Monday, September 07, 2015

Taking the road less travelled

On Sunday, after a very long time, I finally took the road less travelled by many runners.

Kidapawan City's back roads - mostly dirt roads winding through fruit farms - were a regular part of my runs before I moved to Cotabato City some 120 kilometers away. The city's asphalt and concrete roads have been my gym since then and running on dirt roads again had been on my mind for quite a while. Pounding the hard concrete surface especially every single running day puts a lot of stress on old legs, and running on dirt every once in a while provides a welcome break. The slightly softer surface of a dirt road spells less wear and tear on the muscles, bones, and joints.

Matt Fitzgerald of cites one more reason to go off-road and hit the dirt.

"Another advantage of running off-road that is less appreciated is that it forces the runner to vary his stride more. Trail running tends to be hillier, to require more directional changes and lateral movement, and to demand more variation in stride length and foot action to avoid obstacles and maintain traction. Some experts in running biomechanics believe that such variations accelerate the process by which the stride becomes more efficient as the brain learns novel ways to engage the muscles," writes Fitzgerald in a July 2014 article on why one should run off-road.

Liza Jhung of Runners' World, in "Why Trail Running Is Good for You," also says running off-road is "good for the brain."

"Trails provide an undeniable escape from what can be an otherwise hectic day. Eliminate the outside environment of cars and other city noises and import sounds of birds and trees rustling in the wind, and you’ve got an entirely different experience."

Gordy Megros, in another Runners' World article - "Less Stress More Bliss" - mentions a 1996 study as showing that "negative ions--invisible air molecules released by trees that are known to increase oxygen flow to the brain--alleviate seasonal depression as effectively as Prozac or Zoloft."

One thing I am sure though is the different kind of high I get on a run through dirt roads. It's not just because of the view, like seeing the sea on one side and having a tree-filled mountainside rising next to you on the other on a run I had while on Samal Island. It also comes from the cacophony of sounds that says you are amidst nature - the harmony of birdcalls mingling with insect sounds, the babbling of a distant mountain stream as it makes its way through rocks and boulders smoothened over the years by the rushing waters - and running with all that, occasionally hopping, skipping, and jumping over mud pools after a night of rain, makes you feel you are in total communion with Mother Earth, born to run amid God's wonderful creation.

My best-ever off-road run experience yet. Mt. Apo, April 2009

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thank God I can run

Life is definitely not a bed of roses, even the most hardcore optimist would have to accept that as fact.

It has its ups and downs. One time it's bright and sunny, the next its gloomy and filled with rain, both in the real and metaphorical sense. How much of one condition there is in one's life would naturally vary depending on one's disposition or outlook in life, but the fact remains that life is not really so much a plateau as it is undulating.

On certain moments, one experiences joy and ecstasy, on others, pain and agony. And just like situations in life could be positive and encouraging at one instance and  undesirable and damaging at another, people could be loving and grateful, just as much as they could be callous and thankless.

Family and friends - and faith too - help get us through all these. Runners, I believe, have the run as well, as a gift and a blessing, to help get them  through life's difficult times and to celebrate its wonderful moments when they come.

Like everyone else, I have had my moments of difficulties. In most of them, since I started running, doing a 10k or a longer run, helped me clear my mind of clutter and think better. Running, especially when done solo, and I always find it best to run by my lonesome before the sun rises, gives me time for personal reflection, my moment of silence and meditation, with only the rhythm of my breathing and the sound of my footfall to keep me company. It has worked for me, and it still does.

I don't always get an easy answer or find an immediate solution every time, some emotional burdens are heavier and take more time to deal with than others, but I somehow find solace in my running, some kind of comfort on the road or trail. I feel better about myself, more confident I could face whatever is before me.

Thank God I can run. Still.

P.S. Wondering why running (or any form of aerobic exercise) helps people think better? This article from Scientific American provides a good answer. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Life has its seasons; running too

There is no denying it. I am in a rut right now.

My mileage has dropped over the past two months, and attempts to do better have not been very successful. If there is something I find consoling, it is that I haven't totally given up running. I still muster the will power to get out of bed in the wee hours on certain days and go for a run. Be it work or age catching up with me, the fact is I am struggling to get back to the usual grind.

Right now, I am telling myself this is temporary. I am telling myself I can get out of this rut, if not tomorrow then maybe the next day or the day after that. I am telling myself the running days will become more frequent, the distance covered in every running day will increase, that I will be leaving this staleness behind.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The final leg

After running 15 kilometers over rolling terrain, you get tired. I would say it's the same for all runners, newbie or seasoned. Your legs get battered from all the pounding and get exhausted.

If they could talk, your legs, they will tell you to stop. They would complain about the torture you let them go through. They would air their disaprroval of being dragged out of bed in the very early morning when sleeping was the natural and logical thing for a sane person to do. Your lungs would perhaps be joining the chorus too.

