Islamabad Triathlon lacks Gender Equality

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Luckily the bike ride was cancelled as I would have become known as the 'Champignon'
Luckily the bike ride was cancelled as I would have become known as the 'Champignon'

Last week I was writing about my amazing friend Chrissie Wellington, who has probably made the male triathlon world shiver with her latest performance at the Ironman Triathlon event in Kona. Well, this week I want to write about my own little triathlon experience in Islamabad, which is a lot less impressive but also very mind-boggling when it comes to ‘gender equality’ –  a much-loved word in the humanitarian world.

A week ago, a friend of mine told me about a fun triathlon being organised at the British Club, which, along with all the embassies, is situated inside the Diplomatic Enclave (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like!!). And as exercising in Islamabad has become even more difficult since the military operations in South Waziristan started and security is on high alert, I thought I should take part in this fun event.

The organisers had catered for two events – a fun triathlon and the ‘Ironman’, which of course, was not really an Ironman distance as it would have been quite dizzying to do a 3.8km swim in a 25-metre-pool, ride your bike for 180km and run a full marathon around the British Club, where one lap is only about 1 kilometre!!!


However, when I got there on Saturday morning I was told that the triathlon had been cut into a duathlon as biking was no longer possible due to security restrictions, which stopped us from cycling outside the British Club around the Diplomatic Enclave. This was again mind-boggling for me as the Diplomatic Enclave seems like a fortress, surrounded by lots of barbed wire, a wall higher than the Berlin wall used to be and dozens of security guards around.

But nevertheless, the organisers did not cancel the event, which I really appreciated and still ran the race with swimming one kilometre and running eight laps around the compound. When I went to register for the event I noticed pretty quickly that I was the only woman taking part in the Ironman event, and that the other nine competitors were men! I was desperately looking for another female competitor but unfortunately I could not find one. This poor female presence made me once again realise, how important it was to motivate women to take part in such events and not get intimidated by men!

The Breastroker and I

However, even though I was dreading the swim in the pool, it was not too cramped as there were only ten of us and it was actually possible to share a lane. So, off I swam and after about 30 lengths, when I thought I was actually doing quite well, I noticed that there was only one other guy left in the pool – and the sad thing was that he was doing breaststroke!!!

But hey – it was all for fun and as we cut out the bike ride (which was a good thing as I probably would have looked like a champignon again) I put on my running shoes wondering how proper triathletes do this quickly as it seemed to take me ages to put my runners on. Anyway, I did my eight rounds and every time I overtook someone (which did not happen very often) I felt that I was actually doing quite well but little did I know that these guys (who were all army types and very serious about this event) were actually one lap ahead of me!! But still – I was doing it for fun! However, when I finally reached the grounds of the swimming pool, where the race finished, I was convinced that I was the only one left in the race and that everyone else had finished.  But no – the tall German guy, who was doing the breaststrokes saved me as he came in a few minutes behind me! And even though I was doing it for fun, those who know me are probably grinning right now thinking that I was probably upset that I lost against all those men. Well, this is only partly true because I was convinced to get a prize as, after all, I had come FIRST in the women’s category.

All the more was I shocked when they announced all the different categories during the award winning ceremony, but completely ignored the women’s category. I had been looking forward to my little claim to fame after the race – but I did not get any recognition for having been the only female competitor, and did not get a prize. However, when the ceremony was over I asked the organisers why I had not won anything in my category, they told me that they had never even thought about a women’s category – but that I had definitely won their hearts! And who could have argued with that? Certainly not me.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Dave Bottoms

    Always first woman… Brilliant stuff, Going to challenge Chrissie next year ? (ps elastic laces in your running shoes(

  2. Beth

    Hey Billi, Congrats on your win and way to go! You really have the best stories–humbling, hilarious, and heart-warming all rolled into one fun tale.
    Keep it up! :-)))

  3. Markus

    hey Billi,

    nice story – and good to read that there is still a “normal” life in this area.


  4. Jill

    Maybe your participation this year will make a difference the next time they do this – and they WILL have an award for women. My heart goes out to all the women who would have enjoyed participating with you – but didn’t because of the prejudice!

  5. wanda

    hey there billi….that is hilarious. you should read the book nine parts of desire…revealing the hidden world of islamic women. i am counting down the months until the end of my contract. how about you? stay safe my friend.

  6. Claudia

    as always another great story! also an eye opener. one forgets that equality is not a given right. your are a winner in ALL our hearts, Billie. Stay safe!!

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