Preparations to tackle an overseas run!

First published in The Sunday Times on 24 June 2018

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.

#AskMok – “How do i manage my training sessions?”

First published on The Sunday Times on 17 June 2018

Hi Andy and Wenjun, thank you for your questions (see bottom).

Last week, we learnt from Dr Ivan Low that the key components of a good training plan are; (1) individuality (customised to one’s self), (2) specificity (specific to the race one is preparing for), (3) progressive overload (graduated increase in intensity and volume), (4) variation (not monotonous), and lastly, (5) recovery (allowing the body to regenerate and restore). However, it would be over-simplistic to deem every training plan which lacks any of the above components as “bad”.

Adopt a suitable plan


The definition of “bad”, in this context, is subjective. Whether a training plan is considered “bad” is highly dependent on the individual – there is no “one size fits all”.

For example, there are some people who are able to load their bodies with high-intensity and high-volume workouts within a short span of time, and yet manage to avoid injuries. There are also some who repeat the exact same workout every day for a whole year, and yet manage to improve their physical performance.

A “bad” training plan is simply a training plan that just does not work for you. Give yourself some flexibility to adjust your training plans as and when required to suit your body’s needs, and pay attention to how your body responds.

Allow Supercompensation


To address the question on spacing out hard workouts, let me first explain the principle of supercompensation.

When training, your fitness levels can be broken down into 4 phases in the following order:
1. The baseline level of fitness – where you start off;
2. Fatigue – you get tired;
3. Recovery – your body regenerates and repairs damaged tissues; and
4. Supercompensation – brings your fitness to a higher level than before.

Supercompensation occurs when the human body automatically adjusts itself to a higher level of fitness in anticipation of the next training session. It is why after a couple of consistent runs, you no longer experience the same body soreness which came with your first run. However, if you do not capitalize on your newfound fitness due to supercompensation, you will return to a baseline level of fitness (phase 1). So, if you only run once a month, you should expect to feel sore every time you run!


The graph above illustrates how your fitness level changes when training. Note that there are 2 variables which affect the optimal amount of supercompensation – time and training load.

The first variable is time – “X”. The time between each hard session is crucial. Ideally, the next hard session should take place at the end of time “X”. “X” is highly variable, depending on each individual. You will need to experiment to find your “X”, but when you do find it, keep to this sweet spot. For me, “X” is equivalent to 3 days. Therefore, I run my hard sessions on Mondays and Thursdays!

The next variable is the training load. The larger the training load, the larger the drop in fitness level (“Y”) after the training session. Think about how fatigued you are after a hard workout! The larger “Y” is, the more fatigued you will be, but also the higher the potential amount of supercompensation.

Training load is in turn affected by two factors: volume and intensity. A load of an easy 2-hour long run may even be equivalent to the load of eight 1-min high-intensity interval runs.

Prioritize active recovery

Clocking double training sessions a day increases the training load for the day in a cumulative manner. Personally, if and when I incorporate double sessions into my training schedule, it is solely for active recovery. My main session for that day would be a 70-min easy long run or workout, and the second session would be a 30-min jog. Most runners do well without having to do double sessions a day, so avoid this unless you really need to.

To add to the complexity, “X” and “Y” are largely co-dependent – a change in “Y” is likely to affect “X” (The more fatigued you are, the more time you need to recover and compensate!).

Mok Ying Ren squeezing out an easy run amidst an overseas trip, to retain the fitness baseline. (Image by: ONEATHLETE)

As complex as this scientific approach seems, this is really foundational to a good run! Running is simple but can be as difficult as it is made to be. But you will do fine if you follow RunONE on the #runwithmok programme!

#AskMok Managing your Training Plans
What is/are examples of a bad training plan?

How do you / should we space out “hard” workouts in a week?

Andy Kek

How can I integrate double training sessions into my training program (i.e. running twice a day)? Do you have any recommendations for double sessions?

Leow Wenjun

The relevance of pre-participation screening

First published on The Sunday Times on 10 June 2018

Dr Yeo Tee Joo – Last year, I explained the importance of pre-participation screening (PPS), where a combination of blood tests, physical examination, electrocardiogram (ECG) and questions on medical history can help active individuals calculate their cardiovascular risk as well as identify potentially life-threatening heart conditions.

For the masses

While PPS can be performed for anyone, it is particularly beneficial for sedentary individuals who wish to start training, as well as those with pre-existing heart disease or cardiovascular risk factors. Based on results of the PPS, a healthcare provider (ideally a sports medicine physician or cardiologist) can then advise on the suitability of the race event you have in mind, and the appropriate duration and intensity of training.

For athletic individuals

Puzzling as it may sound, fitter active individuals, Asians in particular, also face challenges, but of a different nature, with their ECGs during PPS. This is because prolonged periods of training have conditioned their body and led to changes in the electrical system and structure of their heart. As a result, their ECG may look very different from the general population and others who are generally more sedentary.

To identify normal or training-related ECG features, healthcare providers refer to international recommendations, which have taken more than a decade of research to establish and refine. Unfortunately, these recommendations are currently based on predominantly Caucasian and African-Caribbean athletes, with minimal representation from Asia.

Recent local developments

The National University Hospital and Singapore Sports Institute are working together to bridge this knowledge gap by creating a Sports Cardiology Registry of national athletes’ ECGs in Singapore. This collection of localized data will be helpful in determining  “normal” baseline indicators for our local population and improve the robustness of PPS. In the long run, these findings can potentially be applied to, and benefit a wider population of recreational athletes.

