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Shareefa Radford

The Celebrate You star reveals how running gave her strength during the dark days of the pandemic

For Shareefa Radford, exercise has never been something to do in isolation. Instead, it’s something to do with friends, a way of creating shared experiences and an opportunity to form new relationships. So it’s understandable that lockdowns have been a real challenge for her.

Coming into 2020, model Shareefa, who will be taking part in the virtual 2021 Vitality London 10,000, had some impressive running goals. Having been part of the hugely popular Celebrate You tribe that ran the 2019 Vitality London 10,000, Shareefa wanted to step up her running. She joined several of London’s running groups and managed to tick off her first target, finishing The Vitality Big Half, just weeks before the first lockdown in March 2020.

However, like thousands of others, her big ambition of completing the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon had to be put on hold as the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic quickly became apparent.

In a few short weeks, Shareefa had gone from enjoying the intoxicating feeling that comes when you can see improvements in your running every week, to being stuck inside her London flat coming to terms with what being locked down meant.

Let yourself go

Like all of us, Shareefa battled with a variety of emotions as she found her way through the first few weeks and months of Lockdown 1.0, but there was one thing she would return to for emotional stability.

“I was training for the marathon and making really good progress when the marathon was postponed and then we went into lockdown,” Shareefa recalled. “At that point we didn’t know what was going to happen or how long it would last, so I made the decision to carry on training. I just thought, ‘I am not going to stop here’ and it really helped me.

“It was a way of letting go of everything else that was going on around me. For that time, when I was running, nothing else mattered but getting to the end of the little goal I’d set that day.

“I can honestly say that running has helped me out of some difficult spaces in my life and this was another example of that. For me, running is an act of self-love and self-respect to your body because it’s so good for you. It keeps you strong and healthy and reduces stress. It’s time for you, time that you would not normally put aside for yourself.”

Stay connected

But while running has been a constant throughout the past year, it hasn’t been the same as prior to the pandemic, when Shareefa loved meeting others for exercise. But, like all of us, she has been surprised by the way technology has enabled us to stay connected.

She was part of the 2020 Vitality London 10,000 virtual event, along with many of the Celebrate You runners who took part in the 2019 in-person event, and found sharing experiences with friends, both new and old, online has been an emotionally rich experience.

She said: “If you told me a year ago you could actually make real-life friends online I would have said ‘Stop being ridiculous, we all need to meet in the pub’ – but you really can! I have connected with so many incredible people this year online and I think the pandemic has actually opened up these doors with people who wouldn’t normally be in your circles. You can really find your tribe and if you can find people who also like exercising and running that’s only going to help you on your journey.”

Find your tribe

Shareefa’s running journey began when she was 21, when she had just finished dance school, and she soon became hooked, particularly by setting herself goals.

“I would say I am definitely an end-goal type person,” she laughed. “I actively sign myself up to things because I want a challenge and I know I will get that thing done. But running to me is not just about running alone along the pavement, it’s so much more than that. I am a social runner and it’s a way of opening up conversations and a way to connect with a community. I was training with two running groups before the pandemic and I loved the fact you can connect with your tribe and get to know people who all have that one shared passion. I can’t wait to be able to do that again.”

Achieve your goals

So what is Shareefa’s advice to people who want to be part of the tribe?

“Running is for everybody, no matter what age, sex or ability you are. There are all different ways you can get involved in running and I think, perhaps, people don’t see that and view it as a bit elitist. That you have to look a certain way or wear certain things, but that’s not the case.

“There’s nothing more inspirational than seeing so many different types of people coming together and doing something good for their bodies. I love seeing all the different types of runners out on the pavement. I never look at their body type, how fast they are running or what they are wearing, I just think ‘Wow, that person is doing amazing’. They’ve dedicated 30 or 40 minutes of their day to this and it’s fantastic.

Lose your ego

“So my advice to anyone who wants to start is just go out there and do it – but I would say that you have to be willing to lose your ego. I think we all have an ego when we’re running. For example, someone runs past you in the park and you think you are going too slow, but you need to stop those thoughts.

“We often look at other people to figure out what we should be doing ourselves and that’s not right. You need to focus what your body can do. It’s trial and error but once you’ve worked that out you will achieve all your goals.”