Somebody should stop Juliana Ali before she winds up running the entire country! The full-time mom, blogger, wife and triathlete is a star on the Kuala Lumpur running scene, but her mothering skills and colourful blog texts qualify her as the quintessential Renaissance woman. Her mission? To be the best that she can be at all of the artful roles she’s carved out for herself under the colorful nickname “missJewelz”. The name suits her well: She sparkles. And shines. And her future is as multi-faceted as a perfectly cut gem. Read on and you’ll understand why!
RS: First, thanks Juliana — or Ms. Jewelz — for stopping by long enough to talk to us! Our readers want to know when you started running and what got you started, given your crazy schedule and interests.
Juliana: As a kid, I was very intense; I wanted to experience everything, but I soon learned that if you move at a snail’s pace, you can’t do it all. I loved the speed and intensity of representing my school at sports meets and excelled at track, specifically 100m, 200m and 4 x 500m relays. You might say that getting a taste of moving at a fast pace whetted my appetite and I just kept running through high school and university.
RS: What’s your secret: How do you juggle being a blogger, mom, wife and triathlete so beautifully?
Juliana: First, I never tell anyone (including myself) that this is an easy road, but I love everything I do and I’m willing to do what it takes to keep my priorities straight. My number one focus is family. Happily, I’ve figured out clever ways to multi-task. For example, I take my two-year-old with me when I walk and hike so while I’m conditioning my body, she gets love, care and attention. We bond while I get the workout I need to burn calories. Recently, we had a terrific time at the National Park in Kuala Tahan, Pahang. The experience got my mind thinking about a great blog post, but that’s going to have to wait until I find the time to write it!
RS: Sounds like you have healthy way to prioritize. Are you philosophical about it?
Juliana: I’m a strong believer that there will always be time for everything I want to do, especially since I’m young and still have peak running and multi-sport years ahead of me. Before being a mom I pursued all sorts of achievements, even when I had self-doubts. Now, my responsibilities include being a role model for my daughter, so that comes first.
RS: So, how do you do it?
Juliana: With an enormous amount of support from friends and family. They appreciate my desire to be the best mother and athlete, and my husband is a treasure. He was a national cyclist so he shares my love of fitness and understands my need to train. We take turns supporting each other so there’s lots of reciprocity and respect between us. We manage so well, I don’t have a helper at home. We are the world’s best team.
RS: Given your unique situation, how often do you train and do you have a special routine you’d like to share?
Juliana: I train according to a structured programme that takes into account the sort of event and/or distance I expect to run next. This keeps me fit, safe and I gain maximum conditioning results. I know some athletes “train for the sake of training” but I think that can be a waste of time so I avoid unstructured programmes.
RS: How about your routine when there’s no upcoming event on your calendar?
Juliana: I try to run or cycle at least once a week and I hit the gym during lunch hour at work. Squeezing in short workouts in the middle of the day is satisfying and I also run stairs at my office for cross-training and cardio!
RS: Wait! You hold a job, too?
Juliana: I do! But I believe that I can make it work, so I do. Leveraging that one-hour lunch break at work and training on the weekends makes it all possible. I’m also willing to get up earlier than usual in the morning to squeeze in 40 minutes of workout time if my day looks crazy. Good thing I have so much energy.
RS: When do you sleep?
Juliana: Believe it or not, I get plenty of sleep too—I need my beauty rest! As I said, it’s all about prioritizing.
RS: What has been your toughest event so far?
Juliana: (Laughs.) Aside from giving birth? I have taken part in ultra-distance running and Ironman (triathlon) events in the past but the toughest event I ever did was the Penang Bridge International Marathon in 2010. This was my first stand-alone marathon and I still recall the pain of pounding legs and my knees being hammered for 42.195km without a break. I hit the wall at one point but kept going. That’s the point of good training—one pushes past that wall.
RS: How about your favourite event?
Juliana: The 2011 Matanoi Sabah Adventure Challenge, a 60km trail running event. The organizers were amazing. They put together a lovely outbound experience and I undertook the event with friends, so it was doubly fun. For two days, we raced, got stuck in mud and encountered environmental challenges, but Mother Nature provided amazing scenery and that alone provoked bursts of energy that kept our spirits up from start to finish.
RS: Do you have a running philosophy?
Juliana: Honesty, respect and humility. If a competitor is true to herself and to the people she loves—if you’re honest about yourself and your capabilities—it’s easy to develop benchmarks of internal and external discipline that sets you on the right path. I respect everything: my competitors, my distances, race veterans and nature. I think the results of this kind of philosophy are reflected in every facet of life too.
RS: What made you fall in love with triathlons?
Juliana: A friend sent me an invitation to the University Malaysia Duathon in 2006 which led me to my first ever sprint-duathlon followed by an invitation to take part in the AFamosa Triathlon in Melaka a year later. I kept falling more in love with triathlons with each one I participate in. It wasn’t just physicality, either. The camaraderie exhibited by volunteers, organizers, competitors and fans is overwhelming. It’s not finishing first that counts—it’s taking the journey to the finish line with others. Finishing with a good time does put a big cherry on the top of the cake!
RS: How do you keep going when you want to give up?
Juliana: I have a mantra:
“I shall finish what I started!”
I use that mantra to keep me going when I’m not feeling terribly enthusiastic about undertaking other types of training like running, cycling and swimming. I love running best of these, but sometimes, I must self-motivate to keep going or I will be really angry with myself!
RS: Would you be willing to share tips with readers who are interested in becoming triathletes?
Juliana: First, always prioritize family. Once they’re taken care of, train with abandon. Next, be gentle with your body so you don’t injure yourself by being zealous. Take distances one at a time. I suggest training and racing short distances first before attempting long ones. And never get caught up in the glitz and glamour that comes with being a triathlete! Train smart. Do your homework. Stay modest. And most important: Have fun!
RS: Have you made 2015 running resolutions?
Juliana: I want to train at least twice a week and participate in a trail running event. Let’s see if my schedule allows me to reach the end of 2015 by saying that I accomplished both!
RS: Our readers would love to know more about the Malaysian triathlete community: Is it large? Do you have female friends with whom you train? What do you forecast for the future—and will you blog about it?
Juliana: Changes in the Malaysian triathlete community have been meteoric since I was a newbie in 2006/2007. These days, lots of newcomers are getting in; particularly since high-profile events like the PD International Triathlon are staged. The rise in the number of triathletes—especially women—shows how receptive our community is to multi-sports and many runners, cyclists and swimmers have adopted triathlons as secondary interests. Women on the triathlon scene are amazing—passionate and bright; many have achieved incredible feats. I believe this niche will grow dramatically and I look forward to cheering on my daughter some day! But first, I’ll be writing about triathlons on my blog—soon as I find the time, of course!
Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall of Juliana Ali’s home when she’s “flying around” organizing her day? She’s confident. Self-assured. And of course, that self-assurance is what gets her through a schedule that many would find daunting. But, wait! We have been fortunate to profile many Renaissance women like Juliana here. Do you happen to know one with an equally remarkable story? We’re all ears!