Paying It Forward

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Migz on his way to the Pacific support station
(photo by Marving Opulencia)

Migz started it all. This guy approached friend Rico after the last Running Aid session in R.O.X., gave a disc bearing a requested copy of the movie "The Spirit of the Marathon" and blurted the line, "I read you are doing your first marathon this Milo edition; I can pace you for the second half." Rico's mind was screaming "What? Are you serious?" but he was shocked and silent for a few seconds that seemed like an eternity. Once back into his senses, Rico grabbed the offer lest Migz change his mind.
Rico met Migz and many other newbie runners that fateful day of Mar 8 when a small motley crew of old timers (Jinoe, Quennie, Lyndon, Natz, Cathy, MJ and Rico) decided to organize an LSD (long, slow distance) run for runners wanting so badly to join the Condura Run, but were afraid of the distance. During the LSD break, Migz mentioned to Rico that he reads the latter's blog. Rico was pleasantly surprised - someone does appreciate his ramblings. Wow. Even more 'wow' was how newbie Migz ran the Condura Half Marathon in 2:22 thereabouts. Migz is known in circles not only as shutter_speed (he is a professional photographer), but also as the 5K newbie turned 21K finisher.
Rico actually had another friend who volunteered to pace him and/or common friend Ziggy in the last 10kms of the marathon. This is BongZ, whom Rico first met also in the March 8 LSD and with whom he would do several aquathlons. BongZ will do the pacing after his running his half-marathon. Timmy will follow BongZ's example if he still can. EO will come out from his tendinitis sabbatical to pace Bong Yu also on the last 10kms of the marathon. Gene and some other runners I heard also volunteered to pace. Unbelievable. Strangers a few months back, now good friends. Running has made them a band of brothers.
Wanting to run faster so he can meet the Milo marathon cut-off of 5hrs, Rico tried to latch onto the go-go-go spirit of the Gingerbreadman Luis. Rico noticed that this new runner Luis - who is far from the aerodynamic runner - seems to get faster and stronger after each race. The guy is on some form of drugs he calls "breaking stereotypes" and "pushing one's limits". Rico cannot understand his friend at times but Rico knows Luis can help him get the speed he seeks. Along with other friends (e.g. fellow marathon virgin Bong Yu), they came up with 'long tempo runs'. Tempo runs are normally short periods of speed, but for Rico, 20-25kms of race pace running is long tempo run. Maybe for monster Luis it is merely long slow distance.
In one of those long tempo runs, Luis casually mentioned his apprehension about his ultramarathon debut (Botak 50K) and his possible support crew, or lack thereof. It so happened that the Botak Ultra fell on the same day as the Powerade Duathlon 2nd Leg. A duathlon is one of Rico's goals for the year and he already missed the first one. The third and last leg for the year will coincide with the New Balance Power Race, a race he likes for sentimental reasons. Two of Rico's triathlon newbie batchmates will also join the Powerade duathlon for the first time.
Rico was in a quandary: Could he support all friends and do what he wanted at the same time? He even thought of supporting Luis from a vehicle during his pre-dawn ultra in UP and going straight to Mall of Asia to do the duathlon with other friends? A killer actually but it could be done. Or so he thought. Eventually he realized something's got to give. "Practice what you preach", he told himself. He gave up the duathlon and would skip the NB Power Race. He knew his tri-batchmates would still have each other for company and that they would survive the short but tough race. Daredevil Luis who had never run beyond 35 kms and who sometimes veered towards the center of the road needed more help. It was payback time. Time to pay back pacer Luis who ran despite fevers and lack of sleep so he could pace Rico and Bong Yu. Bong Yu himself, Rico would later learn, would pace ultramarathoner Pat for the last kilometers of his 100km. It appears this pay forward phenomenon is really contagious.
Rico found out that paying it forward has a price. When you decide to support someone, you support all the way even if you think you should stop, or you do not feel like doing it anymore. Twenty-four hours before race time, Luis announced in the forum and later in his blog that although he was registered for the 50K, he would try to go for 100K. "What got into you?" was Rico's first reaction to his friend. Rico himself also admires Botak founder Cesar Guarin and firmly believes in the power of the human spirit, but for him, to run beyond what you train for is suicide. But Luis had his reasons, and determined men respect one another. What do you do when you think a friend is contemplating a risky gamble? You stick with him and pray that he passes through that phase unscathed.
So Rico went to the grocery to stock up on food and drinks should Luis decide to push through with what could possibly be an 18-hr ordeal. Yes, paying it forward has a price. Here he was in the grocery temporarily setting aside worries about next week's budget, and doing cost-benefit analysis for every item he decided to put in the cart. His subsconscious was grumbling, "Why go through all the trouble, will you be assured of the same support when your time comes?" To give and not to count the cost. Timmy put if perfectly.
So Rico paid for the stuff, loaded the drinks in the freezer, and set the alarm clock at 3am, hours earlier than he committed. It turned out Rico could not trail behind Luis on the way back from SM Fairview because of the counterflow. He had to wait for Luis at UP and start supporting there. To kill time, he ran along with the G.I.G. runners.
Paying it forward also has its prize. At mid-morning while waiting for Luis in UP so he could finally trail behind the runner, Rico got a message from his kennel hand. A dog he wanted to re-home in line with upgrade of his breeding stock got sold. He now had cash to buy a running vest from Ronald and a second pair of Asics Gel 1130 from Second Wind. From experience Rico would always get blessings when he makes sacrifices. The pattern held true once again. The old shoe model and size he has been seeking for weeks already is now reserved at Second Wind. Hopefully this shoe along with the running vest will power him on his marathon this Sunday.
But the bigger prize really is to be part of someone else's significant life experience. Last five kilometers and a friend joins the brotherhood of ultramarathoners. Rico thought he is good enough with words, but words do not capture the experience of supporting someone on the last few, painful kilometers of a journey pursued with so much passion and longing. One simply has to be there to understand. The beauty and irony of it was: that was all Rico did. To be there.

