Monday, September 22, 2014

The girl who runs in black

She is one of those numerous runners out there, not much known for their regular road pounding just because they are not so vocal about it like others are. She has no pictures of her runs. She has no posts about her times or the kilometers she had put in on any social networking site. But she runs, as often as she can, at night after office hours.

She has been running for almost two years now, has been through two pairs of running shoes, and is starting off on her third. She started when she moved to the city after college to work in a telecommunications company.

"To stay sexy," she told me with a hearty laugh once when I asked her why she ran, but added in a more serious tone that running helped release all the negative energies from her body. It has become a very effective stress reliever for her, has been a way for her to relax from the daily worries of work and life as a whole.

That is primarily why she has kept running. There have been times when she stopped for a while, but she always came back, finding joy in her exhaustion.

I asked her if she was ever planning to join one of those fun runs that have started to become a fixture in the city. She says she's not so keen about it, adding that her running is far from the running being done by those who join fun runs. I don't see much difference though. She said she wasn't much into running in a crowd, that it made her lose focus, disrupted her running in a way.  She was more the lone wolf, who found happiness in running alone.

A few weeks back, she ran non-stop for an hour, and she was ecstatic about it. There are those of us who take great pride in our accomplishments that would perhaps smirk at that, silently saying it is not really much, but for this girl who runs in black running shorts and a matching black dri-fit shirt, who has maybe not even considered running as something she was born to do, it was  definitely an achievement.

I for one find inspiration in stories like this, in the simple achievements of unheralded and unknown runners, mostly not even considering themselves as such. They constantly remind me to find happiness and satisfaction in every single run. It may not be a personal best, nor faster or longer than the last, but being able to do it is a blessing, a gift that is more than enough to be thankful for.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Memories and mementos

Not a few memories are etched in my mind of the many experiences I have had while living out my passion for the run.

Falling at the start of a race and still finishing first in my age group, being hit by a hurtling motorbike that figured in a road spill, being caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of God-knows-where far from home, these are but just a few of things that stand out in my mind. I have "died" on the road while doing a race, found my second wind in more than a dozen runs and my runner's high in a few long ones. I saw this motivational poster that says "I ran out of love and hate and anger and joy" and I thought to myself, "Me too.

For most of these experiences, there are only my words saying they happened. In a few, there are the mementos to show they indeed were real.

There is the finisher's certificate of the first marathon I completed, the "Shell to Shell" 2nd Midnight Marathon organized by the Davao Sunday Runners' Club on March 3, 1996. Fired off at 12 midnight along with more the other runners, it took me more than 4 hours and a half  to finish the race, throwing up twice along the way and walking much of the second half. I was 41.

There is that photograph of me - one of a very few pictures of me in a race - crossing the line at the 27th Davao Finishers' Marathon on December 5, 2010. It was my comeback marathon, my first in 13 years, and 14 years after my first 42k finish in 1996. I finished it in 4:23:16, still walking part of the final 10 kilometers. I was 55.

There is the age category top finisher's medal I won at the Araw ng Dabaw Phonenix Run 21K on March 13, 2011. It was the first age group top finish I had in a major road race, clocking at 1:41:31. I actually got my medal a week or two later due to some organizational hitches, but that doesn't really change anything. Not for me anyway. I still got to go up the stage to be recognized for the achievement.

Finally, there is this picture of me, race face and all, at the finish of the 28th Davao Finishers' Marathon on December 4, 2011. It was the first marathon where I ran all 42.195 kilometers. I crossed the line in an official time of 3:52:21, good for 10th place.

Looking back at all these, I would say that they were among the best moments of my life, among the ones that defined me, that showed me what I am and who I am.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Cotabato’s unheralded pride

I have long planned to write about one-armed runner Isidro Vildosola, keeping notes about his various achievements which he shared to me during our occasional chats on Facebook. I first met Isidro, Coach Sid to many, when he was still a student at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato. I had the opportunity to run with him (he and those other younger and faster runners in our small group slowed down for me, of course) on quite a number of weekends and join him in several races here in the South. I still keep a group photo we had after running the 16th Davao Finishers' Marathon in 1999. Today I was finally able to write a piece about this inspiring runner who is determination personified. Written intentionally for a column I have in a local weekly community paper, The Mindanao Cross, I am sharing the piece here.

