That’s Why I Run – Ashiqali Damani

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Salaam Alaikum, I’m Ashiqali Damani. I love running, I love our community and I love Stanmore Jafferys. The dedication and servitude that our volunteers demonstrate in their various facets is second to none and for that, I express my appreciation to you all. The following is simply an attempt to share my journey and offer some tips.

  1. How did you get into running?

Surrounded by school friends who usually excelled at sports like Cricket, Football, Tennis, you name it. Yet, when it was time to assert themselves at the starter gun of a 3-mile cross country running race, all that competitive spirit dissolved away into moans and groans around me. Of course, there were other pupils who were more determined who poised themselves and starred into the small opening of the muddy woods amongst the dense trees. Twelve years old, having never experienced what a cross-country entailed, I was left with a stark choice – battle with the front runners or pander to my laziness and befriend the stragglers…

3-miles later, absolutely covered in mud and muck, stung by a multitude of nettles, this rookie finished a whopping third! The journey continued from there with representing the school and county for 1500m and 800m track races and in a nutshell, I was hooked.

The competing demands of A-levels, university, working, etc decreased the opportunity to run and I defaulted to sports like Football and Badminton but the love for running remained. However, having a computer related vocation ravaged regular activity, leading me to ‘overdo it’ when I did have an opportunity to engage in sport. Regrettably in 2008 I suffered a dislocation of my patella and fully ruptured my Anterior Cruciate Ligament in my left knee whilst playing football. To be blunt, the pace and stability in my left knee has never been the same since. Sure, there was significant improvement following operations and rehab but I had to resign from the likes of Football and Badminton and rekindle my love for running. Well, the docs did recommend cycling and swimming but I found them to be more arduous and time-consuming. Putting trainers on and going, is beautifully simple.

  1. What do you enjoy about running?

Running is not just running. Running is meditation, adventure, determination-building, goal-setting and neuroplasticity all wrapped up into one sweaty exercise.

Meditation; given that it casts aside stress and less important thoughts and instead takes in the rhythm of footsteps, panting patterns or the surrounding birdsong. A true zoning out experience.

Adventure; given that routes, company, location, pace, objectives can all be as varied as the weather on that day.

Determination building; given the mandatory conversations with yourself when you’re reaching your end point and your leg muscles are at war with you.

Neuroplasticity; given that clarity of mind is obtained and often surfaces solutions to make you feel like Back to the Future’s Doc Emmett Brown whilst striding.

Goal-setting; there is an invisible summit. There’s always a new and next target that can be considered and attained.

Stating ‘sweaty’ was deliberate as I firmly believe it is indeed the best form of the various cardiovascular options at hand.

  1. What is your proudest running moment?

Completing a 10k run in just over an hour, ten years after my original knee injury. As well clocking 22:56 in a 5K race a few years back. The aim is to train up and break that personal best soon inshallah.

  1. Running tips

You guys know the usual advice about correctly fitted shoes etc, the below are a little left field however, I hope they do provide value and improvement;

    1. Use a Foam Roller, especially after completing your run.
    2. Look up Dynamic stretching on YouTube and do those and not static stretches for your warm ups and warm downs.
    3. If you are running on a treadmill, always set it to a slight percentage incline, it really helps the knees and will improve body posture whilst running.
    4. Listen and take note of your varied breathing rhythms when you are running. There are distinct differences between the way you breathe and pant when you are walking, striding, jogging or running. So, listen carefully to the nuances and utilise that repetitive pattern to bring about consistency and longevity of your runs.

 i. Examples; “3:3” I.e. 3 steps breathing in, 3 steps while breathing out, or “2:2” I.e. 2 steps in, 2 steps breathing out, etc. Find your own unique breathing pattern and leg stride for what you want to achieve.

5. Connect with a small running group that are aiming for similar objectives or goals. I’m actually not a fan of large WhatsApp groups and gazillion likes/Kudos(?). Instead, better to connect with runners of similar pace and objectives and push each other to keep reaching the next stage, and the next stage.

6. Slight adjustments in your running posture can make a world of difference, especially for running efficiency. (Example; simply having the head more upwards, chest ever so slightly forwards and shoulders back will allow for better breathing, and less tension in the shoulders).

7. I have personally found that not eating anything, a minimum of one hour before running really helps guard against stitches and aids agility. Instead opt for just half a glass of water only, 30-40 mins before running to stay hydrated enough.

8. Leg strength training is key for pace/distance objective setting, particularly leg press and lunges.

9. Understand the science of strides; whether it is using shorter strides when you are fatiguing, longer when you are sprint finishing or elevating when you are going up hill. I.e. just be cognizant that being cognizant of your strides is seriously helpful.

10. Encourage your children to participate in weekly Children’s Park Runs. Please don’t take this one lightly, we must encourage and ingrain the right culture for the next generation and such initiatives are vital to the overall health and fitness of our future community.

5. Advice for aspiring runners

Forget the niceties and politeness. Listen. Get those trainers on, forget the excuses. Just smile and run. Then, when you’ve come back, set the next target.

Putting trainers on and going, is indeed, beautifully simple.

By Ashiqali Damani