So, I ran a marathon.

It’s funny how people thought every time I ran a race I was running a marathon, and so no one but myself was surprised that I actually ran it on October 9th. I was always the person who would talk people out of running it, commenting it didn’t provide any physical benefit, only detriment after 13.1 miles. But a couple things changed my opinion. Spectating the race every year is inspiration, but was never enough to compel me to run. Turns out, turning 40 makes you think about all the things you have accomplished in your life, and what work you have ahead of you to make your mark in this world.

As a Running Ambassador for Every Mother Counts, I’m fortunate to be surrounded with like-minded women who choose to run to raise awareness of maternal mortality. So joining the team for the Chicago Marathon was no different. I ran the Big Sur Relay Marathon in April and crossing the finish line as the anchor was exhilarating, but I was also alongside finishers of the full marathon. I looked at them eagerly, wanting that same accomplishment. One of my teammates caught wind of my interest and she was determined to change my opinion of the 26.2 miles. Thanks Anna :)

Got back home, kept thinking about it. The lottery day had long passed for Chicago, but I knew we had a team coming to Chicago in October. June rolled around, I focused on Ramadan, fasting and cutting back on mileage. It was during this time I decided that if I was going to run any marathon, it had to be for charity and that I would do it with conviction: I joined team EMC. I finished Ragnar Chicago (we got 1st place in women’s open again!) and quietly started training (mentally) for the marathon. I didn’t even tell my parents until after my first 20 mile run.

What I could not have predicted was how much I absolutely loved the training. I looked forward to the long runs. And funny enough, I started disliking the 12 and especially 14 milers. I loved anything over 16 miles. Anything under 10 became “easy”. Just bizarre. The fellowship, the commitment, the challenge, the journey of the longer distances invigorated me. Every long run pushed me mentally, physically and emotionally. I will never forget the first time I ran 16 miles, I knew I was closing in on 16 miles, so I picked up my pace, departed from my running partner, and finished with tears of joy. This happened many more times. I did most of my training runs with my running club. We are a tribe of mother runners, and no one could have supported me any better than them. I’m blessed to have them in my life.

My first Marathon
Chicago Marathon

The best part of all of this training was for me to know that every single step had meaning. During one of my long runs my mom was in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. I thought of her and the millions of Muslims on foot, making that spiritual journey. I likened my run to a spiritual journey many times. Some days I log my run on Charity Miles (miles get donated to charity) or I set a specific intention for the run. For the marathon, I dedicated my steps to raising awareness of maternal mortality. I love the metaphor of running to raise awareness for this cause because in so many parts of the world (including right here in the US) distance is one of the largest barriers in seeking health care. If I can run to save one life, then that is what I need to do.

Race day was exciting, but I just wanted to be done. All the hard work in the summer, the hot training days, the trials and gear tests was about to be cashed in on a beautiful Sunday morning. I set my intention, ran well in the first half. Coming up on the 13.1 mark, I spotted my boys but kept going. I felt kind of bad that I didn’t stop for them, given they were the ones following me around, so I decided to stop the 2nd and 3rd times I saw them. The first marathon is about having fun, right? I knew that stopping for them (and my friends who came to support me) would impact my time, but hugging my boys gave me the energy I needed, and hearing my son Imraan tell me repeatedly “mama you are a superwoman! you are running a MARATHON!!” was like kryptonite for me! My second half was okay. I didn’t hit ‘the wall’, but I certainly had two angry quads, for which I had to stop a few times. My yoga instructor would always say, when you are stressed, bring yourself back to neutral before you make a decision. I had to do this a few times – pull over to the side, close my eyes, take 5 deep breaths and count to 10. It was like hitting reset and it allowed me to continue. I finished strong and happy, and in tears (of course). I had a great race overall, and I’m thankful to God that I could run. I did miss my goal time by 20 minutes, but I suppose that is God’s plan to keep me running marathons while I am able.

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Coming Full Circle

My last entry was about the Big Sur Marathon Relay, and probably one of the most momentous races in my life. Not only because of the incredible scenery, but because of the experience I had overall running on a team, with my team for charity. It was the only time after finishing 9.5 hilly, canted miles did I wish I could keep running. I envied the excitement and of the full marathoners. I wanted that same sense of accomplishment. Subconsciously, I was planning my first 26.2. I knew it last year, when I was spectating the 2015 Chicago Marathon, that after turning 40 in February of this year, it would be high time for me to finally run the full distance. I was always the person who would talk anyone out of doing a marathon. “It’s bad for your health”, I would say. “There’s no fitness benefit”, I would add. But secretly I knew the jig was up, and if ever I would run a marathon, it had to be in Chicago and for Every Mother Counts.

I secured my charity bib and did not tell a single person until after Ramadan ended in the beginning of July. The marathon lottery came and went and I didn’t say a word. People started their marathon training, and I secretly did as well, but under the guise of “I’m always training”.  I did not want anyone to interfere with my decision, challenge my previous thinking, or comment that Ramadan (the month of fasting) would interfere with marathon training. I told my parents just 2 weeks ago that I was running the marathon after I finished my second 20 mile training run! Slowly and surely I have come out of the closet and am now 10 days away from running this race I never thought I would run. I have incredible support and through family and friends, I’ve raised over $2,100 to help reduce the barriers of maternal mortality, stemming from a lack of access, transportation, supplies and education.

My two sons just had birthdays: 14 and 12. Both of their births had slight complications and running in their honor is the only way for me to run. I connect my steps metaphorically with other women worldwide, who embark on the journey of childbirth, which people tend not to focus on as much. The pomp and circumstance is pregnancy and the baby. But what about those 800 women who die every day in childbirth? And then what about the fact that 90% of those deaths are preventable? So yeah, it’s time for me to put on this jersey and run for those women, so that they too can be around to celebrate their child’s 12th and 14th birthdays.

If you want to help me get to the start line, please contribute to my Crowdrise account here. All your contributions go to great places and make a significant impact, worldwide.

God bless!


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