IT ALL STARTED WITH A TAUNT
I have been running continuously since 2005 but the longest distance that I ever dared joined was a 5k road race. I never for the life of me ever imagined running longer than that. I even joined a six-month running program that was led by Coach Jim Lafferty sometime in June 2009 with the goal of improving my time for a 5k race in December of the same year. In April 2010, I joined the Bald Runner Speed Training Clinic (BR Clinic) and it was on my second week that one of my team mates made that taunt: “I will never wake up at dawn just to run for a few minutes”. I laughed. But deep down inside, I was challenged. So in May, I registered for my first 10k race, the Neutrogena Chase the Sun where I finished in 1h:04m. I was exhilarated! Meanwhile, most of my team mates joined the first batch of TBR Dream Marathon and that was all they were talking about during training sessions. It was then that another team mate, Tin Ferrera, an ultramarathoner who has some podium finishes in her bag already, told me that on my first marathon, she will be the one to pace me. I told her I had no plans of joining a marathon (yet). But secretly, I started stalking thebullrunner.com website, waiting for the registration for the second batch of TBRDM. And when registration opened, I hurriedly texted all my newbie runner friends, filled up the form and prayed we would be chosen. And luck was on our side. All of us got in!
The Bull Runner Dream Marathon is a one-of-a-kind small and intimate marathon especially designed for first time marathoners. The moment registration for it opened in September 2010, my friend, Helen decided to join and out of a 2010 promise, I am the official pacer.
Flashback to around April 2010, when Len first started training with us, I have mistaken her as an elite runner. We were surprised when she said that she just started running and that she only joins 5K races. (Her built looks like she has conquered several short and long distance races.) One of my friends joked that he wouldn’t wake up early on a Sunday to run a 5K-race. That brought Helen into thinking and a month after she conquered her first 1oK race.
May 2010 was the first staging of the TBR Dream Marathon. As we rejoiced over the successful feat of the TFC Boys and Kaye (whom I paced during her marathon debut), Helen got another prodding from us – “Run your first marathon! Dream big (or rather longer!)” I officially made a statement, “I’ll be your pacer when you run your first marathon”.
I have been consistently attending trainings at the BR Clinic since March 2010 and recently, speed training sessions with Coach Titus Salazar. I also regularly work out at the Crossfit Gym. As soon as we got our congratulatory email, I was overwhelmed with all the freebies we will get. (Spelled: Guide to finishing your first full marathon)
The Program spiced up my preparation on top of the training regimen that I already have. You can never have enough! I tried to attend all the Bull Sessions and Circles. I joined the first Bull Session w/ Lit Onrubia on Chi Running and the proper form of walking, which I kept in mind while brisk walking those hills in Nuvali. I signed up for the Lifestyle & Weight Management Program of Mitch & Armand Mendoza where we were educated on the right diet for runners: a cupped hand worth of carbohydrates, a palm-sized amount of meat/protein and a bunch of veggies. No more alcohol and chips for me. Well I did slip twice on the alcohol and a few times with the chips. So hard! I printed out coach Jim’s program. I knew I was in good hands because it was Coach Jim’s program that I followed back when I was into 5k races and I knew he has guided thousands of first time marathoners. I attended Jeff Galloway’s lecture, and learned the different run/walk strategies. Coach Jim Saret also gave a lecture on the different strengthening exercises especially for runners. I also joined all the free long runs sponsored by the TBR, including the last one held at Nuvali three weeks before marathon day. Wow, by writing all these down now, I knew the registration fee would not be enough had we been charged for all these individual programs/lectures/sessions.
I am lucky that I also have a very supportive family who understood my time consuming training (twice a week 5am training runs, twice a week evening strength training, weekend long runs and the occasional Bull Session/Circle) and relished the new diet that the whole family got into (they had no choice haha!)
After PAU T2N, I made some changes in my training schedule. Helen who was looking for a training partner decided to train together as I’ve posted before. Except for my swim and bike workouts, we do long runs, speed drills and crossfit together. I could not have been that faithful to the schedule if not for her. She really worked hard, training for her first full marathon, taking every opportunity to learn not just from our common sessions but also with the Bull Circle sessions given to the future marathoners for free. I’m a witness to how she has turned out stronger over the last four months.
