I was lying down when I wrote this, my feet elevated to help with the blood flow, a bottle of 100Plus beside me. Standard recovery procedures called for stretching (done), rest (done), hydration (I’ve already guzzled copious amounts of sports drinks and water), and nutrition (6 stacks of banana pancakes). I wish I could do an ice bath, but in its absence a cold shower will have to do.
I just finished my first full marathon, and to sum it up it was surreal, tortuous, and humbling. A marathon is indeed a test of human endurance. I thought that a marathon was all about physical stamina. I learned that it is also about steel resolve and mental fortitude. Putting it bluntly, I made the classic rookie mistake, over-estimated myself, and paid for it dearly.
First of all, kudos to the Condura Skyway Marathon organizers. The event was grand. At the starting line we had fireworks and a video camera attached to a remote-controlled helicopter-drone. The atmosphere was festive and electric. The excitement and anxiety were thick in the air. Runners joined in the countdown and cheered when the starting gun was fired. Throughout the course we had plenty of hydration stations, even a banana station at kilometer 21, portalets at every hydration station, and I spotted several medical staff, wheelchairs which I suppose will be used to transport injured or exhausted runners, and plenty of ambulances. Little was left to chance—while we were waiting for the race to begin, the announcer continuously briefed us on how the hydration stations were placed and why the first hydration station was situated close to 3 kilometers from the starting line (to prevent congestion due to the narrow ramp leading up to the Skyway).
Talking about the hydration stations, I liked it that several of the marshals would step out and personally hand over water cups to the runners. It made grabbing two cups of water much easier! And I liked it that they served water in smaller cups, the size being about that of a single-serving ice-cream cup. It was easier to drink with a cup that size. My only issue with the hydration stations was that only a few—I actually only saw one station— served any sports drinks.
And of course, there is the Skyway, the 17-kilometer elevated highway that stretches from Alabang, Muntinlupa to Buendia, Pasay. The Skyway is the main draw of the event, though strictly speaking we didn’t cover the entire stretch, having made a U-Turn way before the Buendia exit. Still, people joined this event to experience running on the Skyway, even if, when you stop to think about it, the Skyway is actually boring. It’s nothing but a long highway with a view of the metropolis, which you really can’t appreciate given that (1) it’s midnight and (2) there’s really nothing exquisitely picturesque about urban Metro Manila. But it is a unique experience to run along a route that is towering over Metro Manila and almost exclusively for vehicles. It was majestic to see a huge crowd of runners as far as the eye can see. And the Skyway can be intimidating. All you see ahead of you is a long endless stretch of road. Runners would stop, whip out their camera phones and photograph themselves or their companions posing beside kilometer markings or below the overhead signs showing the Skyway exit points. Plus, and this is something I totally underestimated, the elevation is not level. According to their Wikipedia article, the elevation varies from a low of 11 meters (San Martin De Porres-Bicutan, Don Bosco-Gil Puyat, Makati CBD Exit and Hillsborough-Alabang) to a high of 43 meters (Bicutan-Toll A, and Sales-Don Bosco). That means that the Skyway has its set of harrowing inclines and declines!
Looking at the info (courtesy of my Garmin), everything started to go bad at around the kilometer 21 and went totally disastrous at kilometer 26. As I mentioned, I committed the #1 Rookie Mistake: starting out too fast. Yes I could run a 21K at a 6:30/km pace, but I wasn’t that naive too think I could maintain that pace for twice the distance! I did slow my pace. In fact, for the first half of the marathon, I was fluctuating between 6:45 to 7:00. I figured I could maintain that pace for the entire 42 kilometers. BIG MISTAKE! I should have run an even slower pace. Stamina-wise I still had strength in my lungs, but my legs were so depleted of energy that every step felt like I had weights tied to my ankles!
Hitting the wall is tough. In the other races I had run, I had hit the wall with just 2 to 3 kilometers to go. This time, hitting the wall with about 17 kilometers to go was pure agony. I could barely maintain a decent running pace for even a few hundreds of meters. I walked a great deal. I had to stop and stretch. I even had to sit down a couple of times. Gone was my goal to finish below 5 hours. For the first time, the thought of quitting crossed my mind, and constantly had to tell myself that time was not the objective and that the goal first and foremost was to simply finish. I now had to scale back my expectations and aim to just give a good showing and run to the finish line. I tried to convince myself that this was just a mental game; I kept on telling myself that this feeling of exhaustion is all in the mind and it isn’t the physical that holds us back but the mental. But another part of my mind kept reminding me of my energy-depleted legs. My right knee was throbbing with pain. My hips had stiffened. I took off my headphones, distracted by the music, and concentrated on the ground ahead. The Skyway was well-lit and I could see my shadow in front of me. I desperately needed a diversion, something to keep my mind off the pain. The only consolation was that I was not seized by any debilitating cramps. What’s worse, by around kilometer 35 I had run out of energy gels.
I realize now what running the marathon was all about. What makes it a challenge is not just about aerobic efficiency. I didn’t experience that familiar feeling of oxygen depletion. I wasn’t huffing and puffing. My lungs weren’t gasping for air. There was another factor that I totally took for granted even if I keep on hearing about it and reading about it in many running websites and blogs. And that factor is that your muscles can only hold so much glycogen and you are toast when that runs out.
Towards the end of the race, a brass band greeted us weary runners. It did pick me up and, knowing that it was the final leg, mustered enough strength to run—not slog–to the finish line. I saw an old school buddy of mine and we high-fived each other. A marshal handed me a bottle of water and a bottle of 100Plus. At the activity area, marathoners had their own recovery center with an exclusive massage area for soothing those weary muscles. Good thing there is an extra shirt inside the loot bag. With the surprisingly cold weather, the Condura-supplied dri-fit shirt was drenched with sweat and I was close to shivering.
About the loot bag, there wasn’t much freebies inside. Just the T-shirt, a fan, a banana, and, of course, that huge finisher’s medal. The T-shirt was nice but it was clearly a T-shirt sponsored by EYEP with its color design and logo and I am not keen in being a walking billboard for companies. I guess I should be glad that not much money should go to freebies since this was supposed to be a run to protect the mangroves. Hopefully most of the funds will be for that purpose and not just to fill the wallets of the organizers.
All in all, I should be proud that I finished a marathon. Among my circle of friends, only a handful could claim that achievement. But the truth is I am not proud of my results. I was aiming for time of under 5 hours and I was confident that I could achieve that; instead I ended with 6 hours (unofficially, my time was something like 6:01). I wanted a strong and elegant finish; instead I was ended up holding on in anguish and dragging myself to the finish line. I am sure that in time I will treasure the experience for the achievement that it really is. After all, I am close to 50 years of age. But in the meantime, this feeling of disappointment is fueling my drive to improve. It’s time to start planning for my next marathon run.