TCS New York Marathon: A tale of continuing journey of the heart

 

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

– Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

 

I first noticed a different air in a friend of mine when I was toiling under the heat of the run portion of the Cobra Ironman 70.3…  I was withering away and already mulling what went wrong- lack of training, wrong strategy or simply age catching up- with my current sorry state; I felt like a leafless tree, roots clawing for moisture under the sun-dried land and straining to move forward, as if trees could crawl … when he passed me, interrupting my thoughts, and gave an encouraging greeting. His strides were steady and his form enviable like he was just starting a short race. It seemed like he would finish the race in another minute or two.

Four fortnights after, we met again at the airport, we were participating in the Bohol 5150. There he was again projecting the same aura of confidence I observed before. He was seated in front of his better half, straight back, almost square shoulders and sporting a glossy black hair that could blind an entire city.

“Hey, you’re fit! Looks like you’re training hard” I said.
“For New York Marathon.” He replied.

Then we talked about his regiments which made my eyes pop with amazement.

“That’s a sub-4 finish, 3:30 even!” I remarked.
“Yeah, that’s the target.” He said, matter of factly.

Only later did I learn that his Herculean effort was more than just finishing in record time. Much more profound, much more meaningful, much more an affair of the heart. So this is his cause, this is his passion, this is his tale…


 

Article written by Ms. Elvira “Berry” Marfori

NYC marathon participant to raise funds for PGH

On November 2, a Filipino runner once diagnosed with a childhood heart ailment will participate at the world famous TCS New York City Marathon. Atty. Ariel Arriola will run 42 kilometers through the five boroughs of New York City to raise funds for the benefit of more than 600 indigent children under the care of the Department of Pediatrics of the Philippine General Hospital.

In a section about Arriola’s advocacy, the NYC Marathon’s official fundraising website www.crowdrise.com/pghpediatrics/fundraiser/arielarriola explained that because “getting decent medical attention is expensive and out of reach for many who live in the Philippines,” the poor rely on government institutions like the PGH for primary health care needs. However, the limited budget and resources of the PGH are insufficient to bear the daily cost, much less pay for the required medical procedures, of these children. The PGH relies heavily on charities such as the Child Health In Life and Development (CHILD) Foundation, Inc. (http://www.childfoundationinc.org.ph/homepage.html) for financial support.

“I know what it means to live with a heart ailment,” said Arriola. “I also know the cost of curing such an ailment and the positive life-changing benefits of that cure.”

Arriola was around eight years old when he had his first “heart attack” while swimming with his father. He recalls seeing his heart literally trying to leap out of his breast. The diagnosis was that he had a mitral valve prolapse (an improperly closing heart valve) and was advised to refrain from strenuous activities, which included most sports.

Because Arriola did not exhibit further symptoms after that initial episode, he hid his heart ailment and tried to live a normal life. As a teenager, he even continued to engage competitively in sports without telling anyone about his illness. “I knew it would be counterproductive to disclose to anyone that I have a heart ailment,” he recalled. “But I had to be mindful all the time because it was impossible to tell when an episode would occur.”

Sports took a backseat in Arriola’s life as he pursued a law degree at the Ateneo de Manila School of Law, passed the Philippine bar, and joined the global firm of Baker & McKenzie. Later on, he became a Graduate Legal Studies Scholar of his firm at the Columbia Law School and passed the New York bar.

Arriola is a private law practitioner based in Makati who helps foreign companies invest in the Philippines. He was deep into his practice when he had his second episode at age 35. Then newly married and about to become a father to his firstborn, he was playing in a lawyer’s basketball league when had to be rushed to the hospital because of severe and irregular heart palpitations.
A battery of tests revealed that Arriola had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a condition where an abnormal extra electrical pathway in the heart can lead to episodes of rapid heart rate. In severe cases, WPW can result in sudden cardiac arrest. Given this diagnosis, Arriola underwent a procedure that destoryed the abnormal electrical pathway in his heart by radiofrequency catheter ablation. With his heart ailment cured, Arriola got into running in 2006 and, eventually, into triathlons in 2010. He trains regularly with his son, Martin, and daughter, Bianca, who are accomplished young athletes in their own right.

Arriola first learned about the children at the PGH from friend who is a pediatric cardiologist there. “Naturally, I identified with these kids, especially those with heart ailments, and it became my personal mission to do something for them. The NYC Marathon is the perfect opportunity to fulfill this mission.“ So far, has has gotten support of corporate sponsors such as Sola Iced Tea, and Jollibee Food Corporation, and media sponsors like Takbo.ph, Endurance Magazine, and numerous generous and selfless individuals (friends and strangers alike) who have made pledges to the CHILD Foundation, which directly supports the PGH’s Department of Pediatrics.

