Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.  ~Loren Eiseley

I was threading water in the middle of Janao Bay and I was getting disoriented. The swim out wasn’t all that difficult but the swim back, against the current, was zapping me of whatever energy I had left.

I was getting tired trying to find those white buoys. I had already managed to swim about a km out towards the raft. Everyone I was with in the swim pack had disappeared. It was just me and the deep blue-green sea. And although I believe I am a strong swimmer (the other alternative being that I’m just crazy and I want to torture myself), it was very disconcerting to find myself alone and unable to see beyond those waves that seemed to be getting stronger by the minute. Where the hell was everyone else? And how could I have gotten myself so lost?

Fact 1: Next to running and running marathons, I love swimming in the open water best… And on some days, I suspect that it’s the other way around…

Fact 2: If I wasn’t already set on running across that bridge on the other side of the Pacific and, of course, saying hello to the piano guy then I would be doing this instead–-The 3rd OLANGO CHALLENGE. It’s an open water swim event (1.5K, 3K, 5K) that starts out from Lapu-Lapu City.

Fact 3: This swim is scheduled on the 24th of April this year.  Ack!  I will be in Monterey, by then getting ready to run in the THE BIG SUR MARATHON with a friend on the 25th. Yey!

I did two open water swims last year.   The first one was a 2K swim in Anilao. Huge waves greeted us and lots of colorful fishes accompanied us during the swim. It kept the terror at bay. A good thing too because this was the first time I had ever done this.   The second time was for a 3K swim off Hamilo Coast. The waves were much more manageable this time around. There was no sign of the colorful fishes this time. It was just deep and dark waters out there but both swims left me hankering for more.

Swimming in open water is always a thrill for me. There is a certain calm that I get only when I am swimming. It is an absolute fantastic blue silence minus the static and the white noise that is almost always there when I am going about my regular day. It comes only after I’ve pushed myself past a certain limit. It comes swiftly and gracefully and then it hangs over me for the briefest and most fragile and pleasurable of moments. It is an amazing feeling. And it is the promise of that moment that sometimes will keep me pushing beyond points where my body would normally cave in to the stress of the elements.

“Pray!” I hear a voice in my head. It sounds very much like my Piano teacher. And then I realize it is my Piano teacher, Sr. Xaveria!  Having moved on to the great beyond, she hangs around in my head more often now. So many years ago, she taught me that before I do anything, before I start anything…Pray, she would tell me. Pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Pray before you start. Pray before you panic. Trust and then let God be God.

So I start praying an old prayer of protection: The light of God surrounds me, the power of God protects me, the love of God enfolds me, the presence of God watches over me… And wherever I am, God is.

I repeat this prayer over and over as my hands drag through the water in long sweeping movements. It’s a relentless and persistent push and pull. My body twists and glides through the water. I look down and from the corner of my eye, a school of fish darts by and then they bank and they swim right under me.  Brilliant light filters through and light fractals float on the surface of the water me. I forget about my ongoing battle with the waves. I relax enough so that I feel at once both light and graceful. Swimming, if you really think about it, is the closest thing we can get to flying. We have full control of our bodies as we spin and tumble and float under water. Where else can we do that? Certainly not on land!

Something suddenly floats up to within my line of vision.

“Oh what bold aqua blue trunks you have!” I tell the man when he pops out of the water.

“There you are!” He replies though we have never seen each other before.

He grins and points towards the shore. Stop looking for the small white buoys he tells me. They are too small to see in these choppy waters. Just keep swimming towards shore, that’s our ticket home!

Come on, he shouts out over the churning waves. I watch him as he disappears under the water only to reappear a few meters down. Come on, he repeats, his voice more urgent. It cuts through my stupor. I stop threading water. I stop hesitating and I dive headlong under the waves after him. Once again it’s a relentless push and pull…  And once again my hand rakes in fluid grace and joy as seawater skims through my fingers.

