It has been a little over two weeks since 10 enterprising souls along with their gritty, dedicated support team went out with two vans and covered 250 kilometers covering Subic, Bataan and Zambales during the Chris Sports Epic Relay. By now, you have probably read all about it. Listened to the incredible stories. Heard out the grievances and lamentations. Reveled in the triumphs and cringed at the lows. As of this writing, the discussion thread that we had put together at Takbo.ph has generated 3,317 views, one of the most I had ever seen given that not too many people from the boards were directly part of it. A blow-by-blow feed on Facebook that I was painstakingly updating through my Blackberry even during the wee hours of the morning had produced an incredible 366 comments. Truly, it was a race for the ages, one that people would be surely talking about for months to come.
So why such a late entry? Nope, I haven’t been that lazy mind you. It’s just that with the contentious nature of how the race unraveled, I didn’t want to come up with an article that was reeking of input from my hopelessly skewed left portion of the brain. With so much charged energy emanating from the after-race vibe, I thought it best to let things simmer down a bit lest I come up with material with excessive amounts of vitriol.
Given the relative “epicness” of the race, and the fact that I wasn’t there personally for all of the legs, I guess it really wouldn’t do justice if I gave a blow-by-blow like my BDM feature. We’re currently working on a compilation of everybody’s experiences, and if no publisher picks it up, we’ll most probably post it online mwahaha. Wait on it!
So instead, I’ll try my best to give you a microcosm of the race proper(there were 30 legs in all, subdivided into 3 main sections) with my personal inputs on my specific leg.
Spirits were high for our 12nn gun start as we embarked on the great unknown. Little did we know that this was to be a race to remember. Given the pace we had declared pre-race, we were bundled in the final, “elite” start wave. Some teams had already started as early as 5am, supposedly to even things out. As nervous energy abound, the teams that we were looking out for were Team Ponstan (supposedly loaded with strong, veteran runners), and a Kenyan-powered Team Runnerspeak. Much to our surpise, there was another team inserted into our wave at the very last minute- Team Timex. Through casual conversation, it was not outwardly stated that this was a sponsored team loaded with triathletes and elite runners. Dropping a faux name (Team Roundsprint?) and giving off a weekend warrior vibe, I guess this was gamesmanship at its finest. Or rather, more like a portent of things to come.
As we were awaiting the starting gun, the organizers/sponsors had even put together a “showbiz” style intro, with what seemed to be a hastily organized Ponstan “Pep Squad” comprised of made-up teens gyrating to pop tunes ala ASAP while were baking in 35 degree weather . At the starting line, leadoff guy Mark/Beep Beep got into the action and showed off his “Disco” moves in the background.
As the starting gun finally sounded off, there was a palpable sense of nervous energy amongst the team. Extremely anxious, yet confident that our collective abilities will allow us to make a good account of ourselves. It was agreed upon collective during our pre-race prayer that we’re not gunning to win at all costs. It’s not the be-all end-all of our stint here. We’re just going out to have a good time, soak in the experience, and anything we pick up along the way is gravy.
And so it begins. As I said earlier, I don’t have the capabilities of doing an accurate blow-by-blow for the entire thing (it would take me forever to write it and you might get bored reading it), so I’ll just recreate the first leg in detail while trying my best to faithfully recapture the rest of the legs, just to give your the overall vibe of the race at that given moment.
Land of the Lost and a budding loveteam
Beep Beep was our leadoff guy, probably the strongest sprinter on the team. A former Palarong Pambansa standout, we were banking on a solid opening salvo from him to help set the tone for the rest of the race. From the time that the opening gun was fired, we could see that he was already neck and neck with Kenyan supergal Susan from Team Runnerspeak. So off they went, and we merrily went back to our vans.
As we were heading to the van exchange point at the Pawikan Center (serves as the halfway mark of all three main sections of the race) , we noticed one big problem. The guy from “Team Roundsprint” was actually ahead. And the rotund Ponstan team captain was in 2nd! How could that be? How could they outrun a Kenyan and a 39 minute 10k dude? It could only mean one thing….
It simply meant that they were….
Apparently, they were so fast that they missed the turn. Quite mind boggling that the lead pack didn’t have any escort to guide them. That’s just so crazy. Anyway, Beep ended up going all the way back to the start line, and i think he finished his 5k in 35 minutes. By the time the dust has settled we were in 2nd place, our psyche reeling from this unexpected setback.
