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Training for a Marathon

Posted by on April 11, 2018

Now that the biggest running event of the nation has settled down, I figured I’d do a post race analysis for you fitness geeks out there.

The marathon was a little test to see how much better a runner I can be, if I worked hard at it, and focused on improving my strongest element. For those of you know don’t know me well, I am a triathlete, but I am a pretty lousy swimmer, I am a mediocre cyclist, but when I hit the road on my two legs, I feel at home. Running has always been and still is my very first love.

So after dabbling in long distance triathlons for the past couple of years, I realised my running performance has been erratic. I sometimes do pretty well, and would think “Hey, cycling really improves my run!”. Then, sometimes, because Tri training takes so much out of me, my runs tend to suffer. Although, in the Triathlon world, I do alright, and all my triathlon races are saved by my run.

This year, after having missed out on running full marathons for 2 years, I decided to go back into it. My personal best time is 03:55:17 in Auckland, New Zealand, 2010. Ever since then, I have attempted numerous time to break it back on Malaysian soil, but even a sub 4 hour timing seem unattainable. I managed a 3:59 once, but I borrowed a friend’s bib, and did not run through the finish line. I managed a 3:55 a couple of times, both of which were under distanced. It was frustrating.

This year I wanted to do it properly. I got myself a 14 week Running Plan, which started on 1st January, and would end nicely on 8th April, which was Standard Chartered KL Marathon. My target? I boldly set at 3 hours 45 minutes. I was pretty gung-ho about it, and took the first couple of weeks very seriously. As the weeks went by, I struggled a little to cope, because on top of the 4 day running program, I squeezed in 1 swim session, 1 bike trainer session and 1 long bike ride into my week. That is the barest minimum of Tri training, and I did that because I had an Ironman 70.3 coming up in March. But I tried as best as I could to do 80% of my runs.

Then, the races started to come. The first one was Malaysia Women Marathon on March 4th. This was to be my B race, and also a trial test to my run fitness. I targeted a humble sub 4 hours, and I had expected it to be a relatively easy pace to keep. Truthfully, I didn’t take it as seriously, as I didn’t taper much, and had even gone for a 48km bike ride the day before. On race day, when we hit the 3rd loop, with all those hills in Shah Alam, my legs were screaming. My pace was the pace that I had set out to do, but in no way was it an easy pace. I struggled to keep up with Yim, the 4:00 hour pacer. I managed to finish the marathon in 3:55, but the distance was only 41.8 km. And I was so exhausted from that run, it wasn’t funny. I was disappointed, and started to doubt if I could meet my goal in a month’s time.

Still upset about my run, I stopped following the plan for a while, and concentrated on a crash course of swim and bike, in time for the next race – Ironman 70.3 Taiwan, on the 18th of March. In this event, my swim was horrible, but my bike wasn’t as bad as I had expected. My run was, surprisingly, a lot better than my previous tri! This gave me renewed faith in me and I started to believe in myself again.

One week after Taiwan, I went for a 21km Rawang Bypass Challenge on 25th March. Another crazy set of hills, and although it was short by more than 1 km, I couldn’t be any happier. I struggled to maintain my pace, my legs felt like a ton of bricks and I didn’t feel very good at all. I was not happy. My body was feeling extremely tired after that and it took my mood down with it.

At this time, I had 2 more weeks to go to SC KL Marathon, and I started to tell everyone (more to protect my own feelings) that I don’t think I am going to meet my target. I would be happy with anything under 4 hours. I fell into a rut, so I gave up training for a few days, and just allowed myself to recover. I went running on Wednesday, 3 days after Rawang, and managed a painful 5 km. I went running on Thursday, and again, a painful 6 km. On Friday I pushed myself to get 10 km in, and felt slightly better this time.

The next week, race week, I made sure I rested. I did a couple of strength training sessions on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday was my crazy day, so no workouts there. Ran 7 km on Thursday and that was it! No workouts on Friday and Saturday.

On April 8th, Sunday, I was nervous. I prayed that I wouldn’t meet anybody I knew, because I was afraid that I would get distracted by them, and try to start out too fast and burn out miserably half way into the race. At the start line, Gary kissed me good luck, and told me to just run naturally, run for myself, and enjoy the run. I nodded, but the nerves were anything but natural. I was fidgety.

Gun goes bang, and I started off at a casual 5:45 pace. Fell into a good rhythm and started to focus on my breathing. I tuned in to the music in my ears from my Aftershokz, and just tried to be calm. “Come on, Karen, running is in your blood. Just run!” I pep talked myself over and over. I knew the GPS on my Garmin would start off a little wacky, as it always does during KL Marathon. Something about the tens of thousands of GPS signals bouncing off tall skyscrapers. So I ignored my watch, and decided to run on feel and instinct.

I reached the 10 km mark and had a glance at my watch, and felt quite happy that it was only 51 minutes, and I was doing alright. I maintained my pace, passed by a few friends and kept going steadily. When I came to the 21km mark, the time was 1 hour 51 minutes, so my pace has probably gone a bit faster in the last 10 km. Its okay, don’t speed up just yet, I told myself. That’s where I met Allison, an incredibly strong and talented young athlete. She looked like she wasn’t having too good a day, so I decided to pace her for a bit. It was also good for me to keep my own pace in check, no increase in speed, and conserve my energy for the impending hills that would come by from KM32 onwards.

At KM31, Allison told me to go ahead, and I gave her one last pat on the back, and wished her good luck as I went on my way. At this time, the pace had slowed down a bit, and it was 2 hours 50 minutes in. If i wanted to make 3:45, I had to run the next 11 km in 55 minutes, and there were hills coming my way. I had better push harder.

I stepped up my pace, and went for it. Whenever I hit the hills, I cannot thank my bike training enough. And thankfully, I’ve had quite a few hilly runs this year to beef up my running legs! On I went, averaging 5:00 pace, dipping below 4:55 on several occasions too. I dug deep, and made sure I did not slow down.

5 km to go, and I had less than 30 minutes to spare. Come on, Karen, one last push and you can retire from marathon running! So I ran. Strong. Hard. Confident.

And then I saw it. The Finish Line. The big yellow Seiko clock ticking away at 3:44:40. It must’ve been about 100m away, and I made a dash for it. I saw the seconds ticking, 50…51…52…53….I must’ve been sprinting but I felt like everything was happening in slow-mo. 57…58…And I’m there! 3:44:59!

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor
The infamous Finish Line photo…for all the wrong reasons, hahaha!

Of course, this meant my chip time is at least 30 seconds under that! Was I happy? Hell yeah! I was ecstatic! I made it! I wanted to jump!….but my legs wouldn’t let me. Hahaha…

Anyway, that was how I met my 3:45 target. It’s not a very fast time. But to me, it took hard work and dedication. Hence the reason I decided to share this with everyone. It is not easy and there are no shortcuts. If you want to get something, you have to work for it.

2 Responses to Training for a Marathon

  1. Royce

    Great job Karen!

    I completed my first ever marathon at the SCKLM 2018 too in under 5 hours (4:54) – my target was sub-5 hours. It was tough and an even tougher 600km of training mileage in the 3-month run-up to the race.

    Oh some days, I just wondered why I was running so much and on some days, the legs felt crap – but then at the end, it’s how much you want it and when the finish line comes up, it was all totally worth it to hit that goal!

    Congrats again on a strong race!

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