After running 15 kilometers, I felt all that. My lungs and legs were not talking, they can't, but they were telling me just what they were telling me. They'd rather not be doing what I had in mind. There were three uphills ahead, an equal number of descents, maybe a couple more. I would do surges through them.

I can feel the exhaustion everytime I picked up the pace. There was no pain, nothing like it, but there was fatigue that made my legs feel heavy. There was no smoothness in the stride. There was labor in each step.

There is nothing easy here. There is nothing to make you feel ecstatic. There is only difficulty and suffering.

But after you have finished that last leg, that last kilometer, with a surge to the end of your run, after you have given your all , after you stand bent at the hips, catching your breath, your two hands resting on both knees, you straighten up and walk slowly, walk tall, proud to have silenced that voice inside that always tells you to stop.

You have conquered. You have won.

p.s. I posted negative splits in those last 5 kilometers of my 20k run and had a faster second half overall. Sweet exhaustion.

Friday, April 03, 2015

One moment in a run

One moment in a run. Life mirrored in a split-second event. You stumble, you fall, you get back up and go on.

It was my 10th straight day of running. I decided to go out on a 10k loop of dirt road and short pavement close to home. I have run there countless times before I moved to another locale because of work some three years ago. It was the first time I was running that loop again.

It starts off with a gradual descent for about three kilometers and then continues into two kilometers of rolling terrain. Along the way, I pass a steel bridge traversing a mountain spring, a babbling brook, and farmlands planted to rubber, fruit trees, and rice. Chirping birds, barking dogs, and crowing roosters add to the rustic mood. All of it gives you a sense of freedom, of oneness with nature, and even reckless abandon.

On the way back, I push myself up the short climb from the bridge, looking forward to the more gradual but definitely much longer ascent back to where I started. I had already run more than six kilometers by then. What happened next happened fast. My right foot hit a stone, I lost balance, and felt myself hurtling towards the rocky limestone dirt road. I was down.

I was stunned for a few seconds, but immediately got back up and resumed running. I felt the sting on my right knee and my left thigh. I glanced down and saw dirt and a little blood. There was dirt too on my sweaty shorts and singlet. And there was even more sting on my elbow and my left arm. There was even more blood there mixing with my sweat.

Moving on, brushing off the dirt from my shorts and singlet once in a while, I thought of the other times I have fallen down while running. It happened to me while running alone on Manila's asphalt roads once. It happened to me while running with a friend up Mt. Batulao. It happened to me on a much earlier race in Cotabato City back in the first half of my running life. I finished the race at the top of my age group.

The day before this run, I watched a replay of the Nagoya Women's Marathon on cable television. One of the top Japanese runners, Sairi Maeda, fell in the early part of the race, coming into contact with another runner as they were grabbing their drinks from a table. She went on to post a strong third-place finish with her time of 2:22:48, the eighth-fastest time by a Japanese woman. If it can happen to the elite, falling can happen to us mere mortals even more.

The important thing is we do not stay down. We instead pick ourselves up and go on, running towards the finish despite the pain of our cuts being soaked in sweat, despite the bruised ego and the self-doubt.

It is life mirrored in a split-second event. You stumble, you fall, you get back up and go on. You continue to pursue your dreams, you continue to live your passion, and in the end, you look back at it and shake your head while smiling.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Running in Baguio

A bit before 5 in the morning, I woke up, went through my usual pre-run routine, slipped my feet into my old, trusty pair of Nike Free 3.0 , and laced up.

My roommate for the seminar, who was also getting ready for his own run, looked at me in surprise and asked me: "You're running in that? In Baguio's cold morning air?"

I was in my usual get-up of blue short shorts and white singlet. I just smiled.

I went outside and immediately felt the chill. I thought maybe my roommate was right. Maybe I should have put on a dri-fit t-shirt instead. I shrugged off the thought just as immediately as the chill hit me the first time. I started off on a slow grind.

Baguio City is higher, much higher than the places I run in most often. It is situated at an altitude of approximately 1,540 meters (5,050 feet) above sea level. Kidapawan, which I call home, has an elevation of  279 meters (915 feet) while Cotabato City, which is my main workplace, is a mere 7 meters (22 feet) above sea level. I expected running here to be more difficult and challenging, and indeed, after a few meters, I felt the burn in my lungs. I was going downhill but I felt I was gasping for air. Blame that on the altitude, I told myself, and on the ageing lungs, too.

It didn't take long though for the body to do what it does best, adapt. I was soon running more comfortably, carrying on with the usual breathing pattern that matched my stride - two steps, inhale; two steps, exhale. I felt energized, eager to just follow the road and run, but also wary of the fact that I was not familiar with this place and getting lost was the least of what I wanted to happen to me.

