This week, we sat down with Zak Hussain who is planning on running a marathon, to raise awareness for cancer research, during Ramadan. Ramadan is a month where Muslims all around the world will be observing fasting from dawn to sunset. We discuss the challenges he has had to overcome in training for a marathon of 26.2 miles. He reveals his plans for training during Ramadan and the support which gets him through it.
With interesting insights into his childhood, passion for athletics, and his relationship with Islam; he offers advice to any Muslim who may wish to do something similar and shares an insight into his experiences as a British Muslim.
The race takes place on Sunday the 16th of April, one week before the end of the Ramadan and Eid celebrations begin.
Link to donate and support his fundraiser can be found here.
Zak, first tell me about Ramadan and what it means to you?
“It’s a really important holiday for us, Muslims around the world. For me, it means a lot. You know, I was 4 years old when I first went to the mosque to learn Arabic and about the faith of Islam. Every day, from 4 years old to 11 years old, I went straight after school from 5 pm to 7 o’clock! I was learning the meaning behind each prayer, learning about the faith, trying to come closer to it all.
Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam we abide by, it’s more than just fasting or read the Qur’an, it’s a month that tests you, it brings you closer to God, well Allah (SWT) for us.
You abide to Ramadan obligations because it’s about cleansing yourself. You do it to get closer to your religion, challenge yourself for a whole month, sort yourself out, and ideally take the lessons you learn into the rest of the year.”
So you are running a marathon in the middle of Ramadan, how do you plan to balance your training schedule and its obligations?
“It’s going to be challenging, really hard, I might fail on the first day!
I’ll have to run in the daylight, but I’ll also have to eat early, pray, then work – it will be super tiring!
The fasting will be the most challenging part, not even a sip of water! That I could handle, it’s more the food intake, I won’t be having any nutritional gels or anything like that.”
How challenging is the marathon training right now before Ramadan?
“I knew the race was going to fall one week before the end of Ramadan, so I knew I had to prepare my body beforehand. I’ve been training for 9 weeks. Blimey… It’s not easy! I was really serious though, I told my coach I had to do the run but I have to prepare in advance.”
What’s an example of one the most challenging parts of the training?
“I’m a full-time dad as well as working full-time! Last week, on Sunday, I got back from a business trip in Hong Kong and I had go running. I try to get the mileage in on the weekends, it’s just easier that way with the kids at home.
I got off the plane, got home, and I had to go do roughly a 42.2 km run. After the first 2km I wanted to go home, but I did it, I ran the 42.2 km. I told myself: “If I don’t do this, I won’t know if I’ll be able to do the marathon”.
That’s a golden rule about running: it’s 5 minutes of pain but then in the 6th minute it’s gone!”
How did that run go?
“It was so hard. Windy, cold, tired, quite a lot of incline — took me 4:08 hours. That’s the thing, I want to complete the marathon on the day in 3:15 hours. Luckily, the route will be flat!”
You mentioned your coach, have they been critical to your training?“They’ve been so important. For this sort of event, I needed someone to keep me on track. My foot got infected, and it was swelling up over a couple of weeks. I asked them: “what do I do?”
They told me immediately: “It’s just because of the impact, the mileage — running 26 miles every week.” So I iced it, elevated it when I could, and just kept going.”
What else is helping you?
“Support, all of it. Words of support from my friends and my coworkers, my boss calls me and first thing he says is: “how’s the running going”. You know that’s all I need.
And most importantly, my wife. She checks up on me. That Sunday, she called me twice, asked me where I was and how it was going. It’s so important.”
So, the fasting during Ramadan and the race, how are you going to get through it?
“It’s going to be so hard! I can’t quite imagine it yet… Here’s the thing, there’s one rule which states that travelers can break their fast. Because I’ll be traveling to the race as it’s in a different city, I’ll try take a nutritional gel with me for the run. But, most importantly, I’ll be conscious of it, it won’t just be an easy decision to break the fast. But I’ll only break it on the day of the run, not during the training.”
What advice do you have to younger Muslim people who want to challenge themselves during Ramadan, perhaps in a similar athletic way?
“Don’t kill yourself like I am. I’m doing this because I’ve always wanted to, and my friends and extended connections passing away from cancer just made me decide to do it this year. I’ve always been into athletics; I am one of those gym freaks!”
“Here’s the thing, you shouldn’t over-exercise during Ramadan, don’t do anything too taxing. But it is a month of working on yourself, whatever that means for you. You shouldn’t just sit in bed all day, fast, and then eat at night. That’s useless, it makes Ramadan slightly void.
You want to try challenge yourself. If you want to do something crazy, try to do it within your means. Get out of your comfort zone, life is too short! And try to soak up all of the lessons that come from that month, don’t forget what you learn about yourself, what you learn about your body!”
As the month of Ramadan approaches next week, we would like to wish Muslims all around the world Ramadan Mubarak!
And to Zak, we wish you all the best with the marathon!
Please consider supporting Zak by donating to his page here.