The thing about sub3

26th Feb 2017, Himeji Castle Marathon, was my virgin sub3 experience. Clocking 2:59:45, I finally came to taste the exhilaration of breaking 3 in my running life.

Bitter sweet experience.

After that, it took another year of laboring through trials and errors in my quest to consolidate and substantiate a workable methodology for a better and consistent sub3 performance.

In the process, I discovered a lot of gems and pitfalls of training which I have shared extensively in my posts and social media. In sum, it was down to 80/20 method with emphasis on a solid aerobic base and high mileage of more than 100km per week. Of course there are also the roles of LT training and speed work, but the part that significantly made a huge difference in my results was the aerobic base build-up. End result? Subsequent events culminated in a PB of 2:51:14 in Gold Coast (July 2019).

With the advent of newer apps & gadgets, faster shoes, and better training structure/programs; not to mention the role of social media in ushering in the heighten quest for sub3, aspirers are increasingly “awakened” to the idea that sub3, is a real possibility. Well, I am here to say that it definitely is.

But here are some things to consider…

I think it is first of all a pre-requisite that the aspiring sub3-er needs to be injury free. This is a no brainer because as you build up on the mileage, any existing injuries may be exacerbated and worsen to the point of halting your training altogether. So, its prudent to sort out any lingering injuries first before embarking on this. Even during the build-up, any arising injuries must be given due attention. Training through injuries, no matter how motivated one is, isn’t at all wise.

Even if you are able to commit to a plan, know too that there are other priorities in life that you should never neglect. This is commonsense. Unresolved issues will come back to haunt you. And they are usually an impediment to your progress. Sub3 Training is no joke. It has a huge psychological element that will test your limits. It will inadvertently put a strain too on other aspects of your life. You have to find the balance. Seek a higher goal. But be prepared to be ruffled.

Getting to a program is the easy part. Keeping consistent with it is usually the hard part. Knowing how it works motivated me, but putting it all down to actual sole-to-tarmac mileage is quite the challenge. Take things in piecemeal mode. Don’t rush into high mileage all at once but do a gradual build-up to allow the body to adapt. Then do take the odd week of recovery (lower mileage) to allow the body to rest. Recovery is after all an essential part of the training.

I think it is safe to expect a certain level of ability when it comes to sub3-er potential. I personally think that he or she should at least be able to do a sub 3:15. Well, unless the person is very talented, he may surprise everyone but they perhaps should realistically have some idea of their ability by now. The talented ones are not the issue. I am talking about people like me who have perhaps struggled for a while at sub 3:05-3:10 just to find it difficult to break through. This, I think makes up the vast majority of aspiring sub3-ers.

Ok, realistically, if you don’t have a strong aerobic base, the build up will take time. I recommend 6 months of that solid block. I initially thought that I had a strong base, having done many marathons before this. Well, obviously it was enough for 3:10 or 3:05. But not for sub3. So, let’s be clear about this, if you are still struggling with sub3, then you have an aerobic base deficiency. Period. So, allow the build up to run its course. I am afraid there is no shortcut for this.

I realized too at some point of build up, you need to inject some life to the program. This comes in the form of tempo, intervals and trial runs. This is a way of reminding the body that you are still capable of going fast. But don’t get carried away with it. A session per week is enough. There is a prescribed time and place for speed work. But this is not at the expense of the aerobic base build-up.

You need a few of the trial runs to test yourself 2-3 weeks before the race. This may be a 30km or 21km time trial at sub 3 pace. Alternately you can do blocks of sub3 MP at 5km blocks x3 or x4 at various point of build up, particularly nearing a latter part of the training stages. This is a part that can be a bit more creative.

High mileage is a must. I think it not only allows the physical  adaptation process to kick in, it is also a vital part of developing mental fortitude. Face it, if you can’t stand the long hours, perhaps marathon isn’t the sport for you. I usually do double sessions per day, it offers more flexibility in terms of time management but also allows quicker recovery. But that’s just my personal preference.

If you have groups of like-minded aspirers training for the same thing, then I am glad for you. But again, unless you are all at the same level of ability, it is best to keep to your own training plan. We are motivated bunch. And we often get carried away when we come together. Running faster than we ought to, just to satiate the ego. Have the maturity and patience to take your time. Stick to plan. This too, is a required trait that sets you apart from the ones who make it, or those who don’t.

I would now come to the sad part. Many will tell you how they admire your tenacity and dedication. But the road to sub3 is a lonely and gruelling journey. And I am not even talking about the actual race. The training part and if you ever achieve it, the after effects too, will be a lonely one. You see, there are perhaps 1-2% of marathoners who are ever capable of doing it. Hence the expression, it’s a lonely existence up there. You have to be prepared to lose some friends. The accolades will come, then the silence. The bright side is, you will see who your real friends are too. This is a distillation process. But it will humble you.

Other aspects like body weight and diet etc isn’t the most important issue. The rationale behind it is, at the kind of mileage you are churning out, it won’t make much sense that weight is an issue. Not any more. And as for diet, in order to sustain that kind of mileage, you would have worked out how to eat to sustain that kind of output. All these will be worked out as you go along, don’t get too hung up about it.

