AFRICA - International Marathon of Marrakech, 27 January 2013

10 LESSONS FROM THE 5TH CONTINENT MARATHON, THE 2013 INTERNATIONAL MARATHON OF MARRAKECH.

 

LESSON 1: EVEN AFTER RUNNING 10 MARATHONS, PRE-RACE NERVES DO STILL SET IN!

Strange how even after running 10 marathons, nerves still set in before each marathon. Prior to the 11th marathon and my 5th continent marathon in Marrakech (African continent), I was asking myself various questions - (i) Have I trained hard enough? (ii) Will I be able to finish the marathon? (iii) Why am I doing this to myself? I have to admit that I did feel some additional pressure ahead of the Marrakech Marathon as it would be the 5th continent on my 7 Marathons on 7 Continents quest and this time round, the quest was public insofar as the website had been launched and the fund-raising campaign for the elderly that’s linked to the quest had also kicked off. My lingering fear was that an illness or injury would cause me to have to sit out the marathon. In particular, my right ankle which hurt occasionally was my main concern prior to the race. Images of me hobbling my way through the marathon did flash through my mind. Yes, I can be a worry freak.

 

LESSON 2: ALWAYS BRING YOUR OWN SUPPLY OF ENERGY GELS AND ANY PRE/POST-RACE FOOD THAT YOU ARE USED TO AS YOU CANNOT BE SURE OF FINDING IT WHERE YOU ARE RUNNING.

Experience has taught me not to assume that I would be able to find what I’m used to eating in the different countries where I run marathons. For the trip to Marrakech, I brought along my own wholemeal bread, peanut butter, pre-race drinks, and energy gels to Marrakech. Everything was put to good use! Better be over-stocked than to have to rush around in a foreign land trying to find what you need.

 

LESSON 3: EXPECT THE UNEXPECT. EVERY RACE IS DIFFERENT, THE LOCATION, SCALE OF THE EVENT, ORGANISATION, LOCAL CULTURE ETC.

The collection of race number tag is always an anxious moment for me as I get to see fellow runners come together on the eve of the marathon. Each runner has his/her story, his/her training and his/her reason for running the marathon and seeing them gather all together is truly quite an experience. Simple would be the best adjective to describe the marathon fair in Marrakech. No medical certificate was needed to prove that I was of good health (which is the standard requirement for many European and North American marathons) and for 70€, we received our tag and a t-shirt (as well as a finisher’s medal after we completed the marathon). What was unusual about this race was that runners could sign up on the spot. I guess the small scale of the event meant that it wasn’t fully subscribed and could accommodate last-minute registration. What I found wanting was the lack of running paraphernalia, such as energy gels, nutritional supplements, for sale at the fair. Booths selling Moroccan lamps and souvenirs were set up instead.

 

LESSON 4: FOR TEMPERATE COUNTRIES, ALWAYS BRING AT LEAST TWO SETS OF RUNNING GEAR TO CATER TO VARYING TEMPERATURES. 

Right up to 30 minutes before the marathon, I was hesitant as to whether I should wear my long or sleeveless running t-shirt for the race. According to the weather forecast, the race would start at around 8°C at 8am and go up to around 25°C by mid-day. So I went out to the hotel lobby (which was around 300m from the start point) in my sleeveless t-shirt and saw fellow runners decked out in short or long sleeves. I panicked, did a quick sprint back to my room and decided to put on my long sleeve t-shirt instead. On hindsight, that was an excellent decision. The weather that morning turned out to be colder and foggier than expected and the sun only broke out around 11am. While it was hot by the time I passed the finish line at 12pm, I rolled up my long sleeves and did not suffer too much from the heat.

 

LESSON 5: MURPHY'S LAW - "ANYTHING THAT CAN GO WRONG WILL GO WRONG" - COULD HIT YOU.

