Archive for the ‘marathon’ Category

iron

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:

42.2K
Woman
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
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Dawn was merely a promise on Singapore’s horizon when we walked the circuitous path towards the Start Line of the Singapore Marathon. In front of us loomed a towering granite monument.  Wrapped up in my blanket of thoughts, I read the sign on the cenotaph–OUR GLAMOROUS DEAD. “How strange and slightly kooky!” I thought to myself. Singapore is definitely starting to grow on me! But then as I got closer, I realized it actually read, OUR GLORIOUS DEAD. “Oh! Now that makes more sense!” It made me think about my toes then safely cushioned inside my Mizuno Waveriders. I had painted them a brilliant red color just before leaving Manila. It was one of the last things I did in my long list of to dos before the trip.  I figured if they were going to die, it would at least be fitting to give them a brilliant and flashy send off!  “Don’t worry, girls! We’ll build you your own glamorous monument should you die on me today…”

As is always the case before a race starts, I get a little nutty and a lot crazy inside.

While most people use kilometer markers to judge their progression in a run, I usually just entertain myself with stories and litter the route with it; Most are real and straightforward, some are interpretations of events as they unfold and then there others which are purely imagined.  While most sane runners would be paying attention to their form or their foot strides, I’m more likely to be having a discussion with an imaginary entity, maybe two. It is something I’ve learned to accept. There are people who, when they run, are destined for podium finishes. And then, I guess, there are people like me who, when they run, are barely able to skirt the sanitarium…

Sounds heralded  the approach of the 12393 runners to the starting line of the  Singapore Marathon. At the time the starting gun sounded (was there even a starting gun?) RunMD, Batgirl and I were still making the short and really slow but adrenaline-pumping walk to the start line. It was like a valedictory march of sorts. I felt like I was on my way to some kind of a graduation ceremony.

Just after we crossed the bridge, I turned to Batgirl and squeezed her shoulders. Her gaze was already focused on the start line banner. Then I reached over and shook RunMD’s hand.  We were just a few seconds away now from our longest and most challenging run yet.  I then tapped the back of my fuel belt and found reassurance there. I had  packed in 2 GU gels and an oatmeal bar. I was a GU gel short but I would get that from one of the stations. I brought no water bottles. This was a good thing because it would force me to pay attention to the drink stations and therefore drink at more regular intervals.  I had finished off my water in the walk to the start line and had handed them over to SeriousCaT (our one woman power support during the race). The next time I would be seeing those bottles would be in KM 35 where they would be handed to me filled with cold lime flavored Gatorade.

As we got closer to the Start Line, I heard the  DJ announce that 5 minutes have passed since gun time.  It was also just about that time when our slow walk shifted into a slow jog. And then just a few seconds after we were finally  loose and running  in the streets of Singapore. Our first marathon had started in earnest.

In those first few minutes there was a lot of bunching and weaving and sticky elbows rubbing (eeww!).  RunMD and I shared the first kilometer of that route.  Batgirl was running just a few paces behind us.

At kilometer 2, RunMD found his opening and  surged ahead. He always did like fast starts. I bid him good running.

Be patient. Be Patient. Be Patient.

It took a lot of effort to rein my enthusiasm in those first few kilometers. I knew I needed to conserve my energy so I focused on not weaving too much through the crowd. I kept reminding myself to run in as straight a line as possible. I had 42kms to go and about 5 hours of running ahead of me. Those first 20 minutes were all about finding and settling into the pace I had trained to run the marathon in.

The week before the marathon I was experiencing some pain with my left calf muscle. It would cramp up even on short distance runs. I suspected that my recent  travels had screwed up my body’s rhythm. I was jet lagged and simply wasn’t getting enough sleep. One look in the mirror confirmed that. I was beginning to look like a raccoon with the dark circles around my eyes.  I forced myself to hydrate more. But I still wasn’t recovering fast enough. I knew I needed help. So on Saturday morning, the week right before the marathon, I did my last long 12K run and then I paid the friendly neighborhood acupuncturist a visit.

Go light and Go steady!

I prayed the cramp demons that had been hounding me would oversleep on marathon day!

In that first 10KM I kept checking-in with my calves. I wasn’t sure if the acupuncture had helped. I haven’t road tested my legs until that morning. I just figured that the more rested they were, the better they would behave.  Go light and go steady. I whispered as the sun’s rays snaked over the horizon. Land as light as you can and go at a steady pace. Try not to wake those cramp demons up!