After seeing 25 minutes on my wristwatch chronograph, I decided to turn back. The route I took was mostly downhill so I braced myself for a long climb. It was indeed long, but a gradual one, and the suffering I was anticipating my legs and lungs to experience didn't really happen.

Going back up, I noticed I was meeting more runners. I also noticed that almost everyone of them was  in cold weather gear - running tights, long sleeve dri-fit top. I felt like a weird, crazy guy in my short shorts and singlet. That I wasn't sweating that much didn't really come as a surprise. I was expecting that in Baguio's chilly air.

The night before, I asked that van driver who took us from Manila to Baguio, where one ascending section of a fork in the road (the other went downhill) was going. Camp John Hay, he said. I decided to run on along that road.

It was in John Hay that I finally felt the burn. Going up on Sheridan Drive was a challenge after having gone through several climbs at high altitude earlier. I was taking short, fast steps and breathing heavily, thankful when I reached the point where I decided to make my turnaround.

It was much easier after that.

Running also felt much easier the next morning. I had more confidence. I also had on my orange dri-fit shirt as I ran from Iggy's Inn on South Drive to John Hay, Wright Park, back up South Drive, to Panagbenga Park, and finally back to Iggy's Inn. I sweated more as well.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Looking forward to a Baguio run

As we were driving to the seminar venue, I noticed that the road we were taking was only going one way - up.

I've been here a couple of times before. I don't remember doing any run in either. Tomorrow I plan to do one, finally have a feel of running in Baguio City's altitude, terrain, and chill. And if things go well, maybe I'll do another one the next day, and still another the day after that.

Running is a good way to go around and get to know a place. I always take my running shoes on out-of-town trips and do a run or two if time permits. I've done it in Vigan, on Calle Crisologo, around Plaza Salcedo, and all those other streets the names of which I don't remember. I've done it in Tagbilaran and in Cebu, in Malaybalay and in Ozamis, in Cagayan de Oro in the rain, and twice in Tagaytay while enjoying the view of Lake Taal and the volcano island. There were other places.

I tried running in the the high altitude of Llallagua in Bolivia, around the snow covered plaza infront of the church. I only managed a few rounds. I was in running tights and sweats but I hardly sweat in the cold winter air. It was entirely the opposite of my experience in Brunei's Bandar Seri Begawan. I had a lot more luck working up a sweat in its clean, tree-lined streets around the hotel where we stayed.

Tomorrow morning would be getting-to-know-Baguio-streets time. I hope it would be a fine first experience.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

See Abdul run

Running has always been my go to activity when I need to think of something to write about.

Studies have shown that increased blood flow to the brain enhances the cognitive process, as what happens when you engage in cardiovascular activities like running. A recent report on cites a U.S. study as saying "activities that maintain cardio fitness - such as running, swimming and cycling - led to better thinking skills and memory 20 years on."

Running helps clear the mind and allows the flow of ideas. It works for me.

Running early on a cold Wednesday morning, I recall seeing on social media posts about a major running event in Manila being dedicated to the "Fallen 44," the members of the elite Philippine National Police Special Action Force who were killed in an encounter with Moro fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The run gathered together, according to reports, some 15,000 runners who "saluted the SAF commandos carrying the portraits and the names of their fallen comrades at the first few meters from the starting line."

It indeed would have been a spectacle to see, and a memorable moment one would cherish to be part of.

And running on alone on fluorescent-lit streets on that cold Wednesday morning, my thoughts shifted to the other victims of that tragic incident in Mamasapano -- 1,986 children, according to data gathered by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team, displaced from their homes, deprived of the opportunity to learn because their schools had to be closed.

I remembered hearing a participant of the People's Fact-Finding Mission in Mamasapano share some of their findings during the tow-day data-gathering activity.

"In Linantangan Elementary School in Tukanalipao, only 200 of the 600 children have returned to their classes. Of the 12 teachers in this school, only 7 have had the courage to resume teaching."

That was as of Wednesday last week, February 11.

Children run primarily as play. But on that early morning of February 25, those children of Mamasapano, along with their parents, ran for their lives, to safety. A few of them were not so lucky. One got hit by a bullet while trying to go back home to check on their carabao. He was lucky to have survived. Sarah Panangulon died from her gunshot wounds. She was only eight.

As I ran, I thought how easy this is for me. I run for leisure, for fitness, at my own unforced pace. Many of those who ran that big event in Manila run for the same reasons I do. Running for your life, running as bullets zoom past, running as explosions wrack your nerves, running carrying whatever possessions you can take with you away from danger and destruction, that is an entirely different story. If it is difficult and traumatic for adults, how much more for children?

For quite a long while, children in this oft-disturbed land have ran primarily for play, just as they should, thanks to a ceasefire agreement resulting from peace negotiations between government and Moro rebels.

As I ran, I prayed that day will come, soon, when these children will no longer run because of fear of being caught in the crossfire.