When, and not if you achieve your sub3, you will be even more motivated to do more. My advice is, be careful. Stay humble and be ready to take a step back and reassess your need to move forward. All these things come at a high cost. Start the process over again. But don’t rush into another “PB”. If it is ego-driven, which is usually the case, keep it tame and in check. Ego has a very short leash.

End of the day, I like what someone once told me: if you have what it takes, when you are ready, it will come. Just don’t get too caught up in trying to prove yourself. If it’s yours, it’s yours.

Peace out.

SOP during EMCO for Covid19

Acronyms, how we love and hate them.

With the easing of the lockdown, the extended conditional movement control order had brought some reprieve for runners. Like caged birds, it was finally time to flap those wings. However, it is still not business as usual. What more, with almost every other race cancelled or postponed for 2020, what the heck is one really training for?

Until yesterday, I was still wishfully holding on to the remote chance that Gold Coast Marathon would miraculously go on. Well, fortunately in a way, this time, the Aussies were more sensible to call it off.

So, what now?

Covid19 has the world under its feet. It is instrumental in tearing down every preconceived notion that we humans are in control. Personally, it is terribly humbling to come to the tipping point to find out what my faith is truly about. God has ordained such a time. Yet held in tandem only by His grace. Its a lesson to be grasped and learned. Never to be wasted.

I took a hard look at running: A life goal that had consumed me for more than a decade. Is this an idol, something that I have come to worship more than God?

…Sobering.

On the heel of that, have I been making this about me? Instead of truly glorifying Him, has it devolved into a sicken self-glorification endeavor?

We are only truly free when we do not make ourselves gods.

Believe me, boy, it was a major tussle. But the silver lining is that there is finally some clarity from what seems like a never-ending struggle.

The line is drawn.

Henceforth, I am imbued with a new paradigm. Framework of a personal SOP. I am breaking unto new grounds. Who knows what it actually entails? But I am excited to find out. If it is to take it down a few notches, so be it. If it is to soar higher, so be it.

I am settled with it.

As always, a timely reminder from a wise friend: “We can continue on the same trajectory but I see no reason for that at the present moment. It’s going to be for health, mental equilibrium and general maintenance. The way the whole world thinks and operates need to pivot away from the ingrained habits. After what’s happened I don’t even see Boston as a life goal that’s the be all and end all anymore.” ~Jamie Pang. Coming from a fierce focus on qualifying for Boston, this is a very courageous decision.

My new SOP is simple. It is nothing more than easy runs to maintain a comfortable aerobic base. Nothing extensive such as long runs, tempos or intervals. No hard runs. Perhaps mix in a progressive run now and then once a week. Pace from 6 down to 4 min/km over 10km.

In other words, it is chill time.

This will likely be the modus operandi for the foreseeable future until race season reopens.

Beyond that, we will see….

 

Race Analysis KLSCM 2019

Wisdom, knows the limitation of your ‘can’ and ‘cannot’; and also the difference of your ‘should’ and ‘should not’.

This is a post-race analysis.

Fact:

2:51:14 coming off GCAM on 7 Jul 2019

3 weeks of total rest.

Recommencement of training in Aug 2019.

Gradual mileage build-up of up to 130 per week over subsequent ~5-6 weeks.

Onset of haze. About 3 weeks before KLSCM.

Training mileage dropped to 60-70.

12km race 2 weeks prior KLSCM. 12.2km in 47:20. Average 3:53 pace.

After that, taper began as we waited for haze to clear.

Haze cleared …KLSCM was finally good to go.

Fact about KL:

1. Elevations

2. Heat and Humidity

3. 3:45 am start

Vast difference in the setting compared to other previous races.

Goal time: ~2:58

Actual time: 3:04:11.

Analysis:

5-6 weeks of training from a 3 weeks break. It’s still inadequate mileage. Forced taper 3 weeks before race due to haze. Tapered too soon. Should have only started taper 2 weeks before KLSCM.

Equatorial climate: humidity …unaccustomed to it. May be ok for shorter distances but a full marathon is a lot to ask. Perhaps more local FM races to get used to the humidity. This alone should account for 5-7 minutes slower time.

Elevations would be a factor. HK best was 2:53:52 despite elevation but it was a far cooler climate. Take the elevation factor away and you have GC kind of flat course which by deduction would grant a couple more minutes off: thus 2:51. So for KLSCM, it’s a double whammy of elevations and heat.

3:45 am start. Still not accustomed to it. Will need some early morning runs to regularize. The circadian rhythm too messed up. The mind somehow becomes foggy after the first half. Just like it was in PBIM years ago. When the mind is clouded, the will to persevere waned.

Race Strategy Analysis:

First 10km, pace was too fast. 40:35. It would have been ok for GC. But should perhaps be a bit more conservative in KL setting. All facts considered, would have lost more fluids, glycogen and electrolytes in this initial phase. Half way was 1:27. Still good time but not good enough for 2:58.

