Tazneem Anwar’s regular running route is swoon-worthy. Based in London, her local running group meets at the River Thames, passing beautiful bridges and wildlife along the water. But as the coronavirus took hold of London in 2020, her running group ground to halt. It would have been easy for Tazneem to throw her trainers in a closet and wait for life to return to normal.

Instead, she ran an ultramarathon.

The race covered a distance of 100 kilometers (62 miles)—farther than she’d ever thought possible when she started running four years ago. In a year that seemed determined to halt personal progress, dreams, and ambition, Tazneem fought back.

“To me,” she says, “that is progress. When I started running four years ago, running anything more than a few miles was a major thing.

In just a few years, I’ve gone from being a non-runner to an ultramarathon runner.

It's my own internal competition, my own running journey, my own progress.”

Tazneem’s continued progress changed the way she perceived herself. Growing up, she didn’t consider herself very sporty.

“Running brought out a different side of me,” she says. “I’ve learned to not underestimate myself.”

Despite this, it took her some time to acknowledge this personal shift. “For a long time, I thought ‘I’m just a person that runs; I wouldn’t call myself an athlete.’ But then I told my mom I’d hired a coach and she said ‘Oh! You’re taking it very seriously!’ And I thought ‘Well actually, I must be an athlete if I’m taking it that seriously!’”

It’s almost as if Tazneem is running to new parts of herself—and others have taken note. She’s become an expert source for other runners in her community, especially Muslim women. They look to her for advice on running during Ramadan (Tazneem still trains during this month of fasting), and where to buy lightweight, sweat-wicking clothing that makes them feel comfortable.

2020 didn’t stop Tazneem from running an ultramarathon, and it didn’t stop her from building community. She set up a running group for South Asian women, and in between lockdowns, they completed a couch-to-5K program.

“Some of them were hijabis like me, and some felt uncomfortable running alone after negative experiences. But we all ran together as a group, completing that 5K, and giving them confidence to run and wear whatever they want.”

If Tazneem can do all this in a pandemic, there’s no telling what she’ll finish next.

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