Archive for the ‘my favorite runs’ 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

“Your stroke is good but you’re a sinker!” Swim Coach with gorgeous shades tells me as I raise my head out of the water. “You drag your feet…” He quickly adds then he knots his forehead and raises his eyebrows when he realizes that I am actually trying to suppress a chuckle. “Yes, I’ve been known to do that.” I reply with as serious a face as I could muster. The naughty little imp inside my head starts whispering…”In all things and especially when you run!” And I shake my head and kick off from the edge of the pool to finish off my 2.2km swim.

It’s still dark when we wriggle our way inside the check-in gate of the Condura run. We do this caterpillar style. I’m holding on to someone’s back while someone else is holding on to mine. More than a thousand runners have come to lay claim to the 21KM route. I find myself standing side by side with Ketikat and Dingdong and Ting. Batgirl soon shows up behind us. We scan the crowd for the other runners in our group but in that tight squeeze it’s not that easy. Chuchay, our support and paparazzi for the day, finds her way up the stage to take a picture of the excited crowd.  We all smile and pose even if we think it unlikely we will show up in the frame at all.

Everyone is just psyched to have the chance to run on the Skyway. I wile away the time by looking up at the sky and squinting at the crescent moon with a bright star shining just below it. My mind starts wandering. This always happens before a race. Some people may focus on one thing. My mind simply goes places before a big run. It’s how it prepares itself for the journey. It goes somewhere else altogether and will have nothing to do with reality for a while. The loud cracking sound from the start gun brings me back into the corral. People start shuffling forward. The Condura race is on the way.

I drag my feet off the start line and start to push forward.

First love, the one they say you never completely forget. The one you wax reminiscent about once in a while. Swimming has always been that for me. I look forward to swim-training day. The thought of being in a cool blue fifty-meter pool makes me want to jump out of bed in much the same way I did years ago when it was the thought of seeing my crush from across the hallway. There’s a spring in my legs and a fluttering of butterflies in my tummy!  My emotions  a cocktail of excitement, elation and fear. First love, so many years ago and yet on some days, on some days,  it really seems just like yesterday.

I pull my head down under the water and start to blow bubbles out my nose. First it comes out in erratic spurts. I can feel my heart thumping inside my chest. It’s been ages since I’ve swam this much, this fast, this long. I am starting to feel lightheaded. I force myself to focus. Six more sets to go. My eyes follow a long black line that disappears into blue-black water a few meters down. Focus. Focus. Focus. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Soon enough a relaxing calm surrounds me. It’s never as quiet as this when I am running. It is never this easy to focus. There is nothing around me but water. Black merging into blue and then dissolving into liquid dark. I close my eye and push off once more from the pool wall. Five more sets to go. I feel the beginnings of an unknown joy bubbling forth. I can do this all day.

By the time I make it to the Skyway, the sun is already rising between the rows of buildings that line Makati’s central business district. It’s an orange yellow disc glowing in the horizon. The city’s skyline stands regally in the distance.  I catch myself distractedly watching the city as it emerges from the black. My pace slows down considerably. I don’t mind. I am enjoying the show. I raise my hands and use it to freeze- frame an image in my head.

I focus my gaze on the road ahead of me. It’s a sea of runners as far as the eye can see. Runners bobbing up and down the skyway ramp. It ‘s a view that amuses me. A man running beside me starts swinging his arms around wildly. I ask him if he is planning to take off the ramp with his makeshift propellers. He laughs out a reply. He explains that his arms have started cramping. I feel his pain. I understand it. I wish him the best and keep pushing off the grey-black road.  I still have 12 more kilometers to go.

My calf muscle starts twitching, threatening to cramp. I look at it and give my legs a little shake. I focus on shifting my weight elsewhere. I try not to panic. I will my muscles to behave. I start whispering a prayer. Thankfully, my muscles cooperate.

