It's not a Buckle. Yet.

It’s not a Buckle. Yet.

I will start off with what a new (running) friend had said in her race report. The context goes along this line: she did not consider herself an ultrarunner until she    finished a 100-miler. I exactly felt the same way, except that I have not finished my first 100 yet. I sort of felt I am not an ultrarunner until I ran and finished my first 50-mile race. This was back then.

So some time ago, while waiting for my 8-year old to finish her piano class, I found myself inside my car, signing up on an impulse (and based on ego) for the Beast of Burden Winter 50. No, I was not ready for 100. I am not ready for 100, thus the choice to go with the 50. It was based on a challenge by Otto Lam, a quite well-know Ultrarunner in the NY/NJ area. Bottom line, I signed up for BoB50, in that 30-minute wait inside the car.

Of course, I was mocked by people who were personally close to me for signing up for an ultra in the middle of winter— in upstate New York, particularly, in Lockport, New York, which is ultimately synonymous to Buffalo.

Signing up probably happened in November. Or say, late October. Either way, I felt I had enough time to “train.” I know it is “just 50.” Not a 100-miler in Vermont or Utah or Colorado or California. But when I signed up for BoB50, the word DNF was never an option.

For those of you who know me, I am not a fast runner. Nor am I a runner, born and blessed with fast-twitch muscle fibers. I came from a country that did not quite place enough leverage on physical activities in educational institutions, back in the day. I also happen to have been hit by an SUV in head-on, while crossing the street in 2009 that left me with a knee surgery a year after.

No excuses. Bottom line, I. AM. NOT. FAST.

But I happen to have the resolve and determination to finish what I start— at least, when it comes to running. I think that is the only form of artillery that I arm myself with each time.

So on January 18, I ran BoB.

Being that I had planned few weeks before Beast of Burden to run Badwater Cape Fear, I decided my goal was to finish under 14 hours, primarily because Badwater had a 14-hour cut-off. I sort of figured that was a lofty-enough goal. That was a rather slow pace, yet realistic for me. But even that made me nervous.

I knew BoB was flat. And that it was going to be in a sub-freezing temperature. But yes, it made me nervous setting the 14-hr goal. Not because of the “cold;” rather, because it was flat.

Now I am not a hill runner. But so far, I know some of my short distance PRs were in Central Park where there are “mounds.” I even PR’d in Bethlehem, PA for my half-marathon by 12 minutes. So yes, the “flatness” of the Beast’s course scared the hell out of me. Why? Because that meant using the same muscle group for 50 miles. So I wasn’t exactly afraid of the cold. I knew Icebreaker got me prepared for that. Besides, I have always had this belief that when it comes to forces of nature, I can only deal with them and not fight because they are what they are.

For some reason, however, the night before the race, over dinner with friends who came from NYC and NJ for the race, I somewhat decided I’d aim for an even-loftier goal: finish in less than 12 hours.

I hadn’t really told anyone about what my goal was (remember that 14-hour goal?). Or maybe I did tell Vivian. But then, no one else.

So when I decided on dropping my goal to 12 hours, I felt I was about to explode, not having anyone to tell it to, share it with.

Morning of the race, I had to hit coolrunning.com and check what my pace should be. “Okay, doable,” I thought to myself. So I had set that out for myself. Less than 12 hours.

Ten o’clock in the morning, the race started. There were flurries. I could only be thankful for a 10am start. That meant sleeping in after that dinner that ended a bit late.

And then the race started.

It was an out-and-back of 12.5 miles down (or up or whatever) alongside the Erie Canal. And for some time, I thought about what another running friend, Dylan, had repeated over and over: I don’t want to f#cking run on a straight, flat course on a tow path!!!

It will always be my choice for 26.3 miles and beyond. Thanks, Hoka!

It will always be my choice for 26.3 miles and beyond. Thanks, Hoka!

That statement lingered for a bit. Actually that lingered before I came to Lockport. I thought, for some weird reason, that the course would literally be straight— like airport runway straight. That was dumb of me to think. Of course, it bent some. Curved some. But yes, it was flat. Almost as flat as a runway could be. And it was a towpath. Thankfully, there was no slush, which mortified me. I looked down the towpath and for a mile or so, all I saw were loose soil that resembled chia seeds.

For some reason, I had fun. I rushed past the first AS in Gasport (about mile 7), not knowing I was supposed to stop there for the splits. Thank goodness for Kino! I was just “high” and full of adrenaline. I was happy running. Soon enough, I reached Middleport, which was the turn-around point before taking the route back to the start.

Then THE moment of torture happened.  The headwind was horrible. It was, what? 25mph? 30? I don’t know. I just knew it slowed me down and it was blowing against my lungs that already have issues with cold air (read: weather-induced asthma, which I diagnosed myself with). I could barely open my eyes and with the dryness, I looked to my right at one point and saw a field of what I assumed was a plantation or something. And then I hallucinated. Or was that my blurry vision… of Santa Claus in the middle of the field. I had to rub my eyes over and over when I stopped. Finally, it cleared. It wasn’t Santa Claus. It was a red fire hydrant near the snow-covered field. Who puts a fire hydrant in a field, anyway?!

That was a horrible time coming back. But I managed to reach Gasport then the start line. And I was smiling again.

Still smiling. Approaching the halfway mark at the start line. 25 miles more to go!

Still smiling. Approaching the halfway mark at the start line. 25 miles more to go!

In a way, again, I remembered one of the best encouragements I received the night before. “Fifty miles is just less than 2 marathons! You will crush that towpath.”

Again, thanks, Dylan!

Having finished 25 miles, I knew taking 1.2 miles more and I would, in fact, be less than another marathon towards finishing a 50. So off I went back out, saw and greeted some runners, and ran, ran, ran.

Reaching the Middleport station at 8 hours 9 minutes since the start of the race, I felt I had a chance to finish in less than 11 hours, instead. I somewhat figured that it couldnt possibly take me 4 hours to finish 12.5 miles. So I went for it, hoping to finish sub-11 rather sub-12. It even propelled me further to aim for that “new goal” when Violet told me the wind has somewhat dissipated. Ha!

