Marathon Training and Ramadan fasting

Well here is something you don’t encounter every day, is there anyone going through something similar? Islamic marathon training, is there such a thing? Currently, my marathon schedule has me running around 4 times per week; 15-20 miles during the week, and 13+ miles for the long run on the weekend. So, Monday/Tuesday/Thursday would be 6-7 miles each, and a long run on Saturday/Sunday morning. Within the past few weeks, the training has been going smoothly and I’m feeling a little stronger/faster everyday (on average). Its been a hot summer so far. Running in the heat and humidity requires more hydration. Imagine running during these hot days without water or food. Well, I can share my experience.

I converted to Islam back in 2000, when the Ramadan (the lunar month of fasting) was in early winter. I’ll explain. The Islamic year is about 2 weeks shorter than our 365-day year. Every Islamic month is a lunar cycle; about 29 days. So every year, Ramadan shifts back by 2 weeks. Currently, July 20-August 19 is the Ramadan month. As a muslim, I must fast everyday during this month. What does this require? There is no eating or drinking anything for as long as the sun is up. Currently, the NYC summer has 16 hours of sunlight. As of now, the fasting is from 4:15am – 8:20pm (give or take 5-15 minutes due to the dynamics of the sun and earth throughout month). Typically, you wake up before 4am to feast and store food as well as guzzle a few cups of water to get through the next 16 hours. Many go back to sleep or take a nap during the day, but I just stay up, go to work, like any ordinary day. When sunset finally comes, you can break your fast (you have no idea how good that first glass of water feels). Now recall that the summer has 16 hour days, well that leaves 8 hours to eat and sleep. A 6 hour straight sleep is perhaps the most you can get. Having said all this, how am I supposed to run?! If the training is paused for the entire month, will this complicate things? How to proceed?

The Ramadan sunset 5k:
Running at 4:30am right after stuffing my face without being able to hydrate afterwards is not going to work out. Running at 8:30pm right after stuffing my face after a long 18 hour day is not going to work out either. That leaves one option; run right before sunset. Is it possible? Hell yes, for at least for 20 minutes. How did it feel? Although I felt thirstier than usual (obviously), I did feel lighter (no food to digest) and therefore a bit faster. But sadly, you burnout much quicker, every mile feels like 3. Could I run a 5K, 10K? I plan to figure that out this month. Ideally, I’d like to run 3 10Ks per week. But there is no avoiding the long runs on the weekends. For everyday you don’t fast, you have to make up that day. So it looks like I’ll have to make up for 5 Saturdays (its dangerous to attempt a 13+ mile run without food or water during this hot summer). So yesterday, I went out for a Ramadan sunset jog, like a little more than 2 miles. Success! Next week I’ll experiment with attempting a whole 5K.

July 21st
8 miles @ 8.48 min/mile pace in Central park with the wolf pack. It’s easy to conclude that I run faster with a group or even a race, but certainly not alone. I can’t bear the shame of being left behind by the wolf pack. It would be ideal to maintain that pace throughout the NYC marathon. The difference between 9 min/mile and 10 min/mile is a 4 hour marathon and 4.5 hour marathon; 30 minutes.

Training is tough, fasting is tough, work is tough, life is tough, but I’m going to stick to my 2012 motto: There are no excuses, let’s go!

7 thoughts on “Marathon Training and Ramadan fasting

  1. PDX Running Chick July 24, 2012 / 4:43 pm

    While I have not converted to Islam, I have run on no food. I do a Master Cleanse 2 or 3 (okay sometimes 4) times a year. This means that for 10 days I don’t eat any food but I can drink a mixture of fresh lemon juice and pure grade maple syrup (not as disgusting as it sounds). Anyway most of the time when I fast I still run (this last time I did not, but that was partially due to my auto accident), last year in fact I ran a 15K race on day 7 of the cleanse. 7 days with no food, at all, and I ran a 15K.

