Thoughts on Osaka Marathon 2012

The Japanese use the word 'Challenge' to describe their participation in any marathon event. Interesting choice of word. A mere 'participation' somehow comes across as less enthusiastic, even hinting a 'non-committal indifference' to some of the more pedantic hardcore runners.

So I 'challenged' myself in the Osaka Marathon 2012 last Sunday. My immersion in the sport has reached fever pitch. It was to be the make or break.

That's because I have set myself a target of sub 3.

My PB was set in Gold Coast (July 2012). At 3:05:17, it would seem too wishful to aim for sub 3 so soon. To complicate matters, weeks after GCAM, I had been so plagued with injuries and down time, that actual training only commenced in September. Work load has also seen an increase in patients and admissions, which only meant that there were less opportunities to train on the road. Yes, treadmill would have to do.

Despite the less-than-ideal circumstance, I stubbornly maintained course. Took aim at something only an overachiever would do. Go for broke. Knowing that it is a certain invitation for an impending doom. And certainly, a few weeks prior to the event, stress at work and the accumulation of high mileage had brought me to an all time low physically, as well as mentally. I was fatigued, stressed out and depressed.

Work, put mildly, was no longer a joy. And running, a mere mechanical, technical task. When you get to that stage, the target seems a little pointless. You start questioning the very reason that you run. I was feeling rather uninspired. Resorted to books the likes of Born to Run (by Christopher MacDougall) and Eat & Run (by Scott Jurek) for the extra 'Umph'.  The books were inspiring and all....But I still had to find out something for myself. And on my own. Certain things can't be taught. Only learned.

And Osaka was the perfect place to learn it.

Race day unfolded with a perfect weather of 12-14 degrees Celsius. Sunny sky. Gentle breeze. It's a runner's dream to race in such condition. I was calm. Collected. As all the runners busied themselves darting from the baggage deposits to their respective corrals, I took a leisurely jog towards mine at the far end in Corral B, traversing a beautiful segment of Osaka Castle Park, richly covered in an array of autumn's burgundy red and sunglow yellow. It's a treat for the eyes and soothing balm to the soul.

Aside from race strategies, I was mindful of what to expect at different stages of the race. And what I needed to conjure up at those precise moments. My target was 4:13 pace for the first 2 hours aiming to hit 28.5km by 2 hours and stroll in a comfortable 4:22 pace for the remaining distance. That...was the plan.

But as always, the saying goes: the best laid plans o' mice an' men gang aft agley...

First of all, despite being positioned at less than a mere 100m from the start, it took almost 2 minutes for me to hit the start line and actually commence my race. By then, the 3 hour pacers were already long gone. Coupled by the fact that it took at least 2km to run freely at my intended pace, (as I was boxed in, left, right and centre), I was only managing a slow 5+ pace because of the immense crowd. I had to work harder in the subsequent few km to get back on track. And that messed up the pace.

By the time I finally caught up with the 3 hour pacers, I was clocking 42 minutes at 10km. The pacers were chit chatting as though they were out on a stroll. Along with them were about 20-30 runners, all eager to make their mark by pacing with the titans. To my surprise, the 3 hour pacers were not young chaps but 2 guys in their 50s! They must be at least sub 2:30 runners in their hay days because this was just too easy for them.

Easy. Light. Smooth. Fast. And Joy! The perfect display of everything that I hope to realize in the art of running! I have just witnessed it with my very own eyes. And now I know it IS possible!

I tagged along as far as 28km. The pacers were actually going at 4:00 pace. And at that pace, I knew I would crash out soon if I continue with them. It turned out that breaking off was the right decision. Some other runners later commented that the pacers were well ahead of their time and had to slow down in the last 2 km to ease into a 3 hours finish.

Beyond 28km, I was on my own with lonely miles ahead. I reached 28.5km by 2 hours as intended. And a little later, 30km by 2:06. The Garmin GPS was short by almost 300+ meters according to the mileage markers. So, I could no longer rely on the watch for GPS and pace. I had to count on the timer alone and mileage marker to work out the actual pace. By 35.5km, I had clocked 2:30. Well on track for my sub 3 attempt....

The gut wrenching moment couldn't arrive any sooner. I could almost visualize the victory at hand. But just with a mere 6.7km to go, I bonked. I gulped in a gel which I was so sure that I wouldn't need. (I have trained without it). And it didn't even help. I was near exhaustion and could almost sense an impending collapse if I had not ease down on the pace. So, I conceded. I eased back at about 5+ pace with the occasion surge whenever I could muster up something.

It was my toughest 6.7km. You could trick your mind into thinking that it's only another 6.7km. But my mind wasn't easily fooled. It might as well be just another 2km. But it certainly felt like 67km! Every step was a decision. Every stride a pain. I reminded myself that this is what you have trained for. But when it came to the crunch, those 'mental preparation' were reduced to mere stray thoughts, fleeting and dissipating into thin air. What was I thinking? To tell you the truth, I couldn't honestly remember. Probably post-traumatic amnesia.....

I glanced at the time ticking away. Along with it my hope of sub 3....

When I saw the familiar landmark leading to Intex Osaka (the finish), it was well beyond 3 hours. All I remember telling myself at that moment was: Well, let's finish this. And I dashed forward with a final surge of 'something' and finished with 3:05:18.

I was a bit lost after the race trying to grapple with the thought of what went wrong. It took me a couple of days just to figure out what just transpired...

Problem: It may be blatantly clear to some but it took a race like this to knock some sense into me to the obvious flaw in my training. My treadmill training, though promising deceptively good results, was in reality, easier by effort. To achieve the actual required effort to accomplish sub 3, I would have to churn up another extra 20%. I had based my race pace on a treadmill pace of 4:13/km. It was destined for doom because the actual on-the-road pace would require more. It doesn't take a scientist to deduce that you cannot expect to conjure up that extra 20% on a whim on race day. It was unrealistic.

Solution: Simple solution but not remotely easy. It will require some time management and loads of sacrifice. Train more on-the-road. Do actual mileage. NOT treadmill mileage. And when treadmill is absolutely unavoidable, increase the pace to over-compensate with an attempt to simulate on-the-road effort level.

Well, back to the drawing board, it seems.

Was it mere wishful thinking to attempt that sub 3 in Osaka? I suppose so. But as always, it is often through failure that I learn the most. And I am pretty sure it will not stop there. When I was staring at failure during the aftermath of my foiled attempt, for a moment, even the question of ever running a marathon again comes to mind. But then I realized: It is not failure that defines us. Because in life we will always face failures at some point. Be it in relationships or work or just about anything else. But it is in finding that will and courage to get right back up, overcome and move on that defines who we are and what we are made of. That, defines us. And with it brings true meaning to a life of abundance and victory.

So, why do I run? Because I can.


  1. An awesome job all the same, Francis! There's always the next race for that sub-3, right?

    1. Yeah Nick. It is still an awesome experience, regardless!

  2. Well done bro! Great write up and inspiring. Wish I have you will of steel

    1. Haha! Will of steel? How I wish that were the case at the point where I needed it the most...But thanks!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts