Runner Profile – Aisha O’Donnell

While we were running, Aisha said, “Sometimes, you just have to do things that scare you.” She wasn’t talking about running when she said it, but it seems an apt motto for her running career.

Aisha is a proud recent resident of Burlington, NJ, and has been instrumental in starting the Burlington Running Club. The club runs on Thursday nights at 6:30 pm, starting from Third State Brewing, and ending there for beers. The brewery serves as a drop-off spot for gear, and then a social gathering after running. Aisha had been involved with the Bucks County Road Runners, but after moving to Burlington City, wanted to start something closer to her new home. She had contact with the folks who run the brewery, and they suggested Thursday nights, and a new tradition was born. Aisha wasn’t sure how well a running club would take in Burlington, but the group has quickly grown to exceed her expectations, and the members have been very active, designing the website, shirts, and bringing out new friends. There are now about 30 people every Thursday night who join for the run. Aisha’s husband usually brings up the rear, so that no runner is left behind, and Aisha and I ran their usual route, which is a nice 5k that goes along the Delaware River and offers great scenery both in the rejuvenated, historic city of Burlington, and along the river. The club has plans to add Saturday morning brunch runs, and to begin planning an additional four mile route option on Thursday nights.

One of the things Aisha has enjoyed about the club is the connections and bonds that have formed out of the club. There were two people who met at the club who had been neighbors for years and never knew each other, and now they run together. “People who run together, stay together,” Aisha says. She feels like the time to relax together at the brewery has been a big part of the club’s growth, and the brewery has worked to make it a welcoming environment, even providing snacks for the club.

Aisha’s beginnings in running came in young adulthood. Aisha grew up in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; her parents had gone to Saudi Arabia because her father found work there that paid better than here in the States.  She says growing up there, “Women are not really allowed to do much of anything.” Even as a young child, the girls did different activities than the boys did in gym. Around the age of seventeen, Aisha started walking, and for one summer, she would go to the local school soccer field and walk around it 26 times each day. She went to college in Long Island, NY and “I started exercising quite a bit. I had never had a gym in my life, so people taught me what to do.” Then, one of her good friends at school, Agnes, started telling Aisha about the marathon she was running. Aisha didn’t even know what a marathon was at the time, but was fascinated by the idea of it. After hearing Agnes talk so much about her training, she went to cheer her friend on at the Philly Marathon, and when she left that day, she knew she wanted to do it, too.

She ran the Philly Half Marathon in 2010, and that day, she knew she was going to do a full marathon. She did the NJ Marathon in 2012, and says when she crossed that finish line, “I have never felt so elated.” She feels running for her is a form of freedom, and thinks back to her childhood, and says, “I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t live here.” She has run a number of 5ks and prefers small, local races to the bigger, city races. “I scrapbook all the races I do,” she says. Her scrapbook pages are usually decorated with American flags, because for her, running is freedom. “Women can run, and you can run, and run openly. You can wear crazy outfits. To me, there is something really big about that, that you have that ability, because it is something that I didn’t grow up with.”

Aisha enjoys running with music, and told me about her headphones which store music in them, so there is no need to carry something extra to hold the music. She says they charge in 18 minutes and hold a ton of tunes. Despite loving her headphones, one of Aisha’s proudest achievements in running is being able to run without music. She became so acclimated to running with music, that to turn it off had become a struggle, and as Aisha got more involved in yoga, she wanted to practice mindful running. She says the book Running With the Mind of Meditation was very helpful in moving towards more mindful running.

Aisha’s main goal in 2017 has been planning the Burlington Day 5k for Saturday, May 20. The 5k will follow a route very close to what Aisha and I ran together, and similar to what the Burlington Running Club runs on Thursday nights. I can tell you it is a great route, and according to my app, the whole route had an elevation gain of 75 feet, so it doesn’t get much flatter than that. Aisha gave a coupon code for 15% off of the already very reasonable race entry. Use the code Run-856 to get 15% off, valid until February 14. Aisha said she wanted to show her love for Run856ers, and a discounted race entry is a great way to do that!

This year, Aisha is celebrating her 40th birthday at the Austin Half Marathon. She has been working on a 50 State Challenge for about two years now, and Austin will be the sixteenth state she has run in. She is also planning to run several shorter races, including the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Run and Run the Vineyards. Aisha loves the soup mugs that finishers get at the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Run, but sadly, it is already sold out for 2017. We’ll have to plan ahead to catch that one in ’18. She doesn’t have any full marathons on the schedule yet for this year, but says she can’t rule it out.

Aisha does cross training with yoga and strong lifting. Strong lifting is a type of weight lifting that emphasizes low reps. In the past, Aisha has led group workouts, usually bootcamp style classes, or TRX workouts. In the summer, she doesn’t enjoy running as much because of the heat, so she and her husband enjoy hiking, often in the mountains in New Jersey near High Point or the Delaware Water Gap.

Aisha says, “The cool thing about running is that it’s kind of a domino effect.” She says her friend Agnes was one of her main inspirations to start running, and since then, she has had friends who started running because of her. She recalls a former colleague who had started running after hearing Aisha talk about her marathon training, and this particular person said running was the first time she had done something strictly for herself. Aisha finds it incredible to be able to “inspire others to do amazing things.”

If you have the opportunity, go take a run with Aisha and the Burlington Running Club, or meet them at the Burlington Day 5k, and remember to use Run-856 before February 14 to save on your registration. See you at the starting line!

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Aisha modeling her club shirt at Third State Brewing

 

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