“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.