Running the Milo Marathon: Was it worth it?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

When I registered for the Milo Marathon, I had the following stated goals:

1. To acquaint myself better with the workings of my body and mind. I am treating the marathon as integral part of my half-ironman training. I do not care how long I finish, but I simply want to let my body know that 5hrs or so of exertion will not kill me.

2. To remind myself of what is important. Discipline, selflessness, helping others, community spirit, friendship, mastery of oneself.  I hope to get back to those values that make me do and love all these sports activities in the first place.

3. To keep a promise to friends. To Noelle whom I convinced to run her first marathon on her birthday, and to EO who was sidelined from running the Milo marathon last year.

Have I achieved my goals?

It took 42.195kms and 6:15hrs for me to rediscover what I have long known. The marathon is a distance to be respected and it demands training dedication. For this marathon, I only had three long runs (21k, 26K and 30K), completed 3 weeks before the race, with the last two done 3 days apart with one sprint triathon in between.  Fool-hardy I know, but I had my reasons.

I had to work around training partner, marathoner-wannabe Noelle and I's schedule.  Noelle is a  busy, active woman and I am a harassed employee and half-ironman wannabe. We took advantage of the Thursday Adination Run schedule to do our first very long run. Thanks to Jix, Argo, Allan, Bongski and Bong, Noelle and I had company for the first 21K of our target 30K. Just before midnight, Noelle completed her 30K and I survived my jump to 26K from 16K. Surprisingly, I was able to apply my new run form (fold the legs, butt kick) honed through what I call my "form intervals" and keep up with the others, all of whom are stronger and faster than me. I had to take longer breaks and slower pace though in the last 5km to avoid injury. I was bent on supporting Noelle on these training runs, but I was very cautious and listening to my body all throughout. Noelle - she was strong and showing good form.

I was still investing on sleep and recovery when 2 days after my first long run, I had to participate in the Animo Triathlon to support newbie friends. In the swim, bike and run, all my newbie friends overtook me. Haha. I swam at my half-ironman race pace, had my worst bike ride, and had to run-walk the last leg. I had a good 300-meter butt-kicking sprint to the finish though. Well, that was actually a celebration that my temporary insanity is momentarily over. My friends had fun; I had fun. I was slow but not injured.

I was good until I had to wake up for a 4am supposedly 35Km long run the following day with energetic Noelle. What am I doing? I asked myself. I should be resting and not training for a marathon. I only had one aim that morning: survive that last long run. The key to survival was form under fatigue . TUF. Technique under fatigue was my mantra, borrowed from Happy Hour Levy. Run from my core, fold the legs to lessen the torque. I was able to keep up with faster runners Noelle and Jun for about 21kms I think. At many points I knew I was slowing them down so I just let them go ahead. What I did were my form intervals. When I get too far back I would mentally focus on form and miraculously I would speed up without effort. Eventually I had to rest and Jun would run ahead. Along the way Noelle and I stumbled upon EO. In the last 12-15kms it was just Noelle and I. Noelle would support me by slowing down and waiting for me. I would like to believe I was supporting Noelle just by sticking it out there.

My three long runs helped me last the Milo marathon and not injure myself. But clearly, I lacked mileage and adequate recovery from the long runs for a decent marathon finish. At the starting line I entertained dreams of a sub-5hr finish, but I threw it away as early as km21, which I reached at about 2:35.  I realized it was hard to have a goal of "just finish". There has to be a time goal and a target marathon pace attached to it. I told myself the marathon was just a training run, where the process was more important than the time. That all I had to focus on was maintaining my running form all-throughout and perfecting my nutrition and hydration tecnhniques. That I shall run by feel, do programmed Galloway walk-breaks, listen to my body, and stop if necessary.

And that's what I did. I run well when I was running. I no longer had my Garmin, but I estimated I finally lowered my comfortably hard long run pace to 6:30. I Gallowayed at water stations. I listened to my body. Perhaps I took the run-by-feel and listen-to-my-body too seriously. I do not know if the mind-numbing loops, humidity, or lack of hunger for a specific time goal got into me, but I was walking more than I should. I was not cramping, I was not exactly tired, I was well-fed and hydrated. But I felt like walking more than running. I supposed what I lacked was motivation. I tried to recall how much I loved running over those Roxas flyovers, but going a zillion times over them was a chore. On the second half I tried to summon my half-iron dreams mantra, hoping I would at least maintain my first half pace. It never came the way I wanted it to be. It only told me that this drudgery must be endured if I wanted to get stronger.

At km32 with about 4.5hrs of aimless running, I wondered how Noelle and EO were doing. I scoured the runners corral about 3 times looking for Noelle at the start but I failed to find her and wish her luck. But I was confident she would do well. I saw no sign of EO too. I figure both have finished by then. My role as a marathon friend was done. I simply had to survive the drudgery of the last 10kms. I knew from my Singapore Marathon experience that the last 10K could stretch for hours. But I told myself that while I may be a little fatigued, I was far from cramping. I could still afford my leisurely walks and occasional runs at 6:30-7min/km and make it to cut-off time. I may have no definite time goal, but on my second milo marathon, I wanted to make it to the official list of finishers.