But then, I think at that point, some exhaustion had set in. And yes, there still was wind, although not as horrible as it had been that morning.  By then, it was darker and colder. I had already put on an extra shirt, put on a pair of borrowed mittens. It was a fast turn-around, considering the excellent crewing of Ken Tom, who had helped me put my hydration backpack with so much ease, primarily because he got authorization that he “can touch my boobs.” What am I talking about?! I don’t have any!

Regardless, that was some saved time at that point. But of course, little did I know coming out of Middleport that I had forgotten to turn my head lamp on and now with mittens on, that had become a somewhat difficult task. That was when I slowed down. I had to take the mittens off then the other layers of gloves underneath. The whole process just ate up so much time.

And then my hydration back pack seemed to have loosened. Then my bottle was leaking. Again, I had to remove my gloves and mittens. More time wasted.

From then on, it was a struggle. Murphy’s Law. Five and half miles from Middleport to Gasport seemed like eternity.

Eventually, I would reach Gasport and leave it one last time.

Now I did not pee before leaving Gasport. I sucked it up and because I am a nurse, I was pretty good at it. At least, for the time-being. I would see Tiger and run alongside her, walk a few feet, and catch up again when I ran. I knew the only reason I was able to keep up with her was because she was running a 100. On an ordinary day, I knew I wouldn’t. I would eventually go ahead. But not for long. I had to pull over and hide behind a tree.

The nurse in the runner me could not hold her pee. My butt was numb and I had forgotten to turn my headlamp off, but I didn’t really care. Another few minutes lost.

Finally. I went back into the course. Ran alongside Tiger and went about my merry, tired way.

Photo taken from the start line. Across the canal is part of the course, approximately 2 miles away from the start/finish. If only swimming was allowed, it would have been closer. But it isn't and I can't even swim! This last stretch can feel like eternity. At least, it was for me.

Photo Courtesy: Lockport Photographer (My apologies for not remembering who took this photo). Taken from the start line. Across the canal is part of the course, approximately 2 miles away from the start/finish. If only swimming was allowed, it would have been closer. But it isn’t and I can’t even swim! This last stretch can feel like eternity. At least, it was for me. At any rate, this sight is reminiscent of a Van Gogh, except I can’t find stars.

Finally, too, I saw the finish line from across the canal. That only indicated the final 2 miles. But even that would seem like forever.

I looked at my watch and saw I was nearing the 12-hour mark. Where did time go?

Damn it. At that point, I really thought I’d murder myself if I didn’t make it to the 12-hour “goal.” It just wasn’t acceptable at that point to finish past 12 hours. It. Was. Not. An. Option.

So in exhaustion, I made a mad dash for it. The 2 miles became 1 until I reached the bridge called Exchange-something that marked the point where I’m finally home stretch. I struggled to run as fast I could, whatever fast meant at that point in time.

I kept looking for the blue tent. The freakingly elusive blue tent. But finally, there it was. And there was Jim.

Finally it was the end. Jim hugged me. But then I had to push myself inside the tent. I don’t know if I needed to but I felt I needed to clock-in! Boom! I looked at my time: 11:51. Or 11:51:53, according to UltraSignUp.com.

Okay, I was happy. More or less. Part of me was actually disappointed. I had wanted my sub-12 to be sub 11:30. Yes, I could never be satisfied.

Thus, I resumed the revelry with more hugs– from Ken and Denise and again, from Jim– that I didn’t even notice the RD give me my medal. I took the Jello-shot, only to realize after I took it that I had already sworn not to take alcohol again. But “whatever” was what was in my mind at that point.

Jello shots!!!

Jello shots!!!

And then I cried some. Eventually, I would settle on a chair, covered by volunteers with a warm blanket. (Oh, no, no, no. Not the Christmas Tree blanket!!!) And I would see some runners finish, some runners turn and go for their halfway stretch, and just witness some of the remarkable events that can only transpire in ultra races.

It was a beautiful experience.

It still is. And I still smile at the thought of the Beast of Burden. Of how beautiful the people are at the Aid Stations, at how friendly, at how kindly they make you feel like family. Now I understand what Lisa C. meant when she referred to her “BoB family in Lockport.”

It is funny now. Someone had said that that being in Lockport was like being in Redneck New York. I did not feel that being there.

Beast of Burden was an experience that was beautiful overall. A lot of things had happened training for it, which, thus, led me to call this article a non-race report.

Bottom line, preparing for the Beast was life-changing.

I have made so many friends. Learned so many things. Gained a whole new experience.

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Sorry, RD, I did not even notice you.

Equally important during the preparation for the Beast, I have turned my diet around one that was so ingrained on animal products into one that is plant-based, aka vegan. And in running on a vegan diet, I didn’t feel weak, at all. I felt great. I barely walked (besides inside the ASs)!!! In total, I’d say that in all the 50 miles, I had only walked about 20 feet in the course.

Surprisingly, above all, I did not suffer from the same hand swelling that I often suffer from running races prior to the Beast. I am not quite sure if it was turning vegan that made that possible, but considering that I have nothing else to attribute that to, then why not say it was because of that. Why not?

So thanks, Joe, for the influence. I will have this stamped for life.

So going back to where I started with Violet saying “I felt like I am not an ultrarunner until I ran a 100-miler.” I hear you, Violet. For a time, I felt I was an ultrarunner as soon as I finised a 50. I still do.

But then what you said about running a 100-miler is a reflection of what I am feeling now.

Pre-race dinner: Linguine with Mushrooms. One of my favorite pasta mixes even before turning vegan.

Pre-race dinner: Linguine with Mushrooms. One of my favorite pasta mixes even before turning vegan.

Its time to up the ante, push the envelope, and say, I feel like I am not an ultrarunner, until I finished a 100-miler.

Let’s see what September brings.

Aside  —  Posted: February 10, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Image

One of the biggest influences my running friends have on me, besides running itself— jumping!!!

