To Rise Above Our Frailties (First of Two Parts)

Monday, October 26, 2009

At km25 I was already seething with anger. How could a race that offers such great promise, deliver so little?

The Best of Motivations

The 2009 Smart Subic International Marathon was supposed to be The Marathon Race of 2009. I was not swayed by its tagline of "The Most Prestigious International Marathon in the Philippines," but I was convinced that if conditions were right, this could be The RACE. I remembered blogging how among the three marathons bunched together within Oct-Nov, the SIM carried the most personal meaning for me. I would try to run along with father-and-son Team Logan as they make their first marathon; I supported Retired General Sam Tucay's vision of transforming our national police through running; and I was convinced of Smart Sports' commitment to running. For all these reasons I made a nice little entry, registered myself for the race, and enjoined those contemplating their first marathon to make SIM their personal choice. We shall party at Subic I told a host of runner friends.

Race day started really well actually. Our small group of 9 excitedly met at Jollibee Crossing at 6am, had sumptuous breakast at Kenny's along NLEX where we met other excited runners like marathon virgin Zinia, pacer Abby and members of Team Timex, checked-in at Forest View at 10am for quick nap/rest, carbo-loaded at Wimpy's as I subsconsciously remembered Wilson's suggestion, and went back to our rented dug-out to suit up for the race.

There was palpable excitement as we boarded the bus and made our way to the Floridablanca start. I was seated just behind some Kenyan Runners whom I remembered from last week's Quezon City International Marathon. Every runner was making jokes at how they hope to get some running power from the Kenyans and how they could just opt to roll down the hills to the finish line. Riding on the bus instead of driving behind the steering wheel gave one the feeling it was a long run back to Subic.

Awesome Sights

The sight of all those marathoners at assembly was awesome. Yes there was a huge contingent of policemen and probably army men, but the number of civilian runners - mostly marathon virgins - was also impressive. There are also a number of women runners - comely ladies. There were also some supporters who personally ferried their runners to the race start. A bunch of people were there - supposedly resting for their half-marathon the day after but providing all the cheers and support they could muster. There was fiesta atmosphere. In my collective memory, the only event where I felt the same level of crowd excitement was when I ran my Milo marathon in July. Unlike in the Milo where you only feel the excitement, the Subic experience gave one the pleasure of actually seeing the look of anticipation on the runners' faces. It was a magical moment.

Marathon virgins all

Photos courtesy of Edu Fabian

Virginal runners Gigi and Zinnia

The magic continued as the runners make their way through the first few kilometers. Against the backdrop of open expanse, distant mountains, crisp air, cool breeze and fading sunset, the runners made their way to, chatting, taking and posing for pictures. I told my early race buddies (Craig & Justin Logan, Gerard and his GF's father Bong) it looked like SIM will be a PR race. Soft asphalt roads, cool breeze, wonderful views, how else can one not do well, except perhaps to unwisely speed up so early in the race.

Pushing Justin

I was with Team Logan from the start and hopefully till the finish line. Along the way I would help push Justin's stroller - something I have always thought of trying from the moment I first saw the father-son tandem on races. There I was finally fulfilling a dream and a promise - actually running alongside them and not trailing behind. For most part Craig and I would push the stroller together, each of us with one hand on the handle bar. When photographers passed by, I would try to let Craig push the stroller, trail behind or switch to the other side. It was Team Logan's race, and that was their moment. I was there to help, and hopefully come out a better person in the process. Pushing the cart was not easy. Craig actually gets backaches after some time or distance. In times when I pushed the stroller alone, it would slightly veer to the right. Probably the way I run/push perhaps? On downhills the cart's weight could be both a boon or a bane. Boon for Baguio resident Craig who has mastered the downhill, bane for the heavy-weight me who still struggles in balancing speeding up against falling over.

Darkness Sets In

After seemingly endless photo-ops and waving to local folks gawking from their fences, the sun finally set. It was a soft, pale sunset, not a fiery one, but calm and soothing nevertheless. I was actually too busy chatting to appreciate its entirety. After dusk we learned how dark it could get in SCTEX. Organizers promised the tollway would be flooded with lights, but there were no lamp posts, emergency lights, or even torch lights for most parts. The only exception was probably a kilometer or two of the tollway fitted with tall, bright lamp posts. I regretted not buying the Halloween blinking light I saw in the mall, and not bringing my bike lamp. Fortunately, Craig has a small lamp to light the way and a blinker at his back.

Between km12 and 15 I think Craig decided to pick up pace. He wanted to buy time for he knew he would go really slow towards the finish. I let him go ahead for I was careful to run only at my comfortable pace. On the back of my mind I was thinking we shall meet again and our strategies would complement each other. I am normally, relatively stronger towards the finish and actually prefer uphills to downhills. We shall push Justin together in the dreaded uphills near the end.

