In April 2018, I ran my first marathon : The London Marathon. After months of training I ran for 6 hours non stop on the hottest day of the year, and the hottest London Marathon on record. In sweltering heat, the water ran out in the last 6 miles. From mile 20 water stations were packing up, sweeping up empty bottles, runners were looking for half drunk bottles, calling out to spectators “has anyone got any water?” in desperation. It didn’t deter me. I kept going. My thoughts went back to all the summer fasting in Ramadan over the past few years. My mindset was trained to trust in my fuelling and my hydration over the previous 3 days. While others were panicking, I had the mental strength to keep going. Ramadan trained me for the marathon and the marathon has also trained me for Ramadan. The parallels between the two are many and together, they have both trained me for life
- Firm intention: A lot of marathon runners, when they secured their place, will ask themselves “what am I doing? Do I really want to go through with this?!” They will check in with themselves, regularly over the months of training, reminding themselves of why they are going through with this big challenge. Approaching Ramadan is no different. We need to self reflect, correct our intentions and think about why we are about to go into a month of fasting and night prayers and what we want to achieve through the process. We might want to set goals just like a marathon runner might have a finishing time in mind, Muslims will also think about things they want to achieve, or any bad habits they might want to try and give up.
- Depend on your training: One of the key things that gives runners confidence as the race day arrives is that they know they have put in the training over the months before the race. Ramadan is often referred to by Muslim scholars as ‘the training ground for the rest of the year’, because it teaches us a lot about ourselves. With the abstinence of food and drink we are forced to take a long hard look at ourselves and learn about our habits. Ramadan is a time to draw on the knowledge and experience we have from previous years and put it into application. Knowing we have the right skills and experience and assessing what has worked well in previous years will help us approach the Holy Month positively.
- Pacing: Most runners have witnessed unrealistic starting speeds at the beginning of a race. We’ve seen excited runners set off too fast, only to overtake them soon after as we pass them while they are walking. I know I have been one of those runners, getting caught up in the swoosh of other runners, only to regret it a few miles in as a I have tired too quickly. You get the run/walk/run kind of runner who doesn’t run at a steady speed, thus becoming breathless and tired and ends up stopping and starting. I too have been there and at times finding myself in a negative head space, losing confidence and struggling to keep going. There is no shame in taking a walking break – however the guilt and shame can take over as we tell ourselves “I am a rubbish runner”. Likewise, the fasting Muslim who starts out enthusiastically praying all night, perhaps looking for a dramatic change in lifestyle, who then becomes physically and psychologically tired, heading for a crash, can feel guilty or like a “rubbish Muslim” and is at risk ‘hitting the wall’ and wanting to give up all together. We must not allow the negative self talk to take over. The most ideal running pace to aim for is that which leaves you with “negative splits”, meaning, in short, your second half is much faster than your first, and most desirably, a steady increase mile by mile. This is what we need to be aiming for in Ramadan. We can learn from the negative splits of a marathon runner, and start out nice and slow, knowing we could probably do a little more but holding back just a little, steadily increasing in worship as the days and nights go by, saving our juice in the tank for the final duration.
- Fuelling: Marathon runners believe in quality over quantity. For months in the lead up the big day, their diet will be carefully planned in the hope to achieve the best nutrients to sustain this running machine. Hydration becomes a lifestyle and especially before the long runs, or race day, drinking plenty of water starts three days before, not just the morning of the race. Likewise, as Ramadan approaches we need to drink lots of water and plan our meals to ensure we will be able to remain physically strong to endure the days of abstinence. Junk is out, fresh fruit and veg and good slow digesting meals are in.
- Community Support: Running a marathon, like London, where most of the route is lined with supportive crowds, runners will hear a constant song sheet recital that goes something like this; “Well done, great running, you can do this, fantastic, awesome keep going, you’ve got this, you’re amazing, come on (insert name here).” Imagine hearing this for hours as you take on this difficult challenge. Now think about the challenge of Ramadan and it makes you wonder where the support is? Instead we hear “Ah I couldn’t do it, I need my coffee, not even water!?, so when do you sleep?, that must be really hard.” Seldom will we hear words of encouragement or motivation. Family members can easily bring each other down with mood swings, irritability and lack of sleep. The running community has a lot to teach the rest of the world about being positive. Ramadan is the time to encourage each other and say encouraging words that will generate motivation and self belief that we can get through this month, together. At the same time, we need to allow others to take things at their pace, which may not be the same as ours. Just like in a race, there are a variety of abilities and speeds, there will be Muslims who find it easier than others. Be inspired by those who are doing well, take what you can from them, don’t make it cause you to feel bad about yourself, and help lift those who are struggling. That’s what runners do. Ultimately, God sees our efforts and knows how hard this physical and mental battle is for you.
