Meet the Elites | Saradar Bank Women’s Race 2018
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In this post, we shed the light on 3 Lebanese Athletes who have been training hard and are aspiring to achieve new results. 

We asked Lea Iskandar, Nesrine Njeim and Zeinab Bazzi about their path, their motivation, and their message to women. Check out what they had to say!

Lea Iskandar:

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My path leads to women empowerment as professional athletes, career holders, strong heads of families, and-most importantly-as independent figures.

Motivation is limitless and, luckily, it what you can control the most while running. Strength and speed cannot guarantee winning if there is no motivation. What motivates me the most is the sense of accomplishment. I take every training as a challenge, and I am always proud to have achieved it. We should constantly set new goals that tap into both our physical and mental aspects, so we can better ourselves as we achieve them.

My message to women is that sports should be an essential part of everyone’s life. It gives confidence in yourself, ambition, goal, as well as an irreplaceable sense of pride. You shouldn’t miss an opportunity to engage in sports activities. It is neither about competing and winning nor about recognition, it is about challenging ourselves and achieving our full potential – the feeling of crossing the finish line itself is its own glory. I recently read an article that surprised me by stating that, globally, more women are crossing the finish line than men. The pain women go through when they are growing up and during childbirth and the stress they face when pulling a double-shift between work life and home life is merely an attestation to their strength, all there is left now is to start.

Nesrine Njeim:

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My path is about running. For me, running is a lifestyle and my “me time” .I don’t need to find time for it, it is part of my life. It leads me to discover new places around the world. It makes me happy and bring lots of positive energy into my life. I absolutely love running new races in different places and meeting new people.

Have you ever heard of the runner’s high?
Nothing can beat that feeling when you set a personal goal and conquer it. It is an addictive feeling which makes me strive for more. The confidence and happiness that i get every time I cross the finish line carries with me in my daily life. A main reason behind having running a part of my life is definitely the feeling of having the strength to not let anything get me down.

My message to the women reading this is: Running is one of the few exercises that don’t require any equipment or gym membership. You can run anywhere, for free. Start with a walk or small run. You don’t need to be healthy and fit to start, but running will lead you to a healthy​ lifestyle, boost your energy, and clear your mind. 

 

Zeinab Bazzi:

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My path is the one that led me and that will always lead me to fulfill my dreams and the projects that are close to my heart. It is long and full of obstacles, but you have to have the courage to overcome these obstacles and persevere to make your dreams and ambitions a reality.

My main motivation is self-satisfaction and the pleasure that comes from beating my personal best. It’s still not easy. You have to train hard and on regular basis to be ready for race day. Each race holds a beautiful lesson, it allows me to second-guess myself, to learn from my mistakes, to trust in my abilities, and to push past my limits.

Sports in general, and running in particular, allow us above all to stay in good shape and in good health. Running removes the stress of everyday life, shapes the mind, and builds self-confidence. Beyond its physical and mental benefits, running is a beautiful lesson in life, humility, and solidarity. To any woman who wants to start, I advise you to set a goal and persevere to reach it: the hardest but most rewarding phase is taking the first step, have the courage to chase your dream till the end.

 

Meet the Para athletes of the women’s RACE
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The 5th edition of Saradar Bank Women’s Race is taking place  Sunday April 22 in Beirut. The Event itself will hold 6 different races, each belonging to a different race and distance. In this post, we shed the light on 3 Para-athletes who have been training hard and are aspiring to achieve new results. All three are participating in the 10KM- Para athlete Race.

We asked Mari Noel Japy ( hand-cyclist), Mona El Lahib (hand-cyclist), and Rana Kiwan (Visually impaired athlete) on their views about life, sports, women with disabilites, and more.. Here’s what they had to say:

MARIE NOEL JAPY- PARA ATHLETE

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1. On life: In my sports life, I sense that my connection with my broken body is a resurrection. I no longer feel weak not paralyzed, but very much alive.

2. On motivation: to me it’s from within: l keep telling myself that I need to push more to be a better version of myself.

3. On women with disabilities: Any woman with disability who does not take on sports has, without a doubt, her own reasons to withhold, maybe it’s the complexity of being a handicap , or feeling inferior somehow . If that’s truly the case then she has to try and get over her fear and shame, as both are inexistent, only in our heads.

Mona Lahib - PARA ATHLETE

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1. Aspirations: I’ve overcome many challenges in my life, and now my biggest aspiration is to take part in the paralympics

2. Sports: It was definitely an escape from depression and helped ease the stresses of my life. It just makes me feel good about myself and adds a smile that lasts me a whole day.

