Training for Chicago in Hong Kong
Moving from New York to Hong Kong meant a new training with a few challenges that came with a new continent, new climate, and a mix of road and trail running. Despite a few setbacks, I never forgot to feel fortunate for the luxury of running two major marathons (New York and Chicago) in a row. I don't know how I will ever get into Boston Marathon as they keep raising the bar higher but wish one day I will be able to complete all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.
At this point I want to give a shout out to my husband's brother-in-law Brian, who unfortunately has to miss out on Chicago Marathon as he recovers from a serious car accident (it was totally another driver's fault). We wish him a quick recovery and a strong comeback. I am hopeful that one day we can get the full Schowitz family team to do a fun race together.
Currently I am on the second half of my two weeks of tapering. It is shorter than the typical 3 weeks taper but I am loving it because the last few months have been tough. Things have gone as well as it could and I survived a surprise 22 mile long run (I stupidly thought 20 miles was my last one). Now I only have to deal with few aches and stiffness on my back and legs, which I am trying to resolve with more stretching and foam rolling. Many people find tapering difficult and worry about losing their hard-earned fitness. But not me this time round. I am thoroughly enjoying time off and eager for my body to rebuild and tune in for race day.
Hot, Humid, Hilly and Mosquitoes
My marathon training can be summed up in three H's and one M - Hot, Humid, Hilly and Mosquitoes. I remember the first couple of months I really struggled with hills, mentally cursing and thinking how on earth I could possibly train on narrow, hilly trails to prepare for a flat road race like Chicago. There were also plenty good moments when I came to appreciate the beautiful city skyline, the landscape, trails and nature. I am always amazed by the abundance of green space in such a compact city like Hong Kong.
Dealing with the Heat and the Hills
The heat and the humidity were here to stay which I could not change, but I could learn how to manage my emotions and find ways to cope with the conditions. Back in New York, group training and virtual training worked really well and all my training was on the road making it straight forward. But since getting to Hong Kong, I have had to deal with new terrains and training mostly on my own. I felt I could really make use of some professional guidance, so I signed up to train with one of the coaches at the Marathon Training Academy (also my favourite podcast). I can tell you this has been the wisest thing I have done for my running this year.
My coach gave me many tips on how to tackle the heat and humidity, how to get on top of my nutrition, fuelling and hydration. She also coaches many other athletes who are also training in the heat and humidity. It's more than a relief to know that I am not alone. There are so many strategies to beat the 100 degrees summer heat, most are simple but not initially obvious things like freezing your energy drink, bringing ice-packs on your runs, exercising early in the morning, alternating between indoor and outdoor runs.
Another highly valuable advice she gave me was to give my body time to adapt to the heat. I half doubted her at first but having lived through the change over the past four months, I can testify that your body CAN adapt to the heat and humidity. This is what she wrote to me about five months ago, "trust me you are not doing any harm to your running by slowing the pace, be patient and allow your body to adjust..." I didn't get what she meant back then. Now I that I have experienced it, I am 100% with her. I just needed to be patient, continue to run outside and let my heart, lungs and muscles do the rest. That magical heat adaptation finally happened. My heart was jumping for joy when I discovered that I could suddenly do a slow jog up a stretch of slope one morning.
All through June to September, I have sweated buckets and buckets from my runs. My clothes, my socks and my shoes were often completely soaked and my iPhone couldn't read my fingerprint (yes facial recognition is the answer). Sometimes sweat ran down my eyes that it stung so much I couldn't see, and I needed to stop frequently because of fatigue. Heat does strange things to your body and mind. It takes a lot of trial and error but I am slowly getting better at managing my hydration.
I love long runs not only because it is so key to building endurance, it is meditative and a great way to explore a city. It is true that my home city Hong Kong is a beautiful place to run, with plenty of lovely trails, country parks and well-paved jogging paths. Hilly terrains are still scary to me. Two months ago, I still felt I wasn't fit enough to run 16+ miles with elevation and the heat. I also didn't know where to top up my water bottles in the middle of a longish trail run.
So for my 16 mile and 18 mile runs, I ran Bowen Road jogging trail (4K) back and forth until I hit the planned mileage. The running path was smooth and easy but let me tell you, those 16 miles were the hardest run this season, it was partly because I've had a terrible week before and my fuelling was off. By mile 12 I was done, I was cursing so much that I had to stop. I could have called it a day but I didn't want to give up. In the end I managed to calm myself down and squeezed out the last four miles. The run was ugly, physically hard and mentally painful.
I was angry and disappointed at myself for such a bad run. How was I going to complete 26.2 miles in two months? I knew I had finished a marathon before, I just didn't feel I could be ready for the distance this time. But somehow I pulled through. Things somehow got back on track and my 18 mile run went without a glitch. Maybe bad runs are just a part of a training cycle, a bad patch that any marathoner has to deal with.
Black Toe Nails
The next long runs went much better. For my 20 miles (which I mistakenly presumed was my last long run), I decided to have some fun by mapping out a new route. It was a Peak to Valley run with a downhill section in the last few miles. It was quite a blast, but unfortunately I also blasted both my big toe nails - one turned grey and the other black - very gothic. It was just too much downhill in sweat-soaked socks and shoes. Another lesson learned.
Bonus 22 miles
I didn't expect it, but there was the final long run at 22 miles. It was a OMG moment when I learned about the last run from my coach. On the bright side, completing a 22 miles meant I would be much more ready for Chicago. I felt fine, there was no injury except for my black toe nails which were painful anymore and couldn't get any more black anyway.
Ready for My Second Marathon
I am so glad that my training has finally gone ok. It has been a tough but richly rewarding experience. I am so thankful to have made it this far without major hiccups or injury. All that pain, sweat, tears, smells and mosquito bites over months meant I am now ready for a marathon. I am still yet to plan my outfit options for the day (I am wearing nothing new), figuring out my pacing strategy, and detailing my fuelling and hydration strategy for race day.
Chicago, I shall see you in a few days!