Pace slowed dramatically entering 25km. Beyond that, it was unrecognizable and irredeemable. And the rest was just a fight to get back to a decent pace.

With the analysis, there is finally some clarity. Bottom line, it was still a rookie mistake of going out too fast too soon. Not enough wisdom and patience to hold back a notch. A more conservative pace of perhaps 4:10 would have been better. That should ensure some reserve towards the second half. What was I thinking?

Pitfall:

Expectations and Predictions need to be tempered with a large dose of reality. Cannot and should not be too ambitious in the beginning even when the pace was deceptively comfortable. Have to keep check of the ego. Just because I have done it before, every race is different and it should be granted due respect. Strategy needs to be relevant to the conditions and circumstances. Confidence unchecked is unwise. It blurs the thoughts and diminishes the ability to apply wisdom and most of all, patience.

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Gold Coast 2019

I write this. Lest I forget how God has amazingly delivered me.

#GCAM19 was probably my 5th or 6th Gold Coast Marathon. Lost count after a while. I think I skipped a year or two since 2012 for some reasons. Nevertheless, weather-wise, this one has got to be the least conducive of all compared to previous years.

We came into it with threats of high wind and showers. Lo and behold, the threat finally materialized 10 minutes before the race started. As 6 thousand odd runners gathered at the FM starting pens, it poured. Talk about a “shower party”.

Personally, this GC experience was also my fiercest struggle. Looming in the background was an injury sustained 5 weeks earlier that was just gnawing away at my confidence. The nagging pain whenever I ran just reduced me to a fretful wreck. Did all I could with physio and treatment but it was just not budging. To top that off, I was beginning to doubt my training. 80/20 and high mileage laid a good foundation, no doubt about that. But would that be enough? Would I need to do more speed work in order to avoid plateauing? I couldn’t help feeling that a crucial ingredient was amiss. Several weeks leading into GC, this concern became more apparent as I began my tempo sessions. I just felt weak and the paces were all over the place. It was not what I had anticipated at all.

Top that off with life and work, priorities and responsibilities, etc. and you have yourself a recipe for serious doubt. “Why so serious?” “Why aim so high?” “Why train so hard?” “You have nothing to prove!” “Those ‘glory days’ are over.” “Even if you do achieve that elusive result, it is but a moving target.” “Where does it all end?”…

Perhaps it is time to rest. After all, I have been training with hardly any break from March 2018 until now; Clocking in 100-130 with the odd 150 km, week in and week out. Like a self-sustained automaton, it was purely mechanical. Some would call this “passion of running”. But I’ll be honest with you, such romanticized cliché alone doesn’t remotely justify it; it’s like surviving on bread and water as long as there is love. You just can’t go to a gunfight with a slingshot. There must be something more than that.

♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡

The shower party ended abruptly as we cleared the first km. With my eyes set on the purple balloon 2:50 pacer, I instinctively gave chase. I figured that if I sandwich myself between the 2:50 and 3:00 pacers, I should be safe. And with only a 10-second gap between the gun and net time, I quickly caught up with the purple balloon group within the first couple of km.

The race just took on a life of its own. Haven’t felt like this since Seoul. I was very cautiously aware of the “feel-good-just-to-bonk-later” factor. Yet it felt good! Good enough to let loose and go for it. By this, I want to qualify that there is something else at work. I have talked about “running IN the moment” in my previous posts. This time around, there is a bit more focus on this aspect. It is learning to trust wholeheartedly and absolutely placing yourself where God’s Almighty power can (and will!) work through you. I figured that He is more than sufficient. I have nothing to add to it except to yield.

My weeks of doubts and concerns about my condition and the sustainability of my pace dissipated in the moment of rush. It was more than just pure adrenaline. There was the quiet confidence that was filled with unspeakable peace. You have no idea how much of a relief it was.

At the 3rd km, I made an impromptu decision to pass the 2:50 group. To be frank, this thought never crossed my mind that morning when I toed that line. Too reckless? Over-ambitious? Perhaps. But once you work out that a certain pace is comfortable and well within your perceived effort, go for it. Don’t doubt and second guess it. You will never know unless you are willing to “risk” it. On hindsight, this had been the lesson that I have learned over the past few marathons. Had I kept a conservative “Oh, I think this is too fast, better slow down lest I bonk” mentality, then I would never have experienced the exhilaration of breaking those barriers and achieving my consecutive PBs.

And since I have handed this to God to lead, I will just have to trust Him with the consequences. Don’t even think about it. I call it “mindful forgetfulness”.

So, it was a bit of a Déjà vu as in Seoul and HK. From the start, I managed to keep to a constant pace right through until 34km; where 15 kms were done at 4 min/km while 19 other at sub 4 min/km pace. This is surprising as the perceived effort was constant throughout these segments. I even managed to clock some PRs along the way with an official Half Marathon split time of 1:24:12 and 1:59:43 for 30km.

