I joined Run United’s 21K expecting to garner a personal record. My last half-mary, which was at the Go Natural Run about a month and a half ago, saw me finish with plenty of gas under the hood, and I just shaved seconds off my PR, and I wasn’t even gunning for a PR then! Days leading up to the run, I had eaten well, stuffing myself with fruit and whole-wheat sandwiches. I drank plenty of water, stayed off any alcohol, slept well, and even logged some nap time on Saturday. So I was confident that I would beat my 21K record of 2 hours 18 minutes. Yeah, yeah, that time may be slow for some of you but heck I’m pushing fifty years of age!
But my plans began to unravel as early as the second kilometer. A nagging calf pain, the same calf pain that plagued my training runs last week, began to show its ugly face. Apparently, two days of rest and foam-roller massages were not enough. It felt like my muscles in the back of my lower legs were knotted up. Every time my right foot hit the pavement I felt like some invisible dwarf was poking a sharp stick on my calf. I hoped that the pain would disappear after a couple of kilometers, and, as I passed kilometer five, it did abate, but it was still there and I wondered if it would flare up in the final stretches, when fatigue and exhaustion have set in.
I still kept to my original game plan, which was to run a 6:30 pace up to the half-way point, then go 6:00 for the final half, with the final stretch going balls to the wall. That should get me a 2 hour 10 minute run. But, as I crossed the 10K mark, I couldn’t run faster! I felt my legs go heavy on me, my breathing was working overtime, and the fear of hitting the wall suddenly dawned on me. Was it because I wasn’t hydrating enough (more on that later)? Was it because I misjudged my pace and started off too fast too soon? And yes the pain on my right calf flared up in the last five kilometers. I began to count the kilometers down. Five more, I told myself. Then four more. And not only did the pain affect my gait, but for some strange reason, as I ran along Diosdado Macapagal I could feel every sharp crag of the pavement through my Vibram FiveFingers. It didn’t feel like some reflexology massage; it felt like someone put sharp-edged pebbles inside my shoes. How could that be? I ran the same route every Monday morning, using the same pair of minimalist shoes! How could the route suddenly feel so alien and so painful? Did the past seventeen kilometers make the soles of my feet tender and sensitive?
Here was where I realized how mental fortitude plays in the home stretch. Your body is yelling to stop, and all you have left is your mind egging you along. I was telling myself that I can do this, that I’ve done this route before and I can do it again. I tried to distract myself, to detach myself from the pain. I zoned out on the music playing from my iPhone. My right hip began to stiffen but I chose to ignore it. At kilometer 19, I knew I would still end up with a PR—my time was 2 hours 2 minutes at that point, and I knew I could muster enough energy to run at a 7:00 pace. Just. Don’t. Hit. Wall.
What’s funny is that somehow you still find some juice in the end. I read somewhere that nobody is truly fully exhausted, that even when you feel that you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, there is still some kick left in you. Despite the pain and fatigue I was feeling, I still ran my final kilometer at 6:17, a fast pace considering I was struggling to even keep up a 6:30 pace in the home stretch! It is indeed a mental game. My unofficial time is 2 hours 15 minutes, a new PR.
So how was the organization of this run? Unfortunately, I can’t help but compare it to the race organization of Condura and I think Runrio is getting sloppy. Here is why:
- Hydration stations were woefully short. It’s normal to see runners cram into hydration stations like zombies over a live body, and I normally grab my drink towards the end of the table, where runners are sparse. But in this Run United, runners we’re all over the tables and I had to jostle to get my drink. Nobody even bothered to step out and hand over the drinks! I ended up skipping a few hydration stations because of the crowd. In Condura, the hydration tables seemed endless.
- Then there are the trash bins, which were situated so close to the hydration station that you would have passed them when you finished your drink. It’s common to see the road littered with plastic cups. If these types of runs want to be proponents of environmentalism, then they have to put in more trash bins! Why they don’t use paper cups is beyond me.
- Now let’s talk about safety. In two occassions, I, together with a couple of fellow runners, almost got run over by vehicles—the first was at Buendia corner Ayala, where the cops failed to stop some errant cars from crossing the intersections; the second occurred while we were turning left from Buendia onto Roxas Boulevard, where some jeeps blatantly disregarded the traffic enforcer.
- Then there’s the pollution. Jeeps and buses snarled to a standstill along Buendia close to Taft Avenue. We runners blocked their U-turn slot, so these smoke-belching, oil-consuming monsters had no choice but to wait us out, and for our transgression we ended up inhaling their noxious fumes. This was the same situation as that of last year’s Run United 3!
- Then there were portions of the route which were poorly lit, most especially the Kalayaan overpass from Fort Bonifacio connecting to Buendia. The lamp posts were not fired up and the organizers chose instead to rely on high-powered lights with generators feeding it. First, the lights were placed so far apart that they only lit pockets of the overpass. I could barely see beyond a few meters. The Kalayaan flyover was early in the run, so it was horrendously crowded and because of poor visibility I couldn’t weave past the runners. I was also worried that I may step into some pothole or trip over something. As an aside, there were these two guys walking along Kalayaan who were dressed in clubbing attire and who obviously came from some bar at Fort; I wonder if they survived without getting stampeded by the thousands of runners!
And was it just me or did you sense that the final video shown in the big screen was too much of narcissism (or ass-kissing, perhaps) for Coach Rio? They were showing too many clips of the Afroman running and overseeing the event! I don’t know about the other runners, but I join these events to run a good run, not to hobknob with personalities.
I’m still nursing my painful calf as I write this. I still haven’t checked out the loot bag. I haven’t been this tired and pain-wracked after a 21K since the first time I ran a half-mary last year. But I feel good about myself. It was a satisfying run. It is always exhilarating to transcend physical limits, even if my goal of breaking the two-hour barrier seems to have moved farther away. I guess I will have to scale back my training next week lest I aggravate my right calf. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that mental stamina is just as important as physical stamina. Now I need to build up on that. That may just be the key in establishing new PRs! My next run is the Yakult 10-miler. Hope I can run a good run there.