|Photo Cred: Marco Longari. Check out the rest here.|
Donkey carts, exhaust fumes and potholes were just some of the obstacles for runners in the Gaza Strip's first marathon.
There were no roads closed, no security tape and no guides, as the route was very simple: start at the border of Israel and stop at the border with Egypt.
The race started at 6am local time on Thursday, three minutes after sunrise, and the temperature was already at 21C. The starting point was Beit Hanoun, in the north-east, from where the runners headed west towards the Mediterranean.
More than 1,500 people took part in the event, hosted by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which raised $1m (£600,000) for its annual summer camps. The camps are a source of tension between the UN and conservative sectors of Gazan society who object to the mixing of boy and girls, even before puberty.
More than 1,300 schoolchildren ran the marathon in relays of a kilometre at a time, while about 200 ran a half or quarter-marathon. Only nine adult participants ran the whole course – seven Gazans and two UN workers. The winner was Nader al-Masri, 31, from Beit Hanoun who ran in the 5,000 metres at the Beijing Olympics and hopes to run at the London Games in 2012. He clocked two hours and 42 minutes.
By the time the race reached Gaza City, Masri had already developed a substantial lead. The coastal road runs past the harbour where sardine fishermen land their catch. The runners had to negotiate donkeys carts, vans and hundreds of blue boxes filled with fish as the fishermen and merchants cheered.
From the fish market, the runners passed the wasteland that was Yasser Arafat's presidential compound, destroyed by Israeli aircraft and ships in a series of bombings since 2001.
The UN – which provides services for refugees, a majority of Gaza's 1.5 million residents – also attempts to create a sense of normality, particularly for schoolchildren who are unable to leave. Earlier this week, the UN hosted the Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, who brought a 25-piece orchestra to play Mozart for an audience of 200 children and adults.
Chris Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said: "The Israeli authorities have kept many things out of Gaza but we are trying to make sure that the one thing that can get through the blockade is fun. The marathon definitely achieved that not just for the competitors but for the thousands and thousands of onlookers who applauded every runner."
Gemma Connell, the only woman running the marathon and the initiator of the event, finished the course in four hours and 45 minutes.
"I ran through refugee camps, past farmers and street cleaners. They all clapped and shouted: 'Salam Alaikum'. The variety of scenery and the welcome was incredible and there was the unspeakable beauty of the Mediterranean, which gave me the energy to keep going," she said.