22 hours and 23 minutes through the desert for Syria


CARE team of aid workers and volunteer refugee staff participates in “Dead to Red” marathon in Jordan and tells of their epic journey

On March 13th, three years after the beginning of the crisis in Syria, a CARE team of ten runners participated in the famous “Dead to Red” marathon in Jordan. Their goal: to raise awareness and funds for the plight of millions of Syrian refugees. The CARE team consisted of CARE emergency staff and five Syrian refugees who volunteer in CARE’s urban refugee centres. Our team proudly finished the 242 kilometres from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea in 22 hours and 23 minutes. Defying sand storms, exhaustion and the dark, they raised 25,775 US Dollars for CARE’s emergency work for Syrian refugees! (Photos: CARE/Wolfgang Gressmann)

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Omran, 24, lawyer and Syrian refugee

3, 2, 1… Go! I was the first one of our team to get running. My heart was beating so fast I could hardly breathe. I was running as fast as I could for the first two kilometres. It was hard. Throughout the race we had to struggle with sand storms, rain and sleet. It was as if the air pushed us backwards. But seeing the smiling faces and hearing the cheers of my fellow team members when exchanging the baton revived my spirits every time. My determination to run this race for my home country Syria was stronger than the bad weather. I looked at the beautiful landscape around me, the mountains, the sea and the desert. Despite all the beauty, horrible memories crossed my mind during the run. I thought about my mother, remembered how she was shot in the head while sitting next to me. My legs became cold for a few seconds and I slowed down for a moment. Sadness overtook me. But I wanted to be stronger and faster than the bullet that took her from me. And I was.

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Omar, 27, college graduate in architecture and Syrian refugee

It was a very challenging, but wonderful experience. I feel that I found a new family. I learned how much is possible if we care for each other and work as a team. After finishing this race I know that nothing in life is impossible. I hope the next marathon can take place in Syria. I am definitely ready for it!

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Maram, 21, economics student and Syrian refugee

I thought about all the people who lost their lives. But I also thought about the ones who survived and that I want to run as fast as possible so their lives can be saved. The great support we received from everyone kept me going. I felt like the shadows of thousands of people followed me through the race, ran next to me and protected me from the rain, the wind and the cold.

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Eman Kathib, 34, CARE Jordan and part of the support team during the race

22 hours and 23 minutes. This is our official finishing time. But for me, I thought for a second that this run will go on forever. When I first heard about this idea, I was very excited and did not hesitate to join the team. My colleagues from different CARE offices in the world and our five wonderful Syrian volunteers believed that running for Syria is their duty to show the world how small things can add up to big things and how those can change the world.  Together with my colleague Beatrix, I accompanied the runners. We kept an eye on the watch, prepared the runners, gave them water, cheese sandwiches and fruit. Sometimes I had to remind them to drink, so they would not dehydrate and lose their strength. At one moment, in the middle of the night, I asked myself: What in the world am I doing here? But then I saw the determination in the eyes of the team members, I heard them talk about why they run. I thought about the people who were killed, those who have lost their family members, their homes. It was as if the souls of the dead surrounded us in the desert. And then, after more than 22 hours, finally, the finish line! It was the moment of truth. We could not believe that we made it! We reached our goal for Syria, we reached the finish line to show that anything is possible and that we will not stop doing whatever we can for Syrian refugees until they can go back home and their country will be a safe place to live again.

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Amal, 28, teacher from Yarmouk Camp

There are some things in life that become a very special part of our memories. Destined to never be forgotten, always present in our heart and soul, as real today as the day they actually happened. What a great experience it was to run the Dead to Red marathon! It was so intense, so silent and noisy at the same time. For some reasons it is just as easy to cry as it is to smile. Your brain finally shuts down. You worry about your pace. You worry about how many metres you still have to run. Where is the van? Is it your turn? Too fast, too slow, too soon, too late. And then, suddenly, it’s all over. It is difficult to explain this to someone who wasn’t there, but every detail of the day is recorded in my memory, eternalised. Was it worth all the pain and exhaustion? Oh yes! I have no regrets. It was a small price to pay for the feeling of accomplishment, euphoria and reward. Every mile of training was worth it. From the first day I knew I would participate in this race I knew I would do it for Syria and the Syrian people. This kept me going. I have found a new, a second family now. I want to thank all of our supporters worldwide and especially Eman, Beatrix, Maram’s mother, Wolfgang and the drivers, without whom we could never have made it. And I also want to thank Ali, who could not come to Jordan from Lebanon to participate in the race with us. He is, like me, from Yarmouk Camp. He encouraged me to train and supported us in an unforgettable way.

