Finish Strong

Monday, May 11, 2009

Eversince a TRAP (Triathlon Association of the Philippines) official cajoled me to "Finish strong" in a comeback race, a mini-sprint triathlon to be exact, I would always aim to end each race - be it a foot race, an aquathlon, or a triathlon - with a strong run to the finish. For the last 500m or 1K, I would sprint toward the finish line in celebration of all things I love about running. The sight of the finish line elicits a Pavlovian response in me - no matter how tired I am, my legs would suddenly speed up in anticipation of race completion. Every now and then I would dedicate my rush to the finish line to some person, thing or cause.

My Botak 21K finish elicited the usual Pavlovian response. My finish was actually very strong (of course strong is relative to my capabilities), next only in power and intensity to my 2008 New Balance experience. But for some reason, I went home wilted. While hanging around after the race, I heard the race host enjoining volunteers to share their Botak story. I almost choked on the irony. This is my Botak story.

To run or not to run

I first heard about the Botak Paa-tibayan race in February I think. Tired of shifting marathon schedules, I dismissed the Botak full marathon as "Nice to know, sige nga tingnan natin if you can deliver". I changed my view when I met Botak founder Cesar Guarin in the carbo-loading party for the Condura Race. Co-CLP coordinator MJ was gushing about how Mr. Guarin inspired him to be a runner and I fully believed him. When I was reading the introductory spiel for Mr. Guarin, I said to myself, "Wow, this guy is something." Marathoner, ultra-marathoner, businessman. I wanted to identify with him. After the party I approached their team and asked again about the planned full marathon. I asked, "Is this really a go? Have the permits already been secured?". Until then it was still promises and hazy answers.

Eventually the Botak Paa-tibayan registration began. I wanted to join the full marathon simply to do an LSD, but even that I was hesitant. Truth was I even wanted to persuade others to do the marathon LSD with me. But can a group who cannot commit actually deliver? I was still apprehensive. Moreso when they sort of leaked that a carbo-loading party would happen when there was really no such thing that materialized?

In my heart I wanted to support Botak and Mr. Guarin. I like the idea of a Filipino brand doing its best to establish a name and compete. But please, let Botak represent the best in the Filipino and not our weaknesses. Let Botak be about creativity, ingenuity and guts, as well as discipline, integrity and public trust. Not about bahala na at pwede na yan.

Eventually I downgraded my Botak participation to 21K. I wanted my first marathon experience to be extra special - not marred by uncertainty and concerns about water and race marshalls. Even for my 21K I was actually worried. I can memorize the map to avoid the need for marshalls, but I could only bring in my hydration belt water enough for 16km at best. At some point, I must claim the water promised me when I signed up and paid for the race. Still, I signed up for my 3rd half-marathon in 3 months. I wanted to master the half-marathon. IF I have intentions of doing half-ironman someday, my 21K must feel like a 10K.

I seldom really race an event. Since my running comeback last August 2008, I remember only three races where I was serious about a target time: the New Balance Powerrace 25K, UP Ictus Run 10K and this Botak race. Most of the time I join for the fun, camaraderie or the cause. For the Botak 21K however, I intended to get serious a bit and set 2:30hrs as my target finish time, a few minutes better than my Greenfields 2:34 (unofficial). I intended to do even split - negative split if weather was cooperative. My race mantra was simple: run below 7min/km for as long as I could.

The Race

I ended up on the starting line with a group of fast runners - Deo, Ian and Ziggy - all tall and fit. Chubby, slow and average, I felt out of place. Haha. I tried moving forward to my pace match Marvin, but I still ended up pacing with the tall group in my first kilometer or so. They said they were injured or lacking training so they would be running slowly. Ah ganun kaya kayo nakiki-pace sa akin. Few minutes into the run, the tall runners were running sub-6min/km. Akala ko ba injured or recovering kayo? Bakit ang bilis ninyo kaagad? As these guys were tempting me to stay away from my plan, I deliberately slowed down to my 6:45min/km pace and let the guys zoom past me.

Except for the uphill portions where I naturally slowed down, I pretty much kept within my race plan of hanging below 7min/km. At km 10.5, my Garmin time was almost on the dot: 1:15:xx. It is normally at the turn around where I reassess my strategy. The sun was beginning to get hot by that time (7:15am) so I opted to aim for even split. My legs were still strong so I figured I could make my 2:30 aim.

