Business owner Ken Ooi Kien Lam did not even like running in the beginning, but he has now improved tremendously and has progressed significantly in cycling and triathlon too.

What brought on the change? The sports enthusiast had been hiking with his wife prior to the pandemic. As the nationwide lockdown took place, the 46 year-old raised in Port Dickson changed his workouts to his home base. Little did he know, that would unleash a significant change with this new norm.

ToughASIA spoke to Ken Ooi to unfold how he unlocked a whole new potential in his sporting abilities in running, cycling and triathlon.

ToughASIA: How, when and why did you get involved in running?

Ken: I always hated running as it is slow and uncomfortable and I have many friends who were injured which convinced me it is a bad sport. One day, I met a friend who convince me of doing duathlon (running and cycling) as it is much safer than road cycling racing which I am actively involved in.

At the same time, my sister promoted barefoot running as a safer form of running and after much research, I did my first 6 km run barefooted in July 2017 and it felt really good.

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ToughASIA: How often do you run and what distance?

Ken: Varies from 30km to 70km depending on my schedule and upcoming events. I usually run around Bukit Damansara in Kuala Lumpur as it is hilly and challenging. Alternatively, I like running at Saujana Club or Desa Park City for flat terrain.

Meanwhile, my favourite cycling route lies in the cycling haven of Hulu Langat with the route towards the town named Titi in Selangor. Also, Fraser Hill as I love the scenic mountainous views.

ToughASIA: What is your proudest achievement/moment in running?

Ken: Completing my first marathon at the Kuala Lumpur marathon (KLSCM) 2019 in 4 hours 5 minutes and still feel good at the finishing line.

ToughASIA: Why do you choose to train with the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) running method?

Ken: During the first MCO lockdown in 2020, my family and friends were doing their virtual runs at home. I was running 5 to 6 hours (42km to 50km), 4 times in a month in my car porch. In between the weeks, I also did a few 1-hour runs and cycled on the online Zwift platform, totalling 900km mostly at low intensity.

What surprised me was that I was not burnt out and was feeling great instead. My friend related that this was similar to the MAF running method. That was when I realised the benefits of low heart rate (HR) training.

Running the MAF way was a great choice for me as I have tried the usual ‘No pain, no gain’ type of runs. This only led to injuries and burn outs and I am seeing the same trend among my seasoned triathlete and runner friends.

The idea of running slow to build strong aerobic base in a safe intensity and enabling us to run faster in low HR attracts me the most.

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Once bitten, Ken also attracted his wife into the MAF running method.

ToughASIA: How long did you train with the MAF method and what was the progression or result which you achieved?

Ken: Overall, I ran exclusively with the MAF method for between 6 to 8 months. Subsequently, I started to see a slight improvement of 6.10 min/km to about 5.56 min/km pace at low HR. This is considered slow progress but I kept with it as I noticed that I need less water and without food orgel for long distances run even at Full Marathon (FM), 42.195km where I did my best timing.

The greatest progression was my 5km Time Trial from my usual 4.40 min/km to 4.30 min/km, followed by my FM improvement from my last Kuala Lumpur marathon (KLSCM) 2019 4.05 h to 3.47 h during the KLSCM Virtual Run 2020.

ToughASIA: In your experience, did you apply the same method to other sports that you are doing like cycling?

Ken: I am into triathlon and I used the MAF method during most of my indoor cycling.

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Ken’s IRONMAN triathlon journey brought him towards MAF method and a plant-based diet for optimum recovery and performance.

ToughASIA: Besides the running method, what other tools, plans, recommendations or programs of Phil Maffetone do you follow?

Ken: After my 6 to 8 months MAF base training, I applied the 80:20 training where 80 percent is on MAF and 20 percent or less on speed work. Additionally, I  started to sleep earlier to achieve 7 hours of sleep as much as I can as it is key to recovery.

As for nutrition, I started on a plant-based diet (PBD) which made a huge impact to my performance and also recovery. This works even better when I stay away from processed foods as much as possible.

ToughASIA: How do you like your role as administrator of the MAF Runners Malaysia group on Facebook?

Ken: It has been fantastic as I have never been an administrator in any group. The interaction with the members and being able to guide and impart what I know about MAF so far, together with the rest of the admins made a huge impact to the members.

I have also gained valuable knowledge as prior to the group I was the only one seriously doing it among my friends. So when members started sharing their experience and progress, it helps a lot in understanding MAF better.

The group in general consist of very supportive members and I am happy that we as admins have created an informative, fun and supportive culture in helping others to further improve as runners and cyclists.

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Another feather in his cap as Ken improved on his full marathon finishing time.

ToughASIA: How do you like the progression of the group since it first started?

Ken: Phenomenal growth! I did not expect the group to grow so fast since the inception of the group on 22 January till 3rd March we have 16,500 members with new members coming in by the hour.

Besides the growth, we are seeing great improvement among members who train with the MAF method diligently. Their pace have improved significantly and with lower and stable HR compared to before.

The greatest joy is also seeing members starting to love running again. Many started running with their spouse and children, as MAF teaches us to run slower than before thus cultivating patience.

I also like the regular comments from members on how our group has been very positive, well mannered, informative and inspirational it shows we as administrators or moderators are putting the right effort to the group.

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From hiking to running, cycling, duathlon, triathlon and beyond.

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ToughASIA: So you are on a plant-based diet (PBD), what inspired the change?

Ken: It was strange, the desperation to complete my first IRONMAN triathlon race in Langkawi 2019 drove me into it as that was my first year of triathlon and first year with proper swimming training.

As I had never done the full IRONMAN distance before, I had to ramp up my training 4 months prior to the Langkawi-based race. Therefore, I found myself easily fatigued and it was the period The Game Changers preview was heavily promoted. However, it was only after IRONMAN race that the video was released in Malaysia.

At that time, I sought advice from my friend of mine, who is an established plant-based IRONMAN finisher in Malaysia and has been on the PBD for at least 6 years. Straight away, I decided to make the “cold turkey” switch to PBD.

My wife is pretty supportive of it and a week later, after seeing that it worked great for me, she and the kids followed suit too.

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Plant-based meal simplified through banana leaf rice

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ToughASIA: Did you notice any change in your running or cycling performance or overall health?

Ken: The changes were quite immediate, recovery was much faster than before and my wife experienced the same. We felt lighter and more energized. Many of our on-going health issues were also healed and that helped a lot in our sporting progress.

The plan for the PBD was for only in preparation for Langkawi race. However, ever since the family experienced great performance and health benefits we decided to continue with it till now. We advocate healthy living through sports and plant-based diet and hope to see more of our friends and loved ones embrace it for a life-changing experience.

Follow the MAF Runners Malaysia Facebook group here, and visit the MAF Running website for more info on the method.

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On just another Sunday cycling ride with friends pre-covid times.