  I know myself as being capable to lie. I have to admit I do not want to admit about lying about other things. But lying about not running a specific race anymore or ever again— that, I admit, I have done over and over. Or the other way— saying that I am running a race again but will most like not. That, too, I have done. 

  Case in point. Okay, make that cases in point.

  I have lied about the NYC 60k. The moment I finished it, I said I wasn’t going to run it ever again. Adamantly. However, after much contemplation about where I went wrong that led me to a very, very, very late finish, I realized I needed to eat my words. This came no later than the day after I finished a dismal finish. Yes, I will run it again. But run it minus the stopping to chit-chat with Instagram friends, stopping to go to the pond-side bathroom, stopping for nothing. And run it minus non-essential activities. Period.

  I have also lied about Vermont. I said I was running it again next year. I swore with all my heart I was. But just the same and but without much of an introspection, I just thought I wouldn’t want to run it again. For now. Never mind the beautiful view at the finish. Or the promise of Stonehill Farm mango habanero preserves. Nope, not running it. 

  Then, there is the Adirondacks Marathon, which I said I will come back to again next year. Well, as of this writing— not happening. It was a whim brought about the beauty of the lake. So that, I will have to think about. For now, I lied.

  Today, however, is a testament of how I have the capacity to hold true to my statement. 

  Today I ran and finished the Staten Island Trail and Ultra Festival. And right of the bat, I promised myself— and the race director— I will run it again.

  Because today I learned to love the rolling terrain. (Note: credit goes to Jeff Dengate, who gave a great map of where the best hill runs are in the Jersey City area). I never thought I would see that day when I would actually say so– that I appreciated the ups and downs rather than the flats. 

  Close to ten years living in the US, I have to admit, it was the first time I ever set foot in Staten Island. Once, I may have passed that island, about 9 years ago, when I just moved here. For years, Staten Island was just a name. I didn’t realize how close this was to the city where I live. I’ve seen the Verrazano from afar, but didn’t realize that the island that it connects to some other island in NYC (or is it Jersey?), is so close to me, I could smell its air. I drove to the race alone. Something that I have not done. As I would discover, it was an easy-peasy drive, after all. 

  And little did I know the borough offers 38 (I overheard) miles of trails. Lovely, beautiful trails that make me forget about the harrowing experience I had when I ran my first 50k trail in New Jersey. This was the bomb! A trail that makes you love trail. A land so dense with vegetation yet runnable enough despite its single paths on ups- and downhills. 

  Now, let me be clear: I am not a trail person. I am a Filipino, who practically grew up in the Philippines, where trails are not safe, where trails can welcome you to heaven. Or hell. 

  Thus, when I was introduced to the Wildcat Ridge Romp in August, I did not actually feel like I missed not seeing trail in my life. Yes, it was that horrifying an experience. One that I have said I will not wish for anyone to go through.

  But today, I fell in love. 

  Race director, Matt LeBow, explained that this year’s course was actually, different from the previous years with a significant elevation in the 1 small and 2 big loops that cover the 31-mile course. He explained, however, the elevation is lower than the previous years, yet because it is broken down into 2 big loops rather than the 4 small loops they had last year, the uphills this year were actually steeper. So what’s not to love? Smirk.

  But actually, there are. There were. 

  I love that it is runnable, despite the single path. Despite what I opine as a seeming lack of aid stations within the course– or perhaps, resources in the aid stations (note: I only saw gatorade at the last 2 aid stations during the second loop. Same thing with the fruits.) 

  ImageThe race is beautiful in that it was missing the congestion and rather, appears to have unassuming individuals running the course. 

  I loved the technicality of the trail with its exposed roots, uneven paths, fallen trees that prompt you to bend some, hop some, stumble and trip some. The creeks, the ponds, the puddles from the rain that soaked the leaves touched by autumn. 

  And I loved that it made my Hoka One One dirty!

  And yes, I love that because of the absence of runner-congestion, I actually learned to finally blow my nose without the luxury of tissues and just let out several secretions that are proofs of the fact I came to this race sick with colds and cough and fever. (If you know me, you know I hate spitting during races).

  And most of all, I loved that despite spending most of the time in the trail in my lonesome, where and when I should have been worried, I was, in fact, able to have fun. Fun while learning how to manage not to get lost in the quasi-wilderness. Fun while my butt ached. 

  So while I missed my goal by some minutes, I must say this was a beautiful learning experience. 

  So ask me again if I will come back to here? 

  Well, this time, there will be no lies. The answer is a no-brainer. 

 

Running Small Town America

Posted: October 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Running Small Town America.

Lovely addition to medal collection.

Lovely addition to medal collection.

I wanted a 5mm David Yurman ring for my birthday. Bought by my money. Not expecting it from anyone.

But no. I had decided otherwise. I wanted to let go of all non-essentials because I wanted to save to see more, travel more. Run more races and see how racing is in other parts of the country, the world.

For now, lets talk Scranton. Particularly, Steamtown Marathon.

My friend, Philip, said and I quote, “If you wanna see the spirit of marathon in small town America, come to Steamtown.”

And, in fact, he was right.

Before Sunday, all I thought of Steamtown was that it was or is a race that promises some PR. Apparently not. Or apparently, there is more to that.

So here’s how it went down.

We arrived Scranton Saturday, the day before the race.  Because when you are married with a child, running out of town no longer means just packing your bags and taking the first flight out. Or drive at the earliest convenient time. Rather, running out-of-town becomes some sort of an extended family-to-friend affair: friends-with-kids come along. They are there to act as quasi-babysitters and it becomes somewhat a play date. And it is most (even though it really isn’t) covenient to arrive on a Saturday.

At the finish line, Saturday. I know the police was near. I was actually a bit nervous breaking into the area.

At the finish line, Saturday. I know the police was near. I was actually a bit nervous breaking into the area.

Thus, Saturday, like any other pre-race days Saturdays, was highlighted with the expo and then a side trip to kid-friendly destinations. (If you know me, I do not quite have the patience for children’s activities. Take me to an expo that sells novelties then I’m in!!! Kid-friendly spots in an out-of-town trip? Try to count me out.)