- Emotional Endurance: Ramadan is a time to spend less time in worldly matters and focus on the spiritual. Stripped of food, drink, sexual activity and perhaps many lifestyle choices during the fasting hours, we have the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves. In Ramadan, I always find my emotions are heightened as a lot of my coping mechanisms are temporarily removed. This can mean some of the more difficult feelings rise to the surface, with little to medicate them with other than prayer. Likewise, runners spend many hours in the lead up the marathon, on their own, giving them time to reflect, contemplate and learn about themselves. Ramadan teaches you a lot about who you are as a person, as does running. Running brings all the different parts of ourselves together and Ramadan can offer us that chance too if we allow ourselves to feel and process the emotions. Through prayer, we allow the space to meditate and talk through with ourselves and God what all these feelings mean.
- Last Leg: Running under the 20 mile arch of the London Marathon I remember feeling amazing. Telling myself I was about to run the last 6 miles, 20 under my belt, I reassessed my energy tank and thought about how I was going to use my juice. I started to up my speed gradually, mile by mile from there on. Likewise, in Ramadan as we approach the last days, providing we have paced ourselves well, we should be able to up our game a little. In the last ten nights of Ramadan, especially, we aim to seek out the special ‘Night of Power’, the anniversary of the Quran being revealed, in which extra rewards are given by God for the good actions on that night. By now, we should be feeling motivated, changes in our personality should be emerging, we should be more patient, increased in self belief and feeling like we want to give it our all to the final day of Ramadan as the finish line is soon to be in sight.
- The finishing Line: As I crossed the line at 26.2 miles on April 22nd 2018 I remember feeling as though I had gathered every little piece of me to get there. Completing Ramadan, in these hot summer months, we should feel the same about ourselves. We won’t get a medal, but we hope for great rewards from God, not just in Paradise but to reap the benefits of that endurance in this life too. All the training we have just put in, to changing ourselves, to getting closer to God and our own selves, must not end there. It’s about taking this journey into the rest of our lives.
- Celebration – nothing beats that moment when you cross the line after 26.2 miles of endurance. I felt so much joy. Everything I had put in to my fundraising and training, all that time away from my family and sacrifice of time was all worth it once I got that medal around my neck. You forget all the pain, the tiredness and the hard work. Likewise, on the day of Eid, as we celebrate, we ask ourselves where did the last 30 days go? They went so fast. As we can eat and drink again as we please and spend time with our family and friends we feel happy and accomplished and grateful that we were able to get through the difficult month. Eid al Fitr is a celebration of the hard work we have put in throughout the month. Unlike other religious festivals, that celebrate either the success or birth of a Holy person or event, Eid is the celebration of the commitment and intensive struggle we have put in over the 30 days of Ramadan. Likewise, that medal at the finish line signifies the reward for all effort we put in to running a marathon. The memories of the difficulties we may have had over the month will fade away and that is why it is really important to make a conscious effort to remember what we did to get there, to be grateful to God and to keep drawing from the things that made us stronger spiritually. And of course one massive parallel is post marathon, or post Ramadan, you want to eat everything in the house!
- What next?: I remember feeling, as I crossed that line, if I could run a marathon, I could do anything! Ramadan should also give us that feeling. We put ourselves to the test, and we made it to the other end, thanks to God. Now we need to look at what tools we have in our bag to take into the rest of our lives. Self-belief, confidence, patience, mental endurance, community spirit, self love, ability to overcome obstacles, perseverance, resilience, spirit, zest – all things associated with marathon runners – all things associated with Ramadan spirit. Ramadan made me mentally and physically stronger – Marathon makes me mentally and physically stronger – together they make me powerful! Now take that vibe with you for the rest of the 11 months.
Lynne Northcott aka Jogonhijabi
Don’t forget to follow my journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube @Jogonhijabi