I am proudly say that I am not a runner and I just did the 2016 Angkor International Half Marathon (HM) in 1 hour 58 minutes 48 seconds after a month intermittent training. Some tricks and experience clearly are key for achieving what I consider a success with limited effort. I did not have long run trainings, but instead I did have a lot of tricks. I share them here in this blog.

I usually do other physical trainings (i.e. cycling and swimming) given that I am in love with triathlon since Brownlee brothers inspired me in 2012 London Olympic Games. Their dramatic performance was such a calling to join triathlon when I was recovering from the second knee ACL injury. I watched them winning the Triathlon competition during the 2012 Olympic Games while I was sitting on a couch and couldn’t even move my right leg. My right knee was swollen like a bee hive after a key hole surgery. The next few days after recovery, I learned to walk again and decided to wake up at 6am everyday; started walking from 1km, then 2km, then running 2km after a few weeks, 4km after a month and 5km after 6 weeks and 10km after 3 months, a sprint distance triathlon after a year.

That's where my running and triathlon journey begins. I work as a public policy researcher and consultant with lots of traveling schedule, desk-based work in between traveling and a bad right knee. Until know, running is still the least favourite among the three triathlon legs: swimming, cycling, running. Given all those limitations and a dynamic environment I have, I keep my training for this HM run short and within the stretch that my knee can afford. I combine all kinds of training with a healthy and natural diet, i.e. eating good less processed food.

I am so thrilled to have a breakthrough from the yesterday run, so I decided to write this and share my experience while my muscles still warm and while my legs still hurt recovering from the yesterday run. This blog hopefully gives some know-hows plus a sneak peak of my trainings, tapering, food before d-day, d-day strategy and the feel of Angkor Wat International HM.

Trainings

To be honest, I do not have any routine for running. I do running whenever I can and whenever I feel I want to, mostly in the early morning. I do running mostly when there is someone asks me to run with her/him during one day on the weekend. I do not set any pace either. I run with folks who ask me to run with them. I run with them on their side and slightly faster or slower. I only try to run twice a week, a 5km run and a longer one, roughly 7-10 km run once. 

Rather than running indoor or outdoor, I focus on very short VO2max at least twice a week and a weight training once a week. I listen more to what my physiotherapist said than what a PE coach/trainer tells me. I still remember clearly what my physiotherapist said: do leg press 100 times with 45-60 kgs when you go to the gym to make sure you have strong leg muscles and don’t forget to do stretching before and after a run. When I hit the gym, I try to do three rounds of 30 times leg press plus a weight training for inner leg muscles, back muscles and abs. I try to always do a dynamic stretching before a run and a static stretching after.

Just three weeks before the Angkor HM, a personal trainer shared a training menu to increase VO2max. I consider this as a key to improve breathing for running and triathlon in general. It is an 8 exercises with 16 reps for each exercises repeated in two rounds. If you want to try, for the first timer, do a break between round, but aim to finally do all these without break for 13 minutes after a few times. Ready? Go!

  1. Lateral hops (standing with one leg and jump to the right and to the left around 30 cm). Do this for both legs.
  2. Squat jumps. I modify this and do only standing (not jumping) since I do not feel comfortable with my right knee.
  3. Ventral hops (standing with one leg and jump forward and back around 30 cm). Do this for both legs.
  4. Burpees
  5. Lateral jumps (ice skater)
  6. Jumping lunge
  7. Agility dots
  8. Mountain climbers.

 Tapering 

I do not have any particular preparation to go for a HM run. I follow as far as my legs feel want to and can do. A few days before the HM run, I did a jogging run with pace around 7:00-7:30 for 5 km and I do this to go around Phnom Penh to familiarise myself with the city. I visited Phnom Penh on the way to Siem Reap because it is cheap and I had never been there before. The city centre has a long good track for running on the side of Mekong river and I find it is a pleasant place to enjoy a morning sun. I spent a day here and I have a good time with good food. If you are by chance visiting the city, give a try Mok Mony Restaurant. It has an amazing and unique food choices. The next day, I departed from Phnom Penh using a VIP post van and arrived in Siem Reap mid day. I rented a tuk tuk for a whole day, dropped suit cases in where I stayed and went straight to a recommended deli in TripAdvisor to find good meals for carb loading.