Arriola is asking donors to pledge to the CHILD Foundation the amount of Php100 for each kilometer of the NYC Marathon that he completes.

“It is inspiring to hear stories about the kids at the PGH and the battles they fight everyday. There is a saying that heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. These kids are my heroes. I am asking others to do something extraordinary for these kids.”

Donations can be made to:
CHILD Foundation Inc.
BDO Account Number: 2410072166

CHILD Foundation, Inc.
Department of Pediatrics Office
Ward 9
Philippine General Hospital
Taft Avenue, Ermita, Manila 1000

Contact Person: Dr. Monette D. Faner
Telephone Number: +63-2-211-7940
Email: info@childfoundationinc.org


 

DSC_9152

 

Crossing the finish line is a moment of triumph. Making a difference for a better world is victory eternal.

 

Padayon, my friend. Padayon!

TBR Dream Marathon: Travails of the Gleeman’s Wife

Prologue

Thump, thump of heavy strides were all the sounds that could be heard as we passed our 25th kilometer on an empty road.  Barely an hour passed, there were tens of runners sharing the early morning coolness.  But the sun was already up and the heat was intolerable and we were left to our devices.  Seven kilometers to go… it was a test run for my wife.  If she comes out cleanly, she would run her first marathon in a fortnight.

…Two months before, she injured her ankles and missed two weeks of programmed training.  Her therapist (Coach Salazar himself) told her to slow down on her training and forego the planned marathon.  But she persisted.  She was as hard as cold hammered iron when she put her will on something.  Her first test was the back-to-back run at the Laguna Lake Relay Ultramarathon which she completed in high moments.  And now this long 32K run…

She was burned, skin tanned to light brown.  Her sweat was damped and soiled.  She was very tired, parched and drained by the heat.  Seven more kilometers… I chose a path where roadside trees still cast shadows however thin.

“Let’s just run under the tree shades even if we go back and forth.”  I told her.  She just nodded.  Her eyes were almost blank staring at the distance.

“Do you remember our first dance?”  I asked trying to strike a conversation.  She did not reply.  Either she did not hear or the thought did not register.  She liked dancing then and it might ease her labors if she remembered.  And I heard an old saying, ‘Dance with a woman, and she will forgive much; dance well and she will forgive anything’, a very old saying.  Besides, I would need all the forgiveness after putting her through this.

Another hour of crisscrossing the road under the disappearing shadows when we finally hit 32 kilometers.  It was 4 hours of toiling when I checked our time.

“Let’s do another 200 meters, so that it would be exactly 10K to a marathon distance” she suddenly said.  I assented.

“Wow, I made it.  That was the longest distance I ever ran!” she beamed in good spirits.

“And that was harder than the Laguna Relay!” she further exclaimed.

I whispered to myself, “The last 10K would be the hardest yet”.

———

Race Day

It was past midnight when we parked at Nuvali.  Late night revelers were ending their day while runners-participants were just starting theirs.  There were already a good number of eager marathon-virgins dotting the area.  Excitement clearly painted in their faces.  Wifey was enthusiastically gearing and warming up while I was lazily moving incrementally.  I was not mentally prepared for this run albeit tasked as official personal pacer.  The time was rather unusual but I thought it was a master stroke to escape mid-morning heat for late finishers.  I even found time to take catnaps while waiting for the gun start.

Three hundred odd pairs of legs gathered at the starting line.  Eager-beavers marathoner-candidates filled with juices and eternal hopes awaited the sendoff.  After a simple program and inspirational talks, the runners were released under the clear star-filled sky.  A few thin clouds obscured the moon on its waxing gibbous phase.  Lights from nearby subdivisions and as far as Tagaytay ridges were like thousand fireflies decorating the emptiness of the dark.

We will be adapting a 9-minute-run-1-minute-walk cycle.  We confined ourselves to a 7-mpk pace for the first five kilometers.  It was a humid warm start.  The absence of wind added to the oppressiveness of the dark.  In no time, sweat broke out profusely.

We were at the back of the pack at the end of the 5th kilometer.

“Time to up the ante” I told her.

As planned, we increased our pace to 6-6:30 mpk.  I watched wifey keenly increased stride while her hair fell on her shoulders like waterfalls of night.   Street lamps made pool of dim lights on the empty road.  We were enveloped by utter blackness.  Only runners and supporters stirred.

After 9.5 kilometers, we turned right to a trail path.  We met the leading runner already completing the segment.  It was a hard and dangerous route.  The darkness made it more perilous.  Twice, my wife stepped on stone or depression that made her ankle twist.  It was the injured leg.  We were worried and have to slow down to almost a walk negotiating the path.  After about a kilometer, we reached the U-turn of the trail path to the mad cheers of school kids.  Somehow it lifted our spirits.  After completing the trail, we paused and checked our conditions.  My knees were wobbly and hurt while her ankle seemed strained.  It would be the hardest part of the course.

