It’s been exactly 7 days since I completed my very first marathon along with 618 aspiring marathoners by way of The Bull Runner (TBR) Smart Dream Marathon. I must say I still find myself reeling from the surreal experience even as I find myself coming full circle with regard to the niche that music has played in my love of running.
There was a time when music figured prominently in my runs. It was, in fact, what motivated me to buy my first smartphone. It didn’t disappoint even as I discovered running apps which could seamlessly integrate my playlist with its GPS tracking and automated coaching. Music had a way of energizing my practice runs and firing me up during my actual races. As I met runners whose passion for the sport practically equalled if not exceeded mine, I eventually found myself discarding music in exchange for comparing notes, trading stories, and soliciting advice while on the race course. In between these running conversations I came to better appreciate the value of silence, solitude and reflection. When I finally invested in my first stopwatch, music became even more superfluous. In lieu of enjoying my latest playlist as I ran, I eventually found myself drawn by the rewarding experience of recording the highlights of my run and critiqueing the same post-run. As if to reinforce the preceding, my stopwatch died on me at km 26.
Then again, perhaps the singer-songwriter Don Henley was right. For better or for worse, music naturally lends itself as the soundtrack of our lives. And so as I look back to relish my personal victory over my first 42.196km course, no matter how humble and modest, I inevitably turn to what catapulted me to complete my first run in a university campus more than 3 years ago. Here are eleven songs which perfectly capture and celebrate the arc of my very first marathon journey.
“Hall of Fame” (The Script)
“You can go the distance, you can run the mile, you can walk straight through hell with a smile”
This has become a family favourite as I often cite it to encourage my kids to dream big dreams and be all that they can be. I realize as I reflect on the grace of having completed my first marathon that it might as well apply to me. It is a song that is oblivious to the difficulties and challenges that await those who aspire for great things. Its focus is on the dream and the aspiration that fuels one’s vision rather than the attendant sufferings and inevitable difficulties. For this reason, it seamlessly dovetails with the enthusiasm and optimism of a passionate running apprentice signing up for The Dream Marathon. “#OwnIt42K” would be apt as alternative title.
“Through Your Hands” (Don Henley)
“So whatever your hands find to do, you must do with all your heart”
“Respect the distance,” veteran runners would often admonish aspiring marathoners. I could not agree more. I had no illusions about running a marathon. I knew from the very beginning that it was not a walk in the park. It required a lot of hard work, sacrifice and discipline. Much has been written about the marathon journey being a protracted battle with oneself mentally, emotionally, physically and, yes, spiritually.
This John Hiatt composition which was recently reimagined by Don Henley traces that long and winding road to discovering what your life is about past the doubts and distractions. Along the way, it pays homage to the ethic of hard work, sacrifice and discipline as prerequisite to make things happen through your hands.
“Learning to Fly” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
“I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing.”
This song was adopted as the official anthem of the Chicago Bulls in 1991. The US Air Force SkyDiving Team followed suit after. Its words and music mirror the wide-eyed excitement and all-consuming desire of a student pilot to learn how to fly.
It describes my disposition to a T throughout the 5 Bull Circles and the 5 Bull Sessions that Coach Jaymie Pizarro painstakingly organized with her TBR Dream Marathon Team. It was this same hunger for learning tried and tested techniques that fired up my interest in ChiRunning and video form analysis both of which were facilitated by Coach Lit Onrubia, head coach of the TBR Dream Marathon and founder of Forward Lean Running. I knew then as I know now that I seriously had a lot of learning to do given the various injuries I started sustaining after my first 10K race. “Knowledge is power,” Francis Bacon once wrote. But applied knowledge is even more powerful.
“Say” (John Mayer)
“Even if your hands are shaking and your faith is broken, even as the eyes are closing, do it with a heart wide open”
The centerpiece of the TBR Dream Marathon is the tried and tested beginner’s marathon training program designed by Coach Jaymie Pizarro, Coach Jim Lafferty and Coach Lit Onrubia. It ran for 22 weeks and it was one component of the program that totally depended on the willpower of each TBR dreamer (i.e., that was how Coach Jaymie referred to us.) The only exception were the 5 progressive long runs that coincided with the scheduled Bull Sessions where pacers and our fellow dreamers took the practice runs to more engaging levels.
