ST: Preparations to tackle an overseas run!

First published in The Sunday Times on 24 June 2018

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ASHLEY LIEW – The 2018 Gold Coast Marathon (GCM) on 1st July 2018 will be my 5th time racing there, as well as my 30th full marathon. I have learned things the hard way, but I have also been blessed to have received sound advice through others’ sharing. I hope to pass this on,  especially to those running this upcoming IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Packing list

One of the most important things, when I am packing for an overseas race, is to find a previous race photograph (the 2012 Gold Coast Marathon finish line shot where I clocked 2h35m40s is one of my favorite – purely coincidental). The race photo acts as my race packing checklist and makes sure I do not miss out items such as shoes, socks, running attire, and watch.

Another important consideration is the destination weather forecast which I always check in advance so that I can bring along appropriate attire (which may vary according to one’s personal and varied needs). While I am used to running in a singlet, shorts, and maybe gloves in cold weather, everyone is different. Having said that, overdressing is a common problem at overseas races, which brings with it risks of overheating once the race starts and the sun comes out.

The trick, then, is to stay warm till just before the gun goes off. Often, on the pre-race morning, I see runners shivering due to inadequate warm clothing and that wastes energy unnecessarily. My advice is to layer up with old or cheap pieces of clothing that you are willing to part with, wear them to the start line to stay warm, then discard them appropriately just before the race. Many races have also started to collect and donate these discarded clothing for charitable causes.

Settle-in early

If given a choice, I would also want to arrive at least two full days before the Sunday race for two important reasons. First, I need my Friday night’s sleep to be sound and uninterrupted such that my circadian rhythm synchronizes with the overseas time zone.  It is also likely that Saturday night’s sleep would not be restful, due to pre-race nerves and excitement, so the rest two nights out is crucial. Second, I need my body acclimatized to the “wintery” weather that goes as low as 10 degrees Celsius early dawn.

Choosing an accommodation with good location and accessibility is an equally important consideration. Ideally, it should be close to the start line, to minimize uncontrollable factors such as traffic delays. If this is not possible, seek out accommodation that is well-connected to the transportation network. For example, my accommodation at GCM 2018 will be less than 300m away from the nearest G:link tram station. I also always plan to reach the race site at least an hour pre-race, so factor in the traveling time and work backward to decide the time you need to leave your accommodation. I cannot overemphasize the importance of orienting yourself by visualizing beforehand the flow of race morning, to avoid any unnecessary panic setting in.

2011 - credit GCM organizers
National Marathoner Ashley Liew roaring to the finish line during the Gold Coast Marathon (GCM) for a personal best in the cool weather in 2011. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE / GCM

Pre-race rituals

Usually, after touching down at the airport and checking-in at the accommodation, I might opt for a short nap if needed, after which my priority will be the collection of the race pack. Once you have collected your running bib and timing chip, I will encourage you to immediately affix them (onto your race attire), then lay out all your race gear and nutrition for race morning. I will never forget the friend who had everything ready on the morning of the 2011 GCM but left her bib in the hotel room. You want to have peace of mind on race morning.

As a rule of thumb in planning your race-cation itinerary, always prioritize and settle the important things first. Plan accordingly so you do not zap energy from your legs before the race, which you have spent a long time preparing for. I will always remember my mistake of committing to a jumping photo shoot days before my 2011 Singapore Marathon which caused fatigue even before the race started. Save your legs for the race by minimizing time on your feet. Unfortunately, this means you will likely have to save your shopping and sightseeing for post-race. Personally, I find it beneficial to “hibernate” in your room in the two days leading up to race morning, where you can visualize race success, read a book (I like “The Champion’s Mind”), and even unwind to non-running thoughts (I watched Mr. Bean on television the night before the 2011 GCM).

Never try anything new close to race day. This applies to new shoes, attire,  and even your pre-race routine meals. I make it a point to recce my pre-race dinner location to find a menu I am comfortable with, so as to avoid unnecessary gastrointestinal issues.

Hang out with others

Running is a community event so you may want to link up with other Singaporeans before the race to tap on each other’s experience and encourage each other with positive vibes. However, if you are serious about your race, I would suggest keeping this group you hang out with small. It is easier to coordinate a smaller group which is less draining mentally too. However, after the race, give yourself the latitude to hang out and rejoice with as many people as you want! You’ve earned it!

Enjoy the process

The Serenity Prayer goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” While we cannot change several elements about overseas races, we can control other factors to make it the best experience possible.
Wake up early on race day, get yourself healthy and on time to the start line, then go out with courage and grit to run the race of your life. For the 450 Singaporeans going to the Gold Coast, see you there at the start line!

Ashley Liew ONE
Ashley Liew is a national marathoner and Doctor of Chiropractic. He has a personal best of 2:32:12 and is managed by ONEathlete.

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