Talk of long distance running in the Philippines and the name of undisputed Filipino long distance king Eduardo Buenavista will undoubtedly be a centerpiece.

A diminutive but unquestionably strong runner, two-time Olympian Buenavista, who hails from Santo NiƱo in South Cotabato, holds national running records from 3,000 meters to the marathon. His half-marathon time of 1 hour 2 minutes 58 seconds set in Manila on July 6, 2008 remains a national best and his time of 2 hours 18 minutes 44 seconds at the Beppu-Oita Marathon in Oita, Japan on February 2004 stands unchallenged as the country’s national record for the marathon.

Indeed, Cotabato region – SOCCSSKSARGEN to the rest of the country and the world – takes pride in the achievements of Buenavista who started off as a student athlete in the yearly local Palaro.

Cotabato can take pride as well in another home-grown distance runner.

Not as heralded perhaps as Buenavista, one-armed Isidro Vildosola has nonetheless achieved much in the Paralympics.

Isidro Villdosola was 14 when he lost his arm while trying to save his cousin who got stuck in a rice thresher. The disability did not stop him from getting involved in sports. He tried volleyball and a few other sports before realizing that running was his calling.

A member of the National Team of the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled (PHILSPADA), Vildosola counts the following among his achievements:

Silver, 2011 ASEAN Paralympic Games, 1500-meter run
Silver, 2011 ASEAN Paralympic Games, 5000-meter run
Silver, 2010 Asian Paralympic Games, 1,500-meter run
Gold, 2009 Paralympic Games Malaysia, 1,500-meter run
Bronze, 2009 Paralympic Games Malaysia, 800-meter run
Gold, 2007 Paralympic Games Thailand, 800-meter run
Gold, 2007 Paralympic Games Thailand, 1,500-meter run
Bronze, 2007 Fespic Games Malaysia, 1,500-meter run
Gold, 2005 Paralympic Games Manila, 800-meter run
Gold, 2005 Paralympic Games Manila, 1,500-meter run

Vildosola, is again set to compete in the Asian Para Games scheduled on October 10-24 this year in Incheon, South Korea following his triple gold feat in the July 29-August 1 Bangkok, Thailand Para Athletics Championships. He topped finishers in the 800-meter, 1,500-meter, and 5,000-meter runs.

What is even more inspiring about this unheralded pride of Cotabato region is the fact that he competes even in regular athletics events despite his disability. Vildosola ran the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon in 2008 placing 38th of 50,000 runners. He also ran the Hongkong Standard Chartered Marathon, another regular event, in 2011 and the grueling Mt. Kinabalu Run up Southeast Asia’s highest peak in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Because of this not only persons with disabilities look to Vildosola for inspiration but others as well. One of the many he inspired, talking about the one-armed runner’s participation in a 100-kilometer ultramarathon said, “While we're all fussing about what we don't have in life, this guy is just showing what can be done with what we've in fact been given.” Vildosola is determination personified.

It's quite sad though that Sid Vildosola, whom I got to know and run with when he was still a student at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato, still has to scrounge most of the time for support especially when he participates in international events despite all the honors he has given the country.

I can only hope and pray that the sports patrons in the region find it in their hearts to support Isidro Vildosola, Cotabato’s unheralded pride, in his endeavors.

With Isidro Vildosola after running the 16th Davao Finishers' Marathon, December 1999.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rediscovering me

I was the only one out there this morning. It felt like I owned the streets. I felt like some crazy old fool. But maybe that's just what I am - too crazy about it to keep running, foolish though it may seem, in the heavy downpour and occasionally gusty wind.

It wasn't raining when I took off. There was not a hint of rain in the wind. The sky was another matter, though. It was still dark when I went out so I really had no way of knowing. And though the rainy season was already here, a downpour was farthest from my mind. I was thinking of nothing but my run, all fifteen kilometers of it. I mapped out the route in my mind, calculated the distance, looked forward to a gratifyingly exhausting run, and took off.

