Women in Malaysia have been running. Not only has there been a hike in female participation of running events in general but the number of women-only running events has risen from just one in 2013 to several per year nowadays.
The pioneering Malaysia Women Marathon (MWM) was held in Shah Alam on April 7, 2013 and had more than 800 female runners and has become a platform for several female runners to complete their first full marathons.
Women-only races are not a new thing in the world. In the USA, there are the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Florida and the Nike Women’s Marathon, which pull in more than 10,000 participants each.
In Japan, there are the popular Nagoya Women’s Marathon and the Osaka International Ladies Marathon.
The Philippines has an all-women 50K ultramarathon (AWUM) in Cebu, which will enter its fourth edition in 2016. Closer to home, Singapore too has had a few all-women races such as the Great Eastern Women’s Run, Venus 5K Run and the WOW Run.
But why a women-only running event? Why not join races that are open to both males and females? Here are some of the reasons:
• Being part of a women’s only club encourages female runners who are just starting out, those who would probably think twice about joining a more mainstream running event. Female runners may sometimes need a nudge to start, so a women-only event may just be the thing for them to ease into competitive running.
• It’s about accepting and celebrating both our feminity and toughness. Make no mistake about this, women runners are tough.
• The sisterhood of running. The support of fellow female runners who understand the needs of other female runners, be it safety issues, the challenge of juggling running and family life, or facing discouragement by society or family.
• It can also be something as simple yet complex as dealing with our monthly cycle or our wardrobe choice. A few local brands have sprung up to meet the needs of active women such as Ash Be Nimble, Nashata and Raqtive to name a few.
For some of us, getting cute medals and T-shirts don’t hurt either. For example, in 2013 and 2014, MWM gave out dog-tags (that we could also wear as finisher’s medals) and bracelets respectively. In 2015, runners got a running dresses or skirts.
Pink50 gave pink medals and event t-shirts plus a rose to finishers. WOW Run provided the option of a modest blouse (or T-shirt) for participants. In my opinion, the blouse could help ladies (especially Muslims) who are worried about finding modest attire for running.
Karen Loh, the founder and race director of Malaysia Women Marathon, has several international marathons and ultramarathons under her belt. A mother of two boys, she took up running as a hobby five years ago.
Her reason for organising MWM was based on an ideal that women ought to be more recognised for running marathons.
That’s not to say that there weren’t any marathon events for women to run in, but she wanted an event where no men could take the limelight or do ego trips for any victory. Rather it was more about the sisterhood between female runners to help each other cross the finish line together.
MWM is a three-day event that is held annually in time with the International Women’s Day celebration. Each year, it has dialogue sessions with speakers who include exemplary women runners.
In MWM 2015, 30% of women running the full marathon were doing it for the first time and Loh believes that the numbers will keep growing.
Eliza Noordin also believes women races will encourage more physical activities among women.
A mother of three and an engineer by training, she started Nashata Activewear to solve a problem she personally faced when she started wearing the hijab (tudung) in 2012.
She found the common hijab uncomfortable and unsafe (with pins attached to the cloth) when running. She also had problems finding suitable tops and pants that are deemed modest yet suitable for outdoor activities. Nashata helped organise the WOW Run 2015 with the support of other women’s groups.
Finally ladies, remember it doesn’t matter if we end up last in a race. We are achieving more than those who are still proud of being couch potatoes.
So let’s keep moving and get healthy!
Some upcoming women runs:
Feb 14: Pink 50 Ultramarathon, (50K solo, 100K duo)
March 6: Malaysia Women Marathon (5K, 10K, Half-marathon, Full-marathon)
April 30-May 1: Ungu 55 Endurance Run (55K in 12 hours)
Fourth quarter 2016: WOW Run (date to be confirmed)
Here’s what several women have to say about running.
Azlina Idris started running after she quit her job to look after her children. Nowadays, she trains after sending her kids to school. She loves women-only races because she feels that there is less pressure and there is incredible support from fellow female runners. Azlina did her first full marathon in MWM and her first ultramarathon in Pink 50, both in 2015.
Nelly Yong, a single mother of one and a managing director for a multinational company started running in 2013. She was encouraged to take up running by her father who was worried about her health due to work-related stress.
She does an average of 20 to 25 races per year and is aiming to achieve 101km in a 24-hour ultra marathon.
Nor Khadijah Shariat or Ejah started running in 2010 as a way to lose weight. The single lady has a hectic job but makes sure she trains at least three times a week.
She feels the growing number of women-only races is an honour to all Malaysian women. Ejah started by joining a 5K race but has now done even ultra-trail marathons such as the Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra in Indonesia.
Siti Rugayah Ghazali, a petite mother of two, does both road and trail races. She recently completed three ultramarathons, including a 100K in November 2015. She also occasionally enters fun running events with her two sons.
It’s so fun to see her and her brood in matching outfits and it’s also great to see how she is helping to nurture the interest of young runners. Whether it’s a 5K fun run or a 100K ultra-marathon, Siti makes sure she looks fabulous while sweating it out – she loves the fact that running gear for women is are fashionable and hip yet functional.
Whatever the reason we women run, the quest to be healthy is something to be encouraged and applauded.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of Star2 on Feb 6, 2016, with the headline ‘Sisters are running!’