Giving Tri a Try

june 2017 blog

My first triathlon almost did not happen.

Despite months of time and effort, not to mention a kind of spending I have never done before in pursuit of a goal,  I almost quit before getting to  the starting line of the TriMan 2017.

Like most first-timers, I was quite confident  I could nail the run leg. After all, I have done a couple of  marathons, several 21ks, 10ks and 5ks over the  years.

I was also  relatively certain I would enjoy the cycling leg.  I’ve been biking since I was 7. In fact, it  showed during our Cycling 101 practicals  where our  multiple  Iron Man coach complimented me for displaying a sense of balance that would  allow me to easily weave through the horrendous traffic of  the metro.

It was my swimming technique that I’ve always considered my weakest link.  You see I’ve never really been good at swimming. The most I could do was what Pinoys called  “langoy aso”  or dog paddle. Being a believer in  training and coaching,  I signed up not with one but two triathlon training cum coaching schools. Inside Track Athletics covered all three disciplines of multisport  while Swim Academy PH  focused on swimming. Both were ran by veteran Iron Man finishers. While I could be said to have gotten my money’s worth for being able to actually cross a 25m pool without a center snorkel after several months of training, my form is  still far from what Total Immersion founder Terry Laughlin calls the streamline position.  Not surprisingly, a month before the race  I could not swim a 25m pool without stopping for a couple of minutes  in between laps. As if to compound the challenge I was facing,  I traveled abroad unexpectedly three weeks before my first race.  Good thing I am blessed to have a family that supported my triathlon aspirations. They helped me redefine the word traincation as I hopped from one city to another.  To push myself, I set an ultimatum. If I am still unable to cross the 50m pool without stopping  a week before the race, I would abort the whole thing. Roughly 3 days before my race, I did a dry run at the actual pool that would be used for the TriMan 2017. My heart sank when I realized that while I can easily do 25m at a time, I still could not complete a 50m lap without stopping.

I forged ahead anyway.

Thanks to my   tri roadside angels.

Topping my list of heaven-sent tri support crew members is my wife who also happens to be my swim school classmate.  She pointed out that since there is no cut-off anyway, I should swim my swim, ride my ride and run my run. Never mind the bashers and haters.   Never mind the podium finishers and those who obsess about their finishing time. Never mind the onlookers and the photographers.  “Just complete your first race period.”  In the same breath, she  reminded me of all the time and effort I invested in my months of triathlon training along with its attendant financial costs.  All these  would go to waste if I decide not to push through.

And  then there’s my sister who is actually starting her swim class  next month.  She practically said the same thing  as my wife did albeit  in her signature colorful language: “Why not push through? You’ve signed up. You’ve trained. You’ve put in the time.  Sayang naman. (i.e., “It would be such a waste.”)  Go and see for yourself.  You’ll  never know until you try.” Looking back, she definitely had a point. If I withdraw from the race, I would never know the answer to the question, what would have happened had I  given tri a try?

Lastly, there’s my brother in law who has completed a number of Iron Man races.  He gamely provided me with a number of technical insights from articles  to videos  to address my swimming pain points. More importantly, he spent some time checking my technique and sharing  several hard-earned tri insights along the way.  He assured me I would eventually get the hang of it with enough feedback and pool time. “Just keep pushing,” he would quip.

And so it was that I steeled my nerve, prayed really hard and resolved to put my shot at my  perfect effort when I drove my way to Fontana last June 17, 2017, the eve of the 2017 TriMan.

Here’s how it played out.

“I, I wish you could swim like dolphins, like dolphins could swim” 

                                                                                     -David Bowie

Shortly before the start of the race, a number of participating triathletes warmed up in the pool.  When I saw that they were practically swimming effortlessly like dolphins from one end of the pool to the next,  I reprimanded myself for listening to the encouragement provided by my tri roadside angels along with the assurance of the SBR PH organizers that there is no cut-off time.  My strategy, you see,  was to do my best to swim 50m continuously. If such is not possible, my go-to was  to swim for 25m and rest in between.  In the course of completing the 3 sets of 300m loops in the Olympic size pool, I realized that a good number  of the participants could easily swim from one end of the pool to the next without stopping.  Their pace subsequently got in the way of my strategy as I found myself trying to keep up with them in the first 300m loop. This turned out to be a mistake as I paid for it later with  fatigue and exhaustion.  As if to balance my perception, I also noted that there were clearly other participants who also considered swimming their Achilles heel. In fact, a number of them walked in the pool so much so that the organizers called their attention on the PA system. Still others cut corners by not touching the wall thereby earning  gentle reprimands  from the organizers.  Their plight  unwittingly encouraged me to stick to my resolve to swim all the way even if it meant stopping to rest before continuing on.  My coach’s joking admonition kept playing in my head: “If you walk in the pool, I will disown you.” And so despite the preceding, despite my pace, despite the distracting presence of  a live audience, despite the photographers,  despite the well-meaning observers who would shout: “Kaya mo yan” or “Bubbles lang,” I sought to follow my strategy even if I had to stop to rest or to wait for those ahead of me to continue swimming  or to give way to the next wave of swimmers coming from behind. Thankfully, mercifully, eventually, I finally completed my first 900m race. “This too shall pass” has subsequently acquired a whole new meaning for me.