So whatever kid-friendly activity Scranton had to offer Saturday, any day, I was thankful my good friend was there. She took care of that.

One of the landmarks in downtown Scranton, near the finish line.

One of the landmarks in downtown Scranton, near the finish line.

Thus, off I went with the husband and Philip to see what we can of the Electric City.

Fair enough, it was beautiful downtown. A quaint town of many Main Streets. The architecture on some buildings from when, I surmise, Scranton was big and mighty, when electric lights were introduced and when it first started production of rails, was astounding. I had to take pictures. And Instagram them.

But you don’t see more than that when it is Saturday night and its pre-race day. It didn’t even seem fun on a day or night when it was supposedly your birthday.

So what has a person nearing twilight got to do when its her birthday and she is out of town and it is the day before a race?

Hit a Chinese buffet and burn (!!! lol) $55 for 5 adults and 2 kids! Yes! And no kidding! After all, this wasn’t New York. Hit a Krispy Kreme store for a donut on the premise that it is justified because “carbs are needed for the next day.” Then hit the bed. Surely, no alcohol.

Thus, all you have left is a blur of what and how that birthday on a Saturday in Scranton had been.

Race day and you wake up early. Still in a blur. Or a fog. Whatever its called, seeing the beauty in a town, a borrough is probably not on top of your agenda when you have 26.2 miles on foot with only yourself to rely on.

But then, you drive to downtown Scranton, hop on the bus that would take you to Forest City, where the race starts.

And there is where it starts to hit you.

nice

One of the architectural beauties of Scranton.

Because it is fall, a bus ride to the start means a blanket of darkness. While you are wrapped around with anxiety over what might transpire in the next 2 or 3 or 4 or, in a worse case (like mine) maybe 5 hours that would take you to finish 26.2, you cannot help but wonder what scenery, thus, unfolds in your journey.

You see, Steamtown has the reputation of being a “quad-buster.” What this means is that there is a significant elevation drop. Quite profound, especially at the start. Assistant Race Director Jim Cummings kept on reiterating that 955-ft drop. What this also means is that whe you drive up to Forest City, your bus goes up and up and up. In return as you look out and down from your window, you see lights. Lots and lots of them.

For me, it reminds me of a city in northern Philippines called Baguio. Whenever I went there, I was in heaven.

That bus drive was reminiscent of the few times I have been there.

Anyway. The moment you arrive after that 45-minute bus drive with your bladder so full and about to explode because you had coffee to drink earlier, thats when you start to actually feel the beauty of this marathon.

Again, I have not been to many marathons or races, thus, my points of comparison are quite limited, admittedly. And this is where that David Yurman dream comes into the picture. You know, that wanting-to-see-more agendum.

And just when you thought your bladder couldn’t hold any longer, the bus finally halts. You step off the bus, you are greeted by young kids (high-schoolers, I think), and they, in uniform shirts, guide you to either the porta-johnnies or the school auditorium, where you can take cover from the cold. But wait. Before you even enter the school, you are greeted by cheer-leaders!!! Full of energy at 7-ish in the morning!!! You just know you are up for something wonderful.

Inside the auditorium, runners are gathered on the floor, against the wall, all over. In retrospect, while I felt security may have only gone as tight as implementing the “universal” plastic bag thing, the atmosphere seemed relax and friendly. Don’t get me wrong; you still see the over-achievers and the elites. But there is the absence of the snotty-ness of big-city races.

It was at that point when I decided I miss those days when running was simply a free-for-all, smorgasbord of fun, sportsmanship, and shared experience by families. And knowing how I haven’t been running that long, the memory of that is not from long ago. F@#k those Boston bastards!

Stepping out into the start line, where you await the start, the unassuming-ness of the Steamtown Marathon can be seen from the akward lack of corrals that I have, somewhat, become accustomed to in NYRR races. Or the absence of pacers. But then when I think about it, that becomes spectacle in itself. No “stiffness” or rigid rules, where runner 1 can only go to blue or where 4055, slacker that you are (and yes, that was my BIB number at one point) can only go to the pink corral (or was it purple?).

So off the cannon (yes, cannon) blew in lieu of the gun. And out and about the runners went. Down the downhills of Forest City towards Scranton.

But before all the finish line revelry happens, a lot of other things happen.

Runners who made a mad dash down course blow their quads. And yes, you see many of them. Ouch!

But that aside, other lovely sights unfold before you as you balance enjoying them and avoiding crapping in your pants or bonking or both.

Picture doesn't do justice to how fun this neighborhood really was. They made me take beer and I said I was coming back.

Picture doesn’t do justice to how fun this neighborhood really was. They made me take beer and I said I was coming back.

People are just everywhere!!! Kids are everywhere— from the high-schoolers who hand you water at fluid stations to children giving you high-fives.

A personal favorite was a young boy that had a sign that said “Push button for more horse-power.” I saw him once earlier a few miles from the race start then again, perhaps, past mile 22 when I was close to dying. What has a girl with no leg power that day to do? Yes, she “pressed” the button on the sign and ran. At that point, you just want to try anything to avoid hitting the wall.

But just when you think you felt like sh#t and had no muscle power, you see more lovely people along the course.

You see elderly men and women in wheelchairs, outside some nursing home or assisted living.

You see blocks and blocks of houses with residents gathered outside their homes, beer in hand at 10am, 11 am on Sunday, feeding on BBQs.  They cheer you and give you the biggest lie ever told (and a lie youv’e heard more than a thousand times if you’ve been running): LOOKING GOOD, RUNNER!!!

No matter how you know how shitty you look at that point, you actually try to believe it and go on a smile, talk, or high-five with them.

It makes you go on. It gave me a renewed sense of envigoration even when I felt like I didn’t have strength.

And you take your strides. And I took my strides, little as they were at that point and saw more lovely faces of Steamtown. They are nameless and faceless at that point. Faceless at this point. But they were faces that gleamed and beamed, passing on those gatorades and water set up by the race organizers. Passing on slivers of oranges, plates of pretzels, bottled waters. Yes, bottled water.