The next 800 meters was a steep climb then almost a 2 kilometer downhill towards the next U-turn.  It was a dusty road.  Soil and small pebbles stick to our sweat-damped skins.

“How are your ankles?” I asked her as she emerged from the portalet.

“They’re fine” she replied.

“Ok, 28 kilometers to go!” I remarked.

The run back to the starting area, Solenad, was mostly downhill and we made good time.  When we passed the 21K marker, she jumped and gaily exclaimed “We’re half way done!”

It was passed 4:30AM when we started the second loop.  The eastern horizon was already turning red-orange.  Light was spreading fast.  On the 24th kilometer we could already see the lay of the land.  It was a mixture of pale tall green grasses, dry brown soil and dull gray construction slabs.  Somewhere, we passed a low cliff that looked carved by a mad giant’s axe.

We were able to maintain our pace and overtaking runners who have slowed down.  Wifey was visibly tired but she was calm as a frozen lake, even her eyes were unruffled like dark pools in the deep forest.

We reached the trail path again, now under the light but no less dangerous.  This time we were able to appreciate the view from the U-turn; hills and the far lake rolling beneath us.

The ascent and descent towards the final U-turn was exhausting as the sun stretched from its slumber.  Sweat rolled down her eyes and strength faded as if leached by the increasing temperature.

“Okay, less than 10 kilometers to go.  Come to think of it, this is the farthest you have run” I tried to cheer her.  She nodded in between bites of banana taken from the aid station.

“Here drink some more Gatorade”, as I handed her my flask.

“It’s already hot!  We’ll stop in every aid station and bath generously.  Remember the lessons at the Laguna Lake Relay” I told her.

We reached a peak at the 35th kilometer and it was practically all downhill to the finish.  To my great surprise and delight, wifey ran like fleet-footed Hermes.  I did not know what energy or spirit that had possessed her but ran she did.

We overtook runners and group of runners.  We met runners on the other side and cheered them mightily.

“Go girl, you can do it!”

“Go, go, go, just a little more”

“Yoohooo, all the way, all the way!”

Anton of The Awesome Planet even cried out, “Now, that’s a strong finish!”

She bore down the hill like silent silken avalanche, icy and inexorable.  As she reached the finish line, she hopped and jumped raising her hands like a champ.

———-

Wifey finished the marathon 3rd among females at a time of 4:46:16.

Thanks and kudos to TBR, her team and volunteers for a successful and meaningful event.

Congratulations to the new marathoners for a dream come true.

Laguna Bay Ultramarathon Relay: White Fury

The road extended straight and far beyond sight.   A dry hot wind blew across the rolling brown rice land fluttering the edges of my sleeves.  The wind held no moisture and the sun seared away what little remained in the land.  A few scattered trees lined the road offering pathetic but welcome shade, a very short respite form the torments of the elements.

Looking to my left was a picturesque view of the great lake back dropped by a misty mountain.  It was a beautiful sight; I never knew that the bay has its enchanting face.  It was a faultless scenery perceived only on old paintings of a time thought lost in the memories of the elders.

I was running the second leg of the second day of the race.  It was the longest leg, a 30km stretch from Mabitac to Jalajala under the blistering heat.  But it was much better than the forgettable labyrinth of day 1’s second leg…

…The narrow coastal streets of Sucat and Muntinlupa were pocked by potholes and littered with different debris and refuse.  People swarmed the road and houses crowded its edges.   Unruly jeepneys, tricycles and motorcycles belching smoke and dust ruled the road.  The morning heat was penetrating and sour smell of decay was invasive…

The sun on the heights was a white fury.  The heat was everything.  It was the prime of my attention.  What was an otherwise pleasant countryside run became a test of fortitude.  Water was the life-giver.  I had to literally bathe regularly to keep my temperature in check.  But my run was steady.  I was surprised to reach the 10th kilometer above my target time considering that my muscles were already sore from yesterday’s 20km leg…

...Twice I got lost from unmarked turns.  I have already lost more than a kilometer retracing my steps.  Heat, dust, smoke, smell and frustration were eating me.  On the tenth kilometer, I got back on the right track and other runners had caught up and was already ahead…

On the 13th kilometer, I saw my support waiting by the side of the road.  They were there to cheer and check on my state.  I was glad and somehow it added strength to my waning resolve.  I passed them and ran more nimbly with renewed doggedness.  On my 17th kilometer, my support team passed me as they drove towards the transition point.  They shouted that the following runners were 20 minutes behind.  There were two and one of them was the injured runner who was sideswept by a jeepney the day before …