The Furious Chase
Once Mark/Indorock was up for his leg, it didn’t take long for the speedy trackster to bridge the gap between us and the first placers. Cheers abound in our van. Now the hard part. Roy, Bryan and Brando had their work cut out for themselves as they not only had to keep pace to hold off the 3rd placers, in the race for 1st place they were matched up against Cyborg-like counterparts on some of the most difficult terrain in the race. Brando was near exhaustion, and asserted that his stretched out, ridiculously incline-filled course was the hardest 8k of his life.
Mark Hernz was up next. Was a short 4.4 k route, but his inclines would have put St. Martin to shame. In spite of the searing heat and technical difficulty of his leg, he gutted it,clocking in a solid effort in the process.
Leg 7. My turn. By the time the baton (er, slapstick) was handed over to me, a 2km deficit was staring me in the face. What fun. I was amped beyond belief. The long wait at the Leg 5 van exchange point had somehow sapped my energy, notwithstanding the fact that we were working from behind.
The big-boned guy from the leading team (who even wore pink, I’m hoping it wasn’t in semi-mockery) even gave me a high-five as he trotted out 10 minutes ahead of me. Once the exchange process was done, I was a man on a mission. Leg description was Recreational to Intermediate. Niiice. With adrenalin pumping, I rushed through the initial, extremely downhill stretch at about a 3:30 pace throwing caution to the wind. This lasted for all of 300 meters. Then I was stopped dead in my tracks. Suddenly, the downhills were gone, and was replaced with a slow, excruciating 6k uphill climb with lush foliage that made it very hard to breathe. Nothing Recreational about this. Cars were spewing smoke at you, and crabby doggies wanted to get a piece of you.
To those who are part of my Adidas Adination Ortigas team, the St. Paul- St. Martin Combo is about 1k not counting the downhill. So think doing 6k worth of that while trying desperately to hold 5:00 pace. I could have sworn I was hyperventilating. Pace was dropping by the nanosecond. By the time I reached the 6k mark, total pace had dropped all the way to 5:57 already. Eek.
Thankfully, what goes up, goes down. I’d like to think that all the uphill training I do had some sort of residual effect. At the risk of blowing my quads, I ran the final steep downhill stretch with everything I had at that point, crushing the asphalt at 3:45 – 3:50 pace. I was red-lining it. I HAD to make up for lost time. We HAD to get back first place.
All of a sudden, with about 1k to go, I saw the leading team’s dude laboring heavily. I was ecstatic!! 1st PLACE WAS IN SIGHT!
In hindsight, I was thinking his heavyset core would give out with those extreme inclines at some point.And it did. Blazing at a pace that I could never ever sustain without the concept of team dynamic in play, I passed him! 1st place was ours!!! The rush was unbelievable and unforgettable. As I passed the support van, I was screaming “WE’RE BACK IN FIRST!!! WE’RE BACK IN FIRST!!!” I think I heard Abby screaming in the van as well . Lol.
Now, there was so much momentum gained that I even sprinted the incline near the 10k mark. 10k mark passes. Gulp. No exchange tent! I was burning out pretty fast. Then all of a sudden, my extremities were going numb. It was going upwards already. My hands then started to involuntarily shake. OMG. I was freaking out. What the heck was happening to me? Still nothing. I was panting like a rabid dog in heat. Where was the tent??? Finally, 750 meters later it was there. I rushed , signed in, handed the slaptstick over to a totally juiced Jai, and he was off! TPB in the lead!!!! The team met me with raucous cheers. I was completely exhausted, but super happy. Given that running is an individual sport, having to do team time trials was awesome. We left the leg in high spirits, knowing that I just handed over the lead to one of the strongest runners on our team.
Legs 8 and 9 went by like a blur. Speedy Jai was still fresh from his 3rd place finish at the TBR Dream Marathon, so the guy was in awesome shape. He turned the slight lead I gave him into a significant advantage, and powerful Ronnel padded more to it as the race was starting to drag on into the night.
