Just when you think you're tough enough

CrossFit Exclusive Interview

Exclusive Interview: Karen Siah of Kia Kaha

Karen Siah, a triathlete, entrepreneur and founder of Kia Kaha, an outdoor bootcamp designed for women.


She managed to give us an exclusive interview despite her busy schedule, and told us her thoughts about local fitness industry, and how she finds balance between work and training.


How did it all start?

Since young I’ve joined all sorts of sports, like gymnastic, kayaking, outdoor sports.

Where did you go to further that lifestyle? What did you do?

From then on after that, I tried types of races, like adventure races, cycling, running and outdoor camps during holidays and after schools. Not to mention hiking.

After trying so many things, are you still exploring new methods of training?

The thing about exercise and training is ever changing, and I like exploring new methods.
As a trainer, I do have to do tremendous amount of research and understand new regimes to be fitter and improve performance in different types of sports. Just to keep up with the trend with different methods of training.
As for myself, I’d prefer old school conditioning methods to train for specific sports. On the side, I do some crossfit and other new training methods, too, just to be informed.


What is your current objective and what are you trying to achieve in three to five months?

Right now I put in more effort in my business. The business is growing and so does new information, new information that helps growing my business, helps my clients to be more engaging and build active lifestyle upon.
As for myself, it is always getting fitter and stronger. I am always looking to better my marathon time.
I am definitely eying on Iron Man competition and hopefully I can join that one day.

You have trained lot of Malaysians and corporate clients locally and internationally, which training method do you see is the most efficient for the Malaysian diet, like Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai..

Yes. Malaysians eat a lot and our lifestyle is different compared to other countries and cultures.
I guess the best way to be a Malaysian who loves food, is to be more active.
We can’t stop that eating habit. It is our tradition. Nor can we stick to that clean healthy diet because it is not widely available here. That is why I chose to come back after studying abroad because it is hard to be healthy without a huge change in diet, so I want to promote an active lifestyle to compensate that, in the most fun way possible, without changing the eating habit.

Where is your favorite training ground?

I’ve been in different climates and country and train there, yet I still prefer training in Malaysia for its tropical weather.
I am born and raised Malaysian. This is my climate. It gives me an edge over those who train colder climate counterpart as training in warm weather is more taxing and demanding.
There was once I joined a Duathlon. The game time was one in the afternoon. I found that I was completely fine with the weather. I’m used to that afternoon warm weather.

How should we promote active lifestyle given our culture here?

As a whole, Malaysians are not active enough. One being our weather. And another is lack of infrastructure. It is hard to walk, like walking from one place to another. We can promote through incentives and rewards to those who actually wants to be healthier. And this is not sole responsibility of the government. It has to work with the private sector as well.

What is your diet plan? What do you eat?
Haha I do not have a strict diet plan but I do watch what I eat. Sometimes I so succumed to my favorite Char Kuih Tiow, just don’t do it excessively. My rule of thumb is if I had a big, awesome workout, I can reward myself to something.


What are your clients’ objectives, whether they engage you or vice versa?

When someone approaches me, it is mostly for weight loss program. To shape up or tone up. Mostly women.
There are not many female personal trainers who work outdoors in Malaysia. And it is easier for a woman to train women.

Can you say you are the first one who customized a bootcamp for women in Malaysia?

I think my company is the first who came up with an all-women team, as outdoor bootcamps are dominated by male trainers.
And outdoors doesn’t really attract women as most women, even trainers, prefer to work in an air conditioned environment. So it is rare to find women that willing to work under the sun and rain, and love doing it.
I am fortunate enough to find close friends who are willing to train with me outdoor.

So what races are you joining before the end of the year?

I will join lots of runs. I’ve just completed Standard Charted KL Marathon. It was my 11th Marathon. I did alright as I have an ongoing foot injury. It took 30 minutes longer, but I gladly accept it.
Have a Duathlon this coming month, hoping I can clinch something on the podium. Fingers crossed.

When you are about to give up during the race, what do you say to yourself to push for it?

During a long distance race, there are lots of instance I am at the verge of giving up.
My feet hurts and feels that tar road burning, the sun is unbearable, my lungs are about to collapse.
And my trick is to practice this in my head: Numb parts of my body that is hurting.
“Ok Karen your feet is gonna numb up right NOW!” And it works!
And I will pretend that I don’t feel my feet or my lungs and keep going. Also, I distract myself and look at other participants. Unlike running in other countries where I sometimes end up in the middle or the end of the pack, in Malaysia I run amongst the men at the front. So when I see another female runner, I will tell myself “I don’t want to see another girl in front of me.” Doesn’t matter what what category she is in. I have to run past her.


So are you ready for your next race?

Yes and no. I am still nursing my foot and it is getting better. I hope I will be ready by then.

How do you get ready for your Duathlon?

Lots of running and stretching. And icing. Doing lots of long distance riding as well. This is my third Powerman.
I am in a very good position to race this year, women’s between 20-29 years old. Not many contestants in this group. The really good ones have gone up to the next age group. I might have a chance to be top five.
Currently I cycle more, as it is my weakest trait.
Note: Karen clinched fifth in Malakof Powerman Duathlon 2013 in Women 20-29 category, first Malaysian in this category.

I am sure you are conscious of your injury, how are you going to prevent that?

I have plantar fasciitis for some time now. It is an inflame at the sole of my foot. It goes and comes and goes and comes. It usually happens when I run more than 30 minutes. I will focus a lot on stretching as well to prevent recurrence and reduce severity. And I will have to balance this with work and training as well. And the race is coming close. Not stretching enough was reason of recurrence.

Is it easy for you to balance between training and working?

I am still striving the balance point. It is quite tough and there is surge of demand in personal training.
It does take up lots of time even though it is a one-on-one, an hour session, not including commuting.
The peak slots would be the early morning and evening, so I can only have afternoon to train these days.
Late night is optional but try not to due to safety reasons. It is either on treadmill or under the afternoon sun. Good thing is I am used to it. So more sunblocks and vitamins supplements!

Last question: would you rather fight a horse-sized duck, or fight a 100 duck-sized horses?

I would rather fight a horse-sized duck because I think I can outrun a horse-sized duck!

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