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Spartan Race competitor eyes US, Greece meets (2019)

Zulkarnean bin Haji Tohara on the podium. – SPARTAN

BY Khairil Hassan

MANY have heard of the Spartan Race and the difficult obstacles that the Spartans had to undergo. Bruneians too have joined the race and even took podium positions.

Zulkarnean bin Haji Tohara, a 46-year-old Production Operations Officer working offshore for Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd, is one of the athletes from Brunei actively participating in the Spartan Race all over the region.

Zulkarnean, or known as Naen to his friends, started joining Spartan Race in Malaysia in October 2015 with two other friends. It was the first Spartan Race held in Southeast Asia. This was followed by the next event in Singapore in November 2015.

Spartan Race is a series of obstacle races of varying distance and difficulty ranging from three miles to marathon distances. They are held in the United States (US) and have been franchised to 30 countries including Canada, South Korea, Australia and several European countries.

The series include the Spartan Sprint, Spartan Super, Spartan Beast, and Spartan Ultra. Spartan Race also has a military series hosted on military bases. And now the Spartan Race has spread to Southeast Asia.

The word ‘spartan’ means self-restrained, simple, frugal and austere. Sparta was a warrior society in ancient Greece that reached the height of its power after defeating rival city state Athens in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Spartan culture centered on loyalty to the state and military service.

Asked why he joined, he told the Bulletin, “Initially, I saw these events on Facebook where a friend of mine from the US participated in the Spartan Race. I spoke with my friend about joining these events if it ever happened in the region. A few weeks later, I saw on Facebook (that) Spartan Race coming to Malaysia and I promptly signed up.

“What made me join the race was because the event was a bit different. It consisted of running seven kilometres with 20 obstacles to be completed. At that time, I hated running, and by joining the event, I saw my weaknesses and strengths.” He added, “Apart from running in different distance categories (seven, 14, 21 and 50 kilometres), we have to do all the obstacles along the course such as rope climbing, spear throw, sand bag carry, monkey bar, swimming and tyre flips. Failure to do the obstacles will be penalised by doing 30 burpees.

“I have joined all the Spartan Race categories, from Sprint, Stadion, Super, Beast, Ultra Beast and Ultra with a total of 36 races from 2015 till 2019. I have travelled to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.”

Asked about the toughest race he joined, he said. “I joined several challenging races. The first was the Super category in Malaysia in 2016, which was my third race. With three kilometres to go I had the worst body cramp ever that lasted for two hours. After being treated by the First Aid team, I managed to finish the race.

“Another challenging race was during the Trifecta Weekend in Subic Bay, the Philippines in September last year during Typhoon Mangkut.

“We were all supposed to do three races (Beast, Super and Sprint) during that weekend. But typhoon Mangkut struck Subic Bay and some parts of the Philippines.

“The race on Saturday was cancelled due to the typhoon and we had to do all the three races the next day (Sunday) which was the first to be done in the world, as per the Race Director. We finished the races within the cut-off time which was at 6pm.

“The next tough race that I joined was the Ultra – it was 50 kilometres with 60 plus obstacles, with a cut-off time of 14 hours. It was held in Iskandar Puteri, Johor in December last year.”

How does a Spartan prepares himself or herself before joining a race? Zulkarnean said, “As the race is mostly running, a Spartan needs to train with road running, trail running and hill climbing. As for the obstacles, he or she needs to train the upper body strength and do some weight training. It may take months or even years to prepare for the race.

“My personal achievements were joining the Ultra Beast and the Ultra and also doing four Trifecta Weekend races (three races in one weekend). The best achievement must be being placed third in the Super Categories in Taiwan in October last year.

“My own family is the reason I’m doing this. My daughter even asked me when I can get to the podium. I told her it will be a bit difficult as there are lot more fitter and stronger competitors. But it didn’t stop me from training hard. Finally, I got my podium finish in Taiwan and I dedicated that win to my daughter by writing her name on my abs while I was on stage.”

Zulkarnean said his future goal is to participate at the World Championship at Lake Tahoe in the US and the Spartan Trifecta World Championship at Sparta in Greece.

-- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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