The Thrill of Running in Overseas Races

Brendan Lee, 27, originally from New Zealand (NZ), has completed not only marathon and ultra marathon races in his home country, but also in England, Mongolia, Australia and now Hong Kong.

Mongolian Sunset to Sunrise 100km Ultra Marathon.

Mongolian Sunset to Sunrise 100km Ultra Marathon

What gives Brendan, who moved to Hong Kong about six months ago, the energy, drive and enthusiasm to sign up for overseas races and have to adapt to different weather, food and people each time he races.

I recently interviewed the international schoolteacher to talk about his love for running and also to get some tips from him on running overseas. Read on, to find out what Brendan said.

What was your first overseas marathon race?

My first overseas race was the 2009 London Marathon after I won a spot prize (when I was spotted wearing Adidas clothing in Auckland doing a half-marathon race), so I got a free slot in the London Marathon. I was pretty excited then, as this is quite a prestigious race and it is hard to get into this Marathon (millions of applicants apply every year for a few thousand places, which are decided by balloting).

You mainly do ultra marathons now. Why?

I love the trail aspect of ultra marathons and just running long distances.

It was in 2012 and I wanted a new challenge so I signed up for the Tarawera Ultra Marathon 100km race (in the Bay of Plenty, NZ). In hindsight I was very underprepared and inexperienced but managed to finish though – even after my hip blew out quite early on. But this gave me the challenge I was looking for.

Running in Grampians National Park, in Australia.

Running in Grampians National Park, in Australia.

What is your personal best for an ultra marathon race?

It was 11hours 47minutes in the 2013 Mongolia Sunset to Sunrise Ultra Marathon (100km) – held around the Hovsgol lake region.

Why do you enjoy running?

After playing competitive hockey for a long time and never quite realizing my goals, running has given me a renewed purpose.  I am able to set new goals and have some dreams to chase after. I have never fully understood what having a dream meant – until now.

In running, there is also the ability to get into a zone where nothing else matters except your body moving effortlessly and time flying by.  Some experts have called this the flow.  It’s one of the best feelings in the world!

What countries have you been running in?

Mongolia, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong.  As well, I have just signed up for the inaugural Thailand Ultra Marathon, will compete in the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji in Japan in April and I am also thinking about going to Spain to compete in a multi-stage day race in the school holidays (being a teacher, I can organize my races around these holidays).

Which overseas race have you enjoyed the most?

It was my Mongolia Ultra Marathon – the first time a race came together really well for me.  Unexpectedly I was placed second and I was so surprised at the result.  For these distances it is hard to get all the small factors right to have a good race.  I paced the run well and my nutrition was reasonably good – and everything kind of clicked. I was able to rest a lot and relax the week before the race, too.

Raleigh Wilson Race, Hong Kong

Raleigh Wilson Race, Hong Kong

What are the challenges of running in overseas races?

I think it is not being able to acclimatize to the conditions or to be familiar with the course.  The best way is to mimic the course profile and conditions to the race you are targeting when training (but this is difficult to do for an overseas race).  You need to think creatively!

On an average, how often do you take part in races?

Every two to three weeks – these are mainly marathons in the King of the Hills series in Hong Kong.

How many races have you taken part in?

Last year, I did three 100km, two 42km plus and two marathon distance races. But this year, I am doing more – because I am now living in Hong Kong.

What do you look for, when you are choosing an overseas race?

Anything exciting, different and that will test you to see how far you can go, such as an unfamiliar environment.

I like the team events, which are fun – it takes a lot of pressure off you when you run.  It’s also special to share success with others. It’s just a different buzz altogether.

I also look for any event, which I have targeted in the year where I know the course well and have done a time that I’m relatively confident of achieving.

Vibram Tarawera 100km  Ultra Marathon, in New Zealand.

Vibram Tarawera 100km Ultra Marathon, in New Zealand

What are your tips on how to run marathons and ultra marathons?

Firstly, you must be prepared.

  • Structure a training programme backwards from race day
  • Practise your nutrition at least a few times during your long runs
  • Do your homework on the course and conditions

Secondly, for your training:

  • Make sure you vary your training with a lot of Tempo Runs (10 – 15km) to improve your overall speed.
  • Track sessions (intervals) are great to build up your speed (at least once a week)
  • Sign up with Strava (a running GPS tracker).

Thirdly, for your gear, make use of:

  • Hoka shoes – they save your knees with the extra cushioning
  • Generation UCAN (A super starch, which prevents the insulin spike and drops that happen with the digestion of simple sugars, and allows the body to partially fuel itself with stored fat).

What are tips on how to select a good overseas race to enter?

Sign up to a race which is going to excite you and that you can have ample rest beforehand.  You don’t want to go into a race after a tough week at work.  The races on the Ultra Trail World Circuit are great!

An exciting overseas race is doing a distance that you may not have run before. The different types of trail, the people and the food (like Sushi in Japan) – these unknown factors would all excite me.

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