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Go for the Gold!

If you have been pondering over these questions for a while now, ponder no more.  This June, HealthToday speaks to the two individuals who are more than capable of answering your burning questions: Malaysia’s very own Ultraman Kannan Murugasan and rising marathon star Edan Syah!

So, read on to find out what first motivated these men to foray into the world of sports, what keeps them going as the going gets tough, what their fitness regimens comprise, what tips they have for budding athletes and more.

Go the distance

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“Results don’t come by merely dreaming about them. Dreams come true when you start working towards them.” – Edan Syah. 

American sprinter and three-time Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph once said, “The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” But long before her many gold medals and world records, she was a child with polio who had to wear a brace on her left leg just so she could walk. Yet, because she had a dream and was unflinchingly determined to realise it, the Tennessee native underwent years of grueling physical therapy and successfully overcame her disabilities to become who she is today.

If there’s one lesson we can take away from Wilma’s story, it is that we should always be daring enough to push our limits and not allow circumstances to dictate our future. We can never know what we are truly capable of unless we test our boundaries. This also rings true for Malaysia’s very own rising marathon star Edan Syah.

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Putting dreams into action

If you were to go back in time and tell Edan’s teenage self that he would one day grow up to become a marathoner (and a successful one at that), he might have laughed in disbelief. “I wasn’t into sports during my schooling days. I only picked up running in my early 20s,” he says when asked if running was something he had always been passionate about. He may be a ‘latecomer’ (or so he calls himself) but he has shown tremendous talent and improvement ever since he started marathoning.

While talent may play a role in his success, he is a firm believer in hard work. “Results don’t come by merely dreaming about them. Every dream can be realised, but only when you start working towards it. I live each day purposefully and that’s what drives me to do my best. Running has taught me discipline, consistency and the importance of routine in my life. Discipline is very crucial as I have stick to my workout routine, no matter how grueling it is,” he enthuses.

Discussing his fitness routine in detail, he says, “I train for 6 days, covering a mileage of 120 km a week. There are days when I do 2 sessions – instead of only 1 – in order to achieve the required mileage. My life pretty much revolves around my training sessions. As for food, I eat well so I can train well. We are what we eat, after all. But when I’m not training for competitions, I eat almost everything!”

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For the love of running

You may wonder, ‘Why running of all things?’ Edan explains, “I chose running because it is an individual sport where you compete with no one else but yourself. I’ve always desired to challenge myself to see just how far I can go. I’m thrilled to say that my hard work has paid off. I currently hold the fastest full marathon record in Malaysia!”

Despite his passion for the sport, there was a time when he considered walking away from it all. About that dark period of his life, he says, “I almost gave up after completing the Medibank Melbourne Marathon 2015. That was my 3rd major marathon which I completed in 2 hours and 4 minutes. Although I had dedicated nearly a year to training and had invested lots of resources in the race, I just couldn’t improve on my previous best time. I felt so disheartened that I faced the dilemma of continuing to pursue running or quitting.”

Fortunately, he didn’t. He credits his sponsors and friends for rallying behind him through thick and thin. “I’m grateful for their support and how they always believe in me. This motivates me to work harder and to make them proud.”

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Are marathons for everybody?

“Running a marathon is one of the most challenging yet fulfilling accomplishments one can have. It opens up your mind and breaks the boundaries that you’ve set,” Edan emphasises.
“If you plan to do a marathon, be ready to set aside time to train; make that decision even before you sign up for a marathon. I suggest that you train for a period of 24 weeks.”

“Also, you need to personalise your training programme so there can be a consistency in your progress. Not forgetting your sports gear; having the right gear can increase your running efficiency. Start with a running top, pants and shoes. Never buy shoes just because they are on sale. And most importantly, don’t sign up for a race just because your friends are doing it!”

The road less taken

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If you aren’t willing to risk the unusual, you’ll have to settle for the ordinary” - Anonymous

It’s funny how life may sometimes turn out very differently from how we envisioned it. Take personal fitness trainer Kannan Murugasan for instance. “I was never into sports growing up even though I have always entertained the idea of participating in triathlons,” he recounts when asked if he had already planned to enter the world of fitness from a young age.