Well, the real race this time commenced after that 34km. I felt a bit of fatigue creeping in as we headed towards the 36km turning point. Just before the turn, the purple balloon 2:50 pacer with his small group of entourage overtook me with their relentless unforgiving pace. Actually, it wasn’t that their pace had quickened. It was my pace that had dropped down to a 4:06-4:10; Enough for them to inch their way past me. But perception can be deceiving. From my angle, it just felt that they were storming through. A bit of a morale buster…I must confess.

Nevertheless, the sustainability of pace was truly tested at this point. The toughest battle was at 38km onwards, where all hell broke loose. It was clearly reflected in the abrupt drop in pace to a lowest 4:30min/km. They say the perception of fatigue is largely at a cerebral level where the accumulation of lactic acid and depletion of glycogen results in such an override response. It’s the brain shouting out to the body: STOP! Or else you will collapse.

But in real life, I don’t think anyone has enough reasoning capacity left to draw upon at this stage. Something else has got to take over: The Will.

I just couldn’t throw away all that I have worked for until this point. I would have kicked myself afterward. “Never mind the sub 2:50!”. Can’t cry over spilled milk. “At least go for a sub 2:53”. “Better your Seoul PB”. “You owe yourself this much!”

On hindsight, as always, I can’t honestly say that I have given it my all at the final stages. I could have done better by at least keeping my focus. It was not entirely the issue of physical fatigue. I know I WAS capable of sustaining a faster pace than 4:20-4:30. But my will, at that moment where it mattered, was just not strong enough to override the cerebral fatigue. It’s something that I’ll need to work on in future.

At 40 km, I grew a bit fed up with my dwindling pace. So, with only 2km to go, I stepped up my pace and started reeling back a few runners that had overtaken me during my lull. It was a satisfying thing to realize that I still have some fuel in the tank. All was not lost. In the final few hundred meters, I sped up, (short of a semi-sprint), to finish off the race in good ole GC fashion as I hear my name being announced along with the final steps.

It was a very very satisfying run, nonetheless. A powerful lesson learned.

So it was. A PB of more than 2 minutes from Seoul result: 2:51:14. (Official net time)

Post-Race analysis:

Lack of mileage. I was hoping for a 150-160 weekly mileage but only managed up to 130 on one occasion with the rest only averaging at 110.

Strengthening. Need to build up those core, glut and leg muscles. I sense some weakness in this area as I began the tempo and intervals sessions.

Increase Tempo and Interval workouts. I realize that the tune-up was marred by the injury. It would have given the muscles more priming as I progress into the race.

Train more on mental tenacity. More often than not, I did little on mental focus while training through those high mileages. I just went through the motion. The “mindful forgetfulness” was only a very recent realization.

Final note:

Yet through it all, what makes sense to me is just how running teaches me about life. It drills in the idea of grit and tenacity. It fortifies the practice of consistency. It enforces the notion of integrity. It enhances the power of focus. It is many things… too many things to me that to elucidate it would seem to cheapen it. You can only identify with this if you have gone through it yourself. Words aren’t enough. So it’s not just a PB. It is so much more than that.

Seoul Marathon 2019

A mere 28 days. And the count down starts in less than a minute. The cold still air of Seoul was as chilling as it promised to be. Hearts were racing. The excitement was palpable. Looks like one of those defining moments poised to go down in history. For better or for worse…

28 days. That was HK a short while ago. What was racing through my head was not the debate of whether or not there was enough recovery. That is already a foregone conclusion any rookie would be able to tell. No, I was only concerned about two things. Would I be ready to do my best? If so, what IS my best?

Post HK euphoria of 2:53:52 ended with the realization that it’s only a figure that I would have to go on cracking. Not that it has to be that way but since I don’t plan on hanging up the shoes, then the logical thing to do now is to be like Dory: keep moving forward. And see what I can discover along the way.

So, training took on a modified form of maintenance and tapering. From 100km, down to 60 on taper weeks; injected with a few tempo runs here and there for some much needed fast twitch vibes. Looking back at my log, I am still a bit baffled that this would even pass as “training”. It’s one of those kinds of work that you would hesitate to read out loud to the class. Unless of course, if you’re the class clown.

Nevertheless, in that remaining one minute, I reminded myself about running IN THE MOMENT. Move one step at a time, one KM at a time. And see how it unfolds. Set no limits on pace. Capability is an after effect. And be still and quiet. For in quietness is His Strength. I already knew He is with me. Now, I just have to run as though I believe that.

Gun off in GuangHwaMun Square was not as elaborate as places like Tokyo or Boston. No confetti flying everywhere except the plastic ponchos and disposed jumpers. Koreans are more subtle, and down to earth, I guess. I moved quickly to the fringe to avoid being bogged down. No sooner did I move, then I realized that many were just as fast: It would seem that the race is on!

Truthfully, this was more to my liking. I quickly settled into a comfortable pace of 4 min. But lo and behold, I was still overtaken left and right by some folks. So this is what they meant by a “fast course”!! The excitement quickly gave way to a more practical issue: Is this 4min pace sustainable???… Pretty much the same issue every time…I know. But a very important one nonetheless. No use feeling high for the first half just to pay dearly in the end.