True love, now that that takes a lot more work. True love is never as easy and it goes far beyond the butterflies in your stomach variety. You don’t view it with the same wide-eyed innocence or excitement as you did with your first love. You know that sometimes, even with all the best-laid plans, even with the kindest and best of intentions, some things simply go awry.  True love takes all that you can give and it still wants more.  It demands far greater time and it’s capable of dishing out much greater pain. And it never ever is truly fair. But you choose it anyway and you do your darndest to hold on to it and to all the possibilities and promises it holds… time after time after time!

We are lounging by the beach and out of the sandy blue, Chuchay turns to ask me “Why do you run? Are you running from something or are you running towards something?” The question surprises me but I take it seriously and think about it for a while.  I am unable to give her a clear answer though.

Two hours in the pool is never as painful as two hours spent pounding your foot on the hard cemented road surface. You don’t tire as fast. And you recover from swimming at a much faster pace. Running is different altogether. There are days when I find myself questioning why I even do it. Days when I ask myself why I keep putting one foot after the other mile after foot-hurting, backbreaking, body-aching mile. There are far easier ways to keep fit. There are less painful ways to dream. I still don’t know the answer. But I’ll keep following that white line on the grey road. And I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And I’ll keep gazing out into the far horizon as my chest wells up with an unnamed yet familiar hope.  Just as the horizon reveals its secrets as I come closer, just as the once hazy structures solidify in the morning mist, I believe that my answer will come soon enough.

It’s one final push up the Kalayaan flyover, my former nemesis in the last Condura race. It was my very own personal dragon then.  Not this time. My sister and Cathy are waiting at the bottom of the flyover with cheers of support and  a bottle of Gatorade.  I am only able to wave my hands,  my brain too focused and  too tired to form words of thanks. I know they will understand. Redemption comes in short and steady strides.

Am I running from something or am I running towards something? I really don’t know. Perhaps it is both.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep on running.

1:56:12 for my condura half marathon. A PR, yes, and a slight improvement from my San Antonio 21Km time. Now it’s on to San Francisco for the Marathon in July…

Caligula, little boots, the emperor of pain, would notch himself onto my legs every time I would go for a run.  I had hatched a plot to give him a Happy send-off.

The year was only a few days old when my phone blinked out a message from Batgirl. “I’m registering tonight for the Happy Run, do I count you in? ”

“Yeah, sure,” I replied without putting much thought into it. “Sign me up for 15K.” This was a good 3 weeks before the event. I had, at that point, only managed a grand total of eight kilometers in the last 10 days. My legs were still a vision in black and blue and my right knee was sporting a bright pink tape around it.  I was a model of optimism. I figured I had more than enough time to recover from the accident and get my running legs back on the road again.

Fast forward to the week before the PSE run. 6kms a run was the longest I could manage before succumbing to what I then called “the annoying little troll” attached to my legs. That was already an improvement from the 3KMs the week before. I had my last of the eight therapy sessions that Monday. If Frustration were an ad campaign, I would be the shoo-in for poster girl.

“Give me a name!” I beg my therapist. “What do I have now? Shin splints? Runner’s knees? Calf strain? What is it? My shins hurt.  My IT bands are tight, there’s a knot in the middle of my left thigh. My knees go on lockdown at the slightest incline!  What the hell do you call this pain?!”

The PT looks at me with similar frustration etched on her face. Ma’am (Darn it! I really am a ma’m now!) He tries to say calmly. “You simply need to give those legs a rest. Your pain is moving around because your knees, your legs, your ITs need to recover from the trauma of the bike accident! Different muscle groups are compensating for the lack of mobility in others due to your injury!” He makes sense but I don’t find comfort in his truth.

“When exactly am I going to be healed?”

He sighs. “You just have to be patient, ma’m. “(There he goes again with that ma’m bit!)

The doctor never tells me to stop running. I am grateful for at least that part.  As I am rushing out of that therapy room I do hear him hurriedly adding restrictions. “Stick to grass, treadmill, and maybe track for now, ok? “ I follow his instructions. I am a vessel of meekness and humility.

I continue to struggle with running distances longer than 6Kms.

