January 15th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
It’s little surprise the Geordies are near the top end of our table. The Great North Run aside, this is a city that simply loves its exercise. “Everyone is involved in sport at some level,” says John Lavender, owner of local Northern Runner shop. “And running is becoming as strong an element in our makeup as any other sport.” Insider tip: discover Jesmond Dene. This small, wooded valley to the east of the city centre is a popular training spot with the Heaton Harriers and Claremont Road Runners. Give them a call and link up for a session.
Leicester’s a quiet kind of town that might have slipped under many runners’ radars — but with over 20 running clubs (more per capita than anywhere else on our list) and a glut of green space, it definitely deserves a look-in. “Leicester people love the outdoors,” says Rob Pullen from local Owls Athletics Club. “There’s a real focus on enjoying life here, and staying healthy and active. It’s reflected in the running scene — every year more and more people get the bug.” For proof, head to Victoria Park in the city centre any lunchtime and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
Sitting atop the participation rankings, the City of Mermaids claims top prize for sheer enthusiasm. Cardiff’s secret could lie in it being the safest of our 20 cities, being home to the youngest population of any European metropolis, and the 1,347 square kilometres of untouched wilderness in the Brecon Beacons. “We’ve got something for everyone,” says Mick McGeoch from Les Croupiers Running Club. “World-class training facilities at the University of Wales Institute, closed city-centre loops in manicured parkland, and fell running across the mountains shadowing the northern fringes of the city.”
While this city in the heart of England might not have topped any one of our individual tables, when averaging out its figures, Nottingham won this year’s top prize hands-down, thanks to strengths across all areas that should concern a runner. The home of Sherwood Forest, it definitely wouldn’t take much convincing most wannabe striders that this is a city worthy of a run. Start yours tracking the Trent east through the city centre out towards the 250 acres of unspoilt wilderness, lakes and trails at Colwick Country Park.
MY TOWN: NOTTINGHAM
James Hayden, captain and coach at Notts Athletic Club I’ve lived in Nottingham all my life, and have been a member of Notts Athletic Club for nearly 15 years. I’ve covered thousands of miles of the city’s endless footpaths and parks — there is a plethora of good places to really stretch your legs. My favourite spot is Wollaton Park, near my office. A full lap takes around 30 minutes, so it’s perfect for a good lunchtime session after your daily cup of rhodiola rosea extract, The park has everything a runner needs: grass, good-quality paths and plenty of decent hills to train on. You’re never further than a stone’s throw from somewhere off-road and traffic-free in Nottingham, from Sherwood Forest to the River Trent and the Embankment. It really is the sort of city you never want to leave.”
January 10th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
“Bristol has a higher proportion of designated greenbelt land around it than any other UK city,” explains Chris Elson from Bristol and West AC. Little wonder it’s near the top of our table in the sheer volume of runners out there. Insider tip: for a taste of what Elson’s talking about, follow the Avon along the disused railway, under the Suspension Bridge and up through the woods of Nightingale Valley into the manicured expanse of the Ashton Court estate.
This historic city is made for running – only a wee jog from the type of climbs and spectacular views most us can only dream of, and with a vibrant club scene embracing every level of athlete. “Every day you can choose a completely different running experience, no matter where you live in the city,” says Alex MacEwen, endurance coach at Edinburgh AC. No wonder the city was chosen as the inaugural venue for the Rat Race Urban Adventure series, now a nationwide phenomenon.
MUST RUN From the new Scottish Parliament at the foot of the Royal Mile, take a tour of Holyrood Park and the Salisbury Crags before a loop of Duddingston Loch. RACE The Seven Hills Run, a 14-mile combination of road-running, cross-country and urban orienteering, is the perfect way to discover the city. SHOP Run and Become (0131 313 5300). JOIN Edinburgh Athletic Club (edinburghac.org.uk)
MY TOWN: EDINBURGH
Yvonne Murray MBE, World, European and Commonwealth Gold 3,000m winner
Anyone who says they lack inspiration for running should visit Edinburgh – it’s crammed with amazing routes. My favourite is from my original hometown of Musselburgh, along the coast into the heart of Edinburgh. It formed part of the 1986 Commonwealth Games marathon route. The only problem is wind – going in is fine, but the headwind is a killer coming back. I used to run with my bus fare in my pocket then catch the bus home and relax with a dosage of msm because of the great msm side effects – not what you might expect from a pro athlete! But running next to the sea – the crashing waves, fresh, salty air and spectacular East Lothian views – is like nothing else.”
