One of the most discernible features of speaking to Sultana Ahmed about her participation at the JD Gyms City of Preston 10K in September is the articulate and insightful way she reflects on how running has been at an intersection with her culture. Of Bangladeshi background, Sultana, 31, says that she has recognised a growing shift in how running is perceived in her culture, and, as she gleefully clocks up those miles of training before the Preston event, is happy to find herself at the forefront of this movement.
Sultana’s involvement in running was piqued by a chance encounter. Getting her children ready for their Easter sport’s day, her 11-year-old son said: "Mum, I would like you to run with me." As she smiled with surprise at his sweet suggestion, she agreed, not thinking she would have to follow through with her promise.
On the day, watching as each year did their lap on the muddy school field, she began to feel an eagerness to run. By the time it was her son’s class’ turn, she was filled with 'compounded excitement' and ran three laps with her boy. On returning home, news of the Preston 10K showed up on her social media feed, and after some research on the race, she signed up.
A few months on and it is clear that the bug has taken hold and has brought with it a sense, as many runners will testify, of personal journey. This seems to be rooted in the obstacles that may have perhaps prevented Sultana from taking to running earlier, as she explains: “From what I have observed in my community growing up – and this is from my personal experience - seeking a sound education and subsequently employment was much emphasised.
“Although this is a desirable objective, it overpowered the ability to look beyond this at how we can make our lives more fulfilling by taking up other activities such as sports. Sporting activities were watched rather than participated in. It was something we spoke about and never considered it could be done for leisure.”
Social events, when she was younger, would often rotate around food: “That takes me on to what the South Asian culture typically used to do for leisure. Friends and families would gather at each other’s house on weekends to enjoy a large variety of food. Who doesn't like food? The problem was, it was becoming an excessive lifestyle.”
Keen to break this cycle, Sultana explains that she has become far more health conscious over the years, and since becoming a mother, also feels it her responsibility to lead a balanced diet for her children. Equally, if her children see her following a more active lifestyle, they are likely to do similar: “I believe, for my children, it starts with me. If they see me running, they will know this is important to me, and they already want to join me during runs! At home I tell them to run up and down the stairs 10 times to get their heart rate up. That is quite handy when I need them to get something for me from upstairs!”
Since upping her mileage, Sultana has found herself a small group of running buddies within the community and has been surprised at how close the sport has brought them. It has also seen another welcome, yet perhaps more surprising, turn of events: “My mum knew of my running and although quizzed me on it a couple of times, I thought nothing of it. Two weeks ago, she went running in the park for the first time ever in her life and loved it.”
Sultana’s insight goes hand-in-hand with a firm sense of modesty, too. When I suggest that her running is breaking down cross-generational and cultural barriers, she responds: “Perhaps I’m just more part of this growing trend of people who have become inclined towards leading healthier and active lives.
“There are too many advantages; health benefits, getting outdoors, taking a break from our daily roles and of course enjoying the company of other amazing individuals. It is interesting how humans love to copy behaviour, so we just need to give them something good to copy I guess!”