Never Say Never

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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

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“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.

If You Can Keep Your Head

I have always been fascinated by the flying genius deftly displayed by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger at New York’s Hudson River on January 15, 2009. You can imagine my delight when I learned that his heroic act as celebrated in his  memoir entitled Highest Duty – My Search for What Really Matters would be turned into a movie. More so when I read that no less than Clint Eastwood would direct the film that would topbill Tom Hanks as Capt. Sully. For months, I looked forward to finding out how these two world-class talents would transform a 315-paged autobiography into a 120-minute film.  And so when we read about Sully opening in our city, we wasted no time catching it on Imax.

Here are 5 takeaways that made us even bigger fans of Sully, and, by implication, Eastwood and Hanks.

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Sense of Purpose

Both in the book and in the film adaptation of the latter, Sully consistently refused to refer to himself as a hero, choosing instead to share the credit with his co-pilot and crew.  As far as Sully was concerned, he was simply a professional aviator who got the job done out of a strong sense of purpose.  To be sure, this strong sense of purpose did not grow in a vacuum.  In the film, Eastwood points us to three compelling elements in Sully’s life that proved pivotal in this regard –  his love of flying during his growing up years, his military aviation training and his wife and kids.  The book though takes us even farther, specifically, to how he was formed and raised by his dad who served in the military and his mom who was a grade school teacher. Both did a fine  job of forming his strong sense of purpose  in words and deeds.  “When we’re not around, we’re counting on you” my mom would tell me. My dad would say, “You’re in charge.” (p. 63.) Being a military man, Sully’s father “impressed upon me that a commander’s job is full of challenges, and his responsibilities are almost a sacred duty. I kept my father’s words with me during my own military career, and, after that, when I became an airline pilot, with hundreds of passengers in my care.” (p. 57.)    And so it was that despite the fact that Sully lived in an age when being a  commercial pilot is no longer as glamorous and as high-paying as it used to be in the old days,  his sense of purpose – to care for both his passengers and crew come rain or come shine – was as undiminished in 2009 as it was when he first flew with his instructor Mr. Cook in 1967.  That the movie was screened during the week celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday all the more amplifies his characteristic  insistence to always  be the first to lead and the last to leave, always choosing to put his passengers ahead of himself every time, all the time.

Law of the Harvest

I like how Director Clint Eastwood uses Sully’s love of running to take us back to critical snippets from Sully’s past. There’s one scene in the movie where Sully catches sight of an F-4 Phantom on display towards the end of his run. It was one run that augured well with his attempt to center himself during a period of tremendous self-doubt. That’s because the F-4 was the same aircraft where he and his co-pilot got involved in his very first   near-miss when he was still  a military aviator. He describes this in vivid detail in the book: “perhaps the most harrowing flight of my military career came in an F-4 out of Nellis…We were at a very low altitude, and I felt the plane move by itself. Imagine being in your car, driving along, and all of a sudden,  without turning the steering wheel, you start veering to the left. It would be a bit shocking.” (p. 121.) Even then, Sully was the take-charge pilot that he was during the Hudson River incident.  Instead of being swallowed by fear, “I immediately pulled the F-4 skyward. I needed a rapid climb  to get away from the unforgiving ground. I had to buy myself time and give myself room. At a higher altitude, Loren (his co-pilot) and I might be able to make sense of the malfunction and deal with it more effectively. More important, if the situation worsened, we would have the time and altitude to be able to recover or successfully eject and survive.” (p. 122.)

In yet another scene in the film where the viewer learns that his career as a military aviator was largely influenced by his teenage years flying crop-dusters in Denison,Texas Eastwood once again turns to running to evoke Sully’s reminiscences of the same.  Lest the viewer think that everything started when he did his first solo as a teenage boy, his memoir reveals that Sully considers himself “lucky to find my life’s passion at a very young age. I have a clear recollection that at age five I already knew I was going to spend my life flying airplanes.” (p. 131.)  Yet another reiteration of how world renowned theater personality Lea Salonga frames her landing the role of Miss Saigon. To wit: a classic case of preparation meeting with opportunity. Make no mistake about it.  Capt. Sullenberger’s feat at the Hudson River was not a flash in the pan. Far from it. It was premised on flying for thousands of hours  with optimal aptitude and passionate attitude.

