I’VE BEEN A RUNNER for 10 years, but lately only recreationally. Life in the Middle East hasn’t exactly been the greatest exercise partner. When I came to Lebanon in the fall of 2012, I vowed to rediscover the power of dedicated running and the camaraderie of a team, even if I was the only woman participating. What I found in the running culture of Beirut, however, was a pleasant surprise.
Each morning in the city by the sea, there is a large female presence running beside the Mediterranean. They wear the same neon outfits as elite runners in the West, they exchange the same back-and-forth banter, and they have the same amazing calves. Beirut doesn’t lend much of itself to runners, but the areas that are accessible — the corniche by Mediterranean, the small pine forest, and the elite track — are occupied equally by women and men. Lebanon still has social customs that restrict some women, at least on a comfort level. Women choose their training locations not only for aesthetics and accessibility, but also for lack of stares and whistles.
I spent a month training with and photographing some of the women on the Inter-Lebanon team before they ran the Beirut Marathon. The race was created under the principle of community in Lebanon’s highly divided society. I ran competitively throughout high school and college, and wanted to see how the experiences I remembered might play out in a different country, in different cultural circumstances.
Some women in Lebanon face harassment and some don’t. This team was open, collegiate, and driven. While training, I actually forgot my original purpose of the story — the challenges of women running — because the bond between the team members was so strong. The strong women of Inter-Lebanon reminded me what running with a team really offers: a family.
[Note: This story was produced by the Glimpse Correspondents Program, in which writers and photographers develop in-depth narratives for Matador.]