3. Training: I took part in the very first edition of the beirut marathon using my regular wheelchair. I had never done such a thing before, my hands were bleeding, I was tired and wanted to call it quits. Volunteers helped push my chair for 3KM till the finish line. Once they gave me that medal I made a commitment to myself to come back the second year and earn it myself, with no one’s help. I stayed true to my promise and trained non stop with a chair that is not meant to be cycled with. The second marathon, I earned my medal and accidentally won first place as there were no competitors . today I use a professional handcycle to train with thanks to the ability program by the Beirut Marathon. I refer to myself as an accidental winner, but I’m hoping to be a purposeful Paralympian

Rana Kiwan - PARA ATHLETE

rana-kiwan

1. On sports: a healthy body leads to a healthy mind and a healthy soul. practicing sports  allows me to be healthy on all fronts, and that’s when I can face life and embrace anything it has to offer.

2. Education: I basically never stoped learning, From a BA in translation to currently applying for my PHD, it is my hope to become a Dr. one day. This passion to learn more, to be more and to give more of myself is my fuel to run, to run more and to win more. I throw myself in running competitions because each one is an adventure and a chance to compete and feel all the more alive.

 

3. Drivers: Two things : ambition and willpower. I have never allowed my disability to come in the way of competing or even winning. I am as capable as anyone else out there, What I lack in sight, I have in heart.

From the ground Up: The story of my comeback
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“I’m quitting! This half-marathon was a mistake, getting into running was a mistake!”

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I shouted to my brother on the phone when I hit the wall at the 17th km of last year’s Tripoli’s half marathon. “No more boring long runs, no more obsession with the demanding running lifestyle, no more trying to be something that I am just… That I am just not!” The truth is, I wasn’t really tired. I just didn’t want to do this anymore. Reading this, you would think I was a newcomer to the running field. Well, you would be wrong. I was already a two-time marathoner. In fact, and just about 3 weeks before, I had completed the Rotterdam marathon with a new personal best. But sadly, everything I was throwing at my body by force was coming back to me with interest. And voices inside of my head kept on repeating: I hate running with dark passion!

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The period that followed the half-marathon wasn’t any easier to deal with. In fact, a lot had changed since I first started running by joining the third edition of the 542 program in 2016. Those glory days included me completing two full marathons in Beirut and Rotterdam as well as three half marathons in a period of six months. And a lot of reasons that pushed me to hang on to running were becoming the reasons I was slowly letting go of the sport. Injuries and unfortunate personal reasons had pushed some of my closest running buddies away from running and the team. And for the two unique times I felt like getting back on track in the summer, the universe gifted me with a truly terrible running pace, and two consecutive heat strokes. I was finally convinced that it was about time to hang my running shoes for good.

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It didn’t take long before I was back to my sedentary lifestyle. In fact, I had just started a new (and my first ever) job, and while things didn’t really pick up as desired at first, I relied on a few tennis practices to get me through this transitional phase. However, I knew it was all about to change when a friend of mine approached me for suggestions as she was chasing a new challenge in her life. Without second thoughts, the 542 program was my option to her. After all, this whole marathon experience was life-changing for me. Soon after, my cousin who had already signed up for the program asked me if I could pace her in the 4th long run of the season. That day, I was running at a much slower pace than my usual. However, with every drop of sweat going down my face, everything was coming back to me: the highs which complemented every increase in the mileage, the lows that escorted all the sacrifices I had to make for this commitment, the fun and the friendships I developed on the streets and pavements of Beirut, the finish line glory… In the end, and for once, it was something that I wasn’t doing for anyone else; I was doing it just for me. And here it hit me:

 

Am I really ready to give up on what defined me for almost a year now and gave me the greatest sense of achievement in life?
Am I really ready to give up on what put my tennis comeback at stake?
Am I really ready to give up on what made me acknowledge for the first time that giving up is never an option?

No, not this time.

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That run made me realize that there was so much more to running than just pace, speed and number of races. I became too obsessed with my performance lately that I stopped listening to my body and took this whole issue way too far. I forgot the fun of it; that the true achievement lies in completing the distance or even better, helping someone else complete it. I woke up the next day at 4:30 am, left my Garmin at home, and went on what turned out to be the most liberating 10 km I have ever completed. Soon after, I found myself regularly back to my Sunday long run rituals. Throughout the journey, two key people were present by my side: Claudia, with whom I ran every single step of the 42.195km in Rotterdam and who, just like me, had some motivational struggles in the beginning, and Ghaith, a co-worker in the company I had just started working for and who was looking to complete his first marathon (we ended up running the whole distance together.) Because of those two people, the journey this year was second to none.

