Guiding runners through Ramadan as a Run Leader

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For millions of Muslims over the world, Ramadan is an opportunity for self-reflection, celebration and strengthening their faith. Mostly known for the 30-day fast, Ramadan is also a time for community, celebration and giving to others in need.

We recently caught up with running coach, Sahar Ijaz from Together We Are Runners to discuss what Ramadan means to her and how she supports her runners.

What does Ramadan mean to you?

"Ramadan is a special and spiritual time it is much more than just not eating and drinking, it is a time to reflect. It is only 30 days out of 365 so it gives you the time to pause and look back on what you’ve done so far and what you want to do moving forwards."

"Ramadan also helps me to reduce the bad habits I have picked up and focus on building good ones. It is a detox of not only food, but also of other negative things like spending too much time on your phone and focus on being a generally kind person during that time."

"It is a huge community aspect for me. We have a lot of neighbours who also celebrate Ramadan, so it is all about giving food to your community. It is a really exciting time when the fast breaks and the doorbell doesn’t stop ringing as you get lots of packages and plates of food from your community."

"Ramadan is also about self-control, discipline and understanding your privilege. There are barriers which I have faced as a woman of colour, but I am very privileged as at the end of the day I can open my fridge, cook a full meal in a warm house. There are people in the world who do not have that, so it really makes you appreciate what you have."

What age did you begin to observe Ramadan?

"Within my community, you get interested in Ramadan quite young as the people around you are fasting. You don’t really fast until puberty however before that children can keep a half-fast where they might skip breakfast or have a couple of bowls of cereal and toast and then not eat again until the evening. This isn’t a full fast, but it does allow them to feel involved."

"I would say when I was 12-13 years old I tried to keep fasting properly. Ramadan is not something that a child has to do, or should do, it is instead something that they want to be involved in."

What does Ramadan involve?

"The basics of Ramadan are you fast from sunrise to sunset. You should also avoid bad habits such as swearing, or any other useless activities which do not add value to your life."

"There is also a really special part of Ramadan called ‘zakat’. This is where a Muslim who earns a certain wage, will donate 2.5% of their wealth after their daily spend to a charity or someone else in need. Even if you have gold or jewellery, you can donate 2.5% of this to other families. You can also support those in other countries, for example this year I sent my contribution to Pakistan where my family originate from. Zakat gives me the feeling that I am doing good and giving back during Ramadan."

How have you adapted your running and coaching of others during Ramadan?

"I only tend to run with my group and go on high intensity walks alone. During Ramadan I often reduce the intensity and ensure that I am active at times where I have high energy and be careful of dehydration."

"In our first year as a group, there were only a few of us observing Ramadan, so we worked this out between us, however this year we have been much more structured. We are a beginners' group, so we are not focused on intense long runs. We have been trying to do what is best for everyone, including integrating those who are not fasting. I have adapted the sessions from the morning and lunchtime to be around 4-5pm instead, enabling people to spend time with family whilst also exercising in the early evening when time tends to drag before the end of the fast."

"We are a women only group and I am very open which I think does make people more confident to speak out without having any stigmas attached. For example, I am very open about periods. I often ask our group whether anyone is not fasting full stop, or is not currently due to their period, I can then organise a group for those who can actively run a little more."

"We will often offer a walking route for those who are fasting but take the same path as those who wish to run. As a leader I do a safety briefing to talk to the women about becoming unwell during exercise and will always keep an eye out for any signs of dehydration."

What can RunTogether groups do to support those who are observing Ramadan?

"The main thing is to be really open, whether privately to an individual or asking openly if people are fasting. You should not assume that because someone is Muslim they will be fasting as they may have a health reason, or a period for example meaning they’re not."

"Once you have identified those who are fasting, it’s good to have a one-on-one chat with them. If you try and search Ramadan online for example there’s so much information, it can be helpful to have a conversation."

"There is a Ramadan calendar with the times on when the fast opens and closes each day which would be useful for coaches. Then they can check whether sessions clash with the fast opening or closing, or whether it is supposed to be really hot the participants may feel dehydrated or be unable to take part as they usually would."

Do you associate your faith with your running journey?

"It is so important in most religions but especially Islam to look after your body. We believe your body is provided to you by God and it is something that you need to look after and nurture."

"Especially for women who have lots of responsibilities like those in my group, they may not always get the time to nurture their bodies and their minds. If you were to take a book out at a library, you wouldn’t spill coffee on it deliberately or rip a page out then give it back, you would want to give it back in a good condition."

What is one fact about Ramadan that people may not know?

"It is not a bad thing or a punishment! I’ll admit I do complain about being hungry sometimes which is something I need to work on. Today I went into work, and somebody had baked a lemon cake and it was hard looking at it on the table, but it was one of those moments where I practice self-control. I instead took a bit which I can eat later, so it isn’t a punishment."

"Ramadan is a special time and something that we all enjoy and look forward to."

"I may feel a bit tired sometimes, but I know I can do it and I can push myself. In running we often tell ourselves that we can’t get that extra 1km, physically you probably can = it is just a mental barrier."

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