Running on Faith (Final Half)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bayani Road was named for a reason. On this long, sloping stretch Rico would see a line of runners struggling to be heroes of their personal running sagas. On his way down the road of heroism Rico would see his training buddy Bong Yu already on his way back. Buddy was doing great, smiling and cheering his friend to "Push, Push." Rico smiled. If there was another runner whom he wanted to do well on this marathon apart from himself, it was his buddy Bong. They probably met in the Condura run when both ran their first half-marathon, but Rico remembered Bong when the latter gave his Gatorade bottle just when Rico was about to black-out from dehydration after their Botak half-marathon. Funny how friendship can be sealed with a bottle of Gatorade. From then on, Rico would often jokingly tell Bong, "I still owe you a bottle of Gatorade."
On Bayani Road Rico would catch up with friend Steven. Rico asked the latter, "Are you ok? Would you like some Gatorade?" Steven took a sip, and Rico and pacer Migz went ahead. It was at this heroic road when Rico felt just how lucky a virgin marathoner he was. On this road where people were valiantly suffering for their sport, friend Migz was beside him - even holding a Gatorade bottle for him and a requested pack of hopia cubes. Initially Rico was hesitant to accept the offer of help of holding his stuff, but his personal experience of paying it forward taught him that acceptance of help brings joy to the giver. Those are the rules of paying it forward - to accept and enjoy the experience so one is inclined to give to the next. And this run was not Rico's run alone anyway. He was running for himself, his pacer and his friends. He was not competing for any time nor prize. The prize sought was the shared collective experience.

On the uphill climb back to Lawton Avenue Rico heard his phone ringing. Who the hell would be calling him at such an hour (probably 7:30am)? The man was in the thick of his marathon! It was Luis trying to cheer his friend and checking on him. Rico paced Luis just last week on the last 5kms of the latter's first (50K) ultramarathon. With labored breathing because of the incline, Rico happily reported that at about km26/27 he was still on track on meeting the 5 hr cut-off. Luis would call again at Rico's last 5 kms. Pacing by phone - that was the new way of returning the favor :-)

The climb back from Bayani Road did sap some of Rico's energy, just like with all the runners. Rico would still follow his strategy of taking short recovery walks along very steep inclines and aid stations. He would somehow still catch up wtih a few runners, but clearly runners were already feeling the heat and fatigue. Here he would catch up with Rod with whom he would alternately pull one another till the end of Buendia Avenue. What sustained Rico's spirit though was the anticipation of meeting his friends at km 32 prior to attacking the flyover.

Finally he saw them - the support volunteers. He remembered getting a Gatorade bottle from Pepsi/Girly, who was pretty sight in red garb just like many of the volunteers. The cheers and mere presence of the group invigorated him. He felt strong and inspired that he had to proceed and run before the energy dissipated.

Atop the flover Rico and Migz were conversing. 

Migz: The view from here is spectacular.
Rico: Yeah, it is. Amazing!
Migz: How are you feeling?
Rico: Except for a very slight pain in my right mid-foot, I am doing ok.
Migz: How would you like to run the last 10 or so kilometers?

Rico pondered for moments. At this point he knew he could finish the marathon. At this crossroad he was wondering how he wanted to finish it. He looked at the time, distance and pace on his Garmin. If he ran the last 10K the way he runs the usual 10K race, he might still make it to the 5 hr cut-off time. But he knew he was not running a 10K fresh. He knew that he will inevitably slow down towards the end. He was actually surprised that his legs were still holding up at this point. The last 10K of his last 35K LSD just 1.5 weeks ago was sheer will at its best. It was achingly slow (sub 8-9min/km), with his shins shouting bursts of protest in the eerie silence of the deserted Boni High Street. That agonizing finish was not the way he want to finish his debut marathon. He deserved something better, and so did his supporters.

Rico wanted this run for himself. To prove to himself that he could push his limits if really wanted. And push he did. During training, he ran longer and faster subject only to his body's ability to recover. That he was still running at that point in the marathon was all the proof he needed. Rico also wanted this run for others. To run well for those who think they can't and to run well for all those volunteers and donors. To go for broke by sprinting the rest of the kilometers is to gamble the gains of the first 32kms. Rico wanted to remember this run with him finishing strong and with a big smile on his face.

Rico: Migz, I hope to do a steady, relaxed run till the finish. Just run with me please.
Migz: This is your race man. You can finish it the way you want it.

