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!”


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!


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.


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.



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.



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!

Tigist Girma To Defend BLOM BANK BEIRUT MARATHON Title
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Securing the services of the defending champion is normally a sign that a race is in fine shape. So, it is, that Tigist Girma, winner of last year’s Blom Bank Beirut Marathon, will return to the Lebanese capital for this IAAF Silver Label race, November 12th.

The 24 year old Ethiopian surprised many with her victory a year ago running the second half of the race pretty much alone and in temperatures that soared above 22C. It was also her third marathon of the year. Still, she recorded a time of 2:32:48.


“It was good race for me,”she says from her training base in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

“I had been working hard to win this race. I did win so I am happy that I met my goal. It was very difficult to run a long distance without a strong competitor who can push me to run a fast time.”


Earlier this year, June 11th, Girma was invited to run the Lanzhou Marathon in China. Again she finished on the podium claiming second place in a new personal best time of 2:32:15. Clearly, though, she is not satisfied with her times and has ambitions beyond 2:30.


“Winning the 2016 Beirut Marathon,” she reveals, “gave me good inspiration to keep fighting and I followed the same training program I used to prepare for the 2016 Beirut marathon. I was also training to run a fast time.


“The Lanzhou marathon had the perfect conditions for me. But I still didn’t accomplish my target. So I am training to beat the Beirut marathon course record this year. My target is 2:28:00 this year.


“Right now I am doing all the training in the program my coach gave me and I run 172 kilometres a week.”


That Beirut event record is 2:29:15 set in 2014 by her compatriot, Mulahabt Tsega. Changes to the course, including the elimination of an infamous climb along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, should help Girma in her quest for a new personal best if not an event record.


Girma lives with her boyfriend in Addis. She moved from her childhood home in Sheshemane to Addis just two years ago to pursue a professional running career and trains under the guidance of veteran coach Haji Adilo. When she is not training or recovering from the hard sessions she enjoys watching movies at home or attending church.


Among the elite runners she regularly trains with are Amane Gobena (2:21:51 at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon) 2015 world champion Mare Dibaba and recent Berlin marathon winner and three time Olympic champion, Tirunesh Dibaba.


“This is one of my biggest advantages to train with experienced and successful athletes and I have learned a lot from them,” she declares. “Amane, especially, advises me on every aspect. She advises me how to regulate my weight and how to train to run a fast time. Amane always told me that I am talented and young and I must train hard to unlock my potential.”


With the 2016 Beirut men’s champion, Edwin Kiptoo, having already announced he is returning to the race the organizers are delighted in having both champions on the starting line. It certainly indicates this marathon is becoming stronger than ever and should experience a bright future.


 By Paul Gains

Dear 542 | by Caroline Zakka
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Hello runners, worriers, fighters,

I know you just like you know me. I see you behind your smiles and the smell of deep heat and biofreeze :)

I know what you’re thinking, I know how hard you’re training, and I know how you feel. It’s easy for me now to recognize you because I was you.

We’re the sun chasers, the road runners, the early risers, the pain ignorers (is that a word??)


If you met me a year ago, just like you I wasn’t always sure of what I was doing. Someone had told me I’d better just run for fun and forget the marathon because it’s too hard. Someone else even told me that I wasn’t fit enough to complete such a challenge. My own demons also got me discouraged as a shin splint left me helpless for weeks, unable to put on my favorite neon running shoes.

But while I kept running, I always thought of my future: what would my marathoner self say to me in a year?


A year ago I went to bed dreading the ring of the alarm. Now I wake up before the alarm and turn it off while singing “Good morning sunshine”.

A year ago I would be worried of thirst on the run, grabbing bottles left and right at water stations. Now I just enjoy a small sip while I share what I have with my running buddy.

A year ago I discovered what it meant to be so tired you can’t sleep. Now I know that a cold shower is better than sleep!

A year ago I felt guilty for not seeing my friends, having to ditch them for running training. Now I have friends who understand what it means to honor my commitments.

A year ago when I talked of travel, I imagined sunny beaches and lazy afternoons. Now I imagine straight long roads for a steady pace, and optimal racing conditions to beat my PB.

A year ago I was easily agitated and hesitant. Now I am relaxed and self-assured.

A year ago when someone told me they ran a marathon, I thought what a weird individual. Now I know they must be the most focused and determined person.

Because a year ago I didn’t know what running a marathon was.


It’s like nothing else you will ever do in your whole life. It’s the best thing you will ever do for yourself.

Even though my 542 coach said I could do it (thanks coach Walid), even though statistics said I could do it (thanks 542), I didn’t believe it until I did it. And now I’m telling you, you can do it!

Running a marathon will not only change your body, endurance and strength- it will change your brain structure and the way you deal with everything in life…


The impossible will be possible. A year from now, I promise you, you will feel it too.

You will know what it means to be 542.


So cheers to you, the real you whom you haven’t met yet. Cheers to the first time you will meet yourself when you cross the 42k finish line.

Hello! I’ll be there waiting for you.



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Edwin Kibet Kiptoo To Defend Blom Bank Beirut Marathon

It was an enormous surprise when Kenya’s Edwin Kibet Kiptoo won the Blom Bank Beirut Marathon a year ago but his victory in this IAAF Silver Label race blew his anonymity completely out of the water.


The 29 year old will now bear the pressure of being the defending champion when he returns to the Lebanese capital on November 12th for the 15th edition of this race.

