Dear 542 | by Caroline Zakka
Share Button

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.



Share Button

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

Share Button

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.



بركض 42.195 كم لأول مرة ومن كل قلبي | by Patricia Rizkallah
Share Button

!كنت لما شوف ناس عم تركض الصبح بالأيام القليلة يللي أوعى فيا بكير قول شو صاير عليهن. أنا لو ملّكوني الدني ما بركض

.هلّق صرت بقول لو بملكوني الدني ما بوقف ركض

بلش الحلم، بلّش المشوار، بلّش التحدي. مش هينة لحدا ما بحياتو ركض يقرر يركض ماراثون بس ليش لاء؟ ما في شي مستحيل

ما بحياتي كنت بعرف إنو الركض بخليك تحس كل الأحاسيس مع بعضا. بتنبسط و بتزعل، بتعصب و بتروق، بتيأس و بتتأمل و بتحب. و بتحب و ما فيك إلا ما تحب

نحنا اليوم ببيروت ٥٤٢ حبينا بعض من دون أي سؤال، من دون أي سبب، ما منعرف دين، ما منعرف لون، ما منعرف فئة إجتماعية.. منعرف نحب وبس، و يا ريت كل الدني متلنا كنا منكون بألف خير

Putting Lebanon On The Sporting Map | By Paul Gains
Share Button

One hundred and fifty six women lined up for the Rio Olympic marathon August 14th and among them was a 32 year old Lebanese who could hardly contain her pride.

Chirine Njeim took up running just as her career as a downhill skier was winding down. Three times she competed in the winter Olympics before wearing the Lebanese flag in Rio. That marathon race earned her a distinction which only a very select few athletes can boast: being both a winter and summer Olympian.


Asked from where she drew inspiration to become a runner she says it was her sister’s performance at the 2012 Beirut Marathon.

A year ago, to rapturous applause, Chirine was the first Lebanese woman to cross the line in the 2015 Beirut Marathon something her sister Nesrine achieved three years earlier. On November 13th she returns to the IAAF Silver Label race as a four time Olympian.


Njeim has lived in Chicago with her husband since 2012. In January she beat her own Lebanese national record with a time of 2:44:19 in Houston, which earned her that summer Olympic berth. Returning elicits precious memories.

“My sister started running before me and she did the Beirut marathon three years ago,” Njeim explains fondly. “Running wasn’t something big in Lebanon; I never really paid attention to it. But when my sister first ran, and was the first Lebanese finisher, I was kind of switching from skiing. Part of me was like, it would be fun to go to Lebanon and run a marathon, and that’s when I definitely got more involved.”


While the event has inspired her to become an individual success she also speaks with glowing pride about her ‘hometown’ race and the effect it can have on the Middle East as well as people’s perception of Lebanon.

“For Lebanon to be able to host a marathon this is something huge,” she declares. “Most of the time when you see people gathering in Lebanon it’s because something bad has happened. So having a marathon with people being on the street for a happy reason it means a lot to me.


“Also running is not a huge thing in Lebanon. But it’s slowly growing. So being able to go to Lebanon and represent my country and be a role model for all the young kids is huge to me. May El Khalil has been doing an amazing job bringing people over there.”

Njeim is not alone in her praise of the Beirut Marathon President and founder. Indeed, this is the 14th annual Beirut Marathon and it’s origin can be traced directly to Ms. El Khalil’s initiative. Her story is astonishing.


While out training for a marathon fifteen years ago she was hit by a truck and rushed to hospital. She was in a coma and endured two years of operations.

“That was a turning point in my life,” Ms. El Khalil recalls. “After waking up from a coma I realized I was not going to be the same person I used be. But instead of pitying myself or asking ‘why me?’ I decided to turn this problem into an opportunity and set a higher objective for myself. And that objective was, in case I couldn’t run myself, why not come up with an event or do a marathon in Lebanon, where others could run and connect Lebanon with the outside world.


“So setting that objective definitely was a cognitive thing for me to recover and, during the two years of operations, I was working on the marathon. In 2003 we had the first international marathon.”

El Khalil and her long serving crew approached Lebanese-American athletes representative, Hussein Makke five years ago for help in raising the event’s profile. In that time the Beirut Marathon has been rewarded IAAF Silver Label status a sign that it is a world class event.

“The main reason for getting involved is my belief in their mission along with their dedication to making a difference in a country that suffered more than thirty years with division, war and conflict,” Makke says.

“The biggest difference I have noticed is the level of professionalism. The elite program has become elevated to be one of the most professional run programs in the world. Their focus on developing the road race community in Lebanon has also been tremendous.”


Makke points to the ‘542 program’ which has developed first time marathoners. The Beirut Marathon provides five coaches to work with individual registered runners to prepare for their first marathon. From humble beginnings the program has grown to include more than five hundred runners this year. They will join thousands of others on the streets to celebrate peace.

Meanwhile it is with a great deal of excitement that Chirine Njeim returns to Beirut next month. A year ago she crossed the line with deafening applause from the finish line crowd.

“I am excited, I am ready for it,” she admits. “I know it’s been kind of a long year. It will be my fifth marathon I am excited to be there and support all the young athletes and be a role model for them.


“My mum and dad still live there and my two brothers. It will be nice to see them. My sister will also be running the marathon and it will be fun to run with her.”

There were tears of joy when Chirine Njeim represented Lebanon in Rio and no doubt there will be more tears shed when she runs Beirut next month. Thanks to the establishment of this marathon other Lebanese will be able to follow her onto the international stage.