Marathon in the Kashmir Valley

Srinagar, known for its lakes and hills, held its inaugural marathon.

In a region of the world known predominantly for its military tensions between India and Pakistan, the power of marathoning showed threw yet again with the running of the inaugural Srinagar Marathon in the Indian administered but disputed state of Kashmir on 10 November.

Reyaz Ahmad, a member of the local police force, won the event, finishing in 2:43.00 and the entire field of 12 runners all completed the 42km course in less than 3 hours so this was no parade. While this is clearly not a world beating time, it is impressive when you consider all runners finished sub-3:00 on hilly terrain in the Kashmir Valley and in challenging conditions, with the race starting in sub-zero freezing temperatures.

I know from reading stories from marathon runners in the 1970’s, especially in the US, events back then were not the mass participation events that we see today but rather real races with small fields of genuine athletes pushing themselves and going for good times – where the mindset really was if you didn’t finish in under 3 hours you weren’t running! While I am glad that mindset has changed as I struggle through my 42km races and aim for 3:30, . I can’t help but think that this race would resonate with those runners!

The streets of the city of Srinagar

I don’t think the event is likely to challenge to become the next World Marathon Major, as the race has no website, there is no timing chips and in fact entrants times are rounded to the nearest minute, but it is amazing to see the reach marathons have and to consider this is held in one of the most treacherous parts of the world.

Srinagar is the Indian summer capital of the Kashmir region and is a heavily militarized city of slightly more than one million people. It has suffered from ongoing political and terrorist unrest with the local police and army often coming under attack from Kashmiri separatists.

The managing director of the events sponsor (TCI Freight), Umer Tramboo summed up the power an event like a marathon can have in the region, telling the local paper “We need to organise more such events. In our State youth have taken to lot of social evils, like drug abuse and it is only events like this that can take them away from  these evils”.

The course in took much of the 2,300 year old city but the highlight would have been running the 15 kilometres/9.6 miles around the city’s biggest lake.  While the race started in -2 (C)/(28 (F), the temperature in the mountainous region reaches highs in the mid-teens (C)/ 60’s (F). However if the race was held in a month’s time they would have been able to run on the Dal lake, as arctic wintry conditions means the lake freezes over.

Reyaz Ahmad, the winner of the inaugural Srinagar Marathon, receives his trophy

Given that I normally only hear of Kashmir in the news in relation to violence and conflict, I felt obligated to try and promote some good news from the region. Congratulations to Reyaz Ahmad, all entrants and event organisers for holding and completing the inaugural Srinagar marathon.

Have you heard of any marathons in unique or interesting parts of the world that you think deserve recognition?

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