When I found out that my birthday this year would fall on a Sunday, I knew what I wanted to do and how to celebrate it—by running.

Having had to work on a Saturday for many years now sometimes has made me skip some races, both here and out of town, or provided some challenge in planning on joining races or keeping up with my training but it will definitely not stop me from having my grandest birthday party ever.  Joining the 2nd Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) Tanay 50 k Run organized by the Bald Runner.

It was in Tanay about two years ago, where I ran my first ultramarathon (if you don’t count my first full where I ended up running 47 or 48 km no thanks to the notorious organizing efforts, or lack thereof, of that marathon in May of 2009). Having had to miss the 2nd BDM 102 in 2010 and the test runs leading up to that race, I was left with the 50 km race for my baptism of fire so to speak. So after guesting at DWIZ for a radio show episode about running, I tried to get that all important shuteye before a race before heading to the jeepney terminal to meet with the PAU usual suspects.

After the two-hour bumpy ride near the starting line, I started to miss friends who ran the first edition but skipped the one this year choosing to participate in a duathlon that coincided with this race. But that didn’t dampen my mood as I met some more ultrarunners for a nice chat before the 4:45 am gun start.

Team Walang Kadala-dala with BR

Having no real target this time except to improve on my 5 hour 57 minute finish time before, I started easy, even being outrun the first few kilometers by the leading female runner. After 10 km and 1 hour of steady-paced running, I found myself in front with only 2010 runner-up Alfredo Ocampo to chase. 10 more kilometers saw a coast guard runner overtake me and I was now in the company of 2012 BDM 160 runner-up Dick Balaba and Alfredo’s brother Gregorio/Totoy, who both took off and raced more downhills after the km 20 check point.


Running in the dark (thanks Simon for the photo)

The early morning drizzle surely made the run cooler but coupled with lack of sleep gave me a headache while trying to keep up with the two very strong and fast third and fourth ranked runners at the time. Nearing the bottom of the 15km downhill, I saw Dick holding his right knee and Totoy leading him at the 35km turn-around. And once again, I was again in the top 5 as predicted jokingly by teammate Ronnel. But with fatigue and lack of sleep starting to be a factor, I started to feel the stress of maintaining my spot as I saw more runners making the U-turn.

It was generally uphill from that point on until the summit at the finish line but every time there were some “mini-downhill” parts, I would lose Totoy only to catch a glimpse of him again when the road started to roll again. By this time, the top two runners were untouchable clearly 4 or 5 kilometers ahead so the only way for a podium finish on my birthday was to catch the strong and veteran Team Hings runner. Dick had considerably slowed down since the U-turn due to his injury I thought but big thanks to his support crew who kept me hydrated along the way, Totoy was within striking distance all the way to the km 45 marker.

I could probably have overtaken him then but I knew he would have just countered and overtaken me back so I waited for the perfect time.

With less than 3 kilometers to go and no more downhill in sight, I went ahead giving it my all to deal him the final blow, running as long as I could and not letting him see that I was tired and aching in many parts of my body. Looking at 2010, it was around this point that now good friend Simon caught me up for the 12th place so I thought to myself I would not be overtaken this time for the podium finish. Not on my birthday.

So with all the strength I could muster, I minimized my walk breaks and surged ahead to the finish line more than 25 minutes faster than two years ago.

As in any PAU race, the gamesmanship of course ended at the finish line as the finishers greeted each other and Team Hings offered soda and beer to every runner who had finished one of the toughest 50 km runs I’ve ever joined. I also told Totoy that if he had not let me overtake him for the 3rd place finish, I would have begged him as my birthday present.

Happy birthday to me. 🙂

Receiving the 2nd runner up trophy from BR

And the #3 finisher's trophy!

Best birthday presents ever!

View official results here.

“I can’t do it, I just can’t,” shaking my head in defeat, I met Gie and Trixie, good friends and ever efficient support crew for all my three BDM participations, at the kilometer 92 marker. Having run for almost 11 hours and no runners in sight both in front and back, I had decided to give a sub-12 hour finish a try as additional motivation to finish strong but now found myself with the seemingly impossible task of running the last 10 km of the race in 1 hour and was afraid that I was about to let my team down!

Hectic 2012

With barely a month to rest/recover/taper/train for the BDM 102 after finishing the 2nd BDM 160 at the end of January, I was also battling cold and fever which I had very little time to recover from after a very busy start of 2012: BDM 160 on January 28-29, Condura 42K on February 5, and then 40, 30 and 25 km long runs the next Sundays leading to the 4th BDM 102 on March 3.

Singing the Japanese national anthem this time in tandem with a Japanese runner

So to say that I was not sure what strategy to take even a few minutes before gun start is an understatement. Part of me wanted to take it easy like how I started BDM 160 and try to see how things would play out but the other side was trying to tell me I should go for it and not repeat what to me was conserving too much energy when I crossed the finish line at the 3rd BDM 102. When I met my support crew for the first time at km 14, 1 hr 28 mins after the 10:15 pm gun start, I eventually decided to try to finish the first 50 km between 5 hrs 30 mins and 5 hrs 45 mins and cut down on the 30 minute pit stop the previous year. I was the 28th runner at the first check-in point.

Competitive support crew

After a couple of scary ankle twists and surviving a fall in the dark all in the next 10 km, Gie was now telling me I should start making a move if I wanted to finish 7th like last year or better as the top 10 runners were starting to really pull away.

