That’s Why I Run – Ali Panju

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My name is Ali Panju and I’ve been running for about 2 years. I’m a Product Manager and father of three young children.

How did you get into running?

At school, I always hated the cross-country running. Muddy, often wet, cold… and long! “Long distance” was just never my thing. But in 2019 I realised that due to family and work commitments, I had stopped almost all physical activity which wasn’t a good thing. So I decided to turn up to ParkRun that I had heard about. It was local (so no excuses), had people that I knew attending (so not so daunting) and wasn’t that long a distance (so not a marathon!).

After running 5km weekly for a few months my routine was hit with injuries and COVID and I found myself back in the same old rut. It wasn’t until the SJ running group had a challenge on: “Run with someone you’ve not run with for a while” that I was coaxed back into the sport. Ali Momin took the effort to drive to my place on a cold December morning and in our socially distanced group of 2 he took me for a gentle jog. He taught me to “run slow” – run at a conversational pace and not try for a PB on each run. And with his support, and that of the SJ running team and community, I started back into running again.

What do you enjoy about running?

I don’t really… I am yet to find the enjoyment in running for the sake of running. I am motivated by the social runs, the opportunity to run with others and the conversations to take the mind off the run. I am motivated by completing the challenge, beating my best time or extending a distance. But mostly running is a necessary activity for personal health. It can fit around my schedule, I don’t actually need anyone else to be available (although, it really helps!) and I can do it any time of day, without needing to book a court, pitch or access a pool.

My children have started to run with me and wanted to try what Daddy was doing. My son especially has taken to the sport and I really enjoy sharing the time with him as we run ParkRun on a Saturday morning. I pray this continues as it serves to motivate me to get out of the house with him!

What are the challenges you find with running?

I really struggle with motivation. I am reliant on a challenge (training for a race) or social pressure to keep going. Left to my own devices, I probably would barely run at all. I have found the social groups at both ParkRun and SJ Running to be invaluable to get me out and on the road, for which I am immensely grateful.

I have also suffered with running related injuries, from knee issues to shin splints. These are common with runners (or so I’ve learnt) but with the right warm up/down routines, and the right equipment inc. running shoes, insoles and some knee braces, alhumdulillah I am currently able to run freely.

Advice for aspiring runners?

Start! Just do it. Try it! You might enjoy it, you will benefit from it, and you can do it. Once I took the first plunge to consider running 5km it lost its mystique and became something achievable (even if I couldn’t run the whole thing without stopping for a walk the first …few… times).

Once you get going, find what works for you and keep at it. I have found the social runs to be amazing and so now I’m more on the look out for group activities or “running buddies” (anyone in Watford area do get in touch!).

What is your proudest running moment?

With the support of the SJ Running family, and the conviction of my sponsors, I was able to complete the London Landmarks Half Marathon in August 2021. It was part of a fundraising effort with Who is Hussain supporting surgeries for under-privileged children with congenital heart conditions. Only a couple of years earlier I was unable to run a continuous 5km but following the personalised training plan (courtesy of SJ Running) and the moral support of my fellow SJ runners during training runs, I ran 21.1km through central London. Was it on my bucket list before? No. Is a Marathon now on the list? You bet!