By Curtis Caesar John
Samia Akbar is the fastest-known American-born Black female marathoner. Ever.
Akbar achieved this feat in one of the most popular, and toughest, of the world majors, the 2006 New York City Marathon.
Her time: 2:34:14. And what makes it extra-significant is that this was her first-ever marathon!
The funny thing is, Akbar did not even realize she held this distinction until 2018 when she had a discussion with Black run history expert Gary Corbitt, son of the man dubbed the “father of long-distance running”, the great Theodore “Ted” Corbitt (who also happens to be the first president of New York Road Runners, the parent organization of the NYC Marathon).
On that November 5th in 2006, Akbar, an All-American track star at American University in the 10,000-meter race, began with the other female elites, a verifiable pantheon of marathon champions like Rita Jeptoo, Lornah Kiplagat, and Deena Kastor, who just that past April at the London Marathon set the still-standing American women’s marathon record of 2:19:36. This made Kastor the favorite, but things didn’t play out that way and she ended up in 6th place.
Akbar ended up placing 12th in the female rankings and 85th overall with a 5:53 pace. Latvian runner Jelena Prokopcuka, was the top female finisher, successfully defending her NYC Marathon win from a year earlier. Kenyan-born Olympian and four-time Boston Marathon winner, Catherine Ndereba, took third place.
Following this race, Akbar continued what would be a seven-year professional running career, most notably competing in the USA Half Marathon Champions and the marathon for the 2008 Olympic Trials (she placed 18th). While transitioning out of elite running, she went on to win the inaugural 2013 Nike Half Marathon. Akbar currently works for New Balance as a Global Marketing Manager.
In a recent conversation on the blog Fast-Women.org, Akbar says about her fastest marathon time, “To this day, why is 2:34 the PR for a Black woman born in the U.S.? I feel like the time should be faster and we should have progressed by now. I do feel like it’s only a matter of time [before that time comes down], but it bothers me.”
Here at Mid Strike Magazine, we’re hoping that this slice of running history will inspire more American-born Black female runners to get into competitive long-distance running. Contemporary superstars like Shawanna White and Peyton Thomas are definitely poised to, and hopefully beat, Samia Akbar’s now 14-year record.
From all indications, Akbar would love that.