In the middle of the second week, I wake up and have a revelation. “Caligula, that’s who you are! You are that little tyrant of a pain in my legs! In history you were an emperor known for your tyrannical rule. You ruled by whim inflicting pain and sorrow on your people with mindless abandon. You are mad and cannot be reasoned with!”  I’ve been playing this game all wrong! I’ve been skirting around the pain. I haven’t been dealing with it directly! I had allowed the mad Caligula to wrest control of my legs. To move where it wanted.  I was adjusting to the pain when it should have been the one forced to respond to the therapy and me!  “Well, I’m done playing host!” I tell Caligula. “And I’m done waiting. And I’m done adjusting. You’ve simply got to go!”

I’ve read enough history books to know this: You don’t wait for a tyrant to leave. You don’t cower in fear when he reveals his madness. You face him head on and you throw him out! I could do so much more about this injury. There was no one else who knew this pain better than me. Not my doctor, not my therapist, not even the coaches in the track.

So I book extra PT sessions in the week. I discuss my strengthening program at the gym and ask my trainer to adjust it to my current needs. We assess, we re-assess and then we get to work. I start lifting really heavy weights. So much so that by the end of the week, Snuffy starts calling me Arnold! (I ignore him but I also order my trainer to lessen the weights and simply do more repetitions).  I then schedule two deep massages three days apart. I buy a month’s worth of comics reading and two poetry books and five back issues of Runner’s World. I set up a mini bunker in my living room and I settle in to read and rest and have a weeklong conversation with my legs. I also read up on the anatomy of the human leg. I start memorizing the names of the different muscles; I start tracing them in my head. I map out the route of my pain. I pore over the diagrams in the gym and memorize the stretches. I stalk every twitch and spasm I’ve ever felt in my muscles. I begin to understand it.

Time to enlist the Senate’s help in the plot to overthrow the Emperor of Pain. I call on Gluteus Maximus. We recruit Tensor Fascia Latae. Gastrocnemius and Soleus are soon in. Gracilis and Sartorious soon follow. Now we have the soldiers. Vastus Lateralis did not even need to be asked. He was part of the plot to overthrow from the very beginning. Coach Titus Salazarus announced the plan for battle.

This time I wasn’t going to be a bystander in my therapy. I was going to take a very active part in it.  No more tiptoeing around the pain. I was going to go right for it.  “Go slowly!”  Advises Titus.  “Focus while you run and figure out the triggers of your pain. List it down. What you know, what you understand, you have a chance of controlling and containing.

We start the slow run to recovery.  I run circles with Titus and my Caligula around the track. Pain would still radiate up and down my legs but I was no longer running in fear of it. In fact, I was daring it to come out now. I wanted to get to know it and to figure out where exactly it was coming from. “He’s here!” Soleus would report. “Now he is moving right up here!” says Sartorius. We flank and outflank.  With Titus by my side, I ran around and around the track. We would speed up, we would slow down, we lifted and we shuffled and we went through all the motions to identify as much of the stress points as we could. At the end of the run, we retraced the progression of the pain and we scheduled a massage.  There was nothing relaxing about this massage. We were going straight to the source. We were going to pound on all those places Caligula had notched on to. We were going to go after all the knots and all those rough spots we had identified. We were leaving my emperor of pain no place to hide. Pain for pain! Pain to get rid of pain!

Now this felt more like it. It was then that I realized that I had unknowingly signed up for a different kind of race. In the year that had gone by, I was always racing to the finish line. This time was different. I was now a participant in the race to the start line of a happy run. Any happy run!

The emperor of pain doesn’t disappear on that day, or on that week. But the pain does lessen.  The emperor starts losing his grip. “You need to learn patience.”  Titus tells me. “Recovery cannot be rushed.” I could only nod. I was too tired to argue. This truth I could accept because this truth came with something else the therapist, with his medicine and his science, was unwilling to give me at the hospital. This truth came wrapped in hope. This truth was backed by the weight of running experience.

As I left the track that day, Titus and I agreed to stay focused and on the attack. And even though the finish line of the Happy Run was still hazy, the start line, at least, was now waving clearly and undeniably in the horizon.