My pre-race dinner has always been a sumptuous meal of pasta. So the hubby found us a good Italian restaurant in Marrakech and the packed restaurant was an indication of the quality of the restaurant. In a relatively small city, it wasn’t surprising for me to spot fellow runners enjoying their pasta in the same restaurant. Unfortunately, perhaps I was not used to one or two ingredients in the pasta and I suffered from the runs (4 trips no less!) in the morning just before the marathon. I was very worried that I would have to go to the toilet during the run. From what I recall, I do not remember seeing any toilets set up along the entire 42.195km with the exception of those at the starting line.

 

LESSON 6: RUN AT YOUR OWN PACE.

The anxiety of the marathon, the energetic legs (from a week or two of tapering) and the desire to do well often lead runners to start off the marathon at a pace faster than what they are used. It may feel good to start off quickly but the additional effort expended at the start would only deplete the glycogen stores earlier and could lead to “hitting the wall” in the tail end of the race. I remember seeing many runners start off before me but they gradually faded out near the end. I always remind myself that it’s not how we start the marathon that counts but how we end that matters.

 

LESSON 7: WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GETS GOING.

The last 10km of the Marrakech Marathon is considered by some to be the most mundane part of the race as it essentially involves running an almost straight route to the finish line and the creeping mercury only adds to the difficulty. Many started walking as we hit the tarmac roads with cars driving opposite us across the street. The legs started to feel heavy and the sight of runners walking seemed to influence many others to do so as well. I remember telling myself that there would be little benefit for me to walk as it would take me longer to complete the race and it would only get hotter. So what I did was to focus my glance ahead in the horizon, toughen up and continue running without stopping.



LESSON 8: SUPPORT COUNTS.

Knowing that my husband would be waiting for me at the 15km mark and the finish line made me look forward to each leg of the race. Moreover, the support of loved ones, friends, sponsors (The North Face, Running Lab and The Dailey Method® Paris) and all those out there who had encouraged me with their kind words of support and their generous donations to the elderly who are supported by the Tsao Foundation kept me going and I felt that I could not let them down. Running and completing the marathon was more than just for myself and that kept me going until the finish line.

 

LESSON 9: GO GET A GPS RUNNING WATCH.

My brother (who is a fantastic runner with a marathon personal best below 3 hours) once told me that I would experience a huge positive change in my training and runs once I get a GPS running watch. Now that I’ve started using one, I must say I fully agree! The GPS watch enabled me to monitor my running pace and the total distance covered. Each time I went below my target pace, I would step it up. Consistency is the way to go when it comes to running 42.195km. Not the initial spurt or the desperate last-minute dash to the finish line. The Marrakech Marathon didn’t have signage at each kilometre or mile so for those without a GPS watch, it would have been difficult to keep track of their pace.

 

LESSON 10: AFTER THE PAIN FROM THE TOUGH TRAING, DO YOU WANT TO SUFFER FROM THE PAIN OF NOT REALISING YOUR GOAL?

I had been training 6 days a week with the goal of hitting a sub-4 hour marathon. Prior to the Marrakech Marathon, my Personal Best which was achieved at the 2012 Paris Marathon had been a tad shy of sub-4 hour (4h:01m:33s). Going below the 4-hour mark was as much a physical as it was a psychological barrier for me. One of the questions running through my head ahead of the Marrakech Marathon was whether I would be able to go below the 4-hr mark. However, I more or less ruled it out when I realised that the race was quite a simply organised one without much supporters and rather warm weather. So when I was on track to go below sub-4 hour at the 21km mark, I was cautiously hopeful. As I approached the 32km mark and had to keep pushing myself in order to stay on track to go sub-4, the thought running through my mind was “Do I want to regret not having gone below the sub-4 hour mark just because I did not try my best?” After all the months of hard training, all I knew then was that after the pain from the tough training, I was not about to go through the pain of not realising my goal. So I continued to push myself and ran past the finish line clapping my hands as I finished the race in 3h:54m:08s! Finally, I am a sub-4 marathon runner!!!

 

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