Mark Wilson, WEEKENDER | Tue, 01/31/2012 1:22 PM |
Muara Sianturi knows the loneliness of the long-distance runner. But he is running for a cause.
“I feel pain all over my body,” says Muara Sianturi, when I ask him what it’s like to run a marathon.
Given the physical exertions required, one might have expected the 36-year-old lecturer to have had his fill after he ran his first marathon in 2008. But nine marathons, four triathlons and four ultramarathons later, Muara wants more. For this lecturer of information technology at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), long-distance running is more than a passing fad.
“I’ve always been a sports lover,” says Muara when asked how he came to find himself running races up of to 100 kilometers. “A good friend in New York began telling me about running in Central Park. He sent me pictures and articles about running and I found myself inspired by it all.”
But this was only half the picture. It was the lecturer’s competitive edge that drove him to take the step from merely reading about running to actually donning the trainers and doing it. “I’ve never been one to shirk a challenge, so I got involved.”
After running numerous 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer races and returning some impressive times, Muara ran his first marathon in Singapore in 2008. But why did he feel the need to make the step up? It seems his competitive streak got the better of him once again.
“My best friend in California challenged me to run a marathon. I didn’t want to lose face to him. In fact, I wanted to see if I could better him, so I took up the gauntlet,” grins Muara.
Indeed, taking up the gauntlet seems to be the theme of his running career. When another friend introduced him to ultramarathon running (distances of more than 42 kilometers) the lecturer found that once again, he couldn’t say no. And so this year, Muara found himself running the 100-kilometer Sundown Ultramarathon in Singapore, completing the race in just over 12 and a half hours.
Blood, Sweat and Tears
A lot of effort and commitment have gone into where Muara finds himself today. One must first consider the qualities required to train and run extreme distances.
“You need good discipline, because sticking to your training schedule is all important,” says Muara, who built up his fitness for a full year before taking part in his first marathon. “But ultramarathons are another thing entirely. Not only do you need to be disciplined, but also tenacious and persistent. You need to have a lack of fear when it comes to failure. You must be bold and know how to psychologically overcome pain during a race.”
Muara’s ability to do just that has been forged by one particular event in his life – the passing away of his father in 1999 after a battle against blood cancer.
“Whenever I have to dig deep in a race, I just think of my father. I experience pain in a race, but I know that it’s nothing compared to what he went through, so that makes me never give up. My father will always be an inspiration to me.”
This experience motivated Muara to set up the charity “Run for Blood” in 2009, which works to raise awareness of blood cancer, raise funds to combat the disease and promote blood donations among runners. Muara himself is a regular blood donor, having first given blood to his father during the latter’s illness.
Muara also appears to have become something of an inspirational figure himself. In 2010, he was chosen as one of five running ambassadors for Adidas in Indonesia, whose role it is to promote the sport across the country and encourage people to run.
Under a running community initiated by Adidas, entitled the “adiNation of runners”, as an ambassador Muara helped to organize a weekly running club at Senayan. The club runs together every week and gives free advice on running.
Upon an invitation from Muara, I join the club on its weekly run and experience for myself the camaraderie among its runners, all of which are at different levels. As we jog along at a decent pace, the lecturer doesn’t even break a sweat, happily chatting to me while I huff and puff, an indication of the level of fitness Muara has attained. If he wanted to, he could motor on and leave us all behind.
But he doesn’t leave anyone behind. In fact, when one of the group’s number pulls up, Muara insists on stopping and walking with her until the finish. The importance of running with friends, it seems, cannot be overstated.
“Running can be a lonely sport, so it’s really important to have friends along who can join with you,” says Muara. “When I joined my first running club, I was slower than the rest of the runners, but they still waited for me.”
This unwritten law of the running road – no runner left behind – is partly why Muara’s club has now become a fledgling network, where runners swap advice through a Facebook group and email.
A Healthy Investment
It seems another part of the reason for the club is to encourage healthier lifestyles, which is no mean feat in a city like Jakarta.
“This city isn’t the healthiest of environments,” says Muara, as the club’s members gather at a local mall after the session. “Many people are living sedentary lifestyles, with too much sitting around in cars due to the traffic, some sitting at their desks all day.”
Muara is adamant that taking time out for exercise is key for those Jakartans looking for healthier lifestyles.
“The human body was made to move. The important thing is to remember that any exercise, along with a balanced diet, is an investment in our own future to help us live longer.”
And what advice for those Jakartans wanting to get involved in running?
“Beginners should start slowly, maybe with long walks or short runs of up to 2 kilometers. You should always make sure you know how to warm up and down properly to prevent any injuries,” says Muara, who also advises runners to invest in a good pair of running shoes if they want to run on a consistent basis.
Not one to be deterred, Muara is planning to further up the ante in coming years, organizing a race dedicated to raising awareness of blood cancer next year, and then in 2013, running a staged, five-day race in the sweltering desert heat of Morocco. Clearly, this will be a feat of super-human proportions.
“My friends and I want to run until we are very old,” says Muara as I wish him luck in Morocco. And given his tenacity, I get the distinct impression that this will be yet another gauntlet that the lecturer will not shirk.
For more details of the adiNation running community, go to http://www.facebook.com/indoadirunners