The date of the Erbil Marathon 2019 has recently been announced by race organisers. It shall be taking place on Friday 25th October 2019.
Since its founding in 2015 the Erbil Marathon has taken place annually, including a 5km, 10km and full 42km races. This is the second time Untamed Borders have offered packages for the international event. You can read about the experience of our guests who ran in the 2018 ErbilMarathon on the Free to Run website here.
So far, 2019 has been a rewarding year with some unexpected personal accomplishments, none more so than helping to build Iraq’s largest snowman.
In January, Untamed Borders once again supported the Iraq Ski Rally (Iraq’s only ski race) and the Choman Winter Festival.
The festival was first started in 1952 but was stopped under Saddam Hussein’s regime, it restarted again in 2018. As part of the organising team, we were wracking our brains on how to attract more people and local media to the event. The media exposure is important as it attracts sponsorship. And the more sponsorship attracted, the more money, in turn, is made available for programs such as the one giving opportunities for refugees and IDPs who have escaped from ISIS territories to do outdoor activities (see link).
All the classic Iraq winter festival activities were in the mix. Music, tea, food, dancing ski demonstrations, sledge hire, Iraq’s only Ski race, a massive bonfire and even a paraglider. However, we needed something ‘amazing’. Something Iraq had never seen before. Something like Iraq’s biggest snowman
Thanks to some Russian snowman building tutorial videos and a big band of Kurdish volunteers we constructed a four-metre high pyramid of snow of unknown gender.
The festival was well received (see link), and Iraq’s biggest snowperson was a big hit.
Six days later, in a somewhat different climate, I found myself once again thinking about the laws of attraction. I was in Hargeisa to help organise the Somaliland Marathon, also in its second year. The most positive aspect of this years race was the increase in female Somalilander runners from 5 in 2018 to 45 in 2019. This article about the 2018 race gives some idea as to why this was such an important change given the difficulties some of the women have in being able to train.
The number of international runners was, however, about the same as in 2018. Given that attracting international runners is my job I was faced with some tricky questions from a variety of stakeholders.
Transferring my experiences from Iraq, building Somaliland’s biggest snowman seemed impractical. I planned to give it my best attention on the flight home.
As I checked out of my hotel, I heard a voice,
“There need to be more international runners, James”, the hotel manager helpfully informed me.
It had been a long week, I’d been told a dozen times already and I felt a touch defensive,
“Well, you know.” I countered, “It’s hard to attract people. Somaliland and Somalia have a bad reputation, it’s hot, it’s a long way to travel. But if we work hard and keep showing the world that security is good, then slowly but surely…”
“I know what will make them come.” He quickly interjected,
It was the first time anyone had offered a suggestion.
“Gold. You must give them gold James.”
In this uncertain world maybe he is right.
All the best in discovering your motivation to travel.
New and Upcoming Trips
We have some new fixed date departures coming up in 2019 and early 2020. Check out the website for the full list. There is still space on all our summer trekking expeditions and note that we arrange bespoke trips all the time to loads of places.
New Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq fixed date trips
We have new dates for fixed date trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The Winter Afghan trip shall take in the Afghan National Sport of Buzkashi (see video), among other places of interest. Our Hindu Kush and the Karakorum tripto Pakistan in September will visit pagan tribes, precarious rope bridges and ancient wooden mosques all in the shadow of the world’s most spectacular scenery. And back by popular demand, we have announced a second date for our Iraq – Cradle of Civilisation trip in February 2020.
Trekking trips to Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan
We have space available on our Pamir Mountain Lakes, Trek the Wakhan and Unseen Kyrgyzstan trips. We can also arrange bespoke private trips to these areas with local English-speaking guides (or even an international guide if you prefer). In November/December we are launching a trek in the mountains of Turkmenistan (near the Iranian border); we’ll also check out another lesser-visited corner in the western part of the country boasting canyons and plenty of deserts… including the iconic Darvaza gas crater.
South Sudan, Socotra and Syria
We arrange about 100 bespoke trips a year. From 48 hours in a city to month-long multi-country oddessies. Recently we arranged travel to Socotra Island off the coast of Yemen, South Sudan and Syria. If there is anywhere you are interested in travelling to then do drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org
Free to Run
We not only arrange travel to some of the world’s hardest to visit countries but we are passionately involved in projects in many of them. James Willcox, one of the founders of Untamed Borders, is involved in a number of sporting development projects around the world including the Marathon of Afghanistan, Afghan Ski Challenge, Iraq Ski Rally, Mogadishu Marathon and the Somaliland Marathon. These are all mixed gender sporting events in regions where it is not always easy or possible for women to safely train for sport. So it was no wonder when the NGO Free to Run recently asked him to join their board. Free to Run is an organisation that uses adventure sports, including running, to create safe spaces for women and develop female leadership in post-conflict regions of the world. One of our guests wrote a piece for Free to Run about her experience joining them for the Erbil Marathon in 2018.
If any of the above sounds tempting or you want to meet one of the Untamed Borders team for a chat then please get in touch.
Earlier this year we arranged travel and logistics for two runners to compete in the Mogadishu Marathon. Runners from Somalia and other nations took part, you can see the photos from the 2019 event here. The vast majority of runners are based in Mogadishu. In fact, less than ten people have flown in for the event so far, with Untamed Borders arranging travel for two people to run in the 2019 Mogadishu Marathon.
