Sahar Ijaz: "Together we are runners"
20 July 2022
It was during the first lockdown in 2020, at just 19 years of age and after being inspired by a ‘Couch to 5k’ advert, Sahar Ijaz decided to get into running.
She said: “I’m going to do this tomorrow, and it will give me a reason to get out during my furlough.” Sahar completed the program with her aunty who still runs with her.
Sahar goes on to say:
“It was hard having nothing to focus on and now it continues to be important because when I started running, I didn’t see many ladies from my own background doing it: I’m South Asian. So, I just wanted to be that person in the community doing it and not be shy and now part of what I do is to encourage people from different backgrounds to get involved. The initial motivation was to just have something to do and be a role model.”
RunTogether and Breaking Barriers
Sahar was involved in a sports leadership program and research project funded by Sport England – Born in Bradford JUMP (Join Us Move Play) – which provides opportunities for 18 months to gain sports qualifications. With this Sahar gained the England Athletics LiRF (Leadership in Running and Fitness) qualification. After becoming qualified Sahar secured Sport England funding to set up a group in her local and diverse community. Sahar said: “We got £500 which was amazing and with this funding we are trying to break barriers that the women in my group experience. I plan to buy modest clothing and bum bags.”
Together We Are Runners group
Sahar has been involved with RunTogether for over 6 months and described it as a whirlwind.
“Our group Together We are Runners hosts RunTogether sessions that are held at Lister Park in Bradford, in a gorgeous setting, and has a variety of ages from 20s-50s. Some have no running experience at all. There are two levels: weekend sessions are for new and beginner-level runners and weekdays are for runners of higher ability. But absolutely everyone is welcome!"
"The reasons for our members joining Together We Are Runners vary from wanting to complete the ‘Couch to 5k’ program, running for 5 minutes without stopping, to meet other like-minded people. We don’t just run, but do running-based games. Like rounders and members say, we know you’re tricking us into running.
Ambitions vary but often include growing as people. A lot are mums and would like some time out for themselves and focus on their bodies. They have work and family responsibilities, but I don’t want this to stop them from joining my group because getting involved in fitness is such a good for them to have one hour to themselves.
Childcare is often a barrier, so I let them bring kids along and we pick an area to run around. The children play in the middle, and the children play a game or umpire. Eventually my group will take part in funetics and we will combine our RunTogether and funetics activities for parent and child.”
Sahar’s ambitions for the group
Sahar plans to support women from backgrounds you don’t predominantly see in the running world and get people’s confidence up.
“It’s a big cultural and social thing that they don’t think they can be seen running. The clothing when you go and buy a running shirt is often so tight and so short, especially for women. I show them that they can run in a modest and comfortable way.
My biggest ambition is to put something back into my community, because I have lived and grown up in Bradford and I love it so much. People underestimate it a lot and I want to show people that we are capable of doing great things.”
“Go along and try out the first session. The fact it’s on your mind means deep down it's something you want to get involved in. It’s easy for me to say, but don’t be afraid to join in because I am on the other side of being a new runner. Groups out there are there to help you and if the level that they work at does not match your ability, then they will sign post you to a different place. My group promotes that you don’t need any experience.
Someone from your background seeing you run will mean so much to them. There could be a young girl seeing you run and in her head that might change her life and she may be inspired by seeing you run. That’s how I started.
I think just go for it. If you see another runner, I used to think they are judging me, but in fact pretend it’s their first session too. If anything, they will be relieved they are not the only person crazy enough to run in the rain on a Saturday morning.”
“The benefits are endless running as a group and as a woman, the obvious ones are better physical and mental health, clearing your head. Building a routine to your day and setting aside time for yourself is important these days. Learning something new every session, achieving new goals, reaching a personal best, running for 60 seconds straight. Just having something to work toward: a personal goal, meeting likeminded people. It does change your life.
As a group we can feel more confident, having others motivate you. If you don’t want to get up one day someone will be texting you saying "come on you’ve got to get out". Having that encouragement, having a laugh, a cry, whatever you’re feeling that day, just leave it all there. And just being a role model to the community. I think there’s so many benefits I could go on for ever.”
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