…I was pacing with another team’s runner when I caught up with him at the National Road at San Pedro.  I could have surged forward but under the unrelenting heat and busy road, it would be better with a companion.  We ran side by side encouraging each other and sharing that unseen strength formed by comrades trudging one purpose.  As we entered Sta. Rosa, two kilometers from the transition point, a runner overtook us.  He was limping!  We learned from the marshals that he got hit by a testy jeepney.  It was mind boggling…

Four kilometersto go and I was spent.  My feet were heavy like they were made from cast iron.  I could feel my calves and thighs stiffing.  Cramps were on the brink of springing its ugly head.  The sun high above seemed to be mocking.  And the mountain beyond the lake was like watching, expectant, waiting for me to collapse.  The road was still straight and far beyond sight. After clearing an incline, just on the fringes of the mirage, I saw a figure being escorted by a vehicle.  It was a runner ahead of me.  I caught up!  A crooked smile formed on my face, a smile of anticipation I could not have wiped away if I wanted to.  I forgot my hurts and fixed my gaze to my quarry as I chased him.  As I close the distance, I could see clearly that my target was in a worse condition.  Half-naked and limping, he was heavily plodding on as he was being cheered and egged by his support team.

Two kilometers to transition, I ran abreast the struggling runner.  His eyes were red and his breathing was labored but I knew he would make it.  I told him its just 2 kilometers to go and he should hang on a little more.  After some more encouraging words, I pushed forward and ran the last kilometers like it was the beginning of my leg.

Epilogue

We cheered our team’s last runner on our vehicle along Ortigas Avenue as he plodded the last kilometers to the finish line.  We watched him as he made the turn to Tiendesitas amidst the busy streets filled with uncaring motorists.  At the finish line, we were ecstatic as he crossed the tape.  We missed the cut-off time by 15 minutes but we were proud to have completely finished the course.  Two days, 29 lakeshore towns and cities, 210 kilometers, our team of five runners survived the first Laguna Bay Relay Ultramarathon.

Powerade Duathlon Leg 1: A new ballgame

The living room was a clutter of things; socks and towel beside a big bag on the floor, a couple of jerseys hanging by the chair, shoes by the TV set and a road bike leaning on the sofa.  I was preparing for my first duathlon and the heat of the night was not helping.  My back was damped with sweat and I was tired.  It was late and I should be hitting the sack.  Only four hours left for sleeping. Sigh! This was my first multi-sport race and I was as nervous as a rat in a cat alley.  Why am I taking so long to prepare? Almost two hours now… so much uncertainty…so much checks…so much thinking going on…  I have not even figured out where to put the three stickers that came with the race bib.  Entering a new sport has its hassles.

My sleep was shallow and dreamless.  When the alarm blared, I woke up easily.  My nervousness masked the tiredness brought by the lack of sleep.  I’m really doing it, I reassured myself.  It was just after the Condura marathon since I started training with the bike.  Barely two months, and I was uneasy.  I quickly moved out before my confidence went tumbling down like snow in an avalanche.  Too much thinking…

It was still dark and quiet when my wife and I reached the assembly area.  People were already amassing.  Vehicles with mounted bikes dotted the parking areas; participants busy gearing up.  There was no music, funfare or loud announcers common among run races.  But excitement was in the air.  Some runners and bikers were warming up.  Most were idly chatting with each other.  Camera flashes lit up here and there.

It was a consolation that the race will be done on a familiar area… more than a familiar place; this is my training yard…my playground.  I have spent thousands of kilometers here running.  I know every nooks and corners.  I know every trees, rock, manholes, potholes and humps.  I know where the wind will blow or where the smell, both sweet and decay will come from.  I know where the frogs, the fireflies and the dogs ply their trade.  This is my playground.

After gearing up, I had no idea what to do next.  Where will I take my bike?  How about my things for the transition?  When will they mark me?  And those stickers, what am I to do with them?  My wife was chuckling and giggling seeing me spying on what people were doing.   After solving the puzzles, I was glad to see a friend who was also a first-timer; we went to check-in together.

People were proudly displaying their team colors.  Reds, blues, yellows, greens and whites.  While running was mostly an individual sport, duathlons triathlons and biking were partly team sports.  Bikes came in different forms and colors, all of them pristine and gorgeously engineered like a sculpture by a master artisan.

At 6AM, we were herded at the starting point.  Light has come and the sky was a clear sheet of blue, unmarked by even one cloud to the horizon.  The grasses at the vacant lots were brown on the top, cooked by the summer’s sweltering heat.  The first event was a 6K run.  I was still contemplating on the pace that I will take when the starting signal was fired.  People were sprinting!  In running races, only the elite and some would run all out at the beginning.  Here, almost all ran like there was no tomorrow.  I went with the flow and looked at my watch.  It registered 4:10mpk.  Are they serious! I was used to running mid-pack where the pace was steady or building up slowly.  I realized this was a sprint duathlon; what in the word “sprint” did I not understand?  Oh, well, so be it.

