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10 minutes with….Sheuly Zaman, marathon runner, fundraiser and mental health professional

Tell us a bit about you…

First and foremost, I’m a Mother of two amazing boys, both are off to university now. I’m a single mother and have a background in mental health which I’ve been working in for the last 14 to 15 years.

For the last five years I decided I wanted to make changes, and when you’re working as an employee it’s difficult to implement these changes. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and wanted to have more of an input so I set up with my business partner, supported accommodation for people with enduring mental health. We’ve got three homes where we support people to be reintroduced into the communities, reintegrate – supporting people, prompting, we help with employment, fitness – anything and everything needed on a day to day basis.

In my spare time – as my boys left home this year, that gave me the space that I needed. At the moment, my aim is to start a fitness course – things I’ve always enjoyed and wanted to do, and here I am.

I work with a few charities, Muslim Charity, I’ve travelled to Bangladesh and the plan is to travel to other countries, to try and see what I can do to support people in need and in poverty. This year, one of my main plans is to promote fitness and try to introduce mental health as well, to try and make people aware of stigma behind mental health and see what that can do. So that’s me!

You’ve recently been on tour in Yorkshire?

That again was for charity, raising money for Honouring our Mothers – funding for incubators in a hospital in Bangladesh. We managed to raise £7500; it was challenges like hiking, horse riding, so it was a few days spent in Yorkshire doing all of that. There was a group of eight of us and the funds are buying three incubators for the hospital in Bangladesh.

In January, I did a marathon in Marrakech which was for the same charity, and that was for Rohingya people in Burma, so I raised funds for that through sponsorship for the run.


Running in Marrakech must be quite difficult?

It was, but to be honest, it just happened – it’s not like I was an athlete, as you can imagine I’m 40+, so it’s not something I’d been doing and with responsibilities of bringing up children on my own and stuff, I hadn’t trained. I’ve always been very active, when I was young, I was very athletic and did sports, so it was always in me and it just happened.

I saw the poster for the Marrakech Run through the charity – and it just kept promoting men for some reason. So I called one of the project managers and said I wanted to do it, and he said ‘we’d love you to, no females are coming’ and I said ‘I’d love to! But it almost seems like you guys are constantly promoting to men and not women…’ So, then I registered, that was about six weeks before the run itself.


Had you been running before that?

Not really – like I said I had two boys, motherhood, business… everything, so just the occasional going to the gym and it wasn’t consistent. When I signed up I thought ‘oh my, what have I done! I have to prove myself, at least walk it as it’s going to be for charity’.

I actually managed to do quite well, I was happy – I did some training for about two weeks, you know proper, but again I had an inspection at work and training wasn’t consistent.

I was a bit worried about the heat in Marrakech, because I obviously wear the scarf, so it took a lot of planning – what am I going to wear, how am I going to cover my head, as well as the heat and everything. But it went well, I was pleasantly surprised, it was an amazing atmosphere.

I think when you’ve got a goal in mind and you’re working towards something, I mean, as I was running the only thing in my mind was the people that I was actually doing this run for, so my ultimate goal was, ‘you know what I’m not in any worse situation than what they’re going through, I can’t even begin to understand the hardship’, so I think that’s what kept me going.

I actually ran the whole thing, I think there was only about 20 minutes when you know you’re really exhausted and you’re not properly trained, but the atmosphere, the people, the friends I went with, it just all fell into place and I absolutely loved it. Actually, now I’m signed up for it every year, and this year I’ve got two 10k runs that I’m doing, so it’s just bought out something quite amazing within me and I love it.

Now I do my walks everyday – about 8 miles, from home to work then back again. It’s just given me the confidence to do things that I want and it’s not daunting anymore, so that’s what’s been going on for me.


What have you learnt from running a marathon?

I think the willpower aspect, it’s given me my confidence that I needed, you know the whole idea behind ‘you can’t do it, you need to train’. You do need to train and I think it’s very important for you to be aware of the nourishment side of things in terms of nutritional values and what you should have and what you shouldn’t have.

The changes that I’ve seen physically and mentally since I’ve been active has just been phenomenal, it’s just given me a boost, you know I’m not lethargic, I’ve got more energy and I think this is what a lot of people need to understand. Especially when people talk about stress and ‘I haven’t got the energy to do this’: the point is the more that you do, the more active you are, you build the energy level, it increases it doesn’t decrease.

