the agony & ecstasy of a 21k back home


finisher shirt and medal[  Note : If ever the opportunity presented itself on vacay, I told myself that I would run at least a half-marathon.  Lo and behold, right before the start of my last week, a 21-kilometer race was scheduled, just beckoning me to join.  Here’s how it went, thanks for reading Precious Reader! ]

LONG BEFORE I saw the finish line but less than 2 km away, I was already feeling nauseous.  In fact, I was already feeling faint, and for the first time since I started running around two-and-a-half hours ago (although I didn’t know it then) I was beginning to entertain doubts about finishing this crazy endeavor called a half-marathon.

Only the simple fact that there were others around me who were doing the same thing, trying to survive the 21k, willing themselves to finish despite fatigue, nausea and general discomfort, the reality that I was practically the oldest guy in the bunch, and finally, pure pride and the fear of ridicule, kept me from dropping out, dropping dead and giving up.

But, as usual I’m getting ahead of myself.

*****     *****     *****

Obviously everyone around me was excited, despite the muggy night air, despite the horrible starting time (2:00 am!) and despite the grueling 21 kilometers of tedious running ahead of us.

I had a special thrill ahead of me: when I finished (IF I finished) I would’ve been able to say that I ran not just two marathons but two marathons in different countries, New Zealand and the Philippines.  Not even the hardiest, most experienced and most conditioned runners I knew could say that, I had the advantage of travel and being at the right place at the right time.

But now at the starting line, I wasn’t so sure of myself.  Unlike my first half-marathon in Wellington, I didn’t prepare religiously, I hadn’t watched the things I ate the last few weeks (sisig, crispy pata, lechon, lauriats like there was no tomorrow… you be the judge) and most importantly, my running buddy Bunso my younger son was back in New Zealand and unable to hold my hand from start to finish.

*****     *****     *****

First five kilometers, although the exhilaration of running with hundreds and hundreds of gigil runners was intoxicating, I had a bad feeling because that part of the race, you’re not supposed to feel anything, pure adrenaline, the scenario of being with runners loving what they do, and everyone cheering you on, it should be effortless.

That early, it wasn’t effortless for me, and a bunion on the right side of my right foot was beginning to pinch me.  My shoes were less than a perfect fit, and I hoped the discomfort wouldn’t be too much for me.

*****     *****

The route was easy enough : Skyway on Filinvest City in Alabang, then Sucat, turning around just before Bicutan and back the same way.  Easy enough except that once you got your rhythm and maintained the spring in your step, you had to contend with boredom and the lack of interesting things to see both on the track and the general surroundings.

I knew even before the first quarter of the run that there were lots of people who would finish ahead of me, probably 75% of the runners.  Not only was I a slower-than-average runner, but I also needed to make sure that I had enough in the tank to finish the distance.

So I didn’t mind that there were dozens and dozens of runners passing me every few minute, but I also noticed that the superfast runners who started out like jackrabbits at the opening bell  were starting to slow down, probably because they’d started out too intensely.  It was a cliche, but it wasn’t a sprint but a marathon.

*****     *****

The soreness started even before we made a U-turn near Bicutan, and I found myself starting to avoid the glances of race marshals who were trained to keep their eyes peeled for the slightest sign of weakness or lack of resolve, early fatigue or worse, anyone experiencing shortness of breath, chest pains or cramps, all danger signs of something worse that could happen.

As long as the legs weren’t complaining, I was OK.  Soreness was expected, but as long as it could be endured till the last 5k, life was good.

Problem was, remember the bunion (kalyo) on my right foot?  The slight discomfort was beginning to grow into a worrying inconvenience, soon not only the shoe but the sock would chafe against the tenderizing skin.  I could run a certain way so that the impact was lessened, but doing so would affect my running gait, in effect I would tire more easily and seriously endanger my chance of finishing the race.  Problems, problems problems.

*****     *****

All around me at the last 6k people were starting to slow down.  Some runners would let me pass them, then recover their strength and pass me right back, and slow down again.  I couldn’t adopt such a run-walk-run strategy because it would be a temptation to just taper off the rest of the way : I didn’t trust my stamina enough to rely on that.

By the two-hour mark, the night sky was giving way to pre-dawn light.  Early morning buses were blasting their horns right underneath the Skyway below us.  The air was so layered I could smell different parts of the air : carbon monoxide, exposed rubbish, and the dust particulates.  And of course, I could smell my own sweat.

*****     *****

At Filinvest City, probably a kilometer before the finish line, every exposed part of my body was screaming : the lactic acid in my legs, the bunion in my right foot, my upper arms chafing against my torso, even my slippery spectacles pinching my temples.  Literally, naduduling na ako sa pagod at hilo.  Only the potential embarrassment of fainting kept me plodding on.

At the end it was anticlimactic : everyone was doing a slow jog now, and even then it took every last ounce of energy to force myself not to walk because jogging would give way to walking, and walking would give way to stopping.  Too dangerous, even then.

At the finish line, I gulped three cups of free electrolyte drinks, munched a free banana, slapped salonpas and pain-relieving gel, all provided by the sponsors, slurped arroz caldo and got my finisher’s medal.  The electrolyte drinks promptly gave me diarrhea, and as soon as I collected my wits, grabbed the first bus back to civilization.

And that, Precious Reader, was that!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

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