We will be passing the hill of Palms Country Club four times.  So, I was expecting the sprinters to slow down.  But no!  They were maintaining speed.  Like race horses, they were tireless.  It was a different ballgame.  I was forced to keep up, huffing and puffing.  My ego was challenged; I finished three marathons, a number of half-marys and hundreds of lesser races, I can keep up, I must keep up.

I finished the first run out of breath.  My chest was thumping like thunder.  I reached the transition area and fumbled to change shoes.  I noticed my heart rate in the red so I sat down while putting on my cleats and donning my helmet.  Later after the race, my wife told me that I was the only one sitting down doing the transition taking my sweet time while others were hurriedly changing.

After downing half of my sports drink, I stood up and took the bike towards the mounting area.  I was doing this very slowly.  I started wearing cleats only a week and I have one “semplang” moment.  A friend impishly told me that it would take a couple more “semplangs” before I could master it.  And no, I did not intend to fall now if it cost me the whole race.  The marshal was looking at me in askance as I slowly, oh so slowly mounted.  I was thrilled when I finally was riding.

I was now on unchartered waters.  My first bicycle race…on cleats!  It was a technical six 5-kilometer lap course with three significant inclines and a number of turns.  Unlike in running where a straw or a band is handed to mark a lap, in bike rides, the count is mental.

I was maintaining a 25kph speed.  On my first two laps, faster riders were overtaking me left and right.  It was quite worrisome making me felt I was the slowest one.  At the third lap, I finally overtook someone.  Whew, I will not be the last! I was starting to overtake a few tiring riders.  There were still bikers who overtook me, or even lapped me but I was contented that I was able to get ahead of some.

On the fourth lap, I felt my crouch and feet numbing.  My left calf started to harden; a sign of cramps.  I started to panic that I slowed down nursing my condition.  I realized that I have not drunk since transition.  I stared at my water bottle but could not get it.  I was terrified reaching for it on the move.  Then on a steep downhill at the foot of RITM, while I was freewheeling at 36kph, a woman biker overtook me like a blur.  And at that very fast speed, she scooped her water bottle smoothly and drank without wavering.  She was still holding the bottle when she reached the foot of the hill and turning left without breaking a stride.  Whoa! My mouth dropped.  It took me a couple of kilometers more before braving to get my water bottle.  And I have to do it slowing down.
On my fifth lap, the lead participants were already on their second run stage.  The air was no less dry and the heat no less relentless, with the sun a lump of molten gold high in a cloudless sky.  The forming cramps disappeared when I was able to drink more frequently.  But the numbness was still there like a pestering bug.

Completing the bike stage, I rushed to the last 3K run leg.  I was looking forward recovering some time at this juncture.  I was running.  I was in my elements!  The cold inside me could have frozen the sun.  I paced 5mpk easily overtaking many.  At the last kilometer, I came across a friend who was slowing and almost on cramps.  I decided to accompany and paced him to the finish.

As we reached the finish mat, we raised each others hands in triumph.  I completed my first duathlon in 1:58:34 right in the middle of the finishers ranking.

Full Moon

A bad day in the office; falling yields, machine breakdowns, a very angry client, it was a war zone!  Emotions were raw and voices were high.  Civility went down the drain and rationality thrown in the trash can.  I got out late and fuming, I was ready to chew rocks for dinner.  The night was cold and empty as I entered the car and drove off.

I have reached the northbound lane of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and I was still reviewing the events of the day.  It was really bad.  I mused over the things that should have been said and the things that must have been done and felt very heavy and wanting.  Over and over, the scene repeated in the deep recesses of my mind which made me very tired and weary.  I needed a release.  I could not go home like this.

Amidst the pale light of vehicles in the opposite direction, I became aware of the clear evening sky.  Stars filled the heavens like the canvass of Van Gogh.  Then there’s the moon over the rice fields of Carmona – low, round, bright and enticing.  It was a good night to vanquish the demons that seemed to follow my wake, a good night to refresh, a good night to run and sweat it out.  I quickly exited to Carmona tollway and headed for the nearby market to park.  In no time I was geared and running.

Reaching a crossroad, I weighed my options.  To the left was Timbao, a backdoor to a technopark with moderate traffic.  The right leads to the main road, a busy artery going back to SLEX or Southwoods.  The road straight ahead was unknown to me.  It was well paved and lighted but bereft of movement.  No cars, no people, just road.  I could not see farther because of a bend some hundred meters away.  I could see the moon just beyond the trees in that direction.  I favored going left but seemed to be pulled straight like a bug hypnotized by the searing light.

