How it all started…
Every runner has heard of The Boston Marathon. It’s every runners dream to run this prestigious, oldest, World Major. I knew I wanted to run it but knowing that my pace needed work, I didn’t how I would ever get that opportunity. Speed isn’t really a major factor for me I run for the experience and for the thrill of it. So I kinda put Boston in the back burner till that fire sparks in me where I can work to qualify for it. But when the opportunity presented itself I couldn’t say no. It was December and I was looking for a way to raise money for refugees. I thought to myself why don’t I Run Boston, or New York marathon to raise money for refugees and do what I love? As I looked through their websites I noticed that both Marathons didn’t have charities for refugees who needed help in the United States. So I figured I would start one myself. I contacted the B.A.A. and was told that the charity had to be in Boston and had to meet specific guidelines and that I had passed the deadline to apply. Again, I put it on the back burner..I thought to myself ill try again next year for Boston 2018. Two weeks after that I receive an Email from Hylands, a major sponsor of the Boston Marathon. They were inviting me to run Boston on their all female team in honor of Kathrines 50th anniversary to be first female to officially cross the finish line. It was truly an honor to be invited and sponsored to run Boston! I took this as a sign that I had to fulfill my dream to fundraise for refugees. So I accepted their invitation and initiated my fundraising page. My initial goal was 5,000$ and met that within week and a half. So I kept increasing my goal till ultimately I ended at 16k! Never in my life did I imagine I would fundraise for a dire cause and also, to raise that much money. it was a humbling experience and taught me so much. It meant the world to me and I truly found this to be the best way for me to help personally.
I had an early flight to Boston. I left my house at 3:30 am to catch the 6:30 am flight. My father, God bless him, drove me to airport and took this opportunity to lecture me lol. He begged me to promise him that this would be my last marathon ever. He said , “rahaf, you got it out of your system, its fun, but you’re getting old, and your going to ruin your knees! plz let this be your last one!” I know he’s concerned for me and found that so sweet of him. I know my parents are proud of me with cover of magazine and all, but I’m doing this for ME first and foremost. I didn’t promise him anything and just nodded my head. As I Got to my gate I was excited to see couple of soon to be Boston marathoners on my flight! I knew things were getting real especially when we landed in Boston! The airport was swamped with everything Boston! I loved it! felt like I really belonged to this and that made me feel so emotional and proud! I headed to the hotel exhausted and absolutely had to take a nap. I knew it was going to be long weekend. When I woke up I got ready to be picked up to head to the Reebok Headquarters in outside of Boston. They had invited me another few other runners to acknowledge them, wish them good luck, and listen to some last-minute tips from pro athletes and a running coach. The running coach whose name is Steve Jones ( has placed second place in Boston Marathon 20 years ago and has won several other half and full marathons. It was amazing to hear his story! Reebok was extremely generous in giving us free gear, gave us tour of the facility, had a DJ and food provided for us even. It was very neat experience!!
I Headed back to Boston to pick up my Bib from the Expo. I was completely drained at this point and so glad I picked it up on Friday as it less crowded. I found the volunteers both on race day and at expo to be extremely kind and truly happy for us runners. Offering us info, a hand to take pics, and of course providing water on course. There were 9,000 volunteers on race day! I felt the expo itself was hard to maneuver in terms of layout. It was low ceilings, and not much hallways between booths to walk around. I didn’t spend much Time there except the Adidas booth, which has all the cook marathon gear, and the Hylands booth. And I was ok with that given that I had been to several other amazing expos! (hello Paris and Berlin!)