However, the mind took it’s sweet time to process what was already unfolding before me. It’s still not woken up to the idea of pace vs reality. So when I crossed the 5km mark, the 20:01 that registered didn’t quite compute until a moment later: gee…I may be going too fast?!?

Before you know it, I was already at the 10km mark. 40:06 had just lapsed and I was still flying. Slow down, mad cow! I must have overridden the directive because the body was just having too much fun to give in. And this madness went on unchecked. Was I too “in the moment” or should I slow down? I was getting no feedback from the supratentorial higher functions. It is a baffling experience: You know you shouldn’t but somehow you think you should.

I had to rely on my perceived effort. I have been here before as in HK. But being in the moment, the mind did not perceive this as danger. I wouldn’t blame this on endorphins or adrenaline, or even the caffeine from gels…it just felt RIGHT to push on. Flanagan once said: “Run with your heart to be unstoppable”. I guess that was my anchor at that moment.

15km done. I clocked 1:00:15…

I would later clock a half marathon PR of 1:24:15…

And after that, more worried than astonished, I clocked a PR of 2:00:41 @30km…

Timely gels at intervals of 10, 20, 30, and 35 did help but the strength was just streaming through like a good 5G Wi-Fi. I did falter after 35km but the perceived effort was just as constant. It was only in hindsight that I realized that my pace from 33km onwards was fluctuating more.

Cleared 37km in 2:31. I was heading towards a good finish but champagne could wait. I still had to storm through the final 5km in 20 odd minutes to break even with my HK time. Darn!!! Would I cut it?

38km was a molehill to some but with time cutting in dangerously close on me, it was enough to slow me down to my slowest lap pace of 4:22. I saw it slipping away. But tried to make up for the lost time in the last few km. Butterflies started churning havoc in the stomach …darn again! I must be near my limit.

As with all marathons, it does not matter how hard you’ve worked in the first 35km when it comes to clocking a sub3, you could single-handedly throw away EVERYTHING in the last few km. All you need to decide is: How bad do I want this!

I was in no doubt. I didn’t come all the way here just to throw in the towel now. I know it is almost cliche to say: Go hard or Go Home. But admittedly, its a timely and befitting cliche.

I held on to pace and guarded as much to my form. The thing is, reality has a way of going slow-mo only on hindsight. When you are there, at that moment, EVERYTHING was just unfolding at lightning pace. I.e. I don’t THINK! I couldn’t, to be honest. I just ran as hard as I could. Many alongside me echoed that sentiment. Some shouted out loud. You knew it was the indomitable spirit crying out: the soul’s desperate “release” was “audible” in the final stretch towards the finish. It was surreal but eerily comforting and empowering.

I saw the stadium as I cleared 41km. But by the time I started semi sprinting, I was already in the stadium. It was a mad dash on the final 400m track to finish. And it suddenly felt like forever as I peeped at my watch …2:53 and ticking. Oh no!

Well, I could not hold on to my set out pace of 4min after 33km. It would have meant a finish within 2:50++. But this was nevertheless a thoroughly fought battle. The concluding elation was enough justification for flying all the way here. I accomplished what I set out to do: Be my best version. I did just that.

The finish net time was 2:53:20. Sliced some 30+sec off my HK time. A bit disappointed to be very frank. But hey, like they say…it’s still a PB. So, I will take that any day and be grateful for the chance of fighting hard for it.

Post Race Analysis:

Truth is, the gap between HK and Seoul being just a month apart – is just too unrealistic to expect a larger margin of improvement.

Even taking into account the terrain issue of HK and “flat” course of Seoul, the logical expectation is to assume that Seoul would naturally be an advantage. However, it all depends on how one runs a race. The strategy is key. Flat does not guarantee good results because essentially you are employing the same group of muscles whereas, in HK, the undulation may inadvertently force one to alternate the muscle use.

With 80/20, and high mileage, you would expect the beneficial effect to show perhaps months into the training…not 1 month. That would be expecting a chicken to lay an egg every hour. It’s a slow process, albeit an effective one at that. Therefore, I would still maintain my 80/20 & high mileage build up for coming races.

Post HK, I had contemplated incorporating large volumes of tempo as training towards Seoul. Seemed like a good idea then. But I am glad I did not go through with that. It would have been disastrous as I risked incurring injuries and even if I didn’t, I would have overtrained and sabotaged myself in the process. Somethings just can’t be rushed.

What about my pacing in the race? Did I actually go out too fast? Perhaps. But now that I have analyzed my splits and paces, I think I would not have done it any other way. If I had bonked, it would mean I definitely went out too fast. But I have a feeling that I was at the right pace. Remember what I asked myself before the start? WHAT IS MY BEST EFFORT? I think 4 min pace WAS my best effort. That said, with the fluctuating pace beyond 35km, all I can say is that my sustainability in pace was really tested then. That meant that with proper 80/20 & high mileage…I should be able to manage the remaining 7km well enough: at a 4min pace. I am currently just not there yet. Bonking, on the other hand, means my pace would have dropped drastically. There would have been nothing to redeem as there would be nothing left in the tank. And clearly, this was NOT the case for me.