—–0000———

The stars are still out on the morning I set out for THE HAPPY RUN.

There’s dryness in my throat as I go through my last minute preparations. I keep tying and re-tying my shoelaces. I wet my lips and then find myself biting into them. Plotting assassinations does take its toll. It took a view of a princess sporting a silver tiara in her head as she was sprinting across the parking lot towards her consort, the frog prince, to remind me of what I needed to remember. Seeing her put everything in its proper perspective.

This is supposed to be fun! Relax! What the hell are you so afraid of?

“You see?”  I whisper to Caligula. “You even have royalty attending your funeral!”

There’s a buzz of excitement in the air. The start corral is humming with palpable energy. I catch myself jumping up and down a few times. I stretch and I twist and I give my legs a little shake. “We’re here!” reassures my Senate. “We’re ready! It’s time.”

Caligula, my emperor of pain, never stood a chance.


It was always a race between the rooster and the church bells.

On most days, the rooster won. He’s had far more practice than the bell ringer, after all, making early morning announcements.

Four in the morning is when the bells start ringing to invite the faithful (and the hopeful) to mass. And long before the sun makes its appearance in the sky, the children in our neighborhood would already be gathering outside in the streets. It is time for the misa de gallo, the mass of the rooster; the nine days of pre-dawn masses that ushers in Christmas day in our part of the world. By four thirty in the morning, we make our way up the hill.

daragachurch1Our church lies nestled on a hill.  It was built in the 17th century under the supervision of Franciscan missionaries. It’s a beautiful church. On its volcanic rock facade you will find elaborate carvings and extensive ornamentation. It was built to replace the Church of Cagsawa, the old church that was unfortunately buried by lava along with about 1200 people during one of the Mayon Volcano’s eruptions.

Our town is called Daraga (dalaga: the young women). There are many stories about how the town got its name. This is the one that rings closest to the truth. It took many, many years to build the church. It was a gargantuan undertaking needing the help of the entire community. The builders, the carpenters, the masons (mostly men) were the ones in charge of laying the foundation and building the structure. They stayed on top of the hill. The women, the ladies and the children, they settled at the base of the hill. They gathered the heavy volcanic rocks (which was plentiful below) and helped the men roll it up the hill to where the church’s foundations lay. Hence the settlement at the base was called DARAGA.  Daraga: the place where the women were.

The first church, Cagsawa, was built right at the base of the Mayon Volcano.  The town fathers (and mothers) having learned their lesson from the disaster that buried Cagsawa church, decided to build the new church away from the disaster zone. At the foot of the hill, on the valley facing the volcano, you will find the catholic cemetery. On the other side, in the valley sheltered by the hill, you will find the center of our town, Daraga. The reasoning behind this is  simple and straightforward:  The Mayon Volcano is still a very active volcano. Should it choose to erupt once again (and it has, many, many times since then)  our town would at least  have the hill and the church to protect us.

Only one road leads up to the Church. At one end of this road is my father’s house. Just across the street from their house was my mother’s. My parents have been friends since they were 9 years old. They were playmates. And they were neighbors.  They were raised to be very good Christians. As children, they were taught to love their neighbors. Both being over-achievers in this department, they did one better. They not only loved their neighbor, they also married them. My parents have been married 36 years. They’ve been best friends for 50. My father’s house is the house we grew up in. It’s still the place I call home.

They say that our lives revolve around certain patterns.  Here is one I recognize…

As a child, my Christmas season would begin with the crowing of the rooster, closely followed by the melodic tolling of the church bells. The children in the  neighborhood  would gather into the streets and we would race up to the top of the hill.  When we were young,  it seemed like a very long stretch of road. It’s actually less than a kilometer long.  To get to the church, you take that one road and head out towards the town’s main road also known as the national highway (2 lanes).  You cross that highway and then  you head up the winding incline until you get to the very top. There you will find our church.  The hill affords a vista of the town below, the magnificent Mayon Volcano to its side, and further out, the sea and the Legazpi port.