It was time for dinner at that point and my Husband and kids haven’t arrived yet so I was on my own that night. I joined Ilene, and Laurie, two of my teammates who are best friends and live in MA, for dinner. We had great night of getting to know one another. We talked about running, religion, traditions, Boston, and kids. It was nice an intimate. I wish I would’ve had more time like this to bond with more of my teammates! We walked back to the hotel and said our goodbyes. I made my way back to my room and went straight to bed. One second I was fast asleep, the next I was awakened by Loud and annoying fire alarm! It was 2 am and thought I didn’t smell anything burning I knew I had to leave my room immediately just incase! I couldn’t find my hijab, and wore my hoodie over my head to cover my hair! grabbed my cell phone and room key, why did I grab my key if God forbid the hotel burnt down I wouldn’t need it is beyond me, and went out to the hallway. As I stood in hallway ready to head downstairs, I see Allison, another one of my teammates whose founder of Harlem Runs and ran from Jersey to D.C. to raise money for planned Parenthood during Women’s march, stick her head out of her room and said, “What the F***?!” lol it was pretty funny moment actually and we both looked at each other and realized we didn’t meet in person yet. We hugged and continued to go downstairs only to be told that it was false alarm. I kept thinking in my head how lucky we were this didn’t happen on Sunday night, pre marathon night! We woke up next day and joked bout how Hylands should’ve warned us and how some of my teammates grabbed their bibs and rushed out of their rooms! lol
It was exciting because its low-key run for us marathoners in terms of it being a shakeout run for most. It’s also nice that family members got to run this fun run and be a part of the Boston experience! My husband, who was given a bib by Hylands, said to me, wow this is like a little marathon in and of itself! I latter learned there were 10,000 runners! It was really neat, bit disorganized, had relaxed feel to it, got very cool Boston shirt and medal. I only wish my 11-year-old ran it as well! I ran it with my coach, Mike, whose been training me and is on the Legacy team for Hylands, and Tayo, an employee for Hylands. We ran the entire way and talked excitedly about whats coming up. I saw my friend Ilaaf whose a Boston Qualifier and fellow hijab, mom of 3 runner. She took quick runfie, and shouted, “I’m not racing this!” as she zoomed by us! lol She also took some pretty neat pics of a church that signs up about peace and loving our neighbors and welcoming refugees! it was so amazing to see that! Thank you Boston for delivering such an important message during Marathon weekend! it was lovely and so super sweet! The last mile of the 5k went through the finish line of Boston marathon, though I wasn’t to thrilled to run over it, I thought it was a good preview of whats to come Monday. I also got to run up that small hill on Mile 25, or mile 3 for 5k, that no one really talks about! I found that harder than heartbreak hill honestly. The weather for the 5k was HOT! I got nervous but pushed it out of my mind and didn’t really worry bout it for Monday. It’s out of my control. Instead, I grabbed like ten bottles of Gatorade at the finish lol Said goodbye to my husband and walked back to the hotel to get ready for Hylands Brunch. The Brunch was at the Chandler Inn, same hotel we were all staying at. All my teammates and their families, my coach, president of hylands, cameras crew, and tons of Hyland employees were all present. I kinda wish Hylands had organized it in which it was just for the teammates or Hyland runners. I felt there were to many people to get to know at once and was a bit overwhelmed. But fun nonetheless. As we ended the brunch I had a short interview for Hylands on camera and was given sweet bag of Cliff bars, GU, cliff shots, our Marathon tees, and leg cramp pills! That afternoon we were free to do our own thing. I headed to the expo once again and randomly saw a social media friend of mine! Mariam and I started following one another since my Runners World days. She too was running Boston. She raided 7k for Dream Big foundation for Girls in Poverty. I always thought Charity runners have the most heart and really do raise money for amazing causes! We both got in line to meet Kathrine Switzer for photo and autograph. We also got pulled aside for quick interview by her 261 Crew about what it means for us that Kathrine was First female Boson finisher 50 years ago. That was cool! I was also in contact with another one of my social media friend whose a hijabi ultra runner! I met her outside of the expo after eating dinner at Eataly with my Family. We bumped into Mariam, and a Hijab Runner who flew in all the way from Malaysia! We posed by the finish line with huge smiles, excited to have met one another! Sisterhood at its finest! I think I had surpassed 10,000 steps at that point and was really feeling it. My mistake at this point was not sitting down more and not hydrating as well as I should have. Everything was just so exciting and I truly enjoyed myself meeting new people, doing interviews, and scouting out the town! I headed back to my hotel to chill and get some sleep finally!