So that’s what’s given me insight into, I didn’t really think ‘oh my hectic life how am I going to fit everything together’, or ‘if I exhaust myself I won’t have the energy to do other stuff’, it’s actually the other way round – the more I do, the more energy I have, in a positive way. It’s given me an insight into my physical health aspects, which I didn’t really realise.

Have you got any tips for people about getting into fitness? Like how to make time, or stay motivated?

I think one of the things that I find is quite saddening is the fear of not being able to do it. What they have to understand is it’s not a competition, what they should have in mind is the benefits. In terms of finding times, I was watching some of the ladies in the park with their kids and I know that everybody, I’ve been there, I’ve had young kids and finding time – you can find time for yourself. Especially when you’ve got small kids, take them with you, start them slowly, start with walking and then once you’ve done that, aim for jogging and if you want to run, you run. But keep it consistent – I think the consistency is what a lot of people aren’t able to manage. So I’d say to people to focus on making some time for yourself – I think everything else, it’s organising one’s self, if you have youngsters, to get them involved.

I’ve taken on cycling as well and I just think, 10 years ago if someone had said to me cycle, I’d of said ‘Are you having a laugh? It’s not possible.’ but then it’s getting on the bike, and then you find time. One of my boys is moving back home this week so I’m thinking of getting a bike for him.

If you find any sort of sporting activity, your children can join in, so you’re not actually detaching them from that quality time, if you think that’s what you’re going to do. It’s actually a joint venture you’ll be taking on. I’d say, especially to Mother’s if you want to go up there and spend quality time with your kids, do something which is sporting, introduce them to good exercise routines, anything that is sporting where both the mother, father, children, whoever…the whole family can join, make it a joint thing, it doesn’t have to be isolation.


You’ve set up a running club, what can people expect from that?

Yes we have a running club which meets at the London Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park on Sundays at 10.30am.

Everybody can do it at their own pace, the other day myself and Shakil (who I started the club with) and my niece came along, and there was one point where she just couldn’t keep up, so she just sat down and said look I’m tired now, you guys carry on. We know everyone’s got different levels of fitness and we’re quite happy to accommodate that. Anyone can join in – if it means we have to walk for a few weeks until people feel confident then we’re more than happy to do that. If there’s a group of people who think they can run, we can divide the group, and somebody can take the lead. We’ll have different stops where people can stop and wait or catch up.


Is there any cost to go to the running club?

It’s absolutely free, when the group starts running we’re planning on doing fun runs for charity and if they’re feeling confident they can sign up for the Marrakech run. We’re taking applications for next year – at least when there’s a target and something to work towards, they’ve got a goal.

There’s lots of things we’re doing and will keep updating people and all do it as part of a group. When we did the Marrakech run, there was quite a few groups and it was my first (marathon) and there was one guy Sam it was his first as well, and then we had a few others who haven’t run in 40 years, so we all partnered with whoever we thought was suitable and could do it in our own pace.

There was one guy who did it in 1 hour 40 minutes, others 2 hours, 3 hours, whatever. We were there to support each other, it’s not like you had to have a time – unless you do it you don’t have a time you need to beat or a goal. We encourage people to have a goal for themselves, maybe if someone’s got a wedding or party coming up, and they need a group for fitness, this is the ideal opportunity and we talk about nourishment, food and nutrition, how not to exhaust yourself.


Have you got any other comments for anyone reading this?

I wish somehow I could get the message across to people, we live in an environment where life is extremely stressful and because of our physical health, we encounter a lot of problems and when you are physically unwell, it somehow ripples down to other illnesses, leads to long term problems. I wish that people would start off with little, little steps to avoid those.

Everybody gets old there is no doubt about that, I wish we could stop that but it’s not possible, but it would be better to have a healthy old age than one with ongoing health issues, be it mental, physical. The new research about Alzheimer’s and all the other mental health problems indicates good exercise, good food can prolong it. It’s about people wanting to make changes in their life for their future and when you enjoy something and find a passion in the sporting activity, it doesn’t weigh you down – it gives you the boost you need. My suggestion to people would be take any opportunities you can to be fit and have that around you. When families do it together, the children, the next generation, they will understand it better, and you’re actually educating your kids and trying to encourage them for a healthier future.

For further details about the running club, please call: Shakil Miah 07908474647

Find out about Muslim Charity http://www.muslimcharity.org.uk/