Sunday, July 10, 2011

Taking on the Shrine Hills Challenge again

Hate the discomfort, love the benefits. This is how I would describe my attitude towards hills. I believe it is something common among runners. No one really loves trudging up inclines that seem to turn the soles of your running shoes from rubber to lead and have you gasping for air with every labored step.

But running hills isn't described by 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank shorter as speed work in disguise for no reason. Running hills builds muscle strength and improves your body’s oxygen carrying capacity. These changes will make you faster once you return to flat terrain.

I don't think I really relish running hills but I have no choice. In a city nestled in the foothills of Mt. Apo, flat terrain is difficult to come by. The road from the starting point of my daily runs immediately takes me into a 1-kilometer gradual uphill haul to the highway leading to the center of town. And I find myself lucky to be able to run here. I am stronger, not only physically but also mentally, because of it.

If running hills in training is tough, more so is doing it in a race. And no race I have run is perhaps more hilly than the Shrine Hills Challenge in Davao City. In fact, I can't think of any other 10k in Davao more challenging except maybe some occasional trail runs. I ran the inaugural edition in 2002 and did the 6th running five years later in 2007. Last June 26, 9 years older than when I first did it, I again took on the Shrine Hills Challenge on its 10th running.

"The first challenge is the rolling hills of the Shrine." This is how the race write-up describes the early stage of the Shrine Hills challenge. We hit the first of these rolling hills as I catch up with some Team Davao Runners mates. We ran together for a couple more hills before I found myself ahead of them and apace with two familiar runners, both regular participants in Davao City runs. One was about my age, and the other was a bit younger, a guy I also ran with and who surged ahead of me going into the finish in my last 21k race.  

Shortly after the 2.5km-marker, we hit the big downhill going into the Diversion Road. This was challenge number 2 - "running downhill for 1.4 kms. all the way to Pangi Road." The runner who was about my age had already gone ahead while I and the younger guy continued to pace each other.

I was aware of what a reckless downhill run could do. It could bust your knees. I went with the natural pull of the descent maintaining the rhythm of my strides. At a water station, I pulled away from the younger guy keeping pace with me and started catching up with two other runners ahead of me. Turning at Pangi, I found a familiar face beside me again. It was the younger guy. Soon it was my TDR mate Jo Cristobal Villar who was running beside us. He didn't stay long. He was soon ahead of us and was gone by the time we turned left at MacArthur Highway.

Moving towards the GSIS village I caught up with the runner my age. By then I had again left behind the younger guy. Ahead of us were a trio of runners, two women who I assumed were the race leaders for their category and a male runner who kept pace with them. We took the turn into GSIS Village and faced the next challenge - "the 1km. uphill climb that starts at Virgo St. up to Pluto St."

"Welcome to Calvary," I thought to myself when I saw the race marker that said "2 kms. to finish."

It was a long climb. Two of us - me and the runner my age - took to it side by side. Up ahead, the younger trio, keeping a steady pace, steadily increased their lead. Experience has taught me that keeping a pace as even as possible would be the best option for me to finish good in this race. I was suffering, but I guess I was feeling better than the man running beside me. He was dropping back as I continued on my steady climb to hell. And then I was directed by a marshal to a right turn to momentary comfort.

The short stretch of road before the final climb up to the finish was a welcome respite with its relatively even terrain. It allowed for some sort of recovery before the last challenge, the Shrine Hill Road ascent.

It is that final climb that really drives the nail in your self-imposed crucifixion in this race. You try as much as you can to hold on to your pace, a seemingly impossible effort when your energy is almost expended. Every step you take feels heavy; every breath you take seems like a gasp for dear life. This is where that mental toughness that running hills in training builds in you comes in.

I told myself that I was not far from the finish, that I would suffer only a little bit more. I told myself that I have done so much and gone so far to do well in this race to give in to the fatigue I was feeling. I told myself that I was stronger than all these, that I was tougher, that I can finish this race better than I did before.

I beamed inside when I saw the turn going into Jack’s Ridge up ahead. I knew the finish line was just a few more meters ahead. I revved up my engine for a sprint after the turn. I smiled when I saw TDR mate Joanna Lizares-Co focusing her camera for a shot. I sped past and crossed the line.

My Timex Ironman Triathlon recorded 44:24.63. I had improved on my finish 4 years earlier in this tough race by a little more than 5 minutes. To say that that made me feel great is an understatement.

"What does not destroy me, makes me strong."

Friedrich Nietzsche may not have hill running in mind when he said that, but my third take on the Shrine Hills Challenge sure proves him right.

Finishing the tough 10th Shrine Hills Challenge 10k in  44:24.63 is more than enough reason to smile.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Team Davao Runners, keeping the fire for running burning in Davao City

Over the last couple of years, running has experienced a resurgence in Davao City. From once or twice in a month or two, fun runs and races have become a lot more frequent, now going at a rate of one a week. On several occasions, two fun runs have been scheduled on the same day much to the dismay of runners who would rather not be made to choose between events.

