Redemption Run

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Botak sa Baguio
24 May 2009

It was meant to be a redemption run. Six years after my first road race – a 5K Milo race where I stupidly sprained my ankle in the first 500m and limped my way to a 59-minute finish – I was back in Baguio to create fresh and more pleasant running memories. Redemption entailed me running mostly this time – even if it meant half-marathon of inclines and declines.

Six years after, I have learned to love running for what it is. I have learned to enjoy running through flyovers. I still have difficulty doing very steep uphills and downhills though. To be honest, I cover more ground if I walk very steep inclines than if I attempt to do my valiant jog. I have come to realize that there is honor in walking – especially if it is deliberately and strategically done. I use the walk break as opportunity to reserve effort for the downhills and to power up by chewing peacefully on my nutribar. I draw the line however on walking induced by bad starts and poor pacing. In time when I get stronger I want to continuously run the steeps as well.

For my redemption run, I hit the rolling hills of Alabang, the steep hills of McKinley, some slopes in Bel-Air and the killer roads of Pasig. One does not become a hill runner in a month, but I tried to do my share of solo and group training runs. I have come to accept my long solo runs as my meditative runs. I can probably do a full marathon LSD while in my dream state, but there is no way I will enjoy speed drills alone. Not my cup of tea – well at least for now. And so I joined group runs to have some semblance of speed training. My faster friends’ LSDs became my tempo runs. Haha. On these supposed tempo runs for me, I pushed myself and tried to keep up with the faster runners. I was surprised that in the company of these faster runners, I could actually run well below my supposed current race pace, and that I actually enjoyed running a bit faster than my usual. I suppose I better do more of these group runs.

For this Baguio half-marathon, I opted to be more conservative. The plan was to cross the finish line running – even if meant running very slowly. Familiar with the inclines of Baguio, I targeted to run at a pace of 7:45-8min/km or finish within the 2:45-3hr range. For me, run completion was enough redemption. I was thinking I would be running my pace alone. Some volunteered to run along with me but I knew their natural pace was still faster than mine. When we surveyed the race route and saw for ourselves the depth and length of the mid-race incline somewhere in Brgy. Tuding, many adjusted their target paces. Suddenly it seemed I could pace along with others.

Wary of the inclines we surveyed the night before, majority of our group started conservatively and stuck with one another. I tried to latch onto the group for the first 2 kms but my trademark slow-start seemed even slower given the cold Baguio morning weather. I remembered doing 500-m slow jog before race but the warm-up didn’t seem enough. As I struggled to hold onto the group I could feel tightness in my legs. It was familiar tightness – the kind I usually feel in the first one or two kilometers of every run, but which will disappear once I get my running groove. I had two choices then: (1) hold the pace, stick with the group and pray that the tightness would soon go away, or (2) run a bit slower until I thoroughly warmed up. With six-year old memories of sprained ankle and cramped legs still fresh in my mind, I opted to slow down at around km2 until the tightness disappeared.

Tightness ran along with me until the 5th kilometer. It was very frustrating. I was already running way below my relaxed pace and yet I could not shake-off the tightness in my legs. Kilometers 2-5 were hardest for me. I was not exactly hurting or twisting in pain, but my spirit was fast sinking as the distance between me and my friends widened and it became increasingly clear I was the last runner slowly being left behind. Unlike in Manila where many “slow” runners brave the distances and hence the slow runner need not run alone, in this Baguio race the 21k runners seemed grouped into three: a hundred or so male/female police trainees in uniform shirt, shorts and haircut, dozens of experienced local runners, and the delegation of 10 running addicts to which I belong (Note: there was an equal number of running addicts doing the 10k).

So for those 3kms I was mostly alone. And I thought I was in a race. It was more like I was doing my solo LSD in my playground. In lieu of acacias there were pine trees. I actually welcomed the sound of the footsteps of the fast 10K runners about to overtake me. I tried to smile at them. At one point, an American accent greeted me “Good morning.” Boy I was glad to hear from somebody familiar, even if I just met Ben the language teacher at Brent the night before at the carbo-loading party prepared by Team Logan (Craig, Michelle and Justin). Thanks Ben for the greeting and the Logans for the hearty meal.

