I planned this race with more detail than the last. The Adidas KOTR was my 4th 21K and those previous 21Ks were more like tests to see if I can simply finish. For the KOTR, I wanted it to be a little more structured. My goal was to break my previous best of 2:20. My last 21K was in July so I mapped out a rudimentary training plan to get me from July to October: train for at least 5 times a week, sprinkle at a moderate-paced run and some speed work (i.e., intervals or tempo-runs) throughout the week with a long, slow run on the weekend. It wasn’t as detailed as others would wish and I wasn’t able to fulfill the plan to the letter, but I accepted little excuse to deviate from the plan. Rain? Went out for a run. Lazy? Went out for a run. Had a 8:30 am meeting? Ran earlier. Not enough time? Do a quick but intense 20-minute run.
The day before the race, I had loaded up my running belt with energy gels. My plan was to consume one every hour. I didn’t want to bonk out. I packed an extra shirt and loaded a cooler with two electrolyte drinks.
My running plan was to start slow for the first 5 kilometers, maybe a 7 min/km pace, then bump it up to a 6 to a 6.25, then hang on for a strong finish. My trusty Runkeeper app would be my partner and guide, even if I knew that it wouldn’t be accurate. I was aware that the route would screw up the GPS. Based on experience, the GPS signal would go haywire around Buendia and may be off by 1 kilometer.
I woke up at 3 am. My pre-race breakfast routine has always been bananas. I arrive at Bonifacio Global City at 4 am. I take a final bathroom break and then I jog around the area to warm-up. At around 4:30 am, I hear the loudspeakers call out for the 21K runners and I settle in towards the back of the pack. I am no elite runner so I have no business being up front. I check my iPhone and the Runkeeper app. My favorite playlist has been loaded and Runkeeper has been setup to advise me every kilomter of my time, split pace, and average pace. At exactly 5:00 am, the starting gun is fired.
In the first kilometer, we run a stretch in almost total darkness. The sun was not yet out, and no lamp posts were illuminating the road. Since it was early into the race, runners still haven’t spread out and the route called for a U-turn so naturally runners would slow down. It was quite unnerving, especially when you can’t make out the pylons on the road. I see a few of them overturned so I suppose a few runners hit those pylons.
Hydration stations were plenty. I liked it that they had alternated between water stations and Powerade stations. Still, I didn’t want to over-hydrate. I subscribe to the rule that one should only drink when one is thirsty, so I didn’t grab a drink in every station. People tend to crowd around the hydration stations and I didn’t want to needlessly jostle for a drink.
Then somewhere between kilometer 3 and kilometer 4, which was along 38th street, I heard sirens. The run marshals were gesturing for the runners to clear the rightmost lane. A police escort zipped by, followed by another one. One Kenyan runner galloped by, smooth and graceful like a gazelle. A few meters behind him was a trio of Kenyan runners. These were the runners of the 16.8 kilometer category, which had started 30 minutes after us. I checked out their foot strike. They weren’t heel strikers, but man their strides were long!
At the 4 kilometer mark I began getting impatient, probably because of them elite runners that had passed by, but I stuck to my running plan. I resisted the urge to speed up. 21K is a long run and it’s natural to feel strong in the first few kilometers. At the 5 kilometer mark, I sped up. Runkeeper informed me that I was running a 6.25 min pace. I was beginning to take deeper breaths, but I still felt energized. Runners who were started off too quick were beginning to slow down and quite a number of them were already walking.
It was at kilometer 9 when I gobbled up my first energy gel. At that point, I was going up the Kalayaan flyover leading to Buendia. A number of runners ahead of me gave up and chose to walk the incline. I normally just suck it up, bear it, and try to keep a steady pace. At some point it would have to taper off anyway. I remind myself to add more hill workouts to my training regiment.
Throughout the run, I saw couples holding hands as they trotted leisurely. There were friends talking and laughing as they strolled. Some were posing and having their companion runner snap pictures of them through their camera phones. I saw a number of runners wearing Vibrams and at least two runners who were running barefoot. Along Buendia, those who were running westward were high-fiving the returning runners who were running the opposite direction. You could here people egging their fellow runners. “Go, Joel!” I heard someone scream.
I was still feeling spiffy at kilometer 11. We were still at Buendia, in between Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue. Half-way point, I told myself, and I upped to about a 6 minute pace. I knew how running a 10K felt like, so I figured that I could sustain that pace until the end. We were going back. This was the return flight and I began to count down the kilometers. 9 kilometers to go. 8 kilometers to go. We made the u-turn just close to South Super Highway, the Buendia flyover looming ahead. A photographer was a few meters in front of me, aiming his camera at me, and I flashed a thumbs-up sign.
At kilometer 17, going up Kalayaan flyover again, I felt the onset of fatigue. My toes began to hurt. I reminded myself to relax. I opened another packet of energy gel. I remember the first time I ran a 21K and it was around this point when I hit the “wall.” I realized that this was probably why we have some energy gels spiked with caffeine. Somewhere along a long race you would need that extra energy.
Midway along Rizal Drive, my Runkeeper app advised me that I had run a distance of 19 kilometers. We turned right at 5th Avenue (the 16.8K runners turn left and head off to the finish line) and made a u-turn near McKinley Road. According to Runkeeper, I had run a distance of 20 kilometers but the 20K marker was far ahead of me. As expected, the GPS had screwed up, but I didn’t let that dissuade me.
As I turned right from 32nd Street into 9th Avenue for the final stretch, Runkeeper advised me that I had already run a 21K, but the finish line was up ahead. The crowd was thick along the road edges. A few runners were already seated by the curb. A fellow runner probably heard me huffing and puffing and pumped his fist. “Malapit na!” he encouraged me. My legs were heavy and rubbery. With about a hundred meters to go, the time ticking underneath the FINISH sign was showing 2:17. Since I had begun the race way behind the starting line when the gun went off, I knew that I had broken my PR. I crossed the finish line and pressed the stop button of Runkeeper. 2:17:09.