Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Memories and mementos

Not a few memories are etched in my mind of the many experiences I have had while living out my passion for the run.

Falling at the start of a race and still finishing first in my age group, being hit by a hurtling motorbike that figured in a road spill, being caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of God-knows-where far from home, these are but just a few of things that stand out in my mind. I have "died" on the road while doing a race, found my second wind in more than a dozen runs and my runner's high in a few long ones. I saw this motivational poster that says "I ran out of love and hate and anger and joy" and I thought to myself, "Me too.

For most of these experiences, there are only my words saying they happened. In a few, there are the mementos to show they indeed were real.

There is the finisher's certificate of the first marathon I completed, the "Shell to Shell" 2nd Midnight Marathon organized by the Davao Sunday Runners' Club on March 3, 1996. Fired off at 12 midnight along with more the other runners, it took me more than 4 hours and a half  to finish the race, throwing up twice along the way and walking much of the second half. I was 41.

There is that photograph of me - one of a very few pictures of me in a race - crossing the line at the 27th Davao Finishers' Marathon on December 5, 2010. It was my comeback marathon, my first in 13 years, and 14 years after my first 42k finish in 1996. I finished it in 4:23:16, still walking part of the final 10 kilometers. I was 55.

There is the age category top finisher's medal I won at the Araw ng Dabaw Phonenix Run 21K on March 13, 2011. It was the first age group top finish I had in a major road race, clocking at 1:41:31. I actually got my medal a week or two later due to some organizational hitches, but that doesn't really change anything. Not for me anyway. I still got to go up the stage to be recognized for the achievement.

Finally, there is this picture of me, race face and all, at the finish of the 28th Davao Finishers' Marathon on December 4, 2011. It was the first marathon where I ran all 42.195 kilometers. I crossed the line in an official time of 3:52:21, good for 10th place.

Looking back at all these, I would say that they were among the best moments of my life, among the ones that defined me, that showed me what I am and who I am.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Cotabato’s unheralded pride

I have long planned to write about one-armed runner Isidro Vildosola, keeping notes about his various achievements which he shared to me during our occasional chats on Facebook. I first met Isidro, Coach Sid to many, when he was still a student at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato. I had the opportunity to run with him (he and those other younger and faster runners in our small group slowed down for me, of course) on quite a number of weekends and join him in several races here in the South. I still keep a group photo we had after running the 16th Davao Finishers' Marathon in 1999. Today I was finally able to write a piece about this inspiring runner who is determination personified. Written intentionally for a column I have in a local weekly community paper, The Mindanao Cross, I am sharing the piece here.

Talk of long distance running in the Philippines and the name of undisputed Filipino long distance king Eduardo Buenavista will undoubtedly be a centerpiece.

A diminutive but unquestionably strong runner, two-time Olympian Buenavista, who hails from Santo Niño in South Cotabato, holds national running records from 3,000 meters to the marathon. His half-marathon time of 1 hour 2 minutes 58 seconds set in Manila on July 6, 2008 remains a national best and his time of 2 hours 18 minutes 44 seconds at the Beppu-Oita Marathon in Oita, Japan on February 2004 stands unchallenged as the country’s national record for the marathon.

Indeed, Cotabato region – SOCCSSKSARGEN to the rest of the country and the world – takes pride in the achievements of Buenavista who started off as a student athlete in the yearly local Palaro.

Cotabato can take pride as well in another home-grown distance runner.

Not as heralded perhaps as Buenavista, one-armed Isidro Vildosola has nonetheless achieved much in the Paralympics.

Isidro Villdosola was 14 when he lost his arm while trying to save his cousin who got stuck in a rice thresher. The disability did not stop him from getting involved in sports. He tried volleyball and a few other sports before realizing that running was his calling.

