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If I Could Turn The Clock Back by Dr. Goh Kong Chuan

If I could turn the clock back, what else would I do? I would not change the course of my career, for it has brought me great satisfaction, and I could not ask for more. But could I have made it in athletics?
First of all I would read Prof Tim Noakes’ “The Lore of Running”, and try to follow the advice in all 400 pages of it, for here are the words of a great scientist and sportsman. He ran >70 full marathons, all in good time, 6 Comrades Ultramarathons of 90KM in 6hrs+, cycled, and represented South Africa twice at Rowing, besides writing his famous text on Running and a few hundred scientific publications. Now he runs the Sports Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, and guides their great sportsmen to World glory.

I would try to get a muscle biopsy to determine which sports I am suited for, and not flog the sprints when endurance sports are my forte. I would go for exercise physiology functional tests to assess my basal rate, and periodically monitor my progress. I would look for a good coach to drive me and provide the correct motivation and attitude towards sport, but I would not change this balance between academic goals and athletic glory. In the long run it is how well educated you have been to develop both your IQ and your EQ that will determine how well you succeed in the business, social and political world.

Health has always been my goal, and perhaps instinctively, I knew that I would never make it in athletics, but I soldiered on, and now Masters and Veteran’s athletics seem so easy, especially when the old stars have grown old and injured. There must be something right in this philosophy I have followed, and perhaps I could pass on a bit of what I believe and practice to those who would like to listen.

Basal conditioning
This is the cornerstone of all athletics, and you can never succeed until you have worked at it. Even 60m sprinters must have it, and I remember talking to Watson Nyambek’s coach about his training methods for this great sprinter we had. I always believe in the alternating hard and easy day principle, and the macro cycles of building up for 3 weeks, then taking it easy for 1. In the good old days I would go for

· Short interval sprints of 200m in 40 sec, repeated 14 times, with a jog interval of 3 min. That would push the HR up to my max of 180, and down to a recovery of 120 each time. Eventually, the resting HR in the morning would come down to 41, downloaded on to the computer from the Polar HRM.

· Longer interval repeats of from 400 to 800m at a lower HR, and a slower pace, with longer active rest intervals.

· LSDs of 12Km or more once a week.

· I never took a rest day, and perhaps now I regret it, for I could never really give every training session my full effort, though I felt I was doing so.

Strength training
My old coach, a former Malaysian Olympian relay runner believed in using our own body weight for strength training, and we would lift each other through all sorts of drills. We would do all the jumps, from the squat jump to the star jump and burpees in regular sets. Push ups in modified positions were common. Then we would run hip deep in a small stream for 500m, climb the bank, and jump in for 3 to 5 repeat sets. Lifting the feet from the sandy bottom was tough enough, but wading and running thru hip deep water was even tougher, and we saw the occasional snake swimming in the same stream. The steeplechase runners would jump over bicycles instead of hurdles, as we had no track or proper equipment to train on.

Step ups were routinely done, and so were the heel and ankle lifts on a step. I would go to the gym and do my squats, for it has been shown in many studies that this particular exercise makes middle distance and endurance runners run faster, as well as prolonging the time to exhaustion in cyclists.

The Smith machine in the gym is excellent for the chest press as well as upright rows, shoulder press and a host of other exercises you can do with free weights. The advantage is that it is safer, and you do not need a spotter.

This was not well known in the early days, but sometimes we would do our bounding drills both flat and uphill. One of our aged marathoners used to jump on and off a small step, carrying dumb bell in each arm, and I followed him for some time until I developed Achilles tendon tendinosis, with a potential for rupture that put a stop to my marathon running days. Timely MRIs detected this problem even when there had been no pain at all, and I have been fortunate to switch to race walking and Indoor Rowing without any problems. The Sargent jump is not a good test for a marathon runner, as Rob De Castella, the Aussie who broke the World marathon record at the age of 42 could only jump a few inches off the ground, compared to some Aussie girls who can jump a few feet.

I believe this is for the elite athlete, as studies have shown that if not properly done, stretching before exercise can actually cause more injuries. So it is better to stretch after the run, when your muscles and tendons are warm and elastic.

Never do the ballistic stretch, as this bouncing to extreme stretch can cause injuries. The pnf technique of stretch. stop, stretch seems to give better results. But it is easiest to stretch to the max without pain for a certain duration, and hold it there.

In the old days I used to follow the Runner’s World of stretching with a rope, that would go on for almost 2 hours, and it never did my marathon running any good.

Time trials
I would have loved to try out for regular monthly time trials to gauge progress, no matter how intimidating they seemed, and the best trial of all would have been frequent small competitions. I would have loved to take part in more of them if only I had started on athletics much earlier.

Cross Training
While it is important to give the body time to rest and recover, it is good to rest the muscles specific for running by turning to some other sport that also trains the cardiovascular system. It may seem that I have a vested interest, but I find that Indoor Rowing is the best sport to complement running. It rests the joints and legs, and yet trains the leg muscles, the trunk and especially the Cardiovascular system. Since taking up Indoor Rowing, I have found running, hiking and race waking much easier.
This year I climbed Mt Kinabalu for the first time in March with some friends, and it took us 7 hrs to reach Laban Rata at 3,200m. Then I climbed it alone in June, and it took me only 3h50min to reach the same spot thru torrential rain. The difference was that in the 3 months in between I rowed seriously (around 20K a day), and practiced step-ups with a 10Kg knapsack for 10min session twice a week. I doubt if you can get an almost 100% improvement in performance in a 64 yr old without employing proper scientific training methods.

Diet and Supplements

The question most people ask is what diet and supplements I take, and they never believe me when I tell them that I take absolutely no supplements or pills (except the occasional antihistamine for an allergic running nose). I eat almost everything, with the old-fashioned high Carbohydrate low fat high protein mix. I never believe in a vegetarian diet, as cows and elephants who are vegetarians are the fattest mammals, and too many of my vegetarian friends including monks suffer from heart attacks. I have weighed myself twice before and after meals, and gained 7.5 lbs (from 144.5 to 152 lbs), once after a meal of 65 seeds of durians.

In fact, for the 2nd Mt. Kinabalu climb I ate nothing except a few bars of Powerbar, and during the 12hr Endurance Walk I took only 5 bananas and a few small pieces of Powerbar together with 100Plus and water (I lost only 3.5 lbs throughout the race, burning up 647 Cals measured on my Polar HRM).
I hope this short account of my earlier training methods will help budding marathon runners take up the sport and enjoy it. We can try to keep on improving, to the best of our athletic potential. One example is Dr. Paul Spangler who could only run 5K in 25 min at the age of 81, but he trained so well that when he was 83, he covered the same distance in 24 min. Another is Dr. Kenneth Citron who suffered from a slipped disk with wasting of one leg at the age of 65. He took up Indoor Rowing, and recovered so well that at the age of 81, he is now #1 in the World, with a time of 21min for the 5K at Indoor Rowing.

So there is hope for us even if we are young, if we train the proper way, and constantly monitor our progress.

Dr. Goh Kong Chuan


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