National runner Ashley Liew, 28, is no stranger to the Singapore running community. Having initially started running in 2004 to lose weight, Liew has come a long way since then and his marathon personal best currently stands at 2 hours 32 minutes and 12 seconds, set at the Rock N Roll Marathon in the USA, this January.
He has also gone on to represent Singapore at major regional events such as the 2013 and the 2015 South East Asian Games.
In this post, Liew guest writes for PrisChew.com and shares some tips on what marathon runners should do during a race, in order to run it well. Here is what the national marathoner shares with us.
1) Stay in the present
The more “in the zone” you are, the less worried about the potential discomfort in the later stages, or the less regret about missing that earlier drink station. When racing, the mind should be focusing in the present, not the future or the past. This is something the top runners in the world strive for. Ask world record holders what they are thinking about during that effort and they will often tell you it was mostly a blur because those moments felt “timeless”. Focus on your thoughts, body awareness, pacing, and form. Just run in the moment.
2) Have Happy thoughts
Repeating a mantra like “I’ve got this,” “I float like a butterfly,” “I’m strong,” or “I will overcome” at regular intervals during the race, especially when the going gets tough, fuels your brain with positive self-talk. Your actions follow your thinking. Negative self-talk primes your brain to focus on discomfort or boredom. By silencing the negative and instead reinforcing the positive, you may think you are enjoying yourself in the moment, although in reality you may not be! Enjoyment is the first step to a good outcome.
3) Focus on Simplicity over technology
The quantitative information from GPS watches, heart rate monitors, and other devices are merely tools to a good performance and experience. Although I may use a GPS watch for steady training runs, I only wear a standard digital watch during a race. Racing should be like a primal activity where you rely on body awareness to execute your plan. When we rely too much on technology, we fail to consider the reflected distance or pace may not be accurate. Worse still, we may end up running for our watches rather than for ourselves. Learn to better “feel” yourself and you will likely enjoy the experience more. Now you know why the Kenyans are so good at pace judgement.
4) Watch your breathing
Your rate and depth of breathing is a simple but powerful indicator of your race pace effort. Too often I hear runners breathing hard in the first kilometre of their marathon. Needless to say, they have a very long day ahead. Inhale and exhale deeply through your diaphragm rather than shallowly through your chest. This way you get more oxygen in, while getting more carbon dioxide and other waste products out. In addition, control your breath rate. Even at hard efforts I typically take one inhalation per three steps; one inhalation per one step is extremely inefficient at circulating oxygen.
5) Do Form checks
Do frequent self-checks on your running form throughout the race. After halfway, all of us tend to get fatigued, resulting in inefficient gait, slumped posture, and energy-wasting arm swing. Consciously remind yourself to keep the cadence high, the spine upright, and the elbows close to the body. This takes practice, so perform regular form checks during workouts as well. When focusing on something specific like this while racing, your mind also gets less caught up with the surrounding discomfort.
6) Break up the distance
Mentally segmenting the marathon makes the prospect less daunting. When my mother was trying to encourage me to eat a vegetable that was not palatable to me, she first sliced it into small pieces. Shove me the whole tomato today and I will still find it hard to swallow! The same goes for racing and training. Focus on where you are in that point of time or distance, rather than what the 35th kilometre is going to feel like when you have reached it. When I cross 10km during a marathon, I feel re-energized because I am already “one down”. Even when I cross 400m during a 1,600m track repeat, I tell myself, “one down”.
other blog posts
- A talk by national runner Ashley Liew
- Liew pulls both hamstrings but completes SEA Games marathon
- Liew is grateful to represent Singapore