To Love Running More

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I thought if I postpone writing down my thoughts they will change. 
But six days after the Singapore marathon, the thoughts remain the same.

It Starts As A Dream

The idea of doing the 2009 Singapore Marathon first came to mind when I read the accounts of the bloggers who did the 2008 edition. Almost all of them wrote about the difficulties they had to endure to finish their races, but the emotion that ruled within me during those moments was: Someday I wish to do the same. Someday I will join a race abroad. 

The Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) was familiar and accessible. However, the 2009 version back then seemed so long away in the future. I considered the May Adidas Sundown Marathon in Singapore, but I was not yet ready to do the full mary back then. Then Milo Marathon came in July, and I had a wondrous marathon debut. Suddenly after Milo, the Singapore dream seemed to pale in comparison. While in Manila I ran the marathon with a community of tight-knit runners; in Singapore I would run with people many of whom I do not know.

But the race abroad remained a dream and at the last day of the early bird rate I registered for the SCSM or the SG marathon. It took me weeks before I got myself to book a flight, and several weeks more to book a hotel. I felt I was supposed to do the race, but the excitement was simply not there. A week before the race I finally reserved a hotel. That was it. I was going back to Singapore after 3 years - this time not to work or attend seminars, but to race.

Trappings of Greatness

From the airport our group proceeded directly to the Sports Expo to claim our race packets. It was all I thought an Expo ought to be and the race kit claim process lived up to its world-class drum-beating. I was impressed. By then I already have a firmer grasp of the probable reason why I was in Singapore in the first place. I was there to observe how races are conducted and someday hopefully influence how Philippine races ought to be conducted. Inside the registration hall we were greeted by neat cordons leading to labeled counters manned by cheerful and helpful personnel. In less than 5 minutes I had with me a heavy duty sling bag carrying all I needed for the race. Swell! 

From the registration area we exited to the Expo hall where our senses and wallets were assaulted by a barrage of drool worthy brands: New Balance, Newtons, CW-X, 2XU, Zoot, Orca, Pearl Izumi, and many others. In less than 2 hrs I came out of the hall a bag, a race belt, a visor, a set of lock-laces, and a pack of gels richer! Several Singapore dollars poorer as well. If there is one thing I have always liked in Singapore apart from the food, it is the shopping for bargains and hard-to-find items.

Race Preparation

It was only in the quiet and solitude of my room the night before the race that it dawned on me that I was actually there to race. It was not some field trip, shopping trip nor food trip, but a race I paid for dearly - my most expensive race in terms of fee and all attendant expenses. Finally I was excited. I seriously deliberated on what I would wear for I consider my attire and my actions as personal statements. Beautiful though the marathon singlet, I did not want to blend in the crowd. First I wanted my friends to be able to spot me; more importantly, I wanted to let my individuality and Filipino identity to stand-out. I eventually settled for the black singlet, the site being a representative of the Filipino running community, and takbo being in my national language. Although I do not use it as often as black absorbs heat, the takbo singlet is special because I was part of the group that made it happen.

I also deliberated on what food to bring. A hopia-lover since my first group LSD and marathon, I actually brought two packs from home. But the hopia was chunky and I knew at some point an Ironman wannabe has to rely on gels, or at least more handy bars. I settled for two packs of another favorite, Grower's Nutribar, and a small packet of Kitkat. All brought from home. Along with my camera phone, all the stuff fit snugly in my newly-bought Marathon brand race belt.

The last decision I had to make was what to put on my motivational bib. It was a contest between New Balance's "Love Running More" and Mizuno's "Never Settle". Both slogans are written on favorite singlets. Had I been at physical peak and better prepared I would have  written "Never Settle" as the Singapore Race was supposed to be my 2009 culminating race when I first considered it. But I was not, so I wrote "Love Running More". Maybe on the 42.195kms of Singapore roads I would finally learn to run properly and not be beset with pain afterward. Yeah, that was all I asked the night before the race. To love running more is to be joyful before, during and after the run.

