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Home > Living > People > Q&A: How Ultramarathoner Jeff Lau conquered his coldest, most gruelling race yet
Q&A: How Ultramarathoner Jeff Lau conquered his coldest, most gruelling race yet

Jeff Lau’s experience in completing the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra, known to be among the world’s toughest ultra races, goes to show that despite how perfectly one prepares for something, it might not all be smooth sailing.

Since its launch back in 2020, Under Armour’s “The Only Way Is Through” strives to motivate athletes all around the world to put in the work and get better. The campaign’s main focus relays the belief that the only way out of a hard spot is to muddle through it. The story of its brand ambassador — ultramarathoner Jeff Lau — is a prime example of this belief.

On an extremely cold morning in mid-March, Jeff Lau stood on the grounds of Överkalix, having just completed the gruelling Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra race. The gruelling 500km foot race took place on snowmobile trails in Swedish Lapland, where runners travelled on rivers, lakes, and through forests in temperatures that dropped to -30 degrees Celsius, over the course of 10 days.

Jeff Lau at the Montant Lapland Race, which completed in Överkalix. Photo credit: @shadowkuo_photography

Jeff Lau embarked on the race to raise money for the Malaysian Aids Foundation’s (MAF) Paediatric Aids Fund, which helps children living with or affected by HIV stay in school and thrive through education and social support. As a Red Ribbon Youth Icon who was appointed by the local health ministry, he has also taken part in several international ultramarathons to raise funds for MAF, including a solo 250km sub-Saharan seven-stage race. Jeff Lau has also achieved the coveted title of being the first Malaysian to successfully complete 2,260km of the Swiss Ultra DecaTriathlon.

After having braved some of the most extreme weather conditions and unsettling sleep systems during the gruelling Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra, Jeff Lau expresses that completing the race gave him a satisfying feeling that goes beyond all of his expectations: “It was gruesome, but I’m thrilled I managed to finish the race on time!”

Through the entire ordeal, Jeff Lau was clad in cold gear technology from Under Armour, specially designed by the brand to enable one to push themselves to the limit. Providing weightless warmth to athletes, Under Armour’s ColdGear solves a common problem with layering to keep warm, as the added clothing weight increases energy expenditure. Under Armour’s lightweight fabric sits next-to-skin while still keeping the body’s core temperature warm, making it ideal for long-term activities.

We catch up with Jeff Lau to talk about the training process involved in preparing for the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra, and his personal experience of completing the race, and how Under Armour’s ColdGear helped him withstand the weather through it all, and ultimately brought him to the finish line.

What drove you to join the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra in the Swedish Arctic in the first place?

It has been two years since my last ultra race — Decaman in 2019. As we slowly move to an endemic stage, I thought it was time for me to get back into an international ultra-race. It was perfect timing, too. As the country is continuing to combat its efforts on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, there should be ongoing investments and efforts to support other initiatives as well such as HIV treatments and education on HIV prevention. This is because there are still many at risk and will need our constant support.

I chose the Montane Lapland Race to get back into the game, taking it into account as another personal achievement, especially given this is the longest distance I’ve completed in my life (500km). At the same time, I get to put my Under Armour running gears and shoes to the test, as they are well-suited to this kind of weather and ultra distances.

What was the preparation process like before an arduous run like this one?

To prepare for my race, I underwent fitness training. I am pleased to say that Under Armour Malaysia has been very supportive of my run initiatives where they have supported me with the right sports education by arranging running training courses with TRAINE (Performance Institute located in Hartamas) to make sure I would be on the right path for the race.

What are some of the challenges you faced during the preparation, after not running an ultra race for two years due to the lockdown?

Preparing for the race definitely served a challenge, as we’ve been living in our comfort zone for the past two years. Firstly, the rules to enter Sweden keep on changing every month. I had to keep rescheduling my flight tickets and accommodation. Secondly, physically and mentally preparing for these kinds of cold races is always pretty tough. You have to do the right kind of training and wear the right running gears, and so on. Last but not least, researching and studying the race structure and elevation is also important.

How was the experience during the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra? What are some physical challenges that you faced, and what did you do to overcome them?

Gruesome, but I’m thrilled I managed to finish the race on time! It was physically challenging for me, especially when I had to cross frozen rivers. Aside from that, having to face the temperamental weather due to the ever-changing conditions. There were times where it would get very windy at night, or it would suddenly become super warm in the afternoon. Through the forest, we also had to climb up and down the hill with a 30kg sled. I had to keep changing my running gears in order to avoid sweating too much or getting too cold.

What are some of the personal expectations or goals that you had set for yourself before the race?

My personal and most important goal was to complete the race without injury. I think this is crucial for any athlete in order to go further in their sports race life.

You had the Under Armour cold gear with you throughout the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra. What are the features of the gear that you found most beneficial to ensure maximum performance?

Getting the right running gears for the arctic race served a challenge, because I couldn’t seem to find them here in Malaysia. It was incredibly important to find the right running equipment and gears that would be able to support me through the -20°C race. I was very fortunate to have the support from Under Armour, as the Under Armour Europe team was able to prepare the right racing cold gears for me to withstand the weather during the race.

Jeff Lau clad in UA ColdGear Rush Mock Grey and UA Cold Weather Crew, with the UA CGI Down Blocked Jacket tied around his waist. Photo credit: @shadowkuo_photography

I would like to highlight these gears in particular, as I found them extremely useful throughout the race:

  • The UA ColdGear Rush Mock Grey incorporates Infrared technology, which reflects my body’s energy and helped me work harder, as well as recover faster. The Super-soft ColdGear® fabric was extremely breathable, stretched for superior mobility yet still kept me incredibly warm. Most importantly, it dried fast too!
  • The UA CGI Down Blocked Jacket really kept me warm in the cold temperature, and was still light enough for me to run in the snow.
  • The UA Cold Weather Crew socks helped my feet stay warm and comfortable throughout the race.
What have been your biggest life achievements so far?

This race was definitely the longest ultra-marathon I completed in my life, so I’d say this one! There’s also another huge achievement I achieved right before the pandemic in 2019, when I completed Decaman’s 10 Ironman in 10 Days race. It was a triathlon where we needed to complete 3.8km of swimming, 180km cycling and 42.2km run daily in 10 days.

What’s next for you in the world of ultra running?

I am planning to go for more ultra races in the future, but not currently due COVID-19 restrictions, as well as the fact that I am going through recovery. But I’ll be sure to keep you guys updated as I sign up for my next race!

(All photos courtesy of Under Armour)

Puteri Yasmin Suraya
Brand and Partnerships Writer
As a literature buff, Yasmin has a deep love for fiction and poetry. When she’s not writing or café-hopping, she enjoys binge-watching period romances, (badly) belting out show tunes, and curating Spotify playlists to match her mood for the week.
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