I was within my impromptu sub-6hr goal when I asked someone with Garmin how long do I have to endure. The person told me just about 4-5kms. With about 50 minutes to spare,  I decided to simply walk and not rush myself to the finish line.  I was surprised at that point why my Gallowaying friend Carina with whom I have been alternately leading and lagging behind suddenly decided to run. I kept walking bored thinking I probably had just about 3kms to endure, when I saw a km4.5 marker. WTF!!! I just have about 30minutes to make it within cut-off. I could probably run a sub-30 4.5kms, but I refused to risk injury and my mind shut down many kilometers ago. So I walked in defiance of the time. I stayed by the sidewalk and tried to amuse myself with the bay view. I was tempted to stop first for a cold drink from vendors seeing all water stations have ran out of supplies at critical time, but I figured friends might be waiting for me at the finish line. I think I saw about 5 people who were several hundred meters lagging behind me before suddenly appearing. I could still actually outrun them but I didn't bother. It was only in the last 200m that I found my motivation to run. I remembered my first marathon and how pacer Migs selflessly got out of the lane for me to have my moment in the sun. A marathon deserves a strong finish, so I got out of my lethargy and gave it a sprint. I finished my training run in 6:15.

Have I achieved my goals?

Yes I know my mind and body better now. I know more now that my body is capable of great feats if sufficiently motivated. By the power of wanting to support a friend I was actually able to will my body to do long runs.

Yes I touched base with the people and values that really matter to me.  I was extremely happy to see friends from once again -  on the road, on support stations and at the finish line. The only bright moments of my 42km of drudgery were greeting fellow runners and giving my widest smile and heartfelt thanks to supporter friends.

In last year's Milo, I gave myself in support of others and I was rewarded with the most memorable race experience thus far. It was so memorable an experience I wanted friends like Noelle to experience it. Noelle finishing and qualifying for the Milo finals is her achievement alone, but part of me feels glad I was part of her journey. EO told me after the race that he decided to stop the race  at km18 due to cramps. We shall have our moment of greatness, buddy. July 4, 2010 was for Noelle =)

Self-mastery. Good Old Values. Friendship. For these alone, the 6-hr, 42km ordeal was worth it.

As I sit down and type this, I try to assess my recovering body. I can swim now and just this morning I did an easy ride. I am optimistic that my feats of endurance and sacrifice will continue to reap dividends. Within the next few weeks I hope to get stronger. In Camsur 70.3, I hope God will look kindly at what I 've done and strive to do. On that day, may He smile back at me.


Jet Paiso July 11, 2010 at 8:45 AM  

congratulations bro!

Julius July 11, 2010 at 2:25 PM  

Hi, Rico. It was likewise good seeing you on the road. Glad to know your IM training in progressing, and that you got everything you wanted to get out of Milo.

As always, you are voice of reason (you know what I mean) haha!

See you around!

Anonymous July 11, 2010 at 3:23 PM  

Rix, based on your pic above, you seem to have lost a lot of weight already. Wise run and wishing you luck on your Camsur Ironman!:-)

Rico Villanueva July 11, 2010 at 10:33 PM  

Thanks Jet. Nice to see you and the gang again.

Hey Julius, see you on the next marathon :-)

Rene, maganda lang kuha ng photovendo. Haha. Pero sana naman sa ginagawa kong swim/bike/run eh pumayat nga ako. =)

Anonymous July 11, 2010 at 10:53 PM  

Congratulations Rico. You did something that many in the world cannot or won't do. The fact that you ran the entire distance was a reward in it's own.

Best of luck at Cansur and hope to see and meet you in November! - Wayne

Rico Villanueva July 11, 2010 at 11:22 PM  

Hi Wayne. I wish I can say I ran the entire distance, but I think ran only 70% of it =) But yes, I am proud to finish the distance without cheating. Hope to see you soon!

Noelle De Guzman July 12, 2010 at 12:32 AM  

Hi Rico! Yes, I may have run my first marathon entirely by myself -- but if not for you putting the idea in my head, checking up on my training progress, scheduling the key long runs and accompanying me on them, I probably would never have done it in the first place! So, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

God bless in Camsur!

eulogio martin July 12, 2010 at 9:48 AM  

congrats on your back-to-back milo marathon medal, rico. i shall come back stronger, faster and cuter! LOL.


Rico Villanueva July 12, 2010 at 12:35 PM  

Hey Noelle. Gee, thanks. I really appreciate the kind words. There is one indelible memory of our Milo journey that I forgot to write about:

On our last run, I stopped earlier and tried to cut through BHS to check on you. From a far I could hear you scream Yahoo! with your arms pumping the air in pure jubilation. That moment, I knew you can make it. That moment - that's priceless.

Rico Villanueva July 12, 2010 at 12:37 PM  

EO, we both have to do a comeback. See you on the road. I shall be stronger, faster and cuter too. Definitely leaner and (c)hunkier! LOL!

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