EVENT/IDEA: The Secret Marathon (Winnipeg 3K)


For women in Afghanistan, a marathon is more than just a race. It is a reclaiming of public space, reshaping of societal norms, and a fight for equality.

This year, during International Women’s Week (March 6, 2019), Winnipeg’s Running Room will host one of ten Secret Marathons (3K) across Canada. Join as an individual or team to run or walk in solidarity, supporting the right all humans should have to walk or run free of fear in their community.



In October of 2015, Afghanistan held its first official marathon. Taking place in the Bamiyan province, about 35 runners participated in the marathon with about 80 more completing a simultaneous 10 km race. Zainab* found herself as the sole Afghan women running the marathon, overcoming physical and societal challenges to do so.

Bamiyan province is one of thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan and is considered the safest and one of the most liberal provinces. The name itself can be translated to “The Place of Shining Light” as its central placement was strategic for the Silk Road caravans that once stopped there. The current governor of the province is Habiba Sarabi, Afghanistan’s first and only female governor (appointed in 2005). Sarabi has been instrumental in promoting women’s rights and representation and is a reformer of the post-Taliban reconstruction of Afghanistan. For these reasons, the mountainous area was deemed perfect for the Bamiyan marathon. But the marathon is more than just a race, especially for women.

In Afghanistan, societal norms tend to keep women indoors and away from physical activities. Zainab only started running after her taekwondo club was shut down by police and the organization she was involved with called Skateistan encouraged her to apply to ‘Free to Run’. She applied with one goal in mind: “to open the way for other girls in Afghanistan – in other parts of society as well, but especially sports”.

Zainab and her two running partners during the Bamiyan marathon.
Source: The Guardian

In August of 2015, Zainab ran an unofficial marathon from the Paghman Valley to Kabul with three other young women. As they entered the Afghan capital, Zainab recalls children stoning them and people yelling insults such as “Prostitutes, why don’t you stay at home? You are destroying Islam”. She had to stop before reaching the finish line but doing so did not discourage her from running again in October.

Leading up to the Bamiyan marathon, Zainab trained by running laps in her family’s small backyard, unsafe to train by herself outside but still dedicated to her goal. Then, in October of 2015, she arrived in Bamiyan with a Canadian and Belgian woman from Free to Run. All three completed the marathon together and Zainab’s leadership and courage has sparked a change in how women participate in sports in Afghanistan.

*Zainab’s last name has been kept out of most articles in order to protect her identity.
Watch Zainab’s story here!

Zainab (middle) and her running partners during the Bamiyan marathon.
Source: The Guardian


The Bamiyan marathon, also known as The Marathon of Afghanistan, was a first of its kind for the country. It’s a race that is not only open to both men and women but it’s actively creating safe spaces by hosting safe races.

Since it’s inception, The Marathon of Afghanistan has worked hard to continue its legacy of open and safe spaces. Donations are used to allow 300 Afghan runners to compete in the Marathon and associated 10K free of charge. They also help provide transportation, accommodations, food and support, especially for women wanted to participate.

The Marathon is also supported by Free to Run, a non-profit organization that provides sports opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan and other areas of conflict. The Central Highlands Region where the Bamiyan marathon takes places is center to Free to Run’s programs.F

Bamiyan Marathon, November 2016.
Source: Free to Run


Join The Running Room, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, and The Secret Marathon documentary film in the first ever Secret Marathon 3K.

On March 7th, the eve of International Women’s Day, 10 cities across Canada will run in solidarity supporting the right all humans should have to walk or run free of fear in their community. By participating, you will be helping share the story through film and making a donation to further help the work of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.

DATE: March 7, 2019
LOCATION: The Running Room, 1875 Grant Ave. Winnipeg, MB
COST: $15/individual, $30/team (min. 2 people, max. 10 – $15/additional member
– 5:30-6:30 PM – Registration
– 6:30 PM – Race starts
– 6:45-7:30 PM – Celebration

Find more race details here!
Looking for a race in your area? The Secret Marathon 3K will take place in Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, and Ottawa.



When legendary marathon runner, Martin Parnell, had a life threatening blood clot he was inspired to recover and run again when he read about the first courageous Afghan woman to participate in a marathon in her own country.  He invited young filmmaker, Kate McKenzie to join him in documenting the journey and trained her to run her first marathon.  Training and preparing in secret to avoid making the race a target for terrorist attack, they journey together to Afghanistan. There they meet several runners along the way, each with their own obstacle to overcome, each determined to support the dream that everyone should be free to run.

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