(Blogger's note: 5 years ago, I posted two entries on lessons I've learned running the marathon, the first one in February and the second one in July. Now struggling with added years and weight, I decided to look back at my last marathon almost 7 years ago, and write about it, sort of a third installment to my Marathon Lessons posts earlier. I hope I can do another one. The dream lives on even as I struggle through my current situation.)
December 4, 2011. I stood at the starting line along with the other runners of the 28th edition of the Davao Finishers' Marathon at the Victoria Plaza parking area. It was still dark. We start our 42-kilometer journey as most marathons here do in the early hours of dawn to make the most out of the cooler weather. Even in December, the intense morning sun has a way of beating down on you especially in the closing kilometers of what could perhaps be the most grueling road race in this part of the Philippines. I guess this has been its lure for me, the way the hills come one after another at the most crucial time, when your body has been through the stress of more than 10 kilometers of running. It is a tough race on a tough route where finishing is always sweet and fulfilling.
I tried as much to relax standing there side by side with some of the grittiest runners I know, faces I have seen more than once in races I have run here. These guys can run fast. These are the ones who would be kilometers ahead of me before the first quarter hour of this race is done. I wonder: what am I doing here with these guys? That is the beauty of this sport of ours, we can stand side by side with those we admire for their grit and prowess in this event, our idols, our heroes, feel one with them for a moment, all runners ready to face the challenge that looms ahead, one and the same. Until we are separated by the bark of the starting gun.
Most of the runners even the gritty ones stay bunched in the first few kilometers of the run, keeping a steady measured pace, avoiding getting burned out early. I run my own pace, keeping in mind not to chase those who go past me as that could spell disaster later in the race. I have always been the cautious runner. A friend told me once with a laugh that I was afraid of speed. Truth be told, I was afraid of speed, reckless speed. I know my limitations and I am mindful of it. I run at a fast pace I can hold. I don't surge. I just go on my steady pace, kilometer after kilometer, and that works for me. In a race as long as 42 kilometers, there would always be runners who passed you earlier that you eventually pass back later.
I passed back the first few of those runners on the Ma-a ascent. Before that were a couple of climbs, but nothing like the Ma-a ascent heading for the hills of the Diversion Road. It was a different beast, the Ma-a ascent. It is not one big short climb. It is a long steady ascent that slowly gnaws at your strength and endurance. It starts at the 15th kilometer and runs all the way to the halfway point at 21 kilometers, 5 long kilometers of steady climbing. Running it from the junction at MacArthur Highway in Matina to the junction at the Pan-Philippine Highway better known as the Davao City Diversion Road is a challenge to all who run this course, and it was a challenge I chose to face.
I have run this route more than a couple of times before this. I have always walked sections of this ascent in Ma-a. It has always left me frustrated, knowing a better time would have been possible if only I hadn't walked. But the legs grow weary, the body grows tired, and all that has a way of telling you either walk part of the way or you could end up not finishing at all. My legs and my body were stronger this time, more than in all those previous runs. I felt it. Yes, my legs were weary but not rubbery, I was tired but still comfortable enough with the stress, and I found myself running until the junction at the Diversion Road. The race was not over though. There were other hills along the remaining part of the route before the descent to the Panacan Crossing then the 32 kilometer point at the Davao City-Panabo Road.
I was upbeat up to that point of the run, my spirit buoyed up by being able to run continuously until the 32 kilometer mark. But there is a saying among marathon runners: it is the final 10 kilometers that count. The year before, a little past the 32 kilometer mark in the 27th edition of the Davao Finishers' Marathon, my mind and my legs began arguing. My mind was telling me to run. My legs were saying "walk". With less than 10 kilometers to go, my legs won, and I switched to run-walk mode. It was not until a while, with 5 kilometers more to go, that I started feeling better and started running longer than I walked. I ran the remaining 2 kilometers to the finish and crossed the line at 4:23:17.
It felt different this time. I was still running steadily, maintaining my pace until past the 35 kilometer mark at the junction of the road going to the old Davao City airport in Sasa. Still I was praying for continued strength or whatever remaining I can muster up to the finish line 7 kilometers more ahead. "Lord Jesus, give me strength." that became my mantra for the remainder of the race. Passing the Davao Medical Center and later the Redemptorist Church at Bajada told me I was nearing the finish line at Victoria Plaza. It was a mixed feeling of exhaustion and elation that overwhelmed me as I crossed the finish line. The latter more than the former. The clock showed 03:52:52. I broke the 4-hour barrier, logging an average pace of 5 minutes 30 seconds per kilometer. Doing it at the age of 56 made me feel good. Finishing in 10th place among male runners made me feel even better.
I DNF'd on my first take on this challenging race and route in 1994. I did two more marathons and finished both before I took on the Davao Finishers' Marathon again and conquered it 13 years after my first attempt. My third time to run it ended with a sub-4 and a 10th place finish to boot. All that told me one thing: patience and persistence do pay.
|Elated with the 10th place finish.|