Finally after km5 I got my running groove. I picked up the pace to catch up with the rest. I was almost at kilometer 7 and yet there was no sign of my group yet. My mind was starting to play games with me so I played along. I imagined I was really just doing my LSD in Baguio. I went into my dream zone and began recollecting my personal memories of the Pine City. I figured if I think happy thoughts I would be sufficiently inspired to speed through these hills and catch up with the rest. I was happily recollecting my first Baguio visit as a kid and was moving on to memories of young love, sweet love in the City of Romance when I reached the start of now legendary 3km sweet decline (or dreaded incline depending on your direction) at Brgy. Tuding. I paused for a moment and captured the beauty of the sight (see photo below). Minutes later I would see Resty, Baguio resident and member alighting his bike and taking a picture of me. Thanks my friend.

View from the killer incline of Tuding

Exhilirating downhill run at mid-route
Parang ang bilis ko dito ah - downhill kasi.
(photo courtesy of Baguio resident and member Resty

Soon the faster runners came sprinting uphill towards me. Happy to see fellow runners, I must have smiled, waved, greeted and saluted the continuous stream of runners. I must have replied Good Morning three dozen times to the courteous and friendly police trainees along the way as well as to the local resident runners. It was so much fun doing that while racing downhill for 3kms at pace of 5-6min/km. Midway through that long downhill run I finally spotted the familiar black singlets with red highlights of the runners. Finally I saw my friends and exchanged high-fives and cheers.

I reached the turnaround point consistent with my race plan. The turnaround was also the start of the dreaded 3km hill climb. What goes down must come up! Huhu. This Tuding uphill was beyond anything I have experienced while running. It was probably St. Martin St in Pasig just seven times longer with inclines worse than that of the McKinley Hills stretch from 7-11 till Bayani Road. A natural negative splitter, I was actually excited about the second half. My plan of attack was to run the uphill when it made sense and walk if that made better sense. I was doing this walk-run medley till the midpoint of the 3km climb when a marshal in motorcycle spotted me doing the walking at the steepest part of the climb. He went near me and mumbled something I did not understand, so I just continued with my brisk walk. He drove ahead only to come back to me and to offer very casually, “Sir, sakay na kayo hanggang sa patag”. At first I didn’t get him. Ha? Ano kamo?

See that sudden drop? That's the Tuding decline/incline.
Garmin data courtesy of Jinoe Gavan of

Then it sank in. The marshal said it in the friendliest of tone and with a look of concern, but I honestly felt hurt if not insulted. I might have been left behind and moving slowly, but I was on track to meet my 3hr cut-off. I was not exactly dying or suffering. Truth was before that remark, I was excited that I would catch up as I normally do in the second half. This walking was part of my plan. I wanted to explain to the man that while Baguio runners must be mostly hardcore and experienced, there is an emerging breed of runners whose aim is not necessarily to run fast but simply to run long distances. I am part of that breed. These thoughts raced through my mind but all I was able to retort was “Hindi, hindi ako sasakay. Mauna na ho kayo kung gusto ninyo. Tatapusin ko ito.” Surprised by my reply, the motorcycle man moved on, but not after advising several bike marshals to look after me. I actually told the bikers to move on as well, but they stayed at respectful distance.

It was unfortunate that I felt this low at the steepest part of the climb. But I trudged on. It was a hodge-podge of emotions: insult, anger, self-pity, resolve, and even empathy for the marshals who had a job to do but probably did not understand what was going on inside my head. Eventually the steep climb ended and I began to run. The bikers would still follow me. At one point they stayed too close (about a meter or two behind me) and I begged them to please let me be. Still smarting from a perceived insult, I went to the other side of the road to avoid the bike marshals. And then in the peacefulness of the road leading to the Mansion House, I ran the way running was supposed to be: an intimate date between my body & soul and the long, wide road.

