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Elite Among Us: Q&A with Huzaifah Johari

Posted on April 22 2016

Congratulation on running a new PB of 3:04:58 at Vienna City Marathon. That is a very impressive timing. I was very inspired after seeing your Instagram post after finishing the race. I believe, I am not the only one who was full of admiration knowing your timing. There are a lot of people who would like to know more about yourself and your race in Vienna. Without further ado, let’s go on with the questions.


1. First off, tell us more about yourself. When and how did you start running and what keeps you going after all these years?

Thank you for the interview. I’m Muhammad Huzaifah and people called me Jepah, 25 years old, married. Opsss boring stuff. Anyhow, I used to be a middle distance runner specialising in 400, 800 and 1500 meters distance.

I think what you’re interested in is how my road running journey begins. Late winter January 2012, I travelled to London and by fate I met Haziq Ramli one of Kyserun Krew co-founders. At that moment Kyserun Krew wasn’t established yet. I stayed at Haziq’s house for couple of days and got to know a bit about him. I was amazed with his shoes collection which included the latest Nike LunarGlide 4+. To my knowledge Haziq is one of Run Dem Crew members which has a regular running session every week (for me that’s AMAZING!).

February 2012, new trimester almost began. My second year in New Zealand as undergraduate student, I transited in Melbourne for five days to visit a long lost friend and had a chance to buy a LunarGlide 4+ (My idol had it, I should get one!) from Direct Factory Outlet. When I arrived in Wellington, I googled “running club in Wellington” and found a few, but there was one that particularly caught my attention. Wellington Marathon Clinic (WMC) offered first three sessions for free with annual fees of NZD 35 which included a club jersey (Awesome!). I enjoyed and learnt a lot from the weekly Sunday sessions with WMC.

I kept track with Haziq’s progress and found out that he ran Paris Marathon in April 2013 and clocked 4 hours 12 minutes with some insignificant seconds. At that moment, I was convinced that I could run a marathon too. I blindly registered for Wellington Marathon in upcoming June and started my training. With the target to finish below 4 hours, I ran my first marathon on 23 June 2013 and finished with 3:22:49. After that marathon I felt I wanted to do more and be the best runner I could be. That obviously keeps me going after all these years.

2. Vienna City Marathon is an intriguing choice. Most people would go for World Major Marathons like Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, and other races like Paris, Frankfurt, Rotterdam. But, why Vienna?

The thing with World Marathon Majors is ballot system. If you are lucky, you get in. If you are not, life goes on. I registered for Tokyo ballot but nahhh disappointing. I did not get in. Why Vienna? Cost effective!
On 10 April 2016, there were three IAAF Gold Label Road Races, Vienna, Rome and Rotterdam. I chose Vienna because it is located in Eastern Europe and the cost to travel around Eastern Europe is cheaper compared to other part of Europe. In addition, I was one of the spectators in 31st edition Vienna City Marathon on 13 April 2014 a week after my Paris Marathon disaster. So Vienna Marathon 2016 was my redemption race for Paris disappointment.

3. I follow you on Strava and you prepared yourself admirably for Vienna where you consistently ran at least 100km/week for weeks prior to the race. Tell us more about your training plan. Did you come out with a training plan yourself, or did you follow a training plan online? Or do you have a coach.

There are a lot of good plans out there such as Hansons, Jack Daniels and Lydiard. As I am not a fan of speedwork I chose Pfitzinger’s in preparation for Vienna. Generally, I ran from 4-5 days/week up to 7 days/week with doubles (two runs a day) for some days. The key characteristic for Pfitzinger’s is the plan requires me to run 13-15 miles (20-24 km) during midweek. If you are a runner who doesn’t like speedwork and can tolerate high mileages, then Pfitzinger’s is a good choice. You can look into details about this plan from Advanced Marathoning book by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas.

4. How was the route in Vienna like? Was it pancake-flat or hilly? Was it cold and windy? Were the crowds aplenty? How does it differ compared to races in Malaysia?

One word to describe route in Vienna, CLASSIC! Just like Paris Marathon, Vienna City Marathon took the runners around the city’s most famous attractions which include historical buildings rich with ancient architecture. Based on my Strava, 212 meters elevation gain, for me was not too flat and not too hilly. Just nice for change of gear (pace). This is the ingredient for a good marathon.

Cold? Yes it was. 8 degrees Celsius. I had to stand for more than 30 minutes in the cold condition because I already dropped everything off at 8:17 am (gun time at 9:00 am). Windy? I could only feel the wind during the second half of the race (after 21.1km), where I used runners in front of me as a shield (strategy matters). The organizer claimed that there were more than a million spectators. The crowds were huge, the locals cheered and motivated runners from the starting line until the finishing line.

Obviously, weather is the main difference between running in four season countries and Malaysia. Other than that, the spectators and vibes are also different. Marathons in Malaysia only attract few crowds probably because most marathons in Malaysia start at 4:30 am in the morning.

5. This is the most interesting part where I believe many people would like to know about. Tell us about your race.

It was cold, very cold for me indeed. I walked to my block and waited for gun off. Hurmm toilet call and I walked to queue for pot-a-loo aaahhhhhh. I entered my block again and waited. Damnnn toilet call for the second time. 3 minutes left before the gun and I just stood still and held my bladder.