Gie’s words probably woke me up and I was able to overtake a few runners one at a time with a steady 6:00 minperkm pace meeting my crew for rest and nutrition every 5 km. And after a couple of hours more of running in the dark with the dogs and night owls of Bataan, I made it to km 50 in Abucay in 5:37, well within my and my team’s target and a 20 minute improvement from 2011. A quick change of shirt and shoes and a few bites more and then I was off to race again in the dark after 14 minutes, also a marked improvement.

It was now almost 4 am and I was still feeling the cool breeze and once in a while getting tissue from the pocket of my hand held bottle to relieve myself of the discomfort from all the sneezing and sniffing but was surprised to be able to improve my 7 min run, 3 min walk Galloway and was now doing 17:3 passing two more runners along the way.

A new dawn, a new day

With the sun now starting to peek in signalling the start of a new and memorable day for 186 runners who started this race organized by the Bald Runner to commemorate the historic Death March and the fallen heroes who walked the exact route that we were now running 70 years ago, it was a welcome sight to be a few minutes away from good friend and Powerpuff teammate Junrox who seemed to be struggling but still looking strong in the 65 km marker.

Just a few meters ahead of two runners in Dinalupihan, that stage of BDM that has seen some DNFs over the years

Entering the dreaded Dinalupihan stretch, I felt like the sun had given me renewed energy to increase my pace and change leads with the next two runners putting me in the 6th position as I traded good mornings with the locals who were either just starting their day or already on their way to church.

Surprises at km 83

I was trying to maintain and/or increase my pace a bit to try and catch the fifth ranked runner who I heard from other support teams was just 1 km away at the 70 km point. But after 10 more kilometers, there were still no signs of him so I just maintained my pace only to find out at the km 83 check-in that I WAS the fifth ranked runner but the first four runners had all checked in more than an hour earlier. Surprised, I found myself smiling while running and now thinking about a bet I had with Ronnel that I would buy them burgers if I could duplicate my 5th place finish at the BDM 160. What I also did not expect was that my race time said 9:47 at that point meaning I had 2 hrs and 13 mins to run the last 19 km if I wanted to go for the sub-12 finish!

Math and Ultramarathons

One of the things that keep me occupied while running ultras was calculating in my head—the pace, number of hours, and distance to whatever goal I set at that exact moment. So a quick mental math told me that I needed to run faster than 7 min per km from that point on. Which was both exciting and nerve wracking considering that heat and fatigue were now starting to be a factor as I asked my support crew to meet me every 2 km from km 90, meaning more rests which would eventually slow down my pace.

Mental roller coaster

Digging deep at the last 10 km while heat and exhaustion play tricks on runners

My mind was telling me I was tired and should rest more but when my calculation for the required pace for a sub-12 hour finish yielded 6:45, then 6:30 and then finally a 6:00 at km 92, for the first time during the race, I doubted myself even though Trixie and Gie were encouraging me to go on. I hid the tears of frustration which were different from the tears of joy that welled in my eyes 30 kms ago when I was overwhelmed thinking of the kindness and support my team had shown me even sacrificing a weekend away from their loved ones just so I could join this race.

I pushed further shortening my breaks and increasing my pace until the km 100 check-in where Gie told me the “good news” that I was now the fourth-ranked runner (I later found out that one of the Fast Four took a rest at km 87). Knowing that I had a full 18 minutes to cover the last 2 km, I took time to enjoy the moment, reflect on the modest achievements I had made and thank God and all the people who helped and inspired me to join the race, not forgetting the 20,000 soldiers who didn’t make it to the “finish line” of the old train station in San Fernando, Pampanga in 1942.

50 meters near the finish line, I still could not believe that thanks to the help and support of my ever dependable support crew, I was about to cross BDM 102's finish line for the second time

As I made the final turn to the finish line and seeing 11:54:XX on the clock, I could not help but be emotional, holding my head in disbelief and then raising both hands in triumph in this mental and physical battle of being able to accomplish what other people or even I myself would have never thought possible.

Nothing is sweeter than crossing the finish line after investing blood, sweat and tears

After running for nearly 12 hours, it is definitely a joy to see RD at the finish line

Team Small, Medium and Large + KB, top 10 finishers all!

Getting the 4th place medal from Gen. Narcise, Race Director

Couldn't have done it without you, Trixie and Gie!!!

At the Awards Night receiving the Grand Slam prize from RD Ret. Gen. Jovie Narcise for having finished BDM 160 and BDM 102 in one calendar year

The three BDM trophies (2012 BDM 102, 2012 BDM 160 and 2011 BDM 102) I collected in less than a year!

View official results here.

Everytime a BDM event comes up, my failed attempt to run the 2nd staging of BDM 102 in 2010 comes to mind.  That was when I got injured while training 2 months before race day.  I was so green in envy but nonetheless happy for my friends who finished the race.  But rather than sulking and feeling sorry for myself, I took it as a challenge to bounce back and finish the 2011 race organized by the Bald Runner to commemorate the heroes of that event in our history.