I let myself sleep in Sunday morning and totally ditched my last shakeout run before Boston. I thought to myself, sleep is prob way more important at this point not the 3 mi run. With traveling and walking so many steps prior to marathon day, I wanted to just stay in bed keep my legs out. Besides, I had yet another Brunch at the President of Hylands house. This too was an enjoyable brunch. My husband and kids were able to make it to this one. The food was amazing and everyone was friendly! it was HOT 80 degree day! I started getting nervous again and gulped more Gatorade that I brought with me from the 5k finish line. After the brunch I headed to Expo as I had an interview with Bob Babbit. He’s the co-founder of Competitor Magazine, USA triathlete and runner Hall of fame. My interview with him was with Allison at the Hylands booth. Both Allison and I have a similar mission. As she put it, we both use Running as a “Vehicle for Social change.” you can watch full interview here. I love doing interviews. I never prepare for them because I like to say whats on my mind. I can talk about running all day and had tons of fun doing this. We took a group picture with Dave, the race director of The Boston Marathon. What an inspiring guy! Not only is he running the whole marathon, but at 2am after the marathon is complete he runs the whole course. Just like that! last Monday it was his 45th? time doing so. He’s also swam and biked for 24 hours for some world record of some sort. I saw him after the 5k at the finish line. He was just standing there watching people finish. what great guy! The rest of the afternoon was free and so I headed to Dinner with my kids and husband. This was such an incredible but yet long and draining weekend. Marathon day seemed like it was days away but yet just one sleep away. After dinner I rushed to the nearest 7 eleven to grab bread peanut butter, and more Gatorade. I had forgotten to pack some food and wasn’t informed by Hylands till later that night, that in fact the hotel was providing us with bagels, bananas, coffee, peanut butter and cream cheese. Oh well. I had to get up early and eat anyway so it was nice to just have that in my room ready for me. I got my stuff ready for next day and packed my post marathon clothes. Nothing to do but get some sleep at this point
I didn’t sleep well at all that night! Kept tossing and turning. Its Patriots day which meant that people were up partying at Bars since they had the day off Monday. Guys were shouting and yelling till 2 am outside my hotel room getting drunk and what not. I was SUPER annoyed to the point where I almost called the cops. Finally it died down, and I was able to get couple hours of sleep. Beth, a teammate of mine who actually is from Michigan as well, and I opted to skip taking the private charted Hylands bus that left at 6am in the morning and instead take the B.A.A. busses of off Charles street at the Commons park. Since I hadn’t slept at all, I sorta wished I actually did go with them. I was awake anyway at 5am. And felt like I missed the whole team experience. I didn’t rush to get ready. I double checked my gear, got dressed, took few selfies haha, and ate. We were given clear plastic bags for food to take with us. It was the only thing allowed in with us on the Bus to Hopkinton, aka Athletes Village. My post marathon bag was taken away by the Hylands team for the post marathon party. (thanks Rob for taking care of that!) We met at the lobby and that’s when I started to get nervous. I’ve been pretty peaceful till this point. It suddenly hit me how hot it’s going to be. I didn’t know it was going to be the SECOND hottest Boston on record! Holy cow!! But again, thats not in my control and what I hated the most is when ppl look at me with pity in their eyes being all covered up and all. As if it’ll be much cooler if I ran in a Sports bra. I just wanted to tell ppl to chill and not worry about it. Everything I wear is dri fit, and very light. Including the sports Hijab I wore that day by Asyia. It worked great but as I mentioned before, its polyester and wish it was made with different fabric. Beth and I walked about 5 mins to the security check at the busses. They checked our bags and we hopped on the busses. The busses load in accordance to our wave. So the earlier the wave start is the earlier you would have to get on the bus. All info was on website and very straight forward. The ride over was not very scenic as is the first 13 miles of the marathon. It took about 50 minutes to get to Athletes villages. I