The 1st Speedo International Swim Masters Series Philippines 2K swim 6.21.09 47:43  (AG) / Hamilo 3.5.8 3K swim 11.21.09 1:27:21 (3 OA)

For more info on THE OLANGO CHALLENGE or to register, go to this SITE.


a habit of kissing frogs…

Posted: March 12, 2010 in running

And sticking to promises made…

I wasn’t tempting fate this time. I was merely going along with the plans. I was, in a manner or speaking, kissing my frog.

The thing about the HK marathon was that I never meant for it to be my marathon. It wasn’t even on my list of must-do marathons. Mighty M had run it a couple of times and her stories were always so-so and ho-hum about it.  A few guys I knew were running this as their first marathon though so I decided to tag along. I signed up for it months and months ago because the schedule of the marathon worked with my plan. It was exactly three weeks before the Los Angeles Marathon. I thought I had it all figured out.

But life always has a sneaky way of getting your attention…

Every time I head out towards a special marathon run in my calendar, I try to schedule another marathon race about 2-3 weeks ahead of it.  I treat the first marathon as a training run. The next one I treat as serious fun.  The LA marathon on the 21st of March was marked as the 1st serious fun marathon in my calendar. Hong Kong marathon was supposed to be the peak of my training runs for LA. I am off schedule now. The injury I got in Corregidor… where I managed a fantastic trip and roll stunt to the bottom of the hill and sprained my ankle and fractured my little toe kept me off training much longer than planned. Compound that with the work trips to Europe in the middle of winter and you end up with a lot of lost training days…  It made running the Hong Kong marathon a far bigger challenge than I initially thought it would be.

Fate had handed me a frog. Now what was I supposed to do with it?

Why, kiss it, of course!  And hope it turns into a prince… It’s either that or into a royal pain in the a**! And since we are talking marathons here then I guess it’s only fair to expect a combination of both…

I can’t help it. I’m the girl who grew up on an extra serving of Disney and fairy tales.  A happy childhood like that certainly ruins you! You begin to see interesting possibilities… even with frogs! But in this case, the Hong Kong Marathon, my frog of a marathon, sure did not disappoint.

I knew going into Hong Kong that I had, at best, half-baked marathon legs. But no complaints here! It was a fantastic route and I relished every kilometer of that marathon road even the annoyingly painful ones.

Three bridges, two long tunnels (one cuts through a mountain, the other goes under the bay) and all this linked by a highway that at certain portions is slightly tipped sideways…

It’s a new route, a friend tells me. Not that it matters much as I don’t even know what the old route is like. I pore through the map. I try to make sense of the elevation chart in the runner’s guide. Whatever it’s supposed to tell me, I get absolutely nothing.

Time to shift to plan B.

My cousin arrives with her husband. After a delicious and satisfying lunch in one of the restaurants in Harbour City, I show them the map.  By this time we are standing at the promenade near the Ocean Ferry Terminal in Kowloon. Directly in front of us is Hong Kong Island. He points to a black structure in the far distance.  There, he says, is where the tunnel ends.  Then he points all the way to the left. And there, over there, do you see the cluster of trees? That would be where Victoria Park is.

Well… We’ve got the last six kilometers covered. It looks pretty flat…(surprise! surprise! this was actually the hard part with the tough inclines!) Where’s the rest?

I show him the three bridges and the highway on the map.

That heads out towards the Airport, he replies.  And that one, and he says this as his hand traces out the outline of the Stonecutter’s Bridge, I’ve lived here for 20 years. I’ve never driven past that bridge, ever. I didn’t even realize it was there…

So much for my recon mission…

I am the worst person to ask to review a race. Half the time I am not even in it. Or rather, my head isn’t fully in it. I am somewhere else altogether believing in a magic that makes young girls kiss ugly frogs. It’s a belief borne out of an obstinate will (to my mother’s consternation) and a desire to simply keep moving forward. It’s what keeps me on that road laughing and running even through the inevitable pain.

