Race Report: Barcelona Marathon

Monday, 15 April 2019  |  Favorite Posts, Race Reports
Marathon No. 17: Barcelona Marathon

Since 2009, I’ve been running 1 to 3 marathons per year.  This streak was broken in 2017 when I unexpectedly DNF’d at Marine Corps Marathon due to a foot injury, then in 2018 I suffered health issues that forced me to rest from running long distances to allow for full recovery. 

To say that 2018 was a tough year for me would be an understatement. It was the most difficult year in my 42 years on this earth. But, when I came out of it alive, I was wiser, mentally stronger, and, last but not the least, crazy hungry to race again.

Jane Jane and Drew, friends from Cebu with whom I’ve run NYCM, CIM, and Florence with, had registered for Barcelona Marathon. I decided to join in on the fun and begged them to adopt me – yet again – into the Ong family for the trip.

Day One in Barcelona with JaneJane and Drew
La Rambla. My first trip to this city. It was love at first visit.
Mercado de La Boqueria. Food tripping with Jane!

Since it was almost like starting from scratch with my running, I was conservative with my goals for this marathon. I just wanted to reach the finish line healthy and injury-free. My A-race could follow later in 2019. Barcelona would be about celebrating the opportunity to run again.

My training was unstructured, which was so unlike the OC planner I’ve always been. I registered online for McMillan Marathon program, but rarely ever followed it. I trained based on feel and listened to how my body felt. I ran 3 to 4x a week and cross-trained with 3x a week of weights and an occasional bike trainer session. My longest training run was a back to back 26k on Friday and 16k on Saturday. Based on my Florence experience, I knew this would be enough for a decent sub-5 finish. Simple goals, right? I didn’t know I’d surprise myself on race day.

Shakeout run with Jane before race day
Race gear the night before the race.

Event: Barcelona Marathon
Date: March 10, 2019
Race start and finish: Avinguda María Cristina, Barcelona, Spain
Cut off time: 6 hours
Registration: Non-lottery

THE EXPO.The expo was held at Fira de Barcelona, Recinto Montjuïc near the Olympic stadium, which was conveniently also the race start (at least we didn’t have to practice how to take the train from our hotel anymore.) We arrived at the expo on a Friday surprised to see how empty it was which was a good thing. Redemption of race kit was quick and easy without any lines at all. The expo was filled with just a few familiar brands, such as Asics and Garmin, and the rest were European brands, which were new to me. Official race merchandise by Asics was great. I purchased a shirt and printed my name on the back within minutes for free! At the end of the expo, we claimed our official race shirt, which was pretty good too.

Mabuhay!!!
I had my race shirt personalized with my name on it! TBR, baby!

RACE ASSEMBLY AND START. Race assembly was at Fira de Barcelona, Italian Pavillion. It was such a picturesque and spacious area that allowed runners to move freely or choose a spot in the park to relax while waiting for gun start. The vibe was calm and light and I loved it.

The assembly area was nice and calm.
That fountain was such a pretty sight!

BAGGAGE DEPOSIT. Barcelona Marathon does not give plastic bags for baggage deposit like other bigger marathons so you’re free to use any bag on race day. Just rip off the tag on your race bib and attach to your bag. Baggage deposit was very well organized. There were neither long lines nor waiting.

PORTALETS. There were enough portalets at the assembly area but there was approximately a 15-minute wait. First time I saw these portalets for men which made the queue for the portalets significantly shorter.

My first time to see this kind of urinals for men. It’s so smart. Every race should have this to shorten the lines at the potty!

WAVES. The race starts at 8:30AM in waves based on the PR you provided in your registration form. We sort of had an idea about how strong Spanish runners are because of the waves. The first 4 waves were designated for 3:00 to 4:00 hour marathoners and the last wave was gray for 4:30 and above. Just one wave for all of us 4:30 to 6 hour marathoners?!

[ THE RACE ]

RACE START. From the Italian Pavillion, one just had to walk nearby to the race start at Avenida de La Reina Maria Cristina where all runners entered their designed waves.

WEATHER. The weather could’ve been slightly cooler, but I wasn’t complaining. We were quite comfortable with 12 to 15 degrees. I wore a shirt and packed my arm warmers into my bag seeing that I wouldn’t need it. I mistakenly wore tights when I think I would’ve been better off in shorts. A cap and shades are a necessity because it can get sunny out there later in the race.

Overdressed. I should’ve worn shorts. It got a bit hot midway through the race.