Fast forward to 2011 and the deadline for registration was fast approaching.  It was October and having no decent training plan, I signed up for the 2012 BDM 160 km Ultramarathon with the QCIM and Milo 42 k races in the first and second weeks of December as my only real “long” runs in preparation for the race.  What made me even more nervous was the fact that I got sick towards the end of last year what with the numerous get-togethers and Christmas parties coupled with sleep deprivation.  Suffice it to say that if I’d have any hope of finishing the race, it would be close to the 30 hour cut-off.

While still coughing and sneezing and sometimes bothered by fever, I made the most of whatever little time I had after the holidays and started running 5 times a week in January.  As I could not afford to miss my Saturday work, I wasn’t able to join out of town marathons and running events which other participants used as long runs for the BDM.  Instead, I tried my best to log in one relaxed run and three to four 20+ kilometer runs plus back-to-back weekend long runs the first two weeks of January.  The third week should have been taper week, but as I never really peaked during my training, I was left with just doing four easy runs.  Someone told me to run with my heart not with my legs.  I guess I’d need a much bigger heart if I’d give myself any chance of finishing.

So when people asked me for my target time, I would always say that I’d be happy just to finish, hopefully in one piece, injury-free.  But I told some friends that it will be a big bonus if I finish within 24 hours and in the top 10.  Wishful thinking I thought…

I didn’t even have a strict nutrition plan for the race.  But with my ever efficient husband and wife team of Gie and Trix, who also supported me in the 2011 BDM 102, I knew I was in good hands.  I just estimated the amount of sports drink, water, cookies, fruits and sorts gel I would need for the race and decided to leave everything in the hands of my support crew.

With Beeps at the briefing and CLP

And after two friends said no when I asked them to be my pacer for the 102 to 160 km leg of the race, I started to like my chances of finishing when Cebu 1oo k finisher and Fitness First instructor Don agreed to be my pacer knowing I would not be running the most difficult part of the race all alone.

Start, January 28, 4:58 a. m.

Having fun at the starting line while we could still laugh... (Photo by Dick Balaba)

The Japanese National Anthem "Kimi Ga Yo" (Photo by Keshia Fule)

Team Powerpuff Boys teammate and good friend Beeps and I ran together after the gun start like what we talked about at the carbo loading party.  A few runners decided to speed up from the very start but we stuck to the plan and run/jog at 6:00 to 7:00 minutes per km pace.  After 2 km of flat road, I suggested to Beeps and the others that we start running at the left side of the road knowing how accident prone the uphill was at that early stage of the race.

5o km in 6 hours and 6 minutes

Beeps and I were now running with another teammate Keshia at the first check-in at km 14.  We moved up a bit at the ranking but were still at the bottom of the top 30 runners.  There were some rain showers that we thought would have been more helpful had it come at the latter part of the run.  We enjoyed running at such a cool morning nonetheless as Keshia and I came in 15th and 16th at kilometer 50.  That was the last I would see of Keshia for quite some time as she took off with the other runners while I took about 30 minutes to eat, rest and change running shirt, shorts, socks and shoes.

Chow time at the km 50 pit stop

Rested and feeling fresh, even though the temperature had climbed to 35 degrees, I jogged at a relaxed pace to allow digestion of the lunch I took.  I was able to gain and overtake a few runners along the way and thought it would be smooth sailing after that but I was wrong.  I was dead wrong.

Lubao, I have a (breathing) problem

I was meeting my crew every 5 kilometers for a mandatory quick rest and nutrition break.  After 60 kilometers, the thought of not being able to finish came to me for the first time in the race when I started having problem breathing.  It was at this point that I began employing the Galloway run-walk method.  And since I would do 7 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking when I was getting tired during the other ultra races, I decided to do the same, trying to mimic yoga breathing exercises while walking for 3 minutes.  And fortunately, after 10 more kilometers, my breathing returned to normal as I crossed the welcome arch of Lubao, Pampanga.

102 km after 14 hours of running

The presence of runner-volunteers at kilometer 83 was a sight for sore eyes.  It was then that I found out that I had improved to 11th place, while thinking that the race had just started a few kilometers after the halfway mark.  I carried on with the same seven-three run-walk strategy until I crossed kilometer 102, the finish line of BDM 102 but now just a pit stop with 58 kilometers to go after running for 14 hours.  I again took time to recover, rest, eat and change running gear even if four runners had overtaken me during the almost 30 minute break.

It was almost 8 o’lock when I met Don, my pacer, at the McArthur highway (Don had to endure weekend traffic and sleeplessness after working on a Saturday just to run with me).  After agreeing on our pace which was about 7:300 to 8:00 minperkm, we did 5 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking or brisk-walking, knowing the last 10 k of the route would include an uphill to DPWH kilometer 118 post.

McArthur leg

But before that turn-around to the finish line, there were some serious battle for the top 10 slots along McArthur highway.  After about 25 kilometers and nearing the 12 midnight mark, I was able to overtake more runners and had moved up to 10th.  There was only one more runner I could see in front of me and no one behind me as I was able to distance myself from the 11th place runner at that point.  The runner, whom my pacer and I lovingly called by the color of his pacer’s jacket, was also doing Galloway and would trade position with me every so often, looking stronger and stronger as the race progressed.

No to DNF!