The unknown… at night. I don’t know if it was an insatiable curiosity or misplaced seduction or mere wanderlust that pushed me to run straight ahead but there I went like a lone knight hunting for a dragon.  As I clear the bend, a wide rice paddy greeted me on the right side of the road.  On the left were sparse wooden houses with yellow lights.  The moon bathed the green rice field just weeks from turning into a golden carpet.  I passed people, some near a house, others walking in the other direction, all of them looking at me in askance.  Children playing stopped and openly stared at my passing.  I must have looked like an alien!  I realized I was an odd man in such neighborhood with my technical shirt, reflectorized shoes, fancy watch and … running at such an unholy hour.

On my fourth kilometer, I came upon a cemetery on the right.  More fields and fenced lots overgrown with tall grass were on the left side.  The cemetery was not eerie.  It was quite small and walled.  Inside were a few gravestones on a well-manicured lawn.  On one side was a “hotel” type grave where the dead were laid in small cubbyholes.  Some hundred of meters passed the cemetery, I entered a newly built subdivision with the moon on my back.  The clubhouse was immediately after the gate and beyond was barren lots and half-completed structures.  The site was more haunting than the cemetery.  Unfinished houses with dark windows and darker doorless entrance lined in one side like sentries with hollow eyes and mouth.  A dog barked somewhere beyond an unlighted building and strange rustling sounds seemed to come out of nowhere just beside the road.  Before reaching the fifth kilometer, I decided to turn back lest my fancy overwhelmed my sanity.

I was facing the moon and it seemed rounder, larger and brighter.  I could see its scar –  sometimes black, sometimes blue.  So stark.  I again passed by the cemetery and reached the vast rice field now on my left.  The bright moon was illuminating the countryside like a beacon.  Somewhere on the far side of the field, was a small pool where moonlight reflected a thousand ripples of sparkle competing with the twinkle of the stars above.  The stalk and leaves of the rice plants glossed, glittered and ebbed at my passing, colors changing from green to white to gray.

I spied on a woman and a man walking on the rice paddies.  The woman was leading the man by a couple of steps while the soft wind scattered their murmurs.  They looked like lovers, oh, I hope they were lovers because the moon and the stars and the wind demanded it.  The setting seemed to conspire to have lovers.  It was a picturesque sight worthy of a masterpiece by a painter depicting scenes from yesteryears when life was slow, simple and unadulterated.

I finished my run short of 10K.  But I was content.  I was like a new born babe.  I felt I was washed clean in heart and soul.  I was cleansed of the anger, weariness and false pride.  I was ready to go home.

Singapore Marathon: Swept Away

It was a cloudy and humid day break at Esplanade.  The scant breeze passing over Singapore River on my left was warm and damp.  A street cleaner was busy washing and sweeping the park’s walkway.  Four ladies were on the middle of their Tai Chi form as I passed below the Bridge going towards the theater.  A bus load of tourists was climbing the access stairs to the top of the Bridge clicking their cameras left and right.  One of them even took a shot at me while I slowly passed their group.  A couple of runners were also trying out the heat of the morning sweating profusely.

It was the day before the great race and I was running easy to feel out the area.   It would be my first running anniversary.  I could not help being transported back to memory lane when I first started to join a road race…

I was wearing a plain white cotton shirt and basketball shoes.  In my hand was my cellphone to be used as timer.  I was nervous as a cat in a dog kennel.  I was skeptical to walk to the assembly area like a groom grudgingly entering the church…

Minutes before the start, adrenaline rushed through my system.  My senses were ultra-heightened.  I could see the distinct blades of the grass, smelled the rotting sweetness of tree saps, heard every rustle of leaves shuffled by the soft wind.  My stomach was revolting and my bladders were screaming for justice…

I was puffing and huffing as I approached the finish line.  My shoulders were cramping and I could feel strain in my calf and toes.  My shirt, heavy with sweat and water, was starting to hurt my neck and nipples.  I noticed people clapping and cheering. I raised both hands in victory still holding my phone-cum-timer as I crossed the line…

I was in a high while seeping water and holding a bag full of freebies with the finisher tee hanging over my shoulder listening to the awarding program.  Such a great feeling completing a race…  I would join more.  And I’ll strive for my first full marathon a year hence… in Singapore…

The plan coming to fruition, only it would be my 2nd marathon after QCIM.  I thought I could best my first try.  I was feeling good and so far, my experience has been great.  I was still musing over the claiming of the race kit.  It was only a 5-minute affair from queuing, collecting of the pack and testing of the chip.  Talk about efficiencies! And the expo was filled with relevant items…

Reaching Raffles Avenfue, I was pulled out of my reverie when I observed numerous conspicuous signs notifying motorist of road closure and rerouting schemes during race day.  I learned that the signs was put up more than a week before and could be found all over the race course.  We could also do this at home and prevent or minimize snarling traffic and angry motorists. I reached the grounds of Singapore Flyer, a humongous Ferris Wheel that seemed to reach the sky.  It was an expansive road bereft of vehicle beside the river.  More joggers were in the area.  The 40th kilometer marker was already there as well as some small tents, tables and tarpaulins.  Here I made a U-turn and returned to the park to complete my 20 minute easy run.  Singapore, so far, has marked a first-rate impression.  I was in high spirits and hoping race day would live up to expectations.