HYDRATION AND FOOD. There were 16 hydration stations and was approximately every 2.5km. Drinks provided were water (handed out in bottles which was convenient for pouring on the head to cool off) and Powerade. Beyond 10k, bananas, oranges, and trail mix were handed out. Etixx energy gels were also provided at some stations.

PORTALETS. Portalets were every 2.5km as well. Good thing the lines were not very long with about 1 to 3 runners in line.

CROWD SUPPORT. There were a few locals who came out to support us and offered food sometimes but not as plenty as other bigger marathons like New York or even Tokyo.

COURSE. Barcelona Marathon was an out and back course (“Sortida” or leaving point and “Arribada” or ending point is the same). The race started at Avenida de La Reina Maria Cristina and headed out towards Plaza Espanya offering a beautiful course that ran through the landmarks of the city: Camp Nou, Dona i Ocell, Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia, La Rambla, Forum, Torre Mapfre, Plaza Catalunya Catedral, and Monument A Colon. Was this a tour or a marathon? I’d say it was both!

The organizers announced that this was the first time they were using this new course, which would be flatter and faster. This led me into thinking the course would be flat, but it definitely was not. They probably meant flatter than last year!

I loved the hills though! I trained for hills and none were too steep anyway, so the ascents and descents offered the legs variety rather than tedious and boring flat courses.

As for my run, I decided to run based on feel and walk or pause only at hydration stations. I didn’t have a target pace nor a target time. I ran at a steady and comfy pace without pushing hard at all. Thing is, every time I’d glance at my watch feeling like I was running an easy 6:30 pace, my actual pace was much faster at around 5:50 min/km. WTH?!! Is this for real?!! I was astounded and, I must admit, pretty excited about the prospects.
I consistently ran at a good pace until Km30. I felt so fresh and strong. By this time, my brain was buzzing with excitement. Could I run a sub-4:30? Better yet, could I possibly PR without even training for it?!!

At Km31, cramps attacked both my quads. They hit me like a bolt of lightning. I slowed to run-walk pace. The cramps would go away when I walked and return in full strength every single time I attempted to run. It was maddening, frustrating, and, for the first time in a race, I teared up in anger.

At Km35, I chanced upon a convenience store and stopped to purchase Mountain Dew. In Ironman 70.3 Cebu 2017, when I had cramps, I had devoured salt caps and gels to no avail, but was instantly saved by a few gulps of soda. Who would’ve thought sugar could combat cramps, right? I hoped that it would work again this time. It didn’t. I tried eating oranges, bananas, gels, and gummy bears on the course but nothing worked.

I was in so much pain I couldn’t believe it. I repeated this mantra over and over in my head: “I am stronger than I ever was.” which I believed with every ounce of my body and spirit, but it did nothing to alleviate the cramps; it just gave me the will to run a bit even if I wanted to collapse.

I made it to the finish line at 4:42 and collapsed into the arms of a race marshal. I hugged him tight for a few minutes because I couldn’t move. Hell, I couldn’t feel my legs. While in his arms, he looked down and asked me: “Can I let go now?” I whispered back to him: “Five more minutes, please?” He then pointed to a woman walking towards us and said: “That’s my wife coming.” His wife arrived while I was in a tight hug with her husband and I apologized for the scene. I opened my arms out for her and said: “Come join our hug. We are family!” and we all burst into laughter.

Thankful for this guy! Too bad I didn’t get his and his wife’s name!

MEDAL. The medal was handed out a few hundred meters from the finish line. It was small and light. Nothing too fancy. No Finisher’s Shirt was provided.

POST RACE. After receiving our medal, we were given bananas, oranges and nuts.  There was one small food truck selling food items for runners to purchase.  The race area empties out quite quickly.  It’s as if the runners just come in, run, and leave immediately for home.  No fanfare or partying at the post-race area here, but the vibe was still fun and celebratory.

Overall, I loved this race. It’s relatively small and convenient to get to, the race course is picturesque and challenging enough but not too difficult, weather was just right, and, last but not the least, it’s held in a fantastic city with great food.  What more can you ask for?!


Marine Corps Marathon 2017: My First DNF

Sunday, 5 November 2017  |  Bullish Insights, Race Reports

Photo: @marinecorpsmarathon

Marine Corps Marathon is held in Arlington, Virginia and Washington, DC and is ranked as one of the largest marathons in the US. It is called the “Marathon of the Monuments” as its course passes through historical landmarks and ends at the Marine Corps War Memorial. It has also gained the reputation as the best marathon for beginners with thousands of runners using the run-walk method throughout the race. Organized by the men and women of the United States Marine Corps, it celebrates the honor, courage and commitment of all finishers.