Critical Thinking

The scene in the film where Sully discusses the value of striking a balance between following flight protocols and exercising a judgment call  reminds me of a recent talk given by Rock Ed founder and advocate Gang Badoy.  In her talk, Badoy decried the dogmatic approach of some overzealoous  employees even in situations which clearly call for a certain degree of latitude. One involved a hotel staff who refused to lend a thermos for making coffee  to a hotel guest who wanted to use it to bathe as it’s against hotel policy. The other involved a nurse who refused to administer an extra dose of anesthesia to a pregnant woman who was clearly in dire need of it given government policy about  patient-anesthesia ratios. Good thing that in both cases, it was Badoy’s critical thinking that fortunately triumphed over dogmatic compliance.   At the time of the flight emergency of Flight 1549 in 2009, critical thinking could be said to have saved the day. Consider how Sully’s thought processes concluded that  there were two options available to him when the crisis set in. One was for the flight officer to fly the plane so that he, the captain would have the time to figure out options available. The other was for the captain to fly the plane himself while the first officer sorted out the applicable trouble-shooting solutions. Sullenberger reflects thus, “Even in those early seconds, I knew this was an emergency that called for thinking beyond what’s usually considered appropriate. As a rush of information came into my head, I had no doubts that it made the most sense for me to take the controls…For one, I had greater experience flying the A320. Jeff (his first officer) was much newer to this type of plane. Also, all the landmarks I needed to see in order to judge where we  might go were on my side of the airplane. I also knew that since Jeff had just trained on the A320, he had more recent experience practicing the emergency procedures. He could more quickly find the right checklist out of about 150 checklists in our Quick Reference Handbook (QRH.)” (p. 211) Can you imagine what would have happened had Capt. Sully blindly followed the first option?

15 Years After

The timing of the movie’s screening could not have come at a more apt day of the year, opening as it did to phenomenal reviews by both critics and moviegoers 3 days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11. As one character in the movie  puts it, “It’s been a while since we’ve heard some good news about New York especially about planes.” More than providing us with a piece of good news about the city that never sleeps though, this Eastwood opus is also a tribute both to the beauty of this awe-inspiring metropolis and the spontaneous compassion of New Yorkers who came to the rescue of US Airways Flight 1549 on that fateful day of January 2009.  From its famous skyscrapers which have adorned hundreds of Hollywood movies to its busy streets brimming with so much energy and diversity, New York City as it is presented in Sully  beckons the moviegoer to visit this great city at least once within one’s lifetime.  And of course no less than Capt. Sullenberger points to January 15, 2009 as yet another great day celebrating the best that New Yorkers have to offer. “In the stress of the moment, there was an efficient kind of order that I found absolutely impressive. I also saw examples of humanity and goodwill everywhere I looked.  I was so moved when deckhands on ferries took off the shirts, coats, and sweatshirts they were wearing to help warm the passengers…I was seeing dozens of bystanders acting with great compassion and bravery – and a sense of duty. It felt like all of New York and New Jersey was reaching out to warm us.” (p. 250-251.)

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Kipling Revisited

Quite possibly, the most surprising revelation of this film even after having read Capt. Sully’s memoir was how unsympathetic and skeptical  the National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) investigators were from the very beginning of their investigation.  That was not clearly explicitated in the book.  On several occasions in the movie, the NTSB sought to point out that Capt. Sully could have saved both the plane and the passengers had he decided to land in the nearest airport instead of gliding the plane and executing a water landing in the Hudson River.  While the whole world outside the investigation room was celebrating Capt. Sullenberger as a hero, the NTSB investigators were keen on proving he was the exact opposite for having done what he did.  That he was having the beginnings of a post-traumatic stress disorder during the investigation period only made the situation even more stressful.  As Capt. Sully notes:  “It took me a couple of month to process what had happened and to work through the post-traumatic stress…They told me I’ve be sleeping less, I’d have distracted thinking. I’d lose my appetite. I’d have flashbacks, and I’d do a lot of second-guessing and “what-iffing.”  (p. 273.) To the credit of Eastwood and his crew, Sully takes us on the backseat of what it means to go through such a harrowing experience as the movie offered various cinematic glimpses of how Flight 1549 could have ended tragically.  Thankfully, in the end, despite the self-doubts and the skepticism that came his way, Sully’s wife and partner, Lorrie observed that, “He is feeling better today. You know, he’s a pilot. He’s very controlled and very professional…I have said for a long time that he’s a pilot’s pilot, and he loves the art of the airplane.” (p. 276.) Reflecting on how Tom Hanks portrayed the steady demeanor of Capt. Sullenberger throughout the movie notwithstanding his self-doubts and the doubts that his heroic actions elicited in the NTSB, I can’t help but remember a poem by Rudyard Kipling. If, according to my  literature teacher, is an eloquent portrait of what it truly takes to be truly human. My classmates and I enthusiastically dissected this Kipling masterpiece line by line in search of wisdom to guide us during our high school years. We were amply rewarded with lessons that would last us a lifetime.  In Capt. Sully’s actions that fateful day in January 2009 as well as the many times he fulfilled his highest duty from the time he flew his first solo to his sorties as a military aviator, from his first commercial flight to his celebrated water landing onboard the A320, we have been blessed with a true to life contemporary reiteration of  Kipling’s admonition.