Eventually I was able to shake-off the negative emotions. The marshals might have picked up the change in my stride and demeanor, and began quietly conversing with me. Resty was there all throughout and at this point was inquiring if I had gels and hydration. I told them I had enough and I was doing okay. At this point I was running in either low inclines, flat roads or shallow declines at pace of 6-7min/km, probably in my 15th kilometer. I was feeling good at this point, and have begun to appreciate the marshals. At turns or intersections, the bike marshals would ably assist and I thanked them profusely. In my limited mind, my tormentors have become allies. In gratitude and in honor of these impromptu friends, I picked up speed – sometimes running below 6min/km. I wanted to finish the race quickly, not for myself, but for these helpful people who stayed with me even if I initially shooed them away.

It felt good to run fast for something or somebody other than yourself. It was unfortunate that the 21k route had to be cut to something shorter (18.36km) because of a last-minute local government directive to avoid certain road portions, for I was just beginning to enjoy the run. I even hoped to finally catch up with my some of my friends before all of them crossed the finish line. But at km18 there was a last turn for the finish. I had a lot more in me for I was prepared to do a full 21k, but I poured it all out for a celebratory sprint to the end. I was fast accelerating, until I reached that point where friends were gathered to cheer you on and take your pictures. I deliberately slowed down. I did not want the moment to end just yet, but it did in a few precious seconds. I traded high fives with friends and I went back to look for my biker friends to give my thanks.

Photo taken by Timmy
(salamat kenkoy runner)

I finished 18.36km in 2:30 at an average moving pace of a little below 8min/km. I think I would have finished at 2:45-2:50 for a full 21K. I ran within my plan and target. I finished a few minutes after a friend and a few seconds after a police trainee who suffered cramps. I ran and walked, but did not limp nor injure myself. I suppose this is good enough for a redemption run. In the future, I want to go back to Brgy. Tuding. Next time, I will race her hills.

(I would like to thank the organizers of the 2009 Botak sa Baguio race. It was a simple, no-frills race and the route might have been cut short, but the warmth of the people more than make up for the little shortcomings. Thank you for the wonderful experience.)


Bro J May 28, 2009 at 6:56 AM  

Hi Rico, congrats and a very good recap. I think it's really important for a runner to know his goal and be focused on achieving it! You did it bro. Hope to see you in future races.

TIMMY SEBASTIAN May 28, 2009 at 8:26 AM  

ey! credits for the pic hahahaha

Anonymous May 28, 2009 at 12:43 PM  

congrats, ico! galeng galeng:) proud of my boss!!!

Gingerbreadman May 29, 2009 at 9:25 AM  

Congrats Boss Rix, wonderful run and even better recap :) Once again, you have demonstrated your sheer will against all odds :)

Rico Villanueva May 29, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

Thank Bro J. Hope to see you too in races. You doing Earth Run or Mizuno?

Tim, I wanted to give photo credit pero di ko alam to whom. I ended give you and Lau the credit :-)

Anonymous, Lorie, is that you? Thanks, and keep on running. :-)

ian May 29, 2009 at 9:05 PM  

Hey Bro! How many Half marathons have you ran the past couple of months? Dami na! I'm sure a full marathon is well within your reach! kahit tomorrow na! hehe.. Great run bro...

TIMMY SEBASTIAN May 30, 2009 at 12:26 PM  

i actually took the pic. haha

Rico Villanueva May 30, 2009 at 4:58 PM  

Hey Ian, apat pa lang in 3 months. Hehe. Kailangan masterin natin ito, bro, for our half-ironman dreams (o ilusyon?). Doing the Milo full in July. Samahan mo ko.

Tim, thanks for the correction, and the photo! Sa uulitin. Buti na lang mas mabilis ka sa akin. Haha.

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