Running on Faith (First Half)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rico was surprisingly calm on race morning. This demeanor was a far cry from previous days’ worries about having adequate taper, and his anxiety in seeing that the support group details are adequately addressed. The secret lied in one bible verse shared by a newbie in the forum. It turns out this is the favorite verse of marathoner Ryan Hall:

Isaiah 40:31

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength
The will soar on wings like eagles
They will run and not grow weary
They will walk and not be faint.

Just the Friday before Rico was on a delicate balance. He was ov
erwhelmed both by the outpouring of support by volunteers and donors, and by the task of collecting and distributing all donations for the support group. There was also the Carbo-loading Party to worry about. Personally he would be content to just have a support group on race day, but for many runners doing their first half-marathon or full marathon, a CLP would make the experience more memorable. By grace of God it did turn out to be special, not to mention hilarious. The presence of many runners and supporters, the impromptu picture-taking by groups of runners/supporters, those hand signals for support over which the people all had laughs, and the simple prayer towards the end made it a CLP to remember. Not bad at all for something finalized just days before.

Impromptu CLP at The Old Spaghetti House (photo by Marvin Opulencia)

That CLP reminded Rico that sometimes you just have to let go. That you need not fuss over every little detail. That at times, the impromptu works better than the planned. That a little spontaneity could make the difference. That when you have done your best to train and work out a support plan, all one needs to have is faith in the plan.

It was faith that Rico brought to the starting line. Faith that he had done his part and whatever he might be lacking would be filled in by his friends and his God. Rico knew his capabilities. He knew that while he could muster the courage to push his training further, he might not have enough time to recover. He knew he invested enough time running: that the more than 5hrs he spent pounding the road to do a 32K or a 35K run till the lonely hours of midnight at the Fort, and the grueling tempo runs he did in Ortigas and Alabang with friends would be enough to bring him close to his goal of finishing near the cut-off time of 5 hrs.

Faith would bridge the gap he comforted himself. On race day he knew he would not be running alone. He knew that the pressure of completing the marathon on such a daunting cut-off time could blow the lid off a virgin marathoner like himself. He knew that to rely on his abilities alone could make him boastful if he succeeded, and insecure if he failed. He remembered his oblation run (offering run) last December during the UP Ictus Run. He remembered he could have pushed himself to break his mythical sub-60 barrier for a 10K, but he choked. In the middle of the run he realized he was running not for UP as he proclaimed, but for himself so he could banner a sub-60 PR. At that time he could not remember why he was crying as we wrote his race account. Now he knew: he cried because the oblation run he offered was clothed with pretense. He could have offered something better.

For his marathon Rico promised to offer something better. Whereas before his plan was to finish a marathon, work on his 10K PR and then try to give something back to the running community, he decided to pay if forward by helping a friend with his ultramarathon and joining the Pacific aid station for the Botak Ultra. It was part of the marathon purification process he reasoned out. Whereas before he privately planned his personal support for his first marathon, he eventually joined the suggestion for an unofficial Milo support group. Support coordination was hard and frustrating at times, but the hard work and faith that an all-volunteer support group could work paid off in the end. It was hard to get volunteers and donations initially, but eventually the Filipino’s innate bayanihan (community heroism) prevailed. Volunteers and donors came in droves. It was overwhelming. It was heart-warming. In those few weeks, days prior to the race, new friends were made and old ones were strengthened.

It was this warm-fuzzy feeling that Rico hoped to muster during race day. Rico knew that if he ran only for himself, he might not be inclined to work harder. To slack off when many had take pains to support you and others is to be shameless and thick-skinned. He particularly wanted to run well for the likes of Mike, Neil and RJ, average Juans like himself – all taking major roles in the support group planning and execution. Rico thought that if he could do this, these friends would soon muster the courage to do the same. Rico sensed that something big was happening and that he wanted to be part of it. Here was a chance to inspire and be inspired. He wanted to be part of this divine script called Milo Marathon. To play a major part. The only thing holding him back was this Greek sense of hubris – an overweening pride often resulting in fatal retribution. He prayed that he be used in this morality play but let no sense of personal importance go into his head. Many a Greek hero suffered because of hubris. Rico did not want the same fate.

