Running in South East Asia tends to mean two things. Number one, it’s going to be pretty toasty out on the racecourse. Number two; the race will likely begin at a rather ungodly hour. Both applied for this weekend’s race. The Standard Chartered Marathon in fact began at 4:00am, fortunately for me, and my fellow half-marathoners; we didn’t run off until 5:30am. Not that the later start meant any additional sleep was had.
I set my alarm for 2:20am to begin my pre-race ritual. 8 slices of white bread (crusts removed) with spoonfuls of cheap strawberry jam.
My night had largely been spent tossing and turning. According to my Garmin Fenix 5, I managed 4 hours of sleep. I think Mr Garmin was very generous in his estimation. A mixture of nerves and the fact my ‘boutique hotel’ was situated in what seemed an area for the local hoodlum to hang out. Screeching breaks, honking horns, and chanting.
Dosed up on caffeine and adequately hydrated, I left the hotel around 4:15am and made the short walk to the starting point.
I must say, running events always have a special charm and energy about them. I’ve shifted my focus somewhat this past year to triathlon, but I always love the simplicity that accompanies a running race. Minimal equipment, an array of participants from first timers to seasoned pros. It’s a truly special experience.
On my way to the start point I passed the thousands of runners embarking on their marathon quest. There was a celebratory energy in the air as the stampede rolled by for what seemed like an eternity. I’m always pretty emotionally charged on race day, this past Sunday was no different. I felt my eyes water just a little, as for a short moment I reflected on my first marathon back in August 2015, and how running has been such a positive influence within my life since. To say running has served as the keystone habit for my personal growth in mind and body these past two years would be nothing short of an understatement. I’ll always be truly grateful for what running has provided me.
As the runners passed, I gave a thumbs up and a quick word of encouragement. I felt a sense of pride wash over me for these runners. Knowing full well the dedication and commitment that is required to even toe the line on race day. I always see race day as a celebration. It’s the finale for all the hard work that accompanied the many months prior. Granted the initial enthusiasm of the race would be replaced by inevitable challenges a little later on, but for now, the mood was one of excitement. They were all winners.
As the gun sounded, we slowly; began moving forward. Literally penned into pen 2, it wasn’t too long until we crossed the start line. The number of runners meant the first few hundred meters felt like a snails pace. I was conscious to try and get into my rhythm as quickly as possible. I had rather optimistically set my Garmin Pacer to 4:30 per KM pace. To be fair though, this was done out of boredom whilst sitting in the portaloo for my mandatory pre-run…
I didn’t really have any expectation for this run. As previously noted, my training has been focused on triathlon, both the half IronMan in Da Nang earlier in the month and the upcoming full IronMan in Taiwan at the beginning of October. So without any major pressure, I set my Garmin to the heart rate screen and went with the game plan of staying as close to threshold/maximum (around 172bpm) as possible for the entire run; or at least until I had to physically decrease the intensity.
Sidestepping, dodging, weaving in and out. The opening couple of K felt much more like a speed and agility training session than a half-marathon.
In all honesty, there’s very rarely anything major to report during the opening 7km of a race. I always just keep my mind present; keeping a note of how my feet are striking the pavement, the frequency of which, and to regulate my breathing as much as possible. With the Garmin buzzing at each kilometre, I soon realised I was playing catch up with the distance. The early weaving and sticking to the outside of the crowd meant I had already added additional distance to each KM. This only increased as the run went on, but with experience, it’s essential to just accept these small instances and not cause unnecessary irritation mentally. Draining your body of energy is inevitable during a race ran at this intensity, that’s why the aid stations play such a crucial role in one’s success. Draining your mind of energy is one thing that must not be done in the early stages. I know full well, as the going gets tough towards the back end, the mind and its strength can make all the difference.
My first 7km splits were: 1km: 4:23, 2km: 4:04, 3km: 4:11, 4km: 4:18, 5km: 4:09, 6km: 4:20, 7km: 4:15.
I’ve gone with ‘The Start’, ‘The Middle’ and ‘The End’ for the breakdown of the half marathon; each one documenting each appropriate 7km split. I could also have gone with ‘The Enthusiastic Phase’, ‘The Slog Phase’, and ‘The Spiritual Phase’. An alternative name for ‘The Spiritual Phase’ could definitely be ‘The What Are You Made Of Phase’.
Anyway, here we are at ‘The Middle / Slog Phase’.
Referring to Strava to refresh my memory, I recall the second set of 7km’s to be where there were a few gradual climbs. My strategy always stays the same whatever the terrain and gradient. Stick as closely to 180 steps per minute as possible and keep the heart rate around 170bpm. This naturally meant slowing down on the uphill’s. Since running with a game plan in mind, it helps me remain rational and objective with the overall race goal in mind.
Runners would frequently pass me on the climbs, only for me to overtake them on the downhill segments. This always gave me a mental boost and has proved time and time again to be a great way to conserve a little energy for later in the race when I’ll need it most.
I call this part the slog, as the initial enthusiasm of racing vanished and replaced with just an acceptance of plodding on and taking care of the next step.
Throughout any race I always make it an obligation to say a quick ‘Thank you for your support and help’ to every single volunteer I pass. Granted as the race wears on, the full sentence may be replaced with a staggered ‘Thanks for support and help’, but accompanied with a beaming smile I am always sure they get my gist. I find this not only puts a smile on the recipients face, it provides me with a really powerful energy boost.
