by Kathryn McKenzie
Do you feel safe where you run? No one should have to feel scared when they run, so we’re launching a race to celebrate everyone’s right to be free to run.
I ran my first marathon in Afghanistan, but that wasn’t where I felt the most scared while running. Surprisingly, it was in Canada. It was one of those days when everything takes longer than you expect and my run got pushed back later and later in the day until I was finally lacing up my shoes long after the sun had already set. I sent a quick text to let my husband know where I would be running and set off into the dark.
Any time I run at night, I have my senses on full alert, and this night was no different. My eyes searched around every corner for unexpected wildlife, cars that might fail to see me, or anything else that might be hidden in the shadows. I rounded a corner and there was a large group of men laughing loudly, clearly drunk. One smashed a bottle on the ground, another cat-called to me and a third yelled out an inappropriate comment. I picked up my pace, my heart pounding. I pulled out my phone, called a friend and asked her to stay on the line until I knew I was out of range of the men. I was scared.
The freedom to run outside and run freely says a lot about a place. Where we see people able to run, we know it is likely a country free of war. It means the people there are prosperous enough to choose to be active rather than it being necessary for survival. I’ve often taken it for granted that I can lace up my shoes and go for a run in Canada without having to think about whether or not I will step on a landmine or whether I will be threatened by terrorists. Sadly, this isn’t the case everywhere.
A year and a half ago, I was invited to Afghanistan to create a documentary film called “The Secret Marathon” about a community fighting for the right to be free to run. They organized the first-ever Marathon of Afghanistan as a mixed-gender race. The women who wanted to participate faced rocks being thrown at them, being insulted and having terrorists threaten them when they trained in the streets. But they persevered, running laps in their enclosed courtyards to train for the marathon so they could make a stand for equality. This community in Bamian, Afghanistan has discovered something: if you can create a safe race, you can help to create a safe place.
As my team and I worked on the film and met the community behind the Marathon of Afghanistan, we learned that to create a place where everyone is free to run, it takes three key things: collaboration, courage and a bold vision. The Marathon of Afghanistan brings men and women together, racing alongside one another in a symbol of equality. They are allies. The Marathon of Afghanistan requires collaboration between runners from all across country, charities such as Free to Run and businesses including Untamed Borders. It takes a community that is willing to have courage in the face of difficulty. But most of all, it takes a bold vision to create the first marathon in a country where running is not the norm. It is all in an effort to help the world see a different vision of Afghanistan: a country where courage, equality and community are celebrated.
Coming back to Canada after witnessing this amazing event, I wondered if we could adopt these same strategies to make sure everyone in Canada felt safe to run outside. As my friend Val suggested, what if safe races could make safe places? We have also set a bold vision. We are inviting people in 10 cities across Canada to join us and be part of our community of allies who will celebrate the right of every person to be free to run. Our film, The Secret Marathon, is collaborating with the Running Room and the charitable organization Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, to host a new event called The Secret Marathon 3K. We want you to join us in this movement of equality.
On the eve of International Women’s Day—March 7, 2018—we are asking you to join us as we head out into the dark together to reclaim our communities and stand in solidarity across our country in the belief that everyone should be free to run. For more information, visit
Photo: Martin Parnell and Kate McKenzie running in Afghanistan and being filmed by Colin Scheyen as part of The Secret Marathon documentary film.