So with that cleared, I am glad to say that for all who aspire to sub3 or are aiming for better sub3, I encourage you to keep an open mind. I was once very skeptical about this 80/20 business. And I used to subscribe to training less and running fast…but I am glad to say that I have repented from it, literally.

So, don’t worry about the training pace. We all have a tendency to go too fast. But do allocate some time for tempo and intervals as the race approaches. 2 months into it preferably. But do work on building that essential base as you give yourself a solid 4-6 months of 80/20 & high mileage. You will see and feel the difference. Especially when it really matters at 30km and beyond.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to be your coach. Not at all qualified. But rather, based on my many failures at many other methods, I indeed have some experience in telling you what does not work in the long run. Please just take this as a sharing of “new” ideas. Nevertheless, don’t just take my word for it. You can look around and see some who have attested to this in the FB and how they have benefited from it.

And for those who already know the benefit, pass it on.

Happy training!


BLAZING SCHKM 2019

It’s one of most improbable of outcomes. But dreams, they say, are often made of these.

SCHKM has become a default event. For lack of choices?? (or too lazy to explore other options), this has become almost an annual pilgrimage. Shy of 2018, 2017 topped all my SCHKM experiences. Thoroughly enjoyed the run and managed to clock the event PB of 3:04:09.

That being the case, it would seem fair to deduct that SCHKM would realistically set you back your MT (marathon time) by a margin of ~5 minutes. The key factor being its sheer hilly terrain! This held assumption was based on the fact that a fortnight after SCHKM 2017, I finally clinched my first ever sub 3 hours at Himeji Castle Marathon.

In light of this, my latest PB of 2:55:25 in Osaka (Nov 2018) would seem untouchable. No measure of positive thinking could convince me to shift that paradigm. In order to break that 2:55 in HK, it would not only require a gigantic effort but also a vast improvement of an MT capability of 2:50 or below. That is why I said “improbable”.

Improbable, but not impossible.

Training has been a daily ritual of BD 10km and a weekly of no less than 100. Peak mileage reached 150 with some adjustment requiring BD 12km inputs. Otherwise, weekend LSDs would be 30km with the odd 21-25km when recovery or workloads supplanted it. And all this on a staple of “boring” slow runs. Boring to some perhaps but therapeutic to me. I have grown to enjoy slow runs. And this time, I do not exaggerate when I say SLOW. Some Ah Pek had been known to overtake me during one of those runs. So, 80% of that mundane stuff. And a month prior the race, speed works began. Still no intervals. Just tempos and LT runs mixed in with the occasional trial runs. I am just saying this as it was. No sugar coating. Though I would like to have done more core training, most days were just too packed to have room for much else. Besides, being a full-time Paediatrician with on-call commitments, work takes precedence over all else.

That said, I would prefer this method over any other (believe me, I have tried many!) simply because it is actually less taxing to the body. If you are a middle age like me, physiologically we just can’t keep up with fast and intense workouts. Not in the long run. Pun intended. It will wreck you up big time. But you say, these kinds of crazy mileage, how to manage la? Believe me, your body adapts. The hard part is to wean off the mileage during tapering weeks. I would know. You go into withdrawal. Cold turkey style. Anyway, stick with me and I will tell you WHY 80/20 matters.

So SCHKM, was like a dilemma finally unfolding …I was actually anxious. Fear and doubt gripped me because of the kind of demand the race was asking of me. I had to repeatedly ask myself…was it ego? Was it just the competitiveness in me? Was I trying to prove something? Was I trying to seek approval or gain acceptance? Why am I doing this? What does it matter even if I don’t run my best? PB or not, who really cares anyway? These hard questions forced a deeper introspection, and they were blairingly confronting and revealing!

I realized that if I didn’t settle this, there is no way I could run my best. Truth comes out one way or the other. Then it became clear that it wasn’t because I was setting myself up a goal too unattainable. It’s because I feared failure. I have failed too often in the past to reach sub3. Now, this is coming back to haunt me. Then there is the ego, competitiveness and acceptance issues which were dead on brutal and debilitating. So I dealt with it the best way I knew how. I prayed. Eventually, the only thing that remained the night before the race was this: Lord, ABIDE WITH ME. That is all I ever needed. Yes, my sufficiency. My all… Abide, and see how it pans out. Faith requires the courage of taking that one step at a time. In marathon terms, one km at a time. That will have to do.

The 6:10 Marathon Challenge started off with the usual maddening crowds like endless streams of gazelles. To break free, I chose the outer fringe to avoid being trampled by some overzealous runners. Despite that, the first km was a slow 4:28 pace which meant some catching up work ahead.