Race day. I stationed myself at the head of the second pen somewhere in the middle of the Esplanade Bridge.  It was still dark and starless.  Singapore River sparkled on both sides and lights from tall buildings defined the cityscape.  In Manila, this time, the sky would already be blue-black as light slowly seeps in.  The Bridge was like a giant bee hive where almost 15-17 thousand full marathon runners happily, impatiently awaited the start of the race.  On the sides were 30+ thousand more runners waiting for their turn.  The air was humid and warm.  It would have been cold and fresh back in Manila.  The host was counting down the minutes…

“…4 minutes… 3 minutes… 2 minutes…” then total silence.  The loud buzz softened to a low pitch mumbled like a shy bass singer.  Then way in front, there was movement… bobbing of heads going backwards towards us like a ripple extending from the source of disturbance.  And then we were moving, slowly and accelerating like being swept away by tidal wave pulling everyone in its path.  It took more than 4 minutes before I could cross the starting mat.  And then we were running full pace despite the crowd.  Shoulder to shoulder I ran with Singaporeans, Americans, Europeans, Asians, everyone passionate runners.  There was a sense of camaraderie on the air.  Everyone was smiling and giving greetings, delighted to be part of the event.

Barely reaching the first kilometer, the lead runners, Kenyans, were already on the other side of the road, their 3rd kilometer, completing the first loop swiftly like a pack of wolves on a hunt.  This early, they have piled quite a big distance from the trailing runners.

Trees laced with silver and blue lights lined the dark and quiet road.  Only the soft thud of running shoes and low mumble of passing runners disturbed the silence.  Tall buildings with hollow eyes and mouth eerily stared down at the slithering procession.  I was with a group running a sub-6 mpk pace.  Water stations with long tables manned by a battalion of servers and cheerers appeared at regular intervals.  “All the way, all the way…you can do it!” they cried while offering cups of water or waving big hand effigies.  The course took us around the city boulevards, highway and parks.  I reached the 10K mat at the hour.  By this time, light has just started to tint the cloudy skies.  It was 6:30 in the morning.

The 42Kers followed the East Coast Park Service Road where a man-made lake was centered complete with sandy beach, trees, camper tents and food stalls.  Between the 16th and 17th kilometer there was a rah-rah station composed of a band, cheerers and loud music.

“I got a feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good good night!  I got a feeling, wooohhooo!…”

The large speakers beside the path emitted beats that thumped the chest and made the runners fleet-footed.  It was a very groovy party atmosphere that motivated us to push on.  I quickly reached the half-way U-turn then the 21K point at the second hour.  This time it was already full light.

Clouds covered the skies hiding the sun from its full glare.  I noticed that most runners were slowing down, walking and I was overtaking almost everyone I saw.  I made a mental check on my conditions feeling for signs of pain, strain or weariness.  My heart rate and breathing was also fine and I still felt strong that I confidently changed my plans and go for a sub-4 hrs finish.  I increased my pace a little to match my computation and delightedly charged.

The return route was on a narrow pathway along the beach.  Here, there were many local supporters by the side egging the runners.  They carried placards of encouragements with full genuine smiles in their faces.

“No walk zone”
“Do it for daddy!”
“Hey, my grandmother is ahead of you”
“Naked babe sunbathing ahead”

Hi-fives, lo-fives and even odd dance numbers greeted the runners.  Aid stations were still coming at regular intervals and aside from the water and electrolytes, liniment lotions were also provided.  I reached the 30K mat in 2 hours50 minutes.

Exiting the East Coast Park, the full marathoners were converged with the half marathon runners.  Back in the concrete jungle in the bright morning, the streets were packed with a sea of sky blue shirts.  There were no traffic, no horns honking, and no motorist raging.  In the middle of the melee at Stadium Boulevard, it was a pleasant surprise to bump to my wifey who was doing her 21K.  She was very surprised as well when I ran beside her and tried to nudge her.  She thought it was someone else.  After some meters of cheesy company, I ran ahead; a man on a mission.

I was running at a constant pace of 5:30mpk and counting the kilometers… 34…35…36… then disaster struck.  A sharp pain from my left hamstrings… then cramps on the left thigh… side stitches… in successive progression.  Just like in QCIM, the pain switch was turned-on suddenly without a warning at the 36th kilometer.  I tried to slow down, down and down until I finally gave in to walking.  My sweat went cold as I plodded on.  It raised odd goose bumps in such a humid warm weather.  Run half kilometer, walk 2 minutes had become my counting cycle.  I bid my sub-4hrs goodbye and willed myself to just best my QCIM time.  It became a sight-seeing tour as I run-walk along Kalang Road, Crawford Street, Republic Avenue where all runners from different categories converged like vegetables in a cook pot.  The cheerers were more intense at this stage.  “All the way, all the way…you can do it…don’t walk!” relentlessly and patiently.

