Against all the odds at Angkor Wat – My first half-marathon
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”
Confucius – More than 2000 years ago.
Today marked a major milestone in my journey towards running a full-marathon. I just
completed my first ever half-marathon in a time of two hours, six minutes and 46 seconds at
Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This was massive achievement for me because six years ago I was told I would never be able to run again.
In 2007 my life was turned upside down. While playing squash one morning in London my
Achilles tendon snapped. While recovering, I went on a business trip where my tendon ruptured a second time. I had to undergo complicated surgery on my leg after which the doctors told me the earth shattering news. For the full story, see my recent blog post: ‘Learning to run again – 10 km closer to my marathon dream!’
The years following the operation saw me pile on the pounds, and by 2010 I weighed 104kg. I began to use the fact my leg had been in plaster for two years as an excuse for my weight gain. I told myself that it was impossible to keep fit on crutches. I rarely managed to do any exercise, I had an unhealthy diet and I was spending too much time in the pub. Although I was desperate to get fit and to run again, I was making excuses. I kept telling myself I would start tomorrow, but tomorrow never arrived.
It was in December 2011 that I decided enough was enough. I attended a seminar in Ho Chi Minh City given by life coach Brian Tracy. He told me I needed to identify my life goals and to write these goals down. For me, health and fitness are a key part of life and I set myself a number of targets including quitting snuff (tobacco) – which I did in June this year – and getting my weight down to 80kg by Christmas. I hit the gym where I took up fitness walking. It was during these sessions I found I was actually able to run again for short periods.
In August this year I felt I was ready to take a serious step towards my ultimate dream and signed up for the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon. Today is 2 December and I have just completed the race! I had 14 weeks to prepare and identified five important steps I would have to take.
First I needed information. I wanted to know everything there was to know about fitness running. This was a new subject for me and I began to read books, websites and blogs. I also contacted personal trainers, attended running clinics and spoke to people who had run marathons. In his best-selling book ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins tells us it is vital to identify what it is that holds us back and to knock these obstacles down. This was something I was going to need to work on.
I then wrote a detailed plan setting out precisely what I needed to do in order to accomplish my goal.
I needed to get organised. I had a limited number of weeks in which to prepare so I broke the time down into manageable chunks. I scheduled health checks and sought advice on how to improve my fitness. I started to run more often and work on building up my strength and stamina. I taught myself to properly stretch and warm up, worked on my posture, and made improvements to my diet.
I realised time management was going to be difficult as I am extremely busy in my role as General Director of Sophie Paris, a large fashion company in Vietnam. I also have a family and it was obviously important to set enough time aside for my wife and son, Percy.
My usual after work beer with colleagues was replaced by a session at the gym and I cut down the amount of time spent on the golf course. I love golf and it is an important part of my social life, but despite pressure from my golf buddies I only allowed myself one game each month.
I then took immediate action.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu – Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)
Many people say they intend to lose weight one day, travel in another country or promise to give up smoking and join a gym. However, most fail to put those plans into action because making new commitments is hard. I took action by registering for the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon, buying a flight to Cambodia and booking a hotel. I also told my friends I was running so there would be no way to back out.
The final part of my plan was to make sure I stuck to it. This sounds obvious, but a necessary quality for achieving success in life is self-discipline. I discovered I could achieve this even if it did mean not being able to have a beer or a slice of cake at a friend’s birthday party, however tempting. As for training, I developed an all weather attitude and stuck to my schedule no matter what the conditions. During a trip to Thailand I completed a 12km run in a heavy storm. I was the only person on the rain-lashed beach and I was soaked to the skin. I loved it! I knew that the harder I tried, the better the rewards would be. No matter how difficult it got, I refused to give up. As Winston Churchill said: ‘If you are going through hell, keep going.’
Even though I am extremely proud of my achievements over the past year, I realise I will not reach my target weight of 80kg by the end of December. I have now set a more realistic target of Christmas 2013. Brian Tracy taught me there are no failed goals as long as you continue to work towards them with an adjusted deadline. But my most important goal of the year – running a half-marathon – was realised today.
The race was 21km through the Cambodian jungle in conditions that made it feel like I was running in a steam room. For those who do not know Angkor Wat it is the largest Hindu temple complex on the planet. It was built around the beginning of the 12th century and is one of my favourite places in the world. I feel extremely privileged to have run my first ever half-marathon here.
My target for today had originally been to run the race in less than three hours. However, I decided to reduce this to two-and-a-half hours, a time I actually beat by nearly 25 minutes. I have the feeling I could have pushed myself a little harder and achieved a better time, but today was about completing the distance safely. Next time I will be faster.
I aim to complete a full marathon before my 40th birthday. This means I have two-and-a-half years to prepare. I will use the time to improve my self-discipline, train harder and work on a healthier lifestyle. At the moment I am exhausted and sore, but remain fully committed to my marathon dream. I have just put my name down for the SihanoukVille half-marathon in Cambodia on 10 March next year. My target is to break the two hour barrier. I know that this means shaving just seven minutes off today’s time, but I also realise this may be harder than it sounds!
I learned an important lesson today. Completing the distance was not simply about my physical fitness, but also my state of mind. It is possible for us to achieve almost anything in life when we put our minds to it. Although my journey has only just begun, I am thoroughly enjoying every step of it.
I have to admit that after crossing the finishing line today my body was screaming never again. I then reminded myself that the pain of finishing a race would be nothing compared to how I would feel about myself if I gave up. Rewards are far greater when they come after a struggle and the reward for my struggle is being able to run again. After all: “The thirst you feel in your throat and lungs will be gone minutes after the race is over. The pain in your legs within days, but the glory of your finish will last forever.”