“And it takes a long time to go, to make it to the border of Mexico

so I ride like the wind, ride like the wind.”

                                                                               – Christopher Cross

From the swim leg, it was with  great relief that I ran-walked to the  so-called  T1 or Transition 1 where I surprised myself for not taking forever in  pinning my bib number, wearing my socks, shoes and helmet and mounting my bike.  As promised by the organizer,  the first 8 kilometers were all downhill so it really felt like that iconic Christopher Cross song.  That Clark Field happens to boast of wide open spaces and well-paved roads ideal for biking made the ride even more enjoyable. After my first U  turn though, I fidgeted with my gear shifting as I went uphill. Not as enjoyable but definitely interesting and challenging as I worked double time to figure out which among the many techniques I was taught would prove most useful to ride smartly.  The key was to have  enough energy and power  left for the run leg. Just like practice, I would stop every 10kms to drink water before continuing on.  It was during my three stops that I realized I forgot to bring along an energy drink and the requisite energy gels I have gotten used to taking every 10k.  As I completed the two loops comprising the 30km race course, I quietly thanked my coaches for making me do 60 km long rides on Sundays even if I was only preparing for a 30km bike leg.

“Running on, running on empty

running into the sun but I’m running behind.”

                                              – Jackson Browne

After dismounting  from my bike for the  5km race course , I was still pretty confident that I would finish strong.  Alas, the tactical errors I committed in the first two legs of  the race took their toll on my body.  The effort that went into the swim and my nutrition oversight during the bike leg along with the unbelievable heat  eventually slowed me down. Worse, the water stations ran out of water of all things.  And so what should have taken less than 30 minutes took considerably longer.   Consequently, I was literally a spent force when I  finally crossed the finish line.

As I was awarded my finisher’s medal, I had mixed emotions about my first triathlon experience.

Nothing can compare to the redemption of completing one’s first triathlon. I could truly say now that all those months of waking up early,   training with Inside Track Athletics and Swim Academy PH even on days I’d rather watch my favorite series and spending for the seemingly endless prerequisites of multi sport were worth it. It is happiness pure and simple. I’m glad I decided to push through.

Even as I celebrated my modest baby step, my first triathlon experience pointed me to two opportunity areas crying out to be addressed.  If I truly wish to   leverage my running experience and finish strong in my next sprint races, I need to double time on improving in these two areas.

There’s the mastery of the  streamline position in swimming which would inevitably make my breathing more efficient  and ensure that I use my legs for balance rather than propulsion. And there’s the  mastery of gear shifting to a point where I can easily adapt to the terrain without guessing.

“Padayon!” (i.e., Visayan for forge ahead.)  

june blog 2

In Via et In Patria

Today is exactly 20 days before my first triathlon race.

I have absolutely no doubt that I will complete my 30km bike ride given all the mileage I’ve covered doing 60km practice rides on weekends plus the fact that I’ve been riding bikes since my childhood days. All the more with regard to the 5k run segment  given that I’ve completed 2 marathons, several 21ks, 10ks and 5ks over the years. It is the 900m swim that I worry about.  Which is why this is where I find myself investing the most time and focus at this stage of my training.

To be sure, I’ve achieved quite a number of modest learner milestones over the past couple of months of my swim training. I used to rest a lot in between my 25m laps even while wearing a center snorkel. I don’t do this anymore.  My legs used to sink even while wearing a snorkel which was why I was advised to wear fins. I no longer am as dependent on fins as I was months back.  I used to struggle with my breathing and my hip rotation. These past few weeks I seem to have hit pay dirt as I surprised even myself that I could actually already turn my head without lifting it even as I learned how to rotate from the hips. Subsequently, my rest interval in between my 25m laps is now down to 1 min 30 seconds from 3 mins. Equally noteworthy today is the fact that I actually pulled off swimming 1,000 meters with no snorkel and no fins.

And yet, I feel I’m not there yet.  The actual pool which will be used for my sprint triathlon is 50m long. This means I need to figure out how to get used to resting only after 50m. Which in turn all the more firms up my resolve to move heaven and earth to practice swimming 900 meters daily.

There is a very vivid phrase that I chanced upon in my college years that perfectly describes where I am now as June 18 nears. In via et in patria. On the way and at home.  Meaning, I’m not there yet, but I am already there.  Stating the thing broadly, pay the price and enjoy the ride no matter how far your destination point might appear  to be. If you program your mind enough  to achieve it, you will eventually get there. But first you need lots and lots of pool time as my coach would put it.

