Recovery Run

Thursday, May 14, 2009

They say the way to destroy a man is to dampen his spirit.

It used to be that I would be physically hurting after a race. I would either have mild heel pain, aching calves or discomfort in the shins. After I shifted to light stability shoes, my recovery period drastically fell from 3-7 days to as fast as 12-24hrs. After Sunday's 21K, my legs were worked up but were otherwise fine. It was not my legs that took a beating – it was my spirit.

I used to think I was invincible. I may not be athletically gifted, but I was the opposite of sickly. In the rare times I was supposed to be down with some ailment, I would actually be still up and about. My parents would often tell me how one time when I was still a toddler I was down with very high fever. The town doctors could not understand what was wrong with me so they advised my parents to bring me to the city for consultation. Along the way I would bounce back and would end up jumping and playing before we reached the city. In elementary school I remember never being absent – I guess I loved playing and learning in school that much. In high school I would have repeated my perfect attendance record had one teacher not bluntly told the stubborn me, “You might not be bothered, but we are. Go home, you have chicken pox”. In the three decades of my life I have not been confined in a hospital, except of course for my short stay as a naturally delivered new-born. If I am not invincible, I must be at least lucky.

My Botak post-race experience reminded me again of my mortality. The experience erased all delusions of invincibility, and reminded that I was really just lucky – lucky that no serious harm befell on me. Truth was I was nth time lucky. As I sat there post-race on a metal bar, with my vision slowly blurring, I was transported to a not-so-pleasant memory.

I was in my early 20s in my mother's hometown of Calamba. I remembered waking up early, very hungry but needing to buy asap some item for a project I had been working on from previous night. I grabbed the household bike and set forth for the town square. I was on my way back when it happened. A tricycle cut through my path, I lost balance and fell off the bike. I had a deep cut in my knee with intense pain emanating from it. The pain was so much I felt blood draining from my head and going into that epicenter of pain. I felt dizzy, my vision blurred and chill enveloped my body. There was intense craving for something sweet. I was hungry when I left the house but that craving I had threatened to snuff out the lights off me. I blacked out. Minutes later I found myself in my house, transported by a kind tricycle driver who recognized me as my mother's son. I cried out for food when I regained consciousness, but I was too weak to get out and thank the Good Samaritan who helped me. A few minutes after I have eaten, it was if nothing happened to me.

I went back to the Metro to consult medical experts. I was aghast and confused with what happened. I consulted a doctor of internal medicine for possible diabetes, a cardiologist to rule out heart and circulatory problems, and a neurologist to check for epilepsy or nerve concerns. They all said nothing was wrong with me. It was just some random event where your body was hungry and some external stress depleted what ever energy stores you still had left. Instead of being elated, I became more worried. If I do not know the cause of a problem, how can I prevent it? The doctors simply said I should be extra careful – and should watch my caloric intake. I probably took the doctors' advice to the extreme. At the slightest hint of hunger I would eat. To a certain extent, fear of hypoglycemia had the genetically lean me (about 150 lbs) ballooning to 170lbs, and at several points in time, up to 200lbs.

I had fear of dehydration to recover from when I did my post-race run. I find it ironic that someone who downs al least 12 glasses of water each day, who has at least 3 hydration belts and who brings at least 2 tall water bottles in the car during training runs, now faces the fear of dehydration during a race. As if the fear of swimming in deep water or open sea, riding downhill, and biking alongside trucks and buses are not enough challenges in a beginner triathlete's life. It is just that dehydration is a sly enemy – it hits you faster than Pacquiao can say, “I drink Vitwater, you know.” Whereas I could feel when my sugar levels are dipping, I only managed to recognize dehydration when I was already weak and almost powerless to address it. And I thought all along overhydration was the enemy.

But if there is one thing I learn in life, it is never to let fear take the better of you. To live a life in constant fear is to live a life of regret and what-ifs. You face fear by staring back at it at its face – aware of its hold on you but more aware that you ultimately have the power over it. When fear creeps forward you gnaw back at it. You bite, you chew, bit by bit until fear retreats into some manageable entitity, concealed in the recesses of your memory.