As we would find out a day after, those residents in the “unofficial” aid stations apparently pooled some funds to set up everything. Now thats the spirit.

And there would be more. The fall scenery of leaves turning the color of autumn. The mom, who I’d always call from hereon as “Megan’s mom,” as she had screamed from mile 1 to another and another and another for, who I supposed, was Megan, her daughter. The bands playing “Cotton-eyed Joe” to the other band of elderly men taking a break, violins on-hand to the lone man by the bridge with his cassette player blasting  “Charriots of Fire.” So appropriate.

Then there were the runners. And when you are among the back-of-the-packers,

you see a lot of the spirit, which, to me, can only be surpassed by the camaraderie I’ve seen, so far, in ultra races. Where runners helped other runners. From as little as passing on a cup of Gatorade (because he didn’t want that cup and wanted water, instead) to asking for a pack of salt to giving away some gel to just running along, side by side to the finish line.

I finished at a dismal time. I honestly felt disappointed when my half-marathon split did not yield a number I was looking at. Especially when it displayed an even more “off” of a target number.

I tried to make up for it and pushed on. But I guess, there comes a point in running those 26.2 miles when you are forced into introspection and figure where you went wrong. I wasn’s spared that state. And then, resignation. Be resigned to the fact that you did not meet your expectations.

Was it the 3-hour sleep the night before? Was it the lack of sleep, leading up to the race, which is ironic because I was supposed to be on my 9th day out of 12 days of hiatus from work? Was it the ginseng bottle that broke when it fell off my pocket that morning? Was it nutrition? (Though I doubt it was, as I had been eating well on days prior). Or was it the other marathon 3 weeks ago that still left me battered, physically yet unknowingly?

Then, even in the middle of that immense period of introspection, you eventually snap out of it and just decide and say “F#ck it! As long as I finish.” And you push and walk a little and run again and push again and run like you’ve never run before with your legs dead and tired.

Then you come out of that fugue state that consumed you for several miles.

And you just see the people of Scranton (or Steamtown) cheering you on. Like they know you. As though you know them. And you cross the finish line.

Volunteers, serving coffee, pasta, and pizza!!! And they tasted good!!!

Volunteers, serving coffee, pasta, and pizza!!! And they tasted good!!!

The unassuming finish line marker, void of any of the frills of big-city marathon finish line markers. Arms to the side, not quite high as that of the Marathon Goddess’ but enough to make a statement during that brief photo-op moment to say “I made it.” And you cry inside.

And you stop your Garmin. Then you figure that is the end. At least, the running part of it.

Because the beauty of Steamtown doesn’t end.

Awaiting you are volunteers bestowing you your medal. And they serve you pasta and coffee and pizza and fruits and massage for your legs that surprisingly, still had strength to make you try do a jumpshot.

And you pause.

And say, wow. Beautiful Scranton. I will run you again.

Food!!!

Food!!!

The beautiful lake. Beautiful being an understatement. Can you go wrong?

The beautiful lake. Beautiful being an understatement. Can you go wrong?

adk medal

Beauty! All that’s missing is a bear.

(September 23, 2013)- I should be doing or starting my graduate school paper now (or was it last night?) that is due tomorrow. However, I felt the need to nap. But then considering the coffee I have had shortly before hitting the bed after my 2-mi “recovery” run this morning— and, all the other things I needed to do today— I could not seem to fall asleep. I am somewhat crazy that way; my mind wanders about even when the physical me is dead.

My thoughts lingered, as well, on some introspection and retrospection. On some year it has been. For me. Phew.

Well, honestly, nothing much happens in my life. Its a blah. An almost-blah, highlighted only by some fleeting moments that trigger momentary excitement captured on either Instagram or Facebook or both.

But that particular “year” that started September 22, 2012… That’s another story. So far. In my own terms. And you guessed it right. It talks of running. After all, thats almost all that I care about these days. Everything else (besides family and work), everything else is dealt with with some degree of nonchalance.

jump 2

My friend, Vivian, and I. We both intended to run Adirondack as a long run, thus, all the jumping and rolling on the ground that led us to a 5:34 finish.

Time travel.

A year ago yesterday, I ran my first half-marathon in Jersey City, where I finished a dismal time of nearly 3 hours on a flat course in what I consider  as my hometown for the past 9 years. It was a beautiful September day, by the Hudson River.  Yet I swore while struggling to reach the finish line. And I wondered. ” Why the f- did I sign up for another half-marathon the month after?” At the Runners’ World Inaugural Half at that.  On hills! On hills?! Lotsa hills! I questioned my sanity back then. No, not really. But it was an hour or so of self-doubt while finishing those 13.1 miles in downtown Jersey City. I questioned my ability to do another half-marathon; I thought I could not do any more run that will last almost 3 hours. But of course, as soon as I finished that September day, I felt great, more than anything. I was proud of myself.

Thus, fast-forward October 2012, I ran Bethlehem (aka RW Half, which is what I prefer to call that half-marathon). I PR’d by about 12 minutes. On hills! It felt great and I was high, but it was hell. All I could think of running those hills in Pennsylvania was “Why? Why the self-flagellation?” It seemed like the only thought that kept me going was David Willey’s smile when and if I crossed that finish line. (Oh, that smile.) But as history is sometimes meant, yes— I finished and I PR’d and I was proud of myself– again. I still wasn’t fast but I knew I could do more. From then, Bethlehem was my point of reference, in terms of degrees of difficulties for any given race course. It was like singing Sinatra: if I could make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.

In fact, that was precisely the same thought that persisted when I ran Philly Half the next month, where I PR’d yet again by about 2 minutes.

And it was also in Philly that I registered, on impulse, for another half-marathon. Well, supposedly, for another half-marathon— the New Jersey Half-Marathon aka Long Branch Half in May.

Little did I know that that was flood gate of insanity for me.

Back home, I caught myself signing-up for more races.

