Tazneem Anwar is a woman unafraid to take on a challenge. Which is how she found herself at the start line of a two-day 100km ultra marathon, alongside dozens of hardened ultra-marathon runners.
The race would be an adventure into the unknown for the British runner. Indeed, at the point at which Tazneem was contemplating what lay ahead of her, she’d never even spent a night camping – so her first time sleeping in a tent would be in the middle of an ultra marathon.
But Tazneem knew that to succeed in her new mission, she had to lead from the front. This summer Tazneem featured in Strava’s Athlete in You campaign, encouraging active people to discover their inner athlete. This is her story.
“I actually only started running four years ago,” Tazneem says, “and when I started, running anything more than a few miles was a major thing.”
For Tazneem, a woman with a South Asian background who wears a hijab, there were few running role models with whom she could identify. And in fact growing up, Tazneem was not very sporty. But once she started running, there was no stopping her. And now Tazneem is showing the way to many other women – illustrating that they too can do more than they realise.
Initially Tazneem ran for her own physical and mental wellbeing. Pretty soon, however, she started to take her running more seriously.
“For a long time, I thought, ‘I’m just a person that runs; I wouldn’t call myself an athlete’,” says Tazneem. “But then I told my mum I’d hired a coach and she said, ‘Oh! You’re taking it very seriously!’ and I thought, ‘Well actually, I must be an athlete if I’m taking it that seriously!’”
The pull of running was strong enough for Tazneem to work out how to overcome barriers that many other runners don’t face – how to run while wearing a hijab; ways to train during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting; how to feel confident while out running.
That tenacity and knowledge has become a beacon for other women from her community who want to take up running, but lack information and confidence. “I had friends – other women from a South Asian background – who said they wanted to start running, but lacked the confidence. So I set up a group. It is well known that women from a South Asian background are less active than their counterparts from other backgrounds, so what I was doing was important. We started out with ten of us and we worked on a couch to 5km programme.”
Tazneem built a community of women using Strava social features such as Clubs and Group Challenges. These tools were a great way to encourage the women around her to stay active.
“The biggest hurdles were things like giving the women the confidence to run on their own. We talked about what to wear – for example, sweat-wicking hijabs or modest alternatives to running tights. Just being together made a huge difference. There were friendships formed between women in the group and it gave us all a safe environment in which to run.”
One of the tools that Tazneem and her fellow athletes use to feel safer when they run is the Beacon function in the Strava app. Tazneem says that she will activate the Beacon facility and share her location with her husband while she trains, giving both of them the reassurance that they are able to stay connected while Tazneem is out running.
Of course, soon after Tazneem started her running group, the pandemic hit. The arrival of Covid-19 threw so many obstacles in the way that the activities of many running groups came to a crashing halt. But not Tazneem’s.
“The biggest learning from the pandemic is that I can adapt and respond,” says Tazneem. “I really thought that if I can manage the couch to 5km programme through all the lockdowns and uncertainty, that shows the importance and the power of what we were doing.”
The women in Tazneem’s group needed the outlet of running even more than ever during the Covid-19 crisis. So Tazneem used the social tools in Strava to keep everyone connected and being active while working full-time, looking after three children and putting in the miles to be ready for her 100km odyssey.
In the end, Tazneem finished her ultra marathon in just over 22 hours. She had trained using Strava as a way to track her progress. “I really value being able to record my training and races in Strava,” explains Tazneem. “It really helps for me to be able to see my progress over time.”
And Tazneem also uses Strava’s Route Planning feature. “I like to be able to explore different areas when I’m training,” she says, “and having different routes available at the tap of a finger is a great facility.”
At the heart of it, running is a simple activity. But Tazneem knows that for many women, especially those from a South Asian background, getting started can feel overwhelming. Thankfully Tazneem is showing the way. Her next target is leading as many of the group as possible to train for a women-only 10km race.
With the enthusiasm, tenacity and attitude that Tazneem has brought to her running so far, there is little doubt that she and her fellow athletes will make it.
There’s an Athlete in All of Us. And if you let it loose, you might be surprised what you can do. Find out more: bit.ly/strava-athlete-in-you