THE TAPER WEEK
My birthday falls on the day that my long runs would peak. This is probably one of the best birthday gifts I could ask for myself – to be able to call myself a “Marathoner”, few weeks after my big day. But I was wrong; there was something that is even better – the chance to take part in THE BLACK PENCIL PROJECT FOR TBRDM.
A fellow runner, Jordana “Jordee” Queddeng started broaching the idea of collecting pledges for our marathon, thus the Black Pencil Project for TBRDM was born. All the proceeds would go to a Mangyan school in Mindoro. I thought this was a brilliant idea because not only would it make our first marathon meaningful because we would be able to help a community school, it would also pressure us into finishing the race knowing how each kilometer is going to cost us. Taper week was spent conditioning myself and campaigning for this cause.
Len’s taper week started during our BDM Ultramarathon which was also her birthday. They say, running a race during your birthday month brings out luck. I could attest to that with my Camsur experience. As Len tapers, my worry is I am running my longest race. Part of my wish for BDM is that I can still come out with legs which would still have the power to run the TBR Dream Marathon as pacer. Thank God that except for a pain on my left knee, everything was fine.
Zero to 21K – Taking it Easy
At 4pm the day before marathon day, I checked in at El Cielito Inn, around 4 kilometers away from Nuvali. I couldn’t sleep. Although I wasn’t able to follow coach Jim’s sleeping pattern guide, I made sure I had at least 8 hours of restful sleep the whole week and hoped that would suffice. I was anxious and excited. I knew I trained well and followed all the nutrition guidelines given to us. But they say the allure of the marathon is that you can never really predict its outcome. I prayed mine would be a good one. My goal was to run continuously and to finish in less than 5 hours with no injuries.
I told my pacer Tin to join me only after the first 21kilometers. Tin has been my training buddy for the past few months. She ran the 102km Bataan Death March two weeks prior to this and finished 3rd female. Yes, she ran one hundred two kilometers and although I knew she was still tired from that race, she didn’t break her promise to pace me for my first marathon. But we did promise each other that we will be “off-season” after this and for the whole month of April. Right, Tin? Right?
I knew Tin was fast and I was afraid that if she paced me right from the start, then I might burn too much fuel and not sustain for the second half. I started slow, and let most of the runners overtake me. I was told by seasoned runners that the first few kilometers should be at conversational pace so the body would have time to warm up. At around km 3, I started slowly increasing my pace. I was wearing a Garmin but I was not really looking at it, I was just running based on how I felt and let my body dictate the pace. I took half a packet of Hammer gel every 5km and alternately drank Gatorade and water from my hydration belt. At around km9 I felt strong and well warmed up that I started running faster until I reached the turnaround point at the starting line. I was so happy to be done with my first half that I embraced all my friends and family (Tin told me I stayed 3 minutes there).
Len and I agreed that I will pace her only on the second half of the race. With an average 6mpk, Len should arrive in 2 hours and 6 minutes; more or less. (Sans any injury, max is 2:15).
I arrived at the starting line an hour after the gun start. I have at least an hour to prepare. After 37 minutes, the first runner arrives. (WOW!!! It turns out this guy runs 21K’s sub 1hour and 20minutes) After 52 minutes, the rest of the lead pack arrives one by one, still running strong. Len arrived after an hour and 13 minutes.
I secretly wanted to push Len to finish sub 4:30. (Her halfway splits gave us 2 hours and 16 minutes to finish). As we leave the halfway mark, I threw away that target. On purpose, I didn’t wear my Garmin. I want to pace her based on my feel for how far she can go. The goal is to finish the race strong and to have ‘nice pictures’.
21K to 25th – Adjustment Period
With Tin, we now started with the second half. Tin started asking me if I felt ok, if I had taken my gels and if I was hydrating properly. At the medical tent, I asked for liniment to “refresh” my legs. The guy was taking his time putting on gloves and was so reluctant to touch my legs that Tin grabbed the liniment from him. Every time I had to refill my hydration bottles, Tin would tell me not to stop because she would be the one to refill them and just run after me. Whenever there were sponges, Tin would grab one and pour water on me to cool me down.