Missing Water Stations

I could stand the darkness and even the feeling of solitude that it forced upon the runners, but I could not tolerate the lack of water. Water is basic in the race. Water is life. For a race claiming to be an international one, we ought to follow international standards on providing hydration. I had been a victim of the dehydration before (thanks to Botak Paa-tibayan). I never wanted to experience again the feeling of difficulty standing, hands getting clammy and cold, vision blurring and greying, and life seemingly being sucked out of your being.

I was lucky I was reasonably hydrated. I adopted a strategy of walking and sipping water in every water station, and I ran close to Team Logan who was granted a support car pass on account of Justin. But I had friends aiming for PRs, who trusted the organizer, and left their hydration belts! I also knew there are at least 300 runners there who haven't mastered hydration technique in a marathon. I knew there was 17-year old Cess back there who was a new runner. She bravely decided to do the marathon knowing its physical and mental demands, but lack of water was never in the decision equation.

Second quarter of our race we were advised by private supporters on vehicles to stay clear of the water. They saw some stations ran out of water and in one particular instance, station personnel went down from the tollway only to reappear with pails of water from unknown source. Now there might be a good explanation for the situation, but Craig stayed away from the water and relied on Gatorade alone. I drank from the water stations only whenever I see that water came from labeled, decent looking, commercial containers. My body could handle diarrhea, but it would succumb to dehydration.

The first time I experienced water lack was on km17.5 I think. Optimistic that I was I figured there would be one at km20. I think I managed to get a sip at km20. At kms 22.5 and 25 there was no evidence there had been a water station. For a moment I even hesitated to do my mandatory walk break at non-existent aid stations as others might see me giving up that early. I wanted to stay strong for any runner who might see me. Between kms 23-35 a pick-up carrying runners stopped. Injured friend James who was on board gave me Pocari sweat from his bottle and warned me that the next water station is 5kms from the finish line. What!? 17kms without water!

It was at this point that I raised my voice in disgust. In a tone that I meant business, I told the marshalls they should find ways to refill all water stations. Make sure there is water in all stations! Call the chief organizer himself if you have to. James told me it was the first time he saw me cursing. I told James the day after I never cursed that night, but my tone and expression communicated dismay and urgency. I feared for the runners behind me.

After some kms or minutes, another pick-up moving counterflow stopped to hand out water. I noticed Gen. Sam Tucay, founder of the race, beside the driver. I heaved a sigh of relief and admiration seeing the General handing out water and rectifying the situation. Still, I firmly told the General they had to refill the stations. In the vernacular, he admitted the situation and said they were doing their best to alleviate it. I felt for the general, seeing how a great race concept could deteriorate to a level like this.

Powered by Love

Amidst the deteriorating water condition I defiantly continued my run. I was slowing down but I was running. Running is my personal statement that the conditions provided was not simply not acceptable. Organizers have to learn that race water provision is mandatory part of the race contract. For a moment I ran on anger, but I know anger would only elevate my heart rate and make me fall victim of the terrible circumstances. I must not be consumed by anger. I will finish my marathon not feeding on anger, but powered by love. I recalled all the positive litte things I encountered on the route: the girl seated on a support van who called me Rico and handed me Choco-Mani. The cheers from moving van early part of the race as they headed back to Subic. Michelle in a van dutifully checking on Craig and Justin every few kilometers. A lone female voice shouting Rico from a vehicle on the opposite lane amid the eerie silence and darkness. Thank you Angels on the Road.

In the darkness ahead eventually I saw a red, blinking light. My heart jumped. Finally Craig was within sight again. If I could just run up to him, we could feed off on each other's energy. Like a moth seeking light I slowly moved closer to the blinker. Alas, it was not Craig. It was a male runner walking his way to the finish. He would meet another runner, with whom they both decided to share the burden of moving in the dark. I greeted them both "Good Evening" the way I greeted everyone I passed over. In my mind I thanked the man with the blinker for unknowingly inspiring me to press on in search of Craig.

Finding Craig

At km28 I found Craig. Actually, it was the Logan van I spotted first, parked beside an ambulance. I knew the ambulance was attending to someone but I didn't know who it was. Michelle's frantic voice from a distance gave me the answer I didn't expect. At the side of the road admist people Craig was seated and slumped over, semi-conscious, but weak and pale. He would later tell me that he was having a good run when he suddenly felt nauseous and vomitted. He knew something was wrong so he flogged down a support car and asked for help. The ambulance was quick to the rescue.

I was beside Craig when he was about to be put on a stretcher. Michelle was trying to remain calm but she was obviously flustered by the turn of events. To make things harder for her, she had to decide between accompanying Craig inside the ambulance and looking out for Justin and their van. Quickly she made her decisions: an injured runner to whom she gave a ride early on would look out for Justin while inside the car, she will drive their vehicle and follow the ambulance, and I was requested to accompany Craig to the hospital.

