Although TPB was initially created to compete in the 2010 Chris Sports Epic Relay, we did not manage to come home with a 1st place victory, which left the boys wanting redemption. So when MLB Road Race Specialist announced that they were reviving the October Fort Running Fest after a hiatus of 4 years, the Team was excited at the chance and determined to put forward a strong team. Because of the size of the team needed in order to compete (25), this also signaled a sudden and big growth spurt from the original 10.
TPB did indeed manage to redeem themselves on that fateful Sunday morning in October 2010, and that was the Team’s first real victory. Along with the top podium spot we were awarded a giant trophy with brass plaque upon which the team’s name would be immortalized, not to mention a handsome cash prize and plenty of other goodies.
Hungry for a repeat
It went without saying that TPB would be back in 2011 to defend their title, and seeing how the possibility of a 2011 edition of the Epic Relay has shrunken from slim to almost nil, this race would be the “main” race of the year for us. So the team of 25 was chosen, and we trained, strategized and prepared over the course of the months leading up to the big day. Word on the streets was that this year’s edition would include not only more teams than the previous year but also faster, stronger and better-trained teams. In other words, defending the title successfully would be anything but a cakewalk.
Despite a few unfortunate dropouts from some of last year’s TPB Octoberunners, the 25 that would be donning the fuchsia singlet on October 9 was a strong delegation, possibly the strongest yet. This race would be the competitive Powerpuff debut for 4 recent recruits: Michelle “Iron Mitch” Estuar, Reylynne “Runvocate” Delapaz, Jerome “Jem” Bautista, and AJ “AlphaJuliet” Beronio. Although every single one of the 25 TPB runners are talented, the team is still firmly “sub-elite”, so when word got out that a few of the other teams present would be featuring some true blue elite runners capable of running 21K in under 1:20, there was some reason to be a bit nervous and worried at the prospects of bringing home the trophy for the second year straight. All we could do was train hard, and train smart.
After a 4:30am check-in, pep talk, prayer and warm up jog, the gun signalling the start of the 21K event sounded at 5:15am sharp. Although we initially intended to run in 4 main pace groups, the start pace was maddening as always, and instead much smaller groups of 3-4 runners each remained. The air was hot and humid from the start, and remained that way up until about 5:45am, when light rain began to fall. I was really in need of both a wake-up (I failed to catch any sleep the night before the race) as well as a cool-down, so the drizzle was quite welcome. It didn’t last long, however, and the second half of the race would have to be run in your usual tropical morning climate, every runner trying to reach the finish line before the sun gets up too high.
As was promised via the rumor mill, there were indeed some very strong and fast runners out there representing our competing teams, and as a whole it really did feel like the level of competition was much higher than last year. In 2010 my finishing time of 1h46m* was good enough for top 60, but it would not be the case this time around. Indeed, I managed to reach the finish line in a respectable 1:42:43 – a new PR for me – but it was only good enough for 79th place.
Fortunately I wasn’t the only one in the team setting a PR that morning. Usually I would love to see myself as one of the team’s faster runners, but I’m actually quite happy that this is no longer the case; out of the 25 TPB runners, I only finished 15th. That means there are 14 runners on the team faster than I am…which is a good thing. It gives me pride and pleasure to know that so many of my teammates are getting faster with each race.
After all 25 had crossed the finish line – all in under 2 hours, bringing our team’s average time to 1:41:30 – there was nothing left to do but mingle and wait for the results. We had enough confidence in our performance, we all gave it our best, not one of us was hampered by injuries, and some of our faster members had simply amazing times (our superstar Chris Iblan came in 9th place overall, 3 of the runners ahead of him being elite Kenyans).
However one force we failed to reckon with in preparation for the race was the veteran team known as RunnersLink. This team has been around long before TPB or indeed before the current running boom took place. Many of their runners represent the “old school elite”, who have been pounding pavement ever since the 1970’s and 1980’s. Although some of them are no longer in the prime of their youth, they each have many years and tens of thousands of kilometers of running experience under their belts. Also they are attracting a younger generation of up-and-coming future elites. Combined, the old and new school makes for a very formidable adversary and a threat to the defense of TPB’s Octoberun championship.
When we heard cheers and shouts and saw hi-fives emanating from the RunnersLink camp just 30 minutes before the awards ceremony, we already had a good idea of why they were so jubilant. And sure enough, when it was finally time to announce the top 3 in the team event, Team RunnerLink managed to beat us for the Championship by a paltry 3 minutes on average (1h38′ versus 1h41′). We graciously accepted our
defeat 2nd place trophy, and made a pledge to be back again next year, knowing now that the new time to beat will likely be around 1h38m or maybe even faster. Yikes. Back to training we go!
Despite the pang of disappointment we felt as a team to have lost the championship, from an individual point of view I was very happy with the race overall. The PR was a nice feeling, although personally I believe that a sub-1h40′ would have been possible if only I had managed to sleep the night before. For the first half the race I felt like I was still half-asleep.
But as far as the race organization goes, MLB has once again pulled off a problem-free and enjoyable run. Hydration was plentiful, the route was about as flat as a 21K route can get and was more accurate than last year (but still off by 300m; not entirely acceptable in the age of Google Earth and GPS). For those who value such a thing, the goodie bags and freebies were also quite ample: singlet, drifit shirt, medal, snacks, and more. For me it’s just nice to participate in a “smaller” run such as this one, instead of being lost in the throngs of 15 thousand entrants at your average RunRio race.
As such, I and the rest of TPB will most certainly be back at next year’s event, and urge anyone reading this to do the same. Even better, form or join a team of 25 and have a go at the 21K group championship. We would welcome the challenge!
*Extrapolated to 21.1K; The actual course distance at 2010 Fort Running Fest was 20.2km.