Tag Archive for Half-Marathon

No Excuses in Sihanoukville!

Losers make excuses, winners make it happen.

On Sunday 10 March, just 13 weeks after completing my first ever half marathon, I finished my second 21km race in less than two hours. The main aim of the first race was simply for

Nick at the start of the 21km Race in Sihanoukville

me to stay the course, to make it round even if I had to crawl over the finishing-line. The goal for the second was to break the two-hour barrier, something I did with several minutes to spare.

It was important for me to set a very specific target for my second run, and it had to be an improvement on just staying the distance. From the outset I told myself, and everybody around me, that I had to get round in a specific time. That was the thing I focused upon, that was my motivation for getting out and training, and the main reason I achieved my goal.

Planning and setting specific goals and targets is essential for anybody who wants to succeed. For me it is not good enough just aspiring to be fitter, losing weight or eating a better diet, I have to rewrite my goals everyday in order to remain focused and committed to what I am trying to achieve. This is something I was taught by motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy – writing your goals down makes them real in a physical sense.

Looking back over the weeks of training I did for my second half marathon I saw that I had written down: “I completed my half marathon in less than two hours on March 10, 2013” more than 50 times. I even wrote the message to myself just before the race, and by telling myself I had already won, I managed to remain focused. All I then had to do was go through with it physically – something that is so much easier if the mental process has already been taken care of.

I would advise anyone who is perhaps struggling to stay focused on what they want to accomplish to begin every new day by using a pen and paper to jot down their objectives, even if the goals are the same as the day before, as this helps to constantly reaffirm what needs to be achieved. And these goals can be both short- and long-term.

I will continue to do this, not just so I can keep up my training schedule, but so that I can keep other goals in my life in focus. This method has now helped me to safely run two half marathons in three months and I intend to keep adding to these goals and making them more ambitious, while making sure I have a proper plan to achieve them.

Jotting down an objective on a piece of paper is a start, but turning that ambition into reality requires planning and ignoring the temptation to make excuses for ourselves. We are all tempted to take short-cuts in life in order to more easily get what we want, but it is only by disciplining ourselves that we can realise our long-term goals. As the late American entrepreneur and personal achievement philosopher Jim Rohn said: “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”

However, even with the most careful planning, we must not forget that life still has the ability to throw out the odd surprise or two. The half marathon took place in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a place I visited 13 years ago. I arrived on the day of the race and was surprised that the peaceful beach village I remembered was actually surrounded by steep hills. Although I hadn’t expected a completely flat course, my heart started racing. I had been training on the level streets of Ho Chi Minh City where I had carefully worked out I could manage each kilometre in just under 5 minutes and 40 seconds. This would bring me over the finishing line in just less than two hours. But how was I going to manage this over hilly terrain!?

The problem was almost solved for me because in my panic I lost my race tag. Without this I would be disqualified and my dream would be over. I rushed to the registration office, and to my relief the organisers agreed to issue me with a replacement. I was also extremely tired because I had only managed to get a couple of hours sleep the night before when the advice before a race like this is to get at least eight. So I arrived at the start line stressed, tired and nervous. The race was also delayed by 15 minutes, and each of those minutes felt like a lifetime.

At 6.15am the gun was fired, and we were off. I gained some confidence after finishing the first kilometre in just five minutes and was pleased that I managed to find my stride over the next few. However the hilly terrain quickly began to wear me down and I have to admit there were a few times when I wanted to just give up. Kilometre number 14 was my slowest. With a third of the race still to complete my time over 1,000 metres slipped to six minutes leaving me doubtful that I would be able to keep the pace I needed to finish in less than two hours.

I dug in and fought on eventually making it over the line in 56 minutes and 33 seconds, well under my target!

I have wondered how I was able to achieve my goal when everything looked like it was never going to happen before and during the race. I think the answer is that it was down to the fact that I had been telling myself for weeks that failing was not an option. I could have used the unexpected hills an excuse to give up at any point, but I have taught myself to be far more disciplined than I once was, and that sort of excuse is no longer acceptable to me.

I now understand Jacqueline Gareau, Boston Marathon champion, who once said: “The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be

My body says no but I keep pushing. With a strong will we can do more than we think.

strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.”

That is not to say that I have not benefitted immensely from working with some top trainers, attending running clinics, consulting doctors and nutritionists and getting in contact with other marathon runners. I have also been lucky enough to take advantage of the latest technology. I cannot recommend the running app Endomondo Sports Tracker highly enough!

My next big physical challenge will be the Oland marathon in my home country of Sweden. In November last year I added running a full marathon to my list of goals before I turn 40. However, my fitness level has increased quicker than I ever could have expected, so I have decided to go for it in July. I know the distance will be hard on me, especially my feet and knees, and I know that I still need to lose some weight. As writer and runner Hal Higdon puts it: “The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

Tired but happy after the race. Looking forward to my next physical achievement.

As those who have read my previous blogs will know, I was informed after twice rupturing my Achilles tendon that I would never be able to run again. Since the day I was told this by a doctor I have made it my goal to complete a full marathon. I am sure that when I am 30km into the Oland race in a few months time I will want to give up, I will want to find an excuse to throw in the towel. But the only thing I will regret is if I do not try. When I am 80-years-old I want to look back at my life and say I crossed that 42 kilometre line and remember it as one of the greatest physical achievements of my life.

Finally I would like to say thank you to my lovely wife Sofi and son Percy for all their patience and understanding while I have been at the gym or out running rather than spending time at home with them. Thanks to Nutrifort Gym for the fitness services, and especially to my personal trainers Stephane and Greg, and to Phil for his great nutritional advice. Also a huge thanks to Matt and Ulrik my running buddies. You always pushed me when I was on the verge of giving up, and I hope you don’t mind that I pushed you back!

My First Half Marathon

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

Nick before the start of the 21km race

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

Nick overweight with his leg in cast in London in 2007

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.

Running the last km of the race

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.”


After the finishing line