"If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

I Will Sing, Sing a New Song

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

feb blog program

“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.

vk with family

“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.

feb blog vk june aj

“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.

“Miracles” (Coldplay)

“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.

feb blog vk with rio

“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.

“40” (U2)

“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.

feb blog FINAL

“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.

feb blog best is yet to come

 

 

Anne-alog na, Anne-bilis pa!

anne curtis vinylTo be sure, Anne Curtis’ interest in vinyl records has been pretty well-documented over the years. She has numerous tweets singing praises to the superb sonic quality of analog recordings. Heima Store IG’d her visit to buy vinyl records. She has bought vinyl albums from Satchmi during one of the bazaars where this lone all-vinyl store at SM Megamall participated. Her working Rega P1 turntable at home was set up by no less than Heima Store founder Bong Rojales. In 2011, the Manila Bulletin wrote an engaging feature story celebrating her love of indie vinyl records. In the article “Anne Curtis’ Indie Moments”, she shares that indie albums are “what I collect when I go abroad. I buy the vinyl records of my favorite bands…I don’t anymore buy CDs, more of records na lang…ang bigat non sa maleta.” Manila Bulletin writer Rowena Joy A. Sanchez notes that “Anne already has three stacks worth of vinyl records.” (“Anne Curtis’ Indie Moments” by Rowena Joy A. Sanchez, Manila Bulletin, September 15, 2011.) In the September 2015 issue of Yes Magazine, editor Jo-ann Maglipon notes that: “she has a working turntable at home and a collection of vinyl records which she says sounds more crisp and more authentic.”

oct blog anne curtis runningSimilarly, her interest in running has been relatively consistent over the years. She threw in her support for World Vision in 2013 by partnering with Coach Rio Dela Cruz to raise funds for World Vision children beneficiaries. The now defunct Runners’ World Philippines featured her in its Jan-Mar 2014 issue. Fairly recently, in her current capacity as UNICEF Celebrity Advocate for Children, she teamed up with prominent race organizers led by Takbo.PH to organize the Heroes for Children Run which is happening on October 25, 2015. The run seeks to raise funds  to address the issue of under-nutrition which unfortunately still impacts no less than 3.4 million Filipino children. To increase public awareness about this pressing social issue, she will attempt her first 21K race at the said event.

Unicef Heroes for Children - A3 LayeredAt first glance, Anne Curtis’ interest in vinyl records and her passion for running may appear to be worlds apart, to say the least. But if you look closer, you might be surprised to discover no less than 10 things that neatly tie in her interest in vinyl records to her zest for running.  It is interesting to note that they do not necessarily apply to her alone.

Skeptical? Read on…

Longevity

Both vinyl record collecting and running exemplify the meaning of longevity. That’s because both have somehow  captured the Filipinos’ imagination in varying degrees over the years.

Consider, the November Hi-Fi Show which is the biggest annual event celebrating vinyl record collecting and the whole slew of hardware on which to play them is now on its 12th year. In a 2014 article which appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, its founder Tonyboy de Leon “remarks with pride that the Hi-Fi Show is the only event of its kind in Manila that can truly count on a loyal following. In fact, visitor size has grown through the years, thanks to critical support provided by audio-visual exhibitors, both local and foreign. The latest one featured 55 exhibitors and De Leon’s biggest coup yet, Michael Fremer (internationally renowned hobbyist and advocate) in Manila.” (“Hobbyists Behind Vinyl Resurgence in the Country by Von Katindoy, Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 5, 2014.)

nov hi fi show

The biggest and longest running marathon event in the country pioneered by Milo Philippines in 1976 is now on its 39th year. Over 200,000 runners join this event across 18 cities and provinces culminating with the national Milo marathon championships towards the end of the year. Given the increasing number of running enthusiasts it has attracted over the years, it should come as no surprise why there are more running events happening monthly compared to the first year Milo first organized a marathon.