Event: 42nd Marine Corps Marathon
Date: October 22, 2017
Race start: Route 110 between the Pentagon and Arlington Memorial Drive
Race finish: Marine Corps War Memorial
Cut off time: 7 hours
Number of participants: 30,000 runners
Registration: Lottery in March

This won’t be your typical race report where I share and review the details of the course, stations, and race organization. As many of you know through social media, I was forced to stop at around Km 18 of this race due to injury. In other words, it was my first ever DNF at a marathon. With that DNF, I don’t think I’m qualified to give a review of the race I didn’t run until the end. What I can share is my experience of Marine Corps Marathon 2017. Here goes…

After years of turbulence in my life, I felt that this year was the first time I had a stronghold over my emotions. Gone were the days when I would shed tears over disappointment from people and events, I learned now that one simply should have no expectations whatsoever. I discovered that, in being alone, I found my solitude, authenticity, and freedom and, ironically, it was in being with others, that I often found myself most lonely. I learned that I could only find my own strength when I was tested to the point of breaking and, when I survived that, I knew nothing – and no one – could ever pull me down.

I planned on travelling alone to my fave city in the world, New York then Washington D.C. to celebrate how far I’ve come on my own. I joined Marine Corps Marathon eager to test my newfound mental strength. I confessed to a friend during training, soon after I endured the 41-degree suffering in the run portion of Ironman Cebu 70.3, that never in my life did I feel this tough mentally. In a masochistic kind of way, I looked forward to the suffering at the last 10k of the marathon to see how this new me could endure such pain. While in the past I would slow in defeat thinking “This is too painful. Why am I rushing to the finish line anyway?” I was now almost challenging the pain “You think you can beat me? Let’s see who gives up first.”

As I stood on the treadmill for my last run in Manila before leaving for the US, I knew something was wrong. It just didn’t feel right. I shut out my instincts and ran anyway. By the end of that 14k, my quads and glutes were tight and there was some discomfort in my left foot. It was the same discomfort I felt last April, where I found myself unable to walk properly for a full month. I knew this would be a problem on race day but I set it aside.

My last run at Fitness First before leaving for NY the following day

I spent the next week in New York like a soldier preparing for battle making last minute changes to the war plan. I wore my compression socks almost everyday leading up to the race. I bought kinesio tape and learned how to tape my injured foot in the middle of the night (thanks jetlag!) I bought balms and foot massagers hoping to lessen the foot discomfort. I ate nutritiously and hydrated more hoping it would help reduce the chances for injury.

A few days before race day, I spotted this sign in New York just as I was questioning if I should even run the race

Deep inside, although I wanted to be optimistic about the race, I also had to be realistic. I knew there was a high probability that I was going to lose this battle because I had dealt with this enemy in the past. He fought harder when I pushed him, meaning the more I tried to run, the worse it got. But, I just couldn’t accept a DNS. I wanted to see how far I could get without risking my health.  I took a train to DC and prepared myself for a painful race.

[ RACE DAY ]

I stood at the starting line of Marine Corps Marathon in disbelief that I was there. Once we got close to the iconic red arches I used to just see in photos, I got goosebumps. While I usually feel a sense of excitement at this point of the race, I felt anxious over the foot too. It wasn’t a question of the injury rearing its ugly head, I already knew it eventually would. The questions in my mind were: How far would I be able to go? And, worse, how painful was this going to be?

Race start

When the gun went off, I bid good luck to my dearest friend, Bea, who was the one who encouraged me to sign up for this race instead of Amsterdam Marathon. I put on my yurbuds and started to run.

At the Runner’s Village before race start with Bea and just some of the many marines in the race!

The rolling hills were quite unexpected, but it was most welcome. I loved it! The course was beautiful! I also loved how warm and welcoming the runners were. There were a lot of runners using the run-walk method and, if you know how we run TBR Dream Marathon, then I felt very much at home. With my injury, in fact, I was running at 9:1 so that I could go for as long as possible.

Lots of ascents… but, what comes up must come down… so lots of downhills too

Unfortunately, by Km 3, I could already feel the pain increasing. In my head, I forbade the injury to bother me. I spoke to the injury over and over in my head: “You are nothing. You are nothing.” And, for a long time, it worked. I was able to enjoy the sights and sounds of this wonderful race. I could increase my pace every now and then and climbed the ascents with power as I had trained.

