Monday, March 1, 2010

Takbo Juan: One Run, One Vote, One Country (February 28, 2010)

Congratulations to the organizers of Takbo Juan: One Run, One Vote, One Country (The First University Run) for the successful holding of the event on February 28, 2010 at UP Diliman, with categories of 3K, 5K and 10K. The run was aimed at uniting the youth to elect the right candidate this coming elections.

The event attracted several hundred runners only, which was unfortunate because the venue was one of the best places to run. But the relatively low turnout was not all that surprising because the registration sites were confined mostly to the campus premises. Also, except for website, there seemed to be little or no promotion of the event elsewhere (but I could be wrong).

Like any inaugural run, the event had its shares of hits and misses. Overall though, it delivered well on the race essentials like the adequate water stations, well-positioned route markers, cheerful and friendly marshals, police and emergency crew presence, and other race paraphernalia. Despite the turnout, the participants seemed to have fully enjoyed the event. And for those who showed up for the love of running, there's no doubt they all went home smiling.

The Positives
  • Scenery. This was held in UP campus and certain stretches of the adjoining hi-ways, so the route featured a lot of trees and greens which made for a relaxing run. The antiquated designs of the college buildings added to the rustic feel of the environment - a welcome contrast from the bustling atmosphere of the city.
  • Very little vehicle interference. Although the route weaved through various roads and intersections inside the campus, there was very little vehicle traffic so the run went almost uninterrupted. Even the stretches in the main roads outside the campus were kept safely to the sides and away from the vehicles plying the roads.

Some Teething Problems
  • The event did not start on time. The slated gun time for the 10K event was 6 am but the actual start was delayed by about 20 minutes, maybe more.
  • The warm-up session was too long. This part was actually funny because of the whining. Nope, no one complained about doing the warm-up; after all, we all understand the importance of stretching. But when the warm-up became a full blown work-out session, the runners started to protest. We all moaned and griped about the length of the warm-up, but all in good jest. Still, we went along with the whole routine.
  • The route advisory was long and hard to follow. At this point we were all eager to run and the last thing we needed was a lengthy discourse on the route. In my view, route advisories should just be read from briefly written notes and not explained impromptu while the emcee follows the route in his mind. Besides, very few runners pay much attention to this, they just rely on the route markers and race marshals for direction.
  • Crowded oval. Since UP is a favorite place for those who jog or run, the oval got crowded with weekend runners and joggers, partially impeding the progress of those who were part of the race.

Again congratulations to the organizers. Congrats too to my two friends, Joybelle and Ritchie, who ran in this event with me. This was their first official race and they joined the 10K right away. I hope they made it to work today. Maybe we could train together more frequently in the coming weeks before our next race.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Run Eboy Run! - The Birth of a Blogsite

Hi! My name is Ricky. Most of my friends, workmates and colleagues call me by this name. Some call me Kiriks, which is a cooler, hipper spin on an otherwise common name. Somebody tagged me with this name several years ago and it has stuck ever since. But one very close friend in particular – let’s call him Dogears (no, that’s not his real name) – calls me Eboy. Though it sounds like a loony abbreviation for the juvenile “Rickyboy,” for me it’s a comfy moniker that captures the brotherly bond between us – one that is forged by long years of friendship going back to our high school days.

I am a runner, or at least that’s what I consider myself to be. I started running in the early part of November 2009 as a way of getting in shape. You see, at that time I weighed about 205 lbs and was getting heavier by the day. That and my not so tall stature – I’m only about 5’ 7” – made for a somewhat portly appearance. And while I refused to accept that I was growing bigger, my clothes kept reminding me otherwise. The buttons and holes on my shirts were refusing to make contact. And when they did, any sudden movement would send the buttons loose and flying. The same with the pants zippers which refused to go all the way up but just stopped midway through the climb. As I kept on growing, my wardrobe just kept shrinking.

