Pledge Corner: I am not perfect, but I am doing my best

by Shirin Shabestari

I am a Green Runner – but  sometimes I feel I need to be kicked out, usually when I buy a new piece of kit. 

I often chat about kit and being green with fellow Green Runner and dear friend Ilona Morgan on our trail runs. She is vegan, drives an electric car and says no to medals; I eat meat, and I have an old battered car which I drive around at weekends as trains are too expensive. I feel bad most of the time that I don’t do enough.

I come from a mountaineering background and was born and grew up in Iran where we had access to many 4000m+ peaks. That love of the outdoors carried on well into my adult life: I started leading expeditions to Iran’s highest peaks through my now ‘dissolved’ company Persian Pursuits (hence my Instagram name); I made a short film; and I wrote a couple of articles on trekking and skiing in Iran. 

A young Shirin hiking with her father’s ice axe (with no ice around!)

But Life got in the way. With Trump and Covid, Iran shut down and so did that aspect of my life. I missed the big outdoors, so I threw myself deep into the world of trail and ultra running and found my new tribe. 

Hitting my 40s, I knew time was precious. Being a pretty determined and motivated person, I had to give it my best, so I got myself a coach and dedicated my life to ultra running. I run six days a week and have worked my way to my first 50-mile race (Arc 50) over the last 3 years since running my first marathon and ultra. 

Mountains of the heart

I think, dream and talk running (I am a boring person, really), but I am lucky enough not to be fully defined by just that. Climbing takes a big chunk of my life too. It usually is secondary to my running, but when running has to take a step back because of injuries, I throw myself at climbing and my tribe there. It’s a great balance and I feel I am living my dream life in a humble way. But at the centre of it all is a love of nature and the outdoors.

My heart misses a beat every time I look at a lofty mountain. Having grown up in Iran and enduring a lot of restrictions in its society, running free on a ridge and feeling the wind in my hair has been and still is the most empowering and liberating feeling I have ever felt. I feel small yet strong. I may look like I am shuffling up and down the hills, but in my head I feel like a mountain goat, ready to take on the world. 

The hills are not just there for when I am feeling like I can move mountains. I love to just disappear on the trails when I feel broken and deflated (because who doesn’t feel that way sometimes?). The mountains never judge you. Nothing can be as healing as a few tears in the solitude of nature, to the sound of wind, or the pebbles shifting under one’s footsteps. Maybe it is this deep love for the great outdoors that got me into Green Runners. I care about this world. I care about it deeply. 

Shirin skiing on a patch of snow in Iran with a background full of snowy mountains
Shirin leading an expedition up Damavand in Iran

Small green steps

So I didn’t have to think twice to join the Green Runners! I wanted to make a difference. But I am not vegan (yet, maybe one day). I do drive because, as a single parent working full-time, I am not time rich and driving is often a cheaper option. I do love running gear and it probably is the only thing I happily spend my money on.

So, what could my Pledge be? 

I thought long and hard. At the time, I ran everywhere alone; travelled to races alone; often drove up north for six or seven hours for a weekend of running in the hills. So I decided to see if I can change that. 

I joined a club: The Maverick Run Project. Ilona and Phill Morgan run the SE London and Kent hub and they soon became very close friends. Joining the club meant we often planned and went to races together, meaning I was finally able to share drives. Whether in my car or in theirs, there would often be three or four of us in a car. We also took trains to some of our runs as sharing other logistics like accommodation meant I could afford that. 

A woman running down a worn path in the hills of the Peak District
From Persia to the Peak District. Credit: Richard Ellis

I also decided not to get rid of shoes just because of mileage. Every running shoe I bought is being used, some well over 1000km. I then wear them to work or let my kids wear them. I patch them up if they are torn. I write to the brands regarding the quality of their products if they tear too quickly. 

And finally, I am trying to say ‘no’ to medals where I can. I don’t take medals at smaller events like Maverick’s, which I do often. I opt for Tees not Trees where that option is offered and only take a medal when it’s a race that is a bit of a milestone (like the Arc). I sign petitions that go round but I still feel I don’t do enough. 

Imperfect progress

But who’s perfect? 

I have done the OCC. It’s easy for me to say that I will not do a UTMB race now that I have been there and done it. I will be going back to the UTS this year again but pretty sure this will be the last time. 

What has changed is that I am not going to drive to Wales alone. I will be with my running gang, four or five of us in a car. I will not be buying new shoes because they have gone over a certain mileage. I have a row of patched up shoes and am proud of them. 

In the words of the awesome Allie Bailey: “Judging people is easy but, before you do judge my behaviour, make sure yours is perfect first.” 

I am not perfect but I am doing my best. 

About the author

Shirin Shabestari is a London-based trail runner who divides her time working as a high-level TA at a primary school as well as runner liaison manager at Intoultra. She is a single parent to two two boys and loves spending her free time running and climbing. If she ever has any free time left, she likes to sketch or read books. 

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