In Conversation with Intisar: Training to run

In Conversation with Intisar: Training to run

Back in July 325 women shared how they were adjusting their Functional Training during COVID-19. 66% of women have introduced running and are seeing physical and mental benefits from diversifying their training routine. To support these women on their running journey’s we wanted to share some advice from an expert.

We had the privilege of sitting down with Intisar over Zoom to hear her story, learn why she’s passionate about running and get some valuable advice for women. Intisar is a long-distance runner, yoga instructor, and an NHS Mental Health Practitioner for young people. Her aim is to inspire hijab wearing girls and women from all backgrounds, especially Black, to run. 


The Sprint Round

What three words describe how you feel when running?

Free. Strong. Fast.

What is something you’ve learned about yourself through running? 

I can do anything I set my mind to. Last year I completed the Everest base camp trek. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was absolutely amazing.

What's been a high point in your running journey?

Running the London marathon twice. It’s so special to run London as a Londoner. It starts and ends with you being at home.

What about a low point?

After running the Chicago marathon I picked up an injury at the airport, which meant I had to pull out of a Midnight Half Race, organised by Orchard Street Runners.


Advice For Endurance Running

How do you prepare for marathons?

I usually start training 20 weeks before a race. My training week has about 3-4 runs and 2 strength sessions, although these can be adapted depending on how my body feels. I prefer to run in the morning as it’s when I perform best. An example training week might look like this...

_1 x long run (I like to do this on a Sunday)
_1 x recovery run after a long run, at a pace you can talk at
_1 x speed session, structured intervals
_1 x tempo run, hard but controlled effort run; roughly around 85-90% of max heart rate
_2 x strength training sessions
_Incorporate yoga and stretching every day, even if only 10 minutes

Make sure you try everything before a race and don’t change anything the week before. Your outfit, socks, how many gels you will use, and how many times you will drink and when. I have a Maurten gel every 7km. 

Quick tip for drinking on your training runs: Run a loop that goes through areas you know and find safe places to put water bottles. Then you can pick them up on your run around.

Intisar Abdul-Kader at a running track

How do you look after your body after endurance runs?

Have a good meal, a bath with Epsom salts, and then stretch. I’m also a yoga instructor so I definitely get on the mat. The worst thing you can do is sit still after, so a walk really helps. 

Does mindset play a part in your running?

I have to mentally build myself up for speed sessions as I find it very uncomfortable running at that pace. Generally, I look forward to my long runs. Some days you don’t want to do it but often it will make you feel better. Or I take a rest day - it’s okay to do that!

We know some people struggle with boredom on long runs. Any tactics here?

Running with a partner or in groups really helps. And a good playlist! I put a lot of effort into my playlists and always make sure the songs at the beginning aren’t too fast. A favourite of mine is the Nike Marathon Mix on Apple Music.  A radio show, with music segments in between, is also good at holding my attention. Sometimes I don’t listen to anything and focus on my breathing - I practice nose breathing.

What advice would you give to someone trying to improve their time splits?

Incorporating plyometric exercises into your training - e.g. squat jumps, squat knee tucks - really helps your fast-twitch muscle fibers. Also having a sprint session in your training week helps build your anaerobic capacity. Fast shuttle runs - 30m / 40m / 60m / 80m with a 0-30 second rest period. You need to run fast, to be stronger, so you can run for longer.


The Journey So Far 

Running was something Intisar did at school, relay races and cross-country. But she picked up running again a few years ago, the same year that she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was a way for her to get out of the house. Be in her body and see what it was capable of doing. It became her form of therapy. 

Bit by bit the distances were picking up and she started signing up for races. In 2016 she got a place in the ballot for the London marathon, first time round. After completing one world major she was hooked, and immediately knew she wanted to complete all six. Since then she’s run Berlin, Chicago, London again and has a place for New York which has been deferred to 2021.  

Pretty impressive, and these are just her marathon races! We were curious to know if it’s the races that keep her motivated. She said that races definitely help keep her driven as she has a goal to work towards. But she is mainly motivated by seeing what her body can achieve and beating her own times - “I don’t compare myself to anyone else.”

12 months ago Intisar started strength training with Saeid Reza (Strength and Conditioning Trainer at BOXR based in Mill Hill, London), who was a former GB sprinter. “I needed to be strong enough to run marathon distances without getting injured at the end.” The weight training incorporates deadlifts, squats, medball slams, and plyometric movements. There is an element of discomfort with this though - “I wear gloves to avoid calluses and it’s so uncomfortable when the barbell is across your collarbones.” But incorporating this training has really complimented her running. “I can run faster and my recovery rate has improved. It helps make me a strong human being.  And this helped me become a stronger runner.” During lockdown, Intisar continued her training and actually got PBs in her 5k, 10k, and half marathon times! She definitely believes this is because of adding strength elements into her training programme. 

You can find Intisar on Instagram (@intysar) or follow her on the Nike Run Club (NRC) app - Intisar Abdul-Kader.