Marathon ‘fills the heart of Beirut’ with joy — once a year
BEIRUT - Under the motto “We fill the heart of Beirut,” runners and bystanders packed the streets of the Lebanese capital amid colourful balloons, confetti and blaring music for the 16th Beirut International Marathon.
Some 48,000 people from 109 countries participated November 11 in various runs, including the marathon, half marathon, 8km race and an 8km “fun run.”
People of different ages, nationalities and backgrounds ran side by side under sunny skies with a backdrop of mountains framing the coast. Cheerleaders with colourful pompoms and dancing to high-energy music were on small stages along the course to encourage participants as they ran by.
“The Beirut Marathon is an affirmation of the power of sport to create a better country, one where differences are tossed aside and similarities are embraced for a more prosperous future,” said May Khalil, founder and president of the Beirut Marathon Association, the event’s organiser.
“In times of uncertainty, it is important to remind people of what is important and good, namely healthy competition, unity, prosperity, joy and, most of all, peace.”
Khalil, a marathon runner until a near-fatal accident in 2001 deprived her of pursuing her passion, has long sought to instil the running culture in Lebanon.
She said the popularity of the marathon showed “that people can unite if given the right platform and a safe, inclusive environment where every individual feels that he or she is a true partner — a stakeholder — in the event.”
Runners included members of parliament, representatives of diplomatic missions, the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon and the Lebanese Army.
Athletes from Ethiopia, Cyprus, Tanzania, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories travelled to Lebanon to take part in the marathon. Leading the field this year was Moroccan Mohamed Reda el Aaraby, who set a Beirut Marathon record by finishing the course in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 41 seconds. Ethiopia’s Medine Armino, who finished in 2:29:31, won the women’s division.
Children ran with their parents in the 1km race for kids, while fathers and mothers pushing baby strollers took part in the 8km fun run.
Several NGOs took the opportunity of the huge crowd to raise public awareness about their causes.
Organising such a running event in Lebanon was not easy, Khalil said, noting that they had to confront political and cultural obstacles, among others.
“We had to build trust and interest little by little,” she said.
The Beirut Marathon is mostly a joyful event, as one runner described it “the smiling marathon because everybody was happy.”