quickly ate my sandwich and drank more Gatorade. The whole bus was full of excited and nervous marathon runner. we sat across some runners from Croatia. This marathon wasn’t as diverse as Paris or Berlin. Except for the few hijab I met on Saturday, and couple of muslim spectators, the whole marathon was Pre-dominantly White. We got to Athletes village finally and we all clapped! Two F1-50s flew overhead marking the start of the Elite race! It was ON! I was SO excited and didn’t feel nervous at all. Just wanted to start this and run. As I was heading to entrance of Athletes village, which is like empty grass field full of runners, I heard my name called out and arms hugging me. I heard Spanish speaking ladies, whom I later found out were from a running group in Puerto Rico, that were hugging me happy to see me. I figured they had known me from social media and honestly they made my day! They really touched my heart as one lady from their group told me, “we are so proud of you” I knew that day was going to be amazing! Beth and I got in line for the Porta potty which went by pretty quick. The whole thing was super organized. They had Sunscreen stations, food, and coffee for the runners who have been there since probably before 8 am!! The earliest start for us average runners was 10am. Its long day for us all! I looked up and saw few more of our Hylands teammates who were making their way into Athletes village. It was so exciting to see them! We took more pictures and made our way to the start. The announcer has called us to walk to start based on bib color (ours way yellow). It’s actually long way to start. we walked about 20 mins till we officially started the Marathon. I spotted Kathrine and her 261 team in maroon shirts one corral ahead of mine. ( was in wave 4 corral 7) The streets were lined with spectators and tons of police and tanks! yes army tanks! I even saw police in full army uniform on rooftops with their rifles! Hey whatever it takes to protect us I’m all for it! I smiled at them and thanked as many as I could, even while running!
Finally we started the Run after walking to the start. It was all of a sudden and wasn’t really “official” interim of a start banner I was used to. Just the timing mat and announcer and we were off! It was HOT HOT, but I didn’t notice much because the crowd was truly wild! It took my mind off of the weather and the crowd literally carried me through the whole marathon. Kinda like Chicago marathon. People were on their lawns, BBQ-ing handing out wet towels, oranges, popsicle, which saved me as I later got dehydrated and water wasn’t sufficient enough. I honestly knew I wouldn’t PR that day. I had good training cycle, did Hill repeats for the first time ever while training, but it wasn’t my strongest training cycle. But I was ok with that. I logged over 520 miles in three months and did lots of boot camps and yoga classes in addition to running. Felt very strong. The last 10k of the Marathon were the hardest. I made the mistake of writing my name on my shirt and people kept shouting out RAAHAAF!! GO RAAHAAAF! One guy even said, “Ra, Ra, I don’t know how to pronounce your name but GO!!” haha! Tons of people were drunk, and handing out beer and alcohol on the course. I blocked out some roaring and cheering with my headphones which I’m glad I brought with me. Some of the miles were boring and isolated. I def needed my music at those miles. Majority of the run I didn’t though. I spotted Bart yasso of Runners World at Farmingham at mile 6. I waved Hi and though he looked confused as to who I was he finally recognized me and said HI. I also took 3 gels about every 4 miles. I was full at the start and didn’t need one at 5k mark which is what I usually do, take Huma gel every 5k. At the halfway point, Wellesly is where the College is located and is known to have all wild college girls out cheering and begging for kisses lol I saw couple of girls Holding up a “runlikeahijabi sign”. That was awesome, I had to give them a hug! I was wet from pouring water on my head and chest and I’m sure they were probably disgusted of me lol I didn’t care though! My pace started really slowing down after mile 13 but I didn’t push it. I was bit dizzy and nauseous. I didn’t stop at the medical tent, but tons of runners did. I also saw so many vomit on the course. The hills were located at mile 16-21. I didn’t really run fast up those hills just jogged it and walked it up then ran down lol The hills were long but high. I feel like I’ve run higher hills than that, the first 10k of the course is downhill but definitely didn’t run fast as much as gravity wants you too, you have to hold back. Mile 21 aka heartbreak hill wasn’t a huge hill but it’s called that due to its location. At the end of that hill is when I finally saw my kids! I stopped and kissed each one as my husband took pictures and waved bye! I couldn’t talk much and was really fatigued and dehydrated at that point but didn’t want to show it by my kids. The crowds just got more wild as we neared the finish. I was on mile 24 and suddenly heard someone call my name. I looked at her and she told me she’s Jessica, the Editor in Chief of Women’s Running Magazine!! We hugged and she informed me she had jumped in to pace her friend to the finish. I couldn’t believe I met the lady who had changed my life! I so wished I would’ve gotten pic with her but that was very cool moment. Every marathon I run I have things like this that just pop up and surprise me and take my breath away! Whether it’s the people I meet, the crowds cheering your name, or the sights and smells you encounter on the course! I wish I can bottle it all up and give you sense of all that. It’s definitely all engraved in my memory though and it’s why I keep coming back for more! Mile 25 is the infamous Citgo gas station marking only one more mile to go!
Turn right on Hereford, and left on Boylston and there it is! The finish line! I felt as though it was the longest finish line ever! it was so deceiving because you still had to run that last .2 to get to it! The crowds at this point were indescribable! Crazy, wild, so loud. I was emotional and actually stopped for few seconds to take it all in! I didn’t know why I stopped but I did. I was sort of shocked and just numbly took it all in. I started running again but not sprinting as I usually do to finish a race. I just ran a nice easy run to the finish. I posted about this and what I was feeling as I crossed the finish line on my IG here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BTKIJTehpk3/?taken-by=runlikeahijabi
Super emotional finish but I was so happy I was done! I finished in 5:06.This was actually 29 second PR for me from my last marathon, Bayshore Marathon. My PR is 4:42. But I wasn’t focused on time at all. I just finished the Boston Marathon with one of the most emotional, amazing finishes of my life! I walked down the finishing chute in extreme pain. My hips were tight and hurting like hell!! I just wanted my medal but they made us walk what seemed like forever till we got our medal and tiny cup of gatorade.Finally got our medals and a foil to keep warm in. I was seriously about to pass out at this point and needed some salt in me. I stopped at the medial tent to ask for some Advil and salt but they said they don’t have any. Weird. They told me I would have to check in but I didn’t want to do that so I thanked them and walked further to meet my family. My husband, God bless his soul, bought me Powerade and I sat in middle of street gulping it down. Took few photos with my kids behind the fence as they weren’t allowed in finishing area, and said our goodbyes. They headed to the airport as they had school on Tuesday. I headed to the University club for the Hylands after party….
The Hylands after party….
The university club was right by the finish but since I had to meet my family I passed it. I had to walk even MORE back to where it was. Hylands has rented it out for us to shower, dress, eat and mingle with team and employees. This was definitely a perk post run. I needed that shower and the facility was really nice and clean. The club appears to be high-end and I was so grateful for Hylands for doing this for us! we had such fun at the after party! I bonded with Moyenda, Dottie, Jessica, Michelle our team “captain” if you will, and so many others! We took pics and laughed and talked. I was not hungry at all but all I wanted to do was drink, water of course. At the end few of my teammates and I went out for dinner as the hunger finally struck. That was such great ending to such an amazing day! We talked race, religion, and Boston and everything in between while crying tears as we laughed and each other walking down the street in such pain!
I’m so grateful for this opportunity to fundraise and for everyone who either bought a shirt or donated to my campaign! Grateful for the people God put in my life and for this incredible Marathon that will forever be embedded in my heart! Grateful for all your words of love and support! Thank you isn’t sufficient enough to fully express my gratitude to you all!