Except for the fact that I was at the tail-end of 21K runners, I was doing ok per my race plan. However, I was beginning to have doubts about this 21K race strategy. It used to be that I enjoyed overtaking the slower runners as they struggled with their second half (while I maintained pace or did negative split), but lately this had not been giving me the psychological boost I needed. I realized that while overtaking is an ego boost, it does not directly translate to better absolute time. At best, it is better ranking among the slow group. Now I find myself having to summon an inordinate amount of will power to run fast, instead of riding on the energy of faster runners had I tried to latch onto them. I simply must be able to start fast, and run faster (or maintain pace) at turnaround. I suppose it is about time I do speed drills. I think my fully recovered legs are ready for them.

The shade along Rockwell mall and drive inspired me to run fast. I only slowed down on the uphill back to Kalayaan as it was time for me to eat my nutribar while I brisk walked for a few minutes. I just finished my first bar when I noticed that the Kalayaan water station had water jugs but ran out of cups. As I was focused on my PR and I still had water in my belt, I hesitantly skipped this station hoping for better conditions in the next station. At the next station I was just a little luckier for I managed to get a teeny cup of water. Still intent on beating my old PR, I contented myself with this and ran off.

Along Buendia on my way back, I would still run below 7min/km under the building shade, and relax a bit when the hot sun showed itself again. I was a bit thirsty but I was still running well and in high spirits. I would even meet blogger Mesh (my ironshoes) and friends along the way. At about km16 I checked my Garmin. I had 40 minutes to finish the last 5K. At my target pace of 7min/km, the time should be more than enough. I only have one concern: I was getting thirsty and the last water station I passed had no more water - empty jugs, used cups. I only had about 25ml left in my water bottle. I saved that for my second and last nutribar I intend to take as I brisk walked again the Kalayaan flyover incline.

After the Kalayaan ascent I finished off the contents of my Fuel Belt's 4 mid-size water bottles. I had to content myself with just half a nutribar for I do not have enough water to wash away the whole bar. When I saw the water spray at the flover, I muttered, I do not need to get wet. I do not want to wet my shoes and invite blisters. I ONLY want drinking water! At km18 my thirst was getting the better of me. My 2:30 was becoming a remote possibility but equaling my Greenfields time of 2:34:39 was still within reach. I just had to run still within 7min/km. My will was still strong so every now and then I would hit my target pace even in the last kilometers. I kept telling myself, You could still match your current PR and it would still be sweet victory given the harsh race conditions.

On my last 1km I summoned what was left of me and sprinted with my Garmin distance as my Pavlov indicator. On my supposed last 500 meters I was running my heart out when I realized, Geez, I am still far from the finish line! I clocked 2:35 on my Garmin at km21 but the marshall said we still have 500 meters to go before finish line. What!!!! I remembered the marshall instruction at probably km 13 at Ayala-Buendia intersection to go back to the Chino Roces turn-around. That was NOT in the race map but the marshall said so and the runners followed. My heart sank with this realization. I have already done my 'finish strong' bit; I didn't know if I had more to give. It was at this time that I saw a fellow member who seemed in worse condition than I was. I chatted for while, but sprinted once more when I had the chance. It was Pavlovian response asserting itself once again. And sure enough it kicked in. With PR gone, I gave this run my best finish in months. My heart and spirit were leaping with joy doing it. It was a treat to see blogger Javy and Quennie of getting my photo as I sprinted to the finish line. I probably lost a few seconds posing for cameras but damn I was happy to see friends there.

Finish line photo courtesy of Quennie

Crossing the finish line I was so jubilant notwithstanding the lost PR opportunity for I ran a good run and I pushed myself to the limit. Minutes later I would realized how close to the limit I was pushed.


This was me about 15 minutes after my 'strong finish'

I came out of the finish line chute ecstatic. With heart still pounding and adrenaline still circling in my system, I remember being greeted by friends and being pointed to where the people were. I remember wanting to cool down and having that dying thirst at the same time. Where is the finish line water? It seems organizers have been forgetting this as well. Friend Bong Yu pointed me to where the Gatorade line was but the line was several people long. Eventually I got my Gatorade and downed it instantly.