My pace quicken to compensate. But somehow, the humidity of 87% despite the temperature of 19°C already got me sweating 2 km into the race. This was just typical of HK. Always unpredictable. One has to be versatile and cope. A mental exercise during my long mileages training is to train the mind to be quick to assess, acknowledge, analyze and act. Thoughts may come and go, but whatever you entertain will make or break you.

The game plan is to maintain a relatively even pace throughout so that one doesn’t have to work too hard to make up for the lost time. It’s just a matter of mathematical efficiency. But you can’t expect the pace to remain stable ALL the time especially with HK – with all the elevations and drops. So, this is when effort running matters most. If you fail to train on this and just rely on the GPS to guide you, you are setting yourself up for trouble.

So, though I aim to keep it even, I would actually slow down if I find myself working too hard. The elevation drop usually will aid with the time lost. But at various points when the effort, condition, and breathing is well aligned, I would just go for it.

One thing I have realized throughout Osaka and now HK is that the feel is more important than actually being too conservative with pace. We worry too much. And in the past, I would hesitate to speed up and kept holding myself back for fear of bonking. If I exceeded the 4:10 pace, I would back off and try to follow my pace to the tee. I know this is counter-intuitive… but now, I think that is really just unrealistic. The fact remains that we will always fluctuate with our pace. One has to learn to read his body like the back of his hand; and adjust the pace whenever necessary.

This is the secret ingredient I suppose. The letting go. Effort running. And let the GPS be just an aid. Not the rudder. Check your GPS if you must but don’t be overly concerned by it.

I kept my focus to ward off the disruptive thoughts. And there were many. Doubts will flood on in when the body is stressed to this level. It’s never the absence of fear or doubt but the courage to face it head-on. The mental trick is to maintain a center that you always fall back on. Whatever that is for you. It could be a cause or a person that you are running for. For me, it was just as I have said. Abide. And let the rest of the intrusions slip away.

I met my target at the 10km, 21km and 30km intervals. Those were good checkpoints to actually gauge my progress. And I was on course for sub3. But how good of a sub3 I wouldn’t know just yet. And this is not the time to be too cocky either. I knew that the real race begins at 30km. So, at the back of my mind, I was shouting: Conserve! Conserve! Because old habits die hard. But I knew in my heart that I would be doing myself disfavor if I did just that.

So I went with it. Picked one group of a runner at a time, I targeted each one to chase them down. Slowly I was overtaking several clusters of runners. You see all shapes and sizes. But many were flying with their VF4. Pun. I came close to a pack of 4 who eventually tried to tailgate me. One of them almost managed to trip me up TWICE as he was drafting behind me.

So, I cleared 37km at 2:32 and was doing ok until 38km when the fuel efficiency was finally tested. The pace dropped and the damn elevations just kept on coming! So, looking at the watch and did some mental calculation, realized that I was potentially heading towards a sub 2:55. But when you are running low on fuel and the body is screaming out in protest, the last 4 km might as well be another 20km.

I thought at this point: Look. It’s make or break. You can do all the hard work and throw it all away at this very moment. OR, you can tough out the last few km and see what you are made of. You have nothing to lose.

Elevations came and went. I stormed through them whether I felt like it or not. Careful to keep my pace to the best of my ability. Overtook quite a few who were already at their wit’s end. Picked up the pace again as I cleared 40km. Peeped at the watch and saw a good margin of 10min to sub2:55. Hey, almost there. Don’t you stop and smell the roses now! Die die also finish this strong because you may never do this again.

Went for it and fought to stay at 4:10 pace. And finally, nearing the finish, a few runners who came from behind gave me more impetus to break out with a semi-sprint to cap off a hard-earned race.

2:53:52 …Net time.

Pleasantly surprised to be handed the 3rd place for Masters 2. It was a bonus of all bonuses. I would be happy with just the PB.

So, it was surreal. Did I just…?!?! Took a while to let the facts sink in. I did the improbable. And it was such a powerful lesson to savor that I am still going through the analysis even now. But one thing that still consistently stands out is the 80/20 and high mileage. You are welcome to ignore or dismiss it. But I can say you should at least give it a go. 80/20 isn’t just about a methodology. It trains all aspects of a person too because running isn’t just about a PB. But character and grit.

Sometimes we go away defeated, in order to become stronger. Sometimes, we learn to let go in order to fly. I have just taken my first flight!

Osaka Marathon 2018

Osaka Marathon 2018 was a much-anticipated marathon for me. Not just because I would be meeting the wife and kids (flying in from Melbourne) as a rendezvous point for the week’s break, but it’s also a test-out for months of hard work…if any of that mileage thing really mattered.

It’s been a busy month since starting work in JB. The workload had multiplied and it was taking a toll on the training. Life happens I guess! Despite that, I kept anchored mostly to my 10km-twice-daily routine, clocking in a manageable 120-130km weekly mileage. I say “manageable” not to connote any air of conceit but it’s only so because most of these runs were actually very slow. In fact, 80% of this was on a 5:30-6:30 min km. Sometimes even a 7 min km snail pace.

