DATIN SUE DING
Lawyer and First Malaysian Woman to Run in Marathon des Sables (MdS) for Charity
Despite her misgivings about it initially, Datin Sue Ding managed to successfully complete a six-day 250km marathon across the scorching 50°C Sahara Desert. She is the first Malaysian woman to achieve such an amazing feat, and the fact that she went into the marathon with an ankle injury is truly remarkable. “I heard about MdS from friends and saw images of the marathon on Instagram. It enticed me, and I was looking for a new challenge. Although I thought the race was beyond my ability, I took the plunge anyway. I told no one for two weeks – couldn’t decide if I had done the right thing. When I finally disclosed my intentions, my friends and relatives tried to dissuade me. There and then, I resolved to go ahead with my plans and prove them wrong,” she said with a grin.
Preparations leading up to MdS included lots of running as well as strength and resistance training. “In all honesty, marathon training in itself is a good form of preparation for MdS,” she explained. “Individual stages at MdS are marathon distances. I needed to build up my strength and stamina for the challenge. I did personal training at least three times a week, hot yoga, and ran a minimum of 40 to 50 miles a week.”
During MdS, Datin Sue chose Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better (MDDB) and Make-A-Wish Malayia as her beneficiaries for charity. Both held special places in her heart. She dedicates her pet beagle, Holby, to MDDB. “She is a rescue dog. When I first had her, she was timid, shy, and afraid of everyone and everything. She had come from an abusive home. She opened my eyes to a whole world of abused dogs when I took her in. That’s how I got into helping animals. I’ve since started a foundation to help smaller dog charities. We raise funds, run for charities, and also look into saving other abused animals like elephants in Thailand,” she said. “As for Make-A-Wish, my heart really goes out to the children who greeted us at the villages we passed through during the marathon. They’d beg, not for money, but for things we tend to take for granted. They wanted water, buffwear (a mask to protect the face from sandstorms) and caramel. I was living on ration water, had only one buff, and didn’t have any caramel (which would have been a luxury). I didn’t have anything to offer them and I felt just awful. So last year, I supported them during the foundation’s Golf Day, and this year did my part to raise funds for them via MdS.”
Datin Sue looks back on her first marathon experience in London in April 2017 with fondness. “It’s like a huge street party! Everyone comes out and cheers you on, I really enjoyed it.” Five months later, she was running in Berlin, and she improved her time by 25 minutes, despite it having rained the entire time. In February this year before the Tokyo marathon, she felt something was amiss with her right foot, but shrugged it off. Within the first hour, she seemed fine, but at the 13th kilometre, she was in debilitating pain. She saw no signs of a bruise, and had difficulty communicating with the local medics. She told herself that she’d gotten this far, and not finishing wasn’t an option. Despite friends and family telling her to quit midway, she persevered and made it to the finish line in the same amount of time as her London marathon. After consulting with her chiropractor, Dr Nick Boden, the MRI results indicated that she had a stress fracture. MdS was two months away, so she didn’t have much time to recover before the big event. “I just did the best I could at the time,” she gathered.
To keep her mind focused during the marathon, Datin Sue concentrated on the cheers of the crowds. “They kept me going. It became like a meditation for me – to think about what I’d done and what I wanted to achieve. And it’s all just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I’m thankful that I’ve enjoyed my runs thus far.” She also listened to lots of Craig Armstrong (a Scottish composer of modern orchestral music) to give her the headspace she needed. It took her a while to get over her friends’ and family’s negative remarks when they found out she was participating in MdS. “They mean well,” she said, “and it may come off as a joke, but it was a huge deal for me. When someone who means so much to you laughs at you and invalidates your feelings, it makes you doubt your own self-worth. There were some friends who did encourage me, and I appreciated their kind words so much. People tend to underestimate the power of their words, and end up unconsciously imposing their limitations onto others,” she reflected.
Before her series of marathons, Datin Sue thought she was ready to start a family in 2012. When she found that she had difficulty getting pregnant, she discovered that she was suffering from a condition known as diminished ovarian reserve. She was on fertility treatments for four years, and in that year alone had an ectopic pregnancy. “I took it really hard, and I wasn’t in a good place for the longest time. Towards the end of 2012, one of my girlfriends invited me to join the New York half marathon. I tried and made it, and it helped me to release a lot of the stress and anguish. It was then that I found my love for running, and I have been running ever since,” she shared. “Sometimes, all you need to do is switch off and take a step back, look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself of all the beautiful things around you, and to just be grateful.”