I went to look for friends. As I hear my friends' race stories, I began to feel dizzy. I remember Deo telling me how the heat and lack of water made his time worse by at least 10 minutes, and how I would need to put my hand on the tent pole to maintain balance. I would remember many more friends and another photo opportunity for recent finishers. I managed to pose for several photos but at some point I had to move away and go to the shade. I remember Jinoe showing me a printed copy of the yearbook and I was still sound enough to sign, but I was getting more light-headed by the minute. I seated myself by an iron bar as seen in the picture to hold my balance.

Then it vision was blurring. Oh my, I hoped it was not hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. I have had a lone attack of that in my lifetime and it was not a good experience. It starts with blurry vision, followed by chills and clammy fingers, epilepsy-like fit and momentary loss of consciousness - all this because my body ran out of food or sugar. But it was not hypoglycemia - the symptoms stop at dizziness, blurry vision and severely intense craving for food and drinks. At some point I was stable enough to invite friends to eat breakfast but everyone was still caught in the race euphoria and were waiting for other runners. I just asked a friend to accompany me to Pancake House but as we were about to walk, I got dizzier. I told my friend I had to sit down first and I went back to the metal bar. Within minutes, my gray vision was turning black. Before I blacked out I managed to call the attention of Timmy and Bong Yu. I told them I need to eat or drink something. Bong readily gave me his Gatorade. The Gatorade seemed to help but I was still light-headed. It was then I realized I must be suffering from low blood pressure, because I felt dizzy everytime I stand. I rested for a while on the metal bar. Eventually, I took the banner with me to a tent and lied on the banner to rest. Like magic I felt better, but got dizzy everytime I attempted to stand.

I lied down for about 5 minutes and stood up to go to my vehicle before I get dizzy again. My plan was to rest on my vehicle, eat the chocolate bar I have there and empty my reserve water bottle there. After that I can probably rejoin the group for breakfast. Once in my vehicle, I opted not to lie there for fear I might lose consciousness inside. I hurriedly changed shirt and dragged myself to the nearby Pancake House. After a glass of grape shake and a bowl of halo-halo, I felt better enough to drive home.

I had to miss the family's mother's day celebration. At home I drank lots of fluids and slept. I woke up at around 2pm and decided to check my blood pressure. I was shocked to find my blood pressure was closer to borderline low blood pressure than my usual normal to occasional high blood pressure. I drank more fluids and ate as much I could tolerate to normalize my blood pressure. By night time, my blood pressure was back to normal. Running doctor Eric de Belen told me I might have suffered from relatively lower blood pressure due to dehydration, but it was best to have actual physical exam. I instinctively felt I was already ok but I followed the doctor-friend's advice and went to Makati Med for ECG, blood test and physical examination. All test showed normal results as expected.

My hypothesis is that I did get dehydrated because of the water lack. I do not think it was heat exhaustion as I was used to running and biking from 9am-2pm. I involuntarily train in the heat because I always wake up late. I do not think it was hypoglycemia as I ate about 4 big pieces of hopia (probably 100 calories each) prior to my run and took 1.5 bars of nutribars of 140 calories each during my run. I also did not have the chills and clammy fingers. I reverted quickly to normal blood pressure when I took more fluids and slightly salty foods. I was initially afraid it was aneurysm or mild stroke but the test showed otherwise. My Garmin data showed an average heart rate of 165 which is higher than my LSD rate but normal for a race pace.

I actually still considered myself lucky. A friend suffered legs cramps, then stiff hands and eventually hyperventilated 500 meters before the finish line. If only the route was exactly 21K and not the 21.62 that my Garmin registered. He already had some hydration device with him already but he sure suffered the same water lack as he was running some 500-800m behind me. He had to be brought to Makati Med for emergency treatment, but thankfully he was discharged quickly after 2 hrs.

I blame no one but myself for this unpleasant experience. The buck stops at me as every self-respecting person should do.

  • I blame myself for disregarding initials signs and registering for this race notwithstanding these signs.
  • I blame myself for aiming for a new PR and pushing myself to my limits despite the race conditions.
  • I blame myself for not having the patience to refill my water bottles when the cups ran out.
  • I blame myself for not being resourceful enough to get water elsewhere along the way and at the finish line.
  • I blame myself for not training at race pace under adverse conditions like hot weather and lack of water.
  • I blame myself for tolerating this type of race organization and condition.

I have no one else to blame but me. I will act accordingly. Ako mismo. I still want to finish strong - strong enough to celebrate each run completion and to look forward to another run. Maybe I should just do my own 21K run, or my own full marathon. My personal record might not get published or broadcasted, but it will be something I will certainly cherish.