At this time of the year, and only at this time, the stars above are rivaled by the blinking yellow lights lining the otherwise dark streets below. Christmas lanterns wave and sway in front of most windows. Some are simple star lanterns made up of colored wax paper, others are far more intricate, they are made of  a mix of dyed shells and wires.

On the climb up to the church, the women would take to the sidewalks with the carved out steps.  As children, we preferred the dark and narrow asphalt road beside it. At this time of the day, we had it mostly to ourselves. We would zoom up that road incline and race each other. Our grandmothers, our mothers, our aunts and even our nannies would walk this stretch slowly behind us, enjoying December’s crisp morning air. They would massage their shoulders with their arms as they exchanged stories, they would rub it fast up and down to get more warmth into their bodies. And then they would pull their shawls more closely around their bodies. Once in while, we would hear our grandmothers or our nannies shouting out words of caution or reprimands or shushing us to be a bit more quiet. But most of the time, they let us be. We all made our way up that hill just before dawn. The church waiting for us on top would be warm and brightly lit. As one community we then gathered together in prayer and in thanksgiving. There would be shared stories at the pulpit, sermons and hymns would be sung out loud.  And when the mass was over, we would slowly make our way out of the church. My father would be waiting then by the steps. He would have the car with him.  My mother would ride with him down that hill. So will my grandmother. We would walk down with our nannies.  On our way home we  always made a brief stop inside a building smelling of freshly baked bread. This was the town’s bakery. It was a rectangular building that stood just a meters away from the bottom of the steps leading to the church. (And that is why for as long as I live, I know that all my memories of  attending dawn masses will forever be coupled with the smell of freshly baked bread!) As soon as we all made it home, breakfast would be served. And once again, as a family,  we would break bread…

The bright city lights confuse the rooster. The bell ringer waits until much later in the morning to push the button that mimics the sound of the bells. I wake up to the sound of my alarm clock at four am.

As I leave my building, the gray mist that has covered much of the city during the night embraces me.  I turn on my headlights and drive on. From an elevated portion of the highway, I catch a view of a part of the horizon not yet blocked by the many new buildings rising over the city.  A golden, feathery sunrise is making its way up the sky. I park the car and as soon as I open the door to step out, I am greeted by  that distinct crisp chill in the air that I always associate with December mornings. I rub my arms with my hands to warm them; I pull my jacket closer to my body. I look up and down a dimly lit street. And I prepare to wait. I spy one friend in the parking lot. Soon there will be more.

Once again a group of friends is headed up a hill. And once again, we are going to run there.

As long runs go, this one will be fairly short. This isn’t really a training run. It’s really just our excuse to come together this early morning. Not that we really need any. But once in a while, we do like to pretend we are all grown-ups. And don’t grown-ups always have reasons for doing things? Our plan is simple and straightforward: First we will run up a hill, and then we will run down it and at the end of this run, there would be a shared meal.

Now the parking lot is buzzing with chatter and lots of laughter. Everyone is finally here. We walk out of the parking lot as a group. We step up the sidewalk and we start to jog. The sidewalk ends and we are soon running on the road. Stories are still being  exchanged while hymns and songs are playing in some ipods. There are no older women now shouting out words of caution or shushing us to be quiet. But, then again, maybe that’s because child and older women are now one.

We still prefer the asphalt road to the sidewalks but there are more cars around now  sharing the road with us. Our steps remain light and relaxed. We follow the road and let it take us up the hill.

They say our lives revolve around certain patterns. Here is one I treasure.

It is a cool, crisp December morning. A group of friends gather together just before dawn to go running up a hill and then to head joyfully down. At the end of this run, they share a meal. Along the way, they trade stories, they laugh out loud, they run their hearts out. And somehow, sometime at dawn on this golden December morning, the mundane once again turns magical. Suddenly, it is Christmas time once more.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 😉

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…

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.

sadwntown

pb160165-11

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…

pb170212

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.

picture-16

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.

picture-8picture-3

picture-42