Elite started two minutes earlier compared to other runners. I was in Block 2 with other 3:00-3:30 runners. After the gun off everyone was very discipline. Nobody made an early burst. We cruised until the end of the bridge towards the city. After 1.3km, that was the moment when everyone started to pick up the pace. As usual, I set my GPS watch on 5km splits. My watch beeped for the first time, “No I’m not going to see it”. Beeped (plus vibration) for the second time, “No! I’m not going to see it”. 10 kilometres gone and I was still running by feel instead of effort because it was still early. Another ¾ of the route to cover.

My watch beeped for the third time, “20:46 W-T-F!”. I said to myself, “Let’s roll”. I looked around to find a pacer. I found a guy with good kicks so I followed him (Bib no. 5712: Adrian Noble). Halfway mark, 21.1 kilometres, I looked at my watch and it was 1:28:xx, still feeling good. I brought three gels with me. Standard modus operandi was to consume one at 25km, 30km and 35km. Nahhhh I already used one at 20km. So, new modus operandi, 20km, 25km and 30km. How about 35km? I remembered that the organizer would provide Coke at KM35 (Sweet as!).

My marathon started at around 33KM where my left quad was begging me to stop. Experience taught me a lot. When my quad was asking me to stop, “Ok, ok we slow down”, because I knew if I still ran at the same pace, I would end up limping to the finish line just like Paris Marathon. 5KM split for KM35 (22:10) followed by 5KM split for KM40 (24:06). From KM33 to the finish line, I imagined my wife waiting for me at the finish line and obviously our future kid. I wanted that kid to grow up knowing that his/her dad is a fighter.

600 meters to the finish line, I stopped my GPS watch because it was already recorded 42.2KM on the screen. My wife was standing at the spot where I wanted her to be. I crossed the finish line and I knew it was a new PB. Nothing else mattered. It was indeed an emotional day, fittingly with Vienna City Marathon tagline, “Theatre of Emotions”. I rushed to nearest pot-a-loo because I had held my pee for more than 3 hours!

6. If I am not mistaken, your PB going to Vienna was 3:13 that you did in Sydney in 2014. You slashed more than 8 minutes off your Sydney timing, which was very impressive. What was your initial target time for the race? And what point in the race that you started to believe that you could run a sub 3:05 marathon? 

Yes! Sydney 2014, I almost forget about that. It’s been a while since the last time I hit sub 3:15. My initial target was to repeat that sub 3:15, PB would be a bonus. I didn’t think I could run a sub 3:05 during the race after slowing down at KM33. I thought it would only be a sub 3:10. I was elated to run a sub 3:05.

7. Based on 2015 timing, are you aware that your 3:04:58 is placed among the Top 15 fastest marathon timing if it were to be done in 2015? How do you feel about it after knowing this?

Yes, I’m aware about this because a lot of my friends tell me the same thing. But one thing we need to take into account is that the standard of marathon in Malaysia already improves. Major Malaysia marathon will be on 7 August 2016 in Kuala Lumpur. Only after that I will roughly know where I am positioned at. But based on Twin City Marathon we can see that a lot of runners are already hitting sub 3:30 marathon. Previously, runners only aimed for a sub 4:00 marathon, but not this time around. As the standard improves, there are a lot of works to be done to be in the best position.

8. Boston Marathon is arguably the most prestigious marathon in the world because it is the world’s oldest annual marathon, and it also one of the hardest to get in. One needs to meet a qualifying time to be able to be in the ballot, whose place is not guaranteed. Your Vienna timing qualifies you a shot at running the most prestigious marathon in the world. Do you have a plan to run Boston?

As a marathoner, Boston will definitely look great on a CV. I have a plan to run Boston but not in the near future. I’m 25 years old, still young, still a lot of room for improvement. I hope that I will be able to BQ in 2-3 years’ time. As for now, I will just do my routine.

9. What is your next plan? When and where do you plan to run a sub-3:00 marathon?

No plan in the book at the moment. InsyaAllah, I will have my first kid around mid/late September so there will be a switch in priority. But, if I have one in mind I will update it on my Instagram account.

10. Do you have any advices for running enthusiasts and weekend warriors out there especially in Malaysia regarding running?

Let me start it with a quote.

“Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars. The truth is, greatness is for us all. This is not about lowering expectations, it’s about raising them for every last one of us. Greatness is not in one special place, and it’s not in one special person. Greatness is wherever someone is trying to find it”.

My advice is pretty simple FIND YOUR GREATNESS. Don’t let anyone define you, work hard day in, day out and stay humble. Finally, be the very best runner you can be, have goals and work on it.

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That’s it guys. We have reached the end of the first Q&A session on my blog. A very insightful and inspiring stuffs from the great yet humble Huzaifah Johari. I would like to thank him for his time to do this interview. He’s not only fast on the road, he is also fast in reverting back to my email. He got back to me within hours after I sent him the email.

I would like to wish him the best in his future undertakings, especially with a baby coming soon. I hope you are as inspired as I am. Let’s keep pushing each other to the limits!

To those who would like to know details and numbers of his blistering Vienna City Marathon, you can click his Strava link below.

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