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2/01/2024 by Barbara Huebner

2020 Trials Gave Atlanta Nurse a Window on New World of Possibilities

It was February 29, 2020. As Kidan Kidane walked into the room of a patient at Emory University Hospital Midtown, pushing a COW (Computer on Wheels) and heading to the bedside, she happened to glance out the window.

Because she walked in at the perfect time, because the room was on the side of the hospital facing Peachtree Street, because the blinds were open instead of closed as usual, because she chose to look down at just that moment, Kidane will be competing in the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon on Saturday.

Because, at the moment she turned her head, Atlanta's 2020 Trials were running past in the street below.

Had she been able to return to the window, Kidane - who had recently earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Emory - might have seen the 700-plus runners pass a total of six times on their out-and-back loop, but she did not. Work beckoned; after tending to her patient, she returned to her desk at the nurses' station. A runner at East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, and again as an undergraduate at Kennesaw State University, she thought as she sat: I miss competing. I want to get back to it.

Kidan Kidane (right) runs in the 2022 Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race. Photo: MarathonFoto

"It was like a vision of what it would be like four years from now to run," she recalled.

Her vision was not unlike that of the event organizers.

"When Atlanta Track Club first considered hosting the Trials in 2020, we all agreed that one of our goals was to get Atlantans out by the tens of thousands to come and cheer, feel the energy and be inspired by the potential Olympians racing on their streets," said Rich Kenah, CEO. "I confess that we weren't thinking about people who might accidentally look out a window, but it warms my heart that Kidan was so deeply affected that she's become part of the legacy of those Trials as she gets ready to compete in Orlando."

Kidane came to the U.S. from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, when she was 14, to live with relatives. In high school, she wanted to make friends so joined the band; despite having no background in music, she thought, "How hard can it be?" She tried the flute, then was moved to percussion. Her musical experiment lasted a semester. Her assessment: "It did not go well."

As a sophomore, she decided to give running a try and at first wasn't great at that, either, finishing last in warmups. She started with the 400/800 meters, but eventually was drawn to the cross country/distance group and finished second at 3,200 meters in the 2013 GHSA 5A state championships. At Kennesaw State, she earned several All-Conference honors and set three school records at the 2016 Atlantic Sun Conference indoor championships, winning at the mile and 3,000 meters.

Physically and emotionally drained, Kidane told a coach that she thought she would be done with running after graduation.

"But I was lying to myself because there was something addictive about long-distance training," she said. After a month off, she was back at it. "And then I thought it would be fun to do a marathon. 'I've done a 20-mile long run before; how bad could it be?'"

Kidane signed up for the 2018 Publix Atlanta Marathon, and trained with no coach and no real structure, with long runs of 14-15 miles at most and taking no nutrition during the race. She finished second, in 2:59:52.

"I wasn't expecting that," she said. "They sent me a check for $750 and I was like oh my gosh, my first road racing win. It was like a win for me, because I had no expectations."

Despite what she termed a "spiritual experience" so strong during Publix Atlanta Marathon that led her to believe everyone should do a marathon ("It just opens you up"), she waited four years until her next attempt, focusing instead on her studies at Emory and the first years of her nursing career. It wasn't until she began a master's program at Yale to become a nurse practitioner in psychiatric and mental health and joined New Haven Road Runners there in Connecticut that running became a big part of her life again.

Kidan Kidane in the Publix Atlanta Marathon in 2018. Photo: MarathonFoto

"Seeing moms, doctors, lawyers, students, researchers making time to run every single day, I thought, 'If they're doing it, then I can do it, too," said Kidane, who began to think about trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon somewhere down the road.

The road became shorter when she decided to go for a BQ just weeks before registration closed for the 2023 race. She got it at the 2022 Charles River Marathon in 3:01:57, winning by more than 7 minutes. Then a month before Boston, she finished fourth in the challenging New Bedford Half Marathon in 1:14:30 - behind only professional runners Maegan Krifchin, Anne-Marie Blaney and Olivia Pratt. Somewhere along the line, Kidane began to think that an OTQ might be possible - but again, down the road. Going from 2:29 to 2:37 "seemed very unrealistic. My ambitious and competitive self was like 'go for it.' But just try to be smart and take it step by step."

Starting the race from Corral 8, she was prevented from going out too aggressively - "a blessing in disguise" - and by halfway was on pace to finish in 2:35, and thought it was too good to be true. Then she took a gel around Mile 15 or 16, became nauseous, had to stop and vomit twice.

She finished second in the open race, in 2:36:22.

"I felt overwhelming joy and thankfulness," she said. "Every day I'm thankful I get to do what I get to do. It is a gift. I worked with COVID patients. I remembered seeing patients on BiPAP., ventilators and trach. I'm grateful every day to be able to do this, and Boston was that times 100."

As for the Trials, Kidane says she plans to "just show up and have fun and see what happens." Anything under 2:35, she said, would be a win. And, perhaps, a springboard.

"God willing, I would like to make it to wherever the Trials are held in four years and see what happens," Kidane said. "I feel like I'm still new and still learning how to run the marathon and train for the marathon and be smart about the race. I'm discovering who I am every race, every workout."