I’m sitting here trying to organize my thoughts and I don’t know where to start. How can one find the words to share such an amazing experience, one that occurred in a little over two hours, but forever changed the way I think about myself and the way I will view life? How can one explain how one race in a new city among friends allowed me to experience camaraderie, selflessness, passion, determination, and humility in its truest form so much so that my finishing time—the focus of so much of my attention prior to the race—was of little importance in the end?
Here’s my story but let it be known that this is but a small fraction of the entire race experience:
Together with Aljo and Jun, I had arrived at the race assembly early and sat by the river behind The Fullerton Hotel as the full marathoners awaited their 5:30 AM race start along Esplanade Drive. We listened from afar as loud, upbeat music and two super hyper DJ’s welcomed all of us 48,000 runners.
I was in relaxed mode, unperturbed over my own 21k, even as the blowing of the horns marked the start of the marathoners and I wondered how Annie, Ben, Coach Jo-Ar, Kim, Glenn, Coach John, and all my other Pinoy friends would do.
5:30 to 6:00 AM
I visited the portalet three times. Did my warm ups and stretches. Gobbled down 1 Vanilla Bean GU gel. Bid Aljo good luck in his 10k. Jun and I then proceeded to the starting line for half marathoners. Still in relaxed mode.
Our “good enough” target was 2:15, but our secret target was sub-2. We hoped to run at 5:40 pace to finish at 1:59. We weren’t sure if it was achievable, but it was worth a try.
6:00 to 6:30 AM
In the darkness before dawn, we stood along Esplanade Drive along with the sea of half marathoners from various parts of the world. The bright yellow spotlights against the backdrop of the dark sky combined with the loud music and excellent hosting made this feel like the biggest show on earth, or at least, the biggest show of my entire life (and to think I was just running the half.) I was completely consumed by this moment; it was wild yet magical, noisy yet serene, communal yet personal, and beyond what I ever imagined this race could be. Jun and I hardly exchanged words, but I do remember telling him something like “Even if we don’t hit sub-2, it will be fine.” At that point, I just felt fortunate to be running the race no matter how I finished.
20 seconds before the race started, the music and Dj’s were silenced. There was not a sound—not a whisper nor a cough—from any of the runners. Then, the horns broke through the stillness and we were off.
Km 1 to 3
I felt like I was going off to war. The steps of a thousand runners hitting the pavement every single second sounded like marching soldiers, and were almost lined up in rows with elbows and arms hitting one runner to the left or right. It was crowded and slow. At one time, I panicked when I saw our pace hitting 7:30 but what could we do. Jun and I spent most of our energy overtaking runners one at a time unable to reach our desired pace.
Km 4 to 8
The crowd eased up as we made our way to wider roads. Our pace increased to 5:35 to 5:40 and Jun and I hardly spoke to each other. I was feeling strong and was enjoying the run. The weather was perfect with cloudy skies and occasional winds blowing on our face.
By this time, I started feeling slight knee pain but I refused to acknowledge it. Jun asked how I was doing and I told him I was completely fine.
I took my 2nd GU gel with no water station in sight…big mistake. As we entered Nicoli Highway, my thoughts were just on water or anything else to down the gel that lined my entire throat.
The GU gel worked its usual wonders on me. Suddenly, I felt fresh and strong, as if I had just started the race. My knee pain would go in and out, but it was manageable.
At one point, we spotted Coach Rio, who also ran the half, on the opposite side of the highway making his way back already. He was in great running form, his hair bouncing up and down, sporting a big smile on his face and he had but a couple of runners around him. He waved at us and we yelled back cheering for him. The sight was amazing. A Filipino making it to the front pack of runners. Kulang nalang hawak niya ang bandila ng Pilipinas.
It was around this time that we agreed to put on our ipod shuffles. Well, we weren’t talking much anyway. This race was much more intense than our New Balance kwento pace.
Sometime during the run, Jun glanced at his Garmin and said “We won’t make sub-2.” I repeated what I said in the race start “Oh, that’s fine Jun.” But, little did he know that it pushed a little button inside me to speed up and still attempt to make up for a very slow start.
With almost fresh legs from GU, I found my rhythm and ran at a steady pace. As for Jun, who is a stronger runner than I am, I pretty much knew something was wrong when he started slowing down. I only learned after the race that, by this time, he was already cramping and feeling a bit of pain in his hamstrings. We parted ways somewhere around this area.
Km 13 to 19
If I thought I could make it to sub-2, this portion, especially the latter part, pretty much blew all my hopes for it.
It was at this point when my knee pain intensified and I wasn’t sure if I would finish. Each step was painful and I wondered if I should push it. I then recalled what Glenn told me during our carbo loading party at Kim’s the night before. He told me that he talks to his injury and asks it to behave. I laughed it off then, but with the pain increasing, I thought it was worth a shot.
So, I started repeating words such as “C’mon, let’s go knee,” “Behave, knee” or “Goodbye knee pain” over and over in my head. And, believe it or not, it worked! Talk about the power of the mind!
During the latter part of this race, I didn’t see the roads nor the people around me. The pain would drift in and out and all I remember now is the physical pain on my left knee and the mental battle to make it subside every single time it appeared. It was long and tough and tiring but I never succumbed, never even stopped to walk unless it was to sip water at the station.
Km 19/ 20
I was running at below 6:00 for the last few kilometers despite the knee pain. I was pretty confident I’d finish the race. Then, as I made a turn at one point, my knee locked and I couldn’t straighten it. I thought to myself “Noooo, not now! Please let me finish!” I didn’t stop but plodded on using the strength from my right leg to carry me through. It was pure hell, but thankfully, after a minute or so, the pain subsided and I resumed my regular run.
Km 20 – 21.5
As I made my way along Esplanade Drive towards the finish line, a quick glance at my watch told me that I was past my secret sub-2 goal. But, as I learned early on in the race, it didn’t matter. So many thoughts were floating about in my head at this time, but all were positive.
I was practically smiling from inside as I couldn’t have been prouder of myself for finishing the race despite the circumstances. It was only when I was forced to endure such a challenge that I actually learned how tough I was.
During the last hundred meters, I even managed to sprint to the finish. When I crossed the finish line, for the first time ever, I raised both hands up in the air and felt like a real winner.
My official time based on chip: 2:08:35
My garmin time | distance | pace: 2:08:31 | 21.52 km | 5:58 min/km