I registered for NYC Runs Half, ran it, and PR’d about 26 minutes. Then slightly after that,  I ran Manhattan Half on a cold day. Note that before Central Park half, I had only run that place for the Joe Kleinerman Classic 10k. Thus, I hadn’t had any “hill” training of some sort besides that. Let alone run Harlem Hills.

Of course, running both halfs in Central Park, I figured my Sinatra mantra could work. Yes, if I made it in Bethlehem, I could make it anywhere.  And so I did. PR’d in the Manhattan Half by another 4 minutes! To this date, that remains my personal best in half.

I thought my affair with running would stop at half-marathons.

You see, I came from and grew up in a country where, in my time, did not quite value physical activities within the boundaries of educational institutions. Nothing much was presented to students, except to those who were not vertically-challenged like me. For some reason, schools in the Philippines placed more leverage on games like basketball. Basketball!!!!!!! Basketball when our “tall men” could not even keep up with what real tall men are really like come Olympics.

So there I was growing with no talent in sports, whatsoever. Well, I played varsity for badminton in high school, but thats about it. And I can barely even swim!

That’s how lame a duck I am.

So when I started running a 5k last year, 2012, it was all new to me. I knew from the last time I went home to the Philippines in 2006, I could barely run a track. Yet I figured, if I bought enough gadgets and more than one pair of shoes, I would propel myself out of the couch and the computer and just bust my bazinga. Build the train tracks, before the trains come! Yes, that’s how things almost always work for me!

Thus, out I  went with my first two 5ks in June and August. (Note: the husband can vividly remember how I almost brought hydration bottles for those 5ks.)

trophy

Cute, little things called… trophies!!!

Then, went out of my way to start the half-crazy deal in September.

And remember that Half-Marathon I signed up for Long Branch, supposedly for May this year? I upped the ante, put down a few more dollars, and registered for my first full marathon.

Looking back now, I think I owe myself some pat in the back for having come this far— far being subjective, on my own terms.

Yesterday, I finished my 3rd marathon (4th, including a 50k in August… and by marathon, I mean, 26.2 miles, okay?). In a course that can now give Bethlehem a kick in the butt. In the beautiful, quaint town of Schroon Lake— with its hills, and hills, and hills. A run that I had signed up for, again, on an impulse after running my 2nd marathon in Vermont. A run that was meant to be a training run for the two other marathons I have lined up for October and an Ultra in November.  A run that was literally a pain in my behind but one that promised wonderful memories of friendship, scenery, and good food (note: visit Mr. P’s if you’re ever in Schroon Lake).

Now as I contemplate, I know I want to run more. Work more to pay so I can run more. And I know I will never be fast. I will never be Kara or Shalane  or Desiree. I can only be me, who will— knowingly or unknowingly— try to inspire my friends and some strangers, who can barely run like me… who, like me, will remain the backest of the back of the pack. The 99.9%.

As I often say, I can only endure. I can only endure  and, to borrow Ms. Tuff’s words, push past the pain and past the mantra along.

jump adk

At the finish line. Of course, the husband almost bonked but still managed to finish at 3:36.

Losing Aesthetics

Posted: July 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

I feel it pounding. Pounding like an ache of sort. I attempt to ignore, yet it persists. Its effects lingering in my senses on this warm night, masked only by the gushing unnatural coldness from the air-conditioning.
It has been a while since I last felt this. I never wanted for this to return.
Yet looking down, I know. It has come to stay for a while. Or hopefully, for a while.
My right big toe is gone. Dead.
Thank you, Vermont. Smirk.

(Note: This blog was written on Monday, May 6, 2013)

A few days, Friday to be precise, one of my high school classmates and closest friends asked me what motivated me to run.

That left me a little dumbfounded. I didn’t have the smartest answers for it, except to say that last year, I saw my husband run his first Marathon (in the US or ever? I’m not sure…) at the New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch. I told this friend and the others who were with us for dinner that night that in that race, I saw “fat people” (I literally used these words in our dialect during the conversation) run and actually finish.

I think, while I had to dig a little deep for that answer but with that answer coming out of my mouth, nonetheless, it was mostly honest. In fact, it was in that race that I made the commitment to run the New Jersey half-marathon this year.

Prior to the 2012 NJ Marathon, I already ran. Sporadically, however, dependent on the weather, the mood, the new shoes, the tech gadgets. In fact, the first time I ran a full distance of more than 6 miles was in 2011, in the middle of a cold spring day, while vacationing in Virginia Beach. That night I just could not stop running and I was proud of myself.

I started buying more running “essentials” from thereon. Nothing, however, could propel my behind off the couch again and my legs into the streets after that beach run. Once summer came, weather was my excuse. And the line of alibis just would not end.

Until May of 2012.

With my then 6-year old daughter, I watched the flock of runners— all shapes and sizes and ages— cross the finish line for the half and the full-marathons. Some so fast, it was hard to record their finish with my slower, older-generation iPhone. The 90 percent were slower that many of them, half-marathoners, were outran by the marathoners.

Like the imaginary light bulb, an idea came to me. “If these ‘fat people’ can do it, so can I.” (I apologize for using the “fat” word. I swear I almost banned that word in my household).

In retrospect, though, it was not just the sight of the overweight runners that triggered the interest in running and finishing a race. It was the spirit of being in a marathon. Or the spirit and the atmosphere that you feel in any race.

Old runners may take this “spirit” for granted. But for newbies like me, it is something that gets you going. It’s the random banner that says “Run, Stranger, Run.” It is the random cheerer on the sidewalk that yells out (and it never fails that there is always one that yells this in every race) “Good job! Still looking good” when you know you look like shit from hell, gasping for air. It is the random little boy with an oversized race shirt that extends his arms out, waiting for someone to give him a high-five.

It is all that spirit and more. And the spirit that is intensified as you cross the finish line.

This is what I felt. This is what “motivated” me to run, if only to answer my classmate in an even more detailed manner.

So two days after that conversation in a dimly lit, ant-laden bar in St. Marks, I ran my first Marathon.

And it was an accomplishment borne out of that experience of watching my husband cross the finish line last year.

