Shared Experiences from a Non-running Runner 

By Chris Leung

Hey HOU! “Winter” is here and the running season is upon us with cooler temperatures and dry air (finally!). 


Like a number of us, I grew up dreading the PE – Physical Education period in school. Worst of all were the days we had to run around a track and collect popsicle sticks for every lap we completed. The number of sticks we collected after a set duration corresponded to the grade we got for the day. “Running” 1-2 miles during these track sessions was already rough; I could not fathom people paying money to go run a 5K or even worse, a 10K.


Over the years, I signed up for run/walks that helped raise awareness for different types of cancer. On several occasions, I was also coaxed by friends into social/fun runs like the Turkey Trot. At these events, I was always in awe of the people who could continuously run, or at least run the majority of, these 5K or 10K distances. 


Fast forward to several years after graduating college. To break up the monotony of the daily grind and to challenge myself with a goal, I decided to sign up for the Aramco Houston Half Marathon. I scoured the internet for a training plan that best matched my (lack of) fitness and tried to follow the best I could for the three months leading up to the race. After completing the race (it was not pretty), getting my medal, and sprawling on the floor, I told myself I would never do this again. That feeling lasted barely 48 hours before I was up and ready to sign up for next year’s race to try and beat my time. Pretty soon after that, my mind started wondering how a full marathon might feel and I signed up for the Chicago Marathon (pre-lottery era).


Since then, it’s fair to say I’ve been bit by ‘the bug.’ I’ve run a total of 11 half marathons and 7 marathons in various states and countries. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few nuggets  to share:


(1) Nothing New on Race Day

Unless you love surprises (and not always of the good variety) or are a diehard YOLO-er, it may be best to stick with what is tried and true. Training runs, and in particular, long runs are the best time to test out what you plan to wear race day. This includes headwear, sunglasses, top, pants, belt, socks, and of course, shoes. 13.1 or 26.2 miles is a long way to go, and will certainly feel even longer if any hot spots are found the day of the race. The bright side of all this is that you can go shopping ahead of race day so you can look and feel your best for all of the on course photographers!


(2) Nutrition

Don’t forget to hydrate during the race. I’ve blown up during a few races thanks to muscle cramps brought on by dehydration. When the muscle cramps arrive, it may already be too late to immediately resolve. Everyone has different hydration needs, but one thing that has helped me manage dehydration is to grab both water and Gatorade at every aid station. After all, it’s better to be a little more hydrated during the race than completely dehydrated and wishing you took water from the last aid station as you start to feel a cramp come on…


Energy chews or gels are another key aspect of race nutrition and something you don’t want to try for the first time on race day. There are several different brands and flavors of energy chews and gels out there; some may taste and settle better in your stomach than others. Everyone is unique, but a general rule of thumb is consuming a gel every 45 minutes to 1 hour. On course nutrition is typically provided in the form of Gatorade gels – try them out on a long run if you intend to rely on them during race day. You may even want to consider bringing your own gels in the event the course runs out or you miss the gel station.


(3) Trust Your Training

The half marathon and full marathon races are daunting, but consistent training (especially the long run) over months will help your body build the endurance it needs to go the distance. For those like me who get antsy during the ‘taper’ and feel like we’re losing fitness because we aren’t doing much, realize that’s when our body is recovering from the constant stress of running multiple times a week for months at a time. Self doubt is possible, maybe even inevitable, but the human body is extremely resilient and will adapt to all of the training. If in doubt, take a step back and look at how far you’ve come from when you first started your running journey!


(4) Setbacks

Life has a funny way of always rearing its head when you least expect it. Whether it’s a minor or nagging injury, coming down with a cold, dealing with an unexpected event, or not being able to finish a long run/complete a workout at a prescribed pace, there may be setbacks during training. This is normal and something we all contend with.


Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were your legs and cardiovascular system. A few days or a week off due to unforeseen circumstances won’t set you back. In fact, it may even give your body the rest it needs to recover to hit the following week even harder.


(5) Remember Your Why

You’re already a rock star for taking on a 13.1 or 26.2 mile challenge, but there may just be an underlying reason for signing up for the race. Maybe you’re looking to raise awareness  for a Run for a Reason charity, maybe you like a challenge and want to prove that you can finish, or maybe you just want to finish 10 races so you can reach Legacy status – remember why you signed up when the going gets tough during the race. Remember to look up from time to time and know that you have 20,000+ other running partners running for their individual reason(s). Take in the random strangers cheering and encouraging you to finish, take in all of the on course entertainment (and beer if you’re brave), take in the full experience, and cross the finish line proud!


Stay safe, have a great race, and I’ll see HOU back here the week after the race for a debrief!