I was born in Washington, D.C., but I was brought up in Saudi Arabia. I started running when I was about 16 years old. My best friend Reema was into fitness and encouraged me to try running because I was feeling a lot of stress.
Running allowed me to vent. I’d run a mile or two daily on private property in the compound where I lived in Riyadh. It wasn’t safe to run in the streets because of the lack of infrastructure in the city. Running for women back home is very different compared to in the United States. Saudi Arabia is considered a conservative country. People follow customs and traditions. People used to be against women running, but within the last few years, more people are encouraging it. We’re evolving quickly.
I moved from Saudi Arabia to Los Angeles in August 2016 to pursue a master’s in engineering. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for women in that field back home. My brother had also moved to L.A., and we both started running with a group, BlackLIST L.A., which I discovered on Snapchat. The group runs at 10 p.m. a couple of days a week. I usually work out at 4 a.m., so it was an adjustment to run so late. I really enjoyed the sense of community and positive vibes from being around people that were very motivated. That inspired me.
I joined a few other running clubs in L.A. after that experience. I’d never appreciated running in groups until I became part of them, and that’s when I started taking running more seriously. It’s the little efforts that count. Every time I meet somebody I invite them to join me for a run.
A couple of months after I moved to L.A., I decided to train for my first marathon, the L.A. Marathon. My brother and I trained together. I committed to training—I never missed a session. I ran the marathon in remembrance of a friend that passed away.
I was intimidated at the beginning of the marathon. The streets were packed with so many people. I tried not to think about the pain I felt throughout the marathon. I didn’t care about my time. I just wanted to finish. Nothing was going to stop me. It was a really inspiring journey. I saw an older man, a guy without a leg, and a blind man on the course. We were all in it together. I finished in 4 hours and 28 minutes. I’m compelled to run another marathon in the future. I want to see to what limit I can go.
Running has taught me a lot about commitment, persistence, determination and the importance of focusing on the next step. I need running as a constant reminder that if I can commit to doing the work needed to achieve my goals, I will persist no matter what obstacles I face. That sense of productivity feeds my soul.
Running continues to teach me how to trust the process of training and to learn from it. I hope that I can motivate people to be active and take care of their health by practicing what I preach along the way and by giving positive reinforcement to people around me. I want others to take charge of their lives and take care of their bodies.