Race Day

I woke up at 3 am and before 4:30 I was already in the baggage deposit area. The system for baggage collection and retrieval was another organizing marvel. Personal bags are loaded into clear plastic bags tied with plastic ties/locks, labeled with stickers and neatly stored in rows of shelves. Awesome. Indeed it was a great race, and my excitement built up some more.

From the baggage deposit area I followed the runner flow passing through the underpass into the start area on Esplanade Drive. As early as the underpass I was already on the look-out for a toilet for a last pre-race leak. I saw none. Eventually I was on Esplanade desperately looking and still not finding anything. I asked a couple of volunteers, lots of locals and the official pacers but even them did not know where the nearest toilet or portalet was. I was getting anxious, along with hundreds more with the same agenda as me. At 4:39 I finally found a 30-people queue to a single toilet inside Esplanade Theatre. It took 40 minutes for me to finally relieve myself of bladder pressure, and tons of positive thinking not to be bothered by the wait and time lost. My morning excitement had the following changes: excitement, apprehension, elation (at discovery of toilet), apprehension, desperation, nonchalance, and finally relief that the suffering was over. I learned after the race that the portalets were stationed near the finish area which was at least 300 meters away from the start areas and separated by a road, underpass, and masses of tents. Arrg, organization was almost perfect if not for the portalet positioning!

Lost In Transition

Thirty minutes was what I planned for warm-up, seeking out friends and picture taking at race start. All I got was 5 minutes to enter the start chute and crawl myself into the mass of 14,000+ marathon runners before race start. I felt robbed of that rare chance of communing with friends and fellow runners before the race. Those moments at the start, along with the finish  line greetings,  are the essence of races for me. I pay for those moments. Sadly, in the thousand pesos I shelled out for this race, those moments were not guaranteed. They have to be wrung away with tenacity and shrewd planning from the multitude of unfamiliar faces. Along with friends I planned to be inside the 5hrs-and-under pen, but I ended up at the back of the last pen with hundreds more waiting for their chance to take a leak.

Six minutes after race start I finally crossed the official starting line. Yeah, I was that far back and we were that many. Somehow  the thrill of the race start lifted my spirits and I found myself comfortably running in the 6-6:30min/km pace. I was fully aware that I came into the race with 1.5 months of very little running to cure a pesky plantar fasciitis-ridden right foot, with just three 5K intervals and a 21K race a week before as training so to speak. I had no great expectations but I had sub-5hrs a some sort of miracle, best case scenario, goal; 5:30hrs as realistic goal, and 6 hrs as I-hope-I-do-not-go-beyond scenario.

Marathon Becomes Walkathon

From where I was the spectacle of 14,000+ runners cruising along Esplanade Drive was awesome. I have always loved big race crowds, and the energy of the runners at the start was palpable. Electrifying. Dream races are made of these I told myself. 

Alas, the dream started to fade at early on. Whereas in the first 10 kilometers I never got to do my Galloway walk breaks because of the forward rush of the maddening crowd, as early as km 10 people have started to cramp out and walk. A number were already stretching and applying pain ointment the scent of which would haunt me throughout the rest of the race. It was disheartening to see people fading that early into the race. Not only were they assaulting me mentally, they were impeding the faster flow of runners. 

Fading was the order of the day. I tried to fight it by repeating my mantra: Love Running More. Run with your heart, mind and body in unison. Feel the love in the motion, and not focus on the pounding of the lower legs. For a moment I tried targeting runners whose running form were imperfect but who nevertheless strive to surge on. Surely I could and did overtake them. But I realize true love emanates not from cheap thrills of overtaking weaker runners, but by being inspired to run better by the stronger and faster ones. I tried to look for those kinds, but majority of them started way ahead of me and the few I saw were fast weaving through the slow runners and walking crowd. 

I then focused on the motivational bibs of others. Some were inspirational:  Impossible means I M Possible. Some were comic: He (=>) pushed me to do this!  or  Stop Reading, Start Running!  Sadly not many had those bibs. Among the few bibs seen were many with very small, barely readable handwriting. I wished they had been more creative. The only one with color that I saw was mine with that red heart signifying love. All those mental exercises allowed me to finish the first half at around 2:35 or just a tad better than my last week's NB race. 