“So what’s your plan?” Mighty M asks just as we are about to finish our run. “Are you checking your time every kilometer?”

I smile. She does too. She knows me. I’m not exactly very good at sticking to plans. I don’t even like making them.

“Every 10K” I reassure her. I am, of course, making all this up as we are walking back to the parking lot. I haven’t really figured out what my plan is. Then I start getting more inspired.  “After the first 20K I’ll decide if I’m gunning for a 4:30 or a 4:45 finish depending on how my legs feel.” I add. “I really want to savor my first marathon. I want to finish it feeling good inside and out. I don’t want the pressure of a fast time. I don’t think I can handle it. It’s more about covering the distance. After all, you are only a marathon virgin once!”

“Ok, do 10, 10 and then 5, 5 checks then.” She tells me. “On the last 12K, I’d check every kilometer. That way you have a better chance of hitting your goal time.  As long as you maintain the average pace required, you’ll do fine.”

Mighty M is my running partner. She has run her fair share of marathons with fast times to boot. I take her instructions to heart.

KM10:  1:06:02 Ok. I’m on track. Just 2kms to go before the banana station!

KM 12-28

The bananas still look a bit greenish. I don’t like green bananas. I pass and take my first GU. “Espresso love, give me wings!”

Km12 is where the park starts or what they call the ECP. The road narrows considerably. It starts getting harder to pass people. There was a group of 4 that were all running in a line. I couldn’t find an opening to squeeze through. They ignored my polite “Excuse mes!”  I decided on a new strategy. I picked a person in the pack. I went up right behind him and then I just belted out the first nonsense song that came to mind! It startled the man enough that he actually slowed down a bit and turned to look behind him. It gave me just enough of an opening to pass. Then I picked up speed and hoped they wouldn’t tag me.  As an act of gratitude and charity to everyone else around me, I also stopped singing out loud.

KM 15. A chafing problem was distracting me.  Soon after, a man-made disaster struck. Actually, make that a girl-made disaster. All of it my own doing, of course. After I slowed down for a drink at the water station, I saw some men wearing plastic gloves handing out some whitish cream.  It was then I got my first idiot attack. I decided they  were sunblock lotion. I guess a glamorous death was still the theme going on in my head.  I don’t know where that thought came from. I just assumed that it was sunblock.  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own little world. Without putting much thought into my actions,  I got some of  it  and just started rubbing it all over my arms and chest. Then I used that same hand to wipe the sweat off my forehead. I started feeling the burn immediately after. Goshdarnit! I had wiped some kind of deep heating ointment all over my chest and arms!

idiot.idiot.idiot.

Don’t Panic. Don’t Panic. Don’t Panic.

My right eye started to twitch. It was getting irritated with the sweat from my forehead which was tainted with that deep heating rub. Having no idea what that rub was made of, I started worrying.  I am allergic to aspirin and most pain relievers (my eyes would start bulging like a frog’s). Please, please please, let it have no aspirin! And please don’t let it get into my eye!  It’s a good thing I had my Claritin with me and had taken it a few hours before the start of the race. That was because I knew we were going into the park. Sometimes I have a bad reaction to grass too. And trees, and pollen and nature in general. Maybe I was simply dumped on the wrong planet. I run as fast as I can towards the next drink station.  And then and there I take a bath. Well, I dump 5 glasses of water on my face, and my upper body. All the while apologizing to the surprised volunteers. And then once I had reassured myself that the disaster had been averted, I went back into my plodding pace. Whew!

KM 20 is where the turnaround is.

I checked my progress. 2:11:00 I’m still on track but I best speed up a bit.

The path back was much narrower and winding. The view of  the bay and the ships that were anchored there offered some distraction from the tedium of putting one foot in front of the other.  I felt a slight twitching in my calf muscle but it was manageable at that point. A few hundred meters after the 21KM mark I do a little jig just to stretch it out. Some people had put up  tents in the park. I wondered briefly what it’ll be like to stop and lie down in their shade… I started organizing a camping trip. I’d bring lots of cherries smothered in dark chocolate…

Now, I’m the girl with the negotiating skills of a bulldozer and the nurturing warmth of an umbrella stand. At km 22 I finally saw familiar faces in the park. I wasn’t expecting to see them at this point. “What are you doing here?” I asked.  Like I said, the nurturing warmth of an umbrella stand. The dragon had apparently reared it’s head for both of them. It was time to dig deep and fish out my inner Oprah. But I had no time to learn new tricks. So I reverted to what I knew best.  First, I tried to bribe them with food.  I offered them my oatmeal bar. They both refused. And because that didn’t work, I then ate my oatmeal bar and went straight to plan B. I bullied. And thereafter I launched plan C. I implored the great Scottie! Oh Great Scottie! BEAM.US.UP!  And we all just did the best we could. We kept going.

