“You’re nuts, mate. But good luck,” a friend and avid triathlete wished me when he found out that I was participating in the 2017 edition of the Tokyo Marathon, one of the biggest races in the running circuit.
“Thanks David but it’s nothing compared to your regular triathlons.”
“Actually a lot of triathletes feel that running a marathon is a lot harder mentally,” warned David.
Two months ago, the longest distance I had ever completed was just a smidge above 10 kilometres. Then running giant ASICS approached me with a proposal, “We want to send you to the 2017 Tokyo Marathon to demonstrate that anything is possible with discipline and training.” I agreed.
Two months later, my knees lament my decision, my calves have forgotten what a life without pain is like and the soles of my feet are grizzled veterans with horrifying war stories. But I don’t regret my decision in the least.
The Three Hardest Obstacles to Overcome
1. The Juggling Act
No, it’s not the immense amount of mileage I had to accumulate nor the physical hardship that I reluctantly put myself through. It was the three-month juggling act. Between work and social commitments and training, I barely had enough time to do anything else. And on numerous occasions, training had to take a backseat due to the mounting responsibilities in the office. That meant I had to put in additional work on the track and in the gym at ungodly hours during the weekends when the sun too was pressing the snooze button. I even had to run around a lagoon past bemused holidaymakers when I was overseas in Bintan for a management retreat.
I’m not going to lie. The thought of pulling out did cross my mind a lot. But once my feet started getting into rhythm on the roads, I knew that I would regret it even more if I quit before the Tokyo Marathon.
2. The Godforsaken Singapore Weather
If it’s not hot as Hell, it was pouring. But I much prefer running in the rain with lightning streaking dangerously across the sky than in intense humidity. In fact, I was quite surprised at the dogged determination of the average runner. The first time I ran when the Heavens had opened their dams, there were still a lot of joggers braving the winds and waters. There were plus-sized people plodding alongside experienced racers going for their personal bests. It was rather inspirational.
Running in 95 per cent humidity is not as inspirational. Sweat poured out of my pores and remained on my skin throughout the run and by the time I was done, I could fill up a small bucket with the amount of sweat I wrung out of my shirt. Hydration is important folks.
On the plus side, it gave me a good reason to run half-naked.
3. Realising That I’m No Longer Young
Once upon a time, I could stay up all night and go for class at 8 am the next morning without feeling fatigued. I could go for training in the morning and still get gold in IPPT in the evening without breaking a sweat. Those days are long gone.
Now, if I could achieved the same timing as my previous run, it would be a cause for celebration. If I completed a run without feeling any aches and pains (which was only once and yes I counted), it was time for ice cream.
Each time I trained, it was a sobering reminder that I was no longer a sprightly 20-year-old with an immune system that could rival Wolverine’s. I was as human as I could possibly be. I needed to pace myself accordingly and pay as much attention to my recovery phase as I did to my training.
My Partner in Recovery
It’s arguably even more important than training. As part of the journey, I also enlisted the help of MyPhysio Singapore to address my niggling body aches and joint pains.
After a comprehensive consultation, in which the physiotherapist sighed at my inflexibility, marvelled at my rather strong trunk and told me about my mild scoliosis (which I never knew!), he taught me a series of strengthening and foam rolling exercises aimed at fixing my shortcomings.
If you’re a serious but ageing weekend warrior, you should seriously consider seeing a physiotherapist on a regular basis. Not only will it extend the lifespan of your body, you’ll nip any possible physical problems in the bud that might flare up down the road.
My Training Regime
ASICS was incredibly helpful during the journey. Before I embarked on proper training, its in-house running experts, Andy Neo and Raviin Kumar, analysed my running gait with its proprietary Foot ID system (available for free for now at its Suntec City store). From the angle of ankle pronation to my precise stride length, the system provided a detailed breakdown of my movement as well as the type of shoes that would suit me best.
Apparently, my feet needed a lot of cushioning. So Neo provided me with shoes suited to my elephantine plodding style, to help absorb impact upon landing – the GEL-NIMBUS 18. “It’s like running on clouds,” he laughed. A bit hyperbolic but on my first run with the pair, I managed to achieve a personal best. My legs also felt a lot better than usual after the run.
Neo also gave me tips to train for the Tokyo Marathon. The key word is volume. Lots and lots of volume. As Neo shared, the foundation of any amateur runner’s training regime is long runs at a comfortable, talking pace, or what is known in the running world as LSD (long slow distance). Only 20 per cent of your workout should be dedicated to lung-busting runs. The idea is to train your joints and muscles to provide you with the endurance you need to survive a marathon distance, improve your cardiovascular system and teach your body to burn fat instead of glycogen.
More than three and less than five runs a week, and one LSD on the weekend. It was the recipe to success, and I tried my best to adhere to it as much as possible.
Many amateur runners neglect strength work, thinking that it will only hinder performance. That is untrue. A strong lower body and core helps you to go further and faster before fatigue and lactic acid does a number on you during the race.
Fortunately I regularly lift weights. Neo only advised me to focus on muscular endurance instead of beating my personal bests, so I reduced the number of iron plates on the bar and focused on increasing the amount of repetitions I could do at one go for my squats and deadlifts.
Interestingly, despite the increased amount of cardiovascular work I was doing, my weight stayed the same. Sure, I did eat slightly more but not enough to cover the higher caloric deficit. I was a lot leaner though, which meant that my body was definitely learning to burn fat instead of muscle.
With just over two more weeks to the 2017 Tokyo Marathon, all I can do now is start mentally preparing myself. The physical hard work is more or less done. The rest is for my mind to conquer. I’ll see you at the finish line.
If you’re just getting started in running or already an experienced racer, you might want to join the ASICS Running Club. It hosts weekly runs on Wednesday, catered to your fitness level, and is free for all to join. Check out the Facebook page here.