Numbers-Driven

Both vinyl records and running ground themselves in definitive numbers to ensure optimal experience.

There is the 33 1/3 revolutions per minute (rpm) in the case of vinyl records. Anything faster or slower will get in the way of truly appreciating and enjoying the warmth, breadth and depth of long-playing vinyl records. Peter Goldmark is credited for inventing the LP in 1948 “when he slowed down the record from the then conventional 78 rpm to 33 1/3 rpm. By doing so, he effectively lengthened the groove and decreased the width.” (National Inventors Hall of Fame)

Corresponding to this is the highly recommended 170 to 180 strides per minute which is specified as the right cadence in running. Anything faster or slower is an invitation to unnecessary injuries. It is interesting to note that the metronome which is traditionally used by classical musicians to perfect their rendition has become an indispensable tool in the sport of running. Indeed, the metronome figures prominently in the ChiRunning App developed by founder Danny Dreyer to help runners observe the 170 to 180 stride per minute cadence.

Alone Time

Both vinyl record listening and running have come to be regarded as perfect acts of solitude or if you will, “alone time.”

To really appreciate your records, one goes through what Robert Crespo of Crossover 105.1 calls the solitary ritual of vinyl listening. Crespo “vividly remembers a surreal experience dining with the jazz pianist great David Benoit. Towards the end of the dinner, Crespo brought out his prized sealed copy of “Urban Daydreams” to ask Benoit to sign it. Instead of signing the record right away, the jazz pianist took his time gazing at the album cover before perusing the details on the back. Then,  like a seasoned vinyl collector, he used his thumbnail to unseal the record. Before he pulled out the record, he took a long, slow whiff of the vinyl with his eyes closed, the way a wine connoisseur does before sampling the wine.” (“Back in Black” by Von Katindoy, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, December 13, 2013.)

david benoit

There is a parallel ritual of solitude in running that runners relish. It starts with getting up in the wee hours of the morning, donning your running gear, warming up before heading off to the starting line, running off gently at first and then building into a comfortable pace, sustaining that pace and eventually moving on to a sprint pace as you near the finish line. True, in between these activities you get to say hi and hello maybe even compare notes with other runners but throughout the entire running experience, one experiences an almost undisturbed shot at solitude as you focus on completing the race.

Social Event

For all the solitude offered by these two activities, both also promote socialization.

This is because the most popular convention for enjoying vinyl records is not through the use of the headphone but rather by way of the two-speaker set-up. By seating yourself in the so-called “sweet spot” which is approximately 6 feet away from your turntable flanked by the standard 2-speaker set up, you get to fully enjoy a vinyl recording to the fullest – a setting that does not exactly discourage family members and friends from joining you to partake in the analog sonic experience. Indeed, many of those I interviewed in my 2013 Inquirer article on the vinyl resurgence in the country shared that this was exactly how they first discovered analog music.

The same might as well be said of running. Notwithstanding the solitude it provides the runner, its social aspect is beyond doubt. Runners tend to form tightly-knit networks with fellow runners to improve their game. Family and friends of runners inevitably find themselves drawn to the sport to cheer on a loved one or a close friend. The best illustration of the preceding is The Bull Runner Dream Marathon founded by Jaymie Pizarro with Jim Lafferty where family members and friends are highly encouraged to provide moral support to first-time marathoners. Finally, without the teams and organizations that organize running races, there is no way runners could enjoy the kind of solitude that the sport facilitates.

dream marathon

Higher Ground

There is also such a thing as a higher ground in both vinyl record collecting and running.

In the case of vinyl collecting, this comes in the form of according the attention and respect deserved by the musicians and the music that they created as recorded in the vinyl format. This has been the perennial complaint of career musicians who have spent decades to perfect their craft only for their music – to which they’ve given their lives – to be treated as background or worse, totally ignored. This is why some musicians refuse to play in weddings and social functions. They would rather play in concerts and recitals where full attention to their music and their playing is guaranteed.