Four-and-a-half kilometers and three uphills later, it came. I encountered it first as a slight drizzle as I was nearing the end of a slight climb. I'll just run through it, it will stop in a bit, I told myself. It didn't. Even before I hit the next kilometer marker, the rain had gotten stronger. I was already into the approach of the fourth uphill by then.

Everyone else ahead of me had taken shelter. I passed a building with some young people huddled together. The two waiting sheds I passed next as I crested the climb were also filled with people.

I went downhill as the rain continued to pour, heavier now than it was before. The clatter of a loose iron roofing sheet as the wind blew was very audible in a not so far distance. The gust brought a slight chill to my rain-and-sweat-soaked body. Please don't give me a storm, Lord, I prayed.

I decided there was no way I can do my 15K in this downpour. At the kilometer marker just a little past the two hospitals next to each other on the route, I turned back. Going back up the incline, I felt my shoes and socks getting soaked by the flow of rainwater down the paved road. As I passed a waiting shed, I heard a young girl call out: "Sir, it's already raining."  Yes, it is, for some time now, I answered in my mind.

Passing a group of men further ahead, I heard chuckles. I couldn't blame them if they thought I was crazy. No one does this, not here at least, running like this in short shorts and singlet in the pouring rain while everyone else was taking shelter and the only ones on the road where those in cars or public utility vehicles.

 As I approached the ascent to the flyover less than a kilometer into the end of my run, I got this thought, this realization that there is this other person that I am - a stubborn old dog crazy enough to brave a downpour for the simple love of the run.  All doubts caused by days of oversleeping, missing out on runs, and low mileage disappeared as I rediscovered that me. I picked up the pace on the downhill and finished my run, 5 kilometers shorter than I intended but nonetheless just as gratifying,  in the pouring rain.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Not the best of times, but better than the last.

Not the best of times, but better than the last.

That's just how I would describe my race result from today's Run Sa Kalilangan 21K in General Santos City.

Three years ago I set a 1:41:33 personal best time for a 21K at the Araw Ng Dabaw Phoenix Run. It earned me two medals, one for finishing and another for topping my age group. It was perhaps the best finish I have had for a half in all the years that I have run. I really didn't bother much about my times before I got my second wind in running. I didn't keep a log or a record of my races, much more my finishing times. Running a race, finishing, and getting a certificate was enough for me. I only became more conscious of my race times when I got introduced to blogging, social media, and online running logs. The net indeed has a way of changing us.

I never got any nearer that 1:41:33 again.

The same year I set that PB, I ran the 35th Milo Marathon Davao City Regional 21K Elimination Race at 1:42:11. It was on race course that was much more hilly than the one used in the Phoenix 21k run about eight months earlier, and maybe it would have meant a new PB has it been on the same route, but still a 1:42 is not a 1:41.

After easing back into racing following a metatarsal stress fracture, while at the same balancing the demands of running and a fulltime job, I did another 21K race in November last year. My time for the 37th Milo Marathon Davao Regional 21K Elimination Race was even farther from my 1:41 PB. My 1:47:54 finishing time was way below the qualifying time for the national finals for my age group, but I was definitely not happy about it. I was frustrated, but there really are times when you have to live with the fact that you can't always have it all.

About a week going into the Run Sa Kalilangan 21k, a running friend asked me what my target time for the race was. I told him I don't really set any target time for my races; I just try to run my best and beat my previous best. Race routes and race conditions are never really exactly the same, and the most you can do is give your best and hope it's good enough. I did just that.

Shortly after the first kilometer, other runners passed me. I counted two. Another came abreast and kept pace with me for quite some time. I told myself we were just starting and still had a long way to go. I held back from pushing too soon, fearful of fading out early. Going into the third kilometer, the top women passed, running light and fast, and soon after have set a good distance between themselves and us. By the fourth kilometer, they were much further ahead, and I was running by my lonesome.