Consider Malcolm Gladwell’s now famous 10,000 hours. In his book entitled The Outliers, Gladwell deftly shows how the Beatles and Tiger Woods kept honing their craft for 10,000 hours before hitting pay dirt.

Alas, that is not all that there is to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours.  The path to perfection is not linear. Along the way you will come across hurdles and detours. How you handle these is as important as putting in the time to practice your craft.  This is by no means easy especially for someone who has never been that comfortable in the water.  I have lost count of the number of hurdles and stumbling blocks that have accompanied my journey as a swimming student.

And so it is in this precise context that  I rediscovered a poem in an entirely different sense what  I used to read to myself when I was struggling  in high school.

“When things go wrong as they sometimes will

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,tirE

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile but you have to sigh

When care is pressing you down a bit

Rest if you must but don’t you quit

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns

And many a fellow turns about

When he might have won, had he stuck it out

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow

You may succeed with another blow. 

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

Often the struggler has given up

When he might have captured the victor’s cup

And he learned too late when the night came down

How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt

And you never can tell how close you are

It might be near when it seems afar

So stick to the fight  when you’re hardest hit

It’s when things go wrong that you must not quit.”

 

Enough said. Just keep swimming.   

 

When Andy Met Nathan

“Life is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote upon realizing the value of getting out of what you consider familiar and therefore, comfortable.  Up until last month, I have not really paid that much attention to the wisdom that grounds this exhortation of sorts from St. Augustine.  At least not to the same extent that I have learned to appreciate it as the month of April comes to a close.

You see,  I have never really been a big fan of traveling. I would rather stay at home, spin some records, play the guitar for my wife, play board games with my kids, read the latest from James Patterson  and attend to the endless tasks that are crying out to be done.  In fact, this is precisely why  I have always delegated the task of arranging our family travels to my wife who has been as passionate about it as the first day we met.   But a recent surprise rendezvous of Andy with Nathan in the city of Hong Kong made me take a long hard look at St. Augustine’s reflection.

Andy is the name of the tour guide who was assigned to accompany  my family. It also happens to be the name of my father in law who has been an exemplary  father to me and to my wife as far back as I can remember.  Like my father in law, Andy was a very jolly person who loved his job with passion and dedication. You could sense this in the way he carried our conversations and the way he  conducted himself  from day 1. We were like repeat customers he has had the privilege of serving over the years.  He would regale my kids with magic tricks and impress my wife and me with interesting trivia you would not   find in travel guides about Hong Kong.

Nathan is the name of the road in Hong Kong which served as our temporary home for the 4 days that we were in the city.  It also happens to be the name of  my youngest nephew who is based in Canada. Like the kaleidoscope of  possibilities that await Nathan given his having been born in Canada, Nathan Road kick started my fascination with the many engaging chapters that comprise the book that was  our trip to Hong Kong. Here are 10 of them.

Despite the fact that the Philippines is no longer the sick man of Asia and is, in fact, poised to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world today, we clearly have a lot to learn from the world-class airport of  Hong Kong.  Their airport and the attendant services you could enjoy within its premises – from its awe-inspiring architectural design to its WiFi for everyone provision, from its  walkalators to its dining areas, from its connecting trains to its well-paved  roads,  – remind me no end of Singapore’s   Changi Airport.

If Paris is the City of Blinding Lights in Europe, Hong Kong could easily qualify as Asia’s answer to Paris.  Its myriad of electronic marquees, giant vidiwalls and neon signs that are lit up practically 24 x 7 have a way of making you forget that you have an itinerary to follow.  They seem to be saying, whatever it is that you have scheduled to do for the day, it can wait.  Stop, look and wonder how they could have put all of these blinding lights and kaleidoscopic colors together.  Which I guess is also why for tourists like me, the idea of walking for hours in this great city  is a very enjoyable experience.  There is so much to gawk at, so much to marvel at, and so much to sample. Alas, there is not that much time.

To be sure, there is also traffic in Hong Kong.  Its public transport system is so efficient, however,  that its daily traffic is not as unnerving  as the one you would experience on weekdays in the major roads  of Manila. We got to experience this first hand when we boarded one of the double deckers plying Nathan Road. Unlike our buses in Manila which bus conductors normally fill to the rafters like canned sardines, the double deckers of Hong Kong are never standing room only affairs. There was also no need for conductors as you paid either by way of a reloadable card or by paying exact fares via fare boxes next to the driver.  Buses here have fixed loading and unloading areas which you would know about before you board the bus because it’s indicated in the loading and unloading areas. Drivers appear to be more disciplined even if you could hardly see traffic enforcers on the road.

