Run Croatia Participates in the Teheran Marathon… That Wasn’t

Total Croatia News

We are delighted to welcome Iva Hafner to the TCN team. Iva’s first report is sent from Iran, where she had been hoping to take part in the Teheran Marathon. She sent in this report on April 10, 2017. 

++Women fighting for permit to run at the 1st International Marathon in Teheran, Iran 07 April 2017++
++Run Croatia team member participated in a female secret run after the half and full marathon got cancelled++
++Women were forced to run only 10k around Azadi stadium, shielded from public support++

When the race organizer ‘I Run Iran’ opened registrations for women to participate at the 1st International Marathon in Teheran, it sounded like a big step forward in terms of gender equality and women empowerment in Iran. Why shouldn’t women be able to run 21k or 42k? In the world of marathon running, women are now the predominant group of participants.

We have to remind ourselves though, that it hasn’t always been this way. Women were not permitted to run marathons in the US either, when we speak of the historic moment in 1967. Kathrine Switzer signed up with her initials for the legendary Boston Marathon with the start number 261. She has been forcefully dragged away from the course by the race director, but managed to free herself and finish the race. Ever since, the start number 261 has become a symbol of bravery, which unites empowered runners across the world.

In this spirit 106 women signed up for the advertised marathon, an equal mix of local and international runners. Our group of runners initially believed that women could run together the streets of Teheran with men. Prior to the race we have been recieving misleading information from the Dutch race organizer Mr Sebastiaan Straten, who lives in Iran. The ones who signed up to run 21km and 42km were furious when they were informed that they would not be allowed to run the distance. The reason was due to not having enough female participants joining the half and full marathon. Which was a load of ****!

We were left with guessing what was going on behind the curtain, and the race director Mr Straten was not available for our questions, and apparently out of the country.

Sexual seggregation is enforced in public sports events, where women are still not permitted everywhere to watch sports.

A day before the race we got final confirmation that women would not be allowed to run next to men, and that the half and full marathon were cancelled.

The men’s marathon started at 7am, and women were forced to run 10k around Azadi stadium at 4pm, excluded from the public eye and cheering support.

Before the official 10k race, our group of women runners had a crisis meeting. We decided to ignoring the rules and move forward with not taking NO as an answer. As we had local runners in our group we carefully go through different scenarios weighing the risks.

On Friday morning April 7th, we met in secrecy at the entrance of Beheshte Madaran (Women’s) park as some female group members were afraid of the government finding out about their activities. On a beautiful sunny morning we ran with our start numbers through the park after Finding out that fridays are open for the public. On a track we keep bumping into other male and female runners showing us support and wanting to know what’s happening.

We run a 700m loop of 11k and 32k to be followed by the official 10k run in the afternoon. We accomplished what we came for: to show that we are perfectly capable of running a (half-)marathon by respecting the Islamic dress code and to show to the world that it is perfectly normal in Teheran to run and train with men in public spaces.

During the morning we learned that three women tried to start the marathon with men, but were pulled off by the police.

Having had our secret runs done in the morning, we showed up for the official women’s run part in the afternoon. We had been given an Islamic sports dress, and had our fun with learning how to wear a sports hijab.

Along the course almost every 100m we have been observed by the Basij morality police. I was worried about my hijab properly sitting and tried to make the watchful ladies smile. There was no cheer support for us. We ran fully covered and shielded in silence.

During the last kilometers memories from my last year’s Pyongyang half marathon in the hermit state of North Korea pop up in my mind. Running the streets of Pyongyang was such a liberating moment, where internationals and locals can freely interact without a guide for a few hours.

Here I learned about the private and public face from a different perspective.

Running an official race as a woman in Teheran feels like a punishment.

Outside of outlined borders though it’s surprisingly refreshing to feel Teheran’s modern vibe, where women wear their scarves nonchalantly, ride bikes, go hiking with men..and run!

It’s just a matter of time when this will happen, organized and supported by the state. With our first women’s run in Iran we hope to have left a positive mark for the future.

Teheran, we did it!


You can contact Iva via her Run Croatia website



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