At Km 28, the road widens up again. I do my best to speed up. By this time the there are small patches of blue in the sky. There’s still enough cloud cover to keep the heat from getting too intense. But the heat is starting to get to me.

KM 32
I go into full-blown negotiations. I am now having an argument inside my head. Whose harebrained idea was this again? (Mine, of course!)

One foot over the other. One foot over the other. Come on legs, come on! I start talking to my legs in earnest. I tell them that if they just get me to the finish line I’ll stop all this craziness and just take up  a more sensible hobby like painting or playing the guitar.  I promised the end of all these tiring runs! Whose stupid idea was this again? I asked for the nth time! Mine, of course, was the unchanging answer. What else is there to do but to keep running?

I just need to get to KM 35. Serious Cat will be there.

KM 34. Is this ever going to end? I start looking for a portalet. But then Queen’s WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS starts playing on my ipod. This universe is having a grand time at my expense! Arrrghhh.. Just.Keep.Running.Girl.  I tell myself in between gasps.  Honestly, who goes to the portalet when WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS is playing? I’ll wait for the next song.  And then Evanescence starts singing. Who dares wuzz out infront of a girl who wears knee high black boots with a tutu and still manages to look cool in it? So yes. I keep running.

We are almost into KM 35-36. I don’t know. I’ve lost track. There is a traffic build up beside me. I’m running side by side with big buses packed with people on their daily commute. I look up and a man is staring back at me. I wave. He smiles then he starts clapping. I don’t hear it, of course, but I start running to its rhythm. I start feeling better.

Gatorade. Gatorade. Ice cold Gatorade.

Finally,  Serious Cat is right beside me. But she does not see me. She is staring off into the horizon. I call out her name. She turns to me surprised. “What are you still doing here?” She asks. What can I say? My friends and I, we are all very nurturing. Then she starts fumbling for my water bottle. As I am drinking she tells me very casually, “I just saw the 4:45 pacer a few minutes ago!” That’s why she’s my designated cheerer. She knows exactly what to say to get me going. None of that “You can do it!” drama. She goes straight for the jugular. I take one big gulp of gatorade and with nary a word I handed her the bottle and I just  started running like demons were behind me.

No way in hell was I going to miss my target time..

So I run. And I run. And people all around me have started walking. I see a blur of flashy sports cars  on the side. But I have no time to ask for a ride. I almost trip over my untied shoelaces. I slow down just enough to re-tie them and then I keep running.

I barely glance at my Garmin. I can’t. There’s way too many obstructions in front of me. I have no time to waste. I keep my focus on the road ahead.

And finally the Singapore Flyer is way past me and the bridge is approaching. It seems the whole world is walking now. Very few people are running. I push my tired legs, I cajole, I beg and I pound on them with my hands to keep them from going numb. I am huffing and I am gasping for air. I’m swinging my arms wildly as I feel my muscles twitching on my sides. I keep my gaze fixed on the horizon. Where the hell is that finish line?

According to my Garmin I ran my fastest laps in those last 31/2 KMS.

And then there is the finish line.  I see the clock from a distance and it reads 4:49:52. I am still about 100 meters away. I am an eternity away. Go! Go! Go! A half naked man is in front of me. Everything is in slow motion now. I’m actually staring at his back so intensely I see short hairs standing. The crowd at the finish line are clapping and cheering. They are all a blur on my side. And then just like that my feet are on the red carpet and I’ve passed the finish line!

I’m done??!!

I missed my 4:45:00 goal by 28 seconds according to the gun clock.  Technically, I missed my target. But I am keeping that 28 seconds and I’m holding it close. I know one thing for sure. I didn’t waste those 28 seconds. It’s a good 28 seconds. It’s 28 seconds I filled with all my running hopes for the past year.  HOPE! Now that is a good thing to be carrying around. Just you wait ’til my next marathon. That 28 seconds is going to come back and  bite the Universe’s ass! But first, of course, there is that breakfast to think about.

42.195 kilometers. Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2008. My first marathon.

