Frequently Asked Questions


This is one of the most frequent questions I've been asked since I've started running marathons.  The official distance of a marathon is 42.195 kilometres or 26 miles and 385 yards.  Why 42.195 kilometres? The origin of the marathon distance of 42.195 kilometres is often attributed to the distance ran by a Greek soldier, Pheidippides between two Greek cities, Marathon and Athens in 490 B.C. Pheidippides had been thought to have ran from Marathon to Athens to to convey the news of the victory by the Greek army over a Persian naval invasion in the plains of Marathon.

The idea popped into my head one day. I had already travelled to New York to run a marathon so why not challenge myself by running a marathon on all seven continents. Raising money for charity while working towards accomplishing this dream was something I had always hoped to do after I had worked with Fred's Team to raise money for cancer research in the lead-up to the New York City marathon in 2008.

I have to admit that I hesitated while signing up for the Antarctica Ice Marathon which is the only marathon within the Antarctic Circle and the marathon closest to the South Pole.
This particular term and condition on the registration form struck me: "I understand that Antarctica is the most remote and one of the most inhospitable and undeveloped regions of the planet. Logistics problems are enormous, the weather ferocious and unpredictable. Delays of days or even weeks must be anticipated. I understand that the risks of travelling and competing in the Antarctic include without limitation, extreme weather conditions can change rapidly and without warning; that temperatures in November and December at Union Glacier can fall below -40 degrees Celsius, with wind chills even lower; that bad weather and aircraft malfunction could strand the expedition for many days; that prolonged exposure to the Antarctic environment can even cause loss of fingers, toes and body parts due to frostbite, or loss of life due to hypothermia, dehydration and other means. Furthermore I understand that participating in physical activities such as running in the Antarctic area may, in a worst-case scenario, place me at risk of death from the frigid conditions. I fully understand that I am in a remote region devoid of many medical supplies and facilities, as well as rapid evacuation capabilities."

Frostbite? Loss of life? I reflected on it for more than 2 weeks and decided to proceed with signing up for it. It would not be 7 continents if I skipped Antarctica. Furthermore, I was reassured when the organiser of the Antarctica Ice Marathon told me that that there had been no serious injuries, let alone death, since the race was first held in 2006. Phew!

Since training for my first marathon, I've always used the training plans by Hal Higdon. The idea behind his plans is to prepare the runner for a marathon through an 18-week training schedule. An excerpt from Hal Higdon's website - "my 18-week schedule for beginning runners is pretty much foolproof. It is a gently progressive programme involving four days of running a week... Each weekend, the long run gets longer, peaking at 20 miles three weeks before the marathon. A tapering period allows runners to gather energy for the race. Stepback weeks allow runners to avoid over-training. Cross-training and ample amounts of rest complete the mix. And it works". I used it to train for my first marathon in 2007 and it worked for me so I have continued to use it for my subsequent marathons. Some runners such as my talented brother (whose marathon Personal Best is 2h:57m:30s), do not follow a strict training plan. It all depends on the runner, I guess. The predictability of a training plan is my preference and I do like ticking off each run after I've completed it.

I'm by no means an expert on marathon running. But if you were to ask me, based on my personal experience, it is important to start out slowly. Make sure you start out by running short distances and get your body used to running. It will not be easy in the first few weeks and aches and pains may deter you from putting on those running shoes but the good news is that the body will soon get fitter and you will soon be able to cover longer distances. Gradually increase your mileage and go for long runs to get used to running for an extended period of time. Taper for 2-3 weeks before the marathon and carbo-load 3 days before to store up your glycogen. On the race day, remember that your goal is simply to complete your first marathon so do not start out too fast and pace yourself well. Keep going and do not hesitate to take walk breaks if you really need to. When the going gets tough, just focus on putting one foot in front of the other or perhaps count your steps (I do that sometimes).

 

Following Hal Higdon's Advanced 1 plan, I now run 6 days a week in preparation for the Marrakech Marathon in January 2013. It isn't easy to fit in all the runs with my work schedule, family commitments and a social life. I work out my daily schedule to fit in 4 runs during the week and 2 over the weekends. I typically wake up at 0630hrs in the morning and if the conditions are right, I'll go for a morning run, otherwise it'll be a run during my lunch break or after work. Here's a look at the Advanced 1 plan.

 

WEEK MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
1 3 m run 5 m run  3 m run  3 x hill Rest    5 m pace 10
2 3 m run 5 m run 3 m run  30 tempo  Rest   5 m run  11 
3 3 m run 6 m run 3 m run  4 x 800  Rest    6 m pace
4 3 m run 6 m run 3 m run  4 x hill  Rest   6 m pace  13 
5 3 m run 7 m run 3 m run  35 tempo  Rest   7 m run  14 
6 3 m run 7 m run 3 m run  5 x 800  Rest   7 m pace  10 
7 3 m run 8 m run 4 m run  5 x hill  Rest   8 m pace  16 
8 3 m run 8 m run  4 m run 40 tempo  Rest   8 m run  17 
9 3 m run 9 m run 4 m run  6 x 800  Rest   Rest  Half Marathon 
10 3 m run 9 m run 4 m run  6 x hill  Rest   9 m pace  19 
11 4 m run 10 m run 5 m run  45 tempo  Rest   10 m run  20 
12 4 m run 6 m run 5 m run 7 x 800  Rest   6 m pace  12 
13 4 m run 10 m run 5 m run  7 x hill  Rest  10 m pace  20 
14 5 m run 6 m run 5 m run  45 tempo  Rest   6 m run  12 
15 5 m run 10 m run 5 m run  8 x 800  Rest   10 m pace  20 
16 5 m run 8 m run 5 m run  6 x hill  Rest   4 m pace  12 
17 4 m run 6 m run 4 m run   30 tempo  Rest   4 m run 
18 3 m run 4 x 400 2 m run  Rest  Rest   2 m run  Marathon 

 

As for training indoors or outdoors, I must say I've trained for my marathons largely running on a treadmill. I will not advise anyone to do so and I must say I'm a recent convert to running outdoors after getting my first GPS watch. Breathing in fresh air and the changing scenery make the outdoors runs so much more enjoyable.

I ran a fund-raising campaign for cancer research in 2008 under Fred's Team (Fred's Team is a fundraising programme whereby athletes raise funds for pioneering research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre) in the lead-up to the New York City Marathon. Through the generous support of friends, family and colleagues, I raised USD$3,067 for Fred's Team. The orange shirt and blue shorts were from Fred's Team and I wore them for the NYC marathon. Ever since then, I have been wearing them for other races for both sentimental and practical reasons.