53 But Going Strong Like I'm 35 , Says Doc Mimi

Every year on March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day to support, raise, inspire and women across all fields. To celebrate the upcoming International Women’s Day in March, I asked a few questions to a few female triathletes who manage to juggle work, family and training life; in keeping of this year’s theme of #BalanceforBetter and celebrate women’s achievements and tenaciously challenge bias.

These strong women show us that with determination and focus, women can achieve so much more. They are women who embrace the multi-sports discipline of swim-bike-run with such determination and doing it in style.

This time around, Mimiwati Zahari who had just celebrated her birthday yesterday; spent some time answering my questions.

Thank you for spending time to answer a few of our questions. I really do appreciate it.

Also, congratulations for your Sub5 finish at Kyoto Marathon!
For the readers, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Mimiwati Zahari, friends usually call me Doc Mimi. I am an ophthalmologist@eye specialist, wife and mother who loves to eat, run,cycle, swim, dive, dance and last but not least..shop!
(Editor: She certainly lives up to Gaited Community motto (that's one of her running groups) of Run-Eat-Shop-Repeat)

First of all, why triathlon?
I am not an athletic person by nature. I only started running regularly 10 years ago. I enjoy the sufferfest running full marathons (FM), and since my virgin FM in Los Angeles in 2013, I have finished my 17th  FM in Kyoto last February.
(Editor: She did awesome with a 4:52 finish at Kyoto Marathon, folks)

I went on to do a couple of short ultras and trail runs for variety but I realised it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Being part of the ‘Gaited Community’ running group , it didn’t take much coaxing, (aka ‘poisoning’) by some friends before I found myself signing up for the Powerman sprint duathlon exactly 2 years ago. And that was even before I owned a bicycle!
During one of the training rides for that event I bumped into a doctor friend of mine who is a multiple IM finisher. Knowing that I was on a long sabbatical leave at that time, he convinced me that I should take the opportunity to train for the 2017 Langkawi 70.3 which was 10 months away. The rest I guess is history..since then I have participated in several duathlons and triathlons, which includes 5 half-ironmans, and just did my Powerman classic distance last weekend.
(Editor: Despite the late start and relatively "new" at triathlons, Doc Mimi has had several age group podium finish)

Which is the hardest discipline for you – swimming, cycling or running?
All three can be challenging in their own way.
Swimming is for me the hardest. It’s not so much the fear of open water, as diving took care of that; but to swim well and fast. I have been using the breast-stroke for almost all of my previous events, which is slower and more taxing on the legs, and that needs to change. Old habits die hard, and it is quite technically demanding for me to improve my front crawl. This will be my focus in the next few months, so on top of the usual swim training, I have just signed up for another round of ‘stroke improver’ classes with a personal coach.

Training outdoors for cycling is also tough as I still am jittery being on the road with on-going traffic! I have a lot to improve on my bike-handling. I sustained an elbow fracture while training to unclip for the first time, and took me some time to get over the phobia. For my first two half-IM events I was still pedalling with running shoes.

The run leg during the 70.3 can be challenging due to the heat, as you only start running when it is close to midday!

How do you get through that hard part to complete your race?
Distraction is the key. Focus on just anything else other than the distance you have yet to complete. Especially during the swim leg when it can get monotonous.

For me the distraction can be on any subject matter convenient to me at that particular time. Sometimes it is a prayer, sometimes it is anticipating the reward for finishing, but most of the time it is just random thoughts that pass through my head!.

Telling myself repeatedly ‘I got this!’ also helps!

Apart from the physical aspect of training, do you face any challenges or resistance from people around you in your quest to be a triathlete?
My husband was initially amused by my sudden interest in endurance sports. But being a sportsman who still actively play rugby and football, he understands my passion. My son will chaperone me to most of my events. My parents are also supportive, though they are very concerned especially if there is an open water swim. My mum sometimes has a sixth sense and will give a call just after I finish my race to make sure I am safe.

My friends are also a huge support. My first ride on a road bike was all with borrowed gear from top to toe, the bike included. I am still afraid to ride alone and will always have a friend /s riding with me.