There are only two real truths I can tell you about a run. Whether I liked it or I didn’t.  If I liked it then that means I ran it well whatever difficulty, confusion or chaos ensued in the process. And if I didn’t like it? Well, all you have to do is find the paramedic with the black eye and then ask him why…

I know this much about running marathons. The races I run with heart are the only ones I remember. And hence, Subic International Marathon is still on top of my list of most memorable runs. It was a debacle of a marathon by all accounts. It was also my slowest and most painful marathon to date. But more than any other race that marathon taught me enough about myself so that I came out of it a feeling a lot tougher inside and out.  No other race comes close. Not San Francisco where I posted my fastest sub 4-hour marathon time or the 70.3 ironman in Cam Sur where I bested my demon on the bike.

Like I said, it’s a habit of kissing frogs…

This is how I always run my marathons. I run them first and foremost in my head. That’s why I run two within weeks of each other. The first one is really all about wrapping my head around the distance. It’s a method that will not work for everyone. But it works best for me. That’s why at times I barely even register what is really happening outside… Except that with every step I know that I am getting closer and closer to the finish line.

Mist and fog (and smog) swirl in the air. It’s an interesting view as we approach the first of three bridges in the route. Container vessels are stacked up in neat rows at the port below. Cranes and huge industrial machines are reaching up to the sky with their giant robotic arms.  I do not have the luxury of marveling at the view but I try to take in as much as I can.  I look out towards the sea, I look up towards the cloud-covered sky, I look at the faces of the other runners around me and I fix my eye on the road ahead trying to figure out how best to ride the inclines and dips up ahead.

I check on my ankle from time to time. Every time there is a dip I try it out. It’s behaving beautifully. Well, it’s a bit painful but I was expecting that.

And all this time I’m pushing up, up and up that incline.

It’s a long way to go to the finish line. I have all this road ahead of me. Two more bridges are waiting, two more tunnels and a few steep flyovers thrown into the mix… It’s going to be an interesting ride.

And what’s the plan? Grin, run it, bear it and embrace the horizon… in other words, play the game and simply keep going!

For good or bad or eternal ruin, I am programmed to believe in happy endings and happy ever after… And I have yet to be proven wrong.

Hong Kong Marathon: February 28, 2010 4:20:00 Done! Next, please!

the flurries

Posted: February 14, 2010 in running

The weather report said expect the flurries… hmmm, I wondered. What exactly are the flurries?

HappyHappyJoyJoy was quick to send a reply:

* A small swirling mass of something moved by sudden gusts of wind: like a flurry of snow? This flurry felt more like a bombardment of snowflakes aimed directly at my eyelashes. It was charming in the beginning and quite fun.  But soon enough I found my shoulders aching from being all hunched up in an effort to keep the cold out.

Everyone says it’s the coldest winter they’ve had in years. I couldn’t agree more. My tropical bones can definitely feel the chill creeping in and staying in. I checked the weather before I packed for this trip to Germany. I saw the negative temperatures. I knew then that the running shoes were just going to be dead weight in my suitcase. But I brought it anyway.

It’s definitely the time of the flurries…

A number of things arriving or happening during the same period: like a flurry of activities, planned and unplanned? If only everything went according to schedule (and it rarely ever does in my world) the first real marathon for me this year would have happened on the 7th of this month. I was registered to run the full in Condura. Registered and still wanting to do it even after the full marathon runners had taken off.   I watched from the sidelines as the group was sent off with fireworks and well wishes. But I stayed well enough away from the starting corral until they called for the 21 kilometer runners. It was time to be smart about my training. And I don’t do smart very well. There’s always that extra effort required to keep myself from crashing and burning when I find myself clinging adamantly to a notion saner persons would immediately eschew. That notion that I could still run a full marathon at goal pace even after an ankle injury had sidelined me for weeks? Well, that’s just crazy. That I could finish a marathon at a much much slower walk/crawl pace? Well, that’s still possible. Difficult, but possible! But to what end?