Needless to say, I’ve had my share of the diets. Anything with “no,” “zero,” “less,” “light,” “reduced” or “substitute” in the label I’ve tried. Normally, I would lose some of the pounds off with each new diet but only to gain them all back later with a vengeance. I’ve also tried eating greens and even developed some favorites like tossed green salad with porkchop vinaigrette and green basil pesto sprinkled with pasta and garnished with a slight touch of half-chicken. Again, I’d lost a few only to gain more. I’ve even tried using belt wraps that didn’t actually work but let you lose weight anyway by not allowing you to breathe. Sadly, mine was a narrative typical of anyone who has waged a war on the weighing scale… and lost…constantly.

I was scared – for myself and my family. I was feeling the signs: shortness of breath after a few steps up the stairs; gasping for air on short walks from the office to the eatery; overall feeling of weakness and recurring dizziness especially as the day winded down. I was feeling a host of other ailments in my body, maybe some of them imagined, and I was terrified. I was a heart attack waiting to happen and I knew it. Funny, I was supposed to be at an age when life should be starting but instead I found myself grappling with my own mortality. Somehow that put some sense into me.

I first got interested in running from another close high school friend of ours. We call him Ranny because that’s his real name. One of his Facebook photo albums, which is aptly captioned “Running Is A Lifestyle,” features a collage of race bibs from the numerous races that he has joined over the years in different countries here in Asia. Obviously, he is fit. His well-toned body is worthy of a sports magazine cover (without the clothes, he’d probably make it to centerfold). Whenever he’s home on business or for a visit – he works in Hong Kong – he would share some of his experiences and insights on how running has become a way of life for him. His calm demeanor seems to have stemmed from years of being alone with his thoughts while running countless miles – a mark of a true “Master Jedi Runner,” as we would call him, less the pointed ears, sparse hair and green membranes.

I was inspired by his story but I was mostly impressed with his commitment. I realized then that I did not need another diet but a change in lifestyle. So I started running sometime in November. First, there was more walking than running; but slowly I really began to run although just for short distances. It wasn’t until Dogears told me that he was joining a 5K fun run in December that my enthusiasm was fully awakened. I joined him in his next race and I got hooked eversince.

Suddenly, running has become the predominant topic in the email exchanges among us three. We began sharing tips and even updated each other on our training and progress. And in one of those emails, seeing how I had been practicing hard in between races, Dogears coined the words “Run Eboy Run” in his reply, obviously a parody of the famous line from a well-loved movie that portrays life as a box full of chocolates (no, it’s not Willy Wonka). Since then, it has become a silent battle cry for me, chanting the same words over and over to myself each time I run, whether in practice or during actual races. Somehow, I feel energized by each utterance, giving new vigor to my legs whenever I want to go that extra mile.

Now, several 5K & 10K races and nearly 25 pounds later, I feel like a new man. I no longer gasp for air, only when I’m running. Most of the ailments have dissipated too, replaced only by minor ankle pains, muscle constraints and leg spasms – nothing that can’t be cured by more running and a strong liniment.

I feel more determined and committed than ever; and so now I’m raising the bar higher as I aim for my first half-marathon (21K) in three months and my first full marathon (42K) ten months down the line. This blogsite aims to chronicle that journey – one stride, one kilometer, one race and one pound at a time. But while I would be writing mostly of my experiences, my real desire is to plant in you, my dear friends, the same seed that was planted in me by my close friends and now fellow runners. I want you to also discover the joy of running, not just a way of getting in shape or losing the extra weight but as a way of life. Sure the melted fat and nicely toned body would make it all worthwhile, but the real reward comes from the inner strength that will be forged from enduring the pains and difficulties along the way. In the end, while crossing the finish line crystallizes all those hardships in one moment of glory, it’s the run that gets you there.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The North Face Thrill of the Trail (February 14, 2010)

Forget about the training, this course was unlike any I’ve joined before. It was everything that was advertised and a lot more. It was 11.3 kilometers of dirt, grass, water, rocks, boulders, peaks, valleys, trees, ravines, sandbags, ropes, concrete, slips, bruises and more. All combined for an unforgettable run of a lifetime!

