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Training tips

Ms. Sylvia LAM
Accredited Practicing Dietitian (Australia)
Chairlady, Hong Kong Dietitians Association

A balanced vegetarian meal works just as well as a normal meal with meat for long distance runners. Most importantly, balancing different nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, fat, iron, calcium and B12 is essential. As Marathon running is exceptionally energy demanding, runners would need an extra 30-70% of energy compared to an ordinary person; carbohydrates, proteins and iron are major sources of energy. Since energy density is usually lower for vegetarian meal, athletes should pay attention to the amount of consumption and get enough energy before practice and the race.

Suggested Nutrient Distribution:

Carbohydrates: 60-65% / 7 – 10 grams of carbohydrates per kg body weight

Sources: Rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits, breakfast cereals, fruits juices, dried fruits.

Protein: 1.3 – 1.8 grams per kg body weight

Sources: Tofu, tofu burger, soy chicken, nuts, soy milk, dried beans, bean curd, hummus(eggs and milk if they are ovo-lacto vegetarian)

Iron: 70-90 mg each day.

Sources: Dark Green vegetables, dried fruits and nuts. The absorption rate for the vegetable iron at 2 to 20% is relatively low. Vitamin C helps facilitate the absorption of iron. Having fruits such as oranges, strawberries, kiwi fruits and guavas after meals are great sources to replenish Vitamin C in your system.

While many runners would usually prepare bananas or energy jelly as supplements, sports drinks, jelly beans, dried cranberries, and raisins can work as well.

Calorie consumption is huge for athletes, so is the demand for nutrients in comparison to ordinary persons. If runners are vegans, it is possible that they could also lack certain nutrients. Therefore when choosing what foods to eat it is important to take extra consideration on your level of calorie intake and nutrient distribution. This could help better prepare your physical condition prior to the Marathon.

Ms. Sylvia LAM
Accredited Practicing Dietitian (Australia)
Chairlady, Hong Kong Dietitians Association

Weight gain during Christmas is also a big concern for people, especially for marathon runners. A gain of few pounds or two can greatly affect their performance. A study in UK showed that people usually gain 2 kg over Christmas, so marathon runners have to be extra careful when choosing their foods during this festive season.

Christmas foods always have a bad reputation of being unhealthy as they are often cooked in a lot of sugar, butter, and cream. But when you take a close look at some of the Christmas foods ingredients, they actually provide great health benefits. Besides, healthy cooking methods such as grilling, roasting, poaching, and steaming should be used when making Christmas dishes, so people can still enjoy healthy eating during the festive season.

Potatoes, carrots and pumpkin – A good energy source for runners
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and pumpkin are often used as side dishes during Christmas. They are low in fat and loaded with complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Steaming, poaching and roasting are healthy cooking method for starchy vegetables as very little oil is use. Avoid glazing or deep-frying as it would increase sugar and fats intake respectively.

Turkey – the leanest protein of all for runners
Turkey is a good high quality protein source. A palm-size piece of turkey provides only 134 kcal with 25 grams of protein with only 3 grams of fat. It is also a very good source of zinc and selenium. Adequate intake of zinc increases immunity and helps the body to fight infection during winter; while selenium which is a strong antioxidant, can reduce cancer risk. When eating turkey, one should remember to remove the skin and choose more turkey breast as it is lower in fat. Marathon runners can choose turkey as a good protein source during the festive season.

Chocolates – A substitute for power bar
Chocolate or cocoa contains abundant of flavonoid, especially in dark chocolate, which scientific studies show that moderate intake can help reduce “bad cholesterol” and prevent artery blockage. Chocolate could also boost your serotonin level which makes you happy. If you want to take a break from having a power bar at training during Christmas season, now it’s time to indulge in chocolate before training as chocolate is also a low glycemic index foods which is also good for endurance exercise.

Alcohol – drink in moderation
Don’t’ forget that alcoholic beverages are packed with calories which people often overlooked. 150 ml of wine already provides 130 kcal (similar to a can of soft drink). Cocktails with added fruit juices, syrups and coconut milk are even worse. A glass of Pina Colada can go up to 400 kcal per serving. Not only excessive alcohol intake can put a few pounds on you, but also dehydrates the body. If you decide to drink during Christmas, make sure that you should not exceed 1 – 2 drinks per occasion, and drink a lot of water to prevent your body from dehydration.