I have been confined to short easy runs in the evenings, 12-15 kilometer runs just to get the marathon legs back into shape. There were other things begging for attention. Work needed to take center stage for a while. At the same time, the ankle kept misbehaving.  I needed to coax it back into form. Condura Run was the test. My longest run yet. I did end up running 37 kilometers that day. But I knew that pushing for a 42 would be a stretch. So what it finally came down to was a 21Km race plus another 16kms after the race.  It was just 5 kilometers short of running the full distance. But to run the entire full would have meant far more junk miles than I could already ill afford.

Condura’s run was a way to establish a base  so I could focus on marathon training at the speed required to make it to Boston. That’s still the plan and until I see that timer that does not go beyond 3:45:59 at the marathon finish line then it remains The Goal amidst a flurry of other running dreams.

A day after the Condura run I was on a plane and winter was waiting…

I guess the flurries do have their uses. I do smart much better when under time pressure. It helps me to prioritize and focus.

• A sudden short period of commotion or excitement: like a flurry of running feet? Two halfs scheduled this month and then my first full marathon at the end of the month in Hong Kong. It is not The Marathon in my books. But it will be an honest effort at running the full distance again. A training marathon because the honest-to-goodness marathon race is now waiting under March’s wings…

I breathe hot air softly on my cupped hands and hot mist forms around it. From the safety of a doorway, I watch white flakes of ice spiral and swirl before they lay a carpet of white on the ground. It’s beautiful, actually. A seeming mad dance is happening outside. People with head bent, shoulders squared are relentlessly making their way to their destinations. Some shuffle, some dash and a few just plod on. I know its time to get back outside and surround myself with the flurry of snow and ice but I still take a few extra minutes in the quiet warmth before I finally fix my cap, take a deep breath and head out the door.

I’ve got no more time to waste. It’s definitely time to get back on the road.

Condura Half Marathon: February 7, 2010 1:55:23

and then what happens?

Posted: January 22, 2010 in running

Once upon a time, as all good stories often begin, in a land so very near home, a girl found this written on a page… 

Why Do You Run?
Because you’re wondering if your grandchildren will too.  Because its raining.  Because you can, and others can’t.  Because its faster than walking.  Because that shaky-leg-thing is all about nervous energy.  Because you can’t fly.  Because you can fly.  Because your personal best is just that, yours.  Because the pain of a blister is nothing compared to the pain of stopping.  Because you like the resistance the wind gives you.  Because you like the resistance you give the wind.
Just Because.

And the girl started dreaming of running across a distant land with soaring skyscrapers and bridges and five fantastic boroughs… waiting…waiting..waiting… twiddling her thumbs and keeping her fingers crossed. Waiting for the day she could send in her application (again!) and waiting for the day she would make it through the lottery results. (Let’s hope the magic works this time around! And if it doesn’t well… there is that magical 3rd try rule where that nasty mean computer can no longer spit my name out!)

In the meantime, a few other marathons beckon in other cities, one of which is  where stars have been known to walk on land.  Time to get seriously running…

How long will it take me to get back to that marathon start line? Faster than it will take me to get grandchildren, I suppose…

Hans Christian Andersen once wrote: Every man’s life is a fairy tale written by God’s fingers. And as fairy tales go… There will be a beginning, there will be an end and a whole lot of living, dreaming, some running and, inescapably, magic in-between.

I don’t really want it any other way.

And so the story begins…

Dog Days: • a period of inactivity or sluggishness

Of all the gifts I’ve ever received from my mother, a map of the constellations is one of those I treasure most. Black connect-the-dots patterns printed on stiff parchment, yellowed with age, tattered and torn around the edges. It mapped out the stars outside our home. It was my mother’s map before it was mine.

Over there, that’s Orion, See the three stars in a row? That would be his belt (Orion, the hunter and apparently a fashionista to boot!) His arms, his club… My mother says as her hand traces out the pattern in the sky. And there! Not too far away, Canis Major, the great dog. He trails Orion. The brightest star in that constellation, in the night sky, do you see it? That’s Sirius.

Sirius, the Dog Star! This universe does know how to make a point. Dogdays. I am  right smack in the middle of my dogdays! Who or what better company can I expect on my night runs than this star that for the ancient Greeks signaled the hottest and therefore most unproductive days of the year? Why did it take me this long to figure it out? And how do I even begin to get out of it?