It was still dark as we run. The bright full moon, lampposts and the mobile lighting from the organizers lighted our path. It was paved road, so no way should I have tripping incident. I let Len ran her pace; I stayed by her side making some comments and stories every now and then. Probably due to lack of warm up, I was huffing and puffing at the start. When we reached the 24th kilometer mark, I wanted to say %&@# that was just 2 kilometers! Of course, I couldn’t. So I said, “Only 18 kilometers to go!” At the first aid station, we stopped to put on some pain killer to massage and freshen up her legs as a preventive measure. The guy at the aid station put on his gloves and looks quite conscious on touching Len’s legs. I grabbed the bottle, and quickly massaged Len’s legs.
Seeing that it’s all cemented uneven road, we decided to run in the middle of the road to lessen the stress on the legs. When we saw that there’s enough flat bermuda grass space to run, we transferred for less impact on the foot. I stayed behind so Len wouldn’t hear my breathing which I feel could be distracting.
The first chasers station greeted us and that hyped up the depleting energy of the pacer (the marathoner is still up). Tin, you need to be a little jollier! Wake up!
25th to 30th – GETTING THE GROOVE
Between km 25 to 30, the hills were already taking a toll on my tired legs. I was ready to walk but she would motivate me by telling me to adjust my gait or do some of the running drills taught to us. At one time when she went to refill at one of the hydration stations, I started walking. When she caught up with me she said: “Do a brisk walk or jog. Or else lactic acid will accumulate.” So I jogged. She gave me one salt cap and after asking me many times if I wanted her to wear my hydration belt, I finally gave in. It was then I noticed that Tin’s gait changed. I knew then that maybe her knee was hurting. It was something that she felt during the 102km Bataan Death March. But Tin gave me no chance to ask her about it because she kept on motivating me all throughout.
At the next aid station, I let Helen proceed so I can refill her bottle and so I can get some meds from the aid station. The pain on my left leg is already saying hello. It was an uphill climb from there. Len was already 200 meters away from the aid station. I ran faster to catch up with her. The fast pace woke up my legs and my senses, so I said, “this is it, I’m alive!” About 50 meters away, I saw that she started walking. I shouted, “Len” (in a tone which sounds, peak up Len!). I was glad she didn’t hear it; I should be encouraging, right? As she hears me running behind, she started running again. It was downhill from there; we applied the free-flowing technique of running those downhills.
My lines on downhills would be, “Okay, bawi tayo ng pace” Sway hips, lower arms, etc, etc. “Peak up konti” (I meant peak up some more!)
On uphills, “Okay, take it easy, quick stride, look up, straight body, and swing arms”. We did just that.
At some point, Len said, “Wait lang, let’s recover”. Real thought: “Wag na, you still look fine” What I said:”Sige lang, slow jog then let’s start peaking up at that point”
Our conversation was like that as we attacked the rolling hills of Nuvali.
She took one gel at the 28th and I gave her one salt cap as well.
We reached the first turnaround; I got hold of Len’s hydration belt as I see that she’s been adjusting so often. It’s the first time after more than a year that I would wear one again-hope it works.
I thought that we would be on our way back already. Apparently, we need to go straight again before heading back. So, this is the addition from last year’s route. About five kilometers more of rolling hills-this route is not easy!
We saw Mikko on his way back who was pacing his friend as well. He gave us one banana which I gave to Len. I was so hungry and was hoping she would say no. She ate half of it and I took what was left. (So, this is how it feels – “Pag magulang ka, isusubo mo na lang, ibibigay mo pa sa anak mo” – In this case, if you’re a pacer; the marathoner goes first).
The next turnaround was full of dream chasers again. Festive is an understatement to describe it. (Except that it wasn’t my favorite song playing when we reached the place, everything was perfect! You would want to stay and linger a bit.) Len was in the zone though, she continued running while I wait for water refill at the station.
30th to 35th – Hello and Goodbye Bright Full Moon, No Walls!
She was saying that I had to have a fast finish so that when I uploaded my Garmin data, it would show a negative split. Tin was even making up these “headlines” of how my run will be reported in the sports news! All this while she was also cheering on all the other runners that we passed by.
This is when the dreaded wall usually appears. Looking at Len, it doesn’t look like she’ll experience one. She was still running strong. She started brisk walking at the uphill. I told her, okay let’s keep it to ten seconds then slowly jog, lactic acid might build up. (This has no scientific basis, just my random thoughts).
As her Garmin beeps 32nd, we shouted. Wohooo, this is now the last 10K-fun run! I told her, “Can you do the criss-cross run? Let’s try it to save on energy running. Di ba, it gains inches more?” (My actual thoughts were, come on; let’s do this last 10k really fast!)
