Sunday, May 2, 2010

My first 21k: One hellish experience

4:30 am. All roads lead to the Cebu International Convention Center for the 3rd Mandaue City Run. I woke up early this morning, excited for my first half marathon or 21k since starting seriously running in mid-January. I was going to be paced by a good friend of mine, Gifford—a veteran long distance runner, but he opted at the last minute having to take care of his wife heavy with their second child.

I arrived at the assembly site promptly and already saw several runners slow jogging and stretching. These were the serious runners, I noted. I did my own routine, warming up these cold muscles and joints for the day’s run ahead.

A few minutes before 5:30, an announcer called all 21k runners to the starting line. I saw Simon Losiaboi, the Kenyan Missionary, tower above most runners. While waiting for the gun start, a 10k runner came up to me and remarked about the 21k runners, “Biliba nako aning managan ug 21k, dong. Tag-as kayo ug hangin.” Manoy didn’t see that I was one of those runners. Inside I felt motivated and could only reply a customary nod.

There were no speeches from public officials, no stretching or light aerobic exercises to start the event. The runners were just asked to line up and wait for the gun signal. This was going to be a no nonsense run after all.

The gun went off for the 21k (the 10k, 5k and 3k gun starts followed at 30-minute intervals) and more than a hundred pairs of running shoes pounded the back alleys of the famed CICC. Here we go.

The pace, according to my Garmin, was at an easy 6:46/km for the first 2 km. As the distance increased, the bulk of the runners increased their pace. I had to remind myself to race my own pace and not get carried along.

4 km, 5, 6, 7, 8—the numbers piled up and I was on an easy run. ‘Granny’ Twinkle was there in her customary costume and I was again reminded of my CityGym run when she outran me in the last 2 km of the race. I thought to myself, not this time.

Part of the race was running through the smell of garbage and refuse somewhere just before you reach the Mandaue City Hospital and holding up your breath will make matters worse. I love Mandaue and all its refuse!

Water was aplenty in the assigned water stations. We were now running towards the Marcelo Fernan bridge where the first 21k u-turn was situated in the Mandaue Park. The place was a haven of bystanders and early runners alike. Kilometer 10+ in 1:10. (Alas, little did I know it was to be the last water station with sufficient water until the finish line!)

We then made a right to the Cansaga bridge, the famous structure known for its hefty pricetag of a whopping P1.2 billion raised amidst the converging communities of the poor. Politicians these days are so ironic!

By now, the heat of the sun was getting to me. I had dreaded the gun times of the 21k. 5:30 am seemed to me to be too late unless you are an experienced runner aiming for a sub-2 finish. Us mortals who had to contend with a sub-3 were left with no choice but to brave it out.

The heat reminded me a lot about my CAT and ROTC Tactical Inspection days during high school and college. Heart racing, mouth parched dry, power drink evaporating faster than you can say ‘Water!’ I raced myself past 2 empty water stations. What was worse was that I didn’t bring any money along to buy me some precious mineral water. Tough luck!

If there’s anything such as a mini-Death March, this would be it. I wasn’t running any longer but marching and my hopes of a 2:30 finish dwindled as I slowed down considerably due to heat exhaustion and dehydration. I walked at an 11/km pace and could now only manage an 8/km run for short periods of time.

Cansaga bridge is huge and the ascent to the top while getting fried by the sun in an all-black race singlet was energy-sapping. I made the u-turn and ran back. I was just happy to get it over with. But still no water in sight.

My watch read 15+ km. 6 more to go. It turned out to be my longest 6k. This time ‘Granny’ Twinkle slowly made her pass. Again she has stumped me! She runs slow in outrageous outfits and she doesn’t take walking breaks. She had the benefit of water though, her usual companion ever so quick to give her one bought from stores we passed. I promised myself I would bring money next time (for water and taxicab fare if I decide for a DNF, hehe).

Well hydrated and energized, Twinkle became a blur on my horizon… again.

We went to Gaisano Super Metro for another u-turn. Finally I saw a water station—with no water but a drop that is. A middle-aged guy who was having the last fill on the pitcher saw me approaching and thankfully left me some—about the equivalent of a 20 ml. Now that’s the spirit!

I saw some runners cramping up and legs had to be stretched out. A Total gasoline boy was busy watering plants and he gamefully showered some runners with water.

At km 18 at 2:10 mark, I chanced upon a fellow runner. He told me that he was planning to break his GLLR 21k record of 2:40 but at the rate of dehydration this race was giving him, no thanks. He was also cramping up, his right leg he had to massage often.

Good thing there was this good Samaritan on a multicab. He told us he had water in the back but not good for drinking only for cooling down. Thank God! I went around and saw pails of water. I splashed my head and it seemed to me like heat dissipated-- never mind that some of the water spilled to my mouth. The water gave me instant relief catapulting me into running mode again.

Last 3k. There was one u-turn left near the STI school going to the Mandaue Flyover. I made that one as well but by now I could no longer see race marshals or guides on the road. One runner had to stop and ask directions from a vendor if he saw any runners going this way. Good for him I was on his tail. I directed him properly but then he ran further going to the Old Mactan bridge when we were supposed to turn right towards the previous route. He was already too far ahead for a shouting distance and I didn’t want to waste my time making my throat drier than it already was.

Last 2k at 2:30. If only dust could act like water, there would have been no problem because I got plenty of those from passing cars. Goodbye 2 hours 30 min, hello 3 hours! I set my new time at 2:55. I though that if I could make that time while traversing in adverse running conditions then I would be happy.

A convoy of Gibo supporters passed me by. I wanted to flash the Laban sign but was too tired and all I cared about now was just finishing the race. My candidate was already winning anyhow.

I passed by the Mandaue City Hospital once again and the smell of garbage reminded me of the looming distance that was the CICC. Never did a smell of garbage made me so happy! I was close. I let loose a flurry of running and met people encouraging me to give it a go. I saw the finish line 100 meters ahead and made a dash for it with legs heavy and an ingrown toenail starting to get nasty. I crossed the finish line. Unofficial time on my Garmin 2:49:11, distance 20.42 km. I made it! I looked around for water and again Mandaue City will never fail to disappoint you—no water at the finish line.

Lessons learned:
  1. Bring money for water
  2. Carry a hydration pack
  3. Bypass the Mandaue City Run next year