For all intents and purposes, my Ramadan this year is over. That means I can sit back
and reflect on what was a relatively intense training schedule while fasting this year.
Ramadan officially ends near the end of this coming week. But women don’t fast when they get their periods. There are other exceptions as well: those who are too ill don’t fast, and travelers don’t have to either. I feel fortunate to be a pre-menopausal woman. Sadly, that can’t last for much longer.
I’ve been exercising during Ramadan for a few years now. Every year I’ve pushed it just a little bit more than the previous year. The gradual progression has helped me understand my limits; or rather figure out just how far I can actually go.
This year was a particularly challenging year because I have a couple of important (to me) long distance events that require lots of training. I just couldn’t afford to pull back on the training too much for a significant amount of time. But I did need to pull it back enough to make sure I didn’t hurt or deplete myself.
The past three weeks have been tough. I had two workouts a day most days. During my last few days of training before my period arrived, I even had two or three days when I had three different workouts in a single day.
I found that things worked best when I divided them all up properly. I did an early morning workout when I still had energy from eating late the previous night. And I did an evening workout when I knew I’d be eating and drinking in a couple of hours. That worked out quite well. There were a couple of days when my motivation went down the drain. Between work, exercise, and ridiculously bad weather, I just couldn’t get myself to do one of my open water lake swims, for example. I never regretted not going. I missed a couple of other scheduled sessions (swim or bike), but made them up later on in the week. I found that sometimes it was better to spread things out a bit—even if it meant not having a full rest day every week— than doing a scheduled session when I really didn’t have the physical or mental energy to do it.
My gym sessions, swims and runs have all been what they were before Ramadan. But my bike sessions have been shorter because it would have been impossible to cycle for too long without food or drink. Despite eating and drinking now, I’m still keeping my bike rides on the short end of things. My body needs to recover. I can feel it. So I’m allowing myself to take it easy on bike rides in terms of length and intensity for another few days.
It’s amazing what the human body can endure. I’ve been fasting one month a year for most of my life (since I was roughly ten years old). So the act of fasting isn’t really a big deal to me. I’m accustomed to it both mentally and physically. Over the past 40 years, I’ve lived my life pretty normally during Ramadan: studying, taking exams, running errands, going to work, taking care of home and family. Exercise became part of my daily routine only as I got older. But I’ve now learned that I can keep it part of that daily routine when I’m fasting as long as I’m smart about it and remain self-aware and vigilant.
I’d love to see research on what happens in the body when one works out while fasting.
Physically, I felt pretty normal most of the time. Exercising on a lighter stomach definitely has its advantages. I felt it mostly during the swims. It’s easier for me to swim when I don’t feel like I still have food in my stomach. I’m the kind of person that takes several hours to digest food. In the future, I’m going to try to make sure to have meals no less than three or four hours before a swim. I might also try to give myself a light energy boost half an hour before swimming by eating a couple of dates or something. Gym sessions, runs, and swims early in the morning on an empty stomach (as long as they are no longer than an hour) seem to work for me really well. It’s always the longer bike rides that I need to be careful about. I need proper energy before, during and after them.
My challenge during Ramadan was more of a mental one. Most of my challenges are anyways. Towards the end of my three weeks of fasting, the mental aspect of fasting for umpteen hours a day while working and exercising was wearing me down. The fasts here in the north of the UK last from around 3AM till around 9:45PM. That’s a long time to go without food or fluids. I think I mainly felt very lonely, fasting without friends, family and community. Fasting in Egypt is very different. In Egypt, Ramadan is such a festive, family-oriented time of the month. Think Christmas, in summer (Ramadan follows a lunar calendar so it’s time does change a bit every year), lasting for a whole month. Yes. This was definitely a very, very lonely Ramadan for me and I think that had more of an effect on me and my ability to train than anything else.
It’s done now. I might need to fast for the last day or two of Ramadan. But that’s all right. I can soon get back to training according to my normal schedule. I just need to look for other excuses now so I can complain about how difficult and wearing it all is. I’m sure I’ll manage to find some. 🙂