May El Khalil, the founder and organizer of the Beirut Marathon is an inspiration in terms of sport, health, fitness and more. Now we can add advocacy to that list. The Woman’s Race is, as the name suggests, an event that centers around the empowerment and support of women. At the end of March thousands of women will run and show solidarity with the Race’s motto, “Draw Your Path”. Inspiring, powerful, and just plain fun, the Woman’s Race, founded in 2013, represents the continuing evolution of El Khalil’s work.
Besides the big Marathon in November, you have several smaller activities running across the year, one of which is the Woman’s Race taking place on March 31. Tell us more.
Looking at the low numbers of women participating in our timed and long distance races, we at the Beirut Marathon decided to launch the Women’s Race in 2013 to encourage more girls and women to run. Unlike what many might think, the history of women in athletics is a very new, before the 1980s, women were not allowed to participate in The Olympic races.
This changed when women’s races started growing all over the world. Women’s races proved to be a game changer as they allowed girls and women to compete in a safe environment. By providing a sense of camaraderie and support, runners get hooked on the beautiful sport of running and continue participating in this sport long after the race has finished.
We’re very proud to say that in 2018, 30.2% of participants in long distance races at the Beirut Marathon were women, as opposed to 16.3% in 2013. This is a big indicator to the success of the Women’s Race in Beirut.
Tell us about the new campaign that has gotten the social media on a frenzy – Draw Your Path…
Over the years we adopted many slogans for the Women’s Race. We used lines such as “Strong Enough”, “Run Forward” and “Rise and Run”. In 2017 we shifted the direction to one that truly encompasses the meaning of the race and its importance to women. “Draw Your Path” signifies the course any girl or woman chooses to run be it on race day or in life. The women and girls of Lebanon never cease to inspire us in the way they rise above challenges and shine. We are surrounded by female fighters, dreamers, achievers. These women are our mothers, friends, sisters and daughters. These women are artists, creatives, leaders and activists who empower us to do better, for we can always do better.
Can you explain the concept behind #anamaaki as the hashtag representing the run for women?
To rally supporters we came up with the #AnaMaaki – Arabic for “I’m with you”. The activation was a symbolic path drawn on the cheek with the call to action: Draw Your path, I’m with you. We were humbled to see how artists, influencers, celebrities, politicians, runners and the public reacted to the message. Everyone was sharing a message of love and support with beautiful statements about empowerment and encouragement to young girls and women in our community. We all know the importance of support in one’s life and #AnaMaaki gives a boost for us to keep moving forward in life, following the path we chose to run.
How can everyone help in their own way?
Simple, they can run the race. The 5KM Fun Run and the 2KM Run with Parents are open to all. Men and kids can take part to support the women in their lives.
When registering to run any of the races of the March 31st Women’s Race, participants are encouraged to choose a cause. By selecting one of our 234 partnered NGOs, 25% of the registration fee goes to support the NGO of choice.
Besides running, people can volunteer on race week and race day. Anyone can help by filling out a volunteering form on beirutmarathon.org and the team will get in touch before the event. Be it running, volunteering and cheering, everyone is welcomed on March 31st for the Women’s Race.
What message would you like to send to every young girl or women out there?
Well, as funny as it may sound, every time I think of running and women’s empowerment, I find myself humming Beyonce’s song. I genuinely believe it’s an excellent message to all young girls and women out there, because: “Who runs the World? Girls”… and women.