    While you cannot eat or drink anything when the sun is up, you can prepare your body more efficiently (in my opinion) with what you eat and drink when you are able to. I wouldn’t attempt to run in the morning after eating unless you get up at 3, drink a quart of water and eat rather lightly (not stuffing your face), maybe a bagel and peanut butter and a bananna. Or even your regular oatmeal, but a reasonable amount of food, not a “this has to last me all freaking day” amount of food. Then at 4:30 a.m. you could run probably without much problem. You wouldn’t feel like you were going to vomit, you probably wouldn’t cramp, I’d bet you’d be okay. The problem would be that then you have to work and make it all day before you have more food and that’s a long day when you start at 3 a.m.

    If you choose to run in the evening I would do something similar. I’d still eat oatmeal for breakfast or the bagel/peanut butter and banana and drink a quart or half gallon of water and then I would run right after work, or right before sunset — you won’t have a lot of fuel necessarily, but depending on the level and amount of complex carbs you were able to absorb that morning you should have enough to run 6 or 7 miles (in my opinion). In addition, when you are able to eat in the evening you could eat stuff that will fuel your body the next day, i.e., brown rice, beans, whole wheat pasta, sweet potatos, etc. If you eat a nice, solid helping of brown rice, beans, and sweet potatos and then eat the oatmeal in the morning and maybe the bagel/peanut butter and banana also, that evening you should be fine to run.

    Take into consideration I’m a woman and probably do not need as much fuel as you do, so you’d probably need to eat more than what I would eat. However, I truly believe that this is a mind game. As just about every aspect of running is. Of course, I don’t live where its sweltering outside either so the water may be the bigger issue for you.

    I wonder if you could come home, wait for sunset, eat and drink water, wait an hour to 90 minutes and THEN run, for an hour or so, come home, eat again (because you will have used every bit of your fuel) and go to bed. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like you’d get much sleep, but I’m just trying to think of options for you.

    Above all else believe that you can do this. You fast because of your faith which can be a very meaningful experience. Have faith in your ability to incorporate your regular life routine into this meaningful event without issue. Our bodies are stronger than we believe.

    Good luck (and I’m sorry to write a response almost as long as your post!)

    – PDX

    • sephiroth796 July 25, 2012 / 5:27 am

      Firstly, thank you for your generous reply. Wow, a 15K on 7 days without food, you are superwoman. I can’t imagine what a Master cleanse is like, my stomach is already dancing around at hour 16. And I appreciate your recommendations. Running that early in the morning will be more like a zombie run as it takes at least an hour for me to “snap out of it”. After the almost 6 hours of sleep, waking up from bed feels like running a marathon. I tried the sunset jog again yesterday, and lasted 2.5 miles (almost there at a 5K). I’m learning more and more everyday about the right foods to eat; it really does make a difference. For some reason, bananas don’t agree with me, so I just take a supplement to replace the potassium. Yes its very much a mind game, but I have to admit, the training is making it easier; therefore, less need for the mind games at least during the first hour or 2.

      Ah such a good quote, “Our bodies are stronger than we believe”. I realize this every Ramadan. Doesn’t it sound crazy when you hear “no water for 16 hours, no food for 10 days, and then run for a few miles”. But then we do it and then feel like we could’ve done more, as if we were not fasting or on a cleanse. Pushing the limits, that’s what its all about. And no worries about the reply, I’m simply glad that you took an interest in this post as well as provide advice. We all should learn something new and valuable everyday, if not, then the day was not used efficiently. Take care PDX.

  2. decidida74 May 17, 2013 / 4:31 pm

    I’ll be hoping for cool, overcast (or even rainy) afternoons to help keep my body cool!! I’m excited and nervous July!

    • sephiroth796 May 17, 2013 / 4:54 pm

      Running on hot summer days in the rain is the best. Your body soaks up the water like a plant which delays the thirst. Happiness = breaking fast after a sunset workout session after 16 hours of not eating/drinking. We get 30 days of it! The only hard part is the sleep deprivation; summer has the longest daylight period.

  3. lemonseleven June 10, 2014 / 9:54 am

    Wow, what a fascinating post. I will be thinking of you and your extra challenges as I do my marathon training!

    • sephiroth796 June 10, 2014 / 10:26 am

      Thank you for stopping by my blog. It looks like we’re both preparing for Chicago this October. I look forward to your training posts.

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