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Saif, 27, CARE Jordan’s psychosocial expert

“The race for me was absolutely an epic journey. The most difficult part was to maintain faith in my personal physical abilities and to resist the temptation of choosing the easy way out, to quit and just drive home. But the support the team received from people throughout the world who simply understood why we were doing this despite all the challenges outbalanced everything else. During the race, a million thoughts crossed my mind. “Will you be able to finish this? What is remaining on my To Do list? When is the next report due? What does my wife think about me doing this? Have I got her too worried? I need to run faster, much faster. I need to watch the road. Was that a snake? I wonder why we have not seen any hyenas so far – they said there would be plenty. What will the finish line look like? Will I make it?” And then, after dawn, the only thing I could think of was an exercise I recently took part in with colleagues from the Azraq camp team. We were supposed to the excruciating journey Syrian refugees have to go through, especially the crossing of the borders and all the stress they encounter until they reach safety in Jordan. Every time the team would shout “Saif, you are next”, I kept thinking about how many kilometers children, elderly, pregnant women and entire families have to walk to seek safety. In comparison, running for 24 hours is nothing! But it surely kept me going.

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Alexandra, 35, Deputy Country Director Program, CARE Lebanon

I am not going to say that it was easy. After the first ten hours I could hardly move my legs anymore. But seeing how all the team members and our supporters were looking out for each other wiped away the tiredness and the pain and gave me the mental strength I needed to keep going. Whenever someone felt too tired or felt too much pain, someone else in the team covered for him. No one ever complained or let the team down. Also, the support we received from our families, friends and the CARE network was simply overwhelming. While I was running through the desert I always had to think about how proud I am to be part of this experience … and that I wish I would have started practising earlier, so that I could run even more and faster. Above all, the race has taught me one thing: We should never underestimate ourselves and our ability to challenge our physical and mental limits. Whenever I will think something is impossible in the future, I will look at the pictures of this race and remember that we are all capable of achieving great things together.

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Chris Wynn, 29, Senior Programs Officer, CARE Australia

If someone ever asks you if you can join a running team a day before the race because a team member dropped out, ask for clarification on the distance before you agree. When I came to Jordan to support the Country Office a few days before the “Dead to Red” marathon, I was keen on cheering for the team in the finish line. I would never have thought that I would end up being one of the team members. For me, the most difficult part was running in the early hours of the morning, between one and three. Surrounded by darkness and with no perception of anything further than a few metres in front, all you could do was plunge onwards into the freezing rain. When dawn was breaking, our team’s spirit changed. We could readily perceive how far we had come and the progress we were making. We sang improvised songs and cheered for each other. Smiles replaced the looks of expressionless exhaustion. In the end, knowing that we have gone the distance for millions of Syrians in need numbed the pain of our sore muscles.

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Johanna Mitscherlich, 28, Regional Emergency Communications Officer

“Johanna, what did you do to me to accept this challenge? Why did you get me into this? What are we going to do if we will not make it?” I’ve heard these questions a lot in the past weeks. And yes, I did ask myself the same things, too. Some of us were not able to run more than half a kilometre without almost collapsing when we first started training – of course I was worried. But I would have never have expressed those doubts towards my team. And I am glad I didn`t. Because sometimes we find ourselves in new situations and we just have to deal with them somehow. Millions of Syrian refugees have been facing new ground, unexpected challenges for months, even for years. Running for 24 hours seems to be a piece of cake in comparison. When I was running through sand and darkness in the desert, I thought about how devastating it must feel to be on a journey without knowing whether you would ever reach the finish line, without knowing what will happen after you reach it. And to realize that the starting point of your journey might not exist anymore if you ever make it back there. I also thought about all the people who wrote emails to our team, or called us right before or even during the race and followed us on Twitter. The support was overwhelming and there was no way we wanted to let any of the people who believed in us down! Surprisingly, my strategy of ignoring doubts or fears has worked out: We just did our best and – with the great support from thousands of people – made it to the finish line.

Keep Learning:

  1. Check out our Dead to Red Marathon page on