Other lifestyle tips at Christmas for Marathon Runners:
1. Do not try to save calories by skipping meals. Maintaining a solid meal plan throughout the day will keep you from getting too hungry and eating too much in parties or gatherings.
2. Keep training during your holiday. Don’t’ give yourself any excuses.
3. Keep a food diary to monitor your intake.
4. Weigh yourself every day so to prevent/monitor significant weight gain.
5. Learn to say “No” to foods or drinks if you think you already have too much.
6. Plan ahead and maintain a healthy eating during holiday seasons.

Dr. Wong Bun Lap, Bernard
Specialist in Cardiology

It is common that every year in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, there are runners who want to compete with others, or challenge their personal best. Actively keeping track of your heart rate is the indicator of setting the intensity of a runner’s training. Runners should first calculate their maximum heart rate (i.e.220 – your age). It is suggested that beginners should keep the intensity of training at a level which your heart rate equals to 80% of their maximum heart rate during training, and gradually increase the intensity at a later phase. For amateur runners who train three to four days a week, it would be very good for their bodies if their heart rates reach 65-80% of the maximum. This could lower the chance of having heart diseases and strokes by 20-30% and the chance of having cancer by 40-50% respectively.

Rest and Recovery Run
Although rest is essential to training, runners should not sit down and rest immediately after finishing a long distance run or speed training. Leg and core muscles still remain in an intense state which could lead to the accumulation of lactic acid. Runners can do some stretching or even have a slow-walk of about 1-2km to warm down. This will also help to remove the toxins in your muscles, and regulate your heart rate from a high level (80% of our maximum heart rate or above) to an aerobic level (65%), until it further drops to the resting heart rate.

The best time to go for a recovery run would be one to two days after your long distance run; the ideal distance being less than 10km. While on a recovery run, jog at a speed that you feel comfortable with. The aim of the recovery run is to remove the lactic acid accumulated in your body and restore the normal mechanisms of your muscles.

Recovery of Your Achilles Tendon
Runners who have joined the full marathon race could likely accumulate a total mileage of up to 80km of training per week. It is normal that muscle pain could appear as a post-training symptom. As a result, runners should not ignore the warning signals from their ligaments and leg muscles. After running, ligaments and muscles could be torn or damaged to a certain extent after each long distance run. Therefore the speed of recovery for the torn ligament takes approximately one week, if collaborated with the appropriate stretching and recovery training.  Once used to the intensity, runners can gradually adapt to higher intensity training and manage to deal with a longer distance at a faster speed. If you still feel difficulty walking and the pain becomes unbearable it also could be a sign of muscle strain. In this case, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible for medical treatment.

Dr. Simon Yeung
Associate Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences
Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Many runners have experienced side stitches; the pain that strikes during exercise often named as exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP). Causes for side stitches are to be found, but most theories focused on four reasons:

    1) Diaphragmatic Ischemia;
    2) Diaphragmatic cramp;
    3) Visceral ligament stress; and
    4) Parietal peritoneum irritation.

The abdomen houses most of the vital organs. They are linked with visceral ligaments, abdominal peritoneum and nerves. Any frequent stimulation would cause irritation. Side stitches during running is common, it may be caused by the upward and downward movements of the diaphragm as you breathe. When beginners start to increase their training intensity, the accelerating pace would lead to greater movements of the diaphragm. If your diaphragm fails to adapt to the increased load, diaphragmatic ischemia or diaphragmatic cramp may occur. For beginners, mastering the breathing techniques is of prior importance. The movements of the diaphragm and the shocks created when your legs strike on the ground would be stressing the visceral ligaments, resulting in stabbing pains. Breathing tempo should be adjusted to lessen the stimulations. The main functions of the parietal peritoneum, in which nerve tissues are widely spread, are to provide lubrication and protection for internal organs. Any actions that increase the friction between the parietal peritoneum and the organs would stimulate the nerves and causing pain. As a result, we recommend a 3-hour grace period between meals and high intensity exercise, avoiding high-sugar beverages before training could also decrease the workload of the digestive system that create frictions between abdominal peritoneum and the organs.

Ways to eliminate side stitches
No matter what reasons caused side stitches during running, ways to relieve pains are similar. The first thing that runners could do is to slow down the running speed or even walk, press on the area with pain and lean forward. Try to have full and deep breathing; adjust the breathing tempo. The pain will be relieved and dismissed. For proper breathing techniques, please refer to: http://www.hkmarathon.com/Training/Training_Tips/Breathing_tempo_s4_p17194.htm

In the long term, sustained training, regular eating habits and having sports drinks are the most efficient ways to prevent side stitches. Increase the strength and speed of training progressively, utilize your deep muscles to control the breathing. This would help runners to maintain posture, lowering the consumption of energy and chances of injury. These are specifically important to runners preparing for the marathon. If you suffer from side stitches recurrently, or the pain sustained or even intensified after stopping training, consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Dr. Wong Bun Lap
Specialist in Cardiology

Many long-distance runners have experienced in the midst of a race sudden diarrhea, i.e. IBS - Irritable bowel syndrome. Using the toilet during the race, will not only affect the runner’s pace and finishing time but may force runners to quit and thus wasting the training effort endured over the past few months. To prevent this from happening, runners should firstly understand the two major causes of mid-race diarrhea.