Instead of fitness, the Penangite initially had plans to pursue electromechanical engineering. However, all that changed when he took some time off after completing his electrochemical engineering diploma. “I decided to try out for the Desaru Half Ironman triathlon in 2000. The first-time triathlete was so adamant to realise his childhood dream that he trained his hardest – reading up on triathlons, purchasing a steel Raleigh racing bike and even taking up a personal fitness trainer course.”

Needless to say, Kannan succeeded in making his dream come true. “The feeling I experienced when crossing the finish line was indescribable. No words could adequately describe all the pain and joy that I went through to get where I was,” he recalls proudly of that momentous day. But that day wasn’t special merely because he fulfilled a childhood dream but also because it marked a turning point in his life. “I asked myself if engineering was really something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  That was when I made the decision to become a personal fitness instructor and to compete in major races all over the world.”

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A real-life superhero

To date, Kannan has completed as many as 10 Ironman races including the prestigious Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, apart from other races of a smaller scale. But that’s not all.

Aside from his stellar success with the Ironman triathlons, he is also Malaysia’s first and only Ultraman – and no, we aren’t referring to the monster-fighting Japanese superhero. Kannan explains, “Ultraman is an ultra triathlon whereby one swims 10 km, cycles 420 km and runs 84 km in a total of 3 days. If I were to break it down, Day 1 consists of swimming 10 km and cycling 145 km; Day 2 involves 275 km of cycling and Day 3 is made up of running 84 km. Each day has a cut-off time of 12 hours.” Comparing it to Ironman, he explains, “Ironman, on the other hand is a combination of 3.8 km swimming, 180 km cycling and 42 km running with a cut-off time of 17 hours.”

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On becoming Ultraman

So, what does it take to be an Ultraman? “Well, the Ultraman triathlon is a mental game. Anyone can swim, cycle and run but without a strong mental state, many end up breaking down. This is why it’s vital for participants to have the passion and determination to push themselves beyond their limits. Sacrifice and discipline are a must.”

Giving us some insight into his own training regime, he says, “Each time I prepare for an Ultraman race, I have to sacrifice 6 months of freedom. I have to adhere to a strict diet regime. I’ll eat oats, pasta, cereal, mixed fruits and nuts. I usually consume small portions throughout the day and cut down on oily food, which means no nasi lemak, roti canai or char koay teow!  I also have to sleep at a certain time and of course, train every single day.”

“On weekdays, I spend at least 1-3 hours swimming or cycling or running daily while I do outdoor cycling for 3-6 hours every Sunday,” he elaborates. “Also, I don’t train with a group because I follow a specific heart rate range. Hence, I train alone on a bike for hours. I love training so I don’t mind doing it alone.”

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Are triathlons for everybody?

Listening to Kannan describe his rigorous workout routine can be daunting in itself so it begets the question: are triathlons for every Tom, Dick and Harry? “As long as you can run, swim and cycle, you can do triathlons. But as I mentioned earlier, you must be prepared to work hard!”

He offers some tips to aspiring triathletes. “You can start with a short Olympic distance which comprises a 1.5 km swim, 40 km cycling and 10 km run. Additionally, you can try out sprint triathlons. Long-distance triathlons such as the Half Ironman, Ironman and Ultraman require extensive physical training and of course, a great deal of mental conditioning so you might want to avoid those when starting out.”

A fitness philosophy by which he abides is a twist on the old adage ‘No pain, no gain’. “My philosophy is ‘No pain, no injury’! If you haven’t been properly trained, please don’t say ‘no pain, no gain’ because you’re only looking for trouble. Pain doesn’t necessarily mean you’re exercising right. If your body’s hurting, you most likely have injured yourself somewhere. So, always listen to your body.”

Kannan concludes, “Doing a triathlon is definitely no stroll in the park. Having said that, don’t fret. Anything is possible with proper training and guidance.” Well, if there is anyone you should believe, it has got to be our very own Ultraman. So, if you’ve been tinkering with the idea of doing a triathlon, why not give it a shot? You might end up surprising yourself!

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