Despite the smooth roads, manicured jogging paths and expansive views of the sea, the only real highlight for me in the first half was seeing some familiar faces: racewalker Amado Castro, the first familiar face I saw on the race course, Milo batchmate Aries who was pacing a Singaporean friend doing his first mary, a Filipino triathlete  clad in Herbalife jersey already on his way back most likely to a sub-4hr finish, and my buddy Dennis who was speeding on his way back on the opposite lane to what looked like a PR finish.

After the 21k turnaround on the narrow jogging path in East Coast Park I overheard two buddies conversing: "My plan is to try to run till km 24 and walk the rest of the way. I looked at them in disbelief. The two guys were considerably fitter than me, and yet that was their marathon plan. To run a little and walk a lot, I think that was the plan of the many others I happened to be with. In the narrow path I tried to run in defiance of that walk-a-marathon plan. I may be a slow, fat runner, but I come from the school of thought that a marathon is a challenge that ought to be finished mostly running. I was running in clean, beautiful East Coast park, but at that time I wanted to be on dusty Buendia running a Milo marathon elimination race. I wondered how it was in the sub-5hrs start group. Had I started there, would I have been pulled forward and not pulled back?

I was deep in search for motivation when a comely Filipina runner  came from behind and initiated conversation. It was like a fresh whiff of breeze in the stagnant and humid air of Singapore. It turned out Charity (?) and I had the same flight coming into Singapore and share the same gym back home. Coolness. We chatted for a while, but reluctantly I egged her to go ahead as I thought I was slowing her down. Bad decision on hindsight. Maybe my Singapore race would have been more pleasant if I stuck it out a bit longer.

At km28 I did a time check. Last time I reached this distance was in dark, waterless Subic where I had to end the race at 4hrs to accompany a friend to the hospital. It gave me some comfort to have reached the distance in 3.5 hrs this time. Surely the last 14kms were doable in 2 hours. At my state then, 5hr-finish goal was gone. To finish and get this race done was all that was in my mind.

Longest 10K

I do not really believe in the marathon wall but I know I should eat going into km32. I did  just that by munching on my second Nutribar. What I experienced in Singapore was not really a wall but more of a set of shackles dragging down my legs and slowing my run to a plodding pace. In my Milo marathon I noted a marked pace decline near the average distance of my longest training runs, but back then the decline was from 7min/km to 8:30min/km at the most. Coming out of the shaded park and venturing onto the open roads from km 32 onwards I was slowly melting at 9min/km. I was still defiantly running (more of plodding actually) and doing my Galloway walk breaks though. 

If other people walking bothered me earlier, this time it was the humidity that was killing me. I was in stupor around km 37 when the 6-hr pacer suddenly zoomed past me. What! What happened? I glanced back at my Garmin and noted I was hovering between 9 and 10min/km. My ego was jolted and pricked, but I actually worried more for that local guy with bib saying he aimed to do 5:30 for his 9th marathon. Yes, 9th marathon! Was it really that hard to register better times in Singapore?

Last 3 kms. I had 30 minutes to complete this and still be within 6 hrs. Back home, I would have castigated myself if I finished near 6 hrs. But here in Singapore, 30 minutes for 3 kms was even a challenge. Run 10min/km for last 30 minutes - that was the last task. I was not experiencing pain and my right heel was surprisingly holding up, but for some reason my legs felt dead. My body carriage was still okay and my legs and feet were still aligned, but the knee lifts and back kicks were reduced to feeble attempts to surge forward. This time the enemy was not only humidity. There was also the searing heat. It was 11am already.

Nike, Skins and Zoot Trilogy

I found myself sharing the last 3km struggle with chubby triathlete in Skins and a gym dude in Zoot tri pants. Ah, just the day before  I was longingly looking at those Skins and Zoot  compression pants in Running Lab. Here in Singapore just about everyone wears the cool brands. I told myself once I lose 20 lbs I would get one of those, mostly like the Zoot similar in fabric to the trisuit bought by my friend Aries. Nike-compressed me and Skins guys valiantly tried to run, but it irked me a lot that walking Zoot and running Nike that was me basically moved at the same pace. 