Last 200 meters and Luis becomes an ultramarathoner
Rico pacing behind
(photo courtesy of Marvin Opulencia)

Rico was killing time in the hot tent along with other volunteers from the at km80 of the Botak ultramarathon. To pass time some volunteers finally decided to play Cranium. In the middle of the game, someone shouted: there are runners on the other side of the riverbank. From where he sat playing Cranium, Rico spotted a familiar silhouette. Those tights and shorts ought to be Ronald the Original Hoff. Rico and the rest of his friends waved and shouted cheers from the other side of the river. An hour more and Ronald and his companion runner would be passing the Pacific aid station. Minutes later the group saw Pat with pacer Dennis. Jinoe, Bongz, Bongyu, Migz, Edu and Doc Eric grabbed bottles of water, food and cold towels and crossed the bridge to deliver aid to the runners. It was not part of any script. The people simply followed their heart and did what they could.

Doc Eric, Migz and Bongz: delivering aid where it was needed
(photo by Marvin Opulencia)

At the station the volunteers would offer towels, bananas, egg, bars, Gatorade and drinks. Runner Isko asked for some liniment and it was promptly handed over. On the verge of cramping, Isko asked if someone could please apply the liniment on his ankles and shins for he could no longer bend. There were seconds of hesitation, until volunteer Marga knelt down and applied Bengay on the aching runner. After the initial discomfort people eventually made fun of the act and hammed away for the cameras. But at some level it was really surreal. Marga would repeat the act for the other runners. She would assist the cramping runners in removing their shoes and socks, and without inhibition, apply liniment on their feet. It was like Mary Magdalene washing the feet and applying oil on the feet of Jesus. Marga just happened to be way more boisterous than Magdalene.

Marga applying liniment on Isko's ankle
(photo by Marvin Opulencia)

What was with these volunteers? Some initially planned to just pass by but ended up hanging on for hours. Yes, there were lots of laughter but there were also hours of passing time. But hang on they did. Something was happening. The volunteers understood it at some primal level although they may not know it consciously. Words do not do justice to the experience of supporting ultramarathoners on the last kilometers of a journey that brings them so much pain and ecstasy. One simply has to be there to understand. To be there - sometimes that is all that matters.


Gingerbreadman June 30, 2009 at 5:14 PM  

Beautiful piece Boss Rix, one of your best ever IMO. Indeed, you know if someone is really your friend if they support you even if they do not necessarily agree with you on a fundamental level. Admittedly, the same qualities which allowed me to finish the race are the same qualities which nearly led to my downfall if I had forced it. Thankfully, I have friends like you who serve as the voice of reason. That last, fateful, agonizing 5k you paced me with, I will never ever forget that. And rest assured, once it is your turn to enter "the brotherhood", I will be right there to return the kindness you have accorded me :)


Anonymous June 30, 2009 at 7:39 PM  

god bless people and friends like you rico.


Anonymous June 30, 2009 at 8:42 PM  

Nice post Rico! :) Iba talaga ang pakiramdam... ibang klaseng sense of fulfillment.

Good luck on Sunday! We'll be cheering for you at the finish line! :D

Anonymous July 1, 2009 at 4:14 AM  

boss rix ganda ng pyesa mo, mas masarap talaga ang feeling ng tumulong sa kapwa sana lahat tayo ganito ang pananaw hindi lang sa running pati n rin sa buhay. sabi nga ni luis pag ikaw na ang sasabak nandito lang kami...

Bong July 1, 2009 at 7:06 AM  

Great post Rico. I think at first most of us who are new to the sport do it for his own individual reason, be it to lose weight, be fit, to relieve stress, to socialize. And then we develop friendships, camaraderie from running together in races or doing training runs as a group. But, the one rope that ties runners together into this tight "brotherhood" is when we work hard, suffer and achieve lofty goals together, either as support crew, pacer, volunteer or runner. You just earned your right to be part of this brotherhood and when your turn comes, your loyal friends will be there to support you. BTW, goodluck on your Milo marathon run.

Anonymous July 1, 2009 at 12:19 PM  

nice post boss. im in tears right now... anyway, good luck on your milo marathon!! ill pray for you...:)

Rico Villanueva July 2, 2009 at 10:22 PM  

My thoughts have already been laid bare on this blog entry. Nothing more to say but THANK YOU in the purest sense. May the cycle continue in perpetuity.

Argonaut July 3, 2009 at 3:34 PM  

Galing Sir Rico,

I was about to have the title of my blog also as Pay it Forward and suddenly thought of something else...

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