Running Through Isolation: My Thought Process
By Intisar Abdul-Kader
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Mar 8, 2023
Intisar Abdul-Kader
Issue 2
Intisar Abdul-Kader is a mental health professional, a daughter, a colleague. She is also a Muslim, Black, Hijab-wearing runner and, by that simple fact, is helping to shape space for others like herself within the sport. Here, she describes the shift in the role running has played for her since the pandemic restrictions began: bringing her into a deeper awareness of ‘now’ and self that she didn’t have before.

So it is 8pm on the 23rd of March 2020 and I was glued to my TV screen watching the Prime Minister address the nation… lockdown will be starting in the UK to help combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the National Health Service (NHS); I also happen to work for the NHS in mental health service. All non-essential businesses, schools, colleges, and universities will be closing, working from home became my ‘new normal,’ and we had a thirty-minute slot to exercise outside…alone or with someone you live with. That thirty-minute slot became my lifeline, and running through isolation also became my ‘new normal.’

At times it seems like I’ve lived through a dream, but I will try and explain the impact this announcement has had on my running journey and well-being. Running was always my alone time before the pandemic with the added option of joining local running crews on track day training sessions or long runs on a Sunday. But as the pandemic continued and national lockdown rules became law, I had to quickly adapt and go back to my default settings: running alone for my safety and others.

That being said, I might have been running alone physically, but mentally and emotionally, I knew I had the support of the running community that I was always a part of. We like to call ourselves “Positive Peer Pressure Crew.” We started an online running “accountability partnership” by setting up and joining 100KM monthly challenges on the Nike Run App (NRC) and tagging each other on Instagram when completing a run to show the rest of the crew that running was still happening even during lockdown.

Accountability to my running partners and positive peer pressure from my running partners kept me going from March till December of 2020. I didn’t notice the kilometers I was clocking till the end of the year…I managed to cover just over 1200KM from the start of lockdown in the UK till the end of 2020. I ran long runs, slow runs, long slow runs, interval training runs, Fartlek runs, tempo runs, easy runs, recovery runs, and I took part in two virtual half marathon races. Running really kept me in check physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I have been working from home from the beginning of lockdown till now, the NHS was so overwhelmed during this time, and it still is. I work in mental health services which also saw a rise in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic. I used running as a break from the stressors of my work, planning my runs either first thing in the morning to help start my day with the right levels of endorphins, sunrise views, and coffee-to-go from my local coffee shop—or during my lunch breaks to help ease my eyes and brain from Zoom fatigue. But the runs I looked forward to the most were the runs planned for at the end of my working day.

I used running at the end of my day as a reward for myself. I would think to myself, “Get through this day, Intisar, and you will have a nice Fartlek run waiting for you at the end of the day.” I would repeat this to myself and change the type of run I would be going on, it easily became my mantra. It also meant that I was accountable to myself at the end of the day to complete a Fartlek run or any type of run according to the day’s training schedule. Of course, my positive peer pressure crew kept me accountable too!

Running helped me build a stronger connection between my mental self and physical self. I saw and treated running as a mechanism that helped me connect with my whole self. Running really held me together in more ways than I thought was possible.

I used running to check in with my body by scanning myself from top to bottom. How did I feel on that day? Are my legs heavy from yesterday’s speed run? Am I really in a mood to run today? If yes, then why? If not then also why? Can my pace improve, and how shall I do that? Should I add a strength workout to my week to help with cross-training? When am I taking a rest day, and how shall I rest?

Photography: Nic Veikle

These were all questions I asked myself during a run, and the goal was to find answers, and if I couldn’t find an answer, then that was ok too. It was the thought process that mattered to me the most and I would eventually find the answers I was looking for… maybe in my next run.

Another dimension of myself that I am very proud and aware of was the fact that I am a Muslim, Black, Hijab-wearing runner. My family, friends, and colleagues often hear me say, “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and this also applies to running while being a Muslim, Black, Hijab-wearing woman. I hope that my running journey is a beacon of hope to other girls and women that look like me; you really can be a runner too. Nike believed in my story and invited me to join their “Move without limits” campaign that was released across all platforms in February 2020. That was probably the highlight of 2020 for me, and I am hoping for many of these moments in the future.

I would like to share this quote by Jesse Owens, American track and field athlete and four-time gold medalist in the 1936 Olympic Games, that always resonated with me: “I always loved running, it was something you could do by yourself and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”

Running through isolation during a pandemic meant more to me than I could ever imagine. I run by myself, for myself, to find my present self and feel acquainted with this version of myself that I have proudly witnessed grow and evolve by running through isolation. I do miss races, major marathons, and running with crews across London, but for now, I like the person I have become during this process, and I would like to get to know her a little bit more.

This content was originally published in PRESENT
Issue 2

Intisar Abdul-Kader is a London-based patient and public involvement coordinator for the National Health Service (NHS). Intisar is passionate about mental wellbeing and works to help people navigate their journey to better health after therapy ends. In her free time, Intisar enjoys long-distance running and hiking.

I met Dennis back in Cologne through Hermes Villena, Béla Pablo Janssen and the rest of the ComeTogether gang we used to run. Good times. I collaborated with Dennis many times before and it was a no-brainer to have him on board!
I was always fascinated by his mix of professions and passions, notably writing (fantastic) poetry and travel books and being a Jiu-Jitsu fighter and teacher. Also, shout-out’s to Sergio for the great layout!