An athlete turned coach, Fabian Williams, 36, has been involved in running ever since he was a 15-year-old schoolboy. And today, he is a well-known and respected figure in the local running scene.
During his time as an athlete, Williams was crowned champion at the 2008 Sundown Ultra Marathon and was also part of the winning duo that topped the Men’s Ultra category at the SAFRA AVventura cross-terrain race in 2012.
Today though, Williams is working as a full-time head coach at his own running school, the Fabian Williams Coaching Concepts (FWCC) and is fully dedicated to mentoring aspiring young talent to take over his mettle in the running scene.
At the Standard Chartered Marathon Race Expo, which is being held from today to Saturday, Williams gave a talk about the eleven things that people don’t tell runners – when they make the decision to run a marathon.
1. A marathon is an entire lifestyle change
Said Williams, “A marathon is a lifestyle change. If you want to have a good marathon experience, you have to train for it. It is all about preparing your body to run the race, so that you can walk away from the marathon in good shape.”
This means that when you make the decision to sign up for a marathon, you must be physically and mentally prepared to dedicate plenty of time and effort into training for one, over the next few months. It is not something that you can give little thought to, and expect to complete the marathon in good shape – without training for it, and continuing, for example, your late night partying sessions and midnight movies at the same time.
At the same time, training and preparing well for a marathon also prevents you from suffering a state of extreme fatigue in the middle of the marathon. This is what is commonly known as hitting the wall. It happens when your body’s glycogen levels are depleted and the nervous system is in a state of shock, as a result. But this type of feeling can be postponed by doing sufficient training prior to the marathon.
2. It is okay to skip training occasionally
Williams said, “For more avid runners, training becomes the Bible. But it is not a crime to miss training sessions occasionally.”
So do not kick yourself if you miss a training session here and there, because after all, you are not a professional runner. You have other commitments, for example, work and family, to take care of. So it is fine, as long as these are occasional. However, just make sure that skipping sessions does not become the norm, though – because if you do, then you will be in trouble on race day.
3. Walking is fine at races
“There is no problem with walking during races. Professional athletes and elites have also walked. After all, every step you take is one step closer to the finishing line,” said Williams.
So if you find that your body can no longer cope with the pace that you are pushing for, it is perfectly fine to take a breather – and allow yourself to walk during a marathon. Nobody will judge you regardless of whether you walk or run. As long as you keep moving, this puts you one step closer to the end point.
4. Rehearse for the race
Williams added, “When you run a marathon too, you must rehearse everything that you will do in the morning of race day – from waking up, to having a shower, to the food you will eat and the shoes you will wear.”
This is because you cannot leave anything to chance on race day as this may either directly or indirectly affect your race. For example, some runners may be able to run better without showering, but other runners may prefer a shower in order to perform to their potential. Also, eating bread with peanut butter on race day may also affect your body and cause stomach cramps during the race, if you are used to eating, for example, cereals with milk in the mornings. So it is very important to undergo a full dress rehearsal prior to the race – on one of your long slow jogs.
5. Murphy’s Law
Williams said, “Anything that will go wrong, will go wrong. So you need contingency plans and do not let one mishap destroy your race.”
For example, on the morning of the race, you may have pre-booked a taxi a few days in advance, to get you to the race starting line on time. But what if the taxi you had booked, does not turn up? What do you do then? A contingency plan may be to try and grab another cab on the spot, instead of simply panicking and letting this destroy your race experience.
6. Portable Toilets
“You will find that whenever you want to use the portable toilets at the race site, suddenly everyone else wants to go as well,” said Williams.
This is a common problem because everyone will probably be having butterflies and nervous diarrhea before the race. So to try and keep this at bay and making sure you empty your bladder and bowels before you head off to the race site. In this way, you will not have to fight with thousands of other people for a few toilets.
7. Do not start too fast
Said Williams, “Don’t get caught up in the pre-race adrenaline and rob yourself of a good race experience!”
At the beginning of the race, it may be a feel-good experience and everyone is raring to go. As a result, many runners will set off way too fast, and will run out of energy earlier than expected. This problem happens to elite runners as well as novices.
But to counter this problem, Williams advised that you should know where the 500m and 1km markers are during the race – and use your GPS watch system as a guide to check on the accuracy of these. Then do interim checks, for example, if you do a check and realize that you had run the first 500m at a 5 minutes/kilometer pace, when you were supposed to be targeting a 5:30 minutes/kilometer race pace – then you should hold back the pace.
Williams said, “Nobody discusses how much to drink and when to drink. Everyone also talks about dehydration, but nobody brings up hyponatremia which is over-hydration.”
Over-hydration is also another serious condition that occurs during marathons and this can be just as serious as dehydration. It happens because when you are running as intensely as in a marathon, your body becomes stressed and it is working very hard. So flushing it with cup after cup of water will deplete the electrolyte stores and the body will go into shock – thus causing you to pass out.
So Williams advised runners to drink a mixture of fluids, apart from water. These are isotonic drinks, such as 100PLUS, electrolyte salt tablets and energy gels – and most importantly, you must train your body to get used to these, prior to the race to prevent stomach problems on race day.
9. Carbo Loading
“It will not help you to perform well, if you suddenly whack two pizzas on the night before the race,” said Williams.
Instead, Williams recommended either a three-day or a seven-day carbo loading cycle – to allow the carbohydrates from the food to be digested by the body and stored as glycogen for energy. A three-day cycle is where you gradually increase your intake of carbohydrate-rich food such as rice, pasta and bread, three days before the race.
On the other hand, a seven-day cycle is whereby you completely starve your body of carbohydrates on the first three days of the cycle. Then from the fourth day onwards, start to take foods that are rich in carbohydrates. This will cause the body to store more glycogen and thus energy, than usual, because prior to this, it would have gone into carbohydrate starvation mode.
However, Williams advised runners not to suddenly try the seven-day cycle for a race, if they have never done it before. That is because it may make the body feel uncomfortable, thus negatively impacting on the race performance.
Williams added though, that there is another school of thought when it comes to carbo loading. That’s because much of the carbo loading research has been done in Europe and Australia, where their basic diet does not involve much carbohydrate rich foods. But in Asia, especially Singapore, a heavy percentage of our normal diet consists of carbohydrates, especially rice and noodles. So is there actually a point in carbo loading before a race?
10. The race starting line
Said Williams, “You need to get to the race starting line on time and go there to claim your spot.”
This is especially true for elite athletes who are aiming to win the race. That’s because there are two types of race timings – the gun time and the chip time. For example, your 10km race flags off at 7am and you cross the starting line at 7.05am. If you finish running the race at 8am, your gun time would be 1 hour, but your chip time would be 55 minutes.
11. Have fun
Williams said, “Last but not least, have fun at the race. You have prepared so much for the race. But when you stand at the starting line, why would you look so serious?”
There’s no need to put on such a scared and somber face at the starting pen. Instead, you will use fewer muscles if you can relax. Your mind and body will also be in a better state. Williams adds that a lot of the best athletes are very relaxed and composed when they are about to begin a race – so you should pump yourself up to feel likewise.
“So that means, just have fun and enjoy the scenery – and watching other runners suffer,” Williams quipped.