 

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All of us have had moments in our lives where we felt the need to give up and walk away. The old days were amazing but nobody said the upcoming ones weren’t going to be any better. And for something to be reborn there has to be an acknowledgement of something that died. You just need to let go and believe that you can do it no matter what. Sometimes, what you really need is a break to help you look at the issue from a whole new perspective. Well, a break and maybe a small kick in the butt! On November 12,

2017, I became a three-time marathoner (in less than 1 calendar year). And I definitely haven’t peaked yet. I am not even close to my peaking.
Dear Europe, I’ll be rocking your streets in 2018 while breaking the 4-hour mark on the clock. Watch me!

The Marathon Story | By Cassandra kfoury
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The tears wouldn’t stop even though it had ended. I was in the arms of Ali:

“You finished it why are you crying?” he asked in a very joyful voice.

I want my medal.” I managed to whisper between the cries.

He laughed so hard at that moment and went to get me the bronze piece of accessory. In the real world, it had no significant value but to me it was my proof, a means of validation. I ran 42.195 kilometers in less than the seven hours limit.

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After a sleepless night, I woke up on Sunday November 13th 2016 at 5 a.m. just like I had been doing every Sunday for the past 4 month. Today was the big day. I couldn’t believe that when I first joined the 542 training program, I thought a marathon was 10 kilometers – the distance I was aiming to be able to run. I could barely jog from my room to the kitchen at that time. But then here I was putting on my tights, my orange 542 shirt and my first ever running shoes.

Are you ready?” asked Karen, my running buddy while we were goofing around at the starting line. She was scared, I guess we all were. We agreed to do this together and I thought we would.

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I just smiled at her and kept dancing and singing with the pre-marathon entertainments. A few fleeting moments and the race had begun. A marathon isn’t really a race, however, it takes endurance rather than speed and so we were managing our pace at a very slow one for the first half of it. Karen and I were having our regular small talks. When the conversation got a little tiring on our breath, we would each enjoy our playlists, customized specifically for this big day. The parades and cheering stations were super encouraging and we would stop for quick pictures with them. I really wanted to enjoy this first of its kind experience. Making good memories out of it was all I really cared about. But then, it all went wrong. At 30 kilometers, my stomach started itching and my tears were rushing down my cheeks. Then, I would suddenly stop crying and start laughing like a complete crazy person. I had hit my wall. I lost control over myself and the pain was atrocious. Never had I ever felt something like this before, even though I ran for 36 kilometers in one of the trainings. To make things worse, I twisted my ankle and sprained it shortly after I had hit the wall. Karen couldn’t run next to me anymore, I was too slow so I asked her to leave. She did but asked a former runner, Fabienne, to finish the race by my side.

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You ran most of the distance, there’s only the seaside road, Mar Mikhael street and then the finish line” I said to myself. By the end of Bourj Hammoud I was nauseous however, and vomited, so much for my body helping me! But I did keep going, Fabienne was my co-pilot on the ride, holding my water, my gels and guiding my way.

“ Yalla khalsina, khaliya tensehib aam tetghandar, hayda ma esmo raked, badna neftah l tari2.” I heard someone screaming at me from his car. I got myself together and politely stated that I was going to finish the race as slowly as I needed to, and that he couldn’t do anything about it. Obviously, he left and the moment he did I burst into tears again- so much for trying to be tough. I had one more hour to run the last 6 kilometers, they felt like an eternity. My mind flew back to the old me, before I signed up for this training program. I was doing okay. However, something was missing: a sense of fulfillment. Once I was in the program I got to practice a sport I never thought I could take part in. I met some amazing people that gave me the motivation to keep running not only on the roads but also in my personal life. I never wanted to run a 42.195 km long marathon at first. When all of these thoughts were rambling through my head while I was in pain, I didn’t want to run it either. I was just doing it because I can, a motto I came to adapt in my life ever since that marathon “Do it cause you can.”