The left foot continues to misbehave. Both my pace and cadence are still off. It is getting to be tedious. It’s a funk that for weeks I’ve been trying to run, walk and now crawl my way out of! My mileage continues to seesaw between the imaginary and the pathetic.

Slow, sluggish and unproductive. That would be the first few weeks of the year… And the last few weeks of the last few months of the year that was. But still no real complaints here. Not yet…

Though I’ve always loved breakfast, I’ve realized that I’ve never truly been a morning fan. I always did think mornings came way too early in the day. So I’ve pushed most of my runs to the evenings, reserving the dawn for what they are best for in my book… bed and sleep and the occasional bagel and coffee while watching a new sun rise. And, once or twice a week, a swim in an ice blue pool.

Dark nights… Night runs with just the stars for company. It’s been a series of those. And, once again, you sneaky universe, you! One letter off and a whole world of difference to me! Dark Knights, not dark nights! If you are listening, please get that straight! The former not the latter is the one in my wish list.

The answer is as simple as it is as difficult to do. Do the work.

So, it’s back to the old schedule before this multi-sport craziness hi-jacked my mornings. Some are meant to tri… and then there is me. Done tri- trying for now and back to a simpler, more straightforward love: running.

Never did like it complicated.


Where is your new blog? Where are you hiding it? Ketikat asks from across the table. You haven’t been posting in your old one.

“Yeah…” I reply as I pop a chicken nugget into my mouth, “I’m done with my iron shoes. It’s now all about my iron nose…”

It’s been months since I last posted.  I’ve been quite distracted. I have, after all, been avidly watching my very own soap opera inside my head. And, as most soap operas tend to do, the plot would often veer towards the ridiculous. There was no way I could share this story until I got it all sorted out.

My Iron Shoes started with this piece: Confessions of a Reluctant Racer. It was all about my reasons for being on the road and my attempt to run my first marathon. My reasons for running have not changed. It was, and it still is, mostly about sharing the marathon road with friends. It is, as it was then, still about my runs toward breakfast… with a slight variation. Now it’s a run to breakfast with friends and a side serving of B. B being Boston and running a 3:45 qualifier.

The path to Boston seemed pretty straightforward. But then that plan hit a snag or rather a curb! One fine Sunday morning, in the middle of cross training, I flew off my bike and misplaced my nose. And somehow, between the toppling bike and the hard pavement, a different story began to unfold…

The first day I got back on my bike, everything just scared me. I was a wreck. It was then I knew that there was more picking up that I needed to do.  It wasn’t just my nose I had left in pieces on Temple Drive. I had also left behind pieces of the girl that once took such joy from being on the road. And that simply wouldn’t do. Not for me. Not for someone who considers the road her very own playground.

The journey to Boston now required a slight detour. Before I could continue my quest, I first needed to tame my monsters, temper my fears and somehow put the girl back together again.

I needed to get my iron back.

A curtain of fog and mist hides the bridge as a new wave of runners approach it on a chilly Sunday morning. It’s a steep climb up from the park below. Patches of blue and white are slowly becoming visible in the sky overhead.  I take a deep breath of cool, crisp air and focus my gaze intently on the loom of the bridge up ahead. My steps quicken as others have began to slow down. I am getting nearer the incline. I scan the crowd of runners slowly making their way to the side of the road. Just a few more steps and it’s time to let go. A full-blown grin is let loose on my face. It stays there the whole time I am running up that road. A part of me still cannot believe I am finally going to cross the bridge in my running shoes. The bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, my marathon bridge now! Five full months of training and just a kilometer and a few heart beats away …

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…7…8… 1, 2, 3…”

I hear Batgirl’s voice counting inside my head.  The first time we encountered an incline that daunted us, it was at the Yakult run in Roxas Boulevard so many runs and what now feels like a million years ago.  Back then, Batgirl would count out loud for both of us.  We would run up the fly-overs together. She told me to keep my gaze on the road below and to simply count out the steps. This way, the incline would feel more manageable. Batgirl is a natural coach.  She taught me how to run up hills. She taught me how to attack inclines. It’s a lesson I carry with me to this day…. except, I don’t look down anymore.  I fix my gaze firmly up. I keep my focus at all times on that crest at the top of the hill.  I stare intently at whatever gray blue patch of sky rests over it.  I always want to know exactly what’s left of the hill to run.