I passed the F1 Pit building, then the great Singapore Flyer at the 40th kilometer at the 4th hour.  The big structure mocked at me.  Just the day before, it was an easy run… now reduced to just completing the race in pain.  By that time, I was projecting two heights: 5’8” when I step on my right; 5’7” when I step on my left.

At the last water station, I drank gratefully but not gracefully.  Hanging there like a bunch of grapes on a windblown vine, I spilled nearly as much as I took.  Most people were walking here; a mass of wave sweeping anybody along its passing.  Upon reaching Esplanade Bridge, the festivities at the finish line nearby could already be heard.  People started to quicken their paces as the smell of the end drew near.  I made my best ignoring limp and pain rounding the last loop to City Hall.

I crossed the finish line in 4:21:09 netting 4:18:05 raising my right fist in triumph and making a puny leap at the last mat.  I beat my QCIM time by 8 minutes.

As I claimed my medal and finisher’s tee, I reflected on a great experience this Singapore Marathon.  From start to finish: from race marketing and preparation to collection of race kit to the expo to crowd and vehicular traffic control to race conduct to claiming of medals and freebies, and even to deposit and claim of baggage, it was a demonstration of effectiveness and efficiency between organizers, community and government.

We could learn a lot from this!

The Winds of November

Wind born out of the heights of Antipolo rushed swiftly down to the lowlands passing through sleeping towns east of the metropolis. It crossed a mighty river who just recently wrought havoc and distress. The wind continued to flow along the city avenues and elevated roads made of steel bars, concrete and asphalt. In the heart of the wide expansive land of Bonifacio where a running event has just started, the wind blew strong and cold. It hit the masses of runners excitedly starting their day with the usual festive Sunday race. The wind was chilly producing shivers and goose bumps. Autumn was about to end and the big guns of October have fallen silent. Amidst the settling dust, runners were left gaping and wanting. The promise of excitement and triumphs were replaced by remarks of mediocrity and stories of horror. But November has come and brought new wind.

Timex Run. I was climbing Kalayaan Bridge when light started to invade the dark. The sky was slowly transforming from blue-black to light blue. At the top of the Bridge before the sharp decent to Buendia Avenue, I spied on the cityscape dotted with small lights from houses like tiny twinkling stars. The chill of the wind has lessened to a welcome cool breeze. At the foot of Bridge, I met the lead runner on the return route, a Kenyan running easily with two more Kenyans and a local (Alley Quisay) hot on his trail. Then the first of the water stations appeared and it was a sight to behold. Long tables with hundreds of cups grouped alternately with water and 100Plus. A setup long requested by runners and tenaciously drawn attention to by noted bloggers. Same water station arrangement would be found throughout the course at unbelievingly close intervals.

The sun was already shining brightly when I entered the Heritage Park. Somehow, the heat was not so hot even in the absence of the wind. The Park was still and quiet as if afraid to wake its residents. Sparse trees, neatly manicured lawn and the calm waters of a pond further highlighted the required serenity of the place. The soft woosh-woosh of running shoes from hundreds of odd feet discretely invaded the silence competing with the chirps and strange calls of birds. The two-kilometer run inside the Park was enough respite from the oft-used worn-out route.

Chasing my shadow

The last kilometers took an interesting detour around the entrance of the American Cemetery and Trion Towers. On the last turn, the sun was high on my back casting long shadows in front of me. I was running strongly

as I chased my shadow to the finish line with a new PR.

NB Power Run. The sun was already a third to its zenith floating like a molten ball above the thin clouds. We just passed the U-turn at C5 when,

JI, my companion suddenly attacked the long incline after Heritage. I was reluctant to go after him; I should be taking it easy being in taper mode but the thrill of the chase got me going. At the top, we paused to catch our breath and waited for our other companion, NH, to catch up. We would repeat the hill assault like madmen at Bayani Road exiting to

Lawton and at the dreaded long McKinley Hill. At each the peak, JI and I would stop, rest and chat idly like oldwives having coffee while waiting for NH. Runners that we overtook along the rise would look at us in askance as they passed us again. What are these two doing?

Like returning soldiers

JI and I were preparing to attack the hill along Essensa when suddenly, NH sprinted away like a boar chased by feral dogs. At the top, he roared in triumph, spent and wincing in pain. We finished the race side by side, waving to our friends like relieved soldiers coming home from a war.

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Two pristine races left runners in delight and full of hope. The winds of November have swept the dust of past disenchantment. Redemption was served cold.