In the case of running, the higher ground is obvious in the numerous causes that most if not all races support either through increased public awareness or  by way of raising funds. To name a few, The Bull Runner Dream Marathon has been a generous and loyal supporter of The Hero Foundation. The Condura Skyway Marathon chooses a specific charity to support for each year that it is held. The New York City Marathon and the Chicago Marathon both provide runners with the opportunity to raise funds for their favorite charity.

hero foundation

Addicting

In the book “Vinyl Junkies,” author Brett Milano documents how difficult and challenging it is for vinyl collectors to stop the habit, so to speak, once you are hooked by the dark side – black being the traditional color of vinyl records. “Love for the music, love for the artifact, the thrill of the chase: these are the three elements that turn a garden-variety music lover into a vinyl junkie. Like many collectors, Monoman is on an eternal mission, There’s always something out there that he hasn’t yet got.” (“Vinyl Junkies” by Brett Milano, p 15.) No other film captures the never-ending wanderlust of vinyl collectors than the movie “High Fidelity,” a Nick Hornby novel which became a cult movie classic.

vinyl junkies

Runners who embrace the sport often share how they feel incomplete even unfulfilled if they can’t race at least once or twice a month on top of their regular routine of thrice a week practice runs. More importantly, for most runners, there is no such thing as running enough races. The more you race, the more you look forward to more races. There is no such thing as a finish line. As some runners would put it, “it can be quite addicting.” 

Round and Round

Yet another fascinating similarity of these two seemingly unrelated passions is the fact that both vinyl listening and running intrinsically involve circular movements.

The recording that is etched on the grooves of vinyl albums can only be read by the stylus through the so called rpm or revolutions per minute. 33 1/3 is the standard specification for long playing albums while 45 is the prerequisite for singles.

In running, the optimal movement of the runners’ legs is through a circular motion as they swing rearward. This is why ChiRunning founder Danny Dreyer recommends that one visualize one’s legs as wheels that are moving in motion as one runs. The alternative to this is the pendulum movement of one’s  legs which is an invitation to injury, running inefficiency and unnecessary exhaustion.

No Short Cuts

Both vinyl listening and running literally take you from Point A to Point B.  No short cuts allowed.

In vinyl listening, unlike in the case of enjoying CDs, downloaded and streamed music, you experience the recording in linear fashion and  as it was originally visualized by the artists and the producer/s of the album. That is to say, you move from track 1 of Side A and progressively listen to the succeeding tracks until you reach the final track of Side B. Hence, the objection of some vinyl purists to compiling the greatest hits of their favorite artists because you eventually lose out on the painstaking thought that went into how the tracks are sequenced say in “Let It Be” by The Beatles or “UltraElectroMagnetic Pop” by the Eraserheads.

The-Beatles-Let-It-Be

The same goes for running. Skipping or jumping from one point to another is simply a no-no unless you want to achieve a DNF (Did Not Finish) status at the end of the race. You always begin your run from a definitive starting point and target to end at a specific finish line. In between, like a consummate musician, a runner worth his/her salt tries his/her best to figure out what strategy to use within the first 21K and the next 21K. Put bluntly, you don’t just recklessly run off at gun start. You pace yourself well at each critical segment so you finish strong.

Tangible

Both vinyl collecting and running endear themselves to those who pursue them through their tangible rewards.

For the record collector, this easily translates to the experience of marveling at and relishing the album art of records, reading the liner notes and carefully holding the physical vinyl record so as not to smudge it. “Says broadcast journalist Jay Taruc: “Vinyl, for me, has better packaging. That 12” x 12” album sleeve with the cover art, pictures, graphics, information sheet-liner notes, and other physical and visual element is a very big plus… that allows you to experience and physically hold the end product of an artist or a band. (And you marvel at) the creative process they go through to actually produce it. The vinyl record somehow represents all that.” (“Back in Black” by Von Katindoy, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, December 13, 2013)

For the runner nothing compares to the unique high that finisher medals and race bibs provide post- race. In the critically-acclaimed documentary “The Spirit of the Marathon” a running couple share how they consistently documented their races by personally curating their collection of race bibs and medals. One of the most sought-after products of Takbo.PH is their metal medal hanger with the signage that reads: “Keep On Running.” In one of her recent blogs,  Coach Noelle De Guzman a.k.a. Kikay Runner shared how several enterprising running enthusiasts came up with quilts made of finisher shirts and vinyl medal hangers with customized taglines.

Metaphysical

Both vinyl listening and running take you to metaphysical territories.

