Parisa Arab: A Record-Breaking Athlete You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of | Runner Spotlight Series

“I am an Iranian runner holding 3,000, 5,000, and 10,000-meter national records yet hardly anyone knows me due to public media policies hiding women’s achievements in Iran,” wrote Parisa Arab in her reply to the SFM Runner Spotlight Series questionnaire. Now, it’s time for the world to get to know this multi-record-breaking Iranian athlete.

Written & edited by Pavlína Marek

Parisa Arab focuses on middle to long-distance events, training in less-than-ideal conditions. This has never tainted her love for running—and for sharing the importance of sports with others, especially children. What is it like to be a woman athlete in Iran? How did she become a record-breaking athlete the world hasn’t heard of? And what are her goals for the future?

Growing Up Into Sports

On Christmas Eve of 1992, a family from a tiny town in Southeast Iran welcomed little Parisa into the world. Eventually, the little girl completed her elementary and high school education, growing into a woman who knew what she wanted. Along the way, she started to run. Eventually, one of her high school teachers realized that she could become an excellent distance runner.

“Since then I have never stopped running,” Parisa said. “I really do like running and feel great after each workout.”

A few years later, Parisa earned a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education & Sport Science and never stopped moving. She also didn’t keep her love for sports to herself; “besides going to school and running, occasionally, I spoke to the school kids regarding the importance of sports in life,” she said.


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A post shared by Parisa Arab (@parisa.arab1)

Running Without Recognition: A Star Athlete Hidden by the Public Media

Parisa Arab has competed at events ranging from 1,500-meter races to half marathons. However, she mostly participates in 5K and 10K races, in which she holds Iran’s national records.

Besides these records, she’s also broken Iran’s national Indoor Record in 3,000 meters at the Turkey International Championships. Only a few weeks ago, on February 19, she participated in the Asian Indoor Championships. Although it’s not her specialty, she placed fifth Asian, first Iranian in the 3,000-meter event.

As if these achievements weren’t enough, Parisa also holds the national cross-country record and has two overall second places and a fifth place in the International Dubai Marathon 10K.

“I have set a national record in all these three road races in Dubai (UAE),” she said.

On top of that, she also earned a bronze medal in Baku (Republic of Azerbaijan) in the Half Marathon.  

“I have improved Iranian national records twenty times in the past and [was] named the highest-scoring runner in the last ten years,” she said.

Grand Goals

With this impressive streak, Parisa has set her sights on racing against the best of the best at one of the most coveted sports events in the world: the Olympic Games.

“I am working very hard and going to the Olympics is my dream. I know it is a very difficult task, but I will not give up on my Olympic dream,” she said.

Still, the public media tries to hide the achievements of this incredible athlete. However, Parisa doesn’t let that discourage her. No matter the difficulties she’s faced or the lack of recognition and exposure, she keeps working hard.

“I still love to make my country and my people proud,” she said.

Quick Questions with Parisa Arab

What’s your favorite race?

10,000 meters

What’s your dream race??

“Racing in the Olympics

Where is your favorite place to run?

“Dirt road and hills”

What’s the best pre-race breakfast?

“Bagels or toast

Is there a runner you look up to?

“Sifan Hassan and Allyson Felix”

“The bottom line is, I am on my own.” What It’s Like to Train Without…


Parisa is the only one in her family who is involved in sports. Despite that, she has their full support, which “really helps.” This support is crucial for Parisa as her training conditions were and are everything but ideal.

“I basically ran and trained in the worst possible environment with absolutely no facilities, no equipment, no track field, and no adequate coaching,” she said.

Nowadays, Parisa can do speed workouts on a standard all-weather track… if she travels some 100 miles to reach it.


Without being able to openly share much about the conditions for women runners in Iran, Parisa described her incredibly challenging training conditions simply as “not sufficient or adequate to grow.”

“All I can say is that we have a limited number of female coaches in Iran and the current laws prohibit female runners coached by men,” Parisa said. “The lack of adequate facilities, equipment, and coaching staff for professional female runners makes it absolutely hard to grow.”

The only advice Parisa was able to get came via email or by phone. There wasn’t a coach present at her training sessions, fixing her form, giving feedback, teaching her the right techniques, or simply supporting the young athlete as she navigated her way through training.

“I had to learn them the hard way, on my own,” Parisa said.

Parisa Arab leads a group of runners at a race


When she did finally receive some advice, it was from “a team member with no coaching credentials,” and only sporadically. There was no cross-training to speak of; Parisa didn’t have access to any weight training equipment, having to rely solely on her own body and ingenuity.

“Hijab, or dress code of head to toes cover, is another obstacle to achieving a better result,” said Parisa. “Believe me; it is real hard to run with so many heavy clothes on.”

Parisa covers around 100 miles a week, running every single step in such clothing. It’s heavy and restricting, putting women runners who follow this dress code at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts with “standard running clothes.”

“It definitely affects the result and we have to work much harder,” she said.

Despite all these “shortcomings and deficiencies,” Parisa is “determined to work so hard to reach the highest level in track & field and cross country running.”

Editor’s Note: This article is written with the utmost care, taking into consideration the well-being of its subject. Therefore, many of the issues that ought to be discussed in relation to the subject matter were omitted. Please be aware of these choices as you read the story.

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