Psychological Factors:
Since our digestive system is controlled by autonomic nerves, the muscles of our stomach will become tense once the feeling of nervousness is felt which triggers the feeling of having diarrhea. If runners can adjust their mood and mentality in a race to keep calm, the chances of having diarrhea will be greatly lowered. Try to enjoy the scenery along the race course or even run with friends to reduce the psychological stress. These tips can effectively help prevent having IBS.

Physiological Effects:
Runners who have a sensitive stomach should reduce the amount of fiber-rich foods in their diet before the race. Fibers stimulate peristalsis of the intestines and accelerate defecation, causing the occurrence of diarrhea. Thus runners should be extra careful when selecting their food before the race. Avoid irritating food; for example food which is too cold, too hot, over-seasoned or even drinking coffee and tea which contains caffeine that stimulates bowel movements.

How to Deal with IBS during a Race:
If you suddenly feel like having a stomachache in the middle of the race, first of all, relax and try to maintain a good mood. Divert your attention from the pain of having diarrhea, do not worry, most runners can still continue the race after going to the toilet. However, if you have to stop at each mobile toilet along the course you should consider giving up the race. Since having diarrhea and keeping up consistently high amounts of exercise at the same time could lead to dehydration. If diarrhea persists, you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

Subsequently IBS can be controlled through medication nowadays. Runners are advised to conduct a pre-race self-assessment. If you often have syndromes of stomachache or diarrhea due to nervousness, you should consult a doctor before the race.

Dr Simon Yeung
Associate Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences,
Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Race day preparation checklist

  • Prepare your gear the night before - The start time of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon is quite early, so get organized early.
  • In the morning check your gear a final time and the weather forecast too!
  • Check whether you have pinned your bib and time chip to your running shirt.
  • Have you brought your water, sports drinks and energy supplement packages for marathon?
  • It is suggested that runners apply Vaseline on the surface of body parts that could be rubbed during your run causing blisters or soreness e.g. heels, toes, chest and inside your thighs. Avoid wearing new running shoes and new sports gears on race day.
  • Check the inside of your running shoes to see if there are any grains of sand or stones. Choosing running gear is also dependent on weather condition on race day so a different running gear may be needed for certain running conditions; The most commonly used gears are running shirts, shirts and socks and shoes. Shirts made out of polyester or synthetic materials remain more suitable since they are light, can dry quickly and allow fast heat loss.
  • Make sure you do not choose running shorts that could hinder the movement of your legs.
  • Running socks are an important gear to avoid the development of blisters on your feet thus they be light and seamless, fit the shape of your feet, sweat-relieving and shock-absorbing at appropriate spots.
  • Do not wear old socks with bits of yarn or a bur pilling during the race as these old socks may hurt your feet due to intense friction.
  • It is important for runners to keep their body warm before and during the race since muscle flexibility decreases with temperature, otherwise it may affect the running performance and increase the chances of getting hurt.
  • If the weather is cold, runners should prepare extra clothes, hat and gloves to keep warm;
  • If the weather is hot, runners may need a visor or sunglasses. A sunscreen visor can absorb sweat and block UV lights. It should be made out of light and quick-drying material.
  • Sunglasses should also be light and able to block UV lights; polarised lens are more preferable as it will reduce flare.
Mr. Chan Ka Ho
Experienced Local Long-Distance Runner

A little more than one month to go until the race day, all runners participating in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2014 should have reached their maximum in terms of physical strength and training. If you wish to have a more impressive result, the mental quality should not be overlooked. Proper mental rehearsal could help runners plan for the consumption of energy more efficiently. Race planning is particularly important to marathon and half marathon runners. For amateur runners, running uphill is the most exhausting part. Runners should adjust their race plan according to their own strengths and weaknesses, so as to accomplish the target in a comfortable pace.

