a modern dayKathrine Switzer inIraqi Kurdistan. Foronce I wasn’t run-ning to get a PR orhit specific splits, Iwas running to bepart of something bigger than I was, in a coun-try that is trying to heal after years of war,death and unimaginable grief. I was also, inmy own mind, running for the women here,trying as I did in fourth grade to show themthat girls can do anything boys can do.A marathon anywhere in Iraq would have been unthinkable a decade ago, and even the
A lone marathoner passes a towering mosque.
Photo by Nicola Visconti
Kurdish womenperformed atraditional Kurdishdance at the post-race awardsceremony.
Photo courtesy of Erbil Marathon Organization