For most of Buendia Avenue, Rico and friend Migz run steadily. Rod with pacer Pat on bike would join them every now and then. Without saying much, Rod was pulling forward Rico who was trying to do the same to Rod. Pat and Migz were big help in stopping traffic for Rod and Rico. Rico remembered his recent Baguio half-marathon race, where he realized that the bike patrol could be a runner's best friend on the road.

Towards the end of Buendia Rico saw figures in red. He ran towards the vision like a moth to a lamp. Before he reached the figures he was welcomed by a cloud of mist, thanks to enthusiastic volunteer Brian and non-runner friend Francis. Former golf buddy and still current gulp buddy Francis was supposed to be Rico's lone private support for his maiden marathon. Little did Rico foresee that a support group would grow like this and that his buddy Francis would have the time of his life spraying mist, cheering and watching the human drama of runners unfold. Rico felt good to see not only his best bud but also the people cheering wildly for runners like they were rockstars. The cold towel given by Marga was a balm for Rico's overheated head and face. These people showed why they are the best support group in the city. Take a bow friends.

The last 4kms along Roxas Boulevard was the hardest part. The sun was shining brightly at that time and the breeze from the bay was salty and hot. If pacer Migz was already feeling the heat, what more Rico who had been running close to 5 hrs now? But Rico kept on running, pausing only at water stations as planned. He kept searching for the landmark that was Manila Hotel. Finally he was at kilometer zero. Never was the last few hundred meters of a race felt so long and slow. Not that he was melting like candle. It was just that he wanted the race to end so he could celebrate his achievement sooner.

Finally he veered away from Roxas Boulevard and entered the park compound. Migz was telling Rico that he would run ahead and wait from that last corner before the finish line. For a moment, Rico was confused. Why leave, Migz? You are my pacer. Share with me this triumphant moment. But Rico finally understood his friend. Migz wanted Rico to have his solitary shot at glory. But before Migz vanished at the corner Rico called him once more. He shouted his name and gave him a salute.

After his salute Rico made his last turn and saw the finish line. Looming large ahead just about 100m were the finish line and the race clock. No, not yet, Rico's mind screamed. He did not want the race to end just yet. Normally Rico would sprint the last few hundred meters of every single race. Finish strong he would often say. This time around Rico took his sweet time to the finish. In those last few meters and minutes he asked himself. Have I done what I came here to do? 

Has he run with the best? Yes, not only has he run with the city's best runners, he also ran with the best of friends and supporters.

Was he able to meet the Competitor and the Athlete within him? Yes he discovered what true competition is and appreciated his maturity and discipline as an athlete?

Has he reached the stage of a Runner? Not only has he become a Runner in a fuller sense, he has become a better person in the process.

Satisfied with the answers, Rico sprinted the last few meters with heart leaping with joy.

In cloud 9 for finishing his first marathon in 5hrs 16mins
Photo by Marvin Opulencia

Veteran marathoner Vener told Rico that the latter would cry as he crossed the finish line. But Happy Rico was wiping perspiration, not tears, from his eyes as he stood for a photo at the finish line. Rico was misty-eyed only when he was about to finish this blog entry. Vener told Rico that when the latter crosses the finish line, his life would change forever. The change actually happened earlier for Rico. It happened that moment he threw away his reticence to push and made his marathon a race not only for athletic achivement, but also for personal growth.
To everyone who was part of my journey, my eternal gratitude is yours.
I share my finisher's medal with you all.
To God be the Glory.


run unlimited July 7, 2009 at 2:56 PM  

My congratulations. Be proud.

Bong July 7, 2009 at 6:45 PM  

Congratulations Rico! The epic saga of a new marathoner has just begun. I look forward to reading the next great adventure.

Marga July 7, 2009 at 6:49 PM  

Awww...You are an inspiration! Great job. You, take a bow!

SEABISKWIT July 7, 2009 at 7:05 PM  

Congrats Bro!! really happy for your running achievements!!
Keep on running, writing and inpiring!!

wilson July 7, 2009 at 7:58 PM  

Congratulations on your first full marathon! that is quite a debut at the distance. Till the next full marathon!

ronald_rei July 7, 2009 at 11:37 PM  

congrats, boss rico! daig mo kaming mga di pa nakapag-42k!

jetpaiso July 7, 2009 at 11:47 PM  

congrats rico! you're one great guy! God bless!

Neil July 8, 2009 at 5:36 AM  

Congrats again Rico! Before I never really understood that running would make a person change his life when Runningshield(PatCon) told us about this. Running with the peeps proved this. What more when we help each other?