In the hospital Craig was diagnosed of probable dehydration. This despite drinking lots of Gatorade. In fact, Craig initially thought he had hyponatremia or too much water because he was drinking Gatorade at regular intervals. His blood pressure was dangerously low when he was found on the road, but reverted to normal after taking in dextrose and water only. His electrolyte levels (sodium and potassium) were found to be within normal levels.

After the lab tests and reversion to normal of his blood pressure, Craig still needed rest but was fine enough to be discharged from the hospital. Team Logan dropped myself and Maki, the injured runner/Justin's impromptu caretaker to the race site.

Seeking Accountability

The first familiar face I saw on the site was that of race organizer/ Eventologist head Adi de los Reyes. I first heard of the guy and his company when my friends and I ran in Botak sa Baguio last May. The race was a small one with old school cups and jugs for hydration, but it was enough. What impressed me back then was how they took time to attend to us runners - the delegation in particular. I have heard before about the water lack in the 2008 Subic Marathon, but I figured that maybe Eventologist finally learned their lesson. In Baguio we had enough water. The hydration station might be provincial in its simplicity, but it was enough. With Smart's backing maybe these attentive race organizers could bring it up to international level.

I formally met Adi in the Smart SIM presscon and when I registed for the race. The guy, who was long in the business, seemed earnest. I remember telling him all we ask is that the hydration be enough, especially since SCTEX is supposedly closed for support vehicles. If there would be sports drinks it would be great, but plain water would be enough. To see the empty tables or the complete absence of water stations in some areas was therefore like a betrayal of trust. Worse, I felt guilty leading on friends and other runners that this was really The RACE. Unwittingly, I felt I also betrayed my friends. In the middle of the race I was so angry at the situation I wanted to finish the race fast, grab the mike from whomever, and asked the organizers, Why? Why is there no water?

When I approached Adi I did ask him directly? Sir, bakit walang tubig sa mga water stations? He mentioned something about SCTEX robots. What robots? What the heck I screamed inside. On hindsight he might have gave the explanation that SCTEX people "were robotic" in not allowing their vehicles to replenish supplies. In my simple mind, it was poor coordination on their part with SCTEX and poor planning on how much water to bring in the first place. I walked away in disgust, dismayed that I lost trust of yet another organizer, yet another individual.

Minutes later I would see Smart Sports Pato Gregorio. The guy did not know me but I went up to him. When he spoke about Smart supporting sports in the race presscon, I believed him. So dismayed was I about supporting the race and being short-changed in terms of basic support that I had to personally tell him why he would allow the promise of a great race to wittle down like this. Maybe Smart was new to this, but for us to surge ahead, we have to be strong on the basics. We have to rise above our inadequacies.


natz October 26, 2009 at 11:34 PM  

This is getting too unacceptable. Popping up of too many races with incompetent organizers put a lot of risk in the runners' lives. Maybe we at as a huge running community should place a kind of "black-list" of races that endangers the lives of runners. Perhaps wrong race distance or maps could be slightly acceptable, but poor hyrdation is definitely not.

wilson October 27, 2009 at 12:14 AM  

I didn't know that you volunteered to be a "provisional" member of Team Logan for the race. That was really nice of you, even more so when you abandoned your own race to accompany Craig. With all the preparation that goes into each and every full marathon race, I know that it must've been a hard thing to do: nevertheless, it was certainly the right thing to do.

You may have DNF-ed in this race, but still, you were able to showcase your integrity as a person and as a friend.

I'm sure your next marathon race would be a success - you certainly deserve it!

Running Fatboy October 27, 2009 at 1:15 AM  

What a frightful experience. The organizers should really rectify this problem as it is no laughing matter especially for a distance of 42km. Rest well my friend. Good work on helping Craig too..

Elkyoshi October 27, 2009 at 1:26 PM  

This account brings me back to Botak, my first full at that, all over again! Oh noooo...
What I can't fathom is this was supposed to be an "International" marathon.

daytripper1021 October 27, 2009 at 3:38 PM  

tsk tsk. this is very sad. I have to say that the organizers should've done better.

an officemate of mine ran his maiden marathon at this event as well. he was texting me when he was around km30, complaining of the lack of water stations.

Anonymous October 28, 2009 at 9:47 AM  

ey rico. congratulations, you give DNF a good name!

this is our view from the van. part of the problem why they couldnt get the water to the water stations was that the SCTEX police would not allow the organiser van with water to go in at a certain point of sctex. robotic, yes. maybe the police were thinking they will be running in the same side of the runners and would endanger runners. the mistake of the organisers or at least that particular van with water and cups was not figuring out that instead of arguing with sctex police they could drive all the way down to the dinalupihan exit and come through from behind, making a sweep of all the water stations from that area.

i do think that there was problem in coordination. if the van with the much needed water couldnt get through then they should have a number for person who can facilitate for them or give alternative plans.

Subic, FAIL!

- bards

Anonymous October 28, 2010 at 12:22 AM  

wow its great post..

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