Run, Shonak, run!

My journey preparing for a marathon

Running for the first time during the first COVID lockdown proved to be transformative to my physical fitness. It became a staple in my weekly exercise routine – in fact, I can’t recall skipping a week in over a year. The rush and high at the end became quite addictive.

I was quite content running my weekly 5K/10Ks, quietly setting a new personal best week after week. That was until two things happened:

  1. My manager mentioned he was going to have a shot at running a full marathon the Richmond Runfest in September 2021.
  2. I was reading David Goggins’s Can’t Hurt me, a book about his astonishing journey to becoming an ultramarathon athlete

Feeling inspired, and thinking that I’d never reach the peak in fitness in my life again with the return to the office inevitable, I took this opportunity to sign up to the marathon. The only problem? It was June, which left me with little over 2 months to prepare.

Here’s a few reflections about how it went.


The word ‘preparation’ perhaps overstates how much I actually prepared for the marathon.

The reality was that I followed no formal training plan. My make-it-up-as-I-go plan was to make a habit of building up mileage consistently and rapidly for 4 weeks starting from my casual once-a-week 5K, and then dialling back gently for the final 3 weeks before the marathon.

My general routine each week looked like:

  • One long run
  • On medium paced ‘tempo’ run
  • 5k / fast / hill runs

Mixing up the routine was important to build up both endurance and strength, but also stopped things getting monotonous.

My training was split between my London and Milton Keynes homes, mostly along the same 5K circuit that I had for the past 18 months. I felt it was better to stick with what I knew best and avoiding traffic. There was one exception where I ran across Milton Keynes and collapsed in a heap half way back, but that was my fault for not carrying much water with me.

I had to get out of the mindset of running faster, as I’d been doing for months prior. It was important to maintain discipline to run a negative split – that is, starting slowly and gradually building up pace across the distance. The Strava app was immensely helpful for carefully track my pace and distance.

One unorthodox approach to my training was that I would run almost exclusively during late night hours – often crossing midnight. Now, I’m a night owl, but this was extreme even by my standards. I found it more pleasant as the weather was cooler with much less traffic and fewer people to navigate around. It was probably also a consequence of spending the whole day procrastinating and delaying the inevitable.

Physically I felt little discomfort during training. Starting from a strong base of running over the course of a year was very helpful: my joints were already primed for the constant pavement pounding. That said, each night I’d try to spend 30 minutes stretching to loosen up the legs, occasionally singing along to some soft music or incorporating some online yoga.

Ramping up the distance during training called for taking on fluids and gels to top-up my energy reserves. Typically, I would consume one energy gel every 45 minutes and one energy drink every 90 minutes. I’m not going to recommend consuming the energy gels recreationally – it’s a snack fit for a spaceman – but they do the job.

One negative side effect of the running was becoming quite irritable. In retrospect I wasn’t consuming enough calories and the late night running was wreaking havoc with my sleep. The looming race date was creeping up quickly which added more pressure.

Just 3 weeks before the marathon, I reached my peak distance at 20 miles, 6 miles short of the eventual race distance. I remember being a total wreck after this run, almost immobile for the rest of the evening with my legs feeling like jelly.

For the most part, the last week of my preparation was quite tame. No running, and little other exercise – just light stretching each night.

From two nights prior the marathon, I started to ‘carb load’ on starchy, wholemeal carbohydrates maximise my energy reserves. My dinners were full of plain sweet potato; pasta and brown rice. The final night before the big day, I ran a gentle 4K shakedown run at my target marathon pace, just to gently warm the muscles up and prepare them for the following day.

Race day

I woke up bright and early that morning, Sunday 12th September 2021. Breakfast was light, with just a couple of bananas and a single slice of toast & peanut butter.

For the final time, I put on my trusty Nike Vaporfly shoes, now heavily worn through h 300KM+ of training mileage. I deliberately didn’t want to make life easy by buying a new pair, but weren’t in too bad nick anyway.

My Uber whisked me through sleepy south London to arrive at Kew Gardens at 5:30 AM, it appears I was a bit too eager as I arrived to an empty meeting point, initially wondering if the race was still going ahead. I was left to admire the riverside view on a beautiful sunny morning, not too cold or warm. Just perfect.

As the other participants trickled in, I started to feel a little nervous. I was looking around at people who seemed like they were there for a casual morning run (not all were doing a full marathon, mind you).  And then, without much fanfare, the queue of runners started to disappear as I crossed the start line to settle in for the long path ahead.


Snaking through Kew Gardens at 8AM was a pleasure, if a little crowded running through the beautiful gardens that we all know and love. The main challenge was trying to find some space for the first 5KM without colliding into anyone, as there was quite a pack of us.

