Ultramarathon & Marathon Training During Ramadan

It’s not hard. (إن شاء الله) Well I should say it’s not impossible, but it’s certainly not easy. When presented with the most recent heatwave in NYC I was left with to options, run in the heat or not train at all. (I’m not a fan of treadmill running now that I’ve started a serious relationship with outdoor running, so that was not an option.) Over the past couple weeks I have made it a priority to run at least four times a week, even logging over 16 miles on a Sunday run.

Going into this training season I hadn’t planned to run an ultramarathon at the end of August. It just happened. Really. I did know that I would need to log miles during Ramadan in order to hit my marathon training goals. So then this ultra moseys onto my schedule and there’s no turning back. I haven’t even run a marathon yet. I keep telling myself if I can run 30-40 miles a week in the heat and without hydration I can deal with a flat ultramarathon course with a cool start and a couple hours of running in the heat with hydration.

My ultimate goal is to finish the 50k, but I have an ambitious 4:59:59 or better goal time tucked away in the back of my mind. I was under the impression that I could hit my goal time on some of my longer runs, but I’ve found it hard to hold a slow pac, even on long runs. Last weekend I completed my run at a sub-9 min ave pace of 16.55 miles (if you don’t count the 5 minutes of water breaks, traffic lights and figuring out where we were). I believe the cooler, evening conditions aided in keeping a slightly faster, conversational pace with my fellow running buddies. My goal finishing pace is 9:39 or so for the 50k. I’m hoping that I can complete my 20 mile run this weekend at that pace, but if I stay in the low nine minute range I may be in for a surprise on race day.

I feel like I’m in a grove at this point. My weeknight runs have been at 7:50-8:40 mile averages. I don’t feel drained as much, which I can likely attribute to sitting in the air conditioning for a few minutes after runs to lower my core temperature.

Some of the things that have worked for me during Ramadan race training include:

  • Listening to my body instead of trying to hit specific paces
  • Not wasting energy by making unnecessary movements
  • Wearing breathable clothing
  • Not running more than than 6-7 miles (approx. 10-11k)
  • Starting runs within two hours of sunset
  • Having at least a .5 litre bottle of cold water nearby when the sun does set
  • Starting long runs close to sunset

Every mile during my runs I try to do a tune-up check on my body. I think about my form, my breathing, any tension in my body and how my body feels overall. I feel like this has definitely helped keep me on track and keep my mind off of the fact that I cannot rehydrate like many of my fellow runners post-run. Two more weeks to appreciate the simple things like a sip of cold water after putting a hard workout.

Ramadan Déjà Vu: Pakistan in 2010, Somalia in 2011

The month of Ramadan began on August 1st. During this time Muslims refrain from drinking, eating, sexual activity from dawn to sunset. In addition to fasting, this is a time for observers to read the Quran and commit good deeds while avoiding anger, lying, and ill feelings towards others. This is not something that is easily accomplished considering the fact that Ramadan will occur during the summer’s longer days, for most of the world, for almost more 10 years. Nonetheless there are millions of people who complete their month of fasting while enduring severe hardship.

Last year Pakistan, which is over 95% Muslim, was hit by  the worst floods the country had seen in decades. The country not only saw widespread devastation, but they became dependent upon relief efforts due to the loss of crops and livestock. Irregardless of the hardship, many of the 14 million Pakistani people affected by the flooding committed to fasting during Ramadan. This was a time when those who lost everything banded together to help each other. Almost  a year later Pakistan is still picking up the pieces. Current figures estimate that more than 4 million people were displaced and at least 800,000 families are still living in shelters as they enter Ramadan.

As Pakistan is still dealing with last year’s flooding Somalia is trying to cope with worst drought and famine that they have seen in 60 years. Somalia is similar to Pakistan in that it is over 95% Muslim. Ramadan began with millions of observers fasting in these extreme conditions. Almost 30,000 children under the age of 5 have died in the past three months as a direct result to the drought and famine, according to USAID. Within six weeks the entire southern portion of Somalia will be considered a famine zone. This means over 3 million people in Somalia alone need immediate aid. Across the Horn of Africa there are over 10 million people that are being affected by this drought.

Many Somalians are finding ways to see the silver lining on the darkest of clouds during this troubling time. Some families, like that of Mohamed Idris, have little more than water and a few dates between them. Some wealthier families have offered items such as dates and rice to their fellow countrymen. Yesterday’s food distribution provided by the United Nations’ World Food Program turned into a gunfight that left at least seven people dead at the Badbaado camp, which is on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

While many Muslims around the world consider a 16 hour day fast during the summer cumbersome, most will not understand the feeling of breaking their fast with nothing to serve their family. There are many ways to help, including giving zakat. There are organizations like Islamic Relief that will allow you to donate to specific efforts including; orphan support, emergencies, and specific relief efforts by country. This is a time for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to take time help those in need. mA

The Art of Fasting

As millions of people around the world are fasting during the month of Ramadan there are millions of people who are not fasting. Those that aren’t fasting may not t fully understand what fasting for Ramadan entails and haven’t taken to researching such information. Due to this there are some things that they may do or say which is unnecessary.

1. No we cannot drink water during the day. I am not fully sure if there are other religious practices that allow individuals to drink water while they are fasting but during Ramadan nothing should be consumed, not even water.

2. Asking, ‘Does this bother you?’ Or some variation of the question when you are about to consume something. If I personally was bothered I would just excuse myself from the situation. There is no need to ask and if you feel you may offend someone maybe you should excuse yourself from the observers presence.

3. Telling people that ‘He/She/I’ am fasting when we are somewhere that involved food (during the day). If I am offered food or a drink I simply say, ‘No thank you.’ There is no need to volunteer additional information when it is not a matter of national security. I promise I will make it through the event without eating or drinking.

4. Each day of fasting begins at Suhoor, or day break. Yes, that’s before sunrise, contrary to popular believe. So if the sun rises at 6:05 suhoor was probably 5:10.

5. Each day of fasting ends with iftar at sunset. Usually this is started with consumption of a date and then a meal. Keep that in mind when if you ever invite someone to do something or to have them for dinner.

6. You do not fast one eid. Ramadan is almost over and with that it’s almost time for Eid. It’s a celebratory time and you are obliged to each and in some cultures give zakat.

In the United States Ramadan started on the 12th of August and ends on the 10th of September unlike most of other observers around the world. I definitely look forward to spending this Eid with friends before doing a bit of traveling, inshallah.

Ramadan Mubarak

Oh me, oh my… where do I begin….this is my 2nd year fasting for Ramadan. This 1st week of fasting hasn’t been so bad, it’s slowly becoming easier to fast although it is still hard to handle all the other aspects of Ramadan. One reason I actually began fasting was when a friend mentioned the idea of me fasting with her. I got so much of it last year that I am again fasting this year. I have also taken on reading the Quran.

In addition to simply fasting I have learned that I should focus on the betterment of myself as well as helping others. Being more patient has been a task I am constantly working on, but I push myself to try harder, especially during this time. I understand the importance of patience and humility, and I hope to work to better incorporate them into my everyday living.

I’m currently on the 4th Surah and I have to say the Quran is something I think all people should take the time to read. Even if it is not for religious purposes, to have an understanding for another religion and/or way of life is something we should all invest time into. I think people would be surprised at the amount of similarities their religion has with Islam.

I look forward to the next 25 days of fasting; mentally, physically, and emotionally. Similar to last year I will be celebrating my birthday during the holy month and having my dinner party/iftar with friends. I also look forward to hosting iftar for my friends so that we can enjoy it together.

Ramadan Mubarak to all those fasting this year!