In the Oscar-winning movie, “Almost Famous,” shortly before writer-director Cameron Crowe’s sister leaves their home to live with her boyfriend, she conspiratorially tells Crowe to check out the vinyls under her bed. She then enjoins her younger brother to listen to The Who’s “Tommy” with candles as lighting so he can see his entire future while enjoying the sonic experience. Critically listening to vinyl records, like reading, can take you to frontiers you never knew existed with no need to ingest alcohol or drugs. No wonder, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

almost famous

In the classic book “Running and Being,” Dr. George Sheehan talks about running in the same vein. To make his case for the metaphysical rewards that running provides, he enlists the help of literary and philosophical giants like Henry David Thoreau, Gabriel Marcel, Soren Kierkegaard and G.K. Chesterton. When one runs, Sheehan writes, one does not only do so to de-stress. One runs because your very authenticity as a human being is at stake. To run is to tell the corporate world that you are more than your position and the salary you draw twice a month.

So, in the event that you happen to find yourself running next to Anne Curtis on October 25 during her first 21K race, you now have not 1, not 2 but 10 prospective talking points to throw at her instead of simply contenting yourself with an Instagram selfie or a simple hi and hello. That, of course, is if you can keep up with her running pace.

As if to confer an element of legitimacy to my rambling attempt at a reflective juxtaposition, both running and vinyl listening will be celebrated in grand fashion towards the last 2 months of the year.

The 12th November Hi-Fi Show will take place on November 14-15, 2015 in Citadines, Salcedo Village, Makati City.

The 39th Milo National Grand Finals will happen on December 6, 2015 in Angeles City, Pampanga.

milo marathon

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

Did you know that a louse (i.e., “kuto” in Filipino) once evoked a poetic insight? In 1785 the English poet Robert Burns chanced upon a louse on an otherwise fine-looking lady’s bonnet prompting him to write: “To see ourselves as others see us, it would from many a blunder free us.”

robert burnsMore than 200 years after it was written, Burns’ insight continues to resonate in the age of Spotify and YouTube albeit for an entirely different set of reasons. Thanks to the internet, virtually anything could be learned by anyone – from playing the guitar to cooking your favorite comfort dish, from mastering a language to mounting a grassroots political campaign. Notwithstanding the numerous things one can learn through the internet, it has its limitations. You may spend the requisite 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell popularized to master a craft yet still realize that your skill level is not at par with where you’d like to take it. You can pore over the various internet references for understanding the different words that comprise a language yet still feel frustrated about your seeming lack of progress. The missing ingredient? Critique in the form of feedback for us “to see ourselves as others see us.”

malcolm gladwellThat is precisely why training programs that are deemed most effective are those which employ feedback to sharpen the skill level of the learner. The same might as well apply to runners who aspire to improve their game. You can do all the strength training exercises until you pass out of sheer exhaustion. You can run all the LSD and tempo runs that your body can muster. But without feedback, you deprive yourself of learning more about what you’re doing right and what you could improve on. One powerful instrument of feedback is video analysis. Competitive basketball teams use it. Aerobatic teams leverage on it. Elite units of the armed forces can’t do without it. Runners who aspire to continuously improve would do well to use this technology particularly in improving their form.

What attitude is to aptitude, form is to speed. More to the point, form is fundamental. Thus, the insistent admonition of many coaches to work on one’s form first. Then, you can progressively work on your speed next. Your form, after all, influences your speed or lack of it. Most importantly, form, is ultimately about efficiency which is a requirement of endurance. And endurance is what long-distance running is all about.

And so compelled by this insight and disturbed by a string of running injuries (i.e., most of which have since healed) which came in the heels (pun intended) of my aspiration to improve at the sport, I decided to invest in a form analysis session after accidentally discovering the availability of such a service. Thanks to certified ChiRunning instructor and The Dream Marathon Head Coach Lit Onrubia and his company called Forward Lean Running, I uncovered a number of valuable take-aways which I have no doubt will improve my running without risking even more serious injuries. These, incidentally, are the two important customer value propositions of ChiRunning.

coach lit onrubia

Chi Running is “a revolutionary form of moving that blends the subtle inner focuses of T’ai Chi with running.” It was developed by Danny Dreyer based on “his study of T’ai Chi with Master Zhu Xilin and internationally renowned Master George Xu, and his 35 years of experience, running, racing ultra marathons and coaching people in intelligent movement.”

oct blog chi running bookHere are just 5 of the numerous benefits that running enthusiasts could look forward to if and when they decide to give form analysis a try.