As we approach the steep descend going back to the finish line, the clouds covering the bright full moon moved away. It was an awesome sight running, chasing the bright full moon until it disappeared behind the mountains.
The loud cheers welcomed us again at the chasers’ tent. At this time, I can now see their faces. They still have that same energy level an hour ago. And I heard they sustained it until the last runners who finished after nine hours passed them. Hats off to the chasers!
Len continued running and I just tried to catch up with her after each station and sprint. I could have pushed too much; I’m getting the dose of my own medicines.
35th to 40th – Beating the Time
At the last 5km, Tin reminded me how this was the distance I started with a year ago and so we should consider those last 5km as just a fun run and go for a sub-30 sprint! This was when I started to feel overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness. I was welling up with tears. But Tin said: “Don’t cry. You have to be beautiful at the finish line”.
The drill was quite the same at the next five kilometers. Greeting runners we meet along the way is now easier as we can recognize them now. It was fun cheering for each one, and encouraging them. Each “hi” equates to a silent prayer that they be given enough strength as the sun is already coming out.
At the 37th kilometer mark, I told Len,
Me – Imagine last year you were just starting with 5k races, while now, you are running the last 5k of a full marathon.
Len- Yes, thanks to Iah for that challenge.
Me- What’s your 5k PR?
Me-Oh, if you beat that then we can finish sub 4:30. (My thoughts, it’s a bit impossible but let’s keep running and pushing)
I think she got the message; her last 5 kilometers were taken in 30 minutes. Excellent! (I don’t think I can do such push at the end myself.)
The festivities arise again as we approached the Secondwind Zone and another one after one kilometer with lots of chasers around, and another one at the last one kilometer with runners from Team Boring.
Last 2 Kilometers: Getting Ready For the Finish
At the last 2 kilometers, Tin got a sponge, “cleaned”/wiped me down, fixed my shirt and instructed me on what to do at the finish line so I will have really good pictures. With less luggage, a well-hydrated body and the best pacer in the world at my side, I did not experience any cramping and was able to continuously run the last 21km at a fast pace that I was even able to overtake around nine runners going to the finish line! Not only was I able to reach my goal time, I was also able to get the finish line photo that I wanted all 18 of them courtesy of photovendo!
Last two minutes in a basketball game is always critical. You’d always have that last minute shots which either win the game or extends the game. For me, I feel that the game has been won at this point. Helen is still running strong. She said she wanna cry already. I was like, “No way, hold it. You cannot be ugly at the finish line and look there are still cameras”. We were already rehearsing steps 1, 2 and 3 of her finish line. Three poses. To further push her I said, “Len, run strong at the last kilometer. So, you’ll have a really good split when you download your Garmin data”. Well, she did!
As we approach the finish line, Len made a left at the Solenad area. Last 200 meters to sprint! I went straight to finish line to warn Omar and Gab that Len is arriving.
THE SWEET ENDING
It was a Sweet victory!
Thank you to my family for being understanding with my hectic training schedule and for the 100% support. I love you Omar hunny, Renee, Gaby & Tiago!
Thank you to all of you who made a pledge to the Black Pencil Project through my first marathon. You all made this worth the sacrifice and effort. (15 TBRDM marathoners joined this project and as of March 22, we were able to collect P80,152 with me raising the most amount of P25,800.)
To Jaymie, Lit, Mitch, Armand, Coach Jim, Susan & the rest of the TBRDM team: Thank you for the training/nutrition/lifestlyle programs you shared with us and for organizing the perfect marathon.
Tin, you are the best pacer in the universe! Mwah!
Team Bald Runner Elites specially my Kumpareng Alquin, the Bald Runner (Sir Jovie) and Madamme – thanks!
And Coach Titus, salamat sa laki ng tiwala mo sa kakayahan ko.
Now I can proudly say: I am a MARATHONER!
And a life was changed. I mean, two lives were changed. The life of a Marathoner and a Pacer!
I think I talk too much in this post – or rather write and remember so much. This is Len’s story and I am happy to have been a part of it. I hope this inspires you to dream – TBR Dream Marathon 2012 is less than 365 days away. To those who have conquered their dreams, another eight kilometers and another dream will be yours. Dream big!