Several times I would focus and think "Love Running More" and miraculously my pace will improve to 9min/km, but it was a really tough battle to the finish. At km 40 I decided I would walk one kilometer and the run the rest of the way. Skins and Zoot left Nike at this point. But even walking was a chore in the searing heat and humid air. At kilometer 41 I finally attempted to run again, but pre-cramps poked my right leg after 200 meters. I dejectedly walked again fearing I might not even reach finish line if I ran. At this point, a guy came from behind, congratulated me and told me that he was glad to have run along with me for most of the marathon. He thanked me for that bib I had: "Love Running More". That was really cool I thought, but I was too tired to run with him to the finish.

Love Running More

Love Running More. I pondered upon it as I dragged myself to the finish line. Was walking to the finish how one loves running more? Did I give this marathon the respect and importance it deserves? I thought flying away to a far place was a grand gesture of love, but I realize true love feeds not on glitz and prestige, but on moments of shared togetherness. I realize the depth and warmth of love I would receive depends solely on the amount of myself I have given. If my Singapore race experience did not live up to the hype I imagined, maybe because my heart was not in it in the first place. Maybe because in the road toward this marathon I have discovered that world-class race services do not really guarantee awesome race experience. 

In the last 200 meters I finally run again. That last short run was silent admission that while I  might not like all the races  I joined, every race deserves to be given my best shot. The race took a lot of me mentally and physically, but I was glad to have survived it without injuries. For this alone I love running more. And while my mind may have felt shortchanged, my body ran and relished the motion. I finished the marathon in 6:11:15 - almost an hour over my personal best, but I tuck it still in my marathon memories. Every race has goals and lessons learned, and I certainly had mine. 

Singapore for me will remain a place for eating and shopping. I'm happy to report I had enough of those. I used to be intrigued and enamored with offshore races, but now I have second thoughts. It would take a very special reason for me to go back to Singapore for a marathon. New York marathon remains a dream, but even for that I might have some conditions. Truth to tell I prefer to race at home. I'd rather bring the best of the world into my home. In my quest for marathons I hope to be guided by what I have learned all these months running. The joy of running lies in the escape, stimulation or peace provided by the solitary run, or the camaraderie of the group or fun runs, and the opportunity to surpass our personal limits during races.

Wherever I may be, I hope to love Running more.


Hotlegs Runner December 12, 2009 at 6:25 PM  

nonetheless, you still made it! congratulations , Rico! =)

wilson December 12, 2009 at 7:49 PM  

i myself did not have a perfect race in scsm. but still, we made it to the finish! to be honest, i have profound respect and amazement to thos who stand being on the road for 6 hours or more... maybe i'd have given up by then!

congrats, sir rico!

Sam TheRunningNinja December 12, 2009 at 9:45 PM  

Yow Rico,

Taga mo sa bato, if you lose 20lbs I'll buy that Zoot compression pants for you!

Maybe for the second edition of BLC? :-)


Anonymous December 12, 2009 at 9:48 PM  

very nice marathon re-cap. Congrats Rico for a strong finish


Anonymous December 13, 2009 at 1:16 PM  

Congratulations! I also joined the singapore marathon. :) although i was there for the half marathon lang. planning to do a full by next year. :)

argonaut December 13, 2009 at 4:12 PM  

Galing ni Rico!!! Proud Kami!!!

Gingerbreadman December 14, 2009 at 7:28 AM  

Rix, the depth and texture of your work never ceases to amaze me. Congratulations on finishing another marathon once more, and for actually serving as an inspiration to others who ran with you with your "Love Runnong More" slogan. I am hoping to run this with you next year! Meanwhile, are we going for that sub-60 in 2010? :P

eulogio martin December 14, 2009 at 9:59 AM  

congrats on your second full marathon finish within one year. don't worry, we will "attack" milo next year. :)

i think the name of the FF girl is charit.