“I remember something big,” he says of his initial trip to Beirut. “I didn’t expect to win the race, so, when I think back to Beirut, I just remember a big victory in my running career.




“It was a highlight in my running career, a day that I won’t forget in my life. I believe that when you train hard and are disciplined in all that you are doing in your daily life, you will get victories. I believe that being the boss over your own life will make you reach far.”


After a third-place finish at the 2016 Brighton Marathon, a race in which he set his personal best time of 2:11:29, he turned his attention to a an autumn marathon accepting an invitation to race Beirut. But the unseasonably warm day, 25 Celsius with no cloud cover, coupled with a difficult course meant his winning time was ‘only’ 2:13:19.



Recent changes to the course, including the removal of a lengthy and stamina-testing 14% climb along the Mediterranean coast, will certainly help this year’s field challenge the event record of 2:11:04 set by Jackson Limo in 2015. Certainly, Kiptoo believes he is up to the task.


He reveals his training has been going extremely well and he can certainly point to some fine results which have boosted his confidence. He won the Luxembourg Night Marathon on May 27th and then finished second in the Hamburg Half Marathon. More recently he came close to beating his personal best half marathon time of 60:11.

“My training this year had been going very well. On October 1st I won the Breda half marathon in 60:42,” he declares. “I feel the body is still strong and I was fresh when I finished the race. I am now counting down the weeks and doing my last part of the training towards Beirut. I am happy to defend my title.”




“My goal is to improve my time and also to retain my position of last year. Though I have pressure as defending champion, I know I can make it.”

Represented by the Dutch agency, Volare Sports, he trains in Iten, Kenya with a talented group of marathoners known as Mwisho wa Lami. The group includes Wilson Kipsang the former world record holder (2:02:23 best) and John Komen. The latter has a personal best of 2:07:13 a time that Kiptoo would certainly like to beat one day.


The Beirut Marathon now in its 15th year was founded by May El Khalil who remains Chairperson of the organization.


Ms. El Khalil was hit by a truck while out running 20 years ago and while enduring a lengthy hospital stay she conceived the idea of having an elite world class marathon in the Lebanese capital. World marathon record holders Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia), Paula Radcliffe (Great Britain) as well as Lord Sebastian Coe, President of the IAAF have attended the marathon over the past three years an indication that interest in the event is growing at a phenomenal rate.


If Kiptoo were to win this year he would be the first man to repeat as Beirut Marathon champion since Ethiopia’s Mohammed Temam in 2010. Clearly, the $15,000 USD first place prize money would come in handy to a man nearing the end of his career. He has reasons to invest money earned through his racing.


“I am married and blessed with one son. His name is Kiplimo,” Kiptoo explains. “We live in Iten. I like staying with my family and spend time with them. I don’t travel mostly, unless I have a mission, like going to races.”



As the Blom Bank Beirut Marathon fast approaches the excitement builds. There is a new and faster course for the athletes to tackle but will there be a new men’s champion or can Edwin Kiptoo repeat? It will surely take an incredible performance to deny him.


By Paul Gains

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My father is a planner, a focused businessman with a mega-mind that can almost predict the future. I am not. I fumble and stumble into my life making it up as I go.

Growing up in his shadow I tried to be like him in everything but I failed miserably.


our last Selfie

Fast forward to a day in a white room that smells like disinfectant, with only a small window to look onto the world. I’ve been sleeping in the arm chair while my father lay awake unsatisfied with the TV channels and the unpalatable breakfast he was served. “Ya Caroline! Get up and get me some real coffee!”

He meant Starbucks. It was 6:30AM.

A few hours later on what would have been a lazy Sunday morning, we were sharing a croissant and two tall lattes, watching the IV drip drip drip into his skinny deflated arm. That arm that held me up when I was born, that arm that taught me to sign my name, that arm that showed me how to drive.

“So let’s get down to business” he said out of nowhere. “What are you going to do with your life?”

“What do you mean?” I replied to the weird question.

“I mean you know what I mean. You need a goal, a project”.

Ok was this really the time?  You’re still going to tell me what to do even as we await another doctor with another diagnosis? Why can’t we talk about something fun like…like movies or traveling? Why are you so serious all the time?

“Because life is not a joke”.

At that moment the nurse we called “angel of death” walked in. I couldn’t stand her enthusiastic demeanor. Like what are you so happy about tending to sick people in a hospital? Haram I think she knew I was judging her because I never spoke to her #Sorry. But I was busy with bigger problems.

I had to pack and go back to Canada. I had just recently moved there but I was already thinking of moving back home.

As I waited impatiently for my brother to arrive so that I could go shower and change, I flicked through the channels: sharks on Discovery, Lebanese sitcoms, BBC news, something about people running. This looks interesting “Pap look, you like running”. He barely answered turning in his bed, but I watched and heard the promo for Beirut Marathon 2013.

I’d always admired people who can physically push themselves to their limits, mainly because they discover how far they can go and they prove that they have more strength than they ever thought. Strength that I needed very much at this moment to get over the idea that I might lose my role model.

I came back that night to say goodbye and tell my father that I’ll see him soon, and I gave him an answer to his question. “Pap I’m gona run the marathon!”


I’m not sure he believed me but I got a smile out of him and it was good enough for me.

On Sunday November 13, 2016 I will be fulfilling my promise. I’m finally getting there thanks to Beirut542 and Team Walid. My dad may not be waiting for me at the finish line but I know he will be cheering for my first medal ever.

Pap I hope you’re proud! I’ll see your face in the clouds and hope that you’re smiling.