How to feel at home for overseas runs

Singapore marathoner Ashley Liew finishing the Gold Coast Marathon in 2:35:40 in 2012. He will be running this race for the fifth time next Sunday and it will be his 30th over the 42.195km distance.
Singapore marathoner Ashley Liew finishing the Gold Coast Marathon in 2:35:40 in 2012. He will be running this race for the fifth time next Sunday and it will be his 30th over the 42.195km distance.PHOTO: ONEATHLETE/ RUNNINGSHOTS

Give yourself lots of time for preparation, rest, acclimatisation and save your legs for the race

Taking part in a race overseas is never as straightforward as running in one's homeland, where the climate and conditions are familiar.

I will be racing in the Gold Coast Marathon (GCM) next weekend and, while it will be my 30th full marathon, it will be only my fifth time there.

Here are some tips that I've learnt along the way that will hopefully help those intending to tackle this International Association of Athletics Federations Gold Label road race and other overseas events.

PACKING LIST

One of the most important things when I am packing for an overseas race is to find a previous race photograph (coincidentally the 2012 GCM finish-line shot where I clocked 2hr 35min 40sec is one of my favourites). 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 thing to consider is the weather forecast at the destination. I always check this in advance, so that I can take along appropriate attire (which may vary according to one's personal needs).

While I am used to running in shorts and a singlet, 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 pre-race morning, I see runners shivering because of inadequate warm clothing and that wastes energy unnecessarily.

My advice: 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 synchronises with the overseas time zone. Saturday night's sleep is unlikely to be restful, due to pre-race nerves and excitement, so the rest two nights out is crucial.

Second, I need my body acclimatised to the wintry weather with temperatures falling as low as 10 deg C at dawn.

Choose accommodation with a good location and accessibility. Ideally, it should be close to the start line, to minimise uncontrollable factors such as traffic delays. If this is not possible, seek out accommodation that is well connected to the transport network. For example, my accommodation at GCM 2018 will be less than 300m away from the nearest G:link tram station.

I always plan to reach the race site at least an hour before the event, so factor in the travelling time and work backwards to decide the time you need to leave your accommodation.

I cannot overemphasise the importance of orientating yourself by visualising beforehand the flow of race morning, to avoid any unnecessary panic setting in.

PRE-RACE RITUALS

Usually, after checking in at the accommodation, I might opt to take a nap if I feel the need to, after which my priority will be the collection of the race pack.

Once you have collected your running bib and timing chip, I encourage you to fix them onto your race attire immediately, 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 prioritise 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 minimising time on your feet. Unfortunately, this means you will likely have to save your shopping and sightseeing for after the race.

In the two days leading up to race morning, I find it beneficial to "hibernate" in my room, where I can visualise race success, read a book (I like The Champion's Mind) and even unwind to non-running thoughts (I watched Mr Bean 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 each other's experience and also give your encouragement.

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 and it 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 for ourselves.

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 starting line.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 24, 2018, with the headline 'How to feel at home for overseas runs'. Print Edition | Subscribe