Just when I thought it would be an easy top 10 finish, disaster struck with 30 kilometers left.  My pacer noticed the drop in my body temperature and asked me if I was cold.  I thought I was fine until I noticed that I could almost no longer move my legs and my knees seemed to start locking up!  As what Don would do every break, he did some stretching and massaged where it hurt but this time I had to lie down on the ground of a gas station for 15 minutes.  I changed shirt and wore my fleece jacket.  After 5 kilometers and still trading 9th and 10th posts with THE other runner, I started sweating again and my body temperature normalized (whatever normal was at that point anyway).

Support Crew plus one

Gie and Trix were still very patient and efficient supporting my cause but Don’s friend, Jinky and Dennis, were now done with a quick nap and ready to contribute whatever they can to ensure a strong finish for me.

Upon making right at that fork towards the last 16 km of the race, Jinky estimated the distance between me and the runner in front of me to be 3 km.  She added that I may be able to overtake three more if Don and I continued our present pace.  By this time, Don made it clear that he would be strict in following the 5:3 and then 5:2 Galloway.  He would have none of my haggling anymore when I would tell him that I didn’t think I had recovered enough in the earlier stages and added another minute of walking.

Last-ditch effort

Climbing up to that km 118 post and slowly but surely closing the gap between me and the next runner, I told Don that it was time to make the move even though I wasn’t sure if I could maintain the 5:00 minperkm pace (at some points even faster!)  And after more than 100 kilometers of running and walking I finally saw Keshia again, still looking very strong!  (My respect for her and how strong a runner she is grew a thousand fold!)  A few more minutes and we were able to overtake one more, two more and finally, the 5th placed runner at that stage of the race.  After the turn-around and as we made our way down nearing the Capas Shrine finish line, Don and I were more inspired to run like there was no tomorrow.

And as I was within 1 kilometer of the finish line, there were so many things running through my mind:  my family who had to put up with me every time I could not join them to train instead for the race, the survivors of Typhoon Sendong to whom Ronnel and I dedicated the race to raise funds and hopefully help in our own little way, the actual survivors and the not so fortunate ones who had to go through the Bataan Death March, all the runners and support crew who became my source of inspiration during the race, to BR and his crew for putting up BDM therefore providing the opportunity for us to “Go Beyond our Limits,” and the list just went on and on.

As I crossed the finish line after 23 hours 46 minutes and 47 seconds panting in exhaustion after running my fastest 10 kilometer leg of the entire hundred miles, it was as if I was being transported to another realm.  One where I was overcome with great disbelief, relief, joy and pride finishing the race where even I was not sure I would be able to do if you asked me a month before the race.  I will be forever thankful to God, to RD Gen. Narcise and my family and friends for always supporting and believing in me.  This success is yours as much as it is mine!

With the RD and my pacer Don gettng my medal, trophy and silver buckle

Couldn't have done it without you guys!!!

With overall runner-up Dick and female champ Keshia (Photo by Dick Balaba)

See you in the next BDM Ultramarathon!

Thank you Jinky for the post-race massage! (Photo by Millette Rances)

View full results here.

Thanks Jepoy for the amazing shots!

Taking a cue from good friend and Team PowerPuff Boys teammate Ronnel Go, I will be running the 2012 BDM 160 km ultramarathon race on January 28 & 29, 2012 from Mariveles, Bataan to Capaz, Tarlac as a charity fundraiser that will benefit the Sendong survivors of Mindanao. Finishing the country’s longest solo race is a very daunting task but with the added incentive of helping our calamity stricken brothers and sisters down South, I will be more than motivated to go as far as I can and hopefully cross the finish line.

For those who’d like to help, please like this post and I will get in touch with you. Or better yet, type in a comment indicating your pledge/donation in the form of #peso/s per km of the distance I will be able to finish. For example, if you pledge 2 pesos per km, that will be a 320 (=2 x 160)peso donation if I finish the race or 200 (=2 x 100) if I can go as far as the 100 km marker. 1 peso / km or any fixed amount you can donate is of course welcome and will go a long way.

Thank you!

(With special thanks to Maj. Gen Jovie Narcise for allowing us to use this historic race to raise funds for charity)

Last year, I completed two ultramarathon distances and two full marathons en route to an unbelievable and miraculous Bataan Death March 102k Ultra finish during the first quarter.  Second quarter gave me the opportunity to meet the other 14 finalists who were all amazing and inspiring people then later on humbly received the Fitness First Sports Category New You Achievement Award.

In the months of July, August and September, I joined three Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) races (60, 65 and 50 km, respectively, from northern to southern Luzon) and was lucky to finish in the top 5 in all three runs!

Western Pangasinan 65k Top 3 (Thanks Junrox for the photo!)

Also unforgettable was when I qualified for the Milo National Finals for the second time.

The last quarter proved to be memorable as well when I became part of Team Powerpuff Boys’ strong showing in the Octoberun team championships with a new 21k PR which was more than two minutes faster than the one I set two years before.  

Traversing the Transcentral highway for the 65k Ultra and running to the clouds of Baguio in the 50k race both of Front Runner were experiences I will never forget.  As if I wasn’t blessed enough, I was able to improve my erstwhile 42k best by 13 minutes in the Milo Nationals!

While grateful for all these, I can’t help but be excited for the new year.  2011 may be a tough act to follow but, who knows, lightning just might strike twice!  🙂

Happy new year!

