Malaysian-born, London-based Alison Walker is nothing short of a remarkable woman. At 31, she has achieved six national records and is listed in the Malaysia Book of Records for the longest distance covered on a running track for 24 hours.With such accomplishments under her belt, one would think that she started vigorous training at a very young age. However, that was not the case.
“It was quite the opposite. I was obese (as a teen) and too busy eating to care about exercise. In fact, I was already wearing adult jeans at that time!” shares the candid Walker, a senior director (transaction tax) at a consulting firm in London.Running only became an interesting sport for her two years ago when she married her husband, who is from Britain.
“Prior to joining ultra marathons (a footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42km) in January this year, I did races and marathons with my husband for fun. We participated twice in both the Marathon du Medoc (a run around the French vineyards with wine stops along the way) and the Beer Lovers’ Marathon (where runners can discover and taste 15 different Belgian beers along the run).
“It was at that time that I took a greater liking to the sport, as I had the opportunity to explore new places with my husband, ” she says.
“When I run, it’s also my personal ‘me time’. I am shut off from the world and alone with my thoughts. However, I also love to talk to other competitors in a race as it makes me feel like I am part of a great community, ” she says.
A historical moment for Walker was when she participated in the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 24-hour race at Tooting, South London, this year from Sept 21-22. The race was exclusive to only 45 participants, selected based on their past experiences running ultra marathons and overall racing potential.
Walker emerged from the race a triumphant winner as she broke six national (Malaysia) records – at the 6h (59.74km), 12h (107.36km) and 24h (185.93km) points; and the 100km (10:56:27) and 50km (4:53:20) distances, attaining an aggregate distance of 185.93km at the end of the 24-hour race. The previous 24-hour distance covered by a Malaysian female was 150km.
Walker’s achievements in the 24-hour race did not stop there. She put Malaysia on the map by coming in third in the women’s category. In addition, Walker also achieved a 100-mile (160.93km) split at a time of 19:41:38. At present, no other Malaysian female has done a sub-24-hour 100-mile time.
“I did not plan on racing competitively; it just happened. Racing for me is like gearing up for a final performance you have been rehearsing for a long time. Every bit of hard work that you have put into your training to hone your craft pays off at that moment in the competition, ” she shares.
For the race, Walker had the help and support of her trainer, Peter McHugh de Clare, who is an avid runner. The 74-year-old retiree has a training camp in Iten, Kenya as well as a shop selling running gear in London.
“Peter has been passionate about the sport his entire life. He volunteers his time every Tuesday and Saturday hosting running sessions in London for free. I met Peter when I turned up on his track three years ago and only started to be coached by him in November last year.
“I started out being the only non-elite athlete trained by Peter, but now I think I have justified his time by holding national records in Malaysia for ultra running, ” says Walker proudly.
In addition to her coach, Walker also trains with Graham Ferris, a strength and conditioning trainer. However, her biggest supporter is her husband.
“During the 24-hour race, my husband ensured that I had enough food and water. When I was going through some low moments, he provided some much needed encouragement by giving me a hug. As he is a runner himself, I feel great to have a partner who understands me. We work together as a team to achieve our goals in racing, ” shares Walker, whose family in Johor Baru also show their invaluable support by watching her races via live videos.
Although Walker attained admirable results in the 24-hour race, she still felt that she could have done a lot better.
“The Self-Transcendence race at Tooting was my most significant achievement to date, albeit it was not my best executed race. One of the mistakes I made was that I took in insufficient amounts of calories needed for the race. My coach wanted me to take in at least 6,000 calories but I only managed to go as far as 2,000 calories, ” she explains.
In detailing her training regime and diet plan, Walker says, “My typical training sessions would normally include running 90-100 miles (145-160km) a week. Of course, this reduces substantially when I am recovering from a big race.
“I also do not have a specific diet plan. As my training load is high, I can eat anything I want. Even so, I do try to keep a well-balanced diet of fibre, protein and carbohydrates. I also try to eat healthier and introduce more multivitamins and yoghurt to avoid getting ill as well as to promote my gut health, ” she adds.
As a child, Walker shares that she was highly motivated and driven.
“I competed in choral competitions and held several leadership positions in school. I am a little bit of a perfectionist and I think I have channelled this into running, ” says Walker, who graduated from Marsiling secondary school in Singapore and Swansea University in Britain.
Despite having just achieved a tremendous feat this year, the devoted marathoner shows no signs of slowing down in aspiring to reach greater heights in racing.
“Right now, I am on a racing ban until January 2020. My coach is strongly against over-racing and thinks that I have done enough for this year. He would like for me to work on a few fundamental things before my next training session with the goal to improve my times and splits for ultra racing, ” Walker enthuses.
“I plan to participate in the Comrades Marathon and Spartathlon next year. I have a Spartathlon qualifier (a 246km race from Athens to Sparta), so I will put my name in the ballot and hope to get selected for the marathon in 2020. I am very excited about the racing plans in store for me next year, ” Walker says happily.
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