Techno thriller writer Tom Clancy used to wax poetic about Disney being the happiest place on earth.  You’ll never really get to appreciate where Clancy was coming from until you actually set foot on Disneyland. The one in Hong Kong may not be as sprawling and as massive as the one in Orlando but it definitely is much more awesome as our Enchanted Kingdom in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. The devil as they say is in the details and the creative minds behind the original Disneyland in the U.S. went to great lengths to ensure that the magical experience we associate with Disney would ring loud and clear even in Asia.  I lost count of the magical experiences that our trip endowed my family and me but my  top 3  would have to be  the Iron Man 4-D aerial tour of Hong Kong, the Mystic Manor musical ride, and  Mickey’s PhilHar Magic. Of course, if I were the thrill-seeking type, rank 1 would have to be the Star Wars HyperSpace Mountain Ride, the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars and the  Toy Story RC Racer Ride.

I have always been fascinated by dolphins from the first time my kids saw their first dolphin show in Subic to the first time we were accompanied by Bohol fishermen as the dolphins pranced and danced along our boats.  Ocean Park did not disappoint as it presented an ecological conservation-centric dolphin show to an auditorium filled with stars truck visitors. From their characteristic sing-song sound to their graceful aerial jumps, the dolphins of Ocean Park held our attention like iconic rock stars we’ve been waiting to visit the country.  An unexpected bonus which was just as compelling as the dolphin show was my family’s very first cable car ride.  Partly thrilling, partly scary, it was a ride like no other we’ve taken.

Prior to our trip to Hong Kong, I was warned by well-meaning friends and relations that most of the people at Hong Kong are not as engaging and as warm as the Filipinos. To be blunt, they even warned that a number of them are openly hostile if not rude.  Not true if our 4 days in Hong Kong were to be used basis.  On more than two occasions, smiling Hong Kong nationals who were passing by would offer to take our pictures as they saw how we fidgeted with the selfie button of our mobile phones. During our night market explorations, quite a number of the merchants were nice enough to engage us in small talk and even allowed us to haggle. The tour guide who accompanied us on our last day was just as cordial and as pleasant as Andy.  He even knows about the best diving places in the Philippines as he is a frequent visitor of our country.

This trip, of  course, would not be complete without the obligatory sampling of the vinyl stores of Hong Kong. Thanks to the internet, 3 of the top 10 vinyl stores of Hong Kong were practically walking distance from Nathan Road.  The 3rd and last store in our list rewarded me with almost a dozen vinyl titles that have eluded me in Manila.  Due to budget constraints, I settled for two albums that I’ve been looking for for the longest time: the original sound track of Forrest Gump and the debut album of  Two Cellos.

Thanks to the Bull Runner blog, I was able to zero in on a tried and tested running route near Nathan Road. I am, of course, referring here  to Kowloon Park. Turns out it’s also connected to an elevated promenade which offered early morning runners with  a breathtaking view of the Hong Kong harbor and its  spectacular skyscrapers.  But I was not prepared to be further mesmerized as I accidentally discovered yet another promenade along the Hong Kong harbor when I ran from the Avenue of the Stars to as far as the running path would take me. Consequently, my target 5km for the day eventually ended up as an 11km run.

Two boat rides representing the factual and the fictional all the more made this trip memorable.  The former was by way of Hong Kong boatmen who made their living from the sea.  They gave us a tour of  the Hong Kong harbor which included the floating restaurants, the houseboats of real-life fishermen and the  yachts of the rich and famous of Hong Kong.  According to Andy, before Hong Kong became a first-world commercial hub, it was at its core a fishing economy. The fictional ride was courtesy of a funny Disney boatman who took us on an imaginary tour of Tarzan’s home at Disney.  Despite the fact that Tarzan’s treehouse was undergoing a renovation, the said boatman’s funny antics made the boat ride enjoyable and engaging.

I also have this trip to thank for educating me about the premium that many tourists place on buying jewelry from Hong Kong as we toured what is possibly the most famous jewelry factory in the city. I was surprised to see autographed pictures of famous Filipinos who have actually set their foot in the factory.  We were welcomed by a veteran sales man who gave us a very fascinating overview of their company. He was so good that even if I was not looking forward to the tour, I actually almost forced my wife to buy a jewelry or two from them.

Two decades ago,   my first corporate supervisor shared how traveling to  other countries have a way of putting to question how you currently live your life.  You get to inevitably  realize that you need not live the life that you’ve known all your life.  There are, in fact, numerous alternatives to what you’ve gotten familiar and comfortable with. And travel is the surefire route to get to know about those alternatives.  So to my wife’s surprise, I now  find myself  competing with her in plotting the dates of our next travels together. New York, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Boston,  and Chicago, we just might actually visit you even before we hit pay dirt with those lotteries.

This blog is lovingly dedicated to Elaine.

