In my dream there is an annoying siren sounding, interrupting my slumber. I open one eye and realise its my alarm going off. Damn. 4am Saturday morning. Time to get up for a training run.
It was my friends idea to run a marathon. Back in May it seemed like a good idea. How hard can it be? Can a chronic beer drinker run that far?. I was about to find out.
My training for the Penang Bridge International Marathon, held each year in November, started in August. Our first training run was 21km – a half marathon, so individual training had actually started well before then to get up to that distance. After that first training run, I was already thinking to myself there is no way I can run double that distance, yet pig headedly I persisted, sacrificing my Friday night beers and Saturday morning sleep ins to get up in the middle of the night to run ever increasing distances.
Training became increasingly technical as our distances increased. It was a fine balance between eat, rest, sleep and exercise. Other things to consider were also what and when to eat, when to rest and what type of exercise to do. As it turns out, and science supports this, its pretty simple – if you want to run a marathon, you need to run a long way in preparation. Cross training has its place, but nothing prepares you for running long distances like running long distances. However, and science also supports this, you cant run too far too often, or you will suffer injuries and wont be able to run at all. So although its simple in theory, its really a fine balance between what the science tells us and what your own body can cope with. You have to work it out yourself.
Our training schedule became fairly standardised over the four months leading up to the big event – long run on Saturday, and during the week a couple of quick, shorter distances, and either intervals or hill running. Cross training also featured in the form of Warrior Bootcamp () and Sunalinis Iyengar Yoga Classes (). Rest weeks were also important. There is only so much the body can do before it cant do any more, so programmed rest weeks were crucial, and I looked forward to these with anticipation! I also learned that sticking to the training programme is hugely important. A week in Bangkok with all the city has on offer does not qualify as rest, and neither does climbing Kota Kinabalu. After each of these distractions I was severely punished for my lack of discipline during my next long run.
During the training period it felt as though the main event would never arrive, but all too soon there was only two weeks until the marathon. Thats when the doubts began to set in – have I done enough training? Have I done the proper training? Am I eating well? What supplements should I be taking? And of course, the big one – will I be able to finish the race?
With one week to go, everything hurt. Every little twinge in my leg or pain in my stomach led me to believe I was severely injured and would be unable to compete. Turns out, this is quite a normal process prior to a big event, both psychologically and physically. The mind becomes anxious about big events and focuses on the event in preparation, and the body aches when the training tapers off. It helps to have good people around during this period to assist with your anxieties – both psychological and physical.
The day before the marathon I was a mess, and was therefore completely unprepared as I attempted to depress my anxieties through my usual coping strategy of denial. I did everything I could the the day before the marathon to take my mind off the event, except to actually do things that would help me prepare for it, like pin my race number to my shirt. But of course, everywhere I went I would bump into someone I know (Penang just isn’t big enough!), and they would then ask me about THE MARATHON. Our longest training run had been 33km, which I had completed a couple of times, once poorly and once really well, but a marathon is 42 km. There was a whole extra 9 kms which I just did not know about, and I found that really scary. But hey, after my denial strategy kept getting hijacked by well meaning friends and acquaintances, the only thing left to do was to give it a go.
Aside from the extra 9 kms, the other thing I was concerned about was the course – a dog leg at the beginning, out and back across the bridge, and out and back along the highway towards George Town – how boring! I was concerned that I would get really bored and maybe even just run home to Gurney Drive just for some variation.
Race day, or rather, race night. Once more there is an annoying and interfering siren sounding, interrupting my dream. this time though it really is a siren that has woken me up at 10pm, and hour before my alarm is set to go off. Damn. In addition, it seems like all of Malaysia is on Gurney Drive in their car and honking their horn. I try to go back to sleep, but then open one eye and realise my alarm is going off. Damn. 11pm Saturday night. Time to get up and run a marathon.
Its been raining – just the usual torrential tropical rain storm and wind. Im really hoping I dont have to run in these conditions. Miraculously, the weather clears and its perfect for the tropics – cool with lower humidity than usual because of the rain, with a light breeze and even fine drizzle for some of the race. Penang has certainly turned it on for the marathon this year.
