When Aida indicated she wanted to attempt the Boston Marathon, we raised our eyebrows. We didn’t think she would really do it. But her father had run the Kuala Lumpur International Marathon and proudly showed us the completion certificate he had earned. He was then 49. Aida was a kid at 27.
Little did we know that she had been avidly following the careers of marathoners Jane Benoit Samuelson and Fatima Roba, the amazing, petite, Ethiopian three-peat marathoner (1997 to 1999). When she appeared determined to do it, we made plans to fly with her brother Amir to Boston to be with her on her Big Day.
Running became Aida’s life. She consumed books on running, joined the L-Street Running Club in Boston and started training in earnest, gradually increasing the number of miles she ran. Once she had attained her ten-mile target she didn’t look back. Each week she added three miles to her distance. She went on to complete 20 miles, developed severe pain in her left leg, and was filled with deep anxiety. Was this the end? Thankfully the doctor she consulted found nothing wrong and after a week’s rest she was back on the track, more determined than ever to complete the 26-mile run in under five hours.
The night before the big run sleep eluded her. After a couple of hours she rose and started to get ready. Thin as a reed she looked sleek in her favorite black knee-length pants and a purple-and-black top specially designed for temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees F. She also pulled on her new black Marathon 2000 jacket. Outside the wind howled.
She went to the station to catch the bus that would take her to the starting point. Amir and Sherry, her flat-mate, decided to join her at Heartbreak Hill, the 20th mile point, and run with her from that point on. That lifted her spirits considerably, she later told us.
We took the underground to Newton in the early afternoon and walked to Cedar Street while Amir and Sherry proceeded to the Runner’s Statue at the 19th mile point. It was cold and blustery, with temperatures well below 50 degrees F.
Although the gun announcing the start of the marathon went off at 12 noon, Aida, whose number was 19221, didn’t start running until 12.30 because of the large number of runners ahead of her.
At almost 5pm we finally spotted her among an exhausted group of runners. We called out to her excitedly and hoisted high above our heads the huge placards we’d prepared that read, in bold letters – AIDA BOLEH! (Aida can do it!) and GO AIDA!
As she approached the finish line, we were thrilled to hear the loud announcement that came over the PA system – Here comes Aida! Aida-Samad! A chip she wore in her shoes allowed her progress during the run to be tracked via the Internet. She came towards us, her face all a-glow, reflecting the enormity of her achievement, and hugged us tightly.
Aida had done it! She had run the Boston Marathon in 4 hours and 55 minutes!
As it turns out Aida was not done yet. Aida did us further proud by running two more marathons in the following two years and improving her completion times – the 2001 San Diego Rock n Roll (4.34) and the 2002 Boston Marathon (4.46).