Days leading up to her marathon in Iran, Langley’s Haleh Magnus and a few other women received word they might not be permitted to run in the first-ever co-ed race of its kind in the Islamic city of Tehran.
The 42-year-old Willoughby accountant, who was born in Iran and moved to Canada in 2001, saw the marathon as a huge step forward in gender equality and anxious to run.
She was going to be in the country to visit family and friends, so the hobbiest runner chose to stick around for the inaugural marathon in Tehran.
It was unique, Magnus said, in that it was to be the first event of its kind – in Iran’s biggest city – to allow men and women to run together in competition.
Magnus trained for months to participate in the 42-km I Run Iran, and she was upset to learn it might not happen.
Originally, she received an email three weeks ahead of the race, saying there weren’t enough females participating to make it possible.
But she knew that wasn’t true, since Magnus had started a group chat on the marathon Facebook page a few months earlier that had grown from three to 15 women who shared her desire to participate.
“There are only [a] few ladies like myself that their birth country is Iran,” Magnus explained. “The rest were literally coming from all over the world, [including a]few from the U.S.A. When we received that [same] email, I thought they were all going to quit and not come. I didn’t say anything and stayed back. But then they all started talking about we need to make this happen,” she said, inspired by the will of the other female participants.
A group letter to the run organizer netted consideration, and a rebuttal came quickly on its heels proposed downsizing the ladies’ portion of the run to 10-km.
“We all say ‘no.’ None of [us were] coming all this way for 10K,” Magnus said.
So, organizers said they would consider letting the women run, but maybe in a different heat from the men. That apparently turned out to be impossible, because licencing had to be obtained to allow each woman to run, and time had run out.
The uncertainty that followed in the subsequent weeks infuriated many of the women.
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But ultimately, Magnus and some of the other women did participate in a variation of the marathon.
A group of 10 women, Magnus included, decided to still run 42 km, but they figured out a way to do it without breaking any rules and while still “respecting the host country,” she explained. A compromise.
They met at a city park earlier in the morning on race day (April 7) and ran 32K, then joined the marathon that afternoon for the 10K leg of the race.
And much to Magnus’ delight, her youngest daughter, Lyla, was given special permission to join her for the final two kilometres of the run.
“We passed the finish line together, holding my Canadian flag,” Magnus shared. “I am telling you, I never felt more proud and happy in my life.”
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CAPTION: Haleh Magnus and her youngest daughter, Lyla, crossed the finish line together in the “unofficial” 42 km marathon Magnus ran last week in Iran.
Given how the women dealt with the hurdles associated with the inaugural event, organizers subsequently thanked them and credited them with helping to pave the way.
There’s a good chance, she’s been told, that women will be allowed in the 21 or 42 km runs in 2018.
“The race end up being the most amazing experience of my life,” Magnus said.
“I would call it a roller coaster,” she said, but classified this year’s compromise as a great “baby step.”
Magnus suggested, in hindsight, that it might have been safer and better to start on a smaller scale.
“… considering running was not allowed, this was a good step for this county, and what we did was a peaceful way of doing it and they thanked us for it,” she told the Langley Advance.
Her husband Duncan was in Iran for the first part of her trip, and since it was unclear until the final days if she’d be running in the marathon, they chose to run their own in North Iran before he left.
When she arrived home this weekend, her husband presented her with a homemade medal to honour her participation.
It turned out race organizers have also recognized her involvement, giving her a 42K medal when she crossed the finish line and later giving her recognition in the preliminary list of race finishers.
“I guess, at last, we did get official recognition of doing 42k, even though it was quite a bit different than any other 42k I did,” she said.
This run behind her now, Magnus is already preparing for her next marathon, in Langley on April 30. It will be her third full marathon in a month, including the one with her husband.
CAPTION: Haleh Magnus of Langley, returned to her homeland of Iran for a visit recently, and participated in an inaugural co-ed run in the city of Tehran. (Special to the Langley Advance)