Rico Villanueva December 14, 2009 at 11:59 PM  

Hey Julie, thanks. Someday you will also have your marathon story :-)

Yeah, wilson, it's hard to be out on the road that long. That's why I pray so hard I will be a bit faster like you guys :-) Sayang di tayo nagkita sa Singapore. Baka sa Boston na uli tayo magkita haha

Uy Sam, thanks for the offer. Ang bait mo talaga, Idol. Can you order it so that by March it's already onshore. Haha. Congrats pala sa BLC. You never cease to amaze me. Galing!

Thanks RFB Dennis. Well, my legs did finish strong enough to do walking and shopping that same night, and the day after. Good enough dividends. Haha.

Hi Narnian, congratulations on your half. Friends who did both SG and HK marathon say weather is much pleasant in the former. You may want to consider that in your choice. Good luck and thanks for dropping by :-)

Argo, mas proud ako sa iyo. Haha. Ang bilis mo na, ang payat mo pa. Haha. Idol!

Thanks Idol GBM. Haha. Epekto lang yang mga thoughts na yan ng marathon ko. Haha. Yup, I intend to run more races with you my friend. In all the help I can get to be fast. Want to break my stereotype too you know :-)

EO! Thanks. I am really so looking forward to doing the Milo Elims with you. By some holy miracle sana sumabit rin ako sa finals like you. Dreams are free :-)

Sam TheRunningNinja December 15, 2009 at 11:47 AM  

I initially offer Skins kay Eric over FB sbi ko if he lose more than 10% of his weight, ill give Skins hahahhaa. Good thing he didn't pursue anymore sa contest hahhaha.

Pero this time, I hope you do lose 20lbs at least, para sexy kna sa Zoot compression (and hopefully available na dito sa pinas)


Anonymous December 16, 2009 at 12:34 PM  

Hi Rico! A love with a bite that stings? Well, you certainly ended up with one of the best kinds there is! Haha!:-)Who wants a boring snorefest of a love affair anyway? You finished and didn't get finished and you finished with a lot of heart! Congratulations and, as always, thank you for the story well told...

jetpaiso December 17, 2009 at 6:43 PM  

thanks bro for sharing your scsm experience! here i learned the value of sharing the glory of the marathon with family and friends.

yep, every run has its story and lessons. the shortcomings or the glitters may try to take our attention, but i agree with you 100% to focus on what really matters most.

congratulations brother!

RUNNING DIVA December 18, 2009 at 10:30 AM  

The long and pretty much detailed recap stopped me from doing my work, hahaha. I was glued to reading every word, may be I counted more than 5,000 vocabularies there, pretty mighty for a mightier marathoner yourself.

I take my hats off to you, Rico. Your 'sheer will' brought you to the finish line once again. Burger! c",)

Ergo: There's no place like home, eh?

Ey, thanks for the lunch treat. I still owe you Krispy Kreme coffee!

Rico Villanueva December 18, 2009 at 11:10 AM  

Hey Mesh, I miss you blog entries na! Yeah, love with a bite that stings. Haha. Finished but did not get finished. Love to see you more often :-)

Yep Jet, sharing the experience - good or bad - with people who matter is one of the salient aspects of the marathon.

Haha. Roselle. Sorry I momentarily kept you from work. I just had to write down the thoughts. Took a while to stiff through them. Yes, there is no place like home. But if one does decide to run away from home, be sure to bring some friends or family along. The experience is best shared. :-)

Rico Villanueva December 18, 2009 at 11:12 AM  

Sam, gagawan natin ng paraan yang Zoot na yan. Haha. Thanks for the motivation. :-)

Anonymous December 21, 2009 at 9:32 AM  

CONGRATS Rico! Extremely enjoyed reading every single detail of your blog.

If it's any consolation to you, Tsi and I walked the entire marathon for 7 hours 59 minutes 30 secs. Pramis Sub 8 hours!!! :)

See you in future races!

Rico Villanueva December 23, 2009 at 9:54 AM  

Hi Karen. I knew naman you and Tsi could have finished within 6 hrs, but you chose to walk the distance. Sobrang inggit nga ako while looking at your Facebook photos of your marathon picture-taking pace. Now that is one fun way to finish a marathon :-) Congrats to you and Tsi!

the meek runner December 27, 2009 at 3:23 PM  

Hi Rico,

Great recap! Thanks for sharing!


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