What makes a marathon finish memorable? There should be a dozen different answers from runners who have finished one. It may be experiencing a new challenging route that you dreamt of conquering one day. It may be the support you got with your running group that made the run easier, more exciting and more fun. Or it may be achieving your one main goal, to be able to finish your first marathon.
For me, it’s a combination of all the above, when you feel that your body and mind have worked alternatively or in tandem no matter how difficult or painful the experience was and feeling the exhilaration once you cross the finish line.
The Condura Skyway Marathon just gave me reason to celebrate again! It’s good to be back on the fray, completing my first marathon run in 17 years and my 5th marathon finish over-all.
It was a long hard climb, two years after deciding to make a comeback to running last 2008 although i wasn’t sure i would be able to sustain the motivation. We all know too well that half the battle of training isn’t the running itself, that it’s finding the resolve to run each day and it takes a lot of commitment, goal setting and having a training plan to carry out such a formidable task.
When i was at the starting line yesterday at the Condura race, i didn’t have a race plan. Feeling like a beginner again, my goal was just to finish below six hours and run the best way i can. My stomach was having double-knots and the pre-race nerves was getting into me since last Saturday. I could not really shake out the fear that i felt and that was the fear of “failure” even if i came fully prepared. I was logging at around 70-80 kms a week and running distances of 34 to 45 kms on my Sunday long runs.
So, at the very last minute before the gun fired-off, i decided to join a group of runners from takbo.ph who were doing the Galloway method of running for 5 minutes at an average pace of 6:30/km then fast walking for 1 minute, the 5:1 run-walk ratio. It was tolerable running it the first 3 kilometers but i couldn’t keep up with the fast run segments as we were sometimes going at a 6:00 minute/km pace. I knew that if i stayed with them, i could not have kept up with the pace and still have any energy left for the middle stages. Much worse, i would have had great difficulty finishing the race if i stayed on so i cut loose at the 4th km and ran my own pace thereafter.
The silent, eerie stretch of highway and the mixture of urban and rural vantage points atop the Skyway will make you forget your feet are pounding on hard cement. A good 15 to 20 kms of the Skyway was used for the route and i felt some kind of drudgery, running on one, very long, endless highway. The marching bands stationed along the Skyway who were supposed to play during the rush of runners who passed by them, didn’t help alleviate the boredom as they were just sitting and looking more tired and sleepy than we runners were. Some of the runners even coaxed them to play but it just fell on deaf ears.
The runner support was however, above par. There were adequate water stations not only at the Skyway but all throughout the route. The marshals were exemplary as they even handed out the water cups to the runners themselves. However, one sad note i experienced was when i saw some runners trying to revive two runners who collapsed past the 21k mark just before the turn-around bend at the Skyway but there was no roving ambulance on site! It was a scary moment. On my way back, i saw both sitting down on their own and somewhat revived.
On my way back at 33 kms, i saw what seemed to be a transplanted banana plantation cum aide station at the middle of Buendia Avenue set up by Entrepreneur-runner Amado Castro and the takbo.ph group led by couple Jinoe and Queenie. The bananas were so plentiful that it could have fed the whole barangay of Pasong Tamo with still plenty to spare!
The last four kilometers was the most excruciating part of the run for me. After climbing up the grueling Buendia flyover on my way back to the Fort, i felt my body stiffen, my knees locked and couldn’t sway my arms as much as i wanted to. I haven’t drank water or Gatorade from my flask for the last 3 kms and didn’t feel like drinking at all although i knew i needed to. I realized then that i was crashing into the “Wall”. The only thing that was moving was my two feet which luckily were moving forward–but not by much. I began to feel a mild paralysis from my head down to my ankles. I knew that if i panicked, i might not be able to move my feet so i tried to stay calm.
I was still at Kalayaan Bridge, just about 250 meters away from 32nd Street, when i suddenly realized that i was at the exact spot where my running partners from Runnex, Betty and Tonette used to stop to walk and rest during our long Sunday runs. This time, they were not there to run with me (Betty had an urgent business call in HK while Tonnette had to attend to family matters). The 3 of us had paced each other, stop together when one felt like walking and each gave me their chocolate bars or bananas when i felt hungry. Now, i could barely move and not one of them was there to assuage me that everything would be fine. At this instant, i felt a little emotional and i was fighting back tears. I was getting frustrated because my body didn’t move as it should and i couldn’t think clearly.
In marathon running, you can program the brain for success or failure. It’s either the negative thoughts persists, like not being able to finish the race or you see the positive side that your hard work has brought to where you are now. I knew that my training was solid, carbo-loaded days before the race, that this run was just an ordinary Sunday long run and should treat it as such. I knew what to do and was able to focus on the physical and spiritual journey–the process–rather than a particular outcome. Slowly, i began to think of all the hard training i’ve done. Slowly too, my body began to move forward again. Clearly, my mind was taking over what my body could not do anymore.
There is such a thing as a second-wind. Just as i thought i would be trudging the last 3 kms to the finish, there is that sudden outburst of energy that’s just ready to be tapped from within when you need it the most. The last water station along the University Parkway was like heaven sent. I finally drank two cupfuls of the orange carbonated drink (i don’t usually drink them in races as it always upsets my stomach) and another cupful of water and it served like a jet-fuel that set me off to running form again. I realized then that all i needed was to hydrate myself which i avoided for the last 4 kms.
Near the finish, i was greeted by the hollers and shouts of encouragement of friends and running mates until i crossed the finish, just behind running friend, Doc Marvs who sensed that i was inching my way to overtake him and sprinted until he was clearly safe a few meters ahead.
I finished with a time of 5:44 (5:42:43 Official Time) and just thankful i was able to cross the finish. I know that i can still improve on this, but that would not be so important at this time.
So what now? In every experience like running a marathon, we always learn something about ourselves. We are always in the midst of an adventure, an inner challenge and learn to face fears and adversities that presents itself. On certain occasions, we push the edge of the envelope. Hopefully we become wiser, more confident and well-armed for the better.
Till the next great marathon!
(Thanks to Brando and McCoy for the pics!)