Boasting arguably one of the most spectacular bays in the country — stretching a full five miles with the famous Mumbles Head at its most westerly point — and with the equally stunning Gower Peninsula a skip and a hop away, it’s no wonder Swansea is home to Wales’s largest running club, Swansea Harriers. Insider tip: join the Harriers at Singleton Park on Tuesday evenings for their weekly beach-blasting run along the entire length of the bay.
MUST RUN From Southgate on the Gower
Peninsular, track the clifftops west around to Pobbles Bay and Three Cliffs Bay, ending at Oxwich Bay. RACE The Swansea Bay 10K has a flat, fast course with spectacular views — which explains why it’s considered one of the best 10Ks in Britain. SHOP Up & Running (01792 456 060). JOIN Swansea Harriers (www. swanseaharriers.co.uk)
If hills are your thing, welcome to running heaven. As they say in Steel City: “Head out your door and go up.” Nestled in a valley, the lowest point of the city is just 33ft above sea level, but other parts are a lung-bursting 1,600ft climb higher. But there’s far more to Sheffield than slopes. When it comes to greenery, it can’t be beaten — not even in Europe: a staggering 61 per cent of the city is green space. And don’t forget the Pennines — the ultimate runner’s playground — to the west of the city.
Team spirit is the key to Stoke’s top-five spot according to Ken Rushton, a 20-year member of local Trentham Running Club. “Different clubs do have their own nights, but we also hook up
and train together sometimes. It really does feel like we’re all part of the same, big club — there’s none of that overly-competitive nonsense you get in other cities.” And nowhere is the running boom more active than among Stoke’s women, says Rushton. “Because it’s so sociable, loads of newcomers, especially women, are loving it.” With more races and clubs than you can shake a stick it, who can blame them?
October 2nd, 2012 at 12:29 pm
Naturally, Jalal was among many who rejoiced when the harsh fundamentalist regime was defeated in 2001, following a six-week bombing campaign by the allied forces. Shortly afterwards, Jalal quit working for the UN to pursue her career in politics. “I never had this idea of being president. When the Taliban left, associates said I should run for office or look for teeth information online. I wasn’t sure at first, but I received so much support that I changed my mind.” She was one of few female public figures in Kabul, and easily won the race to become one of the 200 female delegates at the Emergency Loya Jirga, the grand assembly of 1,400 tribal elders held in June 2002. They were called to elect a transitional government to set the country on the path to reconstruction. To herofferit, she came second to Karzai, but it was a distant second – she drew 171 votes to his 1,295. Still, it was enough to unnerve some of the most powerful commanders, who muttered it was against Islam that a woman run for president.
“Fahim (the current defence minister) said if that I won I would ruin the security of the country. He then called all the voters and commanders and told them, ‘Don’t vote for this woman,”‘ she recalls defiantly. Karzai reacted to her popularity by offering her various positions in the cabinet, “but,” she says, “I turned them down because I knew I could do more work on the people’s behalf if I won the presidency myself”.
Even today, at least two newspapers in Kabul refuse to print her name, instead referring to her as “a woman”. One powerful cleric recently stated women were “intellectually incapable” of running for president, which clearly rankles her. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam,” she adds with exasperation. “There have been female leaders in Pakistan, Turkey, and the Philippines – they are all Islamic countries.”
