2am and it was raining cats and dogs. It didn't matter though, a fun run won't be cancelled on account of rain and a 21k was an event not to be missed. At least for those running the 34th National Milo Marathon Cebu elimination leg 21k on September 5th. Today's race was a gauge for runners hoping to finish their 21k in 2:30 or less-- and that included me.
Weeks of training for my second half marathon has come 2 weeks ahead of schedule. So treating this as one long run, I signed up for Aboitiz Race to Reduce planning to run this at 6:45 minutes/km pace to finish well within the 2:30 cut-off set by Milo.
Aboitiz had promised to plant a tree for every runner registered today. Despite my preference for yellow, today I am Green!
A friend of mine, Gifford, invited me to run with him at 6:30 pace but I declined knowing I could not maintain that pace (yet) for that great a distance.
I met Gifford and his brother Harrold at the preliminaries. I also met Salvdian and Jerry, a fellow dailymiler. We trooped to the starting line. We saw many runners in Vibrams Five Fingers, running shoes that mimick barefoot running so popular these days.
Without so much as a countdown, a shot rang through the air and off we went. I kept reminding myself to stick to my strategy, slowing down when I was running at 6:00/km pace and picking up the pace when I strayed near the 7:00/km pace.
You could tell runners who were prepared for long distance runs and runners who weren't (like me 3 months ago). These runners had heavy footfalls, breathed noisily and was streaking past other runners. Soon enough, you'd see them taking a hike.
The run through SRP was breathtaking. I wished I could have brought my camera with me but running and shooting just don't mix. The stillness of the ocean magnified the sunrise hidden behind a blanket of clouds. It was peaceful and I was reminded of the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire in which Eric Liddell explains to his sister on why he runs, "I feel His pleasure."
I kept ultrarunner Haide Acuna in plain view. She was about a hundred meters ahead of me. We were probably running at the same pace because neither she nor I gained distance from each other. If only I could keep up with Cebu's most famous running personality, then I would be ok, I thought.
Near SM at about 7 km+, Kenyan runner and missionary Simon Losiaboi was already on his way back, his nearest competitor a good 1 or 2 minutes behind. Unbelievable pace and stamina. I just wish our Cebuano sports writers could write an article about him-- how he trains, how he keeps up with his training, etc.
The real challenge was the climb from SM to the University of Southern Philippines. The distance to the 21k turning point was almost 2 km and there was no let up in the incline.
At Mabolo, we converged with some of the runners from the Silliman University Run. I saw my cousin, Van, one of the City Prosecutors, running this one and waved him on. Turning back at some point near IT Park, I saw Twinkle Ignacio struggle with her tree-inspired costume. I also met fellow Cebu Doc alumni Sander.
Lots of people recognized Haide on sight. The ABS-CBN broadcaster was still picking up the pace. As we entered SRP for the last 3 or 4 km, I realized I was nearer the ultrarunner now thinking I must have been running too fast. A check on my GPS showed I was on pace and I realized she was slowing down. I passed Haide and said a customary, "Good morning" and proceeded to tackle the bridge.
Right now, a stiffness on my ankles began to emerge but with just a few km to go, I ignored it and dug in deep. The last 800 meters seemed to take so long. I could not sprint it even if I wanted to. Salvdian, a friend of mine who I passed on top of the bridge struggling with cramps that started near SM, recovered his pace and easily passed me back.
There were cheers a few hundred meters to the finish line and you could not find a better cheering squad than Ungo runners egging you on. I did it! 2:23 unofficial time on my Garmin, well within the cut-off time of 2:30 (The official time from the timing chips will be published in tomorrow's Sun Star paper, according to the CebuRunning Facebook page). Thank God for the weather, thank God for great race organizers and thank God no injuries!
The real challenge is yet to come. Let's bring it on!