For more than a year now, Wonder Woman has been squatting inside my head. Wonder Woman– the woman who wonders out loud if I actually have it in me to go the full 42.195 distance. She’s that woman who resides in the attic and is always trying to raise hell. The one who responds to every word, phrase, sentence of marathon related chutzpah and bravado I utter with her raised eyebrow quickly followed with the inevitable “I wonder if you can back those up with action?”

“We’ll see soon enough!” I would bravely reply as I make a quick grab for my high-tech security blanket that looks very much like my mobile phone and speed dial a friend’s number. Arrrgh!

Wonder Woman not only has a very strange fashion sense. She is also a very annoying roommate!

The alarm sounded at 3:30 am. I woke to a morning that came way too early in the day. I crawled out from under thick down comforters, stumbled towards the room’s mini bar, and got my caffeine fix.  Batgirl was already gulping down her pre-race pasta meal. I took a peek inside the take-out box and decided I would pass on it that morning. No more pasta for me! I’ve had all the pasta I could take for the year. I’ve used up my December and perhaps even January’s pasta quota in the two days we were in Singapore. If I had to gulp down another pasta dish, I knew I definitely wouldn’t need to worry about getting to the finish line. I was dead sure I wouldn’t even have to crawl to get to the finish line. I could just roll there…

“I’m just having a banana!” I announce to the universe and to no one in particular. “And maybe this cute mini muffin!”  And because they are so cute, I have two. One tastes like chocolate, the other one sweet and nutty. Just the way I like it. Perfect! After breakfast, I take an ice cold shower, put on my race gear on and turn the TV on. CNN is showing a special: SCREAM BLOODY MURDER. Christiane Amanpour repeats this phrase a number of times.  I meditate (and do my best at taming my unruly hair) as Christiane Amanpour’s voice drones on in the background. She sounds very much like my guardian angel sounds in my head whenever I end up having a conversation with her.Hmmm. Maybe Christiane Amanpour is my guardian angel? Is “scream bloody murder!” supposed to be my race mantra? I meditate more on this. The room stays quiet. All three of us inside are wrapped up in our own twilight zones…

By 4am Batgirl’s cellphone is beeping. RunMD is on his way. Serious Cat, Batgirl and I all troop out to the quiet lobby and meet him there. We greet each other with small talk, some tittering and lots of  nervous chuckles.

By the time we start walking towards the START AREA the sun is still nowhere near Singapore’s horizon.  There’s an almost palpable buzz in the air. Runners in all forms and sizes are already filling the streets. My head is humming with thoughts…A hornet’s nest of thoughts! Far too many vying for attention. I shut them all out. I have no room for them now.  Silently I pray that Christiane Amanpour does a good job keeping Wonder Woman entertained in my hotel room.  I had left Wonder Woman there. She can keep herself busy baby- sitting my gremlins of doubt. Where I was going, they were certainly not allowed to follow!

For on that day, on the morning of my first marathon run, I had no space for Wonder Woman inside my head. I had left no room for her. I had trained 16 weeks to go the full distance. I had logged in my 1000 kms. I had no need for a crazy woman to question my every step. And she certainly wasn’t going to be allowed to ridicule my sun-kissed dream. This 35-year-old little girl was headed for the run of her life. I was going to run my race, my first marathon… And I was set on running light.

First, the story in pictures…

picture-16

READY…

RunMD, Batgirl and Me

RunMD, Batgirl and Me

GET SET…

batgirl and me

img_2289

RUN!! img_2294Now run some more…web-ggcb0779

Follow the Kenyan Blur….

img_2298

img_2295Wait for meeeeee!!!!

picture-19waah!!! There’s a half naked man infront of me!!

7Ouch!!! whose idea was this again? But really, the little girl inside of me was jumping up and down with glee! Wonder Woman, you are definitely moving out! Does anyone know if THE FLASH is looking for some place to crash in this part of the world? Please tell him to give me a call. I could definitely use a new roommate!

10

THE RESULTS:mysgrace1

Later maybe, my marathon run story…

taming the butterflies

Posted: December 5, 2008 in marathon, running
Tags: ,

shadowsIn our running group there is the Gang of Fast and then there is the Gang of Breakfast (otherwise  known as The Relentless!).

Well, The Relentless! starts rolling out today! We’re off to Singapore to run our first marathon this Sunday.

Thanks for the despedida T2! Dinner was YUM! And the company? Topnotch, as usual.

To all those running in Singapore… Good running, everyone!

Dig deep, dig deeper when necessary, and crawl if you must!

