It’s not every day you get the chance to interview a self-proclaimed siao lang (Hokkien for crazy person).
After all, no true siao lang would ever admit they are actually a little unhinged.
But then again, you’d likely think that only because you haven’t met Ah Siao.
For starters, you might know him as that siao lang who dragged a tyre over 42.195km for the Bone Marrow Donor Programme at the Standard Chartered Marathon in 2012. It was his first-ever marathon, by the way, and he started training with less than eight weeks to go.
Siao or what?
Then you meet him face to face for the first time. Taking the final few drags of his cigarette, Ah Siao, whose real name is Gerrard Lim, strolls towards us with a slightly ah beng-ish gait, the type where one’s arms momentarily lose control and start swinging from side to side.
We shake hands.
“Hi, I’m Siao.” And we are nuts.
It’s close to noon and the sun unforgiving. Lin is in a skintight one-piece running suit that can only conceivably be worn by someone who wants to show the world that he a) is serious about running b) doesn’t look like a bazhang c) runs for a living d) all of the above.
And obviously, he is option d.
Mad serious about running
Dip a tentative toe into the topic of running and he’s off, talking almost as quickly and excitedly as his feet would in response to a starting gun.
Dragged a tyre over a full marathon, 50km in 50 days, 880km from Thailand to Singapore and his latest hardcore adventure: a four-day 300km trail run in Hong Kong, over the first few days of Chinese New Year, which he decided to go for on a whim.
We are waiting for him to crash into the runner’s wall but it doesn’t appear. The joy he gets out of extreme running seems to be incessant as he moves on from feat to feat, every single one crazier and more impossible-sounding than the last.
Now the biggest question on our minds, and yours probably, is: Why run such insane/inhuman distances?
And that seems to be it: he hits a proverbial wall. He pauses, but not for long.
“Because of my so called past debt, maybe still haunts me today but not so much. So I’m doing all these just to run away from the past, if you want to psychoanalyse it that way.”
His dark past
He talks about his strained relationship with his father so matter-of-factly it sounds like he is telling us about his day.
“(I had a) So-called abusive childhood. It’s something common in Asian families, you know? Your dad just beats you up for no reason at all. My dad took it to a certain level of extreme. When your neighbours call the police because they fear that you’re going to die, then something is wrong with the beating already.”
The beating got so bad, he says, that he started to entertain murderous and suicidal thoughts when he was around 15 years old.
“Every day you are filled with thoughts like that, murderous thoughts, or killing him, killing yourself. I think that’s not healthy anymore.”
It was not until he turned 16 that he reached a turning point: He found his first love.
Solace in martial arts
Now, here’s something else you should know — Lin didn’t start out as a runner. Far from it — instead of pounding the pavement, his lean, toned legs were destroying taekwondo training pads, in his journey to become three-time national champion.
In a way, martial arts was his religion.
“The so-called breakthrough came at the age of 16. I was in touch with taekwondo. I met this mentor, or who we affectionately call shifu. He was charismatic, he was a successful businessman and I said: ‘I want a piece of that.’”
In running terms, he had found his first runner’s high. And for a 16-year-old kid, it was a game-changer.
“From someone with no talent in that sport, I applied myself consistently and went on to become a three-time national champion. The so-called principles or things I learned in martial arts to really help me with what I’m doing today, all the ultra-running. It’s a mindset.”
Lin’s newfound positivity and drive laid the foundation for his first siao lang feat, or as he puts it, stunt: the tyre-dragging days.
Having volunteered at the Bone Marrow Donor Programme since he was 24, he felt that it was time to raise more awareness and take it to the next level. And voila, his famous tyre-dragging marathon stunt was conceived.
But, yes — this crazy dude has grown tired of his tyre (pardon the pun).
“It was something that I think most people (who are) relatively fit can do. You can with some training… It’s getting tiring, you’ve done this already, what’s next? You want to raise funds or awareness for your charity right, you need to innovate. You need eyeballs on you. My marketing background kept thinking what’s next, what can I do?”
“What Teh Tarik run? Ridiculous sia.”
Enter his various eccentric themed runs. There was a durian run in 2015 and in April, there will be a Teh Tarik run, where participants down a mug of teh tarik after every kilometre and a prata party awaits at the finishing line (totally serious, by the way). He plans to organise one run that lives up to his name (well, his moniker, at least) every quarter.
But to plan all these runs, Lin knew he needs a solid team with like-minded (equally siao, perhaps?) people.
With his marketing brain working at warp speed, he set up a company with this business partner, who ran alongside him at the 880km inter-country run, 10 hours a day (We suppose it’s always helpful having something in common to preserve one’s sanity. Oh wait).
“So we said, ok let’s set up a company. Let’s set up runs that are quirky that will hook people in, like the teh tarik run…It’s like the beer mile, every kilometre you drink one can of teh tarik.”
But isn’t drinking a can of teh tarik counterproductive?
Without skipping a beat, he explains:
“People nowadays don’t move anymore, they are very sedentary. If I could get you to move just for a bit, 4 kilometres, with food and plant this seed in you… Eh maybe teh tarik lah (but) siew dai can or not?”
It is at this moment, when the heat beating down on us is at its most unbearable, that we begin to understand the big picture — the transformation of Ah Siao distilled into a single, simple idea.
“I want to build a platform that’s bigger than me. Building a tribe, getting people together to say ‘No resources, what can we do?’”
No half measures
As you can probably tell by now, Lin is not one for half measures. Throughout his life, he’s been pretty extreme in his thoughts and actions.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be a siao lang to achieve what he has so far, he stresses.
On his volunteering journey, he tells us that people tend to think big — too big, in fact.
It’s hard to take him seriously with that ridiculous jester hat, but what he says makes sense: to do things step-by-step; with practice and time, things will get better.
And the rewards are plenty. He speaks with such palpable passion, we find it hard to doubt him:
“I’ve been through all these (runs), what is a nasty phone call to me? What is a client saying no to you? In running, your body is saying no to you. It’s so direct, so visceral, so pure and raw.”
Perhaps it’s with that mindset that helped him conquer so many upslopes. The elevation is kinder to him now: a new company, a new (series of) runs.
And in case you were wondering, he doesn’t want to kill his father anymore.
But — and by now, you’d know this is a story filled with buts, especially with someone like Lin:
“Personally for me I’m trying to do this barefoot world record in August, so it’s just a personal goal for me because world record leh. Guinness World Record leh. So I can so-called retire from running or what lah.”
Since you’re here, how about another article?
Top photo by Goh Wei Choon