That was what I did with my fear of deep pool water. Children are said to be born fearless so one summer day the then ten-year old me ventured out of the kiddie pool into the adult pool about 8-ft at its deepest. I only knew backstroke then, but fearless that I was, I backstroked my way from 4ft onto the deep end of the pool. I was about 2 meters away from wall safey when somebody bumped into me. I panicked, lost form, swallowed water and found myself sinking. For a few seconds I was underwater, sinking and not knowing what to do. Thank God a nearby adult scooped me out of the water just in time. I coughed out a lot of water, but I was otherwise okay. But I began to fear and revere the deep water since then.

Every summer and every pool opportunity I would slowly convert my fear of the deep into an all consuming love for water. Meter by meter I would go around the pool perimeter slowly re-acquainting myself with the deep. Meter by weter I would veer away from the wall, wade in my fear, and go back to the safety of the wall. It took many pool visits and many summers for me to embrace my fear, but embrace it I did. I still am wary of the deep, but it has since transformed it into a fear that ennobles instead of immobilizes, safely tucked in the recesses of my memory.

I did the same with my fear of riding downhills. I went to the downhill of my despair and studied it. I started at the lowest point riding it down. I went back to it higher and higher until I covered the whole downhill. I chipped at my fear meter by meter, degree by degree. When I first fell of my road bike because of poor bike handling and braking skills, I spent a whole hour in the parking lot just practicing braking, imagining every possible scenario: left foot first, right foot first, both feet quickly on the ground, front brakes, back brake, combinations, etc.). I think I exhausted the combinations in the first 30 minutes, but I went at it some more.

Unfortunately, fear has a way of reasserting itself and dampening your spirit. My misadventures with new bike shoes and cleats brought about old fears of falling of the bike – simply because I could not untangle my feet quick enough from those damn cleats! My confidence took a nosedive. From supposedly joining the Subit standard distance triathlon, I did not even consider myself confident enough to do the sprint distance. Timing was not right. I needed time to chip away at my fears but I was busy running and did not have enough cycling time. But I would attend to this soon enough.

It is with the same diminished confidence that I started my supposed recovery run from Sunday's half-marathon. By mid-week my legs were already fine but my confidence was still flagging. To boost my confidence I made sure my route was close to my vehicle or a store where I could recharge with drinks and food. I carried with me several nutribars and had in my palm a bottle of Gatorade. Maybe if I hold tight my drink I would imbibe all of its promised benefits. With this belief I began to cover the roads of McKinley Hills. I started slow as my spirit was low. Eventually running worked its magic. I rediscovered why I love running.

Running allows you to see things in perspective. Running allows you to know yourself intimately – your body's capabilities and limits as well as the many layers and facets of your personality. In running you discover that your body is a wonderland – a resilient handiwork capable of absorbing stress and converting it into something beautiful and edifying. In running you also discover that your mind is an even more complex, intricate work of art. It is amazing how several pounds of neurons had so much power to create or destroy. You alone choose how you wield that power.

I finished 15kms of running hills exhilarated. As I downed my last bottle of Gatorade, I smiled knowing my mind has recovered enough to continue running – cautious but unafraid.

I realize love conquers all fears.


Luis Arcangel May 16, 2009 at 1:10 AM  

Well said Boss Rix. I admire your tenacity, specially after a close call last Sunday. I used to have the same feeling too - that I was invincible, that I could never be injured. Of course, that notion soon came crashing down, bringing me to terms with my own vulnerabilities. Nice to see that your confidence is back.... we have 20k hill training next Wednesday ok? :P

Rico Villanueva May 16, 2009 at 7:16 AM  

Hey Luis, thanks...True strength comes from mastery of our own vulnerabilities (Naks, saan galing yon? haha)...20K this wed, won't we get overtrained? I intended to hit McKinley again for a short run, but now that you mentioned it, I might just run a few kilometers with you guys.

lauren May 18, 2009 at 10:58 AM  

Love and fear are opposites, if I may say! =)
Really nice post Rix, I can relate in so many ways.

Keep on blogging!


Rico Villanueva May 18, 2009 at 11:08 AM  

Thanks, coming from the impromptu "Queen of Quotes", your comment is really something. Haha. Thanks for dropping by :-)

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