After then, it was just about settling into a rhythm – keeping an eye on my phone to hold a steady 5:19 km pace. It was easy to try and keep up with others, but I had to keep the discipline to stay on my target pace to see me through.

My brother Nishay came to pass me a much needed bottle of Lucozade at Kingston Bridge, about 10 miles in and again on the return pass at 20 miles. There were drinks stations every kilometre or so but I found it quite a hassle to grab the drink and sip it without stopping and spilling most of it.

Heading south west along the river Thames along the fantastic Thames Path was a joy. The beautiful river scenery was a welcome change from the boring route at home. There were plenty of people alongside the course cheering the runners on.

Another view ahead of me for the last 10 miles was the view of a man’s well sculpted calves, us both seemingly on an identical pace. I can’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Paul.

At the 20 mile mark,  my earphones battery died. Without the motivational music to listen to, I had to conjure up all my own determination. I’d entered uncharted territory. My legs started to feel especially heavy, more so than at any point during training. The mile markers seemed to take longer and longer to arrive, to the point where I felt that someone had even removed them!

It was in the last 3 miles or so that I struck up some conversation with Paul. It was a helpful distraction from the increasing stiffness in my legs. Most of our small talk went over my head – all I can remember is him following his sister’s footsteps to run a marathon.

The last half mile was chaotic. Approaching Richmond riverside there were crowds of locals and tourists that became unwanted obstacles. We even briefly ran down the wrong path. At this point I was just running on inertia knowing that it wouldn’t be possible to resume once stopping. Even Paul – who I’d followed for the past 2 hours – disappeared from view behind me.

As the finish line came into view, the heavy feelings of the legs temporarily subsided (despite the grimace on my face!) as I saw some familiar faces near the finish line. I can’t recall my immediate feeling after crossing the finish line – just a sense of relief.

















After receiving a medal and wearily posed for a photo, I fell to my knees on the cool-down area beside the finish line. I stayed on the ground for about 30 mins surrounded by family and friends. My legs felt totally numb.

Luckily the pain was short-lived I was mostly back to normal by the late afternoon, and even had enough energy left to help my flatmate move out that evening.

Hanging up the boots

Overall the run became a little painful towards the end, but not as terrible as I feared. It was an achievement but I didn’t feel like celebrating, somehow. I didn’t have a particular time in mind, but extrapolating my training times I was hoping for a 3 hours, 45 minutes finish time. My final time was 3 hours 52 minutes, so not quite reaching my goal but a good achievement nonetheless.

Running a marathon has little to do with physical ability, but rather absolute self-discipline towards achieving a goal. Almost anyone can do this at any age. It’s a discipline of training: crossing the finish line is like finishing a 200km race broken over many weeks. I surprised myself that I prepared in a matter of weeks for a marathon without any injury, but having a solid base of running over 18 months beforehand probably helped.

I didn’t plan my training very formally, but many would benefit from downloading a training plan template and sticking to it. For me, I just pushed myself a little further every week with more mileage and longer runs, paying close attention to how my body was feeling throughout.

Running for me is now a recreational hobby – no longer a competition. I don’t have any other goal in mind other than to retain a reasonable level of fitness. Running to my favourite music still gives me a real kick in my day, but I highly doubt I’ll muster the effort, time and patience to attempt another marathon again.

Above all, I’ve learned that our bodies are much more capable than what we realise. With a healthy dose of determination, self-confidence and discipline to show up daily for training, achievements like these are in reach of everyone.


Training log

T – X Weeks Distance Time Pace (/km) Note
6 10 KM 48:52 4:53 First serious training effort; first of many late night run
6 17.39 KM 1:31:00 5:17 Horribly messy route around Blackheath
-5 5 KM 21:00 4:12
5 10.94 KM 53:15 4:52 First of many late night runs
5 21.39 KM 1:52:40 5:16 First half marathon distance very very late at night
4 10 KM 45:25 4:32 My personal best 10K time.
4 1.62 KM 5:57 3:40 My personal best 1 mile time.
4 18.00 KM 1:28:45 4:56
4 24.14 KM 1:55:02 4:46 A bit too fast, ran across MK and half way back before hitting the wall and collapsing in a heap.
3 16:28 KM 1:22:24 5:04
3 1.61 KM 5:59 3:41  Tried 3 times, have no idea what incentivised me to go through this nightmare
3 32.34 KM 2:47:55 5:11 Longest run during training, 6.5x MK 5KM route
2 5.00 KM 20:18 4:04 My personal best 5K time
2 6.79 KM 31:37 4:39
2 25.28 2:13:11 5:16
1 11.28 KM 52:01 4:37
1 21.19 KM 1:46:35 5:02 Midnight half marathon in Blackheath
0 4.11 KM 21:53 5:19 Shakedown
Race day 43.91 KM 3:53:34 5:19


Marathon summary

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