“SMILE! Smile, Al,” repeated Gie, my high school classmate and long time friend until I could muster a half-faked smile. I had been running for more than eight hours since 10 pm of the night before and I just told him that I thought I was starting to get tired mentally. Like a true friend and efficient support crew to my bid to finish the 2011 Bataan Death March (BDM) 102 km Ultramarathon organized by Bald Runner blogger and retired general Jovie Narcise, Gie thought of ways to cheer me up and take me to the finish line. Although all three of us—he, his wife Trix and I did not have a clue as to how long it would take.

 

Breakfast

Twenty four hours ago, we were relaxing at Villa Imperial, some 17 km away from the starting point of the historic race in Mariveles, Bataan, having arrived early Saturday morning at 1 am with another runner and good friend Rey. I suggested getting there early so that we would all have enough time to race—me to be able to feel fresh and ready for the longest race of my life, them to get all the shuteye and energy they will need to do dirty job of supporting an ultramarathoner. Rest, rest and rest was the only thing in my mind as the DNS last year was still very fresh, a decision I made to allow my sprained ankle to heal completely. If I seemed like I was overtraining last year, I was definitely lacking in the mileage this time around. All the more reason I was very nervous although ever hopeful of achieving a dream of finishing the race even if it takes a miracle!

Both excited and nervous

 

With good friend Simon at the starting line, minutes before the start of the race. (Thanks Team Pavel for the photo!)

After a day of eating, sleeping, eating and sleeping again, the team headed for km 00 and got there around 8 pm somewhat surprised at the big turnout of runners who also decided to be there early. I forgot about the race for the meantime as I started greeting, saying hi to familiar faces in the Philippine ultramarathon scene and exchanging stories of how one got hooked on running and how our love for the sport brought us all together that drizzly night.

After checking in, I found myself in the company of friends and teammates posing for that souvenir shot. And after a brief program (which included my singing of the Japanese national anthem—which I still think was the scariest part of the whole night!), we were off to chase after our BDM dreams.

Race Strategy

Having told my support that my strategy for the race was to not have a strategy at all, I chose a comfortable pace with familiar runners as we warmed up for 2 km before starting that 5 km ascent. I would remind myself that my number one goal was to finish the race within the cut-off time of 18 hours injury-free. Second on my list, if I get lucky, was to finish it in 17 hours or less to qualify for the 2012 BDM 100 miler. IF I really get lucky and a miracle happens, maybe I could hope for a 14 hour finish? Maybe…

Thanks to the two test runs done in January and February where we were able to run the actual race route in two parts, the roads even at night didn’t seem completely alien to me. I would stop every 5 kilometers, meet my crew, eat and/or drink and then take a 5 minute walk break. This would go on no matter which runner caught up with or overtook me until I reached that pit stop at km 50 in Abucay in under 6 hours. Heeding the advice of runner friends, I took my time and ate, changed running gear and shoes and that all important quick massage from Gie (can’t thank you enough bud!). In fact, I may have taken too much time (about 30 minutes) as the number of runners (10 before km 50) who were in front of me grew to about 20 when I got up and started to tackle the remaining 52 kilometers. No matter what, I stuck to my pace and went on with my 5 kilometer run and 5 minute walk “strategy.”

Getting back

To my surprise, I started overtaking one by one the same runners who went past me when I took that long rest. And by kilometer 65, it was just me and all these thoughts about running itself, family and friends going through my mind until I would meet Gie and Trix for the mandatory and agreed upon rest period.

 

Just passed km 70 marker just before 7 a. m.

Gie asked me to smile after probably seeing that I was getting physically and mentally fatigued. Trix quipped that I was still all right since I was still talkative at every stop. And after one more stop, I told them that after 8 hours and 34 minutes, I just equaled the erstwhile longest run I ever did—70 kilometers in Pagudpud in August of 2010 with 11 minutes to spare!

All in the mind

I stopped for another long rest of changing shorts and shirt and quick massage at km 75 which started to rejuvenate and got me ready for the last 27 km of the race. Still doing 5 km run-5min walk (my team would check up if I was still doing ok after every 2 or 3 km but a thumbs up sign from me meant that we would stick to the original plan), I was surprised, almost shocked, to find two runners taking a break near the km 80 marker while I was running to meet my own support team. And after another 5 km, I was able to catch up with the last runner I would ever meet during the race and shared some of the food and drink we had in the support vehicle. And for the first time, I started believing that I would finish the race without a doubt! Now that only 17 km was standing in the way between me and the finish line in San Fernando, Pampanga.  Was there a moment that I thought quitting was the better option when I was very tired?  Probably.  Was there a moment that I wanted to give up on my dreams?  Never!

Going the extra mile

It was at km 90 that I told my crew (in between munches of gel shots, fruits and sometimes cookies) that I would need for them to stop every 2 km and that I would be employing the 5 minute run-1 minute walk Galloway method from then on. With race time at 11 hours and 45 minutes, I knew I was pressing my luck in wishing to finish in under13 hours with 10 km to go but I gave it a try anyway.

Gie and Trix had really been such an excellent support crew that I was inspired to continue running even if I could not see a runner overtaking me anymore so long as I could maintain my pace. I told them I probably did all I could including going as fast as running a 5 min per km pace for a few more kilometers because of them.

And then it happened:  I crossed the finish line!  And suddenly, the exhaustion, the pain–everything disappeared!  What followed was this strange yet good feeling that I was able to finish this race.  Although if you asked me at that moment, I wasn’t really sure how I did it!

