- by Ghadir Hamadi and Danah KaouSource: Annahar
People of different age groups, nationalities, and backgrounds ran side by side under a vista of sunny skies.
BEIRUT: Thousands gathered Sunday morning in Martyr’s Square in Downtown Beirut to kick-off the annual Beirut Marathon.
“It was a very Lebanese marathon,” noted participant Mirna Reslan, with also the spice of many abroad visitors.
People of different age groups, nationalities, and backgrounds ran side by side under a vista of sunny skies, and mountains framing the coast.
A various points along the race route, cheerleaders with colorful pompoms dancing to high-beat music were set up on small stages to cheer participants as they ran through the streets.
Parents, school teachers, students, members of the Lebanese army, and the United Nations eagerly cheered on the runners.
Little children ran with their parents “or you can say half jogged,” said Maya Annan who was participating in the 1 km race with her six year old son Ahmad, who proceeded with much cheers from the sidelines.
According to May El Khalil, president of Beirut Marathon Association, the course has undergone improvements to ensure an even better race. Also, organizers and volunteers were working hard to keep everything in check and guide people throughout the course of the event.
Melhem Dirani, a volunteer whose task was to guide students coming from outside Beirut said that “it’s really great to see people coming together and having fun on a sunny day.”
Living up to its motto, “We fill the heart of Beirut,” Beirut Marathon 2018 had an estimated 50,000 participants hailing from Lebanon and across the world.
Runners from Ethiopia, Cyprus, Tanzania, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine were running the race routes of Beirut many of whom had come to Lebanon solely to take part in the marathon.
Mike, a runner from Cyprus, told Annahar that this is the second year he participates in Beirut’s Marathon, “and I assure you, I’ll be here next year too,” he said.
Some NGOs took the opportunity of the huge crowd to raise awareness about critical issues.
ABAAD took the chance to remind people of their #SHAMEONWHO campaign that aims at “reshaping society’s skewed perception of victim shaming” and calls for harsh penalties against rapists in Lebanon.
The volunteers at ABAAD were dressed fully in black to represent rape victims who did not receive justice.
The crowd held up signs that had held up phrases said by victim blamers such as “Who told her to go out at night?” and “What was she wearing?” to denounce those blamers.
“This campaign has three objectives, first is to renew penalties for rapists, second is to change the societal mindset that blames rape victims, and third to encourage rape victims to report their cases” an organizer from ABAAD told Annahar.
Music, activities, and food were provided to the runners by event’s sponsors, and included adults, and children who were on the sidelines.
Overwhelmingly the side crowds were ecstatic to enjoy the sunny day out without Beirut’s usually congested traffic. “It’s nice to see the streets closed down, but this time for a good cause,” said Hani Aranout, a dad of four children participating in the race.
Yahia Al Dana a runner in the 42K race has been practicing three times a week for five months in advance, in preparation for the big day. He has also participated in two marathons in the past, one of them being in Cyprus.
“It’s a feeling that’s hard to explain,” he told Annahar, “when your body is tired and starts failing and the only things that keeps you going is your strong mentality to finish what you trained very hard for.”
This year Al Dana participated with his fiancée because he wanted her to experience the bittersweet joy of training hard.
Another romantic couple noted for Annahar that training and competing together in the marathon has only strengthened their love.
Though some complained that side roads were closed down in preparation for the marathon and that caused severe traffic, most were philosophical on this score. “If it’s for a good cause, dare we complain?” noted Hassan Hashem with a smile “it’s been a rough year for Lebanon, it’s nice to see everyone coming together, even if it’s for a short while.”
Race winners were Moroccan Mohamed Reda El Aaraby who ran the men’s marathon race in 2 hours 10 minutes and 42 seconds; with Medine Deme Armino, an Ethiopian runner, taking the title of women’s winner coming in at 2 hours 29 minutes and 31 seconds, their route, just over 42K.
Khaled Bou Merhi, a runner, called the event, “the smiling marathon because everybody was happy.”