On a chilly winter morning on 6 December, 2020, 53 Pakistani women woke up in the wee hours of the morning with a single mission in their minds: to celebrate Pakistani women by participating in the Women’s Power Run. Despite minimal paraphernalia at the event, which comprised a simple table stacked with prizes and police security, there was a festive atmosphere at the venue which was an empty plot near a hotel in Phase 8, DHA, Karachi. A bird’s eye view of the venue would have shown that the crowd grew steadily and filled up the empty plot as more and more women arrived. Aged between 13-50+ years, the 53 who gathered that day arrived with a coterie of supportive family and friends to cheer them on. Many arrived before sunrise and could be seen warming up before the 5-kilometre run. As runners, friends, relatives and media personnel milled around the area, the normally quiet street came alive. The excitement and the buzz in the air were palpable.
For many, the current pandemic meant that people are spending less time at the office and very little time socialising with friends and family. As the mercury plunges and the weather become colder, the time spent working and socialising is expected to become even shorter… unless you happen to be a runner.
“Right now, running is the best form of exercise,” shares Salma (name withheld), a housewife in her 40s and an avid runner who started running in 2018. “This is the ideal sport and allows me to stay active and also socialise outdoors in a safe manner.”
Salma was participating in The Women’s Power Run which was hosted by a local running group in Karachi called Born2Run Pakistan. The largest women-only 5k run in the city, drew women from all walks of life. Working women and housewives came on the same platform united by a single cause. The event was the brainchild of the founder of the group, Sohail Sardar, who started the mixed running group in 2017 with a view to helping members achieve their fitness goals. Till date, Born2Run Pakistan has stayed true to its mission and continues to provide free training in a Karachi park to anyone interested in improving their health and fitness level. It is no surprise then that the running group keeps growing and has, since its inception become one of the largest running groups in the country.
“We are committed to providing people with the motivation, know-how and opportunity to run,” says Sardar. He believes that the group spreads positivity and in view of the current pandemic and stressed that “it is the easiest and safest way to stay fit.” Throughout the lockdown, Born2Run runners have been connecting socially, while staying physically distant. Amidst the fear and isolation that the pandemic has created, runners around the world are participating in activities that’s associated with physical and psychological benefits.
Speaking about the financial aspect of organising a free running group, Sardar informs, “Born2Run Pakistan is a not-for-profit organisation. We don’t charge members anything for joining the group. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman, or young or old, rich or poor if you can walk and run, you can join the group. So far, the company has hosted several runs and we have borne the entire cost ourselves. I cannot stress this strongly enough that we absolutely need support from the government and the corporate sector to continue hosting events that promote healthy activities such as running, especially during a time when a lot of people are avoiding going out and need an outlet.”
Speaking specifically about the Women’s Power Run, Sardar illuminates, “This run is dedicated to the women of Pakistan. We are thrilled to be recognising the accomplished women of this country who are making a difference by being here today.” Sardar further adds, “A 5K run is about speed, endurance and power.”
Supportive celebrities like actor/director Zeba Bakhtiyar and British-Pakistani TV journalist George Fulton posted online shout-outs in support of the women who were running. Bakhtiyar offered her support to the runners and cheered them on by saying, “Go out there and make Pakistan proud.” Fulton, whose wife Kiran was one of the runners that day said, “This is a fantastic initiative which can only go from strength to strength as more women reclaim the streets and have a space that allows them to run and exercise.”
Loud supportive cheers from family and male members of the group rent the morning sky as 53 determined Pakistani women set off on their 5 km run. It was heartening to see the number of men who had turned up to cheer on their female relatives, friends and co-runners. Media vans and police escorts followed the runners, many of whom waved to the cameras or put up victory signs as they ran through the empty streets of DHA, Phase 8. Whether she was running to lose weight, to become fit or to bring some discipline into her life, each of the women who ran that day had her own story that was unique to her running journey. It was an eclectic group of runners, composed of experienced runners who had been running for years and others who started a little over a week ago.
The winner of the 5 km was a relatively new runner, Haani Mazari who had started on her running journey during lockdown. The top four women who completed the race were Haani Mazari, Shiza Saqib, Nida and Isma Khan in that order. Speaking after the event, Mazari, who dedicated her win to her late grandfather, enthused, “I feel really happy. I have not always been a good runner. In school, I couldn’t complete a mile without stopping. I started running during lockdown and it feels unreal to be first. I almost didn’t come today because my grandfather passed away yesterday, so I ran this for him.”
At the award ceremony held after the event, loud happy cheers could be heard as gold medals and participation medals were distributed amongst the tired but happy runners. Outfits donated by a major clothing brand and beauty products by a local brand were also given to the first ten winners. However, whether they were spectators or runners, everyone who participated in the event knew that Women’s Power Run was about far more than just winning a race. To some, it was about reclaiming the public space for Pakistan’s women. To others, it was about personal fitness and self-expression. Some participated to bring attention to the cause of women and fitness. For still others it was about taking yet another positive step in the direction of the empowerment of women.
No woman is ordinary in this world, and the women runners who had gathered together that December morning were definitely extraordinary. They were not just women runners. They were brave soldiers who knew that in order to make a change they had to come out and challenge outdated norms for something they believe in.