By the time Ka Totoy came up, it was pitch dark already. Being our undisputed anchor and the closest thing to an elite runner on the team, we gave “The Legend” our most difficult leg – the dreaded 6km climb up to Mount Samat. His performance was simply scintillating. He left our mouths wide agape while tackling Kennon Road-level inclines at an unthinkable 5:30 pace. If I had done the same route, I probably would have walked. Being the consummate pro that he is, there were times that he would even wave us off, telling us to wait ahead of him. Running a ridiculous incline in pitch black darkness takes some cajones, and he taught all of us right then and there a thing or two about guts.
The scene that unfolded after seemed like it was taken straight from a movie script. As fast as Ka Totoy was chipping away at the mountain, a rampaging juggernaut was hot on his heels. The strongest Kenyan runner of Team Runnerspeak was blasting away at our nearly 30 minute advantage on them, and before we knew it, they were in 2nd place. Just FYI, this was the Kenyan dude who won Rock and Run 10k, and he runs a 15 minute 5k just to put things into perspective.
In a moment of sheer drama, the Kenyan came within 100 meters of Ka Totoy as he hit the runner exchange point. One last dramatic grasp, and the lead was turned over to Beep Beep who started sprinting like a madman for the start of the next rotation, his lady love Susan in hot pursuit. Incredible effort on the Kenyan’s part, and pretty much all of us had a greater appreciation for “The Legend’s” incredible running moxie after that sublime effort.
A Bittersweet Symphony
Whew. What an Epic! And guess what? We’re only a third of the way!
But I’ll have to stop there.
Because it was at this point that from a genuinely enjoyable race, everything seemed to connive against our success. Among others, I’d rather not discuss how I was stopped right smack in the middle of my 2nd leg ostensibly for “fast forward purposes” along with a totally moronic penalty by a dictatorial race director who wouldn’t give the time of day to any opinion apart from his own.
I’d also rather not discuss how Mark Hernz was virtually stalked from afar by a certain team’s van for reasons unknown, which was later passed of as rendered “in the spirit of sportsmanship and concern”. Or of people blowing every conceivable muscle or tendon in their body after running several kilometers, then making “the ultimate sacrifice” of getting replaced – with an elite runner.Yes, we really are that stupid.
I don’t want to come out with unhappy memories out of this remarkable experience. I’d rather remember Beep and Susan’s epic battle racing at 3:00/km pace down the insanely steep downhill of Mt. Samat in total darkness. Or how Brando valiantly tried to fend off “Cyborg” when he just popped out of the darkness. Or how Bryan’s tremendous managerial skills established a semblance of order in our team.
In a team full of competitive runners who usually duke it out over the weekends, I am proud of how the team came together to overcome adversity in making a concerted effort to go down on our shields with honor. I’ll never forget screaming my lungs out when the team pounded out a last-ditch comeback effort, gutting out minute by painstaking minute culminating in Ronnel reclaiming the lead for TPB at leg 29. Truly, you can’t make this stuff up. In spite of everything, we still had a chance to win it all at the very last leg. I have misty memories of how Ka Totoy, his body wracked in intense pain and battling 37-degree heat, ran with his heart on the pavement in overtaking the game PNP runner for 2nd place on the very last kilometer.
Because you see, this race meant much more to us than the figurative silver (thanks Mark Mulder) that we weren’t even acknowledged for. It was more than the P360 finishers shirt, the P20 Pocari Sweat and P50 picture that awaited you at the line.
It went beyond winning or losing. It was about sticking to our guns when the going got beyond tough. It dealt with working within the rules even if they were seemingly be made to be broken. It was about getting back up and giving it your all after you’ve been kicked down incessantly to the curb.
It’s all about finishing with honor, with your head held high. Of earning the respect of your foes and being able to look them straight in the eye as you bask in the spoils of battle. Of hearing raucous applause rather than stone cold silence. Of forging a transcendental bond with your friends rather than “celebrating” with a bunch of hired mercenaries.
It’s been a completely seminal experience for me. It’s changed me in a lot of ways too.
To Beep, Mulder, Roy, Brando, Bry, Mark, Jai, Ronnel and Ka Totoy, it was my distinct honor to have raced with you guys.
To our wonderful support team Abby, Maan, Bea, and Doc Eire – thank you so much for sticking by us and sticking for us.
I am very proud of each and every one of you. I’m proud of TPB and what we stand for.
Because no matter what had happened in those fateful 23 hours…
I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
TPB 2010 Baby!
(originally posted by Luis Arcangel at The Gingerbread Report on June 27, 2010)