Just when you think you're tough enough


Syamsul Found Podium Positions – And Love – At Samosir Lake Toba Ultra

Syamsul Bahtiar found more than podium through running, he met his wife! (credit: Chan WK)

You would not be able to tell that Mohd Syamsul Bahtiar Bin Abd Gapar was never into sports when he was young. The 37-year old from Tangkak, Johor has found more than his fair share of podium finishes in various ultrarunning events in Malaysia and overseas.

In 2016, at the Samosir Lake Toba Ultra in Indonesia, the engineer found love and met his then girlfriend, Kartini. As the saying goes, a couple who runs together.. dates for two years, and gets married in Syamsul’s version.

ToughASIA: How did you get involved in running?

Syamsul: I was never a sports guy during my studying days. I had a bad lifestyle in the early days of employment, then had hypertension symptoms and bordered on obesity. I had a slow start to running but then got hooked, mainly as a casual runner because back in 2007, running groups and races were not the “in thing” yet.

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ToughASIA: How often do you run and at what distances?

Syamsul: I consider myself a “low mileage and boring” runner. I run almost everyday, averaging 60 to 80 km weekly. On weekdays, I run at Stadium Panasonic in Shah Alam, Selangor. On weekends,  I run at Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, Kuala Lumpur and occasionally, run in the trails within Klang Valley.

My favourite routes are Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, Kiara Park Trail and my hilly neighbourhood route in Damansara Perdana. Alternatively, running in the online platform, Zwift becomes an option when the weather is unfavourable.

ToughASIA: What inspires you into ultrarunning?

Syamsul: I get to push my limits physically and mentally. In ultra trail running events, I get the opportunity to visit some exotic places and beautiful mountains. As runners, we do motivate each other to achieve our target.

ToughASIA: What is your proudest achievements in running?

Syamsul: Three to be exact!

  1. I keep my ideal weight in check. When I start running, my weight was nearly 70kg. Now, I average at 58 kg.
  2. I won some podium placings in some overseas events such as Samosir Lake Toba Ultra 2015 and 2016, plus the Jeju International Ultra Marathon 2017.
  3. The most memorable one – of course, I met with my wife, Kartini during the Samosir Lake Toba Ultra 2016.

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A couple who runs together, Kartini and Syamsul

ToughASIA: How does it feel to have a competitive wife in running?

Syamsul: Never been better! We can train together as she can keep up with the pace and intensity. I do sometimes pace her during races.

ToughASIA: Who has the more expensive equipment? Do you buy each other gears as gifts?

Syamsul: For running gear and apparel, of course, my wife! She has a humongous collection of shoes. I keep my gear minimum but love trying the latest gears, especially the electronic stuff such as watch, smart trainer and earbuds. Yup, we do rewards ourselves with gears and shoes regularly.

ToughASIA: Can you describe how your relationship progressed with the both of you running together?

Syamsul: Informally, I am her coach, personal assistant, chauffeur and photographer. She always asks for my advice on her training, nutrition, event selection and such. Most of the time, we will go to race events together to support each other, whether it is my race or hers. Nowadays, I am very selective in my event selection but still keep on training to stay fit.

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ToughASIA: Have you participated in any virtual running (VR) races since MCO began?

Syamsul: I have participated in few virtual race such as Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon (KLSCM) VR and Borobodur Marathon VR. Virtual runs motivate me to keep training and stay fit.

However, during MCO, Zwift virtual racing events kept me motivated. It is a real time virtual race from participants around the world. It does push me real hard as participants get special kits if we finish on the podium.

ToughASIA: So you dabble in triathlon too and participated in the IRONMAN’s Virtual Race. Any plans for triathlon soon?

Syamsul: Previously, I participated in Olympic Distance triathlon events between 2012 and 2015. However, I started losing interest as the training for the three disciplines were too time consuming and costly.

ToughASIA: What are your plans going into 2021 and beyond as a running couple?

Syamsul: I do hope with the ongoing vaccination process, we would be able to participate in our bucket list marathons and ultra trail events, especially in exotic locations. For me personally, I look forward to debut in a full IRONMAN distance event soon.

Photos provided by Syamsul Bahtiar.

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