Pattern

The first thing that impressed me about Forward Lean Running’s form analysis is the premium that it assigns to the diagnostic approach. As phenomenologists would put it, “first you describe, then you prescribe.” To find out what I’m doing right and what I could improve on, my running form was recorded at various speeds – from the warm-up pace to the comfortable race pace, from the comfortable race pace to the sprint race pace. In addition, various vantage points were used for recording upper body and lower body movements across the various paces. In the process, an overall pattern of my running form was established. This effectively served as the baseline of the form analysis.

oct blog forward lean runningStrength Finding

Yet another thing that made me appreciate form analysis is its conscious effort to engage in strength finding instead of dwelling on errors and their attendant correction right away. More specifically, the form analysis session zeroed in on the various form focuses that I got right. Form focus are two intrinsically-related terms that Dreyer uses to describe the bite-size exercise that works on a specific body part that contributes to achieving the Chi Running form. This conscious effort to identify and affirm your strengths as a runner naturally builds a sense of confidence and fulfillment. When I was told, for instance, that I was actually observing the forward lean form as I was running, I was buoyed by the affirmation to all the more continue to seek to improve. I must have done something right along the way. The feeling is no different from the positive vibe that inescapably wraps you when you hear or read “Kaya Mo Yan” – the current Milo Marathon tag line – while you’re in a race.

Development Opportunities

From the very beginning, it was the possibility of chancing upon my areas for improvement that made me invest in form analysis. I’m glad that I was not disappointed. By uncovering the blind spots and red flags in my form and technique, it allowed me to set my sights on specific, measurable and achievable gaps that I could improve. Fortunately, most of my blind spots require mostly small tweakings here and there. Yet however small these tweakings may appear to be, their impact and effect on one’s efficiency are exponential once they are applied in actual runs. Cases in point are the corrections I was advised to work on with regard to the consistency of my forward lean (i.e., that I should maintain it especially when speeding up), the circular and rearward movement of my legs (i.e., that I should lift my right leg more) and my cadence (i.e., that I should constantly check if I’m over-striding by rolling my eyes downward.)

Learning Applied

An unexpected plus that came my way after what I thought was the completion of the analysis is the quick-win application of insights that apply to my form and technique. Instead of being sent off to work on my development opportunities, Coach Lit actually directed me right there and then to integrate the necessary high-value adjustments to my form while I was actually running. My cadence involved one such adjustment. Months back, I experimented with various SPM (i.e., strides per minute) permutations on a running track. Based on my trial and error attempts, I thought that I would have to settle for 170 strides per minute which was at the extreme lower end of Dreyer’s recommended SPM. In the course of the form analysis, I discovered that I could comfortably do 175 or even 180 strides per minute by simply adjusting my stride length and synching it with the metronome. It was the adjustment to my stride length that I found most helpful. It really is one thing to read about things. It’s altogether a different matter when you apply what you read in real life.

Hope

Lastly, I left the session with a sense of hope and optimism that despite the fact that I only discovered ChiRunning after years of winging it with grit and tenacity, there is no way to go but forward now that I know what I know. This time around hopefully I could do so with minimal or even better, zero injuries. In the song “Betamax” popularized by the Pinoy band Sandwich, lead singer Raymund Marasigan enjoins the listener to keep moving forward: “Padayon! Ipagpatuloy ang agos!” Notwithstanding the original context of the song, its core message of forging on  augurs well with how Dreyer envisions ChiRunning: “In ChiRunning, basic principles of T’ai Chi are employed to optimize the flow of energy in your body to reduce the use of force for moving forward, and thereby reduce the risk of injury.” (ChiMarathon by Danny Dreyer, p 13)

 sandwich 2

One Route to the NYC Marathon

Sharing a variant of my September blog which was featured in Takbo.PH. This was originally posted in this blog site  as “Dreaming Big.” To be sure, it is by no means the only route to the New York City Marathon. But it sure is something one can concretely work towards eventually achieving.

http://www.takbo.ph/2015/09/how-to-join-the-new-york-city-marathon/

My thanks to Que Aspan-Sullano for the  privilege and opportunity. Takbo.PH proved to be a helpful resource when I first started out running. It still is for anything related to running in the Philippines.

takbo.ph blog