Archive for the ‘myphilosophy’ Category

Dog Days: • a period of inactivity or sluggishness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never did like it complicated.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, now you know.” Batgirl says with a sly grin on her face. “Noses, no matter how big, simply don’t bounce off cemented sidewalks.”

I am not a girl who is easy to convince. But, on this point, I am not going to argue.

Having lived the first quarter of my life (so far) within the 13th and 14th parallel zone, the entry point of most tropical cyclones that beset this country, I know what it is to find yourself within the eye of the storm. The eye of the storm, the lull between the howling winds. You look out and there is nary a wind. Everything is still. Everything is eerily quiet. You look straight up and even in the darkest of night you see stars shining brightly in the sky.

My father has always warned us about this part of the typhoon. The quieter it is outside, the calmer things seem to be, the more you need to prepare yourself for the coming onslaught. When you find yourself within the eye of the storm, you do not waste time on the non-essentials. You gather those closest and dearest to you and you hold them close. You haul yourselves off to safer grounds , you surround yourself with stronger walls, hunker down and you brace for what is to come next. At best you get a few minutes of quiet and calm before the howling begins again. Then the winds come rushing back. Perhaps lashing out with even greater fury. And you settle down for the long wait.

I was in the eye of the storm all week last week.

The howling has stopped. The pain has subsided. Clear skies now up ahead. But it was nowhere near like this a few days ago.

“You’ve probably told this story a thousand times. But can you tell me what happened again? Just spare me the gory details.” X-man says in a matter of fact tone as he takes a seat in the family room.

“I am on a bike, on a hairpin curve, I see a white taxi, I avoid a white taxi, I hit the curb, fly off my bike (apparently you cannot grow wings that fast), use my nose as brakes and buffer. Tadahh… 6 hours of surgery and a few days at the hospital and this is what you get…” and I point to my face. !“Exhibit A.”

X-man is not all that impressed but he got his story the way he wanted. I heard no complaints. Just a long deep sigh. And the all important question which deserved an honest answer…

“Do you want a dermatologist? I am dating a dermatologist. I could hook you both up. Your skin looks awful! ”

And we moved on to far more interesting topics beyond my nose.

Fine. I’m tired of talking about my nose anyway. Actually, what’s the point? If you want the story, it’s written all over my face. Just check out the cuts and the swelling and the bruising. It will tell you what’s important.

Someone good, someone really good, put me all back together.

Or if I were to be more precise, A LOT OF GOOD put me all back together.

They say that sometimes things happen in slow motion. Perhaps it did that. The details of the accident are all very clear in my head. But things also happened in lightning speed. I wouldn’t have been able to deal had my family and friends not come rushing to my side to keep me focused on what was needed to survive the coming ordeal.

A flurry of angel wings…that is what surrounded me. Amidst all pain, I heard a flurry of angel wings. It is what insulated me from the most awful, traumatizing part of the experience.

Mum and Pop and the sibs especially ate wee (younger than me but far more responsible and reliable) and dondon (my brother who kept awful hospital food at bay), the cousins, the titas (especially the ones who refrained from saying I TOLD YOU SO!)

Ting (Aquagirl – whose powers definitely extended far beyond water. Kept me sane and made me feel safe.. Supplier of the best and most potent pain reliever around! ), Bards (Batgirl, the running banana and still the sanest member of the gang. marshal of the forces of all that is good… ), Rissa (Winks, definitely winks ;-)), Catherine (SeriousCat), T2 (ketikat, kristine, vince, essie, dingdong, harry,vicky, chuchay, anna, tin- the happy thoughts gang and sugar rush patrol) my core group Joy, Bene, Grethel and Erskine, the Tri-Polar team and the Missus (Laarni, Bobby and Ed, and Gina) and The Doc Peter J (without whom I would definitely still look like Pokemon.)

So many other faces floating in my head. If I failed to write it down, it is not because I don’t remember or I am not grateful. Far from that. It is simply because I am, even to this day, still overwhelmed.

When you find yourself in the eye of the storm, you do not waste your time on the non-essentials. You gather the closest and dearest to you and you hold them close. In the darkest of nights, it helps a lot to know you are not going to be facing the typhoon alone. You brace yourself for the coming onslaught. You hunker down and you settle for the long wait. You go through enough of these tropical cyclones and you begin to understand that no matter how loud the winds get, laughter shared with family and friends, good stories passed back and forth, prayers said in unison will always, always drown out the howling, calm the anxiety and drive out the pain and the fear.

If I put in everything I am grateful for in these pages, I would need a new blog. So just this… All the happy thoughts in the world wrapped in two words… Thank You!

Not enough, never ever going to be enough but it will have to do for now.

Except perhaps for this…I’ve always preferred to say thank you in my own Bicolano dialect. The language of my youth and the one closest to my heart. In my part of the world, in the place I call home, we say “Dios Mabalos po!” (God, repay you for your kindness… ) In His Time, my faith tells me, that will be more than enough!

Clear skies up a head…thanks to a flurry of angel wings.

“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…

I say fun and invigorating, you say stimulating!

It’s that time of year again…

That time of year when you find yourself gawking at your inbox and at all the unread emails you find waiting for you there! Personal inbox: 683/Work inbox: 1787!

Darn! And here I was congratulating myself for being just an inch short of amazing when I annihilated my 2008 TODO box (with my laser sword)  just before I went running off for the holidays!

There is one good thing about this email batch though. A number of them have turned out to be unopened holiday greetings. It’s my chance to have one last fling with the holidays before it disappears round the corner of time.

The thing I love best about my job is the travel and the people I get to meet along the way. It warms the heart to receive small servings of joy and delight in different languages. My favorite one this year comes from my Italian buyer. The fact that he looks absolutely Aragorn-ish (of the Lord of the Rings variety) does nothing to influence my stated preference one bit! (Well, of course it does!) I’m sure his greeting sounds wonderful in Italian. Everything sounds wonderful in Italian. Point in fact: bruschetta! (Hello! it’s just grilled bread rubbed in garlic and extra virgin olive oil!) The fact that he took great pains to write me back in English makes it all the more special. (No it wasn’t from his secretary! Stop it, Snuffy!) Obviously he wants to keep this whole connection between us going. I do love the Italian language but my vocabulary is, at this time, still limited. Let’s face it. Focaccia tiramisu pomodoro bruschetta amore does not a sentence make!

“Wishing you all the sweetness of the season and a STIMULATING 2009!”

The mischief-maker in my head immediately made a grab for that adjective: stimulating. STIMULATING, we love that word! We can definitely work out a plan for 2009 with that word in mind.

The blues in the print are already swirling like a hazy mist inside my head. Stimulating goals for 2009? Oh wow, I can’t wait!

But well, I have to. There is that matter of the 2000+ emails I do need to attend to first…

So, in the meantime, I leave you with this quote:

“The hours are left for vanishing and also for joy and for blessing and for gratitude.” Jason Shinder

All the very best for 2009 everyone! Here’s to a (spell it with me) s-t-i-m-u-l-a-t-i-n-g year ahead! 😉

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! 😉