Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Marathon lessons

There have only been five marathons that I remember doing and finishing in my running lifetime until now. Looking at them in retrospect as I start another year of running following my first-ever, and hopefully my only, serious running injury, I remember the lessons that they taught me. 

I would like to share them in these series of posts.

"Respect the distance."
December 1994 - 11th Davao Finishers' Marathon

It was supposed to be my first marathon.

I had run several 5K's and 10K's and felt I was ready to go for the big 42. After all, I thought, I ruled my age group in some of those runs. What would be so difficult about running a marathon other than the longer distance?

I braced myself for the event. I put in as many 5K and 10K days in a week as my work schedule at a local radio station would allow. It meant waking up early so I could squeeze in my run before I went on board for the morning news and public affairs program. On weekends I ran 15 to 20 kilometers. It was a routine that I kept for three months leading up to my first marathon.

On race day, I nervously lined up at the start wearing the event singlet and my race bib. The starting gun barked and I joined the rush of runners out of the Victoria Plaza grounds to the streets of Davao City. It was 4 o'clock in the morning. There was a slight chill in the very early morning air. I felt good and kept a strong steady pace, running with a pack or another solo runner here and there, whichever comes along the route.

I was still feeling okay when we entered Ma-a Road on our way to the Diversion Road. That five kilometer stretch of road just steadily went up. I felt my steps and my breathing getting heavier as I trudged on. The sun was already out by then and I was already bathing in sweat when I hit the Diversion Road. And what would I find there but only more climbs. They were not as long as the one I just went through. They were a lot shorter by comparison, but also much steeper.

The series of climbs going towards Buhangin took its toll on my legs and feet. I went on walking breaks taking in as much water as I can at aid stations. I took some bananas at what could only have been the halfway point of the route. I was hoping all that could reenergize me. Sadly, it did not. Added to that, the sun steadily beat down on me. It felt like a bacon could fry at the back of my neck.

By the time I reached 28 kilometers, I was drained. I was walking empty. The event ambulance later pulled alongside me and the first aid staff asked if I was still okay or if I wanted a ride to the finish line. I don't remember giving any audible answer. Maybe I did, maybe I just nodded from sheer exhaustion. I just remember the ambulance door opening and me getting in for a ride to the finish.

I was not alone on board the ambulance; there were four of us. I tried to find consolation in that, but the frustration of not finishing what should have been my first marathon weighed heavier. It was the first time I ever ran a race and came up short. I was definitely wrong for me to believe that I can tackle the marathon with my limited training, and I had to learn that the hard way with a confidence-shattering DNF experience.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A late arrival and a twice undone shoelace: my 2013 PhilHealth Run story

I was set to run the first ever PhilHealth Nationwide Run in February last year when injury struck and made me a sure candidate for a DNS (did not start).

The metatarsal stress fracture I suffered while on my final speed workout a week before the race had me sidelined for three months, my foot encased in a cast for four straight weeks. The rest of my 2012 became a period for recovery, retraining and delving into some short local races.

When I learned that there would be a repeat of the PhilHealth Run this year, I promised I would make it my first race for this year. I squeezed in whatever high intensity workouts I could eke out of my ageing body in the limited time my early work hours as a news and public affairs anchor allowed. In the last four weeks I ran long (16K-20K) on weekends to prepare my lungs and legs for the 18K challenge. I have run longer distances, yes, but after that injury, my confidence was chipped. I wanted my Phil Health Run to be good. I wanted to be assured that I am indeed back.

I was told by co-workers in our FM station in Koronadal City that some 6,000 participants have registered for the race, a thousand runners more than the quota set by the PhilHealth national office to Phil Health Region XII. I wondered how many would be running 18K. I was sure majority of the participants would be doing the 5K and 10K runs. That would mean that there could be quite a crowd clogging the route just as I would be running closer, hopefully picking up pace as I do, to the finish line. Such a situation could sometimes mean you have to dodge people and break stride. Not so good.

The instructions that came with my race packet said my race would start at 5:00 in the morning. All other races were to be released 15 minutes of each other. I thought leaving at 4:45 for the South Cotabato Sports Complex where the race will start and end was not such a bad idea. After all, it was not that far from our station, Happy FM. where we spent the night. I was wrong.

Just as I got out of our vehicle, I heard the voice on the public address telling 10K runners not to proceed yet to the starting area at the back of the sports complex. A really big crowd of runners occupied the field, apparently doing a group warm-up routine. I asked a race staff where the 18K runners where, and she said they had already left. Boom! Panic!

I asked which route they took and I was shown the path leading to the back gate of the sports complex. I joined another runner who also came late. We were lucky. The 18K runners were still lined at the starting area waiting for the gun start. "One minute to start," I heard on the public address as my race number was being checked. I lined close to the front. My heart was already racing from that sprint to get to the starting area. The gun barked, and we were off.

