Stage 2: The 2015 Gobi March with Zainab and Nelofar

1st June 2015 02:25 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Today was a day of extreme lows and highs...but what a strong finish! Day two is done!

After another cold night in the yurt, Team Asma'i lined up to begin the 40 km stage two. While it was sunny and warm when we first woke up, by the time it hit 8am, it was snowy down pretty hard. No one really wanted to believe that we would have TWO days of bad weather, so we just layered up and told each other that the snow would end soon.

Both Nelofar and Zainab had some aches and pains, but Zainab was really struggling. We weren't even more than a few minutes into the race before she was limping and grimacing from the pain. Pretty soon, we were the last competitors on the trail. Belinda, Virginie and I all knew what was going on in Zainab's head. The second morning is the hardest: you are stiff, in pain, and you still have hundreds of kilometres ahead. Doubts creep in...Can I really do this? We knew she could, but Zainab needed to find the confidence within herself.

The course turned up a hillside, giving us an incredible 600m climb in the snow! Neither Nelofar nor Zainab had done winter hiking like this before - it was quite steep and tough going, but thanks to the rest of the team, we managed to pass people on the hill! Once we got to the top, we were treated with an amazing view, which gave the team a boost. Nelo and Zainab were really happy to see that we were overtaking people, and dare I say the competitive spirit came out! Zainab proved to herself that she COULD do it, and once she did, she was unstoppable. We walked and ran our way down the path, overtaking three teams and a number of individual competitors. It was amazing to see the team rebound!

Nelofar started feeling some pain as well, but like Zainab, she pushed through it. She said anytime she hit a low moment, she thought about her mom and Allah, and that would help get her through. At one point when she was racing down the hill she giggled and said that she felt like Allah's angels were pushing her forward.

We hit checkpoint two right at 1pm, which coincided with prayer time. As Nelo and Zainab prayed, the rest of the team went to work filling up bottles and taking out snacks. It finally started to warm up, so we shed our raincoats and warm layers and basked in the sun and 20 weather...It was hard to believe that a few hours earlier, it was freezing and snowing.

The last couple of stages were tough, but Nelo and Zainab dug deep. We finished the day as the third place team! Incredible effort!

We are seeing Nelo and Zainab get more confident day by day, which is what these races are all about. They are learning to break through the dark moments and enjoy the highs.

Zainab says that without the support of the team, she does not think she could have finished. It was a really tough day, she says, especially the hills, but we killed them!

Thanks to all for the support! Please do check out Free to Run ( and consider supporting our work! You can donate through our website or through the fundraising page specifically set up for the Afghan Ultra Team to help offset the costs of training and racing.

Thanks for all of the messages!

Leah Anathan