WEIGHT: 55 kg
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A marathon is exhausting for most practitioners, but few have to muster the additional willpower to endure the kind of abuse Zainab, 25, faces each time she laces her trainers to venture outdoors. In August, she ran an unofficial marathon from the Paghman Valley to Kabul with three other young women.
As they entered the capital, they were bombarded with the kind of insults reserved for Afghan women who have the audacity to do anything out of the ordinary in public. The women had to cut the race short. After that, the father of her training partner, Nilofar, forbade his daughter to run the Bamiyan marathon.
Her brother, a student in Germany, has taken up kickboxing and runs regularly with his friends. About 80 people competed in a simultaneous 10km race, of whom half were girls. Having arrived in Bamiyan 24 hours earlier, too late to acclimatise to an altitude of 3, metres, Zainab knew she would struggle and, at the start line, she had trouble breathing. The weather in the Afghan highlands is mercilessly cold in the winter.
In October, Bamiyan was already so chilly that few of the runners seemed to break sweat, even under a clear, sunny sky. The marathon course snaked its way over softly curved hills and through jagged gorges, alongside rippling creeks and sporadic patches of green. Running along vast dry plains, and through tiny windswept villages, Zainab drew attention, but none of it malicious. Herders and farmers on donkeys eyed her curiously.
Young children followed her excitedly until they ran out of breath. Some male competitors did accuse her of cheating, even though several of them rode part of the course on the back of motorbikes. As she trekked up the last steep hill to the finish line, local dignitaries and about 40 girls who had just completed the 10km race cheered her on.