Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Manuel Vismanos: One amazing runner

Even before Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run was published and made waves in the worldwide running community prompting interest in barefoot running, Manuel Vismanos of Toril, Davao City has been running unshod.

With his flowing white hair and beard, it would be easy to imagine him as the original Pinoy barefoot runner. He took up running in the 60's, inspired by the site of a group of young athletes at a local school, and has never worn running shoes since. In a short write-up accompanying her photo of 'Nong Maning finishing the 27th Davao Finisher's Marathon last December 5,  businesswoman and writer-photographer Ms. Joanna Christina Lizares Co, who is a runner herself, said the 63-year old retired policeman "just felt that going with bare feet made him move better and faster. He tried running with shoes but he felt restricted and uncomfortable."

And just how hardcore as a barefoot runner is Manuel Vismanos? Ms. Joanna says 'Nong Maning doesn't consider running in Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running because the VFF's are shoes just the same.

'Nong Maning is a revered icon in the Davao running circle, and I would say more than just because he runs barefoot. Four decades of running is undoubtedly a testament to the man's passion and commitment to the sport, and all the time running barefoot at that. And while he is no spring chicken, there is a lot of strength and power in those calloused feet and sinewy legs.

I recall two occasions of running pace for pace with 'Nong Maning. One was at the 34th Milo Marathon Davao City Regional 21k Elimination Race last August 29. 'Nong Maning and I exchanged paces and leads for several times going into the Sasa turnaround point. That part of the race definitely taxed me.

Again we ran side by side from Matina to Toril in the 27th Davao Finisher's Marathon December 5. We went beyond trading paces and leads that day. Some guys from the Davao Sunday Runners' Club doing the 21k handed 'Nong Maning a bottle of Pocari Sweat. He took a swig, then looked back and handed me the bottle, insisting that I take a drink myself as we are still less than halfway into the race. Further ahead, as we ran side by side, a couple providing support to another group or runners trained their camera on 'Nong Maning for a picture. He swiftly put his arm on my shoulders, told me to smile, and together we made the thumbs up sign as the camera clicked.

'Nong Maning topped the 60-64 age category in the 34th Milo Marathon Davao Elimination Race last August clocking 2:00:49 good for 70th place overall. Sadly, financial constraints kept him from running in the national finals. He finished the 27th Davao Finishers' Marathon in 4:30:04, running into the finish amid the cheers of fellow runners who have no less than awe, admiration and respect for him.

'Nong Maning is not the only one who runs and races barefoot in Davao. His younger brother Bonifacio does the same. Jun Biroy from the island city of Samal who works in Davao as a salesman-marketing agent also runs and races unshod.

Another runner from Toril, Aldo Pecson, is following the footsteps of his friend and idol, and will be joining 'Nong Maning, Boni, and 'Nong Maning's close friend and neighbor Jonifer Bagayo on January 30, 2011 at the Run for Healthy Living, a charity event of Holiday Gym and Spa and the Davao Medical School Foundation. All four of them will go barefoot. Those who want to try barefoot running are welcome to join them and experience running with Davao City's amazing Manuel Vismanos.

Note: Registration for the Run for Healthy Living is ongoing at Holiday Gym and Spa, DMSF and Run Club Davao. A very nice singlet awaits the first 500 registrants.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

42@55: Going full circle

March 3, 1996. The Pilipinas "Shell to Shell" 2nd Midnight Marathon runners raced the clock and each other through the mercury lighted streets of Davao City. I and others like me raced against ourselves and our limitations to conquer 42.195 kilometers on foot. It was my first marathon.

Flagged off at 12 midnight, we tested our mettle against the challenge of what is considered the crown jewel of running. While others were off to Neverland in the comforts of their beds, we were like night watchmen roaming the streets on a duty call. Workers on the graveyard shift were on jeeps bound either for work or home. We were on our feet aiming to get to a finish line a long way away.

This was truly a race of firsts for me. It was the first time I tasted Gatorade which was handed to us in one of several refreshment stops, the first time I ate a banana on the run, and the first time I vomited on a race (courtesy of the Gatorade, I suppose).

2nd Midnight Marathon finisher's certificate from my 1st 42k

But the first time to finish a marathon beats everything else. When I first tried to run the distance two years before, I learned that there really is truth in the saying that you have to respect the marathon. I had several 5k and 10k races by then, even topping my age group in some small local races. I thought I was ready. I was wrong. My running legs gave up on me past the 25 km mark and I started walking. An ambulance checking on the condition of the runners on the road picked me up at the 28 km mark.

I still walked parts of the later kilometers on my first 42k. But I had learned my lessons enough to get myself a finisher's certificate. I crossed the finish line in the early hours of morning shortly before 5 o'clock, more than 4 hours and a half after we started.

I had three other marathons after my first one. I ran the 13th Davao Finishers' Marathon in December that same year, did the 3rd Midnight Marathon on April 1997 and again the 14th Davao Finishers' Marathon-1st BIMP EAGA Friendship Marathon on December 1997.

Tight work schedules and a growing fascination with cycling started taking my time away from my running. I was soon racing less and less until I totally stopped from being involved in road races. My second wind came in 2006 with my 26k run at the 23rd Davao Finishers' Marathon on December 3 as my first official comeback race.

I have always considered my December races in Davao as my birthday races. Coming at more or less a month from my birthday, they are sort of yearly graduation runs where I transition from one running year to another.

My 27th Davao Finishers' Marathon 42k last December 5 was similar yet special. It was my comeback marathon, my first in 13 years. I was doing it 14 years after my first 42k finish in 1996 at the age of 41.

I did 26, 28 and 30 km long runs a month going into the race. I had run two 21k races within a month of each other earlier and had been doing some 20-24 km long runs. I felt I was ready. Back to back 20k's in two successive days two weeks before the race told me I was prepared enough to finish.

I ran a conservative pace tucked in a group of younger runners going into the marathon halfway mark. I felt strong going to the turnaround at Toril and kept a steady pace on my run back to Victoria Plaza.

It was past the 32 km mark that 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. Feeling better with 5 kilometers more to go, I started running longer than I walked until at 2 kilometers to the finish, feeling much better than I did about 7 kilometers back, I went on a full run. I crossed the finish line at 4:23:17 and later received my finisher's medal.

Finisher's medal and race bib from the 27th Davao Finishers's Marathon

Finding a photo and a video of me crossing the finish line was more than an added bonus. Both were unexpected gifts from online running friends. I couldn't be happier.

Finish line photo from Ms. Joanna Christina Lizares Co
Video (below) courtesy of Ms. Leah Jacobe  

In a post on my Facebook account, another runner friend told me it was time to go for an ultramarathon. Not just yet. I feel there is a sub-4 marathon in this ageing body waiting to be unleashed. I believe that should be my priority for the next phase of my running life.