I’ll see you all at the finish line! And then, i guess,it’ll be time for breakfast, wouldn’t it? 🙂

“[Scientific testing] can’t determine how the mind will tolerate pain in a race.  Sometimes, I say, “Today I can die.'”- Gelindo Bordin

“Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day.  It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?'”
– Peter Maher, Irish-Canadian Olympian and sub-2:12 marathoner

“Out of the silver heat mirage he ran.  The sky burned, and under him the paving was a black mirror reflecting sun-fire.  Sweat sprayed his skin with each foot strike so that he ran in a hot mist of his own creation.  With each slap on the softened asphalt, his soles absorbed heat that rose through his arches and ankles and the stems of his shins.  It was a carnival of pain, but he loved each stride because running distilled him to his essence and the heat hastened this distillation.”
– James Tabor, from “The Runner,” a short story

“We are different, in essence, from other men.  If you want to win something, run 100 meters.  If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”
-Emil Zatopek

People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise.  Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness.  Dostoyevsky had it right: “Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.”  Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in.  There is a magic in misery.  Just ask any runner. –Dean Karnazes

“The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K.  That’s when it’s about what you have in your core.  You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you.  To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.”
– Rob de Castella

“Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.”
Doug Larson

“The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
Robert Frost

“What matters is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”- Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Marathoning is just another form of insanity.”
John J. Kelly, winner of the 1952 Boston Marathon

Most people never get there.  They’re afraid or unwilling to demand enough of themselves and take the easy road, the path of least resistance.  But struggling and suffering, as I now saw it, were the essence of a life worth living.  If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not constantly demanding more from yourself–expanding and learning as you go–you’re choosing a numb existence.  You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip. –Dean Karnazes

“Run like hell and get the agony over with.”
Clarence DeMar

rock-onGiants behind me, giants ahead me… I find myself right in the middle of the pack, weaving through rows and rows of giants. I look down at the ground and the trail is strewn with clothing. You see them everywhere; In the middle of the road, on the sides, t-shirts, sweatshirts, gloves, beanies. Discarded layers of running gear were lining the streets. I see no dismembered body parts though. This is, after all, not a distorted version of a familiar fairy tale. This is not even a nightmare I’m having. I’m wide awake and running the route of the San Antonio Rock and Roll marathon.


“By the way, everyone, temperatures will be around 35 degrees on Sunday. You should seriously consider layering.” Our guide announces this inside the bus as she is giving us a tour of the route for the marathon.

I still haven’t quite mastered converting Fahrenheit to Celsius in my head but I do know that 35 degrees is close enough to 32 degrees. And I remember that 32 degrees is freezing point.

Vicky, who is sitting on the seat in front of me, turns and says,”That’s too cold, isn’t it?”

I nod. We are going to need more layers. We panic shop and find ourselves extra gear at the expo.

On the morning of the half-marathon, I am wearing three layers of clothing. A sleeveless Nike top, an apple green Brooks long sleeved top layer (my little piece of Brian Sell!), a black Nike windbreaker with hood, a buff headgear covering my head and ears and a full Sugoi compression tights. Vicky is wearing four layers on top, two below. I look at her and tell her, “There could be two people in there running a half marathon!” She grins and replies, “I’m still cold!”  So am I. But I can’t put on more layers. I already feel and look like a sausage.

When I left Manila temperatures were also in the 30s. But we are talking Celsius here. Temperatures were in the hot and humid 30s not the freezing 30s. As if I needed more reminding that I was on the other side of the world!

By the time we start running, temperatures had thankfully risen closer to the 40s. The sun is up but I was still having difficult time breathing. The air is too dry. Someone seriously needs to warm this dry air up before they start assaulting my nostrils! My face was also starting to sting. I had forgotten to put sun block on. It was cold but the sun was just as a merciless on the skin.

The rock n’ roll marathon in San Antonio goes through serpentine thoroughfares that weave in and around downtown. It is one of the most scenic of races I’ve ever run in. You find yourself in a mix of rural and urban surroundings.  In the historic district you go right past the Alamo and the charming riverwalk section of the city. A few miles down and you find yourself in the King William residential neighborhood with its elegant rows of Victorian houses.  The second oldest park in the nation is also part of the route and on the full marathon course you’ll also go past handsome historic mission churches.

