From fear of dehydration to busy evenings full of commitments, Ramadan poses many challenges to exercise. But these cyclists do not lose sight of their health goals
Sport in Ramadan: Abu Dhabi's Raha Cycling on how they fast and ride
As the scorching summer heat beats down on the people of Abu Dhabi, the athletic ambitions of many residents wilt and fade. Yet instead of hanging up their spokes this sweaty Ramadan, the attitude of the Raha Cycling group is "challenge accepted".
For these hardy cyclists, who are training and participating in races in hot weather while also observing the holy month, it's about proving that it's possible to fast and stay active.
Sherif Said fasts while balancing a sedentary job and training through swimming, riding or going to the gym, every day of the week. This Ramadan, he took part in a 50-kilometre race on a new track on the recently opened Al Hudayriat Island, as well as cycling 75km in the Nad Al Sheba Ramadan Nights Challenge race.
“We are not meant to hibernate in Ramadan. You carry on with life. There are challenges as the schedule is extremely tight with work, family commitments and attending night prayers. It has a bit of an impact, but it is manageable,” said the Egyptian-British expat, who lives in Abu Dhabi.
Mr Said started cycling when he was a child, but only started taking the sport seriously four years ago, and that’s when he started training in Ramadan. Raha Cycling, a social cycling group, rides on Friday and Saturday mornings with groups of between 40 and 60 people, and during the week members train on their own.
Mr Said manages his training by cycling, swimming or going for a short run on a treadmill before iftar.
“I do short and easy sessions before iftar and then I do anything that is hard-intensity or a long session of cycling after Taraweeh prayers,” said the auditor, who works in the telecommunications sector.
“Once sports and exercise are part of your daily routine, whether it’s Ramadan or not, it makes no difference. I don’t know anyone who has made sports part of their routine, but then don't engage during Ramadan. The people who do this are the ones who train occasionally – they exercise one week and not the next,” said the 38-year old.
Not being able to drink water and not getting enough sleep are the biggest challenges for the cyclist.
“Especially when you combine this with the challenge the heat presents. You have to plan your exercise carefully,” he said.
Mr Said enjoys challenging himself, though, and last month he completed the Ironman South Africa, which involves a 3.8km swim, a 180km cycle and a marathon.
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Ali Hassan Abuobieda, a 34-year-old Palestinian physiotherapist who has enjoyed cycling as a hobby for more than a decade, is also a member of Raha Cycling. He started riding with the group two years ago, but started training during Ramadan five years ago.
“In Ramadan, I always try keep up my fitness levels up and at the same time ensure I don’t lose my strength,” he said.
While he trains and does long rides after iftar, he engages in a 30-to-45-minute workout before he breaks his fast.
“Some people can’t exercise outdoors in Ramadan and that’s understandable, but they can be active indoors. They can go to the gym or walk on the treadmill or do cardio,” he said.
Hydration is extremely important for the athlete, who ensures he consumes sufficient amounts of water and juices after breaking his fast.
“It’s very hard sometimes. I feel very weak at some points and then I rest for a couple of days,” he said.
His advice to people who are afraid to exercise in Ramadan is: "Try it a couple of times. It will be hard in the beginning but it will get easier."