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“Cassandra hurry! You have 10 more minutes or you’ll be disqualified.” The words of my assistant coach Karim hit me suddenly. My whole body clinched, I was enduring so much suffering for the past 6 hours 50 minutes and wanted my medal. I had half a kilometer left. On my best day I would finish it in five minutes. I wasn’t even close to my best at that moment. But you just forget everything and transcend into a feelingless state where it’s only you and the road. I heard the cheering of my dear friends but all I could say was: “move out of my way” (sorry Claudia I forgot my manners). It all ended when the clock hit 6 hours 54 minutes 50 seconds with May Khalil (the BMA founder) holding my hand and crossing the finish line with me- the last finisher. And then I fell into my dearest coach Ali’s arms.

My marathon story isn’t the most pleasant one, to say the least. Yet, every time I think of it a smile draws itself on my face. I’m absolutely and completely in love with every bit of that once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t explain how so much pain can cause so much pleasure at first. Now I know and that’s why I’m sharing it so that everyone preparing for it can know. The marathon isn’t a distance you run, it’s a feeling that builds up from the moment you start training for it, while you’re running it and forever onward. Feelings are everlasting. You might not feel it anymore but you most certainly remember it. The marathon feeling is so intense that you cannot but fall in love with it. On a last note, no matter how prepared you are, the marathon is something you cannot really be fully prepared for and that’s okay. Do it, cry if you need to, crawl if you must, finish it and then feel it.

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Dominic Ruto To Challenge Field at BLOM BANK Beirut Marathon
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A podium finish would suit Kenya’s Dominic Ruto Kipngetich just fine when he lines up for the 2017 BLOM Bank Beirut Marathon November 12th. But victory in this IAAF Silver Label race would be even sweeter.

 

Although the 27 year old Ruto is amongst the fastest in the elite field he is proceeding with caution knowing that in the marathon anything is possible.

 

rutoEarlier this year, he recorded a new personal best time of 2:09:08 at the Rome International Marathon knocking 20 seconds off his previous best, also recorded in the Italian capital a year earlier. Clearly, he will be in a position to offer defending champion Edwin Kiptoo, a serious challenge on the streets of the Lebanese capital.

 

“My training for the Beirut marathon has been quite good so far,” Ruto says. “At the beginning of the season I was scheduled to run a marathon in China, in September. But I got a tendon injury and I had to reschedule my plans. Recent workouts have gone well giving me a feeling that I can try to be competitive. I ran an average of 180 kilometers per week.

 

I am not much aware how competitive Beirut marathon will be this year. I only hope to have my body responding well on that day and, of course, I will try my best. I am not really after any final time but I hope to be competitive enough to finish on the podium.”

 

Since turning professional Ruto has trained in a group alongside such marathon stalwarts as

Amos Kipruto (2:05:43 personal best), Dickson Chumba a former winner of both the Tokyo and Chicago Marathons and who holds a personal best of 2:04:32, and Evans Chebet (2:05:31), among others. Their sessions are planned and overseen by famed Italian coach Claudio Berardelli. All are managed by agent Gianni DeMadonna.

 

Like many Kenyan runners Ruto was introduced to running as a school boy. Seeing the elite Kenyan runners training on the rural roads near his home left an impression on him as did seeing the championship races on television.

 

“I went to Moisirgoit high school in a place called Mosoriot which is 20 kms from Eldoret,” Ruto explains. “During that time we were many running during school competitions but I think I am the only one of that generation who managed to become a professional runner.

 

“I started training seriously together with Philip Sanga. He is a 2:06 runner now. He is the one who introduced me to the idea of running as a profession.

 

“When I was young I used to go to the main center to watch races because we didn’t have television at home. I remember being excited watching Martin Lel (a past New York and London marathon winner) and (2008 Olympic champion) Samuel Wanjiru. I use to admire how they could be always very competitive in any race they showed up at.”

 

As a professional Ruto uses his race earnings to prepare for a future after his running career comes to an end. At the moment he owns about 26 acres of farmland upon which he grows vegetables, especially maize. In addition he has some animals. Earnings from Beirut would be turned into his home and could come at a particularly useful time. He is getting married in December.

 

“I don’t know much about the Beirut marathon,” he says. “I think it is not really a fast course but I heard it is getting bigger and bigger. I believe winning Beirut marathon might give me a good exposure for my future races.”

 

This year’s course changes have made the chance for faster times possible. Indeed, the event record of 2:11:04 set in 2015 by fellow Kenyan Jackson Limo would earn a further $3,000 in addition to the winner’s purse of $10,000. Should the victor come in under 2:10 that first place prize climbs to $15,000.

 

As the BLOM Bank Beirut Marathon grows in popularity, it attracts an even stronger elite field. Dominic Ruto could well be the name on everyone’s lips come November 12th.

 

by Paul Gains