Middle East Peace Run kicks off in Lebanon

Middle East Peace Run kicks off in Lebanon

Hoping to increase awareness and promote tolerance, Australian athlete runs first 57 km en route to Israel

Australian ultramarathon runner Pat Farmer (photo credit: Courtesy Pat Farmer)
Australian ultramarathon runner Pat Farmer (photo credit: Courtesy Pat Farmer)

Australian ultramarathon runner Pat Farmer kicked off the first leg of a Middle East Peace Run in Lebanon Thursday, clocking in 57 kilometers.

Farmer, 52, arrived in Beirut along with his team on Wednesday night, having traveled 25 hours from Sydney, Australia. On Thursday morning, he rose early to begin the day’s run in the mountainous Cedars of the Lord region, speeding through a challenging downhill course before reaching the seaside town of Chekka. His acclimatization process was aided by the weather conditions in Lebanon, which were similar on Thursday to those in Sydney.

Farmer was joined at the start of the run by Australia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Lex Bartlem. Local groups, schoolchildren and celebrities are expected to join in the coming days. He was also accompanied by his 19-year-old daughter, Brooke, who stayed on the sidelines as the run’s communications manager.

“I’m feeling really good, because now, the business side of all of this, is up to me,” Pat said on Thursday morning, before kicking off the run.

“As far as I’m concerned, this run isn’t about breaking records or achieving personal goals; it’s about bringing a very clear message to everybody that I meet along the way, ordinary people, to find a voice for their politicians to just get on with the peace process.”

Farmer, who regularly runs distances longer than a 42-kilometer marathon, plans to tell the world about ordinary people in the Middle East in an unusual way — he is running through several Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, with local people running alongside him and a camera crew in tow.

Along the way, Farmer hopes to run from Beirut to Amman, the Negev Desert, the Gaza Strip, Tel Aviv, the West Bank and Jerusalem’s old and new cities.

“I decided I’d like to show the positive side to these places,” said Farmer during a recent Skype interview with The Times of Israel. “When you see anything about the Middle East, including Israel, it’s nothing but violence, nothing but the problems and difficulties everyone’s having over there, which is completely contrary to what I’ve heard from my (Middle Eastern) friends.

“There’s a commonality between human beings all over the planet,” he added. “So I think if I can portray that, then I can get a message to people worldwide: We’re all human beings. We’re the same regardless of our geography.”

Farmer is a runner, so showcasing these countries through running made the most sense to him — but he doesn’t want to do it alone. He is inviting people in each country, no matter who they are, to run with him as he lopes through their countries, whether they’re comfortable running one kilometer or joining him for an entire day’s trek.

“When you’re a runner, it doesn’t matter what your origin is, your gender, or what your beliefs are,” he said. “We all feel very human when we’re pushing ourselves to our limit.”

Australian ultramarathon runner ran from the North Pole to the South Pole in 2011. Now, he is planning a "peace run" through several Middle Eastern countries (Courtesy Pat Farmer)
Australian ultramarathon runner ran from the North Pole to the South Pole in 2011. Now, he has embarked on a Peace Run through several Middle Eastern countries. (photo credit: Courtesy Pat Farmer)

The run will cost about $320,000; Farmer oversaw the fundraising in Australia.

The sponsors include private donors as well as Sharon Davson, an Australian artist who, in honor of the run, will showcase an exhibit centered around peace in the Middle East. One Million Hands for a Peace Agreement and Budo for Peace, two Israeli organizations, are the major promoters of the run.

Danny Hakim, who recently met Farmer in Australia, is the founder and chairman of Budo for Peace, which uses sports to conquer cultural and political differences between historic rivals, such as Israelis and Palestinians.

“I’m a very big believer that sport is an agent for change,” Hakim said.

Hakim helped Farmer untangle some of the bureaucracy involved in his efforts to cross borders and run between some of the Middle Eastern countries. The runner met and negotiated with government officials from several countries, and plans changed several times.

The Peace Run was initially intended to last about two weeks and cover about 1,300 kilometers. Farmer had hoped to run directly from Beirut to Jerusalem to start off the journey, but he had to abandon that plan. The border between Israel and Lebanon has been relatively quiet, but there are years of enmity between the two countries.

Farmer also hoped to include Egypt — the only country on the run he’d visited previously, with the Red Cross — but set aside those plans, due to recent terror attacks in the country.

The video crew accompanying Farmer on the Middle East Peace Run is not only sending live feeds back to Australia, but also filming for a documentary that will outline the run and showcase tourist attractions in each of the countries Farmer runs through.

Farmer became a runner when he was 18, and saw marathon runners passing him as he worked as an auto mechanic. He decided that if these ordinary-looking people could run marathons… then so could he.

He has run all over the world, including around Australia and through Vietnam. Most notably, he covered more than 20,000 kilometers over the course of almost a year in 2011, setting foot in 14 countries on a run from the North Pole to the South Pole.

“The most powerful message out of all that was the fact that this world is not such a big place,” he claimed. “If one man can go from one end of the planet to the other on foot, in a relatively short time — about 10 months — this world is not such a big place after all.”

He used the Pole-to-Pole run to raise $100,000 for the Red Cross’s clean water efforts, and other runs were about competition, but the Middle East Peace Run is different, he said — raising not money, but awareness.

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