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The energy of the crowd is simply contagious. I’m not even a kilometer out and already there are cheerers shouting out words of encouragement by the side of the road. Groups of well wishers are waving placards and handmade posters. “Go runners, go!” says one. Another one, held by a man with a mask on cheekily says, “Run for your life!” As we go under a bridge, a man in a bicycle with a music player attached to his bike rides past us. He is playing loud rock music and ringing the bells of his bike. “Rock on! Go, go, go!” He shouts out encouragingly. I oblige and try to go faster. I am weaving through huge block of runners. I know it is not the most efficient way to run a half marathon. But I need to go a little faster to warm myself up a bit more.

The wave Vicky and I are in is made up of a mix of half and full marathon runners. Some runners had their paces attached to their backs. I realized that I am in the middle of the 2:45 to 3:00 hour pack. I wanted to run the half in at least 2 hours. So I needed to speed up a bit. I had no choice but simply to weave through the pack. My only problem was, a number of these guys were, at least, half a head taller than I was! I couldn’t really see much ahead of me except a wall of backs and shoulders. I tried running on the side but the road was sloping downwards towards the gutter. I switched to the middle of the road but then there were groups in costumes running all in one row. A father and daughter tandem had special shirts on. One said, like father, like daughter! The other said, like daughter, like father! There was no way I was going to go in-between them! It makes me think about my father who had just celebrated his 60th birthday a few weeks earlier. And I find myself wondering if I will ever get him to run with me. Not likely. But the great thing about having great days like this is that it makes you believe some miracles are actually possible. I bid the tandem goodbye and I continue to weave, weave, weave through the crowd and do the best I can.

I continue to run like the crazy, giddy, happy woman that I feel like inside of me. I hear rock music and see people singing on the stage. I pump my fist up in the air and join the runners as they hoot and holler and cheer and sing out loud. I don’t know anybody in the crowd and I’m not expecting to see a familiar face but I scan the faces of the crowd anyway. They all seem friendly and in good cheer. So I decide to start waving back at them and pretend they are cheering for me. I liked being Mike and Sarah and JD. I even agreed to be Aunt Suz! Thanks guys!

It was not only rock bands playing on elevated stages out in the streets. There was also a mix of school bands and cheerleaders on the route. All in all, it kept the race route loud, and festive and crazy entertaining fun!

Hello, I’ve waited here for you, EVERLONG…

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The night before the half-marathon, Vicky and I had driven down to the riverwalk for dinner. We wanted pasta for dinner so we were set on dining ITALIAN and finding a restaurant with seating inside where it would be warm enough for our south-east asian bones. I actually wanted some burritos and Mexican fare but because we were running the next day and I wasn’t sure how Mexican food would agree with my tummy I decided to play it safe. That night, Vicky and I were also playing this little game. She’d hear some loud music coming out of bars and pubs and she’d ask if that sounded like THE CULT. The Cult would be the band playing at the headliner concert on the evening after the marathon. Vicky had never heard of them. She liked music but wasn’t really into heavy metal rock. “Is that it,” she’d ask whenever we would hear something particularly loud and with a heavy metal feel. After a couple of tries she just started asking whenever we would hear anything. It was getting late in the evening and the music was getting louder.

“How about that?” she asks as we pass by an open store front on our way back to the car.

“Nope, that’s just Coldplay!” I tell her. “Definitely not The Cult. Think a bit more post-punk, psychedelic, acid rock…. Led Zeppelin? AC/DC? ”  ”

“Uh-huh!” Vicky says but she is shaking her head.

“Oh well,” I tell her. “You’ll find out tomorrow night. If it gets too loud, we can always just get more popcorn and beer.”

I’ve always loved music. I grew up in a house filled with music day in and day out. For me music and running simply went together. That’s why running in a rock n’ roll marathon was tops in my list of marathons I would want to take part in in this lifetime.

When I heard the Foo Fighters song EVERLONG playing I started singing along with the band. I actually slowed down and started clapping and hooting for them. And I thought of Vicky too. “Not this one, either!” I tell her in my head. Just then my Garmin beeps. I’ve set it to automatically record my paces per lap and to beep every kilometer. I look at it and I’m surprised when I see the total distance I’ve covered. It didn’t really feel like I’ve been running that fast and that long but at the 10KM mark, my time was at 56:53. The last time I ran a half, I did it in 2:04:00. For this half, I was targeting that same pace. I wasn’t set on a PR. I really wanted to enjoy the route and take part in the entertainment. But 56:43? Maybe, just maybe I could actually run this race a bit faster…

So I bid the band adieu and started speeding up a bit. I hit 15KM at 1:25, 16KMs at 1:30. All this time I’d still be singing out loud whenever we went past a band playing. There was one every mile of the stretch. I thought that was simply awesome.