Never Say Never

tri

There is a Filipino exhortation that goes: “Wag kang magsasalita nang tapos.”  Roughly translated in English, it means, never speak with finality.  Back in the day when I was starting to run, my dreams were a lot simpler. From completing my first 5k, I wanted to eventually do a 10k, a 21k and ultimately,  a 42k.  Whenever someone would bring up the subject of  trying out multi-sport or triathlon, I would often say, I would never get into that. My reasons were quite iron-clad or so I thought at that time.

First, I was happy to simply work towards increasing my mileage progressively. Second, I was intimidated by the attendant costs of investing in triathlon equipment and training. Third, I could not picture how in the world, training for one could possibly fit my already demanding schedule as a husband, a father and a senior manager in a multinational company.

All that changed when I got injured and I stumbled onto several well-researched readings about how triathlon is positioned as  a perfect way to actually improve your running. Even more compelling was the assertion of experts about the therapeutic impact of multi-sport training to injuries sustained in the course of running.

Three pivotal  moments eventually convinced me to seriously consider the possibility of giving tri a try.

The first one was when I first completed my 21k race in 2015 by way of the Manila leg of the Milo Marathon.  I bumped into an actual triathlete who did his 21k with an impressive finishing time.  He enthusiastically encouraged me to give multi-sport a try because  it’s more enjoyable than running. He also credited it for his improved 21k finishing time. I remember him saying,  “now that you’ve completed your 21k, you can easily transition to triathlon because you have a good foundation in running. Forget about marathons,” he said with conviction.  “They’re too long and boring.  Triathlons are more fun and fulfilling.”  When I countered that I did not have the time to get into the sport, he reasoned that you can do the bike rides at home on weekdays and just do the long rides on weekends.  The swim part is what I need to carve out time for.  The feasibility of actually following a triathlon training routine intrigued me. But at that time, it was not enough to distract me from targeting my first 42k.

And then  I got injured several times. From shin splints to runners knee, from ITB Syndrome to plantar fasciitis, I experienced them all.  Somehow through practice and training, I eventually overcame all of these injuries  but it was my bout with Achilles tendonitis that had the most adverse impact on my recent races.  Even worse, I started experiencing cramping during the last 2 kilometers  of my 21k races. After I overcame cramping in the course of my 22-week marathon training, it surfaced anew during the 33k segment of my second marathon.  It was in the course of reading about injury prevention and management while preparing for my second marathon that I started to ask the question: what if I actually gave triathlon a try?  Who knows, these experts might just be right all along?

The final clincher came by way of the Nike commercial that featured the Iron Nun Madonna Buder. If she could do over 40 triathlons within her lifetime and she started late running, perhaps I can do, too. Within a few weeks after chancing upon Sister Madonna’s Nike ad,  I stumbled onto a book that explained triathlon from a philosophical and inspirational  standpoint. I am, of course, referring here to Scott Tinley’s very engaging Finding Triathlon. Each of the chapters that comprised Tinley’s book progressively convinced me that this was indeed one life project worth investing serious resources on.

And so here I am gearing up for my first sprint distance triathlon happening in June.  I’m quite confident I can nail the 5km run segment. The 900 meter swim is where I’m having a lot of struggle visualizing.  Although I’m now able to complete a variety of swim drills, I continue to experience serious problems integrating the breathing part.  Related to this, I also need a lot of improvement  in  kicking more efficiently and twisting my hips enough to allow me to inhale more efficiently.  Without a doubt,  swimming is my weakest link as an aspiring triathlete. This is precisely why at this point, I’ve practically invested a lot in it in terms of training.

As for cycling, given my growing up years biking, I was not surprised when a cycling veteran complimented me on my good sense of balance during our cycling drills. It is the mastery of gear shifting and the confident use of cleats that I know I need to work on. I also have no idea yet with regard to the efficient use of  a bike trainer at home. This should allow me to achieve the target mileages I should go for to prepare for my first sprint distance triathlon.

Alas, the fact that I’m still reeling from the frustration that accompanied my second marathon got in the way of my plunging headlong into my triathlon training.  That, along with my realization that I owe my body some serious rest, made me distance myself from running for practically a month.

And so even as   I find myself at the starting point  of a full-blown sprint distance triathlon training, questions and doubts hound me.  Am I an April fool in the making? Will I make it in June? Can I actually swim free style by then? Will I master gear shifting and pedaling with cleats in time?  Will I have enough left to complete the 5km run after the swim and bike segments of the race?

If I go by Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s exhortation, the outcome need not be belabored.  “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Let us begin.

Move On

tbr2017k

“Life is  like  a box of chocolates,”  as Forrest Gump once put it,  “You’ll never know what you’re gonna get.”  Take my second stab at the full marathon last February 19, 2017. Up until the start of the second half which is where  my coaches point out  the real marathon starts, I was still hopeful that I would beat my personal best from 2016.  Alas, what played out was not what I thought things would turn out to be.

