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.