He runs not because he gets paid for it. He runs because it’s a passion.
Meet Edan Syah, Malaysia’s “citizen runner”. What’s that, you may ask?
Let Edan, 31, explain it in his own words: “I call myself a citizen runner because I am a working adult with a passion in running. I am not a full-time athlete so I have to find the time after work to train, recover and take part in races.
“I started running on my own at a later age compared to national athletes who were groomed at a young age. I had to self-train as I could not afford to pay any coaches for their service,” adds Edan, who was born in Kuala Terengganu and raised in Ampang, Selangor.
In other words, Edan is just a regular guy with a day job who chooses to run marathons because he likes it. His full-time occupation is as a coach at the Smart Athletics Club (SAC), where he trains other citizen runners to achieve their goals.
“I have been a coach since 2012. My manager Jolene Hong and I believe in the Smart Training Principles and that with proper knowledge, everyone can start to run and make running a part of their lifestyle,” explains Edan.
“Through SAC, we have designed many syllabuses to train normal working adults. Many of them have made amazing progress. We also believe in leading by example as both of us are active runners and we inspire them through our journeys.”
And what a journey it has been! But according to Edan, he never expected to pursue a sports-related career.
“I grew up in a home of academicians as both of my parents were schoolteachers. Prior to this, I did not have the opportunity to be involved in sports. However, I always had talent in art and design where I love to draw.” He has a degree in graphic design and does freelance work on the side.
Mum’s the word
In 2009, the sudden demise of Edan’s mother shook him to the core, making him re-evaluate his priorities.
“She died from cancer – it took her away from us too soon. Her passing made me realise that life is too short and fragile,” muses Edan.
“My mother was a good teacher and well-respected, and this was evident by the many people who turned up at her funeral. It made me want to be like her and make an impact on other people’s lives. I wanted to do something significant and at that time, all I had were my legs and I could only run, run and run.”
Thus far, Edan’s dedication to his chosen sport has yielded considerable achievements.
In May, he set a record at his first 60km ultra marathon in the Great Ocean Road Running Festival (GORRF). Clocking in at 4:29:00, it was the best performance by an Asian in this event’s ultra-marathon distance, held in Apollo Bay, Victoria, Australia.
“It was surreal for me to run across the finishing line as the male champion as this was my debut ultra-marathon and all I set out to do was to complete the distance strong!” says Edan, who represented Malaysia at GORRF with the support of Visit Victoria.
Prior to GORRF, Edan trained for five months. He ran the full marathon distance (42km) every month as part of his training. While he experienced some injuries a few weeks prior to race day, he was still determined and committed to recover, with the help of professional advice.
“The training did take a toll on my body and I had some pain in one foot. It hurt if I ran longer and that really affected my training and motivation level. I visited orthopaedic specialists just a month prior to the race to ensure I was on track.
“Therefore, it was indeed a bonus for me to be able to hold on to my pace during GORRF and it really shows that anything can happen if you just don’t give up,” enthuses Edan.
Aside from GORRF, Edan says his proudest accomplishment was running the Boston Marathon in 2015 after four years of preparation.
“I am very grateful to my manager for making it possible for me to go to Boston in 2015 with her own finance. She believes that it is every runner’s dream to be able to run the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the world.
“Running Boston Marathon has left an impact on me and changed my view on running. I have since run the Boston Marathon twice – and would love to participate every year if the opportunity arises.”
Of challenges and contentment
As a citizen runner, what are the challenges faced by Edan?
“The biggest obstacle as a citizen runner is having the time to train!” exclaims Edan.
“The window to train in Malaysia, due to our climate, is only early in the morning before the sun rises and later in the evening, after sunset.
“This will stretch us as we do not have enough time to rest as the rest of the day are working hours. However, nothing is impossible; with discipline and time management, we have proven that it can be done, and many of our students are following suit.”
Edan adds that expenses for recovery and injury treatment are self-financed for citizen runners. “The sum can be quite hefty so any support or sponsorship is much appreciated.”
Asked whether he has to watch his diet, Edan replies: “I have achieved the lowest body fat (about 4%) an athlete can have, not because I don’t eat anything but because it has been my lifestyle for the longest time. I eat normal food like most people but because I am a runner, I am able to burn all the excess fat and calories from the daily food intake.”
Does he have cheat days? “Once in a while, I take ice cream and that is my cheat food!”
Asked whether he observes any ritual before a race, Edan answers: “Not really, but I like to be alone before the race starts. I am comfortable to have only people who are close to me and not much chattering involved!”
Where his inspiration is concerned, Edan is quick to name Japanese citizen runner Yuki Kawauchi, 31. “He has a daytime job but excels in running. He is very disciplined to train before and after work and is one of the top runners in his country. He was also the Boston Marathon 2018 Men’s Champion!”
Edan’s advice to young people who want to follow in his footsteps is this: “Invest smartly in your running journey, be patient and you will reap the reward some day. There is no short-cut to excellence, and hard work beats talent.”
Away from running, Edan enjoys listening to music, watching movies and reading. “But my one true passion, for now, is running. I wish to run every day and if I get that done, I am a very happy person!”
In conclusion, Edan shares his philosophy in life.
“I believe in working hard for what you set as your goal. Dreams are good only if you are ready to commit and work towards them. I dare to dream because I dare to work for it. Have faith and allow the magic to happen.”