Days before the eliminations
 
I would have wanted to train more than I did but because of the recent developments in and around the Philippines, work at the newspaper bureau was a little busier than usual so I had to make do with what little time I had to do my final tempo and easy runs during the last week before d-day on July 5.  I was thinking that it would be okay if I don’t make the qualifying time of 4 hours although a little disappointing after doing a couple of Yasso 800s that made me believe I would do a sub-4 marathon.  So with barely two days to go, I made some last minute shopping (I badly needed a decent stop watch at least) and got a massage to somehow feel better about my time-pressed preparations.
 
It’s the Milo National Finals or Bust!

That’s what my Facebook status read on Saturday, 1:50 pm.  I decided I had to start believing that I will do much better than how I fared in the Botak marathon.  Knowing that Rudy Biscocho was at the helm, I was positive that the race would be well organized (and I was right!) so it would boil down to sheer willpower and determination to do well.

A Good start

With 10k finisher and tennis partner Mark and one half of my support team, Grace.

With 10k finisher and tennis buddy Mark and one half of my support team, Grace.

I was in high spirits at the starting line although I only had 3 or 4 hours of sleep the night before as I had a class until 8 pm (I knew this would happen so I tried to get enough sleep every night for two weeks before race day).  After doing the stretching and while waiting for the starting gun, I looked around to see that there were more marathon runners than I had expected.  I also saw the Bald Runner.  I wanted to say hi but there were quite a number of people between us and he was busy as a friend (or fan) was taking their photo.  I smiled and said “good luck” to the runners around me.

It was my first time to run as early as 4:30 am and I must say I loved the nice, cool breeze.  Roxas Boulevard was still very dark but lighting was not bad so I really didn’t feel it was dangerous at all.  In fact I enjoyed that leg and by the time I did the first turn-around at the airport road, I was really feeling good.  I smiled when I saw the Bald Runner again, this time surrounded with other runners (or friends or fans or bodyguards… he he…)  I also recognized Sam even before he shouted “Running Ninja!”  I tried to pace myself and not run too fast.  At the 10km marker, my watch read 51.54 minutes so I started calculating in my head (which I often do especially on a long run) and thought I could finish the race in about 3 hours and 40 minutes should I run at the same pace.  But I also thought that it may be a little too fast for my rather inexperienced legs so I relaxed a little for the next leg of the race.

Touched by an angel

The next 10 kilometers of the race took us to Makati from Pasay and it was at this part that I met my first support team member Grace taking photos and handing me my fluid and gel shot refill (I originally had three gel shots in my shorts and carried a bottle of gatorade but I knew this wouldn’t be enough for 42 kilometers).  It was such a welcome sight to see my own supporter although it was also nice to hear cheers from strangers along the way.

With Mark and Reina, the other half of my support team who had to hop from one cab to another to make it in time for our scheduled meeting places.

With Mark and Reina, the other half of my support team who had to hop from one cab to another to make it in time for our scheduled meeting places.

It was also during this leg of the race where I met Jun who was giving words of encouragement to other runners.  I caught up with him at the 16 km marker and tried to interview him (the journalist side of me!) as I was amazed how someone like him, whom others would call handicapped, could run that fast.  I didn’t underestimate him of course and I was really impressed seeing that his right leg and right arm were much thinner than the left.  I learned from our brief conversation that he would join Milo races and para games regularly.  He said he was trying to conserve his energy for the second half of the run.  I said goodbye and wished him good luck as I approached the halfway mark near the American Cemetery.  My pace dropped to 6:00 but I will never forget that nice chat with Jun.

Blessing from up above

I knew that the third 10k would be challenging because of the hilly surroundings of Heritage Park plus I knew that fatigue would be a factor knowing that even during my long runs, I never did 30 km!  So I was trying to keep the pace when all of a sudden, it started raining!  Many runners shouted in delight as they chanted for more rain.  And they got what they wanted for after making the third turn-around near C-5, it really rained hard!  I had almost zero visibility (I decided not to bring my running cap) but still tried not to slow down too much.  I saw BR turning his scarf into a hat (nice move!).  After the 10 minute downpour, the road markers, which up until this point gave the kilometer reading every kilometer (and sometimes every half kilometer), became a countdown and now read “15K to the finish line.”  I checked the time and I found out I had a little over an hour and a half to negotiate the remaining distance as I run towards Lawton Ave.

Two more kilometers and I met a man and a woman providing support not only to their team but to strangers like me as well.  The man offered to pour a cup of cold water at the back of my neck so I bent down and realized I really needed that because after the short heavy rain, it was the heat again that we had to endure.  A couple more kilometers and I was back to the Buendia-Kalayaan flyover, where I would meet the marker that read “11K to the finish line.”  I checked the time.  I only had a little over an hour.  I was about to give up when on my way down the flyover, I saw Grace, this time with the other support member Reina, with more pocari sweat and gel shots which I had been consuming every hour.  I swear everytime I saw Grace and Reina during the race there was this weird “electricity” that got switched on inside of me and kept me going.

The Wall

Many runners talk about The Wall when they think of giving up, or their bodies can no longer take the physical challenge a sport like running brings them.  I almost encountered the dreaded Wall but decided not to even try thinking about it.  When I saw that I had 10 kilometers  and exactly one hour to finish in 4 hours flat, I thought I really had to dig deep and run faster.  I thought I really wanted to make it to the finals and it would be a big letdown if I finish a shade off that magic time.  I did some calculating in my head again and was a bit surprised to find out that to be sure about achieving my goal, I would have to run as fast as I did on the first 10 kilometers.  Daunting, yes, impossible, hell no I thought!

The road to the finals

Digging deep to speed up at the last few kilometers along Roxas Blvd. still ready with a smile.

Speeding up at the last few kilometers along Roxas Blvd. always ready with a smile.

By this time, there were a lot of cars and buses along Buendia so along with heat, fumes added to the challenge as I went on running in 5:00 or 5:30 pace making allowance for some water and gatorade aid station stops.  Also by this time, many runners had started walking, which I tried to ignore for fear that I would end up doing the same.  Some runners started getting cramps and stretching themselves for that one final push.

Every kilometer seemed to be farther than the previous one so I constantly checked the time and I seemed to be doing better at maintaining my speed without much difficulty.  It would take me each kilometer just a little over five minutes as more and more people started watching and cheering for the runners.

The luck factor

When I made that right turn going back to Roxas Boulevard, a woman said “Kuya, ang ganda ng number mo, ah!”  And for the first time in the race, I remembered that I had 88 for my race number. bib number I need all the luck I can get now, I thought.  Almost all runners were walking now but I really thought of making a strong finish so when I saw the 5, 4 and then 3 km to go marker, I thought I wasn’t about to slow down now.  Seeing Grace and Reina again gave me not only fuel but also the energy to speed up running the last 2 kilometers of the 42.195km course.  And I never thought I would be that happy to see the Rizal monument and the carabao at the opposite side again as I made my turn towards the Quirino grandstand.  I could hear more people cheering now and as I ran to the finish line, my friends and the volunteers started cheering some more and gave me high fives as I took one final look at the time and pumped my fist in the air thinking I did it, I really did it!

Ah, the finish line, what a wonderful sight!

Ah...the finish line--what a wonderful sight!

3 hours, 52 minutes and 33 seconds of human drama and test of guts and spirit.  I feel very, very lucky to have experienced them all!

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