As the kilometers wore on, however, I couldn’t deny to myself that the foot was getting worse. It felt tighter and the pain was increasing. By kilometer 10, I seriously considered quitting before I caused more injury. I fought against it and battled on.

By Km 18, I had slowed to a walk cringing in pain with every step. I saw Bea who, being the great friend that she is, slowed to a walk with me and said she’d stay with me. After a few minutes, I thanked her and told her to run her race because I was going to DNF.  Mind over pain could only take me so far.

Being treated by one of staff at the Medical Tent at the race.  Thank you so much to the doctors and PT’s who helped!  You guys were the best!

How does one even prepare for a first DNF in a marathon? How does one explain it to friends or on social media? Was I supposed to feel shame, guilt, anger or all of the above? I have been running for a decade now and it never occurred to me that this could happen to me. Yet, at the same time, I feel like 10 years of running, going through the little highs and lows of so many runs, prepared me for this day.

How did I feel at the exact moment I decided to DNF? Surprisingly, I was calm. As I rode on the straggler bus alongside all the other runners who DNF’d for their own reasons and as I limped my way from the finish line with no medal on my neck back up to my hotel room, I was still at peace.  This race was an experience on humility, acceptance, tolerance, and submission.  Everything that this Bull Runner would have fought so hard against in the past.  When I entered my hotel room, I just felt thankful to have run 18 kms of that awesome race.  No bull. That’s truly how I felt.

The Marine Corps Marathon, even if I ran less than half of it, taught me more lessons than the past 16 marathons I’ve run. I learned that:

1) There’s a fine line between sipag vs. stupidity – I added mileage to my program thinking all this hard work would do me good without realizing that it wasn’t good for my feet. I did more 32k runs for this marathon than any other marathon I’ve trained for. It was an experiment and my body couldn’t take it. Whooops… now I know.

2) DNF does not always mean Defeat – While I don’t encourage quitting on anything that you’ve started (and I teach the same to my kids), I also believe there’s a point in time when, after you’ve tried your darndest best, you must accept when it’s time to stop trying because it’s not good for you anymore. (This could apply to a race, a relationship, or even a job.)  I believe I didn’t feel bad about quitting because I came into the race wanting to test my mental strength and, man oh man, did I test it just by running 18 kms with that shooting pain from my foot!

3) Sometimes, it’s okay to be “walang hiya.” – What I mean is: When you’ve given your best, even if you failed, have no shame! After all, there is nothing to be embarrassed about!  In this day and age of everyone looking flawless and perfect on IG, it’s difficult to admit any kind of weakness or failure.  Our ego often gets in the way.  I would have to say that I’m sure glad I’m at an age where I don’t really give a f@*ck what people think anymore. I want to be authentic. I want people to learn from my mistakes. I want people to know that it’s completely okay to fail (news flash: almost everyone has failed at one point in their life!) because that’s how you get stronger.

4) Life is good. – I’ve seen marathon shirts with the words “To hell and back” written on it because that’s essentially how you feel after running one. I’ve been through the kind of hell the past years that makes a marathon look like a walk in the park… yet I survived and, while there was anger and bitterness in the past, that has all gone away too.  For me, a DNF wasn’t something to cry over.  I left that race thinking I still had the rest of the trip to enjoy and my wonderful children to come home too.  Plus, I didn’t have a stress fracture even if I put my feet through all that.  Plus, I was exposed to so many good people because of the injury: the medic who offered a hug when I limped my way into the tent, the doctor who sat with me and looked for solutions to the root cause of the injury, the marines who entered the straggler bus telling us that they were proud of us.  How could one even complain about a measly foot? I’ve been through hell and back, guys, and all I can say is, even when everything looks crappy, there’s always goodness to be seen all around.

Official Results for TBR Sun Life Dream Marathon 2017

Wednesday, 22 February 2017  |  Race Reports

Congratulations to all finishers of TBR Sun Life Dream Marathon!  Please click below to view your official race results:

Link: TBR Sun Life Dream Marathon 2017 Results

For questions / clarifications, please email tbrdream@gmail.com or contact 0906-318-2723

Race Report: Firenze Marathon (Florence Marathon)

Friday, 2 December 2016  |  Favorite Posts, Race Reports, Travel + Adventure

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– Would’ve been a great pic of me holding my 16th marathon medal at Firenze Marathon had I only held the medal facing the front *eye roll* –

Firenze Marathon (or Florence Marathon) is the second largest marathon in Italy, only second to its capital, Rome. I had heard about how beautiful Florence is and, having never visited Italy before, I was simply over the moon about this trip where our itinerary included Cinque