I signed up for the San Francisco’s Marathon in January of 2009. San Francisco was going to be the marathon. It was my first attempt to improve on my then 4:45 marathon finish time.  My goal for San Francisco was 4:15. But then, in the middle of a very long run, I found myself in another marathon… The Milo Marathon.

Maintain! Maintain! Maintain! Coach Titus shouts out the instructions 6 kilometers away from the Milo Marathon finish line.

A plaque on my father’s wall reads: Life is something that happens while you are out making other plans. It’s a Beatles’ quote that’s always amused me as a child. It’s something I found myself thinking about quite suddenly in the middle of what seemed like an endless stretch of Roxas Boulevard. Apparently, a marathon is also something that happens while you are out for a very long run. I had been running for close to four hours. My last water stop was at km 35. There had been no open water stations after that. We were getting so close to the finish line and yet it never felt so far away as it did then.

I take it a step at a time. One foot placed in front of the other. Like prayers in a rosary, every step was a declaration of faith and every bead of sweat, an offering of gratitude for the grace that’s kept me going towards a finish line that, at this point, I still could not see.

The plan for Milo was simple. It was meant to be a 35 kilometer long run. The rest of that 42 kilometer route was optional. I could walk it, I could crawl it or simply ignore it. After all, this wasn’t meant to be my marathon. This was my last big push. One final go at running long before my real marathon which was going to happen in exactly 21 days.

That was the plan. What happened was something altogether different.

When we hit km 30.5, a man on a bicycle told us. “If you keep this up, you may just make it to the top 10!”

Top 10? I was in the top 10? Wow! What a magical number. Coach Titus and I looked at each other… And then we just kept going. After all, what is another 12 kilometers between friends?  It’s good to be brave. And when your courage begins to fade, well, you just hold on to your illusions and delusions as long as you can. I had no idea what that 12 kilometers was going to be all about. This was a good thing because it was going to be one of the driest and hardest 12 kilometers I’ve ever ran in my life.  I was lucky that I had Coach Titus pushing me all the way. My saving grace during that training-run-turned-marathon was an experienced coach who figured out early enough that there would be no more water stations left. I was running inside my head. I had not noticed. I had started to push. I was all set to run after that all elusive 4:00 hours. The coach had shouted at me to maintain my pace and to conserve my energy.  “Maintain!” He tells me. “Maintain and save your fire for a later day!”

A desert full of dry cups and a thousand sanity checks later, I see the finish line!

“Seventh place!” The woman shouts out as soon as I cross the finish line chute. Then she hands me a laminated piece of pink paper that reads:

For Verification

I needed to ask,”Are you verifying if I ran the full 42.2K or if I am a woman?”

Sign up for the full sprint. A mini-sprint will just bore you! AquaGirl gives her instructions from across the store.

I shake my head all amused at this woman’s fire. What AquaGirl so conveniently failed to add was this: What does not bore you may actually kill you!

It all started with an application for a tri-sprint, the Animo Sprint. All of a sudden, I found myself deep in training for an honest-to-goodness half-ironman.

Blame it on borrowed fire…

I would not have had the courage to get back on the bike had Aquagirl not pushed me that very first day. This explains the detour… She wouldn’t allow me to keep sitting on that curb so I had to force myself to get back on that bike. Part of what pushed me back was perhaps pride and a reluctance to show weakness…But now I recognize it mostly to be a moment of grace. Grace through a friend who adamantly refused to leave my better and stronger self sitting on the curb.