To be sure, one can easily argue that, notwithstanding my more elaborate marathon preparation this year compared to my preparation for my first marathon, my 2017 race results is clearly a failure. Numbers, as they say, do not lie. But, more than a week after I crossed the finish line, I am all the more convinced that it would be grossly unfair to me and those who helped me cross the finish line a second time to dismiss it as such.

You see I just recovered from a serious case of what is called the ITB Syndrome. Even worse, as I began training for my second marathon, I had to endure what turned out to be an  Achilles tendonitis on my right foot.  This was precisely why I decided to sign up for a series of therapy sessions and a triathlon coaching program. In my effort to figure out how to overcome my injuries, I came across several readings which pointed to triathlon as a tried and tested way of strengthening the runner’s legs even as it ups the ante of endurance training by introducing the runner to two other disciplines: swimming and cycling.  Part of my therapy session was a video analysis of my running form.  The year before I really appreciated the insights occasioned by the Chi Running video analysis that I invested in.  I was hoping to arrive at even more instructive insights.  I was not  disappointed as  I discovered through the analysis that my  left leg apparently  had faster ground contact compared to my right leg. To address this, I was advised to try two things: form the letter T with my thumb and forefinger to ensure my arms were not crossing when I ran and improve my cadence by investing in a metronome.  The theraphy sessions provide by PACE Prehab managed by Coach Francis Diano along with my determination and drive to stick to the 22-week plan designed by Coach Jim Lafferty,  The Bull Runner Dream Marathon (TBR DM) founder Jaymie Pizarro and Coach Lit Onrubia which in turn was modified by Coaches Noy Basa, Al Gonzalez and Pao Leano of Inside Track Athletics gave me hope  that I would not only  triumph over my injury. I would eventually achieve a PR this year.

Here’s how it  actually went down on February 19, 2017.

The Sweet  Half

A running skeptic in the office would often say, what’s the point of running long distances when you can always take the car or get an Uber or a Grab alternatively? He misses the point completely. Running a marathon  is not about getting from point A to point B. It is about the 22-week preparation and the 3 to 6-hour validation of one’s passion, hard work and dedication on race day itself. It’s about the journey rather than the destination, as the cliché goes.

Enjoy the journey I did particularly during the first 21 kilometers  of the race.  The festive atmosphere, the smiles of friends and fellow runners at the starting line  and  the encouraging words of the TBR Dream Chasers were more than enough to pump us up with enthusiasm and excitement as we started at 2am.  The cool temperature, the happy exchange of comments and stories among fellow runners, the endless cheering by past TBR alumni along the course track, the expansive  sky full of stars and, for the first time in  a long time,   my playlist in the background made the experience even more awesome.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the TBR DM experience is really such a powerful experience of pure, unadulterated energy, positivity and affirmation compared to  all the other races I’ve ran for the past 4 years. Nothing comes close.

The Bitter Half

As I  entered km 22, I started to detect muscle tightness on my right calf. It surfaced in trickles to a point where I thought it would go away.  Having gotten a preview of the experience in my past races and my recent LSDs,   I knew what to do.  I did what worked during my training particularly  the 30km practice run.  I ran backward and sideward every so often. I also walked uphill and ran downhill. By km 30, I saw a number of runners doing the same thing. Were they imitating me or did their coaches and teams also teach them the same thing?  I smiled at the thought.

Shortly after  going up the round-about for the second time, I modified my approach to  a 1- minute run, 2-minute  walk to lessen the muscle tightness which gradually became progressive. There was a routine though that I discarded upon my therapist’s  advice (i.e., forward leg swinging and sideward leg swinging), as he said it would just worsen the cramping. By the time, I got to the Miriam College uphill leg of the race course  for the second time, the 1:2 gave way to the lamp post technique I learned from both Coach Lit and Coach Francis. I stuck to this until I got to the u-turn of the Republic Wakeboard leg of the course. To my dismay, that was where the cramping practically  forced  me to stop dead in my tracks.  Remembering my coaches’ advice, I decided to walk.  The tightness appeared to lessen. To my horror, my left toes also started cramping along with my right calf.  Thankfully, I had the good sense to head for the nearest first aid station where I borrowed a foam roller stick. That helped a great deal. God bless the Dream Chaser who handed me a salt stick.

“How in the world could this happen to me despite all my preventive measures on top of following my training?,” I asked myself.  Consider the following: I’ve pumped my body with 500ml of buco juice every single day one week before the race. I was eating bananas daily 2 weeks before race day. I followed my race nutrition plan taking in energy gels  every 45 minutes. I did all the stops to sip water and interspersed the same with Gatorade even if I did not feel thirsty. I lost count of the number of bananas I ate on the race course when the muscle tightness started surfaced.  I followed the metronome setting of  180 strides per minute until it became problematic to do so.