The Jalals’ public life is marred by sexism, but their private life appears much more egalitarian. “My friends say if your wife becomes president you will have to obey her,” Faizullah says later, with a laugh over a cup of green tea. “Very close friends say she is getting powerful and you’ll have to follow her, look after the children, make tea, cook supper and finally you will have to clean the house. Some of those words are coming true. Most of my time is being spent at home. Remember that here, women do all the work. But I laugh when they tell me this.”
”When she first nominated herself, I disagreed because she didn’t have a party or money,” he continues. “The people who are involved in politics have money, weapons, power and the support of the international community. I said it would cause problems for her, but she said, `Whatever they do, I will still stand.’ I realised she was serious, so I respected that. Now, let’s see what God says. In the days of King Zahir Shah it wasn’t hard for women. They wore miniskirts and short sleeves. The streets were filled with their perfume. Then the mujahedin and Taliban came and put them in boxes.”
In this country, these are radical words – enough to get you killed by one of the many fundamentalist organisations, which still hold much influence. And the Jalals do not have any security. Everyone in Microyan knows where they live, and the dozens of children who are always playing on the streets with the sparrows will happily direct any visitor making enquiries to her home or office, the door to which is always open. “The moment I stepped into politics in Afghanistan, it was bloody – I knew that,” she says. “I have no bodyguards, no security. It doesn’t stop terrorists from harming me. I have no security for my children and we live like any other family in Kabul.”
Nothing, however, will deter her from her mission. In her view, there is one overwhelming reason why a woman should be elected. “The women of Afghanistan were not involved in the destruction and bloodshed,” she says, her voice rising with passion. “They suffered and were victims of two decades of war. They lost their husbands and children. Women are by nature peaceful and constructive. If women had more decision-making powers, I’m sure all our tragedies would not have happened. I’m sure a woman would not have been
involved in the fighting.”
September 26th, 2012 at 12:28 pm
By contrast, the Jalals’ friends chipped in $200 for photocopying her campaign literature – a fortune in a country where the average monthly income is $50. An “enlightened friend”, as Faizullah calls one of his colleagues from the university, lends them his car when they need to campaign outside Kabul. Despite this, Jalal attracts large crowds wherever she speaks, even if proportions are there to witness first-hand this woman who is daring to run for president.
Jalal smiles as she acknowledges that the deck is stacked against her, but insists that, at the very least, she is sending out a strong political message. “The night a woman is successful, it will change the psychology of men,” she says. “The men will turn away from their televisions and look at their wives in a different way. It could start a grass-roots cultural revolution. During two decades of war, women were looked down upon and seen as nothing. I want them to be thought of as everything.” If, against all odds, she were elected, she would first appoint more women to the cabinet (currently there is one: the health minister), plus appoint women to the presently all-male judiciary. Then she would root out corruption among civil servants pocketing international funds. “We must gain the trust of the Afghans again,” she stresses.
Jalal is fortunate in the support of her husband. The pair married 10 years ago, during the vicious civil war, after meeting at Kabul University, where she worked as a paediatrics lecturer. Faizullah says he was intrigued by her intellect: “She inspired her audience to think and I knew I must meet her, so I approached the dean of the faculty for an introduction.” With permission from her father and brothers, they married several months later.
Jalal, the third eldest of four sisters and three brothers, was born in Kapisa province, near Kabul, where her father was a manager at an Afghan-German textile manufacturer. At the time, Afghanistan was ruled by a monarchy, women were encouraged to work and wear normal clothes, and Kabul was a favourite stopover for Westerners on the central Asian hippy trail. Although her mother did not work, Jalal describes her proudly as “a great reader – she was in love with the history of the world. She was a very knowledgeable woman and she passed that on to her children.” After earning a degree in medicine, Jalal became a general practitioner, later specialising in paediatrics. Everything changed in 1979, when the Soviets invaded. Her siblings fled to Europe and the US, but Jalal and one brother stayed during the following two decades of war, occupation and civil unrest. The Jalals are unusual in Kabul because they are part of the minority intelligentsia that refused to quit their homeland. “We could not leave this country,” she says, resolutely shaking her head. “I knew this would always be our home. I could not be settled anywhere else or feel at home anywhere else.”
