Nina, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a 40 year old Iranian-America born to immigrant parents. I am a social worker, but also a fitness junkie and food lover at heart. I’ve been on the PTA for 6 years, and I’m a co-founder of the RamadanREADy Library project, a non-profit that donates Ramadan kits to public schools and libraries. I’m also a proud soccer mom and team parent!
I began running when I was 32 in an effort to take better care of both my mental and physical health. What began as a hobby quickly turned into my passion. Running is a solitary sport, but I was very much surprised by how community-oriented it is. Over the past 8 years, I have competed in 2 marathons, 7 half marathons, and countless 5 & 10ks. I’ve also completed a Spartan trifecta, Spartan Stadium, 3 Ragnars (both trail & road) 2 duathalons and a sprint triathalon.
Wow! That’s amazing. You mentioned that you started running at the age of 32. What inspired you to start running competitively? Were you active before that?
I used to play piano as a kid, but I didn’t love it and I finally convinced my mom to sign me up for soccer when I was 12. I was a mid-fielder, which is a running heavy position. My coaches discovered I was really fast and could sprint, so they nicknamed me “Speedy Jalili” and “The Jet.” Once I got into high school I was a sprinter on the track team doing the 100 m, 200 m, 400 m dash and 1600 relay. I also did cross country for 1 year while playing freshman/sophomore soccer for my high school team.
My running career took a back seat throughout college, grad school and the earlier part of my marriage and raising a family. After I had my second son, I started having panic attacks from secondary PTSD as a trauma center / ER social worker. I saw some crazy things come in through those double doors! My husband insisted that I pick up a hobby to manage my stress better. My first instinct was to signup for a marathon, even though I hadn’t been running for over 14 years.
I found an online running program and began first by walking on my treadmill in the garage. From there, I was on a roll and before I knew it, I officially fell in love with the “runner’s high.”
What was the hardest part of starting a consistent training regimen after such a long time of not running?
Finding the time! I was working 12 hour shifts in the ER 3 days a week. I also had two kids, volunteered consistently at their school, and still managed our home. I literally just had to make the time.
To be honest, getting off social media helped. My best friend was also into health and fitness at the time and we would do yoga classes together at night after we put the babies to bed. I did my training runs in the morning before everyone woke up. I did my long runs on weekends, and I’d often ask my in-laws to babysit if I had some time to run during the week.
Having a program that I could print or save on my phone really helped too. I signed up for races along the way as prescribed by the program and I read a lot. I pretty much home-school my way into being a runner! The program kept me accountable and really helped me develop my running base that was both enjoyable and simple to follow.
Were you nervous to start wearing hijab as an athlete? How has the experience of being a hijabi athlete been for you so far?
I was not nervous about the reaction or acceptance of others, but I was nervous about what I would wear while participating in the sports I love. I have always worn hijab during Ramadan and still even trained during the month, so I guess you could say I practiced wearing hijab during those times. But, because I always loved exercise, I used it as my excuse to not fully make the transition into wearing hijab full-time. Then one day, it just felt like it wasn’t a good enough excuse for me anymore.
Lucky for me, the first active modest sportswear company that I found was Sukoon Active, and I absolutely loved it! It fulfilled all my requirements of being modest while allowing me to move freely and comfortably while staying cool, dry & modest. Prior to finding Sukoon I was wearing bonnets or buffs under a baseball cap and just wearing dri-fit long sleeve shirts and layering the heck out of my wardrobe. Not ideal!
I absolutely love wearing hijab as an athlete. I only started wearing hijab full-time since Ramadan 2019, but in the races I've done so far, I feel so much more empowered to know that I can earn 3rd place age group and stand on a podium while wearing hijab.
It feels like a badge of honor to wear hijab, particularly in the health & fitness community where we are so underrepresented.
I know not all Muslim women wear hijab, which is personal choice; but there’s no way to miss a woman wearing hijab on the course -- and I love being someone who represents that!
These are such beautiful experiences! We are so happy that you found us too, and we have loved following your daily inspiring fitness content on social! What advice do you have for women who are feeling anxious about training for a 5K or a longer race for the first time?
We all have to start somewhere and if your terrified of starting, lean into being scared! The beauty of running is that it’s a sport where you run with your heart first. Running is a humble sport and doesn't require much, except a good pair of shoes and 100% of your effort. One of my favorite mantras of running is “your race, your pace.” There will always be someone faster than you, stronger than you, more fit than you, or more fleet of foot, and that’s ok. You just have to remember “why” you even wanted to start this 5K to begin with.
Anybody can put one foot in front of the other, but it’s your heart, perseverance, dedication, and willingness to not give up on yourself that gets you across the finish line. There are so many amazing resources now out there from apps, training programs, clubs, books, you-tube videos, documentaries, and even athletic apparel, that really has made the Couch to 5K experience so much easier from even 10 years ago.
What inspired you to start your Couch to 5K training program?
So many family/friends have asked me to coach them over the years, that I decided it’s finally time to do it! I recently created a private Facebook group for like minded women who want to run their first 5K. I’m doing it free of charge, as my way of giving back to the running community that has always supported me over the years in my own fitness journey.
As a prerequisite to joining the group, our members must sign up for their first 5K in advance. From personal experience, I’ve found that people are most committed once they have put money down. Our group is running the Tustin Hangar 5K in SoCal on April 19, 2020.
Our group program is literally a beginners guide to women’s running. I’m using the resources that have helped me build my own training regimens over the past 10 years. We do group runs together in Orange County, and use the Facebook group to support, encourage, motivate and foster a sense of community and camaraderie amongst each other. Our group is comprised of women from all walks of life. Women of various ages, abilities, faiths and cultures are coming together on a mission to run their first 5K ever, to better themselves and their health -- and I think that’s pretty awesome!
We do too! Is there room for more women to join the group, either in person or remotely? If yes, how could they do that?
I’ve capped our class to 16 participants for our first year! We do have one person training with us remotely in Pennsylvania, but the rest of us are in SoCal. I’d love to open this initiative to a wider group after April 2020 depending on the outcome / success of it! Please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram if you’re interested in some resources or a broader group next year!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Sukoon Active community?
First off, thank you to Sukoon and it’s founder Arshiya for developing a sustainable and ethical product we can all use. From their shirts, to hijabs, headbands and tote bag. As a hijabi, the Sukoon activewear line has been a staple of my health and fitness lifestyle. The pieces are light, airy, breathable, chic, moisture wicking and odor repellent. Easy to use and durable. They transition beautifully from the track to the market. I’ve used them personally in all fitness endeavors. From boot camp to brunch, yoga to frozen yogurt. Marathons to moms night out. There isn’t anything I can’t do in my Sukoon. Just like anything else in life, when you look great, feel comfortable, and are able to move and perform without restrictions, you feel liberated and empowered.
I once had a friend tell me that she felt “Sukoon was a bit pricey,” and my response to her was, “so is a heart attack!”
Invest in your fitness wardrobe with the intention of investing and bettering yourself and watch yourself transform and do extraordinary things that you’ve only dreamed of.
You just have to start!
Cue: Sukoon team blushing!!! Thank you for chatting with us Nina and we can’t wait to see the success of your first training team.
Follow Nina at: luv_lil_nina for more inspo!