Monday, July 16, 2018

The last marathon

(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.

Monday, March 19, 2018

And so I run on

I was wheezing as I hit the second ascent in the 10k route I had myself tackle that Saturday. Not that I didn't wheeze when I did this same route years before. I got into oxygen debt just the same back then. But doing the short but quite steep climb felt more difficult and demanding this time. I can only think of age as the most logical explanation. The same explanation I can think of for the added weight and the frustratingly slower times I have been doing my runs.

It was a hilly route, five kilometers out from where I start just a short distance from home and another 5 kilometers back. Along the route are three rivers where the road descends while approaching and goes up again from the bridge that spans each. It's the same both ways.

There isn't very much flat surface to talk about which makes the route quite a challenging one. It gradually climbs from the start to the first kilometer mark before it levels off a bit and then descends to the first bridge and goes up again on the second climb. Whatever momentum you gain on the descent to the bridge is erased by the time you hit the middle of the second climb. There is no denying the labored breathing and the heart's vigorous pumping. It would be comforting no doubt to stop and just walk the rest of the distance to the top of the ascent. Who would mind?

I would. Stubborn old me wouldn't allow this climb, this entire route in fact, to take the best of me and run me down. Not today. My runner's pride won't allow it. I had run this route before, I could run it again, and I would run it again. Period. So I trudge along, taking on one descent and ascent after another, carrying on with the added weight from added years, gulping as much air as I could while negotiating every steep climb to compensate for the oxygen debt, dying at every effort only to be revived and resurrected again every I reach the summit and take the downhill again only to face death yet again in the next uphill.

My boss several decades ago, very familiar with my running back then, told me runners are masochists who find pleasure in the pain. The harder and more difficult the run, the more we love it, the more we find gratification in it. Perhaps there is truth in that. Just as much truth as there is in finding gratification in being able to conquer and discovering how one can fare in the face of adversity, what one can do to overcome challenges, and in that find the gift that has been given and the blessing that has been bestowed.

Not that many my age are as stubborn, or as obsessed, as me in my chosen sport. I look around and I often only see mostly people half my age or even younger doing what I do.  I admit, I find pride in that. I revel in the fact that I am but among a few who can nail a 10k without taking a walking break in between kilometers. But at the same time, I am humbled by that. Humbled that such a gift has been given me. And when you realize that you have been blessed, what better thing is there to do than be grateful and give praise to the giver by utilizing the gift that has been given you?

And so I run on.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Looking back, moving forward

Coming back from my first run for 2017, a slow 8k on Kidapawan's nasty hilly main road, I told myself that I would make this a better running year, not for anything else but myself. I need to.

It read 58 kilos when I weighed myself last night - something must be wrong with that damn scale -  up by 10 from my previous running weight of 48 back in 2015. I don't want all that weight on myself. Some say I look better, but I don't feel better. I wheeze when I go upstairs, I can't bend as much when I tie my running shoes. I curse it every time and I am beginning to curse myself for not being able to run comfortably as much. I don't mind age catching up with me, or the work putting pressure on my running, but not the added weight. Two kilos would I guess be fine with me. But nothing else beyond that, please.

2015 had been a better running year than last. Not that it was bad, it's just that I had more days I didn't run in 2016 than days I did. In 2015, Dailymile had me logging a total of 1,553 kilometers. It had me recording less than half that, 766.43 kilometers, last year, That even included my first run of 8k for 2017. I had 9 months of running beyond 100 kilometers in 2015, but had only one, January, this year. All other monthly totals dipped, the lowest was 40 in May. Outside of January, when I logged 119 kilometers, the only other months that could be considered as having outstanding totals were July with 79 and December with 81.

Why? That is one question I asked myself every time I looked at my stats. I have become more tired, lazier, giving in to the coo of the bed over the call of the road. Perhaps it is because of the pressures of the job. It has always been much more difficult to keep running side by side with having to work early shifts five days of the week. Travelling more than a hundred kilometers by bus on Fridays also make it more of a struggle to get out of bed early, put on running shoes, and hit the road for a long one on Saturdays. And yes, I have to accept that age has somehow started catching up with me.

In my mind, I still see myself crossing the finish line of the Holcim-Sunrun 28th Ultimate Challenge Davao Finishers' Marathon in 10th place, the best marathon finish I have had, 3:52.21, and a surprise to me. The Davao Finishers' Marathon course has always been a killer, with the hills of Ma-a and the Diversion Road, and finishing it running all the way was quite an achievement. I had never finished my previous marathons without a walking segment. That was in December of 2011, perhaps my best running year ever. Earlier in March, I nailed my Araw ng Dabaw Phoenix Run 21K with a 1:41:31 finish for a medal as top finisher in the 55-59 age group. I also finished first in the same age group  with a 1:42:11 at the 35th Milo Marathon Davao City Regional 21K Elimination Race in  November. I had an annual total of 2,400 kilometers. That was five years and a bit ago, I was 56. So much water has passed under the bridge. The metatarsal stress fracture on my right foot, 3 months in a foot cast and the slow return to running again, the work, the transfer, and all those days of mixing earlier morning runs with early morning work hours. I guess it all had to take it's toll, that and age catching up with me.

December 4, 2011. Gasping for breath at the finish of the Holcim-Sunrun 28th Ultimate Challenge Davao Finishers' Marathon. My 3.52.21 was good enough for 10th place, a PB for the marathon. No walks. All pain and exhaustion in the last 5k. But all the ecstasy after. I was 56.

Indeed, in this world, as Heraclitus said, the only constant is change. We can only but adapt to that change if we are to survive and thrive.

If it is any consolation, I see a trend towards better running days in the making, and I am keeping my fingers crossed I am right. Runs I have logged have been on the uptrend in the last two months of 2016. Perhaps that picture of me crossing the finish line of a 42k, one I have ran all the way, would still have a retake, maybe with a different result all together, a different story.

We are never too old to dream, they say, and I do not think I am too old a runner to have a better 2017. All I have to do is keep moving forward.

At the end of my first run for 2017. Looking forward to more.