How does a corporate career woman become a high performance marathon runner?
Recently, we sat down with marathon runner Jessie Chuah to find out just how she manages to juggle both work and a healthy, active lifestyle. Jessie recently completed the Boston Marathon in just 3 hours, 26 minutes, all while working a full time job back in Malaysia!
It is unbelievable that a working woman can be a high-performance runner at the same time, so we wanted to find out how she trains, stays healthy and balances out her busy schedule while climbing the corporate ladder.
You have a full time, 9-to-5 job yet you have time to train and work out. How do you do it?
You just have to put your mind to it, have discipline and have a healthy balance. I make it a point to balance work, training and rest. Once I developed a habit, everything just fell through naturally. Work happens, life happens – you just need to adjust accordingly.
Would you ever make running your career?
(laughs) Only if I ever strike the lottery! Truth be told, I enjoy my life with work and running balanced out.
So where did this all start? How did you get into running?
I was working out, but not consistently. One day a friend asked me to join them for a casual 10km run and I was bored, so I did it. I found running fun and continued to run and it eventually became habitual. From then on, I started running every weekend.
Very often you hear people say ‘I could run but I’m not really cut out for a marathon.’ Is there such a thing?
No, it’s all in the mind. All you need is determination and training to get you started. You don’t need to be a 3-hour runner to start training.
Many athletes would say the same. Do you genuinely believe in it?
(laughs) Of course I do! I have seen many of my own friends of different shapes and sizes, with different fitness levels, get into training and running. It is really awe-inspiring to see people who are determined to change their fitness lives actually achieving it.
So how does your training schedule fit around your 9-to-5 job?
Averagely, I train four to five times a week: two to three times on weekdays and two runs on weekends. My weekday training are mostly stretches in the morning and workouts at night. On weekends, I run distances between 12km to 30km depending if I have an upcoming race or just a routine weekend training but I make sure not to tire myself out. So if I’m running 20km to 30km on Saturday, I will only do a recovery run on Sunday or rest.
That sounds like a lot of training! How much training do you need to feel ready for a marathon?
Tough question! For my first marathon, I didn’t feel ready at all but I made it my aim to just enjoy the moment. My word of advice on preparing for a marathon would be: don’t set such high goals to break records. Just go and have fun.
Speaking of preparing, would you practice running 42km if you are training for a 42km marathon?
That’s a little too exhausting for me but there are some people who don’t mind doing that. It differs from person to person. Personally, it takes a toll on my body. Recovery is a very important part of the whole training process, so I don’t over-exert myself during training.
What would you suggest as a sample training schedule for a first-timer?
I can’t really say because it’s different for everyone. I do some speed training and strength training for my legs and upper body. Many people think running is only about legs but it is very important to train your upper body too because when you run, you use your arm and upper body to keep your balance and form. We pump our arms to propel ourselves forward. Besides that, I do core workouts. This is important because core strength will help to prevent your form from collapsing especially when you are tired after 30km.
So how do you actually stay motivated to train every week?
Honestly? Injuries! My biggest motivations are pitfalls. When you experience a pitfall and start to think ‘How do I go back to where I want to be?’, that’s when you get motivated to keep training smart. Balance between workouts, recovery and very importantly nutrition which are all part of training.
What are some of the best tips you’ve heard that have stuck with you?
Stay hydrated – that’s very crucial. I always wet my lips and take a couple of sips at every stop. Always hydrate before the run so that you don’t get cramps. Having a balanced diet is also key, but most importantly, get enough rest. Your body’s recovery is the most important thing.
What supplements do you use and how do they help you prepare for a run?
I started out with fish oil, and now I take krill oil, which is good for the heart – I swear by it. Another reason I choose krill oil is that it is lower in the food chain than fish, and therefore there are lower levels of contamination in the body of the krill. Little fact you might not have known!
Another supplement I take is Astaxanthin, which helps me prevent muscle fatigue and provides antioxidants to my body. On top of that, it also helps with my endurance. When I found out that salmon are able to swim upstream against strong currents because their muscles are filled with Astaxanthin, I told myself: I really need this supplement! When I finally did try it out, I noticed that I have more strength and energy too!
For a regular person who isn’t training, is it necessary to take supplements?
You can only get so much from food. Supplements help to give that ‘push’ for your body. So yes, you should take supplements even if you aren’t training.
If someone wants to be a marathon runner, how would you suggest they start?
Do not start with a marathon. There are plenty of running groups out there – make some friends, and run with them every week. Don’t try to go from zero to hero. Gradually increase your mileage. If your leg feels tired, don’t force it. Always listen to your body so that you don’t risk an injury.
Do you have a personal motto?
Yes! I have two: Firstly, ’what you do in the dark is what gets you in your light’. A lot of people don’t know how much sacrifice and effort is put into training so this motto is a tribute to that. My other personal motto is: ‘motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going’. You may not be the next world champion but with determination and discipline, everyone can definitely conquer marathons.
What’s next for you?
I would love to complete the World Marathon Series! There are six cities in total. So far, I’ve done Tokyo and Boston. There are four more left to go in New York, Chicago, Berlin and London. I want to keep strengthening and improving myself.
Thank you for sharing your secrets with us, Jessie. We look forward to seeing you conquer more marathons and achieve your World Marathon Series dream!
To follow Jessie’s adventures, follow her on Instagram @jessiechuah_