This song celebrates one’s commitment to keep a promise to get something done. Thankfully, on most days, it didn’t require that much effort to lace up and run. The secret was to block off the time to get it done. Some days proved to be difficult and challenging though. The reasons varied but they could sometimes be compelling if you let your guard down. You’re exhausted from work. You lack sleep. You feel lazy. You’d rather have more fun.
“What’s bigger than a mountain?” a friend once asked his team. “A promise to yourself,” he offered. I’m glad I kept mine.
“Stand by Me” (Tracy Chapman)
“No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid just as long as you stand, stand by me”
This song goes out to the most complete support system a first-time marathoner trainee could ever ask for – my wife Elaine who is my coach, my confidant and my cheerleader formidably backed up by our 4 enthusiastic kids who would often accompany me during my weekend long runs. Come to think of it, I completed my very first 2.2 km run with my family. The first bib I ever wore was occasioned by a fun run where my entire family participated. All my out of town long runs were completed with my family. It was apt and fitting then that they were with me when I completed my first 42.196K. I’ve said it before, I will say it again, I only got this far because my wife and my kids stood by me.
“Wild Mountain Thyme” (Ed Sheeran)
“And we’ll all go together where the wild mountain thyme grows around the blooming heather”
This well-loved Scottish traditional love song penned in the 1800s has been covered by a long list of prominent musicians. Among them were The Byrds and the late Glenn Frey. It is a song that is replete with themes of hope and optimism grounded in and powered by inclusiveness. Hence, its emphasis on “we’ll all go together where the wild mountain thyme grows.” Ed Sheeran’s version is possibly the rawest and most unadorned sonically. The positivity and resilience of the songwriter shines through loud and clear.
For this reason, it is the perfect song for all the practice runs and races where I breezed through the race course with my fellow runners thankfully with hardly any injuries. For that matter, the song is spot on to remember the joy and exhilaration of completing the first 21k of my first marathon with my fellow runners and friends I’ve met along the way. Even my ChiRunning instructor threw in a “Looking good, Von” compliment to punctuate the end of the first half of the race.
“Rockin in the Free World” (Pearl Jam)
“There’s a warnin’ sign in the road ahead, there’s a lot of people sayin’ we’d be better off dead”
The second 21K of the course was something else.
It reminded me of the hell that I went through in high school when I realized to my dismay that the Algebra examples taught by my Math teacher were worlds apart from what surfaced in the actual exams.
More to the point, the second half represented everything that went wrong in my past races. From my first ITBS episode to the unexpected and almost endless uphill leg of my first 34k race. From the cramps that came out of nowhere as I neared km 19 during my first 21k to the hitherto treacherous cramps that almost stopped me in my tracks at km 33. From the crushing self doubts to the elusive form that went down the drain as my cramps screamed at me to stop this insanity.
This 1989 classic rock anthem composed by grunge godfather Neil Young rose to prominence when it immortalized the collapse of communism. It was revived by U2 and Pearl Jam during the 2005 Live8 concert which lobbied for the G8 countries to help the poorest countries of the world. As the ultimate rock and roll take on Dylan Thomas’ “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” it is the perfect musical antidote to the thought of despair and surrender in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, one that will keep that fire in your belly burning even if hell freezes over.
“From up above I heard the angels sing to me these words”
Thankfully, if you forge ahead long enough, if you hold on long enough, if you fight back long enough despite the searing pain, the nagging doubts and the creeping disappointment, the finish line eventually comes into view. “Oh hey, I’m floating up above the world now” sang Coldplay frontman Chris Martin in this official theme to the movie “Unbroken.” Martin might as well be singing about my emotional state for days on end from the time I crossed the finish line. It is said that the afterglow is “widely treasured by photographers and painters as it offers breathtaking imagery.” That is exactly the mood that this song paints.