In spite of the above challenges, PPS remains an important tool for anyone participating in sports. With a greater nationwide emphasis on, and enthusiasm in, fitness and active lifestyle, as well as increased participation in endurance events, there is no better time to get yourself screened.

Dr Yeo Tee Joo

Dr Yeo Tee Joo is a consultant with the National University Heart Centre, Singapore and part of the multidisciplinary team at the NUH Sports Centre. He is also the lead investigator for the Sports Cardiology Registry project.

Importance of a Good Training Plan!

First published on The Sunday Times on 3 June 2018

Dr Ivan Low – Have you ever signed up for an endurance running event, got overly excited and immediately headed straight into a series of hard trainings, only to eventually succumb to injuries before even toeing the starting line? Or are you one of those who tend to wait until the very last minute to begin your training and end up struggling just to complete the race, or worse still, putting yourself at risk of serious injuries and harm through over-exertion during the race?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, you are probably not alone. Many people tend to underestimate the importance of adhering to a systematic training program, and this is a particularly common mistake amongst recreational runners. A well-designed training plan is important for the safety and success of all endurance runners, and not just requirement for elite athletes only.

So, how do we know if a training plan is well-designed? Often, good training programs abide by a few key principles which can then help us gauge the suitability of one’s training plan.

1. Principle of Individuality

Individuals differ in their capacity to adapt to exercise training as a result of differences in their hereditary and physiological build. This explains why some runners may experience significant improvement after adopting a given training program while others exhibit little or no progress despite going through to the same program. A good training plan has to be specific and tailored not only to the individual’s fitness, but also to his/her’s training capacity and needs.

2. Principle of Specificity

Exercise adaptations are specific to the volume, intensity and type of training. In other words, if you wish to race fast, you have to train fast;t if you wish to race far, you have to train long!

3. Principle of Progressive Overload

A systematic increase in training demand is also necessary for the continuous improvement of one’s fitness . Good training regimes gradually condition your body towards the specific physical and mental demands of your upcoming race. It also ensures that as you edge closer towards your fitness goal, the risk of unintended injuries is minimised.

4. Principle of Variation or Periodization

A good endurance training program should not be repetitive, dull and one-dimensional. The prescribed volume, intensity and mode of training should vary systematically , so that the training stimulus remains challenging and effective over the entire training cycle, or even across multiple cycles within a training season.

5. Principle of Recovery and Reversibility

During rest, and not training, our body repairs itself and gets stronger. Therefore recovery periods or days should be periodically incorporated into training programs to afford the body sufficient recovery before the next bout of training. Training too hard or too soon is one of the most common and leading cause of overtraining or overuse injuries.

On the other hand, if trainings are spaced too far apart, the body may lose the stimuli and benefits gained from the previous session. Fitness gained can, and will, be lost (detraining) when one stops exercising for a prolonged period. Therefore, in order to ensure optimal training gain, an ideal training program should allow just enough time for recovery before introducing the next training stimulus. Remember, consistency is key!

So, is there a “one size fits all” solution when it comes to training prescription? Unfortunately not. One man’s meat may be another man’s poison. Athletes should never blindly adhere to a training regime just because it has worked well for others. Finding an optimal training program may also sometimes involve a certain degree of trial and error.

Nonetheless, it is always good to begin with a training program that has been tried and tested, and gradually tweak it to suit your specific needs and abilities. If you are not sure where to start, try the #RunWithMok Training Plan, by runONE above this article!

Dr. Ivan Low Cherh Chiet is an Instructor and Exercise Physiologist in the Department of Physiology, NUS. He ran the Boston Marathon in 2015 and also extends his expertise to runONE’s training program for ST Run 2017 and 2018.

On your Mok, set, go!

First published on The Sunday Times, 24 May 2018

Mok Ying Ren – Singaporeans are known to be a rather busy lot, with very limited time for exercise, myself included.

So this year’s #RunWithMok programme – which runONE (the official training partner) and I will helm for the second straight edition – is designed to help you build and maintain your cardiovascular health in a time-efficient manner.

Its structure will be in line with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for physical activity (30 minutes on most days of the week) and the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines (150 minutes each week).

#RunWithMok

Similar to last year, runONE will be releasing weekly training programmes in the Sunday Times over the course of the next 16 weeks to guide you as you prepare for the Sept 23 ST Run.

You can also find the programme on the ST Run’s website https://runone.co/strun2018

On social media, use the #runONE and #STRun hashtags for your runs to let us be a part of your running journey.

#AskMok

Following feedback from last year’s readers, runONE will be tweaking its approach in determining the topics addressed in this column.

Instead of us choosing the content to be covered in this column, we would like to invite readers to come forward with any burning questions which you may have in relation to running and physical fitness.

We will then select a question and address your concerns to the best of our abilities.

So fire away, submit your questions to https://runone.co/askmok/ and the question featured here might just be yours!

#LearnWithMok

Learning is a lifelong journey. Together with runONE’s partners and experts from various fields, we will be revealing unique training ideas periodically to enable you to spice up your personal running journey.

I, together with fellow ONEathlete(s) and national marathoners Ashley Liew and Evan Chee, will be hosting two running clinics in the lead-up to the ST Run.

We will share with you the theories behind the different approaches to running efficiently, and take you through the practical aspects of running to help boost your speed and performance.

So what are you waiting for?

Sign up for the 2018 ST Run now and take your running to the next level as you #RunwithMok

Mok Ying Ren is a Double SEA Games Gold Medallist. He is also National Marathoner & Record Holder. He is currently Managed by ONEathlete, and is the ambassador for New Balance, 100PLUS and Futuro.