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.

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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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