Jameelah ran more ultra races in 2021 than anyone in the U.S. What drives her singular blend of toughness and endurance, positivity and faith?
They were out of syrup at the Buckhead Waffle House in Atlanta, Georgia, and Jameelah Abdul-Rahim Mujaahid wasn’t about to go in the back and let the man rob them. His gun was pointed up near her head. He threatened to shoot her in the face. He wanted more syrup. Jameelah didn’t back down.
“You’re going to take my life over some syrup?” she said, standing her ground. The man looked stunned. The sound of a car muffler throbbed at the traffic light outside. The Waffle House was empty, relegated to take-out only. He slapped the box with the waffles, and it flew across the counter and skidded along the floor. Then, he looked Jameelah in the eye, turned and walked out.
“I don’t put God in a box,” says Jameelah. “I’m a believer.” And to her, that means God can reach people through anything.
In Jameelah’s bedroom, a painting of a dragon hangs on the wall. With its tail tucked around its body like a mountain range stretching out into the distance, the beast is fierce – mouth agape, fangs bared, claws at the ready. It’s the “Slay the Dragon Award” for finishing the Crewel Jewel 100 – the race that’s scared her the most. In 2017, she finally crossed the line of the gnarly 106-miler set deep in the Chattahoochee National Forest. After two years of trying and failing, she was the last person to cross, and she broke down crying. “Trail running is a spiritual path,” she says. “When you make it, it’s as if you just conquered the world. It helps me get through everything else.”
And the 53-year-old mother of six has dealt with more than her share of adversity. The Waffle House was just one of three jobs she was working last fall. She’s used to that; she’s been doing it for over 20 years. She started at the Waffle House in 1995. Recently divorced, it was the only job that would allow her to bring her young infant to work. She would sit him in a booth near the counter, give him blankets, and check on him any time she had a second to spare.
Most people don’t know the other side of Waffle House, she says, the supportive side. “They will take somebody straight out of jail and turn them into a regional manager.” They teach people marketable skills: how to be responsible, how to become a manager, how to cook. At one point, Jameelah was district manager of four Burger Kings. She gives the credit to God and the Waffle House. “They taught me so much. If you are focused, you can learn a lot. Things aren’t perfect in life, and you’ve gotta have survival skills.”
One thing she’s been adamant about is, no matter how many jobs she has, she will be allowed to take her kids to school and pick them up. Determined to be there in those critical moments, she believes that’s kept them out of trouble, and she’s proud of that.
But she has one more boundary, and that applies to any job. “I will give you day and night. Whatever you need. Saturday though, that’s mine. That’s my release. I get to go in the woods. I don’t have to wear a uniform. I’m not the leader, and I don’t have to lead.” Saturday is race day. And Jameelah has run a lot. Last year, she did more ultras than anyone in the country, totaling over 36. She’s run Six Days at the Dome, six days at Across the Years, and she’s a four-time Vol State finisher, running both crewed and screwed. She even did the 314-mile distance in Teva sandals and worked the next day.
And she’s gone through hell in many of them. At the 2019 Blood Rock 100, she ran in a Waffle House shirt, Waffle House bandana, and a “I Love Waffle House” button. From mile 68 to 97, she ran with a broken thumb and fractured hand. The digit stuck out awkwardly to the side as if it had been glued on. In the 2019 Hurt 100, she fell and fractured her knee. She ran 20 more miles but missed the cutoff at mile 80. She even ran a 100-miler with a broken arm in a cast. At the finish, she did the splits and a handstand. To get to the Salt Flats 100, she clocked out late at night, drove 36 hours from Atlanta to Utah and arrived late. She jumped out of the car, realized she’d forgotten her shoes, and started running in her Teva’s. She finished DFL, then drove back and went to work.
Jameelah is a devoted mother with a David Goggin’s mindset. She’s had to talk herself out of failure and out of fear, to get up and move. “Call it the universe or whatever,” she says. “You gotta be out there serving something bigger than you. You can do it. Sitting on the couch? Get up and walk around the block. Don’t wanna go out? Walk to the other side of the house.”
That’s the person she’s made herself into. In the ‘90s, she was a wife, not allowed to work, or to even look at certain people. She doesn’t talk about that much except to say that she’ll never let anyone control her again. It’s in her journal, and when her children are old enough, she’ll share it with them.
It’s a bitter cold January afternoon in Georgia. A polar vortex has swept in and dropped temperatures into the teens. I text Jameelah about the Mountain Mist 50k she’s set to run the following day. She gets back to me, and of course she’s at work and of course she makes no mention of the chill in the air. She’s teaching fitness classes at a local senior center, and our conversation proceeds in typical Jameelah fashion:
Me: “You headed to Huntsville tonight or tomorrow?”
Jameelah: “I’m at work until midnight, then I will drive there.”
Me: “Okay… uh, sounds good… haha.”
Jameelah: “It’s only 3.5 hours so I’ll be there in time to take a nap before the race.”
And that is… the way she rolls. Six days a week are for work and the kids. “My reality is my kids,” she says, and she wants them to know they can do whatever they want if they focus. But Saturday, starting at midnight, that’s hers and hers alone.