To someone who wasn’t even sure in the beginning that I would finish the race, the 7th place finish was an icing on the cake!

Many people define dreams and miracles in different ways. For me they are made of 12 hours, 49 minutes and 23 seconds of gut-wrenching hard work, inspiration and, above all, a big fighting heart!

 

What can be sweeter than a finish line in sight?

Thanks to Irene Ong and Vener Roldan for the finish line photos!

In cloud nine

Big thanks to Jovie-san for the opportunity to challenge myself, his team for the perfect race an ultramarathoner can only dream of, my friends, family and fellow runners for the inspiration and to Gie and Trix for never tiring to support, encourage and believe in me. I hope to see you all again next year!

 

This success has really been a team effort. Can't thank you enough, Mr. & Mrs. de Guzman!

See official results here.

(It’s been more than a week since I finished my second ultramarathon but I still can’t help but think about the people, places and events that made the 2nd PAU 65k run unforgettable)

Judging by the mood and the points discussed in the Carboloading Party and Briefing five days before the race, the 2nd PAU 65k (plus plus) had everything a perfect race had to offer:  a scenic route and a race director and a staff who truly understand the runners.

Touchdown Laoag

Posing before boarding our flight

A sunny Laoag weather greeted me and the other thirty or so hopefuls on the same flight in the country’s flag carrier.  Upon checking in at the La Elliana Hotel, a sumptuous lunch was next in the order of the day at the nearby La Preciosa resto where we had our share of local dishes bagnet, poqui-poqui and my personal favorite pinakbet!  Yum yum!

After getting supplies in the city and an afternoon nap, it was another chance for me and roommate Tigerboy Junrox to meet other runners over dinner and that one last big meal before the race.  (Up until this point, I welcomed the “distractions” Laoag had to offer as for that moment at least, the nerves somehow didn’t get the better of me although it would be my longest road race to date!)

Laoag view from the jeepney

The Plan

Running with Junrox and Wilnar before sunrise

From gun start, Junrox, Wilnar and I ran together never losing sight of each other and our goal of finishing the first 30 kilometers in under 4 hours.  I was actually surprised to find out that all three of us were part of the first 20 runners to reach the first scenic spot/stop—the Burgos Lighthouse.

Drop Bags and Aid Stations

Thanks to the hydration and food I had left for my drop bags to be picked up every 10 kilometers and to the ones I had packed for our support van, and to the very generous takbo.ph support crew (and to all support crews of the other runners), I didn’t have any problems with my food and drinks during the race.  So far so good I thought.  Especially when we reached kilometer 30.3 where there were a lot of food and drinks for all the runners.  Our group, joined this time by eventual 9th placer Mari, took our time consuming eggs, bananas, crackers, water, Gatorade, cola, etc. etc. going into the first trail part of the race.

At the Burgos Lighthouse

Rocky Road


By this time, Mari positioned himself in front of the group as we made our way to the Kapurpurawan Rocks.  After a couple of slips as I made my way along the rocky path, I decided to take it easy and not force the issue, enjoy the view and save something for the remainder of the race.  We were at that point still far from completing the first half of the route after all.  My first time to experience trail running was an unforgettable one.  I agree with another runner who said that trail running makes one become more aware of one’s surroundings and think more about the path to take.  No sooner than Junrox and I started the steep descent to the tourist favorite rock formation than we saw Mari already making his way back up.

Kapurpurawan Rocks

Photo ops and more photo ops

As early as kilometer 7, the group had stopped to take photos as we saw South China Sea for the first time in the race.  We thought we had taken enough photos along the town of Burgos and at the rock formation.  But when we got to the Bangui Windmill stop, we couldn’t resist but take more photos-slash-rest as the second female runner overtook as.  Junrox quipped that at least we had more than enough souvenir shots.  I couldn’t have agreed more!

The Galloway

The Bangui windmills

It was after the windmill stop that Wilnar suggested that we do the run-walk-run strategy so we started running for 5 minutes then took a 1 minute walk break.  Later, we had to make the necessary adjustments so the 5:1 ratio became 4:1 and then to the more comfortable 3:1.  We also took another minute of power and sometimes relaxed walking whenever we felt we had to.  The aid station at kilometer 50 and the sight of the van and the takbo.ph commissioned jeep were like oasis in a desert as we got ice, ate and drank to our hearts’ content.  (I even had time to switch Gatorade and water from my drop bags with cold ones from the cooler of the support vehicles.  Thanks guys!)

Never-ending highway

When the battery of Junrox’s Garmin died somewhere after kilometer 50, we experienced probably the most challenging phases of the race.  Wilnar was still sick but somehow was able to manage our pace (he had flu three days before the race), Junrox and I were feeling something in our knees (on my part, the low 20 to 30 km weekly mileage may have been rearing its ugly head), not to mention the sun making its strong presence felt.  After Mari had surged ahead, the three of us were now joined by Julius, a runner from Vigan, who was targeting to finish the race in 9 hours.  After being passed by the third female runner, 9 hours didn’t sound so bad at all.  Heck, 10 or 15 hours didn’t either as long as we could finish the race we thought.

