Marathon runner proves you can be as young and fit as you believe.

Image 2014

Ismat Khimani performing “mind over matter” during the grueling 2014 Chicago Marathon
Ismat Khimani performing “mind over matter” during the grueling 2014 Chicago Marathon

“I grab my shoes and start moving my feet. It’s purely that simple,” says Ismat.

Many people shy away from challenges, but Ismat Jaffer Khimani runs toward them. At the age of 56, Ismat has run eleven marathons. Rain or shine, she committed herself and pushed through until she crossed the finish line.

“No matter where I am, I go out for my runs,” says Ismat. “Just like saying Dua and practicing daily meditation, if we prioritize it, it happens.”

Born in Karachi, Ismat immigrated to the United States at the age of 17. She dedicates five to six days a week to endurance running, starting her day at 4 a.m. with her morning prayer before lacing up her shoes and grabbing her headphones for a run. She avoids sugar and caffeine and often takes epsom salt baths for recovery. “You’re often running on tired legs,” Ismat says. “A trick I learned is to divert your mind. When you’re running and feel like you can’t go any further, diverting your mind by counting light poles, imagining the alphabet, or looking at pictures shifts your mind to focusing on something else other than the pain.”

While running, Ismat enjoys listening to comedy and NPR radio. “I have my favorite shows that help me learn and grow intellectually,” she says. Ismat had the opportunity to listen to Olympians share advice on running, training, and their achievements. “If there’s one thing I took away from listening to the Olympians was that they kept saying ‘mind over matter.’

With a strenuous running schedule, Ismat trains her body to keep up with hardships. Although, that wasn’t always the case. She reflects on when she ran her first marathon. “When I was on mile 23, I just wanted to stop,” Ismat admits. “But then I kept pushing through the pain. From mile 23, 24, 25 to mile 26. At that moment, I realized what ‘mind over matter’ means. My mind said ‘we’re not quitting body, keep up!’”

After her runs, Ismat incorporates stretching and yoga into her routine, constantly raising the bar for herself with a focus on speed and strength training several times a week. “Running has taught me a lot,” reflects Ismat. “Though it may seem physically tiring, it has many benefits such as improved heart and lung health, increased muscular strength, improved bone density, enhanced emotional health, and increased self-confidence.”

Amidst her busy training schedule, Ismat enjoys spending time with her family in her free time. She expressed that she puts family above all else. She has five siblings, two kids, 10 nieces and nephews, 2 grand nieces, and one grand nephew who all show immense support for her. “My family and friends sometimes fly in to see me run marathons and cheer me on and bring flowers,” she shares with a smile. “Most importantly, we support each other, and no matter what the occasion we are there for each other.”

When Ismat travels with her family she tries to find a balance between keeping her running schedule and being there for quality time. “My cousin will say ‘appy make some tea for us,’” Ismat shares with a laugh. “So, I’ll get the milk and water going  then go  for my run.” After her morning run, Ismat then joins her family for breakfast and tea. “They are starting their day and I’m back from my run to spend time with them.” 

When Ismat is not busy cooking and laughing with her family, she spends time on some of her favorite hobbies, such as scuba diving, decorating, and listening to motivational talks. She shares her value of education and always learning and keeping an open mind. “I try to grow constantly in every aspect of my life,” she says.

What is unique about Ismat is how her love for running has strengthened her connection to herself and the world around her. “It is a very personal experience that leads to deeper satisfaction,” she explains. Ismat continues to share how running has helped her feel more connected to nature as she often runs in beautiful parks and trails.


Ismat being congratulated after completing the 2017 Chicago Marathon
Ismat being congratulated after completing the 2017 Chicago Marathon

Through our interview, it was evident that Ismat also truly values community service. While working out and running was not always a part of her childhood, community service most certainly was. “Everyone in our family is involved with community service in some way. Our next generation is involved with other organizations per Mowlana Hazar Imam’s guidance of building bridges within our communities.”

Ismat spent her teen years in Karachi packing jura for Khushyali celebrations and training as a waezeen. When she moved to America, she found herself always gravitating toward giving back to the Ismaili community and volunteered her time as a Dua teacher, Qur’an teacher, part of the Economic Planning Committee, and more. More recently, she has spoken on financial topics during COVID. Her long-term commitments include serving on the Legacy committee for the Aga Khan Foundation for over ten years.

To say Ismat’s story and lifestyle is an inspiration is an understatement, so we asked her what advice she has for others who are interested in running or training for marathons. Her advice was simple:  “Know your why,” she explains. “There are many ways to enjoy being active. If you dread running, find an alternative! However, don’t ever quit something before giving it your best shot.”

When asked about her future plans, Ismat shared she has no plans to slow down and hopes to run more marathons around the world in 2024.