“Kind and Generous” (Natalie Merchant)
“For your kindness I’m in debt to you and I never could have come this far without you”
“Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-isa” happens to be the title of the Philippine King of Comedy’s authorized biography. In the book, Dolphy pays homage to all the individuals who made his success and legacy possible. While it goes without saying that the breadth and depth of his legacy are infinitely far-reaching than my first marathon, I think he will forgive me for invoking the same declaration of gratitude and appreciation.
I only got this far because of kind and generous people I had the privilege of crossing paths with. Never mind if I repeat myself over and over again in my social media posts. I am forever in your debt, Coach Jaymie Pizarro, Coach Lit Onrubia, Coach Jim Lafferty, Coach Francis Diano, Ms Macel Janeo, Coach Jun Cruz, Mr Mike Janeo and Mr Neville Manois for curating and masterminding the 22-week TBR Dream Marathon and giving me the chance to participate in it.
My gratitude to the wacky and enthusiastic Dream Chasers on race day. From the kind words of encouragement to the radiant everything-will-be-fine smiles on their faces. From their empowering placards guaranteed to make you chuckle to their superhero-inspired capes that reinforce your belief in yourself. From the caring foam stick massages to the free chocolates and chips. From the free hugs to the surprise celebrity-driven pep lines courtesy of Anthony Pangilinan and MariceL Laxa-Pangilinan. My cup overfloweth.
My thanks to my running friends from The Bulalo Team led by June Policarpio, Louie Pangilinan, Anne Orquiza, Ronnel Sunga, Kelyn Das, Aj Favor, June Petogo and Jane Santos for the words of encouragement, the warm camaraderie and their compelling example of passion and dedication. I will never read the word steady the same way again. Thanks as well to DM Marasigan and Mon Guinto for their friendship and solidarity.
My gratitude to my friend and veteran world marathoner Rio Mayuga who unbeknownst to her almost half a decade ago, set me off on my protracted journey to the sport of running. I first witnessed Rio’s passion and enthusiasm for the sport as she coached the runners who represented our VOE team. As I wrote separately, It was almost cinematic or if you will, poetic that just when I felt like slowing down and giving in to my muscle cramps, she generously offered to pace me enroute to the last albeit most difficult 500 meters of the race. In the course of doing so, she planted yet another set of seeds about even greater and grander things that beckon after my first 42.196km.
My thanks to the Dream Catchers led by Photo-Ops, Active Pinas, Ricky Pets and other photography enthusiasts and professionals who quietly and without any fanfare immortalized our dream moments on the race course.
“He set my feet upon a rock and made my footsteps firm”
We are, according to the existentialists, contingent beings. We need not be yet we are, precisely because of the grace of The Necessary Being that makes such possible. The same could be said of my very first marathon. There (i.e., DNF’d) but for the grace of God go I.
Psalm 40 is the basis and inspiration for U2’s “40.” It celebrates the joy of someone giving thanks to God for all the great things the Lord has done for him. It is one compelling song of thanksgiving that resonates with me as I write this. In the end, all that I have achieved by my own and by way of the kindness and generosity of others could have only come from Him who makes all things possible.
In the thanksgiving mass I attended tonight, our priest celebrant differentiated grace from will thus: If what you have been praying for comes to pass, that is grace. If it does not, it is God’s will. Hence, there is nothing to fear and there is everything to praise God for. Let this song be my humble prayer of praise and thanks to God for answered prayers.
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Michael McDonald)
“Remember the day I set you free…From that day on, I made a vow.”
On several occasions, Coach Jaymie promised us two things. To wit: one, you will never forget your first and two, you will never be the same again after you cross the finish line. I believed her then. I believe her all the more now. Once again, I have my friend Rio to thank for amplifying the latter so eloquently when she posted this inspiring note after the race: “…now that you’re a marathoner, you’ll find there’s so much more in the world you CAN do, that you never thought you could. Keep on running…because you can!”
Here’s to bigger dreams today, then, which are realities tomorrow.
Congratulations to my fellow dreamers of TBR Dream Marathon Batch 2016!
The best is yet to come.