I finished my marathon (read: 26.2 miles. I had to emphasize this because other countries refer to marathons as any race— 5k included).  I finished at a lagging time of 4 hours, 45 minutes, and 8 seconds (4:45:08). I had openly said my goal was to finish less than 5 hours. Secret goal was 4:30 or under.

In the end, my legs can only do so much and no matter how I pushed, it just would not push hard and fast enough. I blamed it partly on the Benadryl (mistake no. 3). I blamed it partly on the headwind (not really mistake no. 2 but could be reason no. 2). Secretly, blaming it on the tapering schedule, which I followed that left me still doing 6 running days on the week of the race (mistake no. 1). (Note: I followed a running method, which may have been too intense for me. More on a separate blog sometime).

Still, I am proud I made it.

And yes, as I read Marc Parent’s chronicles this week, I realized that, in fact, it does make sense. While he talked of running gaits in a different context, I, in a way, parallel the inner motivation that propels a runner to run, regardless of shape and size. And yes, gait.

We all have our reasons, our motivations why we run.

Initially for me, it was just about the challenge knowing overweight individuals can do it.

Having crossed that arch, which, at that point, I didn’t even care about as to what time it said relative to the gun start, it changed my view and perspective about running.

We run for our children. We run for those who cannot run again. We run for ourselves.

I run and am now itching to run more marathons because I had come to that epiphany that running distance is a test to limits of the mind and body. It is the embodiment of the realization that sometimes, often times, the mind can certainly, definitely, absolutely compel the body to break its limits.

I just had to capture my own victory here, as the husband, who finished the race long since, was nowhere to be found.

I just had to capture my own victory here, as the husband, who finished the race long since, was nowhere to be found.

Runners: all shapes, sizes, ages.

Runners: all shapes, sizes, ages.

Faces of Terror

Posted: April 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

So this is what happens to the face of terrorism. Young. Young as a 19-year old, who practically grew up in America with a promising future. It has evolved.

It has evolved from the cliche of a man with a turban or a kufi. Or a beard. Of course, it should not have been to begin with.

I remember how, as a person growing up in a 3rd world, it was hard to come to the US. You have to be smart, moneyed, or just plain lucky.

The visa processing in the Philippines for wanna-be US tourists is a test all its own. It is a process prepared for by many for months and months… It is a tedious process of gathering documents and resources. And by resources, I mean money. Why? Because many Filipinos have been known not or never to go back home to the Philippines after a “tour” in the US, therefore, they need to prove financial ties in the homeland. The crappy economy and the hopeless governance back home just makes its so tempting for anyone who has come to the US and has seen that hard labor does work and lead you somewhere in this land of milk and honey— however cliche that may sound again. So many Filipinos stay here— illegally. Now, don’t question me with some statistics bull because I do not have that. I only have some people I have met to back this statement.

You would be surprised where these people come from. Or who they are. Most of them are well-educated, college-bred individuals, who had given up their comforts back home. Because there is hope here.

Millions, though, are back home, still hoping to come to the US to have their taste of the American Life. Many are not lucky.

Owe that, I guess, to the strict visa screening.

Yet in retrospect or further introspection, it is sad. Because much like the other individuals who come here to work hard so they can feed mouths back home, these are people with noble intentions.

They are not here to drop bombs. Or use guns.

Often, all they have is the motivation to make the lives of those they left comfortable back home… or to have enough funds in the bank so that the kids don’t have to worry about college.

Thus it is sad to think of the irony that monsters who have so easily wrecked the major havocs in this country are individuals who were or are those who possess the legal rights to be here. Yet those who deserve to be here for their honest-to-goodness living are those denied the opportunity.

This should be a lesson. Terrorism no longer has a face.

The Boston Dream

Posted: April 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

“For most of us today, Boston was personal. It is personal.” This, perhaps, sums up the sentiments millions of people have over the tragedy in Boston.

You do not have to be a Bostonian to make it personal to you.

April 15, 2013, I had just returned from my lunch break while working in the ER. It was a Monday, thus, it was chaotic. On my lunch break, I had just viewed over the news how Shalane and Kara ranked 4th and 6th places, respectively. Nothing, however, prepared me for what my coworker would tell me. “Did you hear? There’s bombing in the Boston Marathon,” as she went on to talk a little of how there were “mangled bodies…”

In an instinct, I asked her to watch over our area, as I walked fast to our lounge and exactly saw just that on TV. Spiels from news anchors circulated on how 2 explosions took place. It was hazy at that point. It was a bit of a blur. It was yet to be known whether it was an accident cause by a gas pipe and the like.

But who would not think of the unthinkable? The probability, perhaps, of 2 explosions at one of the most-watched sports event is just too high that one can only think this was an act of terrorism.

At that point, all I could think of are a couple of individuals I know who were either running or watching the marathon. These people, however, I know not personally, but with whom, somehow, I have made connections with through the social media. I call them either by the tag “Instagram-“ or “Facebook-“ friends. But these are people I know— and I feared for them at the time.

And then I feared for people, everyone, who were hurt… much like how everyone feared for people in Boylston Street that day.

It was unthinkable.

I finished worked at 1915 that day and went for my run in the West Side Highway. It is in these moments of silence when your mind starts to work.

You wonder and you ponder. And since that day, I have not stopped thinking about who is or are behind the monstrosity. How could have one committed such convoluted, twisted prank? And how one could have done it in a gathering for a sport that is not even elitist, not even one patronized by the rich alone or by capitalists or by sport icons who have profited millions through their craft.

Since then, each of my time outside work, most of it, has been spent watching CNN or listening to 1010 WINS, monitoring the events in Boston. I would sometimes find myself hold back tears.

Because this is how it is.

I am a new runner… an older person, who just found the love of running through a simple twist of fate. I now consider myself as belonging to a family of runners, having a husband with several marathons and claiming his Ultras.

And running fosters a quasi-, unspoken community of individuals.

There is a spirit that exists among runners.

This, I found when I subscribed to Instagram and actually found a huge group of new friends that I connect with from New Jersey to Michigan to Florida to California to Scotland to Spain to the border of Syria. It is a community. IT is a family.

