What do you do when you've spent months training for a marathon, only to find out you're excluded from taking part because of your gender? This is the exact situation female runners from Iran found themselves in recently, when authorities decided to take back the decision to allow women to run the marathon as well as men.
The announcement last year that women were to be permitted to run the race was a seriously big deal not only to native runners, but generally for female runners all over the world. The annual marathon, held by the Dutch organisation I Run Iran, has always been a strictly male only event and this year was to include the first ever full 26.2 event for both genders. Female runners from around the world signed up, trained and travelled to the country to be part of a world first.
On arrival however, the runners were in for a shock as the organisation decided to back track on their decision and the last moment, meaning that women were still barred from the full 26.2 miles after all and only permitted to run a separate 10k race.
On hearing this news, one group of women decided to make a statement about this decision to exclude them, holding a peaceful protest by running their own secret marathon instead.
“We believe that this actually set women's running in Iran back a step"
The women ran repeatedly around Behesht Madaran Park to make up the mileage of the real marathon happening in the city, before joining the official race for the final 10-kilometre stretch.
A group of people joined the runners during the race. The space in which they held their secret race is usually female only, however as it was a family day men were permitted into the space and a couple helped throughout the race, providing water and food to the runners.
The women involved were careful to hold a protest to the decision, while staying within Iran's strict laws.
“We wanted to be sure we were not breaking any rules," one runner explained in an interview. “Many outlets have written that we risked being arrested and we defied authorities, which was the one thing we were not doing, especially as we had Iranian ladies in our group."
“We believe that this [running with the men] actually set women's running in Iran back a step. It will be harder to organise a women’s or a mixed race next time because of this.
“But by politely obeying the rules, our secret running group hoped to just give this thing a positive twist and very slowly change women’s sports rights in Iran."
This race is a interesting modern example of successful peaceful protest as a response to exclusion of certain groups to events and activities.
Through the use of social media and online communication, these women made a powerful point to the organises of the race, without landing themselves in any trouble in the process.
Let's hope that the message is heard and the race returns next year for both men and women.