“You don’t earn grace, little girl,” Sr. Xaveria, tells me with a stern voice. I am seven years old and getting a lesson in faith from my then favorite nun of the above! “All grace is freely given. It is never earned. But when you do get it, you better have a grateful and open heart.”

And so the journey continued. I stuck with my training. I focused on hacking away at those miles.  And every weekend, I faced my demons on the bike. I kept at it knowing that I had friends counting on me to show up and expecting me to share the road with them. I kept at it in spite of the constant arguments I was having inside my head. Having a team waiting for me by the side of the road gave me a deadline. It forced me to deal with my issues and resolve it.  I winged some, I faked some but at least it got me back on that bike and on that road.

“That’s what we do,” AquaGirl tells me, “that’s why we are a team. We push each other in training. And when we have to, we catch! “

Heat, oppressive, stifling heat at every turn. It had been hot on the bike leg. It felt like I was in an oven during the run. I was running towards electric poles. I was running towards tent poles. I was running towards the next pail on the side of the road. I was running towards anything I could see  on the path in front of me.

I was tired but this wasn’t the time to stop.  I had started reciting nursery rhymes because I was unable to remember anything more complicated.

“800 meters to go!” I hear someone shout. And once again, although there is no incline up ahead, I start counting every step in my head.

I spy four men in front of me as I run around the small pond. I keep running towards them. I pass the first man. He waves me on. The second guy stops and starts massaging his legs. I slow down, I fiddle with my race belt but I can’t find my biofreeze gel. He sees me slow down and waves me forward… Go! He orders and then smiles. The third man is just ahead and he is skipping on the red carpet. He looks back and he is wincing in pain. I look away and allow him his moment to be brave. We are both after one thing, after all, a good and strong finish. He will have his. I know it. I am off to have mine now.

What we need is a good mix of Fire and Grace…

I tap into everything I have left on reserve and sprint towards the finish line of the 70.3 Half Ironman in Cam Sur.  I will not walk to the finish line although there is no shame in that. I will run because that is where I find my joy. I will run because, even now, even as I flirt with my first half ironman, I know my passion still belongs to running. It’s still the marathon that makes my heart skip that beat.  I push off and I run and for a brief second both my feet are off the ground. I know it is the closest I will ever get to attaining flight.

Fire and Grace…

Fire is, was and will always be my responsibility. It is my job to make it and to continue to stoke it so it keeps on burning inside of me. Forging iron requires true-blue fire. But my grace has always been in my family and my friends. They are the ones who cheer me on, who hand me bananas on the road, who badger when required, who heckle and push and who catch. They are the people I share the road and my journeys and my stories with. They are the ones who fill the path with laughter and humor and joy so that the occasional growls and yowls of pain are drowned away…so that the fears are faced and the devilkins are sent back empty-handed into their own little hells.

That finish line is now more than a thousand steps behind me.  But there are other finish lines beckoning up ahead as there are marathon roads left to run. But for now, I am enjoying my pit stop as I look back to celebrate all the finish lines I have crossed.

What’s next in the horizon? Why, another marathon finish line, of course! Which one?  I don’t know. Not yet. But now I look down that road with a heart as light as feather wings because now, finally, the girl’s all here and once again she is ready to play!

Milo Marathon (Manila Eliminations July 5, 2009) – 4:10:52
San Francisco Marathon (July 26, 2009) – 3:57:56
70.3 Ironman Cam Sur (August 23, 2009) – 6:22:09

IMG_4164AquaGirl dispenses some last minute advice before BatGirl pushes off on her 10KM TNF trail run: If you must fall, she reminds Batgirl, make sure you fall with grace!

I was all set to NOT run The North Face trail run until BatGirl called to tell me I was not allowed to run it! Then and only then did I actually start thinking about running trail! And boy did I try to harass Batgirl into agreeing with me. But the girl was adamant.

“You know you will be pushing your luck if you insist on joining this race. Stop being a brat and run on more even surfaces for now! What if a tree branch hits your nose? What if you fall again and hit your head? That nose of yours is a pretty large moving target!”

