There are no half measures for Muhaizar Mohamad, particularly when it comes to running. The accomplished marathon runner – one of Malaysia’s fastest marathon runners, who won the Bronze at the 2017 KL Games – never misses a training session. Ever.
He trains twice daily since he started running marathons five years ago.
“With running, if you miss just a day or two of training, your performance slips and you will have to work harder to get back to where you were. That’s why I can never miss my training,” explains the 33-year-old father of three.
What makes this even more impressive is that Muhaizar trains himself.
Apart from a short stint leading up to the KL Games last year when he had the opportunity to be coached by former national distance coach Samuel Kipsang Rono for 25 days in Baguio in the Philippines, Muhaizar is his own trainer.
He wakes up before dawn every morning and, after performing his morning prayers and having a light breakfast (a slice of bread or two, and a drink), Muhaizar is out for a run. In the evenings, after work and spending some time with his family, he puts on his running shoes once again.
He runs up to 140km a week made up of a combination of long runs, sprints and hill runs to maximise his performance come race day.
Muhaizar is headed to Germany for the Berlin Marathon (on Sept 16) where he will attempt not just to record a new personal best time, but he is also determined to beat the current national record of 2 hours 25 minutes 28 seconds set by Leo Tan, a Malaysian runner based in Taiwan, at the Tokyo Marathon in Japan this February.
Muhaizar too was at the Tokyo run – his first overseas run – and though he recorded his personal best of 2 hours 27 minutes and 21 seconds (shaving a whole 4 minutes and 25 seconds off his KL Games timing), he couldn’t beat Tan, who he counts as a fierce competitor.
“I must beat his time,” says Muhaizar. “Leon is a nice guy and we are friends but when we are in a race, we are competitors. Because he trains in Taiwan, he has the advantage of training in colder temperatures which is one reason he performed better in Tokyo where the temperature dipped to -2°C. I was freezing and my body was numb.
“I tend to perform better than him in KL because he isn’t so used to the heat, humidity or the hilly routes where most of the KL-based runs go on,” says Muhaizar.
Despite winning a medal in the Sea Games – the first Malaysian in 44 years to step on the podium – Muhaizar hasn’t been recruited to be part of any national training programme.
Most elite runners around the world train with a group and a coach and have the benefit of the latest in training strategies to help them improve their performance. They have a nutrition plan and access to the best that sports science has to offer.
Muhaizar isn’t on any specific diet and uses the little knowledge he learnt from Kipsang Rono to formulate his own training schedule for the upcoming race.
The temperature in Berlin is expected to be a cool 17°C or so and to acclimatise himself to the chilly temperatures, he has spent the last month training in Cameron Highlands, away from his family.
“I am very fortunate because the army has been very supportive of my training. They have given me time off to train and allowed me to stay at the barracks in Camerons while I train there.
“Training alone isn’t easy. In Sungai Besi (where he lives), I have a buddy whom I train with. And being away from my family isn’t easy, too. But I have a goal and I am determined to give it my all to try and achieve it,” says the soft-spoken runner.
Maverick on the road
A staff sergeant in the armed forces, Muhaizar is nothing if not disciplined. Although “quite athletic” as a child, Muhaizar wasn’t much of a runner while in school. Growing up poor in Gurun, Kedah, he had to work while in school to help his family with their household expenses, particularly as he was the eldest of four siblings. This didn’t give him much time for sports or anything else.
“Maybe if I had been more disciplined while I was in school, I could have performed better,” he muses.
Muhaizar joined the army right after completing his schooling. It was then that he started running regularly – fitness is, after all, a requirement for all recruits. And Muhaizar isn’t just any recruit – he is part of the Special Service Group (Grup Gerak Khas), an elite special forces regiment of the Army that conducts special operation missions for the government.
Getting into the special forces was no small feat: to qualify, Muhaizar had to have an exemplary record in the army for at least a year. Then, he had to go through a 30-day orientation programme to determine if he was up to the commando training. He was one of 200 recruits in his batch to enter the commando course, and among 40 who successfully graduated from the course. The elite squad are highly skilled in guerrilla/anti-guerrilla warfare, escape and evasion, subversion, sabotage, counter-terrorism, asymmetric warfare and jungle warfare.
“It was tough,” he admits. “It tested our mental strength as much as our skills and our ability to withstand the physical challenges. We had to be in the jungle for a month or so, without sleep or much food. It was a simulation of an actual conflict situation and we had to be on the move.”
It is this singular focus that Muhaizar applies to his running, too.
In 2013, he joined his first marathon, the Penang Bridge International Marathon (PBIM), where he emerged second. Seven months later, he signed up for the Standard Chartered KL Marathon in July 2014 and based on his performance in the PBIM, he was selected as one of the elite runners for the KL Marathon that year, earning him the opportunity to train under Mark Williams, the official head coach of the annual run. Even though it was only his second marathon, Muhaizar emerged first among the Malaysian marathoners, with a time of 2 hours 41 minutes and 11 seconds.
“I realised then that I had the talent. And, I also had the interest in running, which is very important, given how long the distance of a marathon is. You really need mental strength,” he says.
Muhaizar has since come out first among Malaysian runners in the KL Marathon every year. It was his performance in the 2017 run that earned him a place in the national squad for the KL Games.
Recognising his talent and dedication to improving himself, the marathon’s organisers, Dirigo Events Sdn Bhd, are sponsoring his trip to Berlin. They have also written to the race organisers, for Muhaizar to be tested for performance-enhancing drugs at the finish should he break the national record.
“We ‘discovered’ Muhaizar when we conducted a talent search for the Standard Chartered KL Marathon (SCKLM) in 2014. He was shortlisted and put through 16 weeks of training under Mark Williams. Since then, he has won the Malaysian category at SCKLM four times consecutively, earned a bronze medal in the last SEA Games and bettered the previous national record in his first overseas marathon.
“Muhaizar is one of the most talented long-distance runners in Malaysia, and we at Dirigo do not want that talent to go to waste. We are confident that, with the right kind of support, Muhaizar can progress to even greater heights and, in turn, help inspire other Malaysians to take up the challenge of long-distance running.
“In fact, we want to continue discovering local talent and we hope that our experience working with Muhaizar will enable us to be even more effective in the future,” says Rainer Biemans, director of Dirigo Events.
Muhaizar is grateful for the chance to race in Berlin because it gives him yet another chance to do his country proud.
“Winning a medal at the KL Games was really an achievement and an honour, and I would love to be able to represent Malaysia again. I can only hope that I get the chance again and also the opportunity to train under a coach, hopefully in different altitudes and climates. This really will help improve my performance more than if I continued just training in Malaysia,” says Muhaizar.