This is what running for 6.5 hours in a foreign country taught me
Marathon in a colder country? Never thought of it before…
Still hyped by the Fukuoka Marathon 2019 experience last Sunday (11.10.2019). There were wins and mishaps, with corresponding learnings worth sharing. All this before I let go and move forward.
Virgin no more
First time to start a marathon around 08:20. In the Philippines, we start at 00:00. Yes, you read that right. I heard some runners go straight from work to the actual race without sleeping. For the love of the sport!
Another first is the cold. Temperature that day was below 20°C. Normal temperature at my hometown is above 30°C. Yes, we’re talking about more than 10°C difference from where my whole being is used to. Stepping outside in the Philippines will make you sweat in less than 5 minutes. Here in Fukuoka (yes I’m still here feeling cold), at this month you’ll never break a sweat on a normal day.
Thousands of runners participated! And it was OVERWHELMING. Around 12,000 ran for the 42.195km course. Around 2,000 ran for the 5.2km course. I can see everyone’s faces as we prepped for crossing the starting line. Back in the Philippines, it was still dark you know.
The greatest surprise
This one’s my favorite: the crowd. It was one of those days when you feel motivated because everyone’s rooting for you. Gambatte kudasai! here and there. I loved running near the sidewalks to draw energy from them.
Nice run! Fight-o!
Even toddlers were cheering for us, holding there hands out for a high-five. Some had posters and signages, some in English, some in Japanese. It felt like the whole Fukuoka community was aware of the marathon event. Not only us runners did prepare for it but also them, asking themselves
How can I encourage the runners to do their best?
This was evident from start to finish. In the latter part of the course, people have setup their own stands. Tables having ready-to-drink water, candies, rice crackers, bread, soda, soup (yes!) and many more. Running along the seaside, boats were honking at us carrying signages, cheering for us! It was both amusing and heartwarming for them to go out of their way to encourage us!
Japan is one of those countries where everyone encourages everyone. And everyone inspires everyone. The crowd encourages the runners. And the runners inspires the crowd. It’s a never ending energy loop.
This high energy got us flying past the 10km mark without knowing!
Reality begins to settle in
We were about a quarter of the whole thing and it felt like nothing. This went on, as the crowd didn’t stop cheering us up. Hitting the 21km mark, it still felt oh-so-good. It was reading 2.5hours in my running watch for the half-marathon. Reality slapped me hard when we were nearing the 30km mark.
The route was starting to get elevated. And I was starting to feel heavy. We were running uphill and downhill along the seaside. A good comparison would be the ups and downs of roads beside the mountains. Every kilometer has its own way of torturing our legs, hearts and lungs.
Passing thru every high elevation felt like recovery to catch your own breath. But before you know it, another uphill approaches. I hated those parts to be honest.
At the 35km mark, I swallowed my pride and asked Angelie (my running partner) to give me some time to recover by walking. We started alternating running and walking to ensure that I could go back to the Philippines alive. Whew!
And on the 41km mark, we ran all the way to the finish line. I gave my all during the last kilometer and finished strong. Coach Bennett’s voice (he’s my favorite coach on the NRC app) was echoing behind my ears.
You should always end your runs the same way… at your best. NOT your fastest.
Take some time to reflect about that.
What could have been improved
Setting the intention
When we registered for the event (around April 2019), the intention was to experience a marathon event in Japan. Nothing more.
But things changed one day before the run, when we got our number cards and running chips. We took this photo:
Back in the Philippines, when we had our first marathon we finished in less than 6 hours. And we thought the circumstances are better this time. The weather, the time, more sleep than before, the environment. Everything seemed falling into place.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
Nothing’s wrong with setting the bar high. But it could have been better if this goal was in mind early on during our training months. It caused us to focus on our watch instead of seizing the experience.
There are relaxed runs, speed runs, conversational runs, competitive runs. Deciding the purpose of the run before running it will bring clarity and joy to the whole experience. Because then you’ll know how much effort you need to give at every part of it.
To be honest, I did not find my running groove in those 6.5 hours of running. My hands stayed cold from start to finish. And it was disappointing because I know that I could do more once I feel the heat building up.
I underestimated the 10°C difference from where I trained (Philippines) to where the real running will take place. Arriving here 2 days before the big day, it was not enough to get used to the weather.
My body went shivering to generate body heat as we battled the cold sea breezes. Best thing to do is to stay for at least a week before the run, and feel the cold weather. Befriend it because you’ll be with it from start to finish.
Head over heels for uphills
I am guilty of this because I didn’t incorporate much speed or uphill running during my training months. Uphills, I hated them. I can run forever as long as I’m running on flats.
But flats will neither make you stronger nor faster…
You need to run uphill to bring out the best in you. This route made me realize how important uphill running is. Every part of you needs to work for you to run them with flying colors.
Slouching, heavy foot steps, arms and shoulders tired, heavy breathing. Unaware that every part of me was working against me. Everything felt heavy and I could have ran those hills smiling if only I took it as a challenge instead of a burden.
It was a good decision to wear microfiber long sleeves underneath our running shirt. Leggings were also essential to keep our legs warm.
We were beside the sea with the sun hitting our faces. Our eyes squinting here and there. Breathable running hats could have saved us some energy.
Also, I could have given the soles of my feet more love by checking the cushion of my running shoes. It took all the pounding for 6.5hours. My soles were aching halfway and it made the remaining mileages feel dragging.
Overall, the experience was unforgettable. Let me drop my last thoughts that could fuel you in your next marathon.
If it’s your first time to join a certain marathon event, best goal is to finish the race alive and kicking. That’s it.
If it’s not your first time, set a goal to beat your previous time in the same event. This way you are already aware of the external factors like weather, route, elevation, the experience itself etc. This means you can strategize and test your capabilities with confidence.
No matter what happens, trust your training on the race day. The night before you go to sleep, leave all doubts behind and trust yourself. Anxiety is normal before race day. But you can think of it as excitement instead.
For the unknowns, you can reword it as possibilities. Positive and empowering words are healthy for you and your brain.
And lastly, no matter what happens, CELEBRATE!
You ran for hours and there’s every reason to be proud of. Every stride counts. Celebrate every kilometer, every tiny recovery time after hydrating. Celebrate passing thru the uphills and appreciating the flats and downhills. Celebrate with the people encouraging and rooting for you believing that you are capable of finishing the run!
I would definitely repeat this run in the future with better preparation and gears. Learned more about myself and what I am capable of thru this new experience.
The purpose of this writing is to let go of the running disappointments and struggles. Bring the could-have’s with me, and move on. Be inspired to run better, and run with a bigger heart on the next one!
The past informs, the future inspires.