As usual, the woman made sense. But I wouldn’t really be me if I didn’t try to push and heckle…even me! So heckle I did and in the days leading up to the weekend I kept hearing wuzz! wuzz! wuzz! like a rhythmic beat inside my head…

I have yet to figure out how to fall with grace unless Grace happens to be a girl standing right next to me. I have only mastered falling while keeping my humor and then holding on to it with all my might as I push my way out of the hole. So yeah, I did not run trail that weekend. But I made sure I was there Sunday morning to send BatGirl off and to remind her how miserable I was!

Well, I really wasn’t all that miserable. I had already convinced myself the day before that I was not optimized for trail. Not at this time.  I have feet that enjoy burrowing and finding holes and have limbs and body parts that are specially attracted to protruding branches and rocks and even cable wires. Not a good thing for someone who intends to move fast on an uneven surface.

AND… As if I needed more signs from above that this race was not for me, I was there to witness the havoc caused by the freak weather that struck the TNF base camp on Saturday! A tornado of sorts actually hit camp halfway through the 100K race! Scaffolding, tents, buntings and signage… everything flew and crashed and fell! The organizers almost stopped the 100K race. For a few hours, everything was put on hold. Oh such drama and suspense! The thrill of the trail, indeed! And then some!

It was as if my angel was screaming in my ears, “YOU WANTED A SIGN? YOU GOT A SIGN!”

AquaGirl and I were already at base camp early Saturday afternoon. We were there to support and cheer on friends who had joined the 100k run. Base camp was the turnaround point. I just couldn’t help but stare at the ultra runners in admiration as they came running into the chute. And I kept staring until they took their shoes off!  Then I turned away! Boy, oh boy! These guys sure knew how to punish their feet! Those feet were all white and wrinkly and covered with blisters! “It’s from the lahars and all the river crossings,” explained our friend Oca, the certified crazy who signed up for the 100K. “There must have been eight river crossings in just the first twenty kilometers!”

Oh yeah, my neatly pedicured toenails and I agreed, it definitely was not the time for me to head out to run the trails. But even while I told myself this, a part of me did look up towards the mountains looming in the horizon…

Everyone agreed that the Sacobia 100K trail was a very difficult trail. It required much more climbing than everyone expected.  Exhaustion lined most of the runners’ faces as they ran, walked and even limped their way back into camp.  Their legs were scratched, their shoulders sagged and most were clearly in agony because of the sizzling heat. And still, they worked their way back up those trails…

The race to get to the finish line is just half the story. And it is not even the interesting part…

While walking around camp, taking pictures and shamelessly eavesdropping as runners shared their stories of the trail, I caught myself wondering over and over again: What is it that keeps them moving forward? What is it that makes them go back up that mountain when clearly rest and security and blessed air-conditioned comfort and are now within their reach? What the hell is wrong with these people? And why am I in such awe of them?

Time and again, we’ve heard stories of men braving harsh elements and surviving over them. It’s been done before and it will be done again. But why would someone willingly subject himself or herself to the strain? Is it an inner programming? Do we seek out the discomfort? Do we yearn for the pain? Or are we simply responding to a raw urge, a calling that is already in us? Perhaps it is a desire to allow all that which is noble inside us –the strong, the powerful, the faithful, the dreamer– to claw its way out and enjoy its day out in the trails! To give our best selves the chance to frolic even under the searing heat of the sun, and to laugh in the face of storm clouds bursting forth and lashing out with its liquid fury! To proclaim loudly that we are here and we live! Perhaps…

That Sunday, before crashing into dreamless sleep, I found myself reading an Edward Hirsch’ poem: My father’s track and field medal, 1932 and once again re-living the weekend…

Cup the tarnished metal in your palm.
Look closely and you’ll see a squirrel
scampering up a beech-wood in the forest.
You’ll see a cardinal flaming in the branches.
You’ll see a fleet-footed antelope racing
through the woods ahead of the hunters

Sometimes, without even needing to beg, the universe will point us towards the beginnings of an answer…