Just when you think you're tough enough


Khairul Munir Went From Near Obese To A 3h 43m Marathon In First Attempt

(Fiz Said)


Everyone needs a wake-up call once in a while. For father-of-four Khairul Munir Bin Md Hanif from Kuala Lumpur, put on his running shoes, once he found realised was inching towards obesity.

The 37-year old did not like running, but it was the easiest exercise to start losing weight.

Family support also sweetens the deal for the teacher from the German-Malaysia Institute (GMI) which deals with Technical and Vocational Education and Training. He is blessed with a wife who would remind him of nutrition, supplements and also arranged a place for his many pairs of shoes and treadmill in the ‘pain cave’.

ToughASIA: What inspired you to take up running?

Khairul: I really do not like running in the first place but I had to do it because it was the easiest exercise to do to lose weight. I was overweight back then – around 2013 – and my BMI index was a few points away from the Obese 1 category.

It was a wakeup call for me at that time. I had never thought that I would be that heavy in my entire life. So, I had to do something.

I did not want to be sick in the future; something must be done for me and for my family. And that something was running, together with proper nutrition. From that moment, I fell in love with the sport.

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ToughASIA: What keeps you motivated to train now, even when there are no races? 

Khairul: Honestly, I am in the same boat as other runners – I lose direction when there are no events. But, that does not stop me from running.

I set a goal to be achieved so that I have the motivation to continue with training. Just like last year, I set my own time trial ‘event’ for 5k, 10k and Half Marathon (HM) distances.

By doing so, it has helped me to stay consistent. Furthermore, I do it for my health and family; I want to grow old strong and active. Usually, I run 5 to 6 times per week. But with the addition of cycling now, I train 8 times per week: 5 running sessions and 3 rides.

ToughASIA: Where are your favourite running locations? 

Khairful: For me, the best location is always the one that is near to my neighbourhood, in Keramat AU5, Kuala Lumpur. My route usually covers a 2km loop around my house and all of Keramat AU area if I do my long runs.

Other favourite locations are running tracks in Seksyen 9, Bangi in Selangor and Putrajaya. Most of my favourite routes are loop routes; I like running in a loop because it is easy to set up a water station and plan my break if I need to. Plus, you get to train your mind to not to feel bored while looping which will help you in the race if you are alone on the road.

ToughASIA: What is the most memorable race you have competed in?

Khairul: The most memorable one is always my first marathon event at Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon in 2017. I had really doubted myself whether I could complete that gruelling distance within my 4-hr target time; I had then just recovered from the worst injury I got in my running journey. I had only 5 weeks to train for it.

The stories of hitting the wall in the race really made me think whether I should race or not. But thank God, everything went very smoothly from the start; I felt good all the way, all my fuelling and hydration plan worked according to the plan. The race vibes really helped boost my motivation.

I ran faster than my targeted pace and managed to clock at 3h 43m. It was this event that kept me wanting to try more marathons in the future, to see how fast I can run again for 42km and make me want to run a World Major Marathon event.

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Khairul will forever remember his first – the 2017 KL marathon.

ToughASIA: What is your proudest moment in running?

Khairul: It was the time trial event that I did in November 2020. Although it was not an official event and I did it alone, for me it is something that I am proud of. I applied all the scientific knowledge that I learned during MCO 1.0 in my training and used my VO2max lab data to help me determine my training intensity.

For a self-coached runner like me, breaking my best in 5k, 10k and HM with my own way of training that is a science-based approach, yes that is the proudest moment. You learn and apply, then achieve what you want with your own effort.

Not just that, I shared the same knowledge and managed to help a few running friends to achieve the same goal. many have benefited from the sharing to improve their running performance.

ToughASIA: What’s the most difficult part about running and how do you overcome it?

Khairul: Performance Plateau. Being a self-coached runner with no one to guide you to improve and break the plateau, yes that is the difficult part, in my opinion.

I do not have a problem to commit to a long period of training. The motivation will always be there but seeing performance not going anywhere after a long period of training, I will feel frustrated and start to think that it is difficult to break my best again. Once, I said to myself “that’s it, maybe my body is already at the limit, I cannot run faster anymore, and maybe it is time to think of another sport”.

To overcome this dilemma – or some runners might call it ‘drama’ – I will watch any marathon race so that by seeing all the world class marathon races, I will be inspired to keep running. My favourite is always Kipchoge’s Breaking-2 Project, watching him running automatically makes me want to go outside and run.

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ToughASIA: We saw your post in MAF Runners Malaysia Facebook group. What inspired you to run with the MAF method?

Khairul: Actually, I had pursued this Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) training in 2016, but not as consistent as this time round. I was sceptical about the method at first after seeing some runners who did not improve with the method. So, I put MAF aside and chose another approach instead. Then in 2020, MCO happened and there were no signs of events coming back until end of the year. I took up MAF again and gave it a second try to see how the body will respond to such training.

I would say curiosity was the reason I run with the MAF method. I love to experiment with a training approach that is backed by science and the MAF method is one of them.

ToughASIA: How have you benefited from the MAF method?

Khairul: I believe that whatever method of training runners choose to do, it is the consistency and patience that play the important role to give benefits that you seek.

That is what I did and will do in every training. If you want improvements, then you must commit to the training. If you want to know whether a plan is suitable for you, then you must do it in a full cycle.

Some runners just leave the plan halfway just because they do not see immediate improvement, some sought a fast or easy way to run fast at low HR but not realising that it would take time from months to years. Frustration is normal when you are not seeing any improvement after 2 to 3 months. However, I do believe you still get the overall health benefits from doing MAF method or other methods.  

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The lockdown inspired Khairul to execute his own 5KM Time Trial event.

ToughASIA: How many pairs of running shoes do you have? Do you have any favourites, or do you look for any particular features in a shoe?

Khairul: I used to have more than 15 pairs but now I have only 10. That seems a lot of shoes to some; usually I do shoes rotation to prolong the wear and tear on each pair. For training, Nike Pegasus line up is always my favourite, it is durable and lasts longer than any pair of trainers that I had before.

When talking about durability, it depends on the runner’s running gait. For racing, it is always Nike Vaporfly Next%, it is soft but very responsive with my strides. When it comes to buying a shoe, I set my own so-called KPI. For trainers, I look for shoes that are below RM300. Usually, it is always Nike Pegasus that will catch my eyes.

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ToughASIA: What keeps you going into 2021 and beyond as a runner? 

Bernard: Honestly, I’m looking forward to run in an overseas marathon event. My dream is to run in one of the World Major Marathon events, be it Berlin, Tokyo or London. With God’s will, someday I will be there.