For most of the 21KM route you had the whole road for running. But there were some parts where the opposing lanes were reserved for the marathon runners who were already on their way back! By the time Vicky and I left the start line, the marathon had been going on for an hour. Thus, when I got to that point where the marathon and half marathon pack were once again converging, I found myself running side by side with some of the elite runners. Side by side for a split second, I mean. Those guys did not seem to be running. They were flying. And they were doing it so quietly! I didn’t even hear the girl’s footfalls when she went past me. I believe she was the 5th placed runner for women. Maybe 4th. I just felt a sort of shhhhwing…and a slight breeze on my right side. And then she was gone. Even before I could shout out Wow!

The guys beside me are now cheering. Soon enough the half marathoner’s lane up ahead also started erupting with cheers and claps for the elite marathon runners passing by us, floating by us, flying by us. They were inspiring to watch.

On the website, they promised a flat route. They didn’t lie but it depends on your definition of flat. There were some rises and inclines. I knew this because we had taken the tour the day before. I was prepared for the first incline. I forgot about the one just before the finish line. Normally when I am running, I avoid looking at my Garmin. I simply give every run my best effort and I avoid looking at my watch because I don’t want the extra pressure of running after time. Yes, I wanted to run it in 2 hours but there ended my ambition. Until I hit the 12 mile marker, that is.…

“Just 1 more mile!” Shouts the cheerers and the volunteers.

I looked at my watch then and that’s when I realized that I could quite possibly even go below my 2:00 hour half marathon target. So I decide then and there to push harder. Forget about the tiring legs and dry throat! I’d been singing out loud too much! I pass on the last water station. I didn’t have time to waste. I take one deep, cold breath and start running as fast as I can. And just as soon as I commit to that goal I hit the descent and the steep ascent! By this time the half marathon lane was already filling up again. If I wanted that sub 2 hour PR I knew I needed to start weaving again. I also needed to go up the incline fast!

“Time to haul ass!” the man beside me announces with a grin. I nod and am about to reply when the lady behind him says, “You guys haul ass, mine’s too damn heavy to haul up this incline! Who the hell said this was flat???” We all laugh out loud and then we go…

I go as fast as I can up the incline. I am terrified of falling or worst tripping other runners up. Finally the man and I reach the top. He slows down, I speed up some more and make that last right turn towards the finish line. I hear loud cheers all around. A loudspeaker is blaring. And then I hear nothing. Nothing. Everything around me is silent. In fact, I see nothing. I see no other runner in front of me, no timing strips, not even stars even though my breathing has become a bit labored. I simply push and sprint and will my legs to go faster. Which explains why my finish line picture shows me ducking under the arms of another lady who has her hands stretched out in triumph. I didn’t realize I had reached the finish line! I really thought I was paying attention. I thought I could see everything, hear everything, sense everything. I was simply in another place altogether. I was giving that last 200 meters my best shot. I was not about to wuzz out at the final stretch.

Set your PR, girl. Give yourself something to remember.

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So I did. And when I reached the finish line, I thought I could go for another 21 KM more. That’s why I almost ran into that girl at the finish line. I simply didn’t see her. Sorry, girl! While your hands were stretched out in triumph, my head was already soaring somewhere in PR heaven. That’s why I had kept on running when everyone around me had started to slow down. At that point, all I wanted to do was to keep on running.

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pb150136“You’re not going to make it!” The man points this out to me as the door to his bus slides oh-so-slowly-open.

“Just get us to the starting line please.”

40 minutes after the San Antonio rock n’ roll marathon had started, I was at the finish line begging the shuttle driver to drive us back to the start line of the race.

Everything that could have possibly gone wrong had happened in the one and a half hours it took us to get to the limited parking spot at the Alamodome in San Antonio. We had left our hotel a little after 5:30 in the morning. We had allowed ourselves more than an hour’s allowance before the official start of the race. We were headed towards the Alamodome (8 minutes away according to my GPS and the finish point of the race). The plan was to drop the car off and then take the shuttle back to the start line. GPS in hand, Vicky and I got into our rented car. We were freezing but in high spirits. The temperature had dipped into the low 30s from 60’s high the day before.

