Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Conquering my Everest: The Cebu City Marathon

"Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." -- Haruki Murakami, Japanese author.


The culmination of the year's training runs came to a close. Last Sunday I ran the full marathon distance and joined less than 1% of the world's population who have run it. Who gave me that statistic? Beats me.

42.195 km is not an easy distance. Go ask everybody else who did their own virgin race topped off with the infamous heat and humidity in the SRP (South Reclamation Project)-- 22 km back and forth pan-fried by the unforgiving sun.

34 km. Photo by the master, Estan.
My race recap can be summed up in one word: 
S U F F E R I N G.   

Due to an Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome (ITBFS) on the right, I lagged behind in base training having failed to do LSDs (long slow distance running) and did a DNF (did not finish) in a 21k leading up to race day.

Too late to back out now. I was fine tuned for the marathon. 28 km was doable, perhaps 30. And the remaining 12?

So here I was on race day. I was already at the race venue some 2 hours before gun start. I made 4 restroom breaks owing to excitement. The roaming "taho" vendor curbed my hunger despite having a plate of pasta an hour earlier.

3.45 am: We congregated at the starting area. I finally met my elementary classmate after 28 years, JO from Australia. Chatted also with Coleen who was still nursing a fever (but did finish well). Saw a few more celebs from the Ungo group and TTB. Saw 5 Africans (must have been Kenyans) arrive earlier in a taxi and I was sure it spelled trouble for Cebu's elite runners.

4 am: Elaborate fireworks! Off we went, a thousand plus runners in the marathon. It was almost 2 minutes before my friend Kent and I crossed the starting line.

1 to 5 km: By the volume of runners, we were forced to slow down our pace. We saw the Marathon Foodie and followed her closely until YMCA when she upped her pace and never looked back. No, we weren't going to follow the ultrarunner. By my reckoning, I think she wanted to do a sub-5 while all we wanted to do was finish the race... smiling with our sanity intact.

6 to 10 km: I lost my friend, Kent, at this point. Traffic was at a standstill in the main thoroughfares as runners were given priority (sorry motorists). My planned splits were right on as I headed into the tunnel.

11 to 20 km: My Garmin went crazy having lost its signal in the tunnel. We came out into the SRP still dark. Some parts of the route had no lights so it was quite difficult to get your footing as I was in my Bikilas. I took my first potty break and like the typical Pinoy male, I made it by just facing the other side. Swisshhh! There were lots of water, energy drinks, chocolates, cookies, sponges, liniments, music and dancers along the way. The 5 Kenyans were already on their last 12 km when I was still in my first 12. Talk about fast! I could see other runners coming back from the U-turn near Minglanilla. Saw Jacob on KAI sandals streaming past and JO going against the sub-4 pacer. Saw my friend Salvdian. Saw Gifford's staff Larry, Arnel and Raj. Saw Katol on VFFs, too! Go brother! Saw mommy Phindy running her first 42 @ 42, Twinkle in costume (but of course!) and a runner from Manila dragging 2 tires from start to finish. Amazing! 

There were lots of spectators on the road but unlike the big ones you see in NY or Chicago cheering you on, people here see us runners as complications to their daily routine. There was a report of thumb tacs thrown on the road. Low point here. This was also where my demons started to come.  
Pain. Period. (photo by Abigail)

21 to 25 km: I felt something scratching the back of my left knee. I prayed it was not my ITB on the left acting up which surfaced 2 weeks ago. I stopped and unfolded my knee support and found out that I had chaffed a big part of my skin. It was small but was painful. My foot also started to hurt and I was crying. Crying due to the sun block I had applied earlier that was now pouring down my eyes. Surprisingly my calves were fine. Some of the runners were on grass. I took out my Alaxan pack and downed a cap. 2 caps.

26 to 34 km: I slowed down to a run/walk strategy. No longer could I maintain running as the sun was already high up and my ITB decided to say "Hi". Took out my music player and the upbeat 80s music helped a bit. I had long walks in the SRP as I contemplated my finishing time-- 5:30, 5:35 and 5:45 slipping by. I was passed by the sub-5:30 pacer, a platoon of police recruits, and the sub-6 pacer who was on a similar run/walk strategy. Not bad. So I resigned myself to follow him through the tunnel once again (thank God out of SRP!), Colon St and Osmena Blvd. I got so hungry this time I couldn't wait to get to McDonald's near Fuente Osmena where I've asked the missus to wait for me, not with a kiddie meal I hope.

Munching on my patty with Kent.
35 to 40 km: I was met by my wife at McDonald's with Kent, who surrendered his race bib to DNF at the 28-km point, injured too. I munched on the double patty  burger hungrily and felt good! Everything tastes good when you're running 35 km. Runners were passing me and looking at my burger. I saw one get inside McDonald's. I did not bother running just yet. I knew it was already hard to finish a sub-6 so I took my time and enjoyed the vehicular traffic, where not much is seen in the province. Run already! Haide is too far ahead of you. My wife said as I procrastinated with useless chatter. I did not want to continue truthfully. I was very tired and the vehicular traffic was a sight to behold. Really now.

Mango Avenue was busy. Again runners were given priority. I saw 74-year old Noy Rening on marshal duty who encouraged me, "5 km na lang, dong." May ka diha, ako kapoy na.

The sprint to the finish line. Oops, my wife missed the shot. :D
41 km and to the finish line: The sub-6 pacer and I kept passing each other as we both maintained our run/walk strategy from Osmena Blvd. and Escario St. While he maintained perfect form, I ran like Frankenstein dragging my left leg with me, favoring the right. But from UP Lahug onwards, I pushed and never looked back. I thought I left him behind until 200 meters to the finish line, the pacer suddenly appeared beside me. We were shoulder to shoulder as loud music and  rounds of applause greeted us. I saw my wife at the corner ready with her camera. With a burst of adrenaline, I suddenly sprinted the last few meters just to get ahead that my wife missed her shot as I suddenly streaked past. (Said burst of speed sprained my chest muscles in the process. Blah.)

I made it! I made it! 6:09:19 official time. Both me and the sub-6 pacer didn't quite get our target times but nevertheless, we made it! A girl handed me my Finisher's medal. I walked a few aimless steps before I slumped on the sidewalk, too stunned to move even forgetting to turn off my Garmin. The realization that I actually did cover the entire distance today made me teary-eyed for a moment. I actually did it!  

I. Am. A. Marathon. Virgin. No. More.

With my one-(wo)man support crew.
Goodies and looties!
And the medal was worth every mile! 

Shall I do it again? I'm too tired to answer and my legs are killing me. But ask me again in a few days time, and like most of my friends who finished with me, the answer is most definitely YES.