Running the first Full Marathon at age 56.

It is 345am. The atmosphere was electrifying. There were about 10,000 runners all waiting for the 4 am flag off. Drones were flying above us frantically taking photographs. I was there standing among all the runners thinking how the heck I got there. I am trying to run my first marathon at 56 years of age. I was apprehensive. A chill went down my spine as I thought of my chances of completing this full marathon. My thoughts went back to the time how I decided to take on this challenge….

I have been running 5 kms for many years. In July 2014 I enrolled to run the Mahkota Charity Run. The distance was 10km. In preparation for this run I ran more often and did more 10km road runs. The Mahkota Charity Run was held on the 21st of September 2014 and it was a good run. I finished it in 1hr 13mins.

Running the Mahkota Charity Run 2014

The organisers of this Charity run was “Malacca Skyhawk Marathon” . This group consists of very good marathon runners who regularly run at 545 am on Sunday mornings at Bukit Katil, Melaka. They are also the organiser of a yearly Half Marathon called the “Skyhawk Nature Run”. I enrolled for this event. In preparation for this run, I joined the SkyHawk marathoners on their Sunday morning runs.

My first practice run with them was a 15 km run on the 5th September 2014. It took me 1 hr 45 mins and it was a difficult run. Dr. Liau Kok Keon an ardent marathon runner took me on their route through villages (kampungs) at Tehel and Ayer Molek. Subsequently I became familiar with this route. I ran 12 to 21 km practice runs with the group on many Sundays.

Practice Run on a Sunday morning

I took part in my first Half marathon in January 2015. I did well on this run and managed to complete the half marathon in 2 hours 40mins.

Flag off at the 2015 Skyhawk Nature Run -21 km

Finishing the Half Marathon

A good book for beginners

2 weeks later I took part in another half marathon in Muar called the Muar Strong Man Challenge. In preparation for this half marathon I bought a new pair of shoes and ran in it. Only later after reading a book on marathon running for beginners, I realised that one should never run a race with a new pair of shoes.

After this run I developed a pain, which was radiating down the lateral aspect of my left thigh to my left knee and calf. I got worried that I might have a slipped a disk and decided to stop all intensive training. Slowly the pain became less intense. As the pain lessened, I continued running 10km and 15km on Sunday mornings.

I enrolled again for the 2016 Skyhawk Nature Run (half marathon) in January 2016. 1 week before this half marathon I was in the United Kingdom. I did not run at all for 2 weeks before this run. I had a running nose and a very bad jet lag. On the morning of the run with only 3 hours of sleep I had to pull myself out of bed. My body was telling me to go back to sleep but my mind said to get up and go run this half marathon. I did run but after 8km my body gave up and I walked the rest of the distance. I managed to finish the run in 3 hours 30mins.

In to get motivated and to attain peer pressure to continue running, I decided to post all my runs on instagram and facebook. It was a good move as the encouragement I received from my facebook friends pushed me to train harder.

In March 2016, the College in which my children are studying in the UK, invited me to participate in a Londan Half Marathon Charity Run. Having been in London many times and worked in the UK for 1 year, I thought it was a good opportunity for me to run along all the interesting sites of London. I registered with Just Giving a charity organisation and started collecting donations for UNICEF UK. Having placed my name for this half marathon I decided to be more serious in my practises.

Attire for my early morning practice runs

My running mates at Skyhawk Marathon encouraged me to also register for the Standard Chartered Full Marathon on the 7th August 2016. Reluctantly, I registered only to panic whether I could complete the distance. My aim was to push myself to train harder so that I can enjoy the London half marathon. I intensified my practice runs doing more half marathon practice runs on Sundays. While attending meetings overseas, I also ran. I ran along the Danube in Vienna and also in Helsinki.

Run along the Danube river in Vienna

As the days of the full marathon approached,the panic intensified. I developed a pain in my left knee and I had to use supports for my left knee and both my ankles during practice runs.