The race is officially known as the Samia Yusuf Omar memorial run in honour of Samia Yusuf Omar, a female Somali Olympian who competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and tragically drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2012. All proceeds from the race being donated to the Aamin Ambulance service
It was the first time that we arranged travel for runners to the race, but not the first time we have run trips to Mogadishu.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan recently announced the implementation of a new online visa system. Currently, the new e-visa system is only accessible to nationals of five countries; the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, China and Malaysia. There are plans for it to soon become available for a total of 175 countries.
Not only are the cities bustling with activity but the Northern parts of Pakistan feature the three highest mountains ranges in the world. The Hindu Kush, The Karakorum and Himalaya.
We shall be running our Hindu Kush & Karakorum trip to Pakistan in September which includes visiting pagan tribes, precarious rope bridges and ancient wooden mosques all in the shadow of the worlds most spectacular scenery.
On 8th February 2019, the 2nd Annual Dahabshiil Somaliland Marathon brought international runners from Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, UK, Netherlands, USA, Ethiopia and Djibouti. They joined runners from four provinces of Somaliland as well as Mogadishu and Kismayo to compete in the Marathon (42km) and a 10km race in Hargeisa, Somaliland.
Across the two races, there were approximately 300 runners. The 10km race saw 40 Somalilander women compete, a big rise on the 5 that competed in 2018. The increase in female participation is a welcome development and something that hopefully will continue to grow in the years to come.
The winner of the marathon, Osman Elmi Sheikh who had traveled from Borama, Awdal region. When asked about his win by the Horn Diplomat said, “Winning the marathon ahead of Somali and international runners will be etched forever embossed in golden letters on a new page of my athletic ambitions”.
The Marathon started and finished in Hargiesa stadium where entertainment was provided by a Somaliland cultural group, as can be seen in Somailand Today’s video. Overall, the event was a great success shedding a new and positive light on the recreation and tourism opportunities of Somaliland, and in bringing together a global community around the sport of running.
The Iraq Ski Rally took place for the 2nd year running last week. Despite the unfavourable weather conditions for competitors, there was a great turn out both from locals and international participants.
The festival was hosted in Choman, a 3-4hour drive from the Iraqi-Kurdistan capital, Erbil. Untamed Borders was joined by international guests from the UK, Europe and USA. Not only competing in the Iraq Ski Rally they also visited the region near Choman and Mt Halgurd. For a country more commonly associated with deserts, Iraq plays host to some great mountainous terrain in the northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
Untamed Borders co-founder James Willcox has been invited to join the board of Free to Run. Free to Run is an organisation that uses adventure sports, including running, to create safe spaces for women and develop female leadership in post-conflict regions of the world.
Both Free to Run and Untamed Borders have been involved from the beginning in the Afghanistan Marathon. Free to Run operates in three provinces in Afghanistan and has played a critical role in increasing the number of female participants that run in both the 10km and full marathon races.
The trip will visit the region near Choman and Mt Halgurd. Areas we have identified from previous winter trips to the region as good for ski touring. This is the best region for ski touring in Iraq with a variety of terrain and plenty of snow. Choman is a 3-4 hour drive from the capital of Iraqi-Kurdistan, Erbil. In addition to the ski touring, we are timing the trip to coincide with the Iraq Ski Rally. Finally, we may or may not stop off at the Korek Mountain ski resort. Yes, there is a real ski resort with a gondola and everything. The only problem is that it has been built in an area with very unreliable snow. If in 2019 there is a heavy snowfall then we’ll have a day skiing here as well. Check out this link for photos of the trips we have done before in the region (see link).
Iraq has some major problems at the moment but in the far north of the country security is good and it is possible to experience some of the famous Kurdish hospitality amongst the peaks. The chance to truly blaze a tourist trail is a rare opportunity. If you have are interested, you can read an article in the Guardian and New Zealand Herald which covers the work we’ve been doing in the area.
In January 2018, Untamed Borders guided a small group of skiers from USA, Denmark, Slovenia, UK and Australia to Iraq, to ski in the Zagros mountains near Choman and to compete at the Iraq Ski Rally, which is part of the Choman winter festival.
A selection of photos from the trip can be found here.
The race was also reported on local news, the following footage can give you an idea of what we got up to:
ABC Australia Radio piece.
Rudaw’s report on the ski trip as a whole. See link
One of the skiers, Ashley Hartz, had travelled with us before to ski in Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with a local man named Omar Chomani she organised the first Choman winter festival which included the Iraq Ski Rally – Iraq’s first ever ski touring race.
For a country more associated with deserts, Iraq has some great mountainous terrain in the northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region which we will explore with a qualified international ski guide. Photos from the 2017 trip can be found here and photos from our day trip to the Penjwen ski club can be seen here.
In 2017 we also assisted an American team and film crew in making the first ski ascent and descent of Halgurd, check out this short film they produced for The North Face and some of our photos from that trip here.
On the more cultural side of things, have a look at one of our guest’s blogs which we guided for a visit around Iraqi Kurdistan.
Ever thought about making adventure travel a full-time job? Do you have skills in sales and marketing?
We are currently looking for a full-time member of staff to join our small team. If you or someone you know is passionate about finding your own amazing travel experiences and will work hard to give others the same kind of buzz you get when you travel, then send us an email and we will reply with further information.