Methods for mental rehearsal:
The course for the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon is mostly along the highways and driveways. Though it is impossible to perform field tests, runners could drive or ride on public transport to check the actual road conditions and the surrounding environment. If you could not visit the sites in person, search related videos or photos online to get yourself prepared with the slopes, turning points and water stations. Plan your pacing, energy allocation and utilization of the supplements, such as power gel and water; these would minimize the potential stress on race day.

Tips for race routes:

10km Race
The initial section at the Island Eastern Corridor going to Shau Kei Wan is a gentle downhill. It is a relatively easy sectionand most runners would have a faster pace for the first 5km than the latter 5km. After the turning point, it becomes a slight uphill and runners should pay attention to maintain their average pacing. Save energy for the last 1km where there will be a 200-meter uphill slope before reaching the finish line.

Half Marathon and Marathon:
The most challenging part for the two races is the last 10km at the Western Harbour Tunnel. Runners will keep going downhill starting from West Kowloon Highway, until entering the Western Harbour Tunnel. It becomes a continuous 1km uphill from Western Harbour Tunnel to Connaught Road West (the 33km section for Marathon), which is the steepest uphill in the entire racing route. Runners should be psychologically prepared to cope with the uphill while your physical strength is declining. Shorter steps are recommended to tackle this inclining slope.

Mr. Chan Ka Ho
Experienced Local Long-Distance Runner

A determined mind for endurance is essential for runners completing a marathon race. While on the other hand, it is also very important to have sufficient rest and proper recovery exercise after the race too. Not only can it lower the risk of injury, but it can also quickly eliminate fatigue. Having a suitable post-race meal and moderate jogging will also help for future races and facilitate the body’s recovery.

Do not stop immediately after the race, no matter how tired you are or how hard it is to lift your legs, you must keep walking. Runners should have full-body stretching after the race, in order to relax the muscles of your entire body. Runners may consider using massage cream while massaging their legs, as it can speed up blood circulation and ease muscle pain after the race.

Runners should take lots of good rest and relish the enjoyment of finishing the race. While resting, do more leg stretching exercises and let the fatigued muscles relax. The week after, you may begin a recovery run of around 20 to 30 minutes. Continue with the recovery run every day and keep it at a moderate speed of around 3 km for every 20 minutes. Low intensity cross training can be an option for recovery training. Do not drop out of training just because you are lazy or you think your body needs to rest. Jogging can enhance blood circulation and bring away the lactic acid accumulated in your body, as well as the fatigue feeling.

Besides recovery training, runners should watch their diet simultaneously, especially those who participated in a full marathon. All the glycogen stored in your body will be used up by the time you finish the race, therefore, runners should replace the loss of fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates and proteins by eating and drinking well. As for replenishing food and drinks, bananas are a good alternative to sports drinks. A single banana can provide around 100 calories and a rich supply of starch and electrolytes like potassium which can replenish what you have lost during the race.

Dr. Gary Mak
Specialist in Cardiology
President, Hong Kong Association of Sports Medicine and Sports Science

After the long Christmas and New Year holidays, runners should increase their exercise, diet and sleeping pattern discipline in order to prepare for the race in 1 months’ time.

Adjustment in Training

At this stage, full marathon runners can have a 32km or above long distance training and run with full capacity racing speed. While training volume should be reduced in the following 2-3 weeks to allow the body to be prepared for the challenge on race day. Runners should continue their ongoing running schedule as planned and add in interval cross training to maintain the cardiopulmonary function while avoiding excessive training to the muscles used for running.

Diet and Sleeping Pattern

It is time for runners to adjust their biological clock in a progressive manner and adapt to the time of the race; on the Standard Chartered Marathon race day, the first batch of runners set off at 5:30am. Runners who usually practice at night, should adjust their bedtimes starting from weekends or holidays and switch to morning practices.

It is important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet; runners should be careful with the intake of carbohydrates, protein and fat proportions. Stimulants like excessive alcohol and cigarette smoking should be avoided.

Please refer to, for more training related diet tips by Miss Sylvia Lam, our Team Marathon Expert.

Personal Assessment before Race

Marathon race is a high intensity competitive sports that demands a high level of cardiovascular fitness. You should therefore know your body before you participate. In the past few years, the number of amateur participants increased. Many of these amateur runners were over 40 years of age and have significant cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, history of heart disease or stroke. The recommended self-assessment questionnaire and the 4 steps medical evaluation by doctors are especially helpful in these high risk individuals.

While soft heart murmur are common in athletes, prominent murmur demand further medical assessment with echocardiogram.

Performing high intensity exercise during viral infections (such as “flu” or diarrhea) might prompt them to develop acute myocarditis which can lead to very serious consequences. One should therefore skip trainingand not to race when they are not feeling well, especially if they are having a fever.