During the week of the marathon I was very busy. My operating lists were long and tiring. On Saturday 6th I drove to KL and booked a room at the Ancasa Hotel and Spa. My wife and children came along. I walked to Dataran Merdeka to see how it is going to be. I visualised myself crossing the finish line after running 42 km. Again, I did not feel confident that I could complete the 42km. I took some photographs and returned to the hotel.

Apprehensice the day before the Full Marathon

The plan is to sleep early and wake up at 3 am for the 4 am run. I had dinner in the room and tried to sleep but the anxiety kept me awake till nearly 11pm. I felt I had just fallen asleep and the alarm rang and it is time to get up. I washed up, had a coffee and a bite of a curry puff and went down to meet my running mates from Skyhawk and we walked to Dataran Merdeka.

I was in Pen 4 the slowest of the lot and we were far behind the elite runners. I tried stretching and tried very hard to stay calm. The national anthem played and we all sang.

With a colleague Dr. Liau just before flag-off

At 4 am we were flagged off. There were so many runners that it took 8 mins for me to cross the starting point. I activated my Garmin watch and my Nike plus and listened to the audiobook “How Google works”. I also looked at the route trying to figure out all the KL buildings. For the first 8 km, I was comfortable running at a pace on 6.8 and drinking at every water station. There were water stations every 2 km providing water and 100 plus. My plan was to continue running except when there is a steep slope. I will walk on these slopes to conserve my energy.

At 15 km I walked up a steep slope and then continued running. I did run well until the 21st km at a pace of about 7.3. I crossed the 21st km at about 2hrs 30mins.

Then the pain slowly started. At first it was my left knee then both the ankles especially by Achilles tendons. Up to 30km I was still running.

At the 30Km mark

There were several medical stations along the run, but when I approached them they had run out of sprays. After the 30km, the pain in my ankles were unbearable. I knew that if I continue running I may injure my ankles so I decided to just brisk walk. I placed Salonplas plasters (must carry more the next time) on my ankles and felt better and continued with my brisk walk, counting down the kilometres as I pass them by. 35 km was tough because of the high slopes and still managed to walk comfortably. I saw a few runners on the ground with cramps and a man was taken on a stretcher into an ambulance.

I wanted to try to finish the race by 6 hours and tried to follow the 6hr pacers but could not and let them pass me by.

As the finishing line approached there were more people encouraging us to run. I started running again at the last 1 km mark. The sun was already blazing as it was just past 10 am. I crossed the finish line at 6 hours 15 mins. My legs were tired but surprisingly I felt all right.

At the finishing line

I picked up my finisher’s medal and T-shirt.

Full Marathon Finisher

Although I felt that I have accomplished something but I still felt a little depressed when I heard my running mates, all, finishing in good time. The competitor in me felt envious.

My left knee and both my ankles were in excruciating pain and I could not walk well. Fortunately I did not have any cramps. I looked around and I could not recognise anyone so I walked back to the hotel.

Back in the Hotel

I had another cup of coffee and some curry puffs. I bath and we left at 1215 pm back to Melaka. Before the run I was worried that I will be so drained of energy that I not be able to drive but I managed to drive us back to Melaka. I had lunch and came to the hospital to do my rounds. The pain was lesser and I could walk better.

Now I am a marathoner, having completed my first full marathon. Although I feel shy, at the duration I took to finish it, nevertheless it is still an accomplishment, something that I would have never thought I would do just 2 years ago. If I am going to do better in the future I need to strengthen my knees and ankles with appropriate exercises. My wife of course told me that I am an old man and I should stop running marathons. Lets see….



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Dr. Selva

Dr. Selva

Dr S. Selva (Sevellaraja Supermaniam) is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and a subspecialist in Reproductive Medicine at a private hospital in Melaka, Malaysia. He heads the O&G unit and the IVF Centre at the hospital.

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