Preparing for his first Boston Marathon, Lukman Faily watched videos that virtually transport viewers along the course and he listened to tales about legendary Heartbreak Hill. With less diplomacy than expected from Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, he said, “It didn’t encourage me.”
Though he logged many of his training miles on a treadmill at a 3 percent incline in anticipation of the Newton hills, Faily sees the Boston route more as common ground than unfamiliar territory.
Born in Baghdad, the ambassador knows what it feels like to lose family, friends, and colleagues to terrorism, including 53 foreign ministry workers since 2009.
“It was clear as soon as the tragic terrorist act took place last year that I would like to participate the following year as a sign of solidarity,” said Faily, who became ambassador to the US last July.
“You have a terrorist act taking place against civilians, people targeting runners for the sake of publicity and providing mayhem. That’s what we have in Iraq as well. We’ve got shops, schools, hospitals targeted, as well as military establishments.
“That’s where I can see a clear similarity, a clear sign that terrorism is a global phenomena and we need to have a global perspective and work with each other and understand the victimization terrorism is causing in the medium and long run.”
Faily credits marathon running with making him a better ambassador. On long runs, he works through complicated issues.
The marathon, he said, “teaches you to be tenacious in addressing issues, not to give in, not to have short-term vision, but to look into the commonalities, to have quality time to think about these issues, and also to enjoy nature and enjoy the solidarity of people.”
Tenacity certainly helps when pushing through 12-hour workdays and weekend training runs around his Washington residence. Weekends are the only time Faily’s schedule allows him to run outside.
While stationed in Japan, Faily started running to lose weight. Then he targeted the 2012 Tokyo Marathon, running to raise money for tsunami relief efforts.
He returned to the Tokyo starting line in 2013. In both races, Faily experienced “how sport is a global language we can all communicate with.
“Each runner may have their own motive, but what is common between them is that they will try to achieve a statement that they are working with each for the common good.
“I’m sure within the 36,000 [runners in Boston] there are people from all kinds of walks of life, from all kinds of countries of the world, but we have so many commonalities.”
Faily doesn’t expect his example to start a distance-running craze in Iraq. His countrymen tend to favor soccer and sports that are contested in more compact spaces.
But in addition to showing solidarity against terrorism, Faily believes his running sends a more important diplomatic message.
“An ambassador running in Washington, in the United States, shows that we are open-minded,” said Faily. “It shows that we want to develop with the rest of the world.”