As soon as we made the turn to leave our hotel, we encountered the first ominous sign…a ROAD BARRIER with flashing lights! The roads downtown were already closed! No problem! Just let the GPS recalculate another route. Two minutes after this, we found ourselves caught in the middle of a traffic jam. All hell broke loose from there. We couldn’t turn back into our hotel anymore. Soon enough we found ourselves in a highway heading out to Sneaky knows where… north, south, wherever! We were hopelessly lost and at the mercy of road signs that didn’t really make any sense in our heads.

Vicky sighs… “So near…yet soooo far!”

I had signed up for the San Antonio rock n’ roll marathon without any real plan in mind. I didn’t know anybody there. I had no friends or family in the area. Vicky ended up there because her cousin was getting married. Serendipity! We decided to meet up. But she was also a visitor. All we wanted to do was run. We didn’t realize that we were going to get a whole lot more of running than we bargained for.

It was impossible to get downtown. The traffic jam on the highway just to get to the exit was more than a mile long.  The smart thing to do would have been to find a parking spot somewhere, anywhere and just walk to the start line. But then again, not knowing anything about the area, Vicky and I were not certain we would find our way back there after the race. I could handle getting lost. Eventually I’m sure Vicky and I would have found our way back to the hotel. But I couldn’t lose a car. Especially one that wasn’t even mine to lose in the first place!

10 million moving violations and a whole lot of desperate pleas for direction and a number of wild U-turns later we finally make it to the  Alamodome parking lot. I looked at my watch and it said 8:19am. There were 8 buses parked on the leftmost side of the lot. The last bus in the queue was about 100 meters away. We weren’t even out of the car yet when I noticed that the first bus had started to move out. I jumped out of the car and just kept running after the buses. I caught the last bus just as it was about to slip out of its slot. I rapped on its door like a madwoman. From the corner of my eye I could see Vicky sprinting right behind me. The startled driver gave me the look! I lifted my hands up at a loss for words. I was out of breath and couldn’t even form a single word in English or in any other language in my head. He beckoned me in with his hand. Vicky was huffing and puffing right behind me. We both crashed into the front row seat. We were the only ones inside the bus! The driver then turned to tell us quite sternly that we were very late. I could only nod in agreement but I was grinning from ear to ear… ROCK N’ ROLL MARATHON, here we come!!!

I tell the driver we are from Manila. And yes we are late but we have no plans of missing this run. So please, just get us to the start line and we will run even if we are the only two runners left on the road.

“All that way?” He asks in a very surprised tone. Then he switches his hazards on. And then he tells us; “I’ll do my best to get you there as fast as I can!”  And just like that, we are on our way to the start line.

As we were cruising down the highway Vicky and I spied the early wave of runners running right below us. “Vicky, look!” I shouted out excitedly. Then I fumbled for my belt in search of my camera. I had no camera! I had no fuel belt! This meant that I also had no money, no means of identification, no nothing. But I did have my car keys clutched very tightly in my hand. I uttered a silent prayer asking my overworked angel to please, at least, make sure that the door to the car had banged shut! Forget about locking it. I was dead sure I hadn’t done that.   In my panic I had left everything behind in the car. Even my breakfast…

The driver dropped us off about half a mile from the start line. When we got there we realized it wasn’t as as bad as we had thought. Vicky and I were ready to run that route no matter what. We were ecstatic to know that we weren’t going to run it alone. There were still thousands on the road who were just making their way to it. The start had been delayed by about 10 minutes. The organizers had planned to get everyone off the start line 45 minutes after the first wave. It had taken far longer than that. The queue to the start line was half a mile long.

As soon as Vicky and I got off the bus, we had a laughing fit. We were nervous, we were excited and quite suddenly I also realized that I was very hungry.

We make a quick stop at one of the hundreds of portalets lining the park. Then I go run and grab a banana from the organizer’s stand. Vicky gives me some water from her fuel belt and one of the pair of gloves she was using. My hands were so cold it was refusing to peel the banana properly! I warm it up a bit as we proceeded with our trek to the start line. And for the rest of the race I am holding on to this glove like a security blanket of sorts. At this point they were already calling out wave #18, which was Vicky’s original corral. There were more than 30 in all.  I was supposed to be in corral 13 but that had left even before we had made it to the starting area. We finally ended up joining wave #21 or #22. I give Vicky a quick hug and a thumbs up sign then I remind her that we are meeting up under the letter M in the family reunion area.  And then we hear the signal and finally, finally we are off and running back to the finish line!

Rock and roll!!!

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THE RACE..THE BANDS… THE CHEERERS…

THE EXPO…

THE COURSE TOUR…

As usual, I’m going backwards to move the story forward…

to be continued… .