I ran my usual controlled pace at the start. My plan was to pick up the pace from the turnaround point for a negative split second half. I was able to pass several runners as I made my way to the 9K mark. When we met the lead runners who were already on their way back to the sports complex, I started counting how many runners were ahead of me. I hit the turnaround and noticed the seemingly downward slope on the road ahead of me. It seems we have been running a gradual uphill going to the 9K mark. I glanced at my watch. 45:58. I was within my target finish of 1 hour and 30 minutes. The gradual downhill helped me pick up the pace.

As we made our way back to the sports complex, we met the other runners who were still going towards the turnaround point. One told me I was in 21st place. I smiled at him and looked ahead. I saw a group of runners in a distance. I kept my pace, mentally chanting my mantra every now and then as I moved closer: "Run strong" alternating with "Hail Mary" every four steps. A little prayer for help doesn't hurt. I passed five more runners before I saw the 10K runners heading back to the sports complex.

Getting closer to the city center, I felt my left shoelace loosening. In a minute, they were undone. I was forced to stop and step aside to tie it back. I was soon back on my steady run to the finish with a couple more kilometers or so to go. I hit the turn leading to the finish. The start/finish banner beckoned a couple hundred meters away. I braced myself for a sprint when I again felt my left shoelace loosening. I chose not to stop this time. I ran straight ahead trying to pick up my pace even with my untied shoelaces flying with each step. A few meters before the finish, I felt like my shoe was just about to fly off my left foot. I slowed down. I saw the race clock tick past 1 hour and 30 minutes as I crossed the finish line at a pace slower than I had intended. I pressed the stop button on my stopwatch. It read 1:31:22.

I was handed my finisher's medal and certificate. I asked one of the staff how I ranked. 12th out of 170 runners was the answer I got. That was good enough for me today. My first race for the year was done, and I still have the rest of the year to get better, barring another injury of course.

And that finish line crowd? I didn't notice any disrupting my "aborted" dash to the finish. The PhilHealth Run was one of the most organized and orderly race I've run. The water stations were adequate enough and also well stocked. I have to get used to drinking from cups while running, though.

P.S. I ran the second half of my 18K in 45:24.

My PhilHealth Run race bling

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A different way to see and experience Davao

80 kilometers of Davao City roads await you.
If you say yes, be at the starting line at Roxas Ave. at 10 pm on March 16, go through some of the most challenging streets you can run on in Davao City, until you finally climb that final stretch of road bringing you to the finish at Eden Nature Park some 3,000 ft asl.
The Team Davao Runners Ultramarathon. An entirely different way to see and experience Davao.
Are you in?
For registration and other details visit http://www.facebook.com/TDRUltramarathon.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Cotabato City? Running mecca? Why not?

I have never quite imagined Cotabato to be a running city or one with quite a number of fitness enthusiasts until one Saturday morning when I went out for a run at the ORG grounds.

It was not my first time to run there. I have done a number of afternoon runs at the place, and during those times it was just me, my shadow and the road romancing each other. The number of people I saw that Saturday morning was surprising.

The road around the buildings that housed the Office of the Regional Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Center was practically teeming with people – all genders, all ages, all shapes and sizes – either walking or doing a slow jog. I had to weave around the crowd and at times slow down or I would be bumping into someone.

Part of  the ORG Complex in Cotabato City.
This palace is teeming with runners and fitness enthusiasts Saturday mornings. 

Fun runs have also become more common.

Last year, the Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 celebrated the 62nd Activation Anniversary of the Philippine Marines with “Takbong Marino para sa Cotabato” on November 17. A week earlier, on November 11, the Cotabato RadTech Club had quite a large crowd joining their RadTech Fun Run.

The Philippine Air Force 3rd Air Division Tactical Operations Group 12’s “Power Up Run” last January 27 was this year’s kick-off running event in the city. And on Febuary 10, there would be not only one but two fun runs – the Million Volunteer Run 2 of the Philippine Red Cross and the Fun Run for Bahay Maria jointly organized by the Cotabato City Off-Road Bikers Association and the Grotto Trail Riders Organization in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Cotabato.

Only recently, some enthusiasts created the Facebook group Cotabato Runners to bring together, even if only online, those who have a common desire for fitness and love for the sport. Hopefully, this will lead to meet-ups, group runs, and maybe a Cotabato City runners’ club.

I would really love to see the day when Cotabato City becomes a running mecca in this part of Central Mindanao.

It would be fun to see a lot more people running not only at the ORG grounds but in other places as well. The People’s Palace grounds where the Cotabato City Hall is located looks like a great place for a run.

The Cotabato City Hall grounds. Definitely looks like a good place for a run.

And what about the challenge of a hill run right in the heart of the city?

A bird’s eye view of the city and its environs slowly being bathed in the light of the rising sun would definitely be an experience worth cherishing after an early morning run to the top of Cotabato City’s historic natural limestone fortress, Colina Hill. That sight can only be energizing.