Kudos to you and everybody involved!

So are you running another one this year?

JavyO July 8, 2009 at 9:01 AM  

Congrats Rico!

Your story is inspiring...I can't wait til I run mine...especially after reading your story :)

See you at Camsur then? ;)

Anonymous July 8, 2009 at 9:29 AM  

Congratulations Rico! Indeed, finishing the marathon is life changing. It opens up a lot of learning opportunities that we can apply in our lives. But ultimately, everything will not be possible without God's grace.

Savor the moment!

Eric and Ems

sfrunner July 8, 2009 at 9:31 AM  

Hi Rico. The last few meters had to be sweet! Singapore's a few months away. Take care.

Gingerbreadman July 8, 2009 at 10:02 AM  

You did it boss! Yeah!!! Marathoner Rico. Has a good ring to it eh? We are so proud of you. And Bong Yu as well! You guys truly deserved it, for all the hard work that you put in training, all those 25k tempo runs with matching jumbo liempos. :) Hey while I was entrenched in my comfy hotel room my friends are dying out there, it was the least I could do! Pacing by phone is the real deal! Congrats Rico, good things happen to good guys and that's one right there :) What goes round comes round my friend!

Anonymous July 8, 2009 at 11:37 AM  

Congratulations, Rico. I have always admired your dedication. X59

lyndon aka malmonmd July 8, 2009 at 2:37 PM  

Hi Rico,

Congratulations! I am so proud of you. I actually envy you. I admire your courage and fighting spirit. You were the one who instilled the same virtue in me. It is after our talk last December that i began to believe in myself. My capabilities. The day after, i ran a Half Marathon. I was so happy and i could'nt believe i could finish it. With your inspiring story now, I am itching to run the Full. Congratulations again brother...... :)


jazzrunner July 8, 2009 at 3:06 PM  

bro, congrats on conquering your first (?) marathon!

hope you recover well!

Rico Villanueva July 8, 2009 at 3:23 PM  

Vener, thanks. I learned a lot from you. I still want to run like you - without Garmin, but knowing intimately what you are capable of as a runner.

Bong O, thanks. The Milo marathon is my greatest saga so far. It will be hard to top that. But I hope to be part of more interesting running stories in the future.

Marga, thanks. The enthusiasm of the support group was contagious. I tapped into that well-spring of support.

Ian, mas maganda sana if we run the milo together. When your time comes, I hope to be there to witness it.

Wilson, quite a debut it was. Never imagined it would be like this. But God works in interesting ways. Sometimes, you just have to subsume your free will and have faith in the divine script. It was one heaven of a run for me.

Ronald, pwede ka naman mag-full mary ayaw mo pa lang :-) Thanks for enlivening the runners and the support group with your quotable quotes during the race :-)

Jet, i am really just an ordinary guy trying real hard to be good. Congrats on your half-marathon btw

Neil, yeah. I thought all those talk of life-changing moments were all drama. But I was living the drama myself during this whole marathon thing. My deepest thanks for all you have done for the support group. Hope to pay it back or forward.

Javy, thanks. It feels good to inspire and be inspired. Can't wait how your marathon story will go. Good luck on your Camsur half-ironman. I believe Camsur will be the highlight of your 2009 athletic year. I hope to do this next year when I am more prepared. Will ride out the Milo euphoria for now.

Eric and Em, yes it was by God's grace that I was so happy completing my marathon even if I didn't make the 5hr cut-off. In a way, I even feel like I made it to the finals. God gave me a marathon debut to remember.

Wayne, yes, those last few meters were precious. Had to slow down to make sure they were etched in my memory.

Luis, thanks for pacing during trainings and the calls during the race. I know you would have been there if you could. I tried real hard to be good for this marathon - drawing in all the good vibes and purging out all the negatives. I suppose it worked.

RJ, thanks. You were dedicated yourself as one of the support group planners and bike patrol on race day. Hope to pay it back/forward

Hello Doc Lyndon, my kuya :-) Kaya pala magaan kaagad pakiramdam ko when I first met you to get my Garmin. Haha. Doc, kaya mo 'yan. To beat your old 10K PR and to do a full marathon. But when you think the internal pressure seems daunting, just rely on others and God to provide the extra push. On my own capabilities only, I would have probably run Milo in 5:30. Riding on the good will of others and thinking that God is with me, I was able to do it in 5:16. The 14-min difference was due to them entirely.