I feel truly blessed!

What is your typical day like?
Being an associate professor in the university, my work can be hectic at times, as apart from running clinics and doing surgery, it involves undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research. On certain days I also run my private sessions after office hours which ends at night.

During the weekdays, I have scheduled training 2-3 times per week with a coach and group of friends. All this takes place in the early evening in University Malaya campus grounds where I work, so it is really convenient for me.

The weekends are usually filled with either races, LSDs or cycling.

How do you fit in your training schedule between work, family and other commitments?
In a day, spending equal attention for the big 5: family, friends, work, sleep and health is tricky. I read somewhere that you can only do 3 things well at any one time, which I find true. The other 2 aspects have to take a temporary backseat, and will get their turn for attention in due time. It was a difficult juggle at first, but it got easier with time.

I’m sure training hasn’t been a walk in the park, what motivates and inspires you to keep going?

I usually motivate myself by signing up for events! It’s like a carrot at the end of the stick for me – I need to have a goal to constantly push myself!

How do you get through tough days?
In terms of training, I usually find tough days will give you the rewards later. As they say, ‘Train hard, Race easy’, right? 

For the other difficulties in life, I use the mantra ‘ When the going gets tough, the tough gets going’.

What’s your most memorable experience in doing triathlons?
I guess this has to be the time when sharks were spotted in the sea by helicopters as I was just about to start the swim leg. This was during the IM70.3 Western Australia in Busselton in December 2017. 

3 groups of athletes were already released, and when the siren was blown, everyone , including the lifeguards in the canoe had to make a U-turn and were scrambling to get back to shore. Needless to say the swim leg was cancelled, which was to my relief as the water was freezing cold! We only had to bike and run to finish the event.
What’s your proudest achievement to-date?
Achieving a Personal Best timing during the recent IM70.3 in Langkawi 2018. And am also proud of the fact that it was the first time I managed to stay on the bike for a full 90km distance without having to get down to refuel or to push the bike uphill (like I did in all the other events)!
(Editor: She placed well in her age group at IM Langkawi 2018 too!)

Any funny or silly moments you want to share too?
This was during my first 70.3 in Langkawi in 2017. During the last 5km of the run, I wanted to prepare myself to look good for the photos at the finishing line. I was happy to find a portaloo along the route which had a mirror and spent a bit of time sprucing myself up. My friends who were tracking my activity quickly alerted my coach when they noted that my tracker had suddenly stopped for several minutes. Thinking that I was in some kind of trouble, my coach immediately abandoned her lunch and hopped on to her bike to trace my whereabouts. I guess she was a tad furious when she found me, and something she won’t let me forget for a very long time!

Do you have a favourite gear or outfit that you have to have during your race?
I try my best to color–match my outfit from top to toe.

My favourite gear is hands–down my running shoes; for the past 5 years I exclusively use Adidas energy boost or ultra-boost shoes as I find it most comfortable.

What’s next for you?
Like most triathletes, my ultimate wish is in due time, to be a Full Ironman finisher, Insyallah. My plan is to improve on my main weakness first, which is swimming, and also to work towards improving the finish time for a few more 70.3 events. The next will be 70.3Cebu in August.

I won the ballot for the Chicago WMM in October, so will be focusing more on improving my performance for the FM for this year.
(Editor: Congrats on getting Chicago Marathon slot)

Any advice or tips for those who are starting out or plan to enter this wonderful, exciting world of triathlons?
Start small - if you can already swim and cycle, just register for duathlons, aquathlons or shorter distance triathlons, like a sprint or olympic distance.

Get a training plan and stick to it the best that you can. However life happens, nobody’s perfect and don’t feel too discouraged if you get a red report card now and then.
Get a coach- it’s a short cut to progress as your coach can point out your weaknesses at an early stage and correct them.

A little bit goes a long way. Even though you may not be able to give 100% to the training plan in terms of quality or quantity, just do what you can to be consistent. Something is better than nothing.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and we wish you the best for your future races!



  1. Happy Birthday to Dr. Mimi! She is proof that age is just a number!


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