The remaining 20% fell on the occasional “crescendo” runs as I would term it. And some odd tempos here and there. These would be no more than 6-12km at a stretch. Mostly done on a 3km loop in the nearby park.

And no intervals…not even within 2-3 pre-race weeks for tune-up. I don’t know why but somehow that just didn’t quite happen. C’est la vie.

Entering into the final week of taper, work again got the better of me and I ended up doing zero running.

For an OCD runner with a pre-occupation with high mileage, this proved to be quite a challenge. But I managed to convince myself that the muscles needed the “me-time” to at least recover enough before the race.

Therefore, entering into the race, I had little idea how I would do. Not that I don’t have a goal, but somehow I wasn’t sure if the machine could actually deliver?

On the side of diet, I had been on the ketogenic diet (low carb high fat) for 4-5 months leading into my Gold Coast Marathon in July. And that helped heaps as I experienced first hand the full awesome benefit of fat utilization. As many who were with me could verify, I ran the full course without a single gel …and not only so, I was able to sustain my pace to clinch a PB of 2:58:47.

That, I would say was one of the major milestones in all my running years.

However, since starting work in JB in Oct, the ketogenic diet became a “luxury” that I just could not afford. I just did not have the time nor energy to do it. However, I tried to at least take lesser carbs. And kept my weight at a constant 60kg. (Oh yeah, I lost weight on the keto diet from 68 down to 61kg).

So with the uncertainties looming in my training, along with the switch in diet, I wasn’t sure if this 2:58 would even be realistic and reproducible.

Better just bring some gels this time…just in case.

So, come race day, armed with gels and poised with my newly acquired beanie, arm, and calf sleeves, I took to the all familiar Osaka Castle start line like a seasoned runner. Seasoned simply because I have done this 4 times. At this point, one can even work out where best to pee (behind some bushes) to avoid the ultra long queues for the portaloo…

My heart was still. In stillness, was my strength. And I knew that this kind of strength was not just something I could conjure up at will; but something distinctively what God has installed: Months of hard work and discipline was part of that constant installation. Trust that and be still.

Gun off. And along with 32k runners, we were off to a long journey of masochistic self- torture…

In the first km, due to the sheer crowd, there was no way to move fast. So I was a bit frustrated to have been forced to move at a 4:30 pace…it just meant that I would need to speed up later to catch up on lost time.

Bummer.

However beyond that first km, thankfully the crowd eased up …I went for it and never looked back.

To my surprise, I was clocking 4 min paces for most of the first 10km, faster by 10sec of my aimed pace of 4:10. “Are you getting ahead of yourself again, Francis?” I was a bit weary at first. But by 5km, I was flying. And 4 min pace felt like 4:15. Either I was deluded or my GPS was playing tricks on me. But effort-wise, I never felt better.

I did the unthinkable. I threw caution to the wind. Instead of micro-managing my pace to the tee like in GCAM, I just went with it.

I was even surprised that I did some stretches at sub 4 min pace. Was I out of my mind?!?!

Anyway, it was a fantastic run. I timed my gel at 10km intervals. Taking pains to gauge my condition at every turn, I was happy to find that my pace was somewhat sustainable. First 10km was done just a little over 41 min. And my first half was a whopping 1:26!

By 30km, I had clocked my PB of 2:02! But don’t pop the champagne just yet, the race has barely begun…

I was still doing well at 35km. The fatigue has been kept at bay. The tiredness was bearable. I guess this is a major difference that high mileage does. It does make you more durable.

All’s well that ends well? Not quite. Anyone familiar with Osaka cannot NOT know that the “heartbreak hill” equivalent of that 37km point awaits like wrath of a scorned woman.

So as I approached that section, my pace just took a nose dive. It went down to 4:30 and even with the downhill afterward, it took me another km to recover.

Bummer.

When you have worked this hard for 37-38km, why would any sane person throw it away so willy nilly by slowing down in the last 4km? I realized that it’s going to be my best time from this point onwards. How good is it is now entirely up to me. I wouldn’t waste a single second of this opportunity.

So, aching at this point, with furiously protesting muscles and bursting lungs, I did what I could. At best holding my form and reminding myself to breathe and swing that arms and increase my cadence. One step forward is one step closer to a new height.

And pace recovers to full swing as I ran into the last stretch towards the finish. Funny how the strength always seems to come back to you when you have the goal in plain sight.

I would say it was the hardest push to the finish as I broke into a sprint…running for dear life….

So it is …a new milestone.

2:55:25

Of course, I am happy…

But I would say the elation is in knowing that I actually COULD do this; and more so in anticipating the potential for future improvement. More than a matter of PB, it is an affirmation that the training and discipline has a point to it. And that reassurance is all that I need.

It’s not that one suddenly becomes something else when he has achieved his goal. I am beyond the point of vindicating myself or proving a point. I don’t really care, to tell the truth. But I want to put this down in words to encourage the readers to think. And if you do echo how I feel and could see my perspective about running, then this post would have achieved its purpose.

In summary, high mileage. 80/20. Slow slow run. Be disciplined because eventually, it will pay off.