I’ve made a pact with myself that I carry with me in not only my races, but also my everyday life. If I fail to smile at passers by then I’m clearly too busy. I carry this with me during my runs too. If I can’t thank a volunteer for sparing their time and share a smile, then I’m running too hard and it takes away from the reason why I am doing what I am doing in the first place. I’d be lying to say I always do this, but by making it a conscious consideration every day, I certainly tick these boxes more often than not.
During a race, I usually have some key markers to gage how my performance is doing. The 10km mark is always a decent place to momentarily reflect. I hit the 10km mark at 43:29 and with this small but meaningful nugget of information I had two small wins. The first, being chuffed with the timing split, the second and most importantly I was fast approaching the half way mark. Knowing you’re over halfway in any race is such a positive energy boosting moment. For the ‘middle phase’ I felt pretty strong and still in my running groove. I was going to enjoy this feeling whilst it lasted, knowing full well that just like in any movie, the final third is usually where most of the action and drama takes place. This race would prove no different.
My second 7km splits were: 8km: 4:44, 9km: 4:24, 10km: 4:55, 11km: 4:59, 12km: 4:39, 13km: 4:35, 14km: 4:34.
There were a few memorable moments from the back end of the race. The final 7kms for me were ones which both physically and mentally challenged me.
I recall flirting with the wall at around kilometre 16 or 17. It coincided with a group of enthusiastic cheerleaders greeting me at an aid station; at this point a rather dizzy and lightheaded self tried desperately to smile. I glanced down at my watch and my biggest fear was realised, as my heart rate was in the maximum territory of 185bpm. I knew at this very moment, my race could be over in a heartbeat… Quite literally on this occasion.
It was from this very point where I had to really dial in my focus. I grabbed three or four cups filled with Lucozade and downed them before slowly picking up the pace once more, carefully glancing at my heart rate to ensure I didn’t completely bonk.
The last four kilometres were a bit of a blur if I’m honest. However, I do recall clinging onto a thought, which came to me as I climbed one of the final inclines of the racecourse.
“Listen to your heart. Second-guess your mind. Trust your spirit.”
What quickly followed was a spiritual push to the finish line.
Running and endurance pursuits have connected with me to the universe on a much deeper and conscious scale. I think the past couple of years of personal development have seen me grow into a far more open hearted and open-minded self. The books I’ve read, the experiences I’ve had, and the ritual of meditation and running has lead to a far deeper and greater understanding and connection to my inner self and the world around me. It’s enriched my life beyond words. Not to say this process has been easy, but it’s been one that’s been necessary to truly understand who I am and this is beyond any shadow of doubt the best investment of time I’ve ever made.
Okay, so I’m kinda drifting away from the race. Let’s retrace my steps and get back to the final slog as it were…
Towards the end of any race I’m looking for anything to help me stay strong. This came from repeating the aforementioned mantra and gaining strength from the sun, which by this time was rising behind a cloud and giving off rays that I could only describe as physically and mentally bolstering.
It was at this very moment that I thought of my mum, dad, sister and late grandparents. As I’ve said, I’m quite a spiritual individual, and it was at that very moment that I felt thoroughly connected to all of their spirits through the spectacular sunrise. It’s amazing the impact nature can have and I gathered a great deal of strength at this time. A clear indication of this was hitting my fastest kilometre split of the whole race during this spiritual chapter of the race. Running a 3:49 km at the 20km mark.
Having given absolutely everything I had physically, mentally and emotionally, I recall for a short moment tearing up as I transitioned into an all out effort. This soon past though as I gritted my teeth and simply chanted the names ‘Epictetus… Viktor Frankl’. Two men who had to endure brutal mistreatment during the course of their lives. This helped me put into context that my adversity was voluntary and failed to compare to these two inspirations of mine.
As I saw the final 500m sign, I did all I could to cross the finish line as quickly as I physically could. The final few hundred meters for me are always a time to give thanks for my accomplishment. Granted I was the one who ran the half marathon, but the recognition of the many external factors which are so far beyond my control, and the fact these all played their part to ensure I was able to successfully finish the race. This is the reason I kiss my Smilinggg wristband three times and point my fingers to the sky three times in recognition of this fact.
Crossing the finish line was a truly satisfying experience and to record a personal best at the half marathon distance only added to this satisfaction.
After receiving my medal, I made my way to the home straight to encourage and cheer on the runners who were approaching the finish line. Fully appreciating and understanding the physical and mental pain fellow athletes would be experiencing, I know how a slap on the back, a thumb up and a quick word of encouragement can mean and the positive impact it can have. After all, that’s exactly what Smilinggg is all about. We never know the challenges people are experiencing in their every day lives, that’s why a smile and a simple ‘hello’ can be so impactful. In a race we all know the challenges, it’s written all over their face. In day-to-day living, this challenge might not be so easy to spot.
My third 7km splits were: 15km: 4:12, 16km: 4:37, 17km: 4:57, 18km: 4:47, 19km: 4:48, 20km: 4:39, 21km: 3:49, 22km: 4:17km.
Race Stats: Distance: 22.3km / Time: 1:40:07 / Average Pace: 4:29 /km
A wonderful event and a big thank you to the race organisers, sponsors and in particular the race volunteers. Without your hard work and enthusiasm, it wouldn’t be possible.
A big congratulations to everyone who participated.
Until the next time,
Steps and Smiles