Squash has always been Mokhzani “Mox” Bin Mohammad’s go-to sport since age 13, where he has been active in the local amateur leagues and tournaments. But court closures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic turned the 37-year petroleum economist from Rawang to running.

Ultimately, his personal health history keeps him motivated to find a sustainable solution for his fitness and health. Previously, Mox spent 8 days in ICU battling malaria, and had a few rounds of weight gains and losses.

ToughASIA spoke to Mox on how he committed to running more than the length of squash courts.

ToughASIA: How did you get involved into running?

Mox: I owe my running journey to my wife, Nur Syahadah Jamaludin, who has been an avid runner since her schooling days. In pre-COVID 19 era, I was very active in the squash scene hence, I was not really interested to run (reality: I was a lousy runner to begin with)! Once or twice a year, we did participate in fun runs together with our four kids.

When COVID-19 set and courts were closed, the first thing on our list was to start running when the government allowed us to do so in April 2020. To make things more interesting, running shoes and gears were sold at unbelievable discounts, so we took the opportunity to upgrade our kit and commit to running. My weight gained due to MCO 1.0 also added more salt to the ‘internal injury’ of not being able to shed tons of sweat outdoors, haha!

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ToughASIA: How often do you run?

Mox: I always tell my squash partners that I hate running, even though it is very important to build up my stamina on the court, especially during long rallies. The furthest I would run was 2km before any squash sessions, but most of the time it was just standard warm-up before stepping onto the court. Now, after exactly a year of active running, I try to maintain a minimum of 50km weekly or 200km monthly – with daily runs between 5-10 km, Long Slow Distance (LSD) runs on weekends, and one off-day for recovery, usually on Mondays.

ToughASIA: What is your proudest moment in running?

Mox: This has got to be when I finished my first Half Marathon (21.1km) in September 2020 – in conjunction with Hari Malaysia – together with my wife. Timing was not relevant as the objective was just to complete the run; at one point in time, I was constantly telling myself that running more than 10km is a self-torture to oneself!

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ToughASIA: Why did you choose to run with the Phil Maffetone (MAF) method?

Mox: Training by heart rate was something alien to me when I got into running. The absence of a proper smartwatch – couldn’t afford a good one! – and being complacent of current results further reduced the drive to explore sustainable running techniques.

The moment came when a fellow work colleague and runner Faizul Fahmi ‘loaned’ me his Garmin FR235 gps running watch for the 2020 KL marathon (KLSCM) virtual run. It was then the urge to explore more on further improving my running performance came, and most of the feedback received post-KLSCM was to increase my running volume.

But how do I do it with less effort and postrun soreness? This was when Nazif Nasir, Ridhwan Nashir and Zahin Razak from Kaki Runners IMProf (KRI), the running group I am actively involved in, shared the ‘holy pdf’ on the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) method by Phil Maffetone. It was indeed very intriguing to see the results post-MAF training, and after following Coach Khairul Munir’s Instagram notes and tips, my MAF journey began in December 2020.

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

Mox: I completed my 4-month MAF training at end of March with flying colours, by clocking a 5km Personal Best (PB) timing of 28:25 mins (average pace 5:39/km), beating my previous record of exactly 30:00 mins.

What really amazed me was I shaved my max HR by 10 bpm (176 vs 186 bpm in Jan 2021), proving that MAF training does live up to its infamous motto of “Run Slow to Run Fast’ at a far lesser load to the heart, making the body more efficient!

It was indeed a great relief to achieve something that I could only imagine all this while, and I strongly believe anyone with the strong willpower and right attitude can achieve the same, if not greater results.

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ToughASIA: Where are your favourite running routes?

Mox: My running routes are mostly within Taman Melawati, in Kuala Lumpur which is known for its scenic view and majestic quartz ridge. My regular 5km covers either Jalan Melawati – SKJ(T)TM – Masjid Hidayah Baru -SKTM2 – SMKTM – Bulatan Hillview, or the infamous Bukit Daim loop.

10km will take me along Melawati Mall, Serini and Gaia Residences, Kampung Klang Gate, ISKL, Bukit Daim and back to Jalan N. For more challenges, one can opt to go uphill via Nadayu-Kemensah route, or climb the slopes of Bukit Haslam. I might be visiting the Wangsa Maju MSN facility once it reopens as it is the closest 400m track to my house.

ToughASIA: In your experience, can you share some steps for beginners to start with the MAF method?

Mox:

  1. Just forget about pace. Easier said than done, especially for those who are used to running at pace 6 and below. It requires mental resilience and determination as one might have to go as slow as pace 8, 9 or even 10 in order to tame the HR in reaching the MAF HR range.
  2. Slow down, run at smaller strides and higher cadence. Don’t worry too much about the HR spiking above MAF HR. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes very natural and I am sure you will enjoy it!

ToughASIA: Do you notice any changes in your habits as a runner after embracing MAF?

Mox: Come to think of it, I find it easier to wake up early in the morning for Subuh or Fajar prayers. Furthermore, my recovery time has reduced drastically and the post-run soreness has been tremendously minimised. This allows me to run further everyday, even on working days. I also sleep better as shown in my sleep HR pattern.

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ToughASIA: What have you learnt from your role as administrator of the MAF Runners Malaysia on Facebook?

Mox: Haha, this is interesting indeed. Well to be honest, I had never expected the group founder, Chris Khoo to put me into that role as I am relatively new to running and MAF as well. I guess it was the same experience that we had being sidelined from a famous running group due to our extra concern for runners being fast without proper knowledge, which eventually brought us on this platform.

It is a very unique role which requires a delicate balance between group rules and regulation and members’ eagerness to share their results and findings.

I felt a bit intimidated when few runners gave unexpected feedback on the HR Line Chart requirement, but rules are there for a reason. One of the common findings – which then relates back to the ‘creativity’ of fellow Malaysians – is how one tends to bend the MAF rules, by introducing shortcuts here and there. Initially, the moderators were the ones actively correcting the misperception or misunderstanding in MAF. However, along the way, several senior and avid MAF runners stepped in to help educate, which is very positive in light of the group’s objective to produce knowledgeable runners who know what they are doing.

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

Mox: I am seeing very good progress among members, with most of them complying with the MAF guidelines and best practices. Personally, I aim to make our runners become resourceful, and maximise the use of running data – that is, the multiple charts generated from running apps.

To monitor progress, one must know how to set benchmarks and goals, and this can be easily done if he or she is capable of deriving the key analysis from their running charts. The data is all there for a reason, and some runners even pay top dollars for it but unfortunately does not maximise the features available. It is wonderful to see fellow runners sharing their technical expertise and I do hope this culture will become part of our base routine both as a runner as well as in our day to day routine and workplace dealings.

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

Mox: I believe staying healthy is something that every religion encourages due to its multiple benefits, so as a Muslim that is my strongest motivation to keep on running.

I have gone through several cycles of weight gain and loss, and I do not see myself gaining weight in the near future. I am jus starting out in this MAF journey, and I have to prove to myself that I can achieve that sub-5 pace for my MAF runs. Clocking high volume runs will definitely boost my stamina and endurance once I start getting back into the court in a few months time. Besides maintaining a minimum monthly mileage of 200km and a quarterly or annual half marathon distances, I am also looking forward to my first Full Marathon, most probably at the highly anticipated KL marathon, KLSCM.

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