ISLAMABAD: Hunza is all set to host its first official marathon today. The brainchild of Ziyad Rahim, an adventure runner and professional banker, the marathon is a collaborative effort of Z Adventures, a sports travel company set up by Rahim and Pakistan Youth Outreach— a non-profit with a mission to mobilise young men and women of Pakistan by engaging them in outdoor activities.
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In an interview with The Express Tribune, Rahim spoke in detail about his achievements, the upcoming marathon, the risks involved, and his future endeavours in Pakistan.
Rahim was introduced to various sports, including running, during his time at Aitchison College, which later translated into taking it up professionally in 2002 after he moved to Canada.
Since 2002, Rahim has participated in over 200 long-distance races in 42 countries on all seven continents.
“Some of the most amazing events I have run are at the North Pole in 40 below Celsius, the Antarctica 5x and the 250km Marathon Des Sables, which is considered the toughest foot race on Earth,” he said.
Speaking about the marathon, Rahim said it is unique because it is the first ever official marathon taking place in the northern areas of Pakistan.
“The aim is to introduce and promote running as a sport in Pakistan and we are offering complimentary entry to all local runners who wish to take part in the event,” he said.
According to Rahim, most marathons around the world are organised with a view to raise awareness or funds for charity and this one is no different.
“Our aim is two-fold, first is to encourage long-distance running in Pakistan as a healthy activity. As our race slogan is “Say No To Drugs”, we want to encourage and educate youth to adopt good habits and stay away from drugs,” he said adding that they also wanted to coach people and provide them supplies to start sport activities.
The marathon is set in four categories (5-K, 10-K, half marathon and full marathon).
A day after the race, 20-odd runners would drive to Khunjerab Pass at the Pakistan-China border to take part in a 10K downhill race which would start at 15,400ft above sea level.
However, adventure sports always involve risks. Rahim said that since the marathon will take place at an altitude of 8,000 ft, the marathon would be especially difficult for runners who are used to running at sea level.
According to Rahim, the risks involved are shortness of breath as the air is thin at high altitudes, so runners should not expect to break any records in terms of times.
“The majority of the runners are local residents, so they are well acclimatised,” Rahim said.
“As for the foreign runners, they are well travelled and have experience in taking part in high altitude running,” he added.
Rahim further said that he is expecting 20 foreign runners for the inaugural event. “Additionally, we will have more than 300 local runners (men, women and children) who will be taking part. We are offering free entry to all the local runners and are also providing them with racing kit and shoes,” Rahim said.
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Speaking of future plans, Rahim said that he has initiated a Pakistan Running series with the aim to arrange six marathons in 2016-17 in the country.
“Apart from Hunza, we will organise mega marathon events in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Murree and Sialkot and later, the aim is to take them to other cities in the country,” he said.
“Hopefully, we will find enough sponsors and support from local and regional authorities to carry forward our mission,” he added.