Based on my Garmin watch, I finished the Run United 2 with a time of around 2:06. That’s a new 21K personal record for me. I beat my previous record by 8 minutes.
The funny thing is that I didn’t set out to do a fast 21K. Two week before the race, my left calf was acting up, probably because of the trail run I did over that weekend. The pain was such that I had to down a few Ibuprofens to get some sleep. I wasn’t able to do any running for several days, and when I began running I felt heavy and sluggish. So I recalibrated and told myself that the Run United 21 would just be a “training run.” It would be my LSD session and I figured that I would run it at a 7-minute pace. Just take it nice and easy, I told myself.
I normally take it light before an event—a few 5Ks sprinkled throughout the week, some light body exercises, and some stretching. But since the RU2 would be a “training run,” I decided to log some serious distances. I did a 10K on Monday followed by a 14K on Wednesday. On Friday I did a 10K at a leisurely pace. But, for some strange reason, I was feeling strong.
On the Saturday before the run, a friend asked me, “What’s your goal time?”
“2:10,” I said. But I never really took that seriously. A 2:10 time meant a pace of 6:10 a kilometer and I wasn’t sure if I could sustain that pace. Maybe, I told myself, maybe I could push for a 6:20 pace but that was still a stretch since I was struggling to maintain a 6:20 pace for a 10K run. What the heck, I thought, I’ll go by feel and see what my body is telling me during the race.
My first kilometer was surprisingly fast, probably because I was caught up in the revelry, not to mention the the cool rainy weather. I eased up in the second kilometer, my legs still feeling stiff. Must be because I’ve been standing for more than an hour waiting for the run to begin, I told myself. During my training runs, I normally would loosen up at around the third kilometer. And loosen up I did. As I crossed the kilometer 2 marker, I fell into a groove. My pace was steady. My breathing was rhythmic. By then we were running up the Kalayaan flyover and I hardly felt the incline. I was loose and relaxed. As I ran along Buendia Avenue I would glance at my Garmin watch to check my pace, and I was surprised that I was running a 6:08 pace, sometimes even hitting under 6:00. At first I was puzzled, and I began to worry that I would not be able to sustain that pace and would break down at the final third of the run. What was more surprising was that when I thought I had slowed down to conserve energy, I was still running an under 6:10 pace.
Some running pundits advise to have a mantra while running and to repeat that mantra over and over again. My mantra for the RU2 was now “Hold That Pace.” At kilometer 11 my time was 1:05, I was still feeling strong, and I figured that I could hold a 6:10 pace for the last 10K. I did some calculations in my head—even if I manage an average of 6:15, I would still end up finishing with a time thereabouts of 2:08, still a personal record. All I had to do was “HOLD THAT PACE!”
There is a reason why I prefer runs around MOA as compared with runs around BGC. I love the straight path of Roxas Boulevard. It allows me to “tune out,” to bring my mind to “a happier place,” to keep me from feeling the fatigue and the heaviness of my legs. BGC, on the other hand, with its twists and turns, reminds me that I am running and I have to focus on markers and marshals lest I get lost. As I ran along Roxas, I could feel the pain in my hips and the tightness of my quads, but I “tuned it out” and entered “the zone.” I paid no attention to the kilometer markers. I tried not to look at familiar landmarks that would remind me how near—or how far—was the finish line. I just tried not to slow down. I just had to go straight as the road took me until I get to the Cultural Center of the Philippines where I knew I had make a right turn. But that was kilometers away. Meanwhile I tried to keep apace with runners beside me. I spotted runners ahead who were slowing down and told myself that I must overtake them. ”Hold that pace,” I repeated to myself. This is what separates the men from the boys. My eye caught a kilometer marker and the slogan underneath: Quitters never win; winners never quit.
My last 3 kilometers was the most difficult of the entire run. Mentally I was still strong. My breathing was labored but my stamina was still there. I could feel the familiar tingle in my calves signalling the onset of muscle cramps. But it was nowhere the struggle I experience in the last Run United, where every meter felt like an eternity. As I neared the finish line, the timer showed 1:56, which I knew was a mistake. There was no way I could’ve broke 2 hours. No matter, I told myself, as I mustered whatever energy I had left to sprint to the finish line. I pressed the button of my Garmin watch and saw the time—2:05:46. So even if I am off by a few seconds, I should have a chip time of around 2:06.
One thing that bothered me, however, was that my Garmin registered a distance of only 20.7 kilometers. Actually, throughout the run, I noticed that the difference between my Garmin and the kilometer markers was roughly 500 meters. My iPhone Runmeter app, which I also used in the run, showed different—21.3 kilometers—but I started and stopped the app a few meters away from the designated points. A lot of folks over at Pinoyfitness as well commented that their GPS devices registered the distance as shorter than 21 kilometers. It’s really moments like these when I wish that the organizers stick to one route for an event so that there is no dispute whether or not we achieved a personal best. At the very least we can claim a personal best for that route.
Nonetheless I was surprised at how much I’ve improved. I reread my post on Run United 1 and it’s amazing how much I struggled then as compared with Run United 2. In RU1 I finished with a 2:15 time but in RU1 my legs felt heavy and my breathing was laboured at the 10-kilometer mark. It took mental fortitude to get through the second half. In RU2 I felt strong throughout the run. My legs felt light and with plenty of juice. In RU1, after I had crossed the finish line, my calves were so painful and my legs so stiff that I didn’t have the strength to check out the loot bag. I wrote that “I haven’t been this tired and pain-wracked after a 21K since the first time I ran a half-mary last year,” but in RU2 I was walking normally back to my car! I wasn’t hobbling and shuffling my feet like those zombies in Walking Dead. And by the afternoon I was back to normal. Everything was so normal that I was able to do an easy 7K run today, the day after RU2!
And the thing that amazes me is that I am still capable of improving even as I approach 50 years of age.
Next up, the Milo Marathon!