My training buddy arrives at midnight to pick me up and we arrive at Queensbay Shopping Mall about 12.30. Finding a park takes quite some time and we finally tuck up alongside a double yellow line about 1 km from the start. Although there is a steady stream of early morning athletes, I am amazed at how well the event is organised for 49,000 competitors across the full and half marathons and the 10 km events. We do our pre-race warm up, discuss our race strategy, go to the toilet about 50 times, and get to the start line with about 5 minutes to spare. We shuffled as far forward as we could so we could start running as early as possible, and the gun sounded – it was a couple of minutes before 2am even. When is Malaysia ever early?!
Based on our training runs, we were aiming for a run time of 4.5 hours to complete the full distance. The only good thing about starting a marathon at 2am is that you run the distance in the dark, which I love. Our race strategy was to start really slow, take the middle part of the course slow, and then to finish off the last 10kms slow. Any energy I had at the end I was to save for the last kilometre. Seems a bit weird to run 41kms slow to run a faster 1km, but that was the best piece of advice I received. That and take time to enjoy the experience – you only ever get to run your first marathon once.
The run itself was not as bad as I had anticipated. Running over the bridge (and back again) was much less boring than I had expected, and was even pleasant. It was amazing to see the throngs of people on both sides of the bridge as I was on my way back to Penang, and the lights of George Town and Penang Hill twinkling in the background provided a pretty distraction. I hit the 25km point feeling pretty good. I had eaten every hour (carb shots), drunk a lot of water on the way, and re-hydrated with electrolytes at 21km. I was running to plan; I had been going slow and was not thinking of running any faster – yet. The pace setters had passed us a couple of times due to the out and back course, and they were beautiful to watch run. They reminded me of race horses galloping up the back straight. It was like they were gliding over the ground, their feet barely touching the asphalt. There were also plenty of people running barefoot, which surprised me as the entire course is on the tarmac. I asked one of them later how his feet felt, he said they were sore, but so were mine and I had shoes on. Every now and then I would see someone I knew, and it was a real lift to call out to them, or have someone call out to me and give a word of encouragement.
Off the bridge, the course turned nasty. We turned right, away from the finish line, and ran down the highway towards a point that kept getting further and further away. This was the worst part of the course and emotionally draining. At this stage of the race I was at 30km and getting tired, and I was still running away from the finish line. It was more than depressing, and could have become soul destroying or life threatening, but out of the darkness rose a group of familiar faces on the sidelines waving their banners, blowing their whistles and wearing their Bootcamp t-shirts! Here was the support crew, armed with water, supplements, 100 Plus, and best of all loads of moral support and encouragement. I felt like crying when I saw them, but instead I just kept running. They gave me energy.
The turn around point at 33km was both a blessing and a curse. At least now I was headed for the finish line, but this was where the unknown began. I did a quick check of myself and was pleasantly surprised (yet again) to realise that I felt ok and that another 9km didn’t seem as far as I had previously anticipated it would. Because it was another out and back, I knew what I was in for on my way to the finish line, and ran back past my wonderful support crew. It was also really nice seeing all the people behind me that were still heading to the turnaround, although not so good for them. In what seems no time at all, there was sign that stated 5kms to go!. Wow! Only 5 kms to go! I did another check, and again was surprised to realise that I still felt ok. Pretty soon there was another sign that read 3 kms to go. I checked my watch and found that, although my pace was still slow, I was running at the same speed I had been at the 4km check point. I had remained consistent throughout the race.