Rico Villanueva July 8, 2009 at 4:06 PM  

Thanks Rene. It was my first, but I enjoyed it so much I want to do it again. Seriously considering your group's QC Intl Marathon. I have done my initial recovery run na. Will take a break for a while and train harder and better for the next one.

Rod July 8, 2009 at 4:51 PM  

congrats, idol! bat ba ngayon ko lang nabasa itong post mo. tadtad ng pangalan ko pa. hehehe

it was nice running beside you, bro. from bayani road upto the stretch of buendia ave.

congrats ulit! ultra na! =)

The Traveling Mom July 8, 2009 at 4:54 PM  

Congratulations, Rico! Very proud of my boss... the smile in your last picture says it all, happiness, relief, joy, exhaustion. Continue to inspire us with your God given talents, and I hope someday, maybe after my second baby(sana!) we will see each other on the same 42k route... God bless you!

runningpinoy July 8, 2009 at 8:05 PM  

wow rico what a story! congratulations mr. marathon man!

BongYu July 9, 2009 at 2:34 PM  

Hey Rico! Congratulations, my Running Buddy! We’re Virgins no more (ooops!). Hehehe.

Another word on that first part and tears might drop on my keyboard. (Note: You gave me water on our Montalban LSD, di pa tayo magkakilala nun. And I'll never forget that.)

Seriously, you are the person who steered me towards this goal of ours. Without your push and generosity, I wouldn’t have been able to train hard and well for this run.

I owe it to you BigTime and to our family.

Maraming Salamat!

Rico Villanueva July 9, 2009 at 3:16 PM  

Rod, thank you pare. You may not know it but your look of determination as we ran made we ran faster. Congratulations fellow marathoner :-)

Lorena, thanks. Yes, that picture captured well my state of heart and mind at the finish line. I hope you can experience a similar joy in your first marathon, and hope to be there when you do.

Dennis, thanks. Marathon man. It has a nice ring to it. Ultramarathon na lang medyo makakalapit na ako sa achievement mo :-)

Hey there Super Bong Yu! Sarap ng feeling to lose our marathon virginity, ano? Screw the 5hrs cut-off time; we had a blast in our first marathon. Now that you mentioned the water incident, I do remember now the Montalban experience. So ikaw pala yung may utang sa akin? Hehe. Pero tama ang ating training partner na si Luis, what goes around comes around. It was nice running with you my friend. Until our next marathon.

Rico Villanueva July 9, 2009 at 3:26 PM  

Teka Bong Yu. Kinilabutan ako dun sa water incident ah. Things seems to be interconnected leading to this Milo race. All these paying it forward incidents and acts of random kindness as Argo would put it. Wow, what a life script! But I am sure glad to be part and beneficiary of this cycle of goodness.

RunningPepper July 10, 2009 at 9:48 PM  

Great and very inspiring story sir rico! Thanks pala sa inyo ni migz sa gatorade along bayani rd..=) Steven

Nora, the golden girl July 10, 2009 at 10:12 PM  

Congratulations Rico! How I wish I was part of the support team . . . hopefully next time, I will.

Your story is so inspiring Rico. I'm sure a lot of us who still doubt if we could run a marathon will now decide to do it. Hopefully for me, before I turn 60 heh heh . . .

See you at the Run for Home. Will be running my 3rd 10K.

forefoot July 11, 2009 at 8:55 AM  

As always, I am the last to read other's blog...:) Am building a reputation na yata. Anyways, i believe a Congratulations is never too late. I am awed by your story. Amazed at how deep your insight is of things, especially this, your first Full Marathon.

Your thoughts inspire me, Bro. A salute to your Sheer Will!

Rico Villanueva July 13, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

Hi Steven, fellow marathoner :-) Nice to see you having your onw blog as well. It is a nice way to document personal achievement.

Hi Nora. Thanks for the comments. The support team had fun while helping runners at the same time. I hope many people will have the chance and take up the courage to prepare and run a marathon. It is a life-changing experience.

Hi Mar, thanks for the comments. Everyone inspires everybody else. :-)

Gene Ordanza July 15, 2009 at 11:38 AM  

Wuhoo! Congrats on your first marathon, bro! Ang galing. Hindi lang pang-marathon, first class support group organizer pa!

Rico Villanueva July 15, 2009 at 12:26 PM  

Thank you, Gene. And thank you for being an active participant of the support group. :-)

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