A member of the National Team of the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (PHILSPADA), Vildosola counts the following among his achievements:

Silver, 2011 ASEAN Paralympic Games, 1500-meter run
Silver, 2011 ASEAN Paralympic Games, 5000-meter run
Silver, 2010 Asian Paralympic Games, 1,500-meter run
Gold, 2009 Paralympic Games Malaysia, 1,500-meter run
Bronze, 2009 Paralympic Games Malaysia, 800-meter run
Gold, 2007 Paralympic Games Thailand, 800-meter run
Gold, 2007 Paralympic Games Thailand, 1,500-meter run
Bronze, 2007 Fespic Games Malaysia, 1,500-meter run
Gold, 2005 Paralympic Games Manila, 800-meter run
Gold, 2005 Paralympic Games Manila, 1,500-meter run

Vildosola, is again set to compete in the Asian Para Games scheduled on October 10-24 this year in Incheon, South Korea following his triple gold feat in the July 29-August 1 Bangkok, Thailand Para Athletics Championships. He topped finishers in the 800-meter, 1,500-meter, and 5,000-meter runs.

What is even more inspiring about this unheralded pride of Cotabato region is the fact that he competes even in regular athletics events despite his disability. Vildosola ran the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon in 2008 placing 38th of 50,000 runners. He also ran the Hongkong Standard Chartered Marathon, another regular event, in 2011 and the grueling Mt. Kinabalu Run up Southeast Asia’s highest peak in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Because of this not only persons with disabilities look to Vildosola for inspiration but others as well. One of the many he inspired, talking about the one-armed runner’s participation in a 100-kilometer ultramarathon said, “While we're all fussing about what we don't have in life, this guy is just showing what can be done with what we've in fact been given.” Vildosola is determination personified.

It's quite sad though that Sid Vildosola, whom I got to know and run with when he was still a student at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato, still has to scrounge most of the time for support especially when he participates in international events despite all the honors he has given the country.

I can only hope and pray that the sports patrons in the region find it in their hearts to support Isidro Vildosola, Cotabato’s unheralded pride, in his endeavors.

With Isidro Vildosola after running the 16th Davao Finishers' Marathon, December 1999.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rediscovering me

I was the only one out there this morning. It felt like I owned the streets. I felt like some crazy old fool. But maybe that's just what I am - too crazy about it to keep running, foolish though it may seem, in the heavy downpour and occasionally gusty wind.

It wasn't raining when I took off. There was not a hint of rain in the wind. The sky was another matter, though. It was still dark when I went out so I really had no way of knowing. And though the rainy season was already here, a downpour was farthest from my mind. I was thinking of nothing but my run, all fifteen kilometers of it. I mapped out the route in my mind, calculated the distance, looked forward to a gratifyingly exhausting run, and took off.

Four-and-a-half kilometers and three uphills later, it came. I encountered it first as a slight drizzle as I was nearing the end of a slight climb. I'll just run through it, it will stop in a bit, I told myself. It didn't. Even before I hit the next kilometer marker, the rain had gotten stronger. I was already into the approach of the fourth uphill by then.

Everyone else ahead of me had taken shelter. I passed a building with some young people huddled together. The two waiting sheds I passed next as I crested the climb were also filled with people.

I went downhill as the rain continued to pour, heavier now than it was before. The clatter of a loose iron roofing sheet as the wind blew was very audible in a not so far distance. The gust brought a slight chill to my rain-and-sweat-soaked body. Please don't give me a storm, Lord, I prayed.

I decided there was no way I can do my 15K in this downpour. At the kilometer marker just a little past the two hospitals next to each other on the route, I turned back. Going back up the incline, I felt my shoes and socks getting soaked by the flow of rainwater down the paved road. As I passed a waiting shed, I heard a young girl call out: "Sir, it's already raining."  Yes, it is, for some time now, I answered in my mind.

Passing a group of men further ahead, I heard chuckles. I couldn't blame them if they thought I was crazy. No one does this, not here at least, running like this is short shorts and singlet in the pouring rain while everyone else was taking shelter and the only ones on the road where those in cars or public utility vehicles.

 As I approached the ascent to the flyover less than a kilometer into the end of my run, I got this thought, this realization that there is this other person that I am - a stubborn old dog crazy enough to brave a downpour for the simple love of the run.  All doubts caused by days of oversleeping, missing out on runs, and low mileage disappeared as I rediscovered that me. I picked up the pace on the downhill and finished my run, 5 kilometers shorter than I intended but nonetheless just as gratifying,  in the pouring rain.