Participants in these races and fun runs have also grown tremendously. From being just a few hundred several years ago, they now number by the thousands.

This resurgence also gave rise to a new and running group that is steadily growing in popularity among young runners in Davao City - Team Davao Runners.

Team Davao Runners

Formed in August 29, 2010 after the 24th Milo Marathon regional elimination race in Davao City, Davao Runners was first conceived as a Facebook page by running brothers Jette Roy and Nico Sanchez. They wanted it to be a venue where Dabawenyos could be updated on running events in the city and eventually a tool for forming a group of runners who will encourage and support one another.

The first recruits who formed the core of Davao Runners together with Jette and Nico were Caryll Cayaban, Nico's college friend and a newbie runner; Chaz Llanes and Dickenson Togonon, Jette's Tau Mu fraternity brothers; Dino Macavinta, whom Jette met during the Milo Marathon Davao City regional elimination race; Jay SalvaƱa, another newbie runner who was also active in Facebook, and Mary Ann Degala, the only woman in the team who was known for her "kikay" running outfit.

The group participated in a number of races, meeting more people and recruiting more runners into their ranks. From being just Davao Runners and a Facebook page, the group slowly metamorphosed into a running club adopting the name Team Davao Runners or simply TDR.

TDR's first major group run was no fluke. Imagine running 13 kilometers uphill to Eden Nature Park in Toril's highlands, and then another 13 kilometers back down again to the junction in the district center.

"We still had some sort of hangover from finishing 21 kilometers in the 27th Davao Finisher's Marathon last December 5 when we decided to do what we called the Eden Challenge," says Jette.

"It was all Nic's idea. And it sounded okay to us because it presented a change of  scenery and a pretty neat way to burn excess calories gained during the holidays," he adds.

On the morning of January 2, seven of the group’s members - Jette, Nico, Chaz, Dino, Jay, Jian and Caryll - with new recruits Joey Fernandez, Roy Salingay and Arn Enobio took on the 26 kilometer challenge without the aid of even hydration belts. It was undoubtedly an unforgettable running experience which prompted the group to adopt it as a final test run for all would-be TDR members.

Savoring the conquest, TDR members at the entrance to Eden Nature Park. Yes, they are standing on an incline and it's mostly that way from the start of the run in Toril proper.  

Another group run followed on January 9, this time dubbed as The McDo Challenge. It followed a 15-kilometer route from McDonald's Damosa to McDonald's Matina and vice-versa.

"No registration fees, fancy singlet or ice water, just pure fun!" was how the group described the event in their Facebook page. It generated a modest number of participants despite being just a practice run and was even supported by the Holiday Gym Runners' Club.

TDR has since kept the fire for running burning in Davao City.

Over a period of less than a year, TDR has slowly grown in membership. It now has a roster of 48 total members - 8 women and 40 men - mostly young professionals. The group is largely self-coached but sharing of running experiences is not wanting especially with a couple of more experienced masters runners providing guidance and valuable insights to the group.

Scores have expressed interest to be part of the group for a number of reasons.

Some find the group's dedication to the sport admirable. Guided by the motto "Train or Stay the Same," TDR members hold regular group practice runs ranging from 10 to 21 kilometers and even beyond. These practice runs are at times opened to other runners who are only too excited to join the group. Monthly group birthday runs are also held in celebration of members' natal days.

Even more runners are drawn to TDR because of the group's friendly and happy demeanor especially during races. It is all too common to hear other runners comment "Ang saya-saya ng grupo na yan" when referring to TDR.

They are wacky, too. Most of the time.

But TDR is careful about expanding its roster too much too soon. Membership is by invitation. Would-be members are required to join regular practice runs held every Tuesday and Thursday and participate in at least one race a month.

"We are after quality, not quantity," Jette explains.

"Attitude, dedication, character - these are very important to TDR more than running experience and ability. Only those who have shown enough of these in our open group runs are considered for membership, and they are keenly observed from 1 to 2 months before they are finally inducted into the group by taking on the Eden Challenge."

It is not only running that Team Davao Runners takes seriously. Following the recent devastating flash flood in Davao City which affected a couple of members, the group initiated a voluntary donation campaign through its Facebook page asking runners to share unused or old running singlet and shirts to the affected communities. Despite the short notice, the group was able to gather at least 5 boxes and 5 large plastic bags of donated items which they delivered to GMA Davao. This sense of social responsibility warranted exposure in the local news.  

TDR mates Doc Cris Lao, Joanna Lizares-Co and Kathleen Vera-Competente prepare to deliver donated goods for Davao's flash flood victims

Despite the attention the group has been getting lately, TDR keeps its feet firmly on the ground.

"TDR is still a young group, and we know that we still have a lot to do to be at par with other running clubs. But we are not in any hurry," says Jette Sanchez.

"What we want to do right now is to further strengthen the bond between the current members, and while doing that, help other runners especially the new ones grow in the sport through activities like the TDR open group runs. The more Dabawenyos who run, the better it is for the sport we love so much, and all the better too for a healthier Davao City