I came to this event with a colleague of mine who is a regular at the Fitness First gym and has participated in numerous stationary biking competitions, which usually last for long hours. He has never run in a marathon or any of the short distance categories before but I was confident that he was up to the challenge given his overall good physical condition. Heck, he was probably fitter to run this event than I despite the kilometers I’ve logged during the week leading to this event. On his part, he joined more out of curiosity for the scenery rather than the appeal of the event.

We almost did not make it to this event, that is, we failed to register on time. Weeks ago, I had assembled a team of five officemates to join me in this trail. We already trained as a group and also individually on our own. However, in all our excitement we forgot to register early and when I inquired about the registration two weeks before the event, it was already closed as the organizers already achieved their desired number of participants. However, the resourceful person that he is, my colleague pestered the organizers to accept late registrants, weaving tales of silly excuses just to earn the sympathy of whoever was willing to listen. And as luck would have it, the organizers agreed to accept additional registrants but only those with a Citibank credit card, a major sponsor of the event. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the group who had one, and I was not about to go alone. So, using my and my wife’s credit cards, I registered for two slots, using the name of my wife to register for my colleague. During registration, I was asked by the TNF attendant if my wife and I were registering as a couple since it was one of the categories of the race, the event being held on Valentine’s day. The fees for couples were lower, but knowing beforehand that those running as couples were required to finish holding hands together, I readily said no as it was hard to picture myself running hand in hand with another man.

The event was held in Nuvali, Laguna, a muti-hectare tract of land being developed by the Ayalas that is adjacent to Sta. Rosa. It was about 60-70 kilometers away from Quezon City, where I live, and the relative remoteness of the place just added to the overall thrill of the event. We departed around 3:15 am from Quezon City and arrived at the place just an hour later, despite driving at less than 100 kph, since there was barely any traffic. The air was cold and we definitely felt the chill penetrating through our exposed extremities. The place had an immediate calming effect and provided a stillness that usually comes from being close to the natural elements (either that or the painkillers had kicked in). There was quite a number of participants already but it was still early and we expected the number to steadily grow as the gun time neared. We decided to go to the assembly area right away and performed our respective pre-run warm-ups and silent chants of self-encouragement (Run Eboy run! Run Eboy Run!). The assembly area featured the standard paraphernalia for a marathon event: several open tents that partly housed some of the sponsors (who offers a credit card in the middle of an open field?) and partly served as a gathering place for the participants; a few booths that offered items related and unrelated to the event; the humungous speakers used to make the pre-race advisories, invocation and countdown; and of course the huge start/finish banner that was suspended atop a wide steel frame at the start/finish line (where else?).

The starting place for the 22K runners was different from the 11K runners and they had to be taken by bus to their rightful gun point. A few minutes before gun time, the assembly area was filled with runners, all anxious and excited about the adventure that awaited them. At around 5:45 we had our start with the couples following suit about 15 minutes later.

The first few hundred meters were ran on concrete roads – part of the thoroughfare that connected the highway to the site development. Right away, my legs felt stiff and heavy. Two nights before, I ran for more than 13K as part of my preparation for the race and another one that will be held a week later. I felt at that time I would eventually regret practicing for too long and too close to race day. True enough, I felt fatigued just a few steps into the race. I decided to slow down to allow my legs to loosen up gradually. As I did, most of the runners passed me by in quick succession, relegating me to the back of the pack. That was totally fine with me since my focus was to finish the race no matter the duration.

Few moments later, the race veered into the open grass field, leaving the paved but unleveled comfort of the road. With the turn, the complexion of the race changed drastically and that’s when the fun started.

