Forged In Iron

“Finishing strong is now what motivates me.”

More than 14 hours. That’s how long it took.

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Dato’ Razlan, en route to the finish line. (Picture courtesy of Dato’ Razlan / Cycling Malaysia)

“What was running through my mind? A touch of disappointment… After the twelfth hour, I was still running towards the finish line. I had high expectations to finish within twelve hours, despite it being my first time. I only thought of my family who was waiting for me, and also next year… I underestimated.”

That said, the disappointment didn’t dampen his spirit – in fact, he’s looking forward to doing better.

A common portrayal of a CEO is the dapper middle-aged person pointing fingers and giving orders. Not so with Dato’ Razlan Razali, the CEO of the Sepang International Circuit. Step into his office and you will find a collection of helmets, footballs, and a parked bicycle. Dato’ Razlan is no stranger to sports, himself being a racer and an avid footballer.

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“I’m an all-rounder… I’m an active person when I went to school in Australia… I’ve been exposed to sports since I was young, and I continue to be active”.

It was with this in mind that Dato’ Razlan decided to participate in the IRONMAN Triathlon, one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. More specifically, he joined Ironman Langkawi, where the hot and humid weather makes it one of the harder events in the Ironman calendar.

Mind you, Dato’ Razlan was also a first-timer when it came to the gruelling triathlon. Talk about starting with a bang.

“I’m the kind of person who likes to challenge myself and do something different at least once in my lifetime… Ironman is where you swim, bike, and run – it’s the ultimate sport!”

Naturally, his family was taken aback when he mentioned that he was taking part. “They asked, ‘why?’ (laughs)…  They realise how hard I need to train for this. It can be dangerous if you don’t train properly.”

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“If I participate in a competition, it’s to do it as well as possible.”

Some details on Ironman Langkawi: it consists of a 3.8km swim, followed by a 180km cycling course, and ends with a 42.2km run. Not exactly your outing in the neighbourhood park, and for the average person like yours truly, nigh-impossible. So what motivated him to continue his training?

“If I participate in a competition, it’s to do it as well as possible. I once struggled in a marathon because I was overconfident, so learning from that experience, I want to also finish strong. Finishing strong is now what motivates me.”

His immediate reply was I asked about his training regimen was “Whoa!”, a sort of ominous reply that would overwhelm the unprepared. “I got Steve Lumley (a British triathlon coach based in Malaysia) to train me. He monitors my progress through a web-app, and he assesses it. So it’s basically being diligent with the program. You need to stick to one good coach, and get ready for the big day.”

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“It’s a challenge, but it’s good training.”

“[The training regimen] happens Monday to Sunday, and my coach put me on a 16-hour training week. For first-timers like me, this is good enough… If I don’t have the time, I will run and cycle around the track. It’s a challenge, but it’s good training.”

His training does come at a slightly amusing cost. “I’ve never been so fit… my wife doesn’t like it because I’m too skinny and I’m under the sun so much.” 

Surprisingly, as a dedicated fitness enthusiast,  he doesn’t adhere towards a strict diet. “As long as you workout, you’d burn enough calories and you can eat whatever you want.” (laughs)… Hence during the festive seasons like Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Christmas and the year-end holidays, it wouldn’t make much of a negative impact towards an individual’s physique and fitness level – as long as he/she works out.

Usually, one would think that 40-somethings wouldn’t be entering events like Ironman. Dato’ Razlan was quick to correct that notion. “You’d think that, but the triathlon community is huge! The 40- to 44-year old age group is so competitive, it’s hard to be in the top 10.”

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#MalaysianPride

Being the CEO of a motorsports circuit also has a perk: you get to use the race track as practice grounds. The circuit is also occasionally open for cyclists. “We have to find a time that is off-peak. We have done a couple of cycling sessions, and a lot of pros come here to cycle because it’s safe and controlled. It’s a growing cycling community. People also come for running and rollerblading!”

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The passion towards motorsports & football is clearly displayed in his office.

Aside from motorsports, the Sepang International Circuit is a venue for other events, including the Viper Challenge, Music Run, and Energizer Night Run.

I think we should be community-friendly… At the end of the day, we want them to be excited about the circuit.

Of course, a leader is not just one who directs; he is also one who inspires and encourages. That is what Dato’ Razlan does with his employees – he gets them to participate in various activities, including the occasional mountain tour.

“I get them involved. I remember my first year, I asked everybody to come run with the CEO. It started with a few, but as the years pass, more people joined. I got eleven staff to join me in a half-marathon, 80% of them did the Viper Challenge, we all did the Music Run, and recently, we had an expedition to Everest Base Camp.”

An active CEO reflects on the performance of the company.

They are also part of why Dato’ Razlan can train in peace.

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It never gets easier, you just get better.

“Fortunately, they are very competent. As long as they meet expectations, it gives me time to look at other things and squeeze in some training time.”

So, after his first showing in Ironman Langkawi, what’s next for Dato’ Razlan?

“More Ironman!” ◆