To avoid excessive stress related to the element of competing, leisure marathon runners should keep a constant pace and enjoy the run rather than focusing on the finishing time and position.

Ms. Alison Chow
Hong Kong Marathon Team Representative


Counting down to the last 3 weeks before race day, marathon runners should have finished their last practice - 35-38 km long distance race. Upon completion of the practice race, you may easily predict your own speed level and physical condition. In the coming two to three weeks, runners should reduce their training intensity gradually. The purpose for this is to keep up the best condition for race day. Try to run with friends and stay relaxed to get comfortable before the race.

Five Pointers You Need to Know

  1. Importance of Light and Convenient Clothing

  2. Running for a marathon is a high intensity and long durational sport. The heavier you load the more energy you consume therefore the longer your race time is likely to be. For example, the weight of a pair of sports sunglasses could add an extra minute to your finishing time. Pay attention to the weather on race day, decide on the appropriate running gear and avoid unnecessary accessories.
  3. Trim your Toenails

  4. Remember to trim your toenails a few days before the race. Running creates friction between your toes and running shoes. If your toenails are too long, you might bleed while on the other hand if your toenails are too short, pain may occur due to the pressure; all these conditions will affect your performance.
  5. Impact of Humidity

  6. The temperature and humidity will add variables to a runners’ race planning. If the relative humidity exceeds 70%, runners should plan to a more reserved target time and add an extra 5 to 10 seconds to average target pace.
  7. Visit the Washroom before the Race

  8. It could take 3 to 5 hours to finish a marathon. Since runners can sweat heavily during the race, they are still advised to visit the washroom before the race starts. This would save time in the race and lessen the psychological pressure of seeking for toilets.
  9. Run in an Inside of the Bands on the Race Route

  10. Finishing a 42.195-km run is a huge challenge to your physical capability. Any extra step will cause a burden to runners, and any step saved will benefit. A good tip is run in an inside of the bands on the race route to minimize energy consumption.
Dr. Simon Yeung
Associate Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences,
Hong Kong Polytechnic University

It is important for runners to begin their preparation for the marathon race with accumulated running mileage so as to build the foundation for long-term, progressive training. However, if you want to perform your best on race day, the key to success is pre-race deployment. Firstly, runners need to know how to distribute their running strength in different phases of the race, to avoid exhaustion and retirement at the latter stage. Thus, speed distribution is the first thing that runners need to learn.

Speed distribution refers to the approximate running speed per kilometer. Amateur runners or those who are joining the marathon for the first time should start with a speed of 5% slower than that of the first 3 to 5 km of your normal training. For example, if your predicted speed is 6 min/km, it is most likely that you will finish a full marathon race in about 4 hours 13 minutes, so the actual speed for the 3 to 5 km should be 6 minutes 18 seconds. The speed will rapidly burn fat and retain carbohydrates for consumption at later stages. If you are comfortable after the first 3 to 5 km, then you can gradually increase the speed to your original or expected speed. The emphasis is to run at a relaxed speed for the first 10 or more km.

Mr. Fung Ying Ki
Winner of Wheelchair Half Marathon
Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2013

Regular wheelchairs are different from racing wheelchairs in terms of appearance, speed and steering. Wheelchair athletes should have an accredited racing chair especially for 10km race; the wheelchair should have two large wheels and one small wheel.

Regular Training
Wheelchair athletes need to squat and lean forward to control the direction of the racing chair which relies on friction to accelerate. Most wheelchair marathoners will use a training roller for regular training but gym use is also recommended for exercising core muscles and arm muscles for marathoners practicing their continuous pushing technique. There are slopes on both the 3km and 10km wheelchair race; athletes should not forget to train on ramps. While training on outdoor slopes is a good choice, and adding 2-3 KG of weight to their racing chair to achieve the same training results as going uphill.
The race route comprises of pavements and driveways therefore wheelchair athletes should pay extra attention on connecting road surfaces and drainage trenches.
The speed of the racing chairs could be as high as 20 km per hour. Maintaining that speed on uphill slopes requires more energy therefore wheelchair athletes should utilize extra energy to speed up the slope and then rest when going downhill.

Recommendations for training routes
A round trip between Fo Tan and Tai Po measures about 20km. For a shorter course, a good route would be a round trip between the Hong Kong Science Park and Tai Po, which totals 7km, but you would have to pay attention to cyclists and pedestrians. A single trip around Tung Chung and Disneyland exceeding 23km is suitable for long distance training as it also has flat road surfaces, some ramps and less pedestrians.

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