There is always a first time for everything. From the first time we walk, to the first time we go to school. There is the first time we take a plane and there is the first time we take an exam. At some point I was going to have a first time in running a marathon. That first time like all other first times in all other things had to happen. It comes with the territory. The insatiable human appetite to go beyond comfort zones. To explore how it feels like to do this or that. The human being is by design a social animal. From attending parties and family gatherings, to rallies, and yes races. Just so as to belong. So for the first time, I will be in a social setting. Only this time it is a skyway marathon race!
For the first time I boarded a bus to Alabang Metropolis as per the advice of Condura Skyway Marathon (CSM) organizers. It was also for the first time I was going to Alabang of all places to run my first marathon. Three months of training, three days of carbo-loading, and here I was going to do what I had never done before. Run slightly over forty-two kilometers at midnight in a sixteen kilometer stretch of skyway with only the stars above and the tarmac below as my companions. I had only an academic knowledge of what to expect, but experience wise, I had no choice but to encounter it there and then.
Fireworks, one thousand seven hundred runners, all excited and raring to go. My fellow Team Powerpuff team mates all around me, some elite runners here and there, and more first timers around. This was it. I had mapped the course and was pretty knowledgeable with the way it will go. From kilometer one to five, it was all an uphill climb as we leave the start line ramp going to the skyway. My smartcoach training program had indicated a pace of 4:09min/km finishing in 2:56hr. I chose 4:15min/km pace as my race strategy and hoping to finish the latter half at 4:09min/km or better. That is what happens when you plan everything. The numbers just come out.
Maintaining that pace was not hard. I managed to hold onto it till the tenth kilometer. As a jogger who likes to be in tune with his body, I quickly realized the body was not its usual self. Normally by the second kilometer, I should have broken a sweat and warmed the muscles sufficiently to enter into cruising mode. By the fourth kilometer I could hardly feel myself sweating, and I had sore ankles which are an indication that the joints haven’t warmed up yet, so to speak. It would take another four kilometers before the pain at the ankles would disappear. I hit kilometer ten at the forty-third minute. Perfect time, having lost only fifteen seconds, I said to myself.
From kilometer ten to sixteen, there is a steady climb of almost six kilometers. That was bad news. Gazing ahead as far as my eyes could see, I could see nice rolling hills going up and up in a wave like fashion till the top somewhere. I ate my fist bar of energy pack and started the ascent. Midway, I felt a stitch on the left of my chest. Anybody who has had stitches knows that it is the worst form of pain you can have because it literally can stop you completely from running. I reduced my pace to 5min/km till the 20th km hoping it will disappear. I said to myself, if it does not, I will stop. Chest cramps kill easily because they prevent the diaphragm from contracting and expanding normally to facilitate breathing. My good friend joggernatz had also advised me at the starting line, that for any pain I should not walk, but ease into jogging mode and ride it through. That way I won’t lose too much time.
I checked my wrist watch. The time was 1:33 at the twenty one kilomter station. I had lost three minutes and I projected my finish time to be not more than 3:10hr. To my horror, and not that I did not know, the climb would again repeat itself from the 21st to the 27th kilometer before turning back towards the finish line. The stitches would come back again, and as before I cut my speed back to 5min/km. The return from kilometer 27 to 32 was downhill and I took advantage of this to increase my pace to 4:30min/km as exhaustion was also starting to take effect. I ate the third energy bar at the 31st km, drank enough water and started the last ten kilometers back to the finish line. Earlier we had mentioned to each other that the return would be tough because from kilometer 5 to 10 it was downhill. True to our prediction, the 32-38 spread was a torturous climb. At this point I made the conscious decision to go easy and jog. My body was in good shape but the chest was paining. The breathing and running postures were still fine, but I knew that it is this last 10km stretch that can normally dictate a finish or a DNF.
By the 36km mark, I had dropped my pace to 5:30min/km to prevent the chest from overworking itself trying to maintain breathing motions it is not normally used to. Remember my training plan has 32km as the longest distance. I said to myself 2 to 3 more kilometers and the descent will start and I’ll be home and dry. I know a thing or two about self perseverance. By this time I had lost 20min from my 2:56hr target time. I plodded along all along listening to my body for any changes. My good friend Wilnar would catch up with me at the last kilometer. He urged me to speed up so we can finish together. I knew better. The last 1.3km was a slow jog to the finish line. As I was approaching the finish line, from nowhere fireworks! This disoriented me for a second or so, and I almost stopped to admire it. Then I had a voice from the crowd saying hindi pa matapos ka! Oh! Then I realized I had to cross the finish line. 3:19hr was my time.
As is natural of me, I had to do a postmortem of my race. The following are some of the points I could gather as to why I could not nail my 2:56hr target. The long hills were the first culprit. Personal bests are not made on hilly courses. The second thing was the weather. Strange enough I also read it in today’s’ dailies that Metro Manila experienced the cold spell ravaging Europe at the moment and temperatures dipped to 20 late that night. With the chilly wind that was blowing, in hindsight I now realized why my body refused to warm up to the required temperature I’m used to when running. It is like an air conditioner on cold blowing at you while you are running. This explains the high attrition rate of cramps experienced by folks in this race as per the blogs I read. The third thing is that experience will eventually solve the tiredness and fatigue one experiences in the latter parts of the race as the muscles learn to work longer and longer.
For the first time I woke up today realizing just how heavy that medal was. The muscle aches are healing fast and I’m up and about. Will I run another marathon? I think the question here will only be answered with what I want to get out of it. I still believe 2:56hr was mine for the taking. I may attempt it sometime in September at CAMSUR or in December at the MILO finals. In the meantime having learnt from the CSM, I will continue doing what I do best, jogging my way to an elite-jogger. Many have asked me, what it takes to be an elite-jogger. I tell them, that day jogging stops being a chore for you. That day jogging becomes as natural as blinking, passing bowels, or swallowing food. That is the day, for the first time in your life, you will have experienced being an “Elite-Jogger”.