However, with only 2kms to go, my world turned black. I had hit the wall and there was nothing left. My left leg hurt between my hip and my knee and was doing funny things when I tried to thrust it forward. Everyone around me was walking, and I dropped down into their black hole of despair with them and stopped running. How could I go on when I couldn’t control one of my legs? But walking seemed ok, so I tried that for a bit. Then I tried walking faster. Then I saw a sign that read 1km to go and I forced my crippled body into a slow moving shuffle. The Chinese man beside me was making noises similar to those of a woman in labour, so I told him to keep moving forward. This seemed to have an impact on me, like it was someone else’s voice saying the words to me, and I picked up my pace. The Chinese man in labour stayed with me. We crept along the road towards the finish line, picking up our pace as we went. With about 100m to go I got sick of his labouring noises and wanted to beat him more than anything in the world, so in my head I looked like Usain Bolt and sprinted across the finish line. Then I hugged the Chinese guy.
I dont have an official time, as my e-tag stopped tracking after 19km, but my unoffical time was 4 hours and 56 minutes and 30 seconds. A bit slower than I had anticipated, but then I had stuck to my race plan and ran slowly until the last kilometre. At the time, there was nothing left in my body to allow me to experience an emotion of any kind, but on reflection, I am proud of my sub-5 hour marathon time. It is the tropics and it was my first marathon.
Now I know you are all wondering will I run another one?, and is it possible to drink beer and still run a marathon? Its only one day after the race, and I cant say I am tempted to run another 42 kms on the road. However, some of these off road ultra marathons look interesting . and no, its not possible to drink beer and run a marathon, especially not at the same time.
Mariane Wray – Marathon Runner.
Tips for Training for a Marathon:
Get a Training Programme that works for you, and stick to it: Train smart, train well. I went to a marathon clinic early in my training, and most of the problems people had experienced on their previous runs were due to a lack of training. To run a long way, you need to practice running a long way. Its not possible to get a good result if your longest run has been 15km, and you are much more likely to injure yourself. During the marathon, there were a lot of people experiencing cramps and unable to continue. This is generally due to a lack of training.
Do it with friends: Get yourself a training group. If I had to get up in the middle of the night and run for 3 hours by myself week after week, I would have packed it in. Often, the only thing that got me out of bed was the knowledge that I had people waiting for me before they could start their training run. Get yourself more than one training buddy and all run together, as injuries during training are not uncommon. You don’t want to lose motivation because you are the last man standing.
Rest: So, so important. Schedule in rest weeks every month, where your training is reduced. This doesn’t mean you dont train, just that you lessen the training every once in a while to let your body recover.
Research supplements: Good quality supplements assist the body in coping with the pounding it is taking from all the running. You lose so much running long distances in the tropics, and you have to replace the nutrients you lose. Running long distances reduces the efficiency of your immune system, so taking anti-oxidants and Vit C helps to reduce the effects of this and allows you to continue training. I also took L-Carnatine, Whey Protein, electrolytes and magnesium, along with my usual fish oil and multi-vitamins.
Eat good quality food: Its not possible to run long distances well if you’ve had McDonalds for dinner the night before. Whole foods and vegetables with protein based foods (meat) provided me with the best outcomes on my long runs. Avoid processed foods as much as possible, and as good as Fish Curry is, its not recommended as a pre-run meal. Thats when I learned that Tamarind is a natural laxative.
Stop drinking beer: Not completely, just not on the evenings before your long runs. I did drink throughout my training, but maybe only one or two beers after a long run, and not at all for the last couple of weeks. I had several beers after the marathon, and it had never tasted so good!
Recruit a Support Team: Having friends running the event with you, or parked up alongside somewhere on the route makes a huge difference to your emotional state, especially towards the end of the marathon when you are emotionally fragile. One of our support crew ran the last six kilometres with my training buddy – priceless. Also, support from family and friends during training is critical. Having people who support your goal and can help out with child-minding and other tasks while you are training makes a huge difference (you know who you are!)
Dont do anything new on marathon day: Make sure you have used your training runs as practice runs for kit, clothing, supplements and food. Don’t do anything you haven’t done before on the day of the marathon – except for running further!
Enjoy running: There is no point running a marathon if you hate running. But if its something you are curious about, give it a go. You don’t even have to be good at running, as you get better during your training, or you get injured and stop. Penang has a great range of running events, so sign up for one and see if you like it!