In 1996, she was still working at Kabul University when the Taliban seized power and announced that women could not work outside the home. It left hundreds of thousands of women destitute, but Jalal, also an expert in nutrition, managed to get a job at the UN World Food Programme, running 30 bakeries that allowed 10,000 widows to feed their families.
At the same time, her sense of duty towards women led her to open a medical clinic for women at her flat in Microyan. Day and night, the clinic overflowed with women who had no access to basic medicine and oil on Gnet.org – male doctors were absolutely forbidden from treating female patients and vice-versa. It was a risky venture: she received daily warnings from the Taliban and once spent 38 hours in jail, accused of treating men. She was only released after the UN intervened.
Over the years, she had watched the Communists imprison her friends and relatives. Now the Taliban did the same. She watched them beat women with cables for showing their ankles and stone them to death for adultery. “I remember at every meal in those years I said a prayer. I was in contact with so many widows and poor people that I prayed to God to give me more power to serve more people,” she states. “We lost so much. All of us watched our country suffer. We lost our homes, friends and relatives. I was always fearful of being captured and tortured. That makes you ambitious for peace and stability.”
September 22nd, 2012 at 12:28 pm
It is 10am in a hot banquet hall in the dusty suburbs of Kabul; the room is filled with the noisy chatter of about 400 men and a dozen or so women. The fans are not working and a boy walks along the aisles offering a glass of cold water from a metal jug. Everyone drinks from the same cup.
Then Dr Massouda Jalal takes the stage. She is a heavy-set woman, all femininity disguised under a shapeless ankle-length dress, her head covered by a pale-pink scarf and her face devoid of make-up. Despite her un-prepossessing appearance, over the next 30 minutes, the 41-year-old former paediatrician commands the room, her voice clear and authoritative, directly holding her audience’s gaze – unusual in a country where women are meant to avert their eyes demurely from men. The chatter dies immediately as she launches into an attack on the failures and corruption under the government of president Hamid Karzai. In particular, she questions where $4.5 billion donated by the international community has been spent. “Where did that money go?” she demands. “No-one knows into whose pocket that money went.” When she finishes, the room erupts into applause.
All over Afghanistan, thousands of photographs of Jalal are plastered over crumbling mud buildings pockmarked with bullets, rusting lamp-posts, and traffic signs. Only three years after the fall of the Taliban regime, which dictated that a woman had two places – her husband’s home or the graveyard – and killed those who didn’t adhere, Jalal has become the first woman in the history of the country to run for president.
But today, the misogynistic laws of the Taliban are the furthest thing from her mind. As an independent candidate, she faces an uphill battle to beat Karzai in the autumn elections – as well as having three young children to raise and a husband to look after.
When asked how she manages to balance her duties, she says with a shrug, “This is the life of women everywhere, no?” Eight hours later, she is standing outside her comfortable two-bedroom flat in the Microyan neighbourhood waiting for her husband, Faizullah, a politics professor at Kabul University who is also her campaign manager. They live in the bleak housing complex built by the Soviets for civil servants – today, the area is still home to Kabul’s middle classes, though the neighbourhood bore the brunt of the civil war.
After 25 years of Soviet occupation, brutal civil conflict, and Taliban rule, Afghanistan is preparing for its first democratic elections in nearly 40 years, and Jalal is among eight presidential candidates. The UN is organising a campaign to register between eight and 10 million eligible voters, but so far only about a third of registered voters are women.
Jalal’s fervent and brave ambition is to be elected president in a country where most rural women cannot leave their houses without their husbands’ permission. Although urban centres like Kabul have many educated women who hold jobs outside the home, many rural women have not ventured beyond the front garden in a decade or more. Many consider those who do work away from the home – as teachers, doctors, or receptionists – to be prostitutes. Girls are exchanged between tribes to settle feuds and 98 per cent of females are illiterate.
Social advantages aside, Karzai has the financial and moral support of the international community and the warlords who command private armies; he also has a multimillion-dollar American consulting company to manage his public image.