And an attack such as this is not just an attack against a beautiful community like Boston. It is a pain experienced by those who love running. It is an impalement of an imaginary dagger to the dream of many.

Because this is how it is again.

Boston is hard. Boston Marathon is for the fast. For the fast that when I received text messages and phone calls Monday, asking me if was safe and if I was in Boston, I could only laugh because there is NO WAY I would be in Boston to run that day. Even, perhaps, never.

(For those who do not understand, Boston has time qualifications. It may be “elitist” only for the fact that if you are not running for charity, you need to be among the 10% of the running population, who can move one foot after the other fast enough. You have to have a pretty darn efficient VO2 max.)

Thus, Boston Marathon is a dream. It is a dream for runners who cannot run fast. It is a dream for men and women who can only build up on endurance and not on speed—like me. It is a dream for my husband, who is optimistic to run Boston next year through another marathon in May, where he will need to improve his time via 3 minutes. It is a dream for many, whose only option to get it is through raising funds for charity.

Because Boston Marathon is hard.

So this attack in Boston? It is personal. It is personal because anyone running a marathon—regardless of location—devoted time, sweat, effort, social life, and everything else imaginable in an attempt to cross the finish line. It is months of training that can only be rewarded by the sight of that clock that tells you your finish time.

This attack in Boston? It is an assault to the families who watch from the sidelines… from the finish line. It is punch to the face to the husbands and wives and children and friends who needed to miss a runner at a family gathering or soccer training or drinks after work because he or she had to run a tempo or do fartleks or do long runs.

It is personal. Yes, it is personal.

For some, the bombings may only be viewed as an attack against a beautiful Massachusetts town.

But for a large, unquantifiable community, whose members get out of their beds before the sun rises or skip family dinners to hit the roads, it is a big blow. It is an incursion.

Yet this will not stop this community.

As in the words of the President today: We will run again. You will run again.

Suck It In and Spit!!!

Posted: April 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

            I’ve never been one to get sick. Not even when I am exposed to all sorts of viruses, bacteria, fomites in the ER.

            Nor am I one to spit. To spit while running.

            But I have finally caught on. A habit, which I found and still find utterly disgusting when running. Hopefully, it does not become my own habit. If I do, I will disown myself, if there is even such a thing.

            Yet this was the inevitable when I was finally hit by some nagging illness that wrecked havoc to my days this week.

            Barry, the PA where I work diagnosed me (off-the-books) with Strep Throat, when my rapid strep test came back positive Monday. This was that day when I complained of pain with swallowing. I had woken up feeling unwell that morning. Of course, the scared shitless that I am about calling in, I persisted and went to work that day. (note: I called in sick in March. Before March, I had called-in sick in July.)

            That was my 2nd workday of my 3-day work-week. Of course, I had the strep and got a shot of Bicillin on my right butt cheek. Boy, that hurt and 4 days after that shot, I still feel the lump on my gluts where the shot had gone.

            Of course, too, I thought I had felt better when I came back to work Tuesday. I was not. With much prodding from the husband, I was finally convinced to leave my Philly Marathon 2012 bag at home (that acts as my running bag). I worked and sucked it up.

            All hell broke loose in my body the moment I set out into the cool evening air after my shift and I just started to have chills non-stop. It finally dawned on me: I WAS sick.

            So, thus, began the agony of counting the days when I had not run and could not run.

            Sunday- it rained. Monday- I got the shot of Bicillin and went on a birthday dinner and did not run. Tuesday- the realization, the running bag left home, thus, no run.

            I was sick and it consumed me to the core. I had not run for 4 days, I had counted by Wednesday. And for someone stickler to (some) rules, I knew I had broken Hansons and Humphrey’s “rules.” Of course, if you look deep into the book, they talk of modification. But modification was not an option for me, a person aiming to finish her first 26.2.

            It was all-contemplation on those days. Running friends were supportive enough to say I needed rest. It took me a while to finally come to terms with the fact that if your body says, “pause” you really have to “pause.”

            After four days of hiatus, I was resolved to run again. Despite the husband’s advice to do an easy 5-miler, I secretly went ahead and did a 9-miler tempo.

            It was cruel and gruesome.

            That’s where the spitting came into the picture.

            The first 2 miles, as I managed my way to Hoboken, was a horrible rendition of my running. It was as though my feet were alien and my trunk did not seem to belong to my lower extremities. I know I am not a fast runner but I know I may have looked like a klutz. Adding to the conundrum of syncing these parts of my body together was the fact that I was too confident the weather was mild, I decided to skip 2 puffs of Albuterol, which has been part of my “must-do” prior to a run on colder temps. Big mistake. I was tight and breathing was heavy. I thought for a while my airways would shut down on me.

           With my sinuses still clogged, I could barely hear, too.

            In short, everything was just not flowing accordingly.

            That’s when I started the spitting game.

            Embarrassingly so. I spat from Hoboken and back. Of course, this took a lot of courage for me. Constantly, I had to look around to make sure no one was behind me, because it sure wouldn’t look pretty.

            In fact, it would be just as ugly as that time when I accidentally (or was it purposely) passed gas while on a 16-miler at 9 o’clock at night somewhere near the Edgewater waterway and apparently, a rather-fast male runner had zoomed his way behind me. That wasn’t pretty. And so un-womanly. Or civilized, for that matter.

           So, so did this dilemma about spitting.

            I expectorated and expectorated in the most disgusting matter. Apparently, this helped. And it helped me survive that run. It was then that I, somehow, understood the psychology of spitting while running— for some.

            My point? Not much really. Except that spitting did help. Spitting is disgusting. But at that point in time, it was overriding all logic and sense.

            That it was a matter of survival that day and you need to do and succumb to survival measures when the need arises.

            And in retrospect, resting when you were really supposed to. To pause when your body tells you to. Then the spitting would have been averted.

            I know my 4-day break was not enough. My body is not a hundred percent and I still have to learn to listen to it.

            Maybe in time, I will. For now, let me be a stickler.