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The run-up to my first half marathon

Myths: I must avoid carbs to lose weight. If I lift weights, I will look "bulky". I just want to tone up <this body part>.

Just 200 more metres. I still have something left "in the tank". I'm sprinting and passing other runners as I approach the finish line. Finally, I cross it. Exhausted and elated.

These were my thoughts and feelings as I finished my first half marathon on 4 December 2022, a fitness challenge I'd trained for over the past 12 weeks.

All I'd felt up to that moment when I crossed the finish line was anxiety; I always put so much pressure on myself to perform. However, I'm pleased to say that my preparation paid off. I smashed my hard goal (2 hours 30 minutes) and my stretch goal (2 hours 15 minutes), and finished with an official time of 2 hours 7 minutes 11 seconds!

How I trained

I decided to run the Singapore Half Marathon after some coercion from a couple of friends. I'm not a strong runner at the best of times, but I do love a fitness challenge and this was one I couldn't turn down.

My preparation started 14–15 weeks before the race. The first thing I did was create a community around the challenge, which involved setting up a WhatsApp group for motivation. I've written before about the power of community in fitness and this was certainly an essential part of my preparation—they kept me motivated (thanks Luc, Korbi, Lennart, and Mike).

Possibly the most useful piece of advice I received from that community was a recommendation to try out the Nike Run Club iOS app. It provides virtual coaches who coach you through guided runs, including a dedicated 12-week, half-marathon training programme, which is what I followed.

The 12-week programme comprised a variety of runs that ultimately boil down to:

  • Speed runs: short and intense interval runs that improve pace.

  • Long runs: long and low-intensity runs that improve endurance.

  • Rest runs: medium-length runs for active recovery.

It schedules different runs each week and tracks your progress. If you're a stats person, there are lots here to occupy you, and if you're a community-motivated person, there are a lot of features to connect with friends.

I feel I got the most benefit from the speed runs, not just because it's fun to run fast, but also because it helped me understand how my body deals with different paces and how fast those paces are. I found it remarkable how similar pacing is to the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), which I use to measure my efforts in the gym (pacing at a 5, 6, or 7 effort, and so on).

Where I deviated

The first significant deviation I made from the programme was doing all my guided runs on the treadmill rather than outdoors. This was probably where I received the most criticism from my peers; everyone told me that it was a mistake to not run outdoors to acclimatise to Singapore's heat and humidity. However, I don't feel that doing 99% of my runs on a treadmill made any significant difference on the day. If anything, I feel it preserved my joints and allowed me to stay consistent since the treadmill was always convenient—consistency is king, people.

The second deviation was to stay fully committed to my weightlifting throughout the 12-week programme. Was this sensible? It was OK given my fitness level. Was it taxing on my body? Absolutely. To the point where I fell ill the week before the race due to feeling run down.

On the day

I was so nervous as I stood with thousands of other amateur runners at the starting line of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2022. Luckily, I had friends around me to keep me company and laugh through the torrential rain we had 20–30 minutes before the race began. The rain was both a plus and a minus because it lowered the muggy 4am temperatures in Singapore, but it also soaked my shoes and socks (running in wet shoes is not fun).

I was advised that consuming energy gels for the first time on the day of the run was a bad idea, but I didn't experience any problems. I consumed 3 gels during the race that I'd purchased the day and only had a little bloating 10 minutes after the first one.

The race itself was over faster than I expected. While the first third of the race was crowded and slow, I found my pace in the second third and that carried me to the finish line. I was especially pleased that I had enough energy left to push harder for the final 2–3kms (see the video below), as well as spring the final 200 metres.

Lessons learnt

I enjoyed this challenge and have discovered a love for speed runs. I'll weave them into my weekly program and would consider doing a half marathon again, perhaps in a colder climate to see if I can get sub-2 hours.

The main lessons were:

  • Leave enough time to train. If you want a good time as an amateur runner, you should start 10+ weeks out.

  • You do you. Train the way you want to train and just focus on consistency and following a good programme.

  • Use energy gels during the run. Don't just rely on the water and energy drinks dotted along the race circuit.

  • Get decent shoes. A no-brainer, I know, but I purchased a pair just for my run (Sketchers Go Run Razor Excess) and broke them in over the 12 weeks.

  • Pre-race nutrition is important. I carb-loaded with a large plate of pasta around 8 hours before the race and had an oat bar and espresso around 2 hours before the race.

If you'd like to keep up to date on my workouts and the meals I receive, you can follow me on Instagram.


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