Gravel Culture: Fasting during Ramadhan or saddle sores? Or both?

Posted By Gravel Union On 14 April 2021

Iman Kagumba is a rising star in the East African gravel riding scene and is going to be racing at the Migration Gravel Race later this year. We asked her to tell us about training and riding as a Muslim athlete during Ramadhan.

I am pretty sure many of you will have lots of questions about Ramadhan, what it entails and how it prevents or accelerates certain aspects of life. As a Muslim, born in the religion, I have a few experiences and facts about Ramadhan and I wanted to share those with you.

First of all, what is Ramadhan and and why do Muslims fast?

We have got five pillars of Islam, (basic acts about Islam considered mandatory) which are as follows:

  • Shahada (profession of faith),
  • Swalah (prayer),
  • Zakat (almsgiving),
  • Saum (fasting during Ramadhan) and
  • Hajj (pilgrimage)

Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam. It’s performed from dawn to sunset each day, during which time Muslims who fast are expected to prohibit themselves from any food, drink, smoking or sexual intercourse or any acts of the same such as masturbation. Upon sunset, one can eat as much as they wish until dawn where they begin their fast - overfeeding is not advised though! Just eat the same portions you do in your daily normal life and you will hack it. The reasons that Muslims fast is to remind them of the needy people, and that all believers are similarly needy upon the assistance of Allah (God).

Ramadhan is a month of reflection, repentance, increment of charity and apologising to those who you may have wronged in your daily doings. Fasting is celebrated after the month ends for three days. The first day, Muslims gather in the mosque for a prayer celebration, which is then followed by the head of the family giving out money or alms.

Anyway, fasting as the forth pillar takes place in the month of Ramadhan in the Islamic calendar. Muslims use the lunar calendar which means that Ramadhan shifts 11 days earlier each year, hence the reason why Ramadhan keeps changing dates and months in the “normal” calendar. These should be enough facts to answer the most basic questions asked about Ramadhan I hope, for more questions you are free to ask and I’ll use my social media and comment section to reply to them.

Fasting or saddle sores?

Well, this is a topic that’s not well discussed, but it’s a pleasure to add more to what’s out there. I’m directly concerned about my fasting and my fitness for the coming Migration Gravel Race in June, which is literally a few weeks after fasting for Ramadhan. How can I keep my fitness levels up is a question I’m regularly asked? I’m puzzled too, haha, but I’ll figure it out as I go. I have a plan though, so let me share the plan with you all and let’s see how it’ll work out.

I have never had such pressure to keep up with my fitness in any of the previous Ramadhans since I had no races right after Ramadhan - rather most were before or a month or two after Ramadhan and even if they were right after Ramadhan, they would not be stage races.

So, I have been reading some articles about other athletes who still work out and fast, without compromising any of that and it was very useful reading, but very few of those athletes were cyclists. So, I gathered a few tips on what I will try to do during Ramadhan for me to be able to keep fit and still perform my fasting.

What to do?

We all know the feeling you get once you are back on your bike weeks after not riding it and it’s NOT a good feeling. Personally, I feel like my chest is about to collapse and my stomach is being cut by a saw! My legs don’t cry much, but my upper body is a mess. It will then take me a week to come back to form and then 2-3 more weeks of consistent 3-4 days of working out to gain my endurance and speed. What a mess. Clearly if I decide not to cycle though Ramadan I’ll not make it to MGR with the fitness level that is required for me to even survive the race!

So, I have decided to make a schedule for myself that involves a little gym work for power, a little running for endurance and some cycling at night. For the gym, I plan to do early morning sessions twice a week at around 7-9am. This will be after I’ve loaded up with a heavy breakfast and lots of fluid before sunrise. This will allow me to lift some weights for my power and upper body/back training without getting hungry, since I plan to use the fuel in my body at that moment before it burns out. Afterwards I will just go home and rest for the rest of the day, continue with my fasting and daily university routines.

The next two days I plan to run on an empty stomach, so I will be running in the evening. We break our fast at sunset which is around 6.45pm Kenyan time. I plan to start my run at 6.00pm, run for 45 minutes and get back home just in time for breaking the fast. This will be very hard considering how dehydrated I will be from the fasting, since we don’t take even a sip of water. So, I would probably go slow in the beginning then go hard later maybe 10 minutes to the finish.

The last two days I plan on being on my bike. I had planned to ride at night with a group of friends, but then the county I am in was put into lockdown and we have an 8pm curfew! 8pm is still a good time you would imagine, but the number of vehicles that are rushing home at that time makes it dangerous. The off-road trails are not so safe during the hours of darkness and even some areas here are red zones for violence, theft and robbery. Riding at night is quite tricky, so my last option in mind was the TURBO!

I looked around to borrow a turbo trainer for the month but everyone I asked confirmed their usage with them, so I remained thinking on getting myself the most affordable turbo trainer which is about 140 pounds in the Decathlon store. I haven’t been able to raise the amount yet but I’m hopeful. If the turbo doesn’t work out I’ll try to ride my bike with the same running formula. I’ll leave the house an hour before breaking my fast, ride for the hour, most probably do high intensity riding that is intervals or hill reps, and then go back home and feast, it’ll be worth it.

Can anything go wrong?

Oh yes, a lot can go wrong, from over working the body to blacking out, dehydration, injuries and more. Those are just a few of the things that have happened to me while training on an empty stomach. I am such a foodie and this is going to be a very difficult routine to adapt but I will hack it.

My one big advice is to always listen to your body. Do not overwork it and only push yourself when you feel strong enough, otherwise your health may suffer. Also trying to eat food that will replenish the energy stores and help in recovery, is also something I would recommend. I am looking forward to Ramadan and what it has to offer this year  I’ll write another update later on about how I am doing.

If you would like to help support Iman and other East African gravel riders to compete at this year’s Migration Gravel Race please consider donating to the Gravel Union Crowdfunding project

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