As I made my way back from the junction, I decided to just walk off the rest of the race. I knew my target of  finishing within 5 hours was gone. I just smiled and muttered my thanks to the kind and generous Dream Chasers who cheered me on. I really wanted to run as I passed by them if only  to reward them for their kindness and generosity but I was terrified of repeating  my Run United 3 experience  where I limped to the finish line after I cramped at km 18. A number of the Dream Chasers, it turned out,  were my batchmates from TBR 2016 who gleefully cheered me on: “Takbo, Von, takbo!” “Von, may camera, run!” I just smiled at them after waving  and sharing  that I have cramped.

My heart sank further as I passed by Head TBR Coach Jim Lafferty who was waiting at km 38. I wanted to explain my situation and tell him that except for the week in December when I got sick, I followed the TBR plan like my life depended on it and more but I kept this to myself. I  wanted to thank him for the program  but I was not so sure how it would have come across. Walked on I did until km 39 where I came across Coach Al who was all smiles and who encouraged me by saying: “Konti na lang. Good job!” He also recommended that I try running and walking backwards but I said I’ve done that already.

By km 40, an unexpected grace came my way by way of 2 lady runner friends of Team Bulalo who coaxed me to run by pacing me. One of them, Anne, reminded me that: “lalong bibigat yan.” So run I did out of “hiya.” Surprisingly, the salt tablet may have kicked in along with whatever was left of my adrenaline.  I actually got to run the last 2km without any issues. That I guess was what made me smile as I  capped a bittersweet finish.  I actually ran my way to the finish line despite my cramping earlier.

I teach a module on Adversity Quotient (AQ) which espouses the growth mindset. Stating the thing broadly, it is not what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you that will make you grow and develop. Failure is to be regarded as a stepping stone to improvement. It is not the last chapter of your life.   The centerpiece of the module is what AQ researcher Dr. Paul Stoltz calls the LEAD approach.

Listen to your adversity response

The way I see it, there  are two options available to me.

The low AQ response says: I should be sorry for myself and this failure is massive. The high AQ response says: I should be grateful I still managed to finish the race despite my injury. This failure is but a detour to better things to come.

Explore the origins and ownership

The low AQ response is not grounded in reality. The fact of the matter is that the race results revealed that I need to strengthen my body further and I need to heal completely  to run faster.   The cross-training did help. The techniques taught by Tai Chi and Yoga would no doubt also prove helpful as my coaches in swim and cycling also point to my stiffness and tension as a development opportunity.

Analyze the evidence

The evidence clearly says this setback is not permanent. There are tons of lessons to learn from this which would help me become a better runner and, at the same time, help me gear up for my first sprint triathlon.

Mindset is clearly part and parcel of race preparation. Rest should not be underestimated. Food intake should be scrutinized and reviewed consistently. Being at the starting line an hour before gun start is much better. Strength training is not an option. Flexibility training is just as critical.  Forgiveness of oneself is a grace to pray for. Gratitude and appreciation for those who helped you cross the finish line is a must.

Decide to take action

I suppose this is why the following day,  I readily signed up for my first Triman even as I capped my second marathon day with a 2-hour swim drill which validated my readings once again. Swimming does hasten muscle recovery and is a perfect sport for the runner.

While signing up for another race makes your succeeding efforts more focused and intentional, I strongly felt that part of moving on is to allow my body to get a much needed rest so my injury could heal more completely.  Then and only then could I truly say, it is time to move on. The best is yet to come.

Why Indeed

Possibly the most famous admonition associated with Saint Pio is: “Pray, hope and don’t worry. Worry is useless.” In this day and age of dizzying changes and transformations happening every nanosecond, it is one admonition we who live in the 21st century would do well to take seriously. 9-11, globalization, climate change, digitization, drug wars, Brexit, rationalization, financial meltdown,  Syria, ISIS, Greece…The list is endless. As the classic rocker Don Henley would put it: “In a New York minute, everything can change…” To be sure, given all these,  it is very easy to intellectualize Saint Pio’s counsel.  I propose though that unless and until you are forced into what some existential philosophers call limit situations, you would never fully appreciate what he was trying to drive at when he offered the above advice.

I must say I’ve been blessed to find myself in such a situation a couple of times. It is possible that all this is borne of the challenges associated with entering midlife. Then again, it is equally possible that this is a matter of selective perception – seeing what we want to see in what are objectively random events in one’s life.  Having said that, I’ve been thankfully  blessed to come across some friends who unwittingly offered what to me appears to be the biblical premises of Saint Pio’s reminder.