Ilocano welcome

Whenever I would think of pain and fatigue, aside from the welcome diversion I got from counting down to 5, then 4 and finally to 3 minutes when we were doing Galloway, another factor that helped me just keep one foot in front of the other until the finish line were the Ilocanos—to me the real number one tourist attraction of Ilocos Norte!  I tried greeting every single one Ilocano I met along the road with “hello” or “good morning” (and then after 12 noon, I had to take a mental note and started saying “good afternoon”).  I tried smiling every time and usually would also get smiles from the locals.  Some gave more than smiles and gave us our rankings at the time we passed in front of them while others offered words of “encouragement” (especially when we got passed by female runners).  Some even put drinking and a pale of tap water and a tabo at the road side so we can drink and cool down at the crucial part of the race.  Never mind the inaccuracy when one man would shout “3 more kilometers to go” only to be told later by another one “5 kilometers to go.”

Pagod at pudpod

Reaching Pagudpud at last!

Legends have it that the name Pagudpud were coined from the Tagalog words pagod (tired) and upod (worn out).  I definitely experienced both but when my patience was almost tested as I grew anxious getting nearer and nearer the finish line, Istarted feeling sad for the first time that day.  Somewhat sad that the whole experience, the whole roller-coaster ride of testing my physical and mental capabilities was about to end.  Crossing the finish line one after the other, Junrox, Wilnar, Julius and I gave everyone a pat on each other’s back for a job well done, all of us finishing a race of a lifetime in under 8 hours and 46 minutes!

THE Race Director

After joining races regularly since 2008, I’ve had my personal favorites when it comes to race organizers and the races themselves.  But after the Tanay 50k and now the P2P 65K++ run, for me THE Bald Runner has now become THE race director to beat.  Sure there are no loot bags and giveaways after his race.  But as one runner put it, his races are the only ones where the race director takes good care of the runners and shakes the hands of all finishers no matter if they come in first or last.  Thanks BR.  I couldn’t have done it without you and your team!  🙂

At the awarding ceremonywith the man of the hour ret. Gen. Jovie Narcise

Recovery run on the morning after with Totoy

Sightseeing even AFTER the run 🙂

The fruit of my labor

As I set out last night to do my one hour recovery run after my second slowest full marathon in five tries, I was asking myself if I’ll be able to do better next time…

4:00 to 4:10

…”Due to the sheer number of 5k runners, the 42k race will now start at 4:10…”  I did not mind the ten-minute delay but during a Milo/Rudy Biscocho race?  Little did I know that the delayed gun start was just a tip of the iceberg of the day’s surprises (as if finding out a few weeks before race day that the organizers chose to make the runners do three loops instead of the tried and tested route were not surprising enough).

I started my recovery run after I had come home from work, late afternoon-early evening rush hour traffic, fumes and all.  Busy like the scene a few minutes after gun start at Milo Marathon last Sunday where runners were aiming to finish strong and healthy and qualify for the Milo Finals in December (I was praying that LK-RA, left knee and right ankle, which bothered me in varying degrees in previous road races, would not add to the already long list of excuses I had even before the race).  My goal last night was to run for an hour, clear my mind in hope of sorting out my thoughts about what just happened some thirty or so hours ago.

Fireflies and friends

Doing the loops with i2runner Natz

It was almost 6pm and darkness was setting in.  The road for the most part was paved and lined with street lamps save for some parts where urbanization was just starting to make its presence felt.  There were times I had to slow down due to darkness but the sight of fireflies brightening up the pitch black bushes encouraged me to continue running.  Not so different from when I was buoyed by the presence of constant running buddy Junrox et al during the earlier part of the race and then Natz during the two loops of the “experimental” Milo 42k route.

Weather or not

I had heard a lot of grumblings about how hot it was that fateful morning.  While I did see the motionless trees along the Macapagal Ave., I was feeling okay the whole time unaffected by heat.  Or so I thought.  After reading the kilometer marking that said 4.5km to go and knowing that it was still possible to qualify (if I did not go below the 5:00/km pace) or at least salvage a sub-4 finish, I started feeling dizzy.  Each blinked seemed forever so I did three 1 minute breaks and then continued running as best I could after regaining my bearing.  Looking back, this was the most crucial part of the race where I may have lost my chances but at the same time averted a near fatal mishap.

“It was 85 degrees and 90% relative humidity. I remember trying to stay with Bill Rodgers but being unable…feeling funny…then I woke up in a tub of ice. I lost 20 or 30 minutes. My body temperature was over 108.” – 1994 Comrades Marathon Champion Alberto Salazar discussing his life threatening heat stroke episode at the 1980 Falmouth Road Race.

I tried reading about dizziness and heat stroke and felt lucky later that I was able to finish my fifth full and didn’t have to be carried on a stretcher.  I was constantly pouring water over my head during the race but the experience just taught me to be more aware of my environment and body condition at all times.

But that night, I was loving the cool breeze against my face and the soft cries of the nocturnal insects in the silhouettes of trees and houses almost competing with the sound of cars passing by occasionally.

The finish

(Thanks to Irene Ong and Rodel Cuaton for the other photos)

Without looking at the splits, I knew that it was one of my slowest last 5 kilometers.  I was disappointed.  Distraught.  Defeated.  I was looking for answers to many questions but none were readily available.  Except that I almost fainted and my quads almost gave up on me.  Fortunately though, LK-RA cooperated and up to now are still friends with me.