It wasn't long after though that I was again trading paces with another runner, one of the two that passed me earlier. Younger and, I felt, stronger than me, I thought it better to keep from surging past him. I kept my pace steady, hoping the endurance I developed from years of running would again work for me. It did. Going into the halfway mark, I was again by my lonesome, with just one more runner between me and the turnaround in front of the Sarangani Provincial Capitol in Alabel. I picked up the pace a bit, kept even, passed and was soon heading back to where we started at Robinson's Place. I have passed back the two runners who went by me earlier. I was happy, but I knew my race was far from over.

On the way to the finish, I met the remaining 21K runners. One shouted to me from across the road that I was in 13th place. Not bad, I thought, at the same time starting to feel that discomforting burning sensation begin to build up again on the underside of my right forefoot. I started bothering me on latter parts of races beyond 10K after I had that metatarsal stress fracture. I don't feel it on my left foot, even if it does as much pounding on concrete as my right. I tried to keep it off my mind, chanting my prayer mantra -- Hail Mary, give me strength. I was already feeling fatigue start to set in.

In any race, knowing that you are already near the finish somehow has a way of re-energizing you. While the finish line was still far from visible, making that last turn on the road somehow gave me a bit more strength to hold my pace. I knew my race was almost done, and no other 21k runner was close enough to surge and pass me. I held on until I saw the finish line a few meters ahead and picked up my pace. Nothing felt better than crossing the finish line.

I learned later that I indeed was 13th overall and 10th among the men. At first I thought my 1:46:38 finish was slower than my 37th Milo Marathon Regional Elimination Race in Davao last year until I checked on Dailymile. Beating that time by 1 minute and 16 seconds may not really be much, but I believe there is wisdom in what American long-distance runner and Olympian Kara Goucher says: "Acknowledge all of your small victories, They will eventually add up to something great."

My finisher's medal and race bib from the Run Sa Kalilangan in General Santos City today, February 23.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

One February long run

It was still dark when I went out for my run at five this morning. It was also cold. It was, after all, only the first day of February, and in this corner of the world this was but natural. It would be colder up in those hills, I told myself.

It has been a while since I had a long run. The last time I did one was twelve days before Christmas on a more moderate route. This time, I was taking on that big climb again. The route went five kilometers uphill, not that steep, but a steady climb that could easily turn untrained legs to rubber. The demand on the lungs as you steadily climbed was another matter. Before that, I already have to go uphill for two and a half kilometers before hitting the closest thing to a flat road on this route.

Three years ago, I had more time to go on runs of fifteen kilometers and beyond. Work changed all that. But I hope to build up on the distance again this year, and this is my first venture into the twenty kilometer zone.

I went through the first four kilometers of my run at six-minute pace; it went down steadily as I started the gradual ascent to the nine-kilometer mark until it hit seven minutes. You can never hit negative splits on a four-kilometer ascent, I suppose. I didn't. But then again, that's me -- a mere mortal trying to emulate the gods of running, they who run three-minute kilometers and faster, who have iron lungs and legs of steel, who stand glorified in the hallowed halls of running heaven.

And there's the cold, seeping to the bone, as I crest the first of two climbs going to my turnaround at the ten kilometer mark. Maybe I would have been better off just doing a shorter run and not suffering this much. Perhaps it would have been even better if I just stayed in bed today and slept until the sun was high up in the sky. After all, I have been running everyday for thirty-one days since the start of the New Year. The break definitely wouldn't be bad. But I am stubborn, and I am a runner.

I hit the ten kilometer mark after still another climb, shorter this time. I make the turn and head back for home. I told myself this would be easier, it was mostly downhill. I ran occasionally on the grassy shouldering of the paved road. It felt nice on my feet, soft and cushiony, a great break from all that pounding on concrete. I look ahead at the road stretching before me. If I were riding a bike, this would be the time I rest my legs and just coast down the road till I need to pedal again to keep moving. There is no such thing in running, you move your feet, always, go one step at a time, or you don't move at all.

So I go on, one step at a time, just taking on the kilometers at they come. I know that at the end there is breakfast and a shower waiting. That would be my reward as always, and the joy of having accomplished something and feeling truly alive. That is good enough. I thank God for it.