The first one is from Jeremiah 29:11 and I quote: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” While the original context of this passage was the message of hope and assurance that God wanted to bless the Jewish people with as they had to stay as exiles in Babylon for 70 years, I believe it is not stretching the meaning of the passage that much if we are to relate it to our individual and collective state in the face of various adversities.  More to the point, it easily grounds  the first component of Adversity Quotient which the researcher Dr. Paul Stoltz refers to as control or how one perceives an adversity as either actionable or beyond hope.  One can either look at the problem as a permanent state from which there is no escape  or as a temporary detour from which one could  springboard to better things. Jeremiah 29:11 underpins the latter.

The second one I have been blessed to be gently reminded of is from Matthew 6:26-34  and it goes: “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which if you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear? For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father know that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Again, while these words were addressed to the crowd that gathered around Jesus during his famous Sermon on the Mount 2,000 years ago, its explanatory power resonates loud and clear  in the 21st century regardless of one’s social, economic and political situation. For indeed, just like that, as they say, you could lose it all. Just like that, one’s life could unceremoniously end. Just like that, a relationship could end. Just like that, the unexpected could happen.

I suggest that it is precisely in the context of these three passages that we could fully appreciate the other half of Saint Pio’s admonition which we don’t often hear:  “God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”  With these three passages written hundreds of years apart, one can more confidently sing along to Annie’s “Tomorrow” and play the air guitar to Bamboo’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.” Why worry indeed!

When Less is More

Tempus Fugit. Time flies especially if you’re having fun.

It’s practically been 7 years since I’ve been bitten by the analog bug. Thanks to a group of friendly analog enthusiasts whom I met by way of Analog 101 and Wired State.  I can still remember how magical the whole experience was of listening to the vinyl versions of iconic classic rock albums that accompanied my growing up years – from U2’s Joshua Tree to Jackson Browne’s Lives in the Balance, from Yes’s 90125 to the Eagles’ Hotel California, from Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing to the Best of Carly Simon. It was the proverbial superb sound as well as the larger than life album art of analog recordings that possessed and compelled   me to convert my sizable CD library into its analog counterpart. So you can imagine how alien the thought of slowing down and taking things easy was to a vinyl convert like myself 7 years ago.  That was the key message I took home with me from listening to a mild-mannered gentleman whose avatar name in Wired State was Pican. Pete Pican, I think, was his full name. He had an easy air about him and he could have easily been my long lost favorite uncle judging by the way he held court as he dispensed hard-earned lessons in record collecting.  At the time that I met him, he had thousands of analog recordings in his library compared to my collection of over a dozen albums I bought mostly from Bebop Records at the Makati Square.  I remember him pointing out how this hobby could prove to be a  hard habit to break  as it promises countless hours of bliss from stumbling  onto your hard to find album to sitting down and listening from that sweet spot in your listening room. Better this than having a mistress, he would explain to his wife.  Better this than disappearing into the night and burning money in night clubs. Better this than gambling. At least, your wife knows where you are.

Having said this, he also  shares how he has come to a point in his record collecting where he would rather listen to a handful of records instead of continually amassing more and more. In the end, he says, even if you only have 365 records which he did not at that time, you won’t even be able to listen to all of them even if you target to play one album back to back per day. In fact, that is not what usually happens. What usually happens is that you have a handful of favorite albums which comparatively enjoy more playing time compared to the rest of your collection.  This, of course, is not a new principle. Pareto Principle is how we refer to the 20% that produces the 80% of your analog bliss. It’s the same as how we use the shirts and pants that pack our closets.  And that is why he says at that time that it makes perfect sense to give away or if you will, endorse the rest of his albums to those whom he knows would take care of them either by selling them or even better, by giving them away.  You won’t be able to take them away with you anyway.  A couple of months after that, we were saddened to learn of his passing.

My record collection is nearing the one thousand mark and I must say that now more than ever, his wise reminder resonates strongly with me today. Which is why I have been experiencing my own version of diminishing returns. The drive to be a completist of artist discographies has lost its appeal to me. Rather than collect all of Robert Palmer’s albums, I’d much rather have Addictions Vol 1 in my collection. In lieu of searching for all of Steve Winwood’s studio albums, I’d be happier with his Chronicles compilation.

To be sure, Pican’s wise insight is reminiscent of variations of the same message delivered to me by well-meaning messengers  in the course of my life.

There is the New Testament, of course, where no less than Jesus Christ himself admonishes us that “what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul in the end.” There is the financial management seminar I once attended where I learned that the healthiest and most productive attitude we should aspire to develop towards money is not the resolve for more  but rather the vocation to be stewards of God’s talents so that we may be able to bless others with it.  And then there is Gabriel Marcel’s Being and Having in which the great existentialist philosopher talks about the tragedy of reducing being to having when having is simply an aspect of being. To be is not reducible to have.

Indeed, we are all just passing through. Naked we came into this world. Naked we shall leave this earth. What matters most is how we lived rather than how we accumulated. It’s a great thought to reflect on as we start the new year.