Against a backdrop of violence and insurgency, Afghanistan has hosted runners from around the world for a race billed as its first international marathon.
More than 60 racers from Afghanistan as well as Europe, the United States, and Canada ran in the 42-kilometer race on October 16 in a highland valley in the relatively peaceful Bamiyan Province -- known for its giant Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban.
Runners in the race, called the Marathon of Afghanistan, included amateurs and professional athletes. They ran along a new asphalt highway that connects the provincial capital, Bamiyan, to the Yakawlang district at an altitude of 2,500 meters amid the peaks of the Hindu Kush.
Briton Keith MacIntosh, who has taken part in more than 20 marathons in Europe, won with a time of 2 hours and 55 minutes.
A separate 10-kilometer race was held for local female competitors, and most of the 45 runners were teenage schoolgirls.
Nazira Saifi, a 15-year-old student from Bamiyan who won that race, said it was an experience she would "never forget."
The event was jointly organized by the Bamiyan provincial government's Culture and Information Department, the Bamiyan Tourism Associations, and Untamed Borders, an adventure-travel company with offices in the United Kingdom and Pakistan.
The company has been involved in attracting foreign tourist to Bamiyan in recent years.
Speaking from Bamiyan, Untamed Borders co-founder James Willcox said the race provided an opportunity for Afghan runners from different ethnic backgrounds and foreign participants to run together and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
Willcox said he hoped to the Marathon of Afghanistan would become an annual international event run by local organizers.
After the race, the runners visited the ruins of the world's largest Buddha statues, blown up by the Taliban amid an international outcry in March 2001.
Deadly violence persists daily in Afghanistan, and the Taliban carry out frequent attacks nearly 14 years after U.S.-led forces drove the militant group from power.
Bamiyan has largely escaped the violence in recent years and has hosted sports events including bicycle races, local students' marathons, and annual winter ski races.