Client Profile: Ultrarunner Shahid Ali

I recently had a chance to chat with ultrarunner Shahid Ali. Shahid is a former Ashland Grizzly football player and training client of mine who is now a steadily improving ultrarunner. He has raced as long as 100K (62 miles) and plans on finishing his first 100 miler this September at Pine to Palm 100 directed by Hal Koerner from Rogue Valley Runners. His strong faith is a centerpiece in his life
and at this current time, the holy month of Ramadan has just come to an end. He fasted from sunrise to sunset which included refraining from food and water, and he still trained and raced.  His running totals during Ramadan totaled 258 miles and 50,130ft elevation gain.  Not bad for not taking in any food or water!
RVFT: So tell me about your athletic background, what sports did you participate in?

Shahid Ali:  I was a defensive/offensive tackle for the Ashland Grizzly Football team.  Unfortunately, I injured my back and was unable to play for my senior season but I was still part of the team.

RVFT: How did you end up getting out of shape and hitting 200lbs on the scales?

Shahid Ali:  After High school, I ended up moving to Los Angeles where I lived and worked for a few years.  I had joined 24 hour fitness but I only worked out sporadically.  I wasn’t consistent and I just couldn’t stick with it.  I was busy with work and I ate out a lot.  You mix those things together and it’s easy to get overweight.

RVFT:  What motivated you to get back into shape and make healthy changes to your diet?

Shahid Ali:  After I moved back to Ashland, I got a job working for the school district.  I ran into my old High School defensive coach and he joked about needing one of me on his line.  It wasn’t said directly, but I knew what he meant, I was fat.  It was the winter of 2007 and after that comment, I decided my new year’s resolution was to get back into shape and workout.

RVFT: What nutritional changes did you end up making?

Shahid Ali:  I switched to eating more meals in a day.  I went from a more classic 3 meal a day schedule to 6 meals.  I watched my calorie intake and brought healthy food with me to work so I wouldn’t have any excuses for eating bad.  I also increased my intake of water.

RVFT: What did you think about when I made you bear crawl and do lunges throughout the weight room?

Shahid Ali:  I thought you were a little bit crazy and by the looks we got, so did some of the people in the gym.  I figured you knew what you were doing and it seemed to be working.

RVFT: So how did you first get into running?

Shahid Ali:  My boss was going to run the 6 mile 4th of July run here in Ashland and I called you to see what you thought about me running it.  You gave me the green light and I made it my goal to try and beat my boss.  In that same year, I went on to do the Mt. Ashland Hillclimb and the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon.

RVFT: What motivated you to run longer and longer until you reached the ultra distances?

Shahid Ali:  I would have to say that I got a lot of motivation from attending the group runs at Rogue Valley Runners on Wednesdays.  I had a chance to run with Hal Koerner, Erik Skaggs, Jenn Shelton and Ian Torrence to name a few.  They are all very talented ultra runners and their love for running ultras rubbed off on me.  In 2009, I ran my first ultra marathon, the Siskiyou Outback 50K.  It was really hard for me and I definitely bonked but I knew you would run the last mile with me and that kept me moving.  I was so happy when I saw you because I knew I had only one mile left.  I finished and the rest is history, I was hooked!

RVFT: What kind of mileage have you been putting in each week? What changed during the month of Ramadan?

Shahid Ali:  I have had a much more consistent year as far as mileage and I know that’s why I have been improving a lot.  I was averaging 50 to 60 mile weeks.  One of my main goals was to try and stay as injury free as possible this year.  During the holy month of Ramadan, my weekly mileage actually increased.  I ran White River 50 miler and had one day to recover before I would start fasting.  In the week after White River, I tried to get up and running quickly to see if I could get my legs back.  I ran the Mt. Ashland Hill climb one week after White River and still PR’d by 7 minutes.  The next week I ran 65 miles, followed by 71 and then 77.  I gained 15,000 ft in the 77 mile week and it was my highest mileage week ever, that did not include an ultra race.

RVFT: How much did you end up weighing at the end of Ramadan this year?

Shahid Ali:  I flucuate a lot during that time so I was anywhere from 162 to 147 lbs.  It really depended on how hydrated I was.

RVFT: How do you keep training and racing while fasting? What is your routine?

Shahid Ali:  Ramadan is a blessed month for Muslim people.  We believe we are spiritually closer to God during that time.  My faith was strong during my training and racing and I knew God would help me through.  As far as my routine went during Ramadan, I ran all my miles in the day time when I was fasting.  I ran 258 miles in 26 days.  Weekdays I would run double digits with a minimum of 10 miles.  I would get to bed around 12:30 to 1am and then rise at 4am to eat and drink fluids.  I would go back to sleep until 5 am and then go to work from 7:30am to 5:30pm.  After work I would run about 2 hours and then it was time to break fast and say our nightly prayers.  On the weekend, I would run longer, 15 to 17 miles.  I usually would run in the morning so I would have more energy and it would be cooler.

RVFT: Is there any single race that stands out most for you? Do you have a favorite race you have done so far?

Shahid Ali:  There isn’t really just one race that stands out for me.  I felt like it was the combination of White River and the Mt. Ashland Hill climb.  I was able to come back from a 50 mile PR and PR on the hill climb.  My favorite races are the local ones.  Especially Lithia Loop and Siskiyou Outback.

RVFT: Is there any races that you really want to do in the future?
Shahid Ali:  I would really like to run the Western States 100 but I need to get my first 100 miler under my belt before I can ever truly think about that.  I plan on finishing my first 100 this month at the Pine to Palm.  It’s another local race and Hal Koerner at Rogue Valley Runners always puts on a great race.

RVFT: In the past, did you ever think you’d end up being an ultrarunner?

Shahid Ali:  No!  I hated running and I used to always dread doing the 1 mile fitness test at Middle School.  I guess you could say that things have changed a lot since then.

RVFT: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!

Michael Sotos