Finding balance on the field was difficult as I constantly landed on rugged soil, which kept twisting my ankles in all directions. Sometimes I stepped on patches of damp grasses causing me to slip and slide, making it difficult to run fast. The terrain itself was highly uneven - a never ending succession of ups and downs, some were low while some were really high – and it tested the limits of the legs and thighs. The fatigue I felt slowly dissipated as I felt myself overflowing with adrenalin. The trail we followed was narrow and it required us to move in single file. That allowed me to gain on the pack as I excused my way through one runner at a time. At some point, we found ourselves winding through the woods which raised the excitement level all the more. Moments later, we reached a ravine and I could hear the faint sound of streaming water and I knew then that we were going down a creek.

The descent into the creek was quite steep and we had to go down a narrow ladder that was carved out from the side of the ravine. We used a rope for support as we made our way down. At this point, it was impossible to run as we followed a very narrow trail of rocks and boulders alongside the stream. And then we hit the water and the excitement level was at its highest for me.

The term “sloshy,” which I learned from my good friend, Nils, just days earlier as she responded to a facebook post complaining about the snow in the U.S., came to my mind, as we literally sloshed our way through the cascading waters of the creek, which followed the twisting contours of the ravine. The wade through the water lasted for over 1 km (it said so in the route map) with intermittent climbs over the rocks and boulders that lined up the sides. This was probably the most fun of the entire run except for the pebbles. Remember how you get irritated when a small pebble enters your shoe and gives you that unbearable discomfort as you walk? In my case, I was barely feeling the shoes and was literally stepping on pebbles of different sizes and shapes, some as sharp as broken glasses, instead of the soft insoles of my shoes. The more we waded, the more the shoes filled with pebbles. To say that it was unbearable was an understatement as each step became agonizingly painful but surprisingly therapeutic (mobile acupressure, anyone?). I wore a waterproof trail shoes which proved to be a mistake because once the water got in from the opening of the shoes it was trapped inside and unable to come-out through the tight mesh. The trapped pebbles and water made the shoes very heavy so when we got to the final part of the wade I decided to clean my shoes and socks in the water before we made our climb back up to the ravine. This caused me to lose a lot of time as I watched the other runners slowly passed by. But it also allowed me to take a breather and soak up the surrounding beauty. I felt almost ambivalent at that point, wanting to catch up to the others but at the same time yearning to just meander slowly and enjoy the scenery.

Once we made our way up the ravine then out of the woods and back into the meadows, it became an endless run of winding peaks and valleys, some unbelievably steep. At this point, I felt the fatigue slowly setting back in and I was gasping for air and dripping with sweat all over the body. I didn’t know how I made it through the grass fields but the run felt like an eternity (actually, about 5.5 kms according to the route map). Along the way, some of the couples had overtaken me.

As I made it to the concrete road, I was almost running in slow motion. I could probably walk faster at that point but I wanted to relish the experience to its fullest so I persevered although I knew I was almost drained and running empty.

Finally, I saw the finish line banner and heard the cheering of the crowd that gathered there. I summoned the last energy from the chocolate drink I had at the last water station and made a dash, a slow one that is, into the line. As I crossed the line, I was immediately handed a bottle of energy drink, a certificate of participation, a magazine and some other stuffs (wow, talk about efficiency). I immediately looked for my colleague who had checked in minutes before me. We were obviously both on emotional high as we kept high-fiving each other. We rested for a while and made our way back to Quezon City. As we drove back though I couldn’t help but think about the paradox of man and nature. We’ve always claimed to be the stewards of nature; but if you really think about it, nature has been there before us and has thrived for so long without us. It’s true that we feel compelled to find ways to protect and preserve its beauty as any good stewards would do, but ironically, in my view, the only way we can protect it is to just leave it alone.

This was, without a doubt, the most exciting run I have joined so far. It was beyond compare and the others seemed like a stroll in the park. If there’s one word to describe the entire experience, it’s outofthisworld and I couldn’t wait to do it again.