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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Caloy. There was a famous marathoner in Mexico that once said that the hills are your friend. I agree with you on your post. Sometimes, the hills are an alternate to interval training for me and it works well. Anyway, take care and keep on running my friend! - Wayne