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First road race post accident

Recently, a couple of questions. One of which was asked why do I run? The other was how I felt not being selected to go to the Paralympics. This kinda got me thinking and I have come up with these reasons:

1. Because I run for those who can’t.
2. Being paralysed has made me realise how much running meant to me.
3. To show to my loved ones that I am getting stronger and better each day.

Wasn’t so much as to dissing the doctors or proving a point to the world. Being a Paralympian or not, is not the motivation in me taking up the sport.

For the past 1.5 years, I have been focusing so much on the 1500m and the possibility of going to the Rio Paralympics that I had totally ruled out road racing for 2016, stating that I will be back racing my full marathon only in 2018. However, when the governing body decided to not send me for any race exposure this 2016, deep down I knew I was not part of the plan. Hence, I signed up for the Swan River Run in May. There is no para category in this race so I will be running along side everyone. It was a little daunting at first but I figured that it is something I have to overcome. At that point in time, my longest run was a 6km and it took slightly under 34minutes for me to complete so I wasn’t very certain if I will be able to prepare myself for this race. Nevertheless, I started working on my long runs and set a “realistic” target of running a sub 25min for the 5km.

Come on, you guys know by know my definition of realistic is pretty different from others. :p
Fast forward to race day.
Just last weekend, I raced in my first ever road race since my accident. It has been 3 years since I last laced up in my Asics Japan Tarthers (the one and only shoe model I ever raced in), braved myself in the cold, stood at the standing line challenging for an official timing. I have raced in a couple of 5 degree races in the past but this race was totally different:
1. Due to my spinal cord injury, my spasms become worse making my movement stiff, losing range of motion, power and speed. Of course, the spasms hurt me. So I was literally in pain while waiting for the race to be flagged off. I had a lot of fear thinking about the wait and I even had to think about what attire to wear! Jacket or no jacket? Singlet or running top? Split shorts or long tights? These were new problems which I had never encountered. Definitely gave me a sleepless night thinking about this “silly” questions.
2. It wasn’t 5 degrees that morning. It was 0.8 degrees! Faintz
However despite all these, I was surprisingly composed and happy. It almost felt like I have never left the world of road racing. I was back in my element. I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t worried about the distance. I was looking forward to the pounding of the road, the pain at mid-way and the lactate at the final 1 km. I was genuinely happy. 
At long last, the gun went off and I started my run. It has been so long since I was able to run together as a pack with other runners. I was enjoying every step I took. But soon, I was dropped off by the lead pack, then the chasing pack and I was again running my own race. I carried on running alone, taking the strong head wind on my own for the remainder ~4km of the race. It was a very hard race not having someone to pace with, not having someone to draft but I was thankful that there were only a couple of people who overtook me. –grins-
As with all my runs, the pain kicked in slightly half way through and I started to count down the kms till I can stop. The only difference this time round: I didn’t question myself why I am putting myself through all these pain. I was happy feeling this discomfort. I was thankful to be able to feel such adrenaline, the pain in the knees, the lactate in the hamstrings and the pounding of my feet hitting the tarmac.
When I took the final turn and crossed the finishing line, I saw my timing on the race clock and I was so stoked with it that I forgot to stop my garmin! 
With about 5 weeks before the race, my coach and I had a discussion and we came to a conclusion that sub 25min will be do-able and we should change the goal to running a sub 24min 5km race. 2 weeks before the race, after a particular workout, we joked about how amazing it will be if I were to run a 22:30 5km. It was such a nonsense that we both laughed it off. To our surprise, I run 21:44 for 5km! Well under the “crazy nonsense” target we joked about. 
Data retrieved from my Garmin 620
Really happy with my ranking! I will consider this a victory for the spinal cord patient! HA!
Often, hindsight is perfect. I still had no idea what exactly went on. But, looking back at my training log, I knew what I did and I would say I must have done everything right in order for the run to unfold in this manner (and that’s why we keep a log). 
There are 4 people who have played crucial roles in making this timing possible. Thank God for placing them in my life. I have learnt so much from them and I “hear” their instructions in my head during my runs, keeping me focus on the agenda of every run. To the athletes who are reading this post, I hope that you do not just do a workout because you are being told to do so. Ask for the reason behind it so that you learn the reason. You will never know when it will come in handy. I often think back about the chats I had with them and a lot of things make sense, allowing me to create a workout that is specific to my needs and to my unique body. 
Increased my mileage
I had a chat with Stewie mid this year and I realized something that was lacking in my training. Mileage. I have been so narrow minded in my training, thinking that as a 1500m runner, I do not need to clock up the miles. After the chat, I started to clock in miles by adding in warm down jogs to make every session an “even numbered session”. Eg, when the workout was 8.8, I will do a 1.2km warm up to get a perfect 10.0km workout in the bank. Slowly, bit by bit, my weekly mileage went up to 50km/week – something that I am quite proud of. My goal is to ultimately hit 70km/week by the end of 2017.
Trust your coach – never back down
Trust your coach. If not, change. It is that simple. I only train with coaches who I trust my life with (quite literally) and I will never bargain for a lighter workout even if it sounds impossible. 
“Do not ask for a lighter load, ask for a stronger back”.
One of the key workouts that made this possible was when I was asked to run my 4 x 1km with 4:30 with 90s rest. At that point in time, I was running ~4:45 and to cut that 15s off seemed so crazy. If I haven’t trusted Grant and if I weren’t crazy enough to say “lets go for it”, I would not have been able to smash through these workouts. Sure my legs felt like jelly, my lungs felt like bursting but I managed to stuck through it and come out stronger. “If it isn’t challenging, you are not training hard enough”. Precisely the case and point.  
absolutely smashed after the run and its totally worth it.
Running mechanics 
Luis gave me precise instructions to help me improve my running mechanics when I was back in Singapore early this year. Till this day I still hear “use your elbows”, “credit card” and most importantly “NO BACK MECHANICS” whenever I run. I remember how he will emphasis on practicing good mechanics even if it was during passive recovery or during warm up/ warm down. Its all about practicing the right mechanics.
Numerous times during the 5km race, I feel my form suffering and I will instantly remind myself “NO BACK MECHANICS”, getting my running form as efficient as possible. Thank you coach for this wonderful knowledge. I will continue to practice!!
Coach, no back mechanics even at finish line right? =)
Every workout has its own agenda
There are times when I will have to smash myself during the workout. Take a spill, or crawl on the floor if need be. But there will be days when it is meant to be E-A-S-Y like a 6:30min/km 10km JOG. There is a perfect cycle to how workouts are supposed to be planned. In fact, I take my slow runs as serious as my intervals. It might feel counter intuitive to do so but at times, it is the slow workout that makes a difference (adding total volume and staying injury free).
I think these are the 4 main points that produced sure an awesome 5km race.
Thank you Asics for keeping me warm in this crazy weather! and of course, for inventing the best racers =)
Thank you for waking up, dropping me off and waiting for me in the cold! Love ya! HUGS
What’s next? By default, a longer road race.
See you at Perth’s biggest road race event, City2Surf’s finishing line. Better not let the spinal cord injury patient catch you *wink* :)

 Written by Zac Leow

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Zac

Sportsman Scientist Husband Victorian

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