Next time, I will train harder no matter how busy my schedule gets (run 3 to 4 times a week like before and not skip runs even on weekdays, especially on weekdays).  I will see to it that I rest and not travel 30 km and back 12 hours before gun start.  I will set high goals but will weigh things, be realistic and not be disappointed if I did not accomplish my target time during that particular race.  I will continue to run because I cannot imagine life without doing it.

After the run last night, my list of excuses became part of my to-do list for my next runs.

After the recovery run, I knew I will do better next time.

Tigerboy Junrox had earlier secured a spot as a Dream Chaser in the just concluded The Bull Runner Dream Marathon when I emailed Edward Kho and signed up myself responding to the pay-it–forward call.  I still fully remember what my first full marathon experience was like so I thought if there could only be a way for me to contribute in my own little way to at least help one runner’s quest for his or her first bite at the 42km challenge, I would say my work would be done.

Dream Chasers Pre-race Briefing

So there we were, listening to Edward’s words on how positive and cheerful a Dream Chaser has to be on marathon day and I was taking note of our duties–why, I didn’t want to mess up the first time I would be a volunteer in a race of any kind!  The instruction was actually simple:  Just look for and pace with a runner whom I think would need my help and ask for anything I could do to help him or her finish the race.

As excited as the marathoner

With the runners I was least worried about, Kitty and JB (who finished 24th and 20th overall, respectively)

Call time was 1 am but we were told that Dream Chasers would not be deployed until after 4 am or two hours after gun start, at which time some runners would definitely need some cheering up or whatever assistance from  us pacers.  With hardly any sleep, off I went from our house in Sta. Rosa almost as excited as the participants I would meet along the way.

Meeting the other Chasers and the Dreamers

With the other Chasers Vangie, Bobby and Junrox at the Dream Chasers station

Instead of waiting for 4 am, Junrox and I started to walk and jog to the Dream Chaser stations.  It was still very dark when two more Dream Chasers, Vangie and Bobby came to where we were stationed carrying “our” banner.

It was about 4 am when the first batch of runners went past us almost completing the first loop.  Up until that time, the four of us where sharing running stories in between cheering up and applauding the passing marathoners.  But then about an hour later, Junrox had to bring out his “magic”  spray much to the relief of some runners who needed it badly.

It was around this time too that I started seeing runners who were having some difficulties–injured knee and hips, hydration problem, some other issues or pain in some parts of their bodies or some who just needed someone to run with.

I asked any runner whom I thought needed help and tried to offer words of encouragement even to those who were still very strong even after the proverbial “wall.”  I only realized that I kept on doing this for about 4 hours (and running much more than the maximum prescribed 5k limit for each Dream Chaser) when I crossed the finish line with one runner several minutes after 9 am!  Vangie and the other Chasers agreed that it was a lot of fun and we couldn’t wait to do it again.  If we were able to help make their first full marathon experience a little more bearable, then we could rest assured that we did our job.

Three is to One

With The Bull Runner herself after the race (Thanks to PhotoJunrox)

I once read that a runner has to do some volunteer work–at the aid station, as a marshal, pacer, etc.–after every three races he or she runs.  Many thanks to Jaymie and the rest of her team for the opportunity of a lifetime to finally pay it forward.  I am looking forward to doing a lot more volunteer work at the races in the future!  🙂

It has been exactly one year since I ran my first full marathon and started this blog.  I can’t help but feel nostalgic when I look back at what happened in between, after 30 plus races and 3,000 plus kilometers.

Meeting the other runners

The most important thing this blog has ever given me has to be the opportunity to meet the other people who share the same interest/passion.  As my blogroll and the number of runners I have been fortunate enough to know grow day by day, I become more inspired and encouraged to train and race more.

Skipping races

When I had to drop out of the Cebu marathon and first thought of skipping Condura and the BDM ultra, it was very hard to accept at the beginning but knowing what I know now and undergoing everything I have been through, while it may seem trivial to some, in the end I realized that every little event seemed like little pieces of a puzzle that I had to figure out and solve by myself in order to be a better person and runner.  I now cherish this bit of experience as I feel this eventually has made me stronger and wiser.

Too much traffic

At the starting line of the 1st PAU 50k run

After coming back to racing at Globe and RUNew, I set out a goal to slowly but surely build my mileage and join more runs, while being conscious of not pushing it too hard.  My comeback of sorts may have been derailed by the traffic jam one afternoon in Sta. Rosa, but I knew it’s just a matter of time until I am back in the groove again.

Dreaming of an Ultra

Having missed the BDM 102km ultramarathon in March, I was still in search for my first ultramarathon.  Thinking that 50 kilometers is not that mathematically different from a 42 kilometer race, I signed up for the 1st PAU 50k run.  Little did I know then that the race would take me to the paved roads of Sierra Madre.  Which means a roller coaster ride, both literally and figuratively.

A friend in need

Big thanks to Tigerboy Junrox and his brother who gave the much needed support before, during and after the race, the guys from Takbo.ph and all the other support crews who offered food, hydration, ice and words of encouragement, and of course the other runners whom I met along the way and who were always ready with a smile.  I could not have done it without you guys.

In the end, it became clearer to me that no matter how lonely you may feel in your battles sometimes, friends will usually show up around the bend.  Or they could be there all along.  You just have to look harder.

Sometimes you just have to pray harder.

And above all, enjoy the journey to more milestones ahead.

Running the Sierra Madre (thanks Junrox for the photos)

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