Ian May 12, 2009 at 8:28 AM  

Hey Rico!
I noticed that you weren't your usual self but I didn't think it was that bad. Good to know you're ok. Whew! I myself slept off the whole afternoon.. now we know better.. hehe

JavyO May 12, 2009 at 8:45 AM  

Good Job in finishing strong Rico!! I am sure you will kill that PR in the next Half Mary :)

Remember that a half marathon is actually 21.1km, not 21km. The 'additional' distance you ran may have been because you did not run the tangents or completely straight :)

Hannah's Garmin recorded 21.4km. I believe Deo's had 21.3. Close enough...

sfrunner May 12, 2009 at 9:19 AM  

Hi Rico. Always look at Botak as one of experience. A lot of things happened to you on Sunday. I've had the same things happen to me in races but not all of them during and at the end of one race. I'm gad that you're okay. I mentioned in another blog that the race organizers need to do a better job than they did last Sunday.

The last time that I had dizziness was at the end of the VSO Bahiginan 15K. Fortunately, I was able to get liquids down and in a cool area. After a nice breakfast at Chow King, it was if it never happened. I didn't mention this to my running friends because I thought I was in good shape and was adjusting to jet lag and the time change.

Anyway, take care and have a good week ahead!

LoganFam May 12, 2009 at 9:33 AM  

yo yo yo Rico, wow! 3 1/2's in 3 months. You're the man. You must enjoying torturing yourself. :)Congrats on the finish and I hope you'll be refreshed for Baguio. I can't promise it being much more organized but the temps will be cooler for sure. See you soon.

Rod.Runner May 12, 2009 at 10:01 AM  

idol... blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-a-alcohol. =)
nice post bro.
i chickened out from this race when i saw the route and who the organizer was. planning to go bandit and pace timmy instead but i arrived 5 mins late. hehehehe.. the adik in me thought of running from ayala to bhs thinking i'll reach the starting line early.

forefoot May 12, 2009 at 12:21 PM  

One hell of a story...but really full of lessons learned. A salute to a man who never missed on evaluating a mistake, and forging a will to never do the same again. As I was always told, i will share with you now, -" run your own pace. Better late and ok, than early but in injury."

Sam the Running Ninja May 12, 2009 at 10:43 PM  

Of all the blogs I read regarding this Botak race, almost ALL are blaming the race inefficiency for their poor performance. It is only you that blame yourself for the whole mess.....which I believe is the right attitude. Why force others to change or blame other people when it is the individual's capability to make things for the better. . I like the rare..

Keep it up!
The Running Ninja

Rico Villanueva May 12, 2009 at 11:42 PM  

Ian, dapat pala sumabay ako sa iyo para 2:30 ako. Siguro mas maraming tubig pa kung mas mabilis ako. Haha.

Javy, forgot that 42.195/2 is 21.0975. Haha. Nice to see you there.

Wayne, yeah I remember reading about your VSO experience. I guess we charge these to experience :-)

Craig, I will just do chill run in Baguio. I'm more afraid of hills than heat actually, but I will manage. Haha. See you there.

Rod, thanks. Na-flush out ko na alcohol Thurday night pa lang. Haha.

Hi Mar, very well said. Wise words from the Hoff :-) Thanks

lester May 13, 2009 at 12:27 PM  

a half's a half. good on finishing strong! i like that idea also but i usually get to do this, only with the sight of the finish line.

keep track of your hydration and nutrition before, during and after the race and this is will sure you wont experience the post-race bonk again. i've had worst so i make sure that i carry enough to finish the races, even without the water stations provided for.

good luck on your next race!

Rico Villanueva May 14, 2009 at 1:29 AM  

Thanks Sam....I guess if you can't make them, avoid them...haha...I try to do something about things I actually have control over - like race choice and personal preparation, but sometimes the optimist and dreamer in me gloss over the signs.

Hi lester, yeah I should have waited for the sight of the finish line. I guess I was just obsessed with that PR thing. My bad. On the hydration and nutrition, more and more I am forced to be self-reliant. I am thinking of getting a good-sized hydration bag since I love long distances anyway. Not a good direction I think, but an option I must consider if I want to enjoy and survive. Thanks for dropping by.

gleeman May 15, 2009 at 9:47 AM  

Hi Rico,
I also had a heat/dehydration spell but not as worse as yours. Lessons have been learned. Hope you're ok now.


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