Food before the event

I had rice, with bbq skewers, and mango salad. After lunch I picked up a race pack and go back to hotel to take a shower. Then in the late afternoon I walked around the city of Siem Reap to find an Italian Resto, Mamma Shop, which has a good review and sells pasta. Unfortunately the resto was fully booked and so I just had an aglio olio take away pasta. It was so disappointing that when I opened, the pasta was made from asian noodles. I sat in Lilypop resto with my mom eating Cambodian food and I sadly combined the food with an aglio olio noodle just for the sake of having a better energy level during the race. I was so unprepared for the event so I have no carb gel at all. While waiting my mom ordering her Cambodian food, I just crossed the street to find any carb gel substitute. I found fig bars in the small market across the street. After dinner, I and my mom went back to hotel early around 8.30pm and ready to go to bed.

Once I arrived at our hotel, I immediately charged and set a running strategy for tomorrow with my Garmin Forerunner 735XT. I set it in a training interval mode: 1km run and 250m rest for 17 rounds. The targets are 5:00-5:20 for the running mode and 5:40-5.55 for the rest mode. I think it is important to set these goals in mind from the night before the run.

Just before going to bed, I decide to eat two pieces of bread and two dates. I set my alarm clock at 2am to have my breakfast, two 500ml bottles of water, three slices of whole wheat bread with five dates and a banana. After my first breakfast, I went back to sleep and woke up at 4.45am to get ready. I felt so relieve that I could poop and clean my belly from water and food I had. Before leaving I stuffed two bananas and a few dates for my second breakfast. The same tuk-tuk picked us up at 5.15am and we went straight to the venue. So many cars, buses and tuk-tuks on the way to the venue created a massive traffic jam so it is wise the to leave early during a big running event.

D-day

Around 3500 runners were jam packed around the start line and I tried to snug in between the tall and keen runners. In some other events I was on the back with lazy and unmotivated runners who ruined my mood. So I decided not to be around them anymore. The run was late about 15 minutes but I was full on ready to run. I was slightly unsure whether I need to bring running water bottles, hat and sunglasses or not. I put them on but it turned I did not use any of them. I threw away the water to make myself a bit lighter, put my sunglasses in front of my chest and my hat hanging on my back belt. They are annoying while I was running and I would not bring them when I run a race next time. Better to run as light as possible during any race given that there will be water stations anyway. During the whole run, I sang the shortest song in my head “formation-tempo”. I repeated these two words more than a thousand times and I tried to keep my tempo constant and my formation the same for each cadence. Since I do not have a normal right knee, I decided to have a short stroke with cadence above 200 pm. So it was almost like a fast walk with my hands swing exaggeratedly. But interestingly I could ‘walk’ faster than those who were doing a running style (fewer cadence repetitions, but higher leg swing). I think this highly repetitive cadence strategy works for me and I do not really care with my non-elegant formation as long as it is quick. At last, time is what does really matter. 

 

The feel of Angkor Wat HM

I agree with most of runners who experience Angkor Wat HM that Angkor Wat HM has an amazing route with scenic landscape, sterile from cars and bikes, super flat, super green with giant trees along the course, ancient temples near to the finish line and the most importantly, cool temperature (around 19-22 degrees 6-8am in the morning). For me it is the most enjoyable run race I have ever had so far. It is a 21km run in one loop with a little repetitive view and scenery. A water station is available every 2 km and a food/banana station every 5km. The organiser is professional, the registration fee is USD 66 which is quite high but still recommended given the unique experience. The only obstacle to join this race is the flight tickets which are very expensive if you fly directly to Siem Reap. I would suggest to take this run as part of a holiday trip to Bangkok and/or Phnom Penh and/or Ho Chi Minh City. There are plenty of VIP night buses from and to those cities from Siem Reap with USD 20-25. When you find a good deal for flight ticket to those three cities do don’t hesitate to buy and think about the bus tickets later when you are in the country. There are so many bus companies to choose from. If you are looking for a PB or a unique run, Angkor Wat HM is a recommended event to experience. The next one will in August and there will be HM and Full Marathon options.