Han Quach: My Marathon Journey

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Running has had a profound influence on my life for the better. Running has been a part of my life since my childhood. It has been an emotional journey for me with many highs and lows. The highs have been exhilarating and at times surprising. The lows have been disappointing and have brought me back down to earth. Despite the lows, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. The lows have taught me to appreciate the highs. Running is an ongoing learning process to self-improvement.

I love running. Most people think that running is monotonous and repetitive. Perhaps it is if you look at it simplistically as an outsider. Running is an art to me. I was born to run. Every step I take is a step towards perfecting my craft and in achieving my goals. Training is a refinement of my running by listening, looking, feeling and preparing to perfect my next performance, to push the boundaries beyond my belief and to challenge people’s perception of me.

Running is a tough sport and at times it can become overwhelming. There are moments that I will go off and run by myself to refocus and get away from the everyday stresses and pressures of life and running. It is kind of like my running hibernation. My running friends will know it as my “secret training sessions.” It allows me to run free and enjoy the surroundings. It reminds me of how enjoyable running can be and it keeps me motivated to run.

Running has had a positive influence on my life in so many ways. Running has taught me many lessons about success in life. Through the commitment to regular training, I’ve developed discipline and persistence. These are characteristics that are transferred to other aspects of my life such as in work. It builds strong foundations to achieve success in all aspects of life.

Eloise Wellings, Han Quach & Emily Brichacek

I also run for the social side of it. I’ve made so many great friends through running, some of whom have become lifelong friends. We were brought together by a common interest which is our passion for running. I’ve been fortunate enough to have met so many great athletes and people through my connections with running. I’ve learnt so much along my journey and I continue to learn everyday. I’m very blessed to be surrounded by an amazing network of family and friends that inspire and encourage me to be the person I am today and that I will continue to aspire to be.

Han and friends 2
Han & friends runners at Saturday’s hill session

Over the past 2 years, a new chapter has been written in my books. I’ve discovered a passion for marathons and that I’m pretty handy over the gruelling 42.2 km. The very thought of it seems so masochistic and tortuous. Yet I keep coming back for more. You may be aware of the term “hitting the wall” where your body has run out of fuel and your body starts to breakdown. It usually occurs beyond the 30 km mark. The feeling of “hitting the wall” is indescribable and you don’t really know what it feels like until you actually experience it. So far I’ve run 6 marathons (5 Melbourne Marathons and 1 Gold Coast Marathon). So far, I’ve run 2 good ones, 2 average ones and 2 bad ones. It’s a fine line between absolute joy and total devastation.

My first 2 marathons were a reminder to me about how marathons are so unforgiving and can easily end in disaster as there is plenty of time for things to go wrong. I had to walk for lengthy periods of both of these races, however, I finished in 3:41:47 and 3:41:03 respectively. I hit the wall at about 28km and the wheels fell off. I was like a wounded soldier trying to get back home. I resisted my body’s temptation to give up and step off the course. I didn’t want to join the 20% of the marathon starters that get a DNF next to their name. It’s a cruel sport. To not give up no matter what and finish the race was character building for me.

Then 2 years ago in the 2012 Melbourne Marathon (which was also the 2012 Australian Marathon Championships), I finally tasted my first successful marathon where I finished in a time of 2:46:08 taking almost 55 min off my PB and I finished 60th overall. I still “hit the wall” at about 28 km. However, this time I was able to push through it physically and psychologically. I talked myself into it. In fact, I literally talked to myself during the race and willed myself to not fail for a third time as I thought it would be damaging to me as an athlete. I thought about everything that had lead me to that point in time such as everyone that had been a part of my journey including my coaches Lesley Grimes and Trevor Vincent. Failure was not an option for me so I dug deep and just kept going. I briefly stopped at about 39 km for 30 sec to stretch as the muscle cramps got so bad I couldn’t take another step. Then I started running again. With less than 3 km to go, a few friends shouted at me that I was on target for a 2:46 marathon, and then followed by the friendly encouragement of my coaches, Lesley and Trevor. I entered the MCG stadium with 250 m to go and there were 2 athletes about 50 m ahead of me. I thought this has been scripted for me to be my fairytale finish. So I chased them down and beat them both by at least 3 sec. I had seized the moment and it is a feeling that I will never forget. It is the marathon that I have the fondest memory of as I had achieved something that was far beyond what anyone (including myself) had thought I was going to achieve.

Since then, I had improved my marathon PB to 2:45:24 in the 2013 Melbourne Marathon where I was able to use my past experience to run my first marathon without walking or stopping at all during the race. This time I hit the wall earlier at 26 km so ran the last 16 km with excruciating muscle cramps. Despite this I was able to improve my PB by 44 sec. I wasn’t necessarily fitter than I was in 2012, however, I was better equipped psychologically to cope with the physical demands of the marathon as I knew that I could get through it no matter how I was feeling.

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Gold Coast marathon 2014

The 2014 Gold Coast Marathon was my first race outside Victoria. It was a very well organised event and the atmosphere was just incredible. Unfortunately I ran a disappointing 3:00:41 after getting muscle cramps from 18 km onwards so I ran the last 24 km with muscle cramps. I dug deep and ran the whole race without stopping. Although the time was disappointing, I showed good psychological strength to finish the race so close to the 3 hr barrier despite having an interrupted 3 months of training leading up to the race due to illness and injury.

Recently I ran the 2014 Melbourne Marathon off a very limited 2 months of consistent training due to injury. Once again I got muscle cramps at about 27 km into the race but pushed through the pain to complete the race in 2:58:01. I wasn’t able to cope with the muscle cramps as well as I did in the past as my lack of training and fitness over the marathon distance was exposed. The positive was that I managed to salvage a sub 3 hr marathon despite the limited training.

Strong finish at Melbourne Marathon 2014

From my marathon journey so far, I’ve learnt many lessons about success in the marathon.  Firstly, you need lengthy periods of consistent training with mileage and without injury. Secondly, psychological strength is critical in marathons as you are constantly battling to keep going at the later stages of the marathon when your body is “hitting the wall” and wanting to give up. No amount of training can fully prepare you for it and you just have to deal with it when it happens in the race. Past experience is very important. Thirdly, start off the marathon a bit conservatively in the early stages so that you can finish the race off strongly. Sacrificing time in the first half of the race will be a huge benefit in the second half of the race. If you start off too fast, then you will regret it in the second half of the race when it gets tough. Marathons are a big challenge as it takes me far beyond my comfort zone. No-one ever really conquers the marathon no matter how good you are. However, the lure of running the perfect marathon is a dream and it is what makes me come back for more. The search of the unknown is exciting and a huge challenge.