Friday July 12, 2024

Pakistani marathoner sets sight on Abbott Six-Star

Karachi-born athlete first embarked on his running journey after a weight-loss spree in 2018 to train for obstacle racing

By Muneeb Farrukh
August 06, 2023
Faisal Shafi during a race. — Instagram/faisalshafitness
Faisal Shafi during a race. — Instagram/faisalshafitness

KARACHI: Having already participated in nine maratons, Pakistani ace marathoner Faisal Shafi is now determined to bag the coveted Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM) six-star medal.

The Karachi-born athlete first embarked on his running journey after a weight-loss spree in 2018 to train for obstacle racing.

He is now at the forefront of the running community in Pakistan and is an inspiration for marathoners in his country.

Shafi has set his sights on claiming his fourth Abbott star, after successfully completing Berlin, London and New York City, as he gears up for the world championships in Chicago this year.

The 41-year-old will be Pakistan's sole representative in Chicago and will take part in the Masters 40-44 category. The Masters' category is treated with a lot of respect since it is not easy to take part in marathons after crossing the age of 40.

"I was on a weight losing spree in 2017 which is why I joined the gym. After strength training, I was fascinated by obstacle course racing and enduring pain over a long distance," Shafi told

"Looking at my interest in long-distance running, people advised me about participating in marathons. At first, I thought it would be difficult to run 42km but through proper training, I was able to achieve that," he added.

Shafi's first marathon was in Dubai in 2019, where he clocked 3 hours and 45 minutes. He has participated in nine marathons over the course of his career so far.

He trains early morning six days a week since it's difficult to run during the day due to the weather conditions in Karachi. 80% of the training includes easy runs but almost every weekend he also takes part in a long run of 30-32km.

Shafi also stressed the importance of maintaining a proper diet in order to become a successful marathoner.

"Diet is extremely important since its serves as fuel for the body while running. We increase our intake of iron, calcium and vitamin D, focus on eating fruits, vegetables and lean protein items, like chicken and fish, and stop eating refined sugar. It’s also important to stay hydrated since we sweat a lot and that leads to stiffness and cramping," he said.

Shafi will also repeat the Berlin Marathon on September 24 before participating in the Chicago event two weeks later.

Apart from earning the six-star medal, which only three Pakistanis, Hamid Butt, Syed Husain and Salman Khan, have clinched before him, Shafi is also eager to run a sub-3 marathon.

"People in Pakistan are keen on seeing me go below the three-hour mark. My last race in London was clocked at three hours and five minutes. Meanwhile, in Berlin, before that, I set a time of three hours and six minutes," he said.

"I will be repeating Berlin this year since many people that I have trained will be there and it will serve as an extra motivation for them if they see me running alongside them. Berlin is the fastest course in the world and I’m hopeful that I will go below the three-hour mark there.

"I will try to do both [Berlin and Chicago] under three hours but it depends on recovery."

One can gauge the interest in long-distance running in Pakistan from the fact that last year in Berlin there were only four to five marathoners from Pakistan but this year that has increased to more than 50.

"The interest in marathon running is gradually increasing in Pakistan. There are clubs in Karachi and Lahore who organise half marathons, 21km, but that happens at a small scale right now," he said. 

"There is no national-level marathon at the moment but there are chances that there will an official one in Karachi this year. That project is in the pipeline but it will be finalised and announced soon. It will also be facilitated at the government level."

After the Chicago championships, Shafi will resume training in November ahead of two important events, Tokyo in March and the prestigious Boston Marathon in April, in 2024. Completing both events will help Shafi bag the six-star medal — something he has dreamed of for so long.