A SEA Games hopeful talks to Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup on his journey from running recreationally to representing the country
TENS of thousands of runners will take to the streets of Kuala Lumpur this Sunday for the annual Standard Chartered KL Marathon.
It’s one of the most anticipated races among recreational runners in the country, and promises to be a fun and exciting event.
But this year’s edition has taken a more competitive turn as Malaysian marathon runners vie for a spot at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in August.
The 42km marathon was initially axed from the list of competitions, presumably due to a lack of medal chances, but has since been reinstated.
All eyes will be on the likes of Tan Huong Leong a.k.a. Leo Tan, who broke the national record after he finished the Tokyo Marathon in February at 2:28:19. Last year’s KL Marathon winner in the Malaysian men’s category, Muhaizar Mohamad, and runner-up Mohd Jironi Riduan will also compete.
But one Malaysian runner who will not be there is Edan Syah. The genial 29-year-old competed at the Boston Marathon several weeks ago and is pacing himself before his next race target — the SEA Games.
Unlike other runners, Edan is this much closer to getting a national call-up. He finished the Gold Coast Airport Marathon last year at 2:35:05 to become Malaysia’s fastest marathoner in 2016, and he’s been training under the National Sports Council’s Kita Juara (We Are Champions) programme, where he is the sole marathon runner.
It’s said that it was his result that led to the marathon being brought back into the fold.
According to Edan, the SEA Games qualifying time is below 2:38, and he’s confident that other runners can hit the mark too.
MAKE THE TEAM
“After I qualified last year, you find that more people are also trying to qualify,” says Edan. “It’s good to have a marathon at the SEA Games. For runners, whether or not we go on to represent the country, it’s a good feeling to be among the fastest in Southeast Asia. But I hope we will have a few candidates to increase our medal chances.”
The list of SEA Games athletes will only be finalised closer to the event, but it’s already clear that the marathon setup is a bit different to other sporting events.
Runners like Edan aren’t nurtured from childhood, they don’t take part at the Sukma games and they don’t compete full time.
Edan’s moniker is the Citizen Runner, signifying how he’s just a regular guy with a day job who chooses to run marathons because he likes it. It’s not unlike other people who are willing to sacrifice their time, money and energy to race on the weekend. It so happens that he’s faster than many of them.
“I want to prove that even if you started late, even if you don’t have a Sukma background, you can still compete at the international level. I’m the first independent athlete in the Kita Juara programme so I'm breaking the barrier, so to speak,” he says.
“It’s a bit tough; marathon is not the first sport that the country sees. It’s not like the 100m sprint. People see marathons as recreational sport but I want to show that we have athletes with potential. I may not be number one in the region but Malaysia should really consider advancing the sport to the next level.”
Edan works full-time as a running coach at the Smart Athletics Club, where he trains other “citizen runners” to achieve their dreams. He also has a degree in graphic design, and still does it on the side. He recently helped design the national SEA Games uniform for the athletics team.
FOR YOU, MUM
Edan admits that a sports-related career is not something his parents had expected of him, considering that his family comes from an academic or educational background. But his mother’s death in 2009 changed his perspective, as well as his course in life.
“I started running in 2008,” says Edan. “I was studying and running was a great way to relieve stress. Then my mum passed away from cancer. When I ran my first marathon in 2011 in Singapore, I ran for her. I knew that running a marathon is hard, but so is fighting cancer. And I kept going until today because of my mum.”
Edan has completed three out of six World Marathon Majors, including the Boston Marathon twice. He’s done Chicago and Tokyo, and has set his sights on New York, London and Berlin. He’s also pleased to have finished below his personal target of 2:45 in those cities, except at his most recent outing.
“I was slower this year at Boston than my first time in 2015 because of the weather conditions. My fitness level was good and I was confident of getting a good result, but I did not expect the weather to be hot and dry.
“I suffered a cramp quite early on, around 21km. It’s likely that my hydration plan didn’t work because I trained in Malaysia and the weather in Boston is different. So I sort of messed up there,” says Edan, who finished the race at 2:47.
Getting the body well-adjusted to the local weather is key to getting a good result. Edan took a month off from work for the Gold Coast marathon last July and trained there for some time. Considering the result, his hard work certainly paid off.
Meanwhile, being part of the Kita Juara national setup has allowed him access to top-notch facilities at the National Sports Institute in Bukit Jalil. He trains with national track athletes, and has a dedicated coach from Kenya to help him make the best of his possible outing at SEA Games.
EDAN SYAH’S SELECTED MARATHON RESULTS:
1- 2011 Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon — 3:07:46
2- 2012 Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon — 3:06:56
3- 2013 Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon — 2:54:07
4- 2014 Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon — 2:48:36
5- 2014 Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM) — 2:46:41
6- 2014 Chicago Marathon — 2:41:52
7- 2015 Boston Marathon — 2:41:55
8- 2016 Tokyo Marathon — 2:38:55
9- 2016 Gold Coast Airport Marathon — 2:35:05
10- 2017 Boston Marathon — 2:47:18
Source: Smart Athletics Club
EDAN Syah might be chasing national glory, but he’s also a professional running coach and a recreational runner at heart. Here’s his advice for the rest of us.
Respect the distance
“There are many running events nowadays but I always tell the running community not to take the distance for granted. Some people register to get the medal and finisher tee, but they’re not really prepared for it.”
“Every runner needs to train for their event, with a coach or mentor to help them. Sometimes, you can burn out or get injured early on, so you need to train smart and don’t sign up for too many races just to follow your friends.”
Achieve one goal at a time
“My goals are my personal best, usually in terms of timing. I set my goals every three or four months, so when I find that the goals are difficult to achieve, I work harder.”