For his maiden marathon, Rico enlisted the help of others. It was humbling for him to ask for help but he did. The pursuit of one is the pursuit of all, he said. Rico would run this marathon for himself, for his friends, and for his God. And when he would run, he would run with all of them in spirit. There was no way he could do this alone. The odds were too great against his favor. But with Him miracles happen. When he does well, it will be the victory of everyone and not of him alone. If he fails, it is hopefully not because of hubris, but because it was part of the divine script.

He started the race with new friend Aries beside him. A fellow marathon virgin, Aries was one of the many kind souls who donated drinks for runners. A cold, slow starter, Rico was not used to have someone running beside him in the early part of a race. Almost all of his friends would zoom away from the start. Rico’s “defense mechanism” during this phase is to go into a dream zone until he eventually warms up. But Aries kept him from sliding into dream zone, and actually made him ran at the planned pace of a little below 7/km. Thanks, man. The two men paced each other for 7-8kms until the first turnaround near the NAIA road.

Sufficiently warmed up, Rico was rearing to pick up pace after the turnaround. He slowly overtook a few runners. Here was the part where he exhibited his maturity and discipline as an “athlete”. The marathon is all about pacing, the athlete in him said. You can go to as fast as 6:30min/km, but save most of your energy for the harder second half of the race. Run light, with even breathing and power emanating from the quadriceps. Follow your strategy of taking short walks every aid station. Lactic acid must not build up. You would thank yourself for diligently following your plan later on.

Rico was very excited as he exited Roxas Boulevard and entered Buendia. He ran faster in anticipation of friends waiting at the support station at km12. At last he would savor the support of the group of which he was also a part. He was so inspired and running strongly that he totally forgot the aid signals he suggested the previous night and almost forgot to get a Gatorade. Snapping out from his dreamy state, he called for Gatorade from alert Rachel and shouted back that there were just 2-3 runners behind him.

The run along Buendia avenue was a steady one. Rico would find himself pacing just behind a presumed triathlete (he was wearing a club tri-suit) and a couple of meters more from an ultramarathoner. He was steadily running at or better than 7min/km. By this time he had developed the planned habit of taking a short walk while drinking from aid stations. He would be nibbling on the hopia cubes along the way and would finish the cube before a water station. He would walk and eat as he brisk walked the Kalayaan Flyover climb.

At the downhill part of the Flyover Rico would meet one of his friends. Rico was both happy to catch up with him and worried at the same time. This friend is known for his fast starts. He was having stomach trouble, so Rico told him about the official portalets and public rest rooms along the way. The competitor in Rico wanted to zoom past this friend; the runner in him prevailed and he ran beside long enough to have a photo taken with him and for the friend to go to a nearby rest room.

Sam and Rico at the foot of the Kalayaan Flyover (courtesy of photorunner Josiah)

At the foot of the Flyover was Rico’s other group of supporter friends. He was glad to see pacer Migz who would soon join him at km21, as well as the volunteers of that station led by Mike. He felt stronger once more seeing his friends. He proceeded to the Fort to conquer the rest of the kilometers.

It was starting to get warm when Rico reached the Fort Strip. On minor ascents he would take short walks to conserve energy and recover. It was on the relatively flat Lawton Avenue that Rico began to pick up pace again. Here he would see more of the elite runners coming back and live his dream of running with the best. Inspired he ran a bit faster. It was also at this point where it began to rain. This was the exact point where hard rain came down upon them running friends one soakin' wet LSD. Rico remembered how fun that was and smiled. He took the rain as God’s blessing. He gave it at the precise moment his body was heating up.

At km21 near McKinley Hills he met Migz, volunteer pacer, and Josiah, who wanted to run along. Rico smiled: he just finished 21kms at 2:30 hrs – his best time ever for that distance. He was running well, with no pains, and surrounded by running buddies. What more could a marathoner ask?

Josiah and Migz waiting for Rico at km 21 (photo by Mike Antigua)

It was at the midpoint of the marathon that Rico would thank his diligent self for following the pace plan. From km 21-28 he would catch up with and pass by friends. He caught up with Ziggy who had been suffering from runner’s knee injury. Josiah offered to accompany Ziggy. Rico told Ziggy before he moved on: Remember Isaiah 40:31: (“those who hoped in the Lord will renew their strength…”). As he ran past some runners Rico wondered: Is this what competition is? To overtake fellow runners and friends? Rico refused to accept this. Competition is to run with the best, and to inspire and be inspired in the process. So every runner-friend he passed he greeted with a smile from within – a smile hoping to say that they could pull one another to the finish. That the runner moving ahead does so not to leave the others behind, but to show the way and inspire others to follow.


Jinoe July 6, 2009 at 7:09 PM  

Thanks for leading the group for the CLP and the support stations. I really appreciate that. Congrats in finishing the full marathon. Take two ba within the year?

Bong July 6, 2009 at 9:30 PM  

Another one of your great posts. Enjoyed reading it, the only thing is, what happened next? It's so bitin. Suspense masyado, man. Have your well deserved rest Rico, and please complete your race report ASAP.

Sam the Running Ninja July 6, 2009 at 9:37 PM  

And the friend who was having stomach trouble is no other than Sam The Running Ninja. He did his CR duty at Shell station rest room as suggested by Rico and did another one at another convenient store in Bayani road. Had he not met Rico and remembered about that public rest room at Shell station, he could have released his bowels anywhere at the Fort road in the presence of other runners. The Running Ninja will disappear from all running events for his entire lifetime if that ever happened.

sfrunner July 6, 2009 at 11:11 PM  

Hi Rico. Another great post and congratulations. To me. all of you are champions!

Take care and a good recovery week ahead. Definitely looking forward to part 2.

Gingerbreadman July 6, 2009 at 11:13 PM  

Wonderful post as always. More more more! Tenbits!

Neil July 7, 2009 at 8:26 AM  

Congrats Rico! Everybody enjoyed their roles in this event. Thank you for leading the group also. Next Marathon? I think you can beat the clock this time.

runnerforchrist July 7, 2009 at 9:28 AM  

Superb finish Rico! Hats off to you. I do wish to see you in an Ultra next time. We can chat about our faith and everything!

Congrats again, God bless you.

:) July 7, 2009 at 10:06 AM  

Hi Rico!
Your writings filled with so much emotion.
It's something that all marathon wanna bees would want to read before they take they get to the starting line.

Keep it up! I look forward for your upcoming posts.

God bless.

"The Lord is my strength; He will make my feet like deer's feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills. -Habakkuk 3:19."

Running Fatboy July 7, 2009 at 11:05 AM  

Anticipating your 2nd half of the story! Bitin! Hahaha. .. Job well done Rico!

Rico Villanueva July 7, 2009 at 5:14 PM  

Jinoe, the you have created has become the platform for so many wonderful things. Thanks for sharing it...Felt so good to complete my marathon with people behind me and fellow runners. Take two? Ang alin? Marathon? By all means. The marathon is my favorite distance now :-)

Bong, thanks. Sorry kung bitin. I publish it as I write. It takes time to get over the euphoria :-)

Sam, that was some challenge you had. But you learn from all these. Nice to see you finish despite the challenges.

Wayne, thanks for well wishes before the races and the congratulations after.

Luis, wait lang...I have so many stories to tell that I do not know where to begin and end.

Neil, thanks for all the support. I wanna be there when you do your own.

Ronnie, it would be interesting to do an ultra. Maybe even earlier than I imagined :-)

Hello :-) Thanks for the comments. I sure hope newbie marathoners can pick up something from my experience.

Dennis, thanks. Sorry bitin. Hirap magsulat if you are on a high.

Anonymous July 7, 2009 at 7:41 PM  

Ey Ric, hats off to you my friend! I got schooled by you during our 1st marathon. I had a lot to learn. Thanks for showing the way!

I must admit that my ego was drowned a bit when you passed me halfway through the marathon, coz I knew I was way ahead of you the whole time. I wanted to give up that time but thanks for reminding me the verse(Isiah 40:31), it really got me praying while struggling with the knee injury to finish at halfway point, even before hitting the wall.

Now, that most of the aches and pain from that gruelling 1st marathon experience have subsided(Thank God!). I'd like to express how happy and proud I am of you Ric. From planning, praying and training for this event. You have finished you first full marathon even smoking some of your 1st time comrades(ahem, me included. hehehe!) for this event. Godbless Ric! More Power! Keep Running and keep inspiring!


Rico Villanueva July 8, 2009 at 3:10 AM  

Ziggy, we were all 'schooled' in different ways by our marathon. My schooling probably just happened before the race, during the preparation and coordination where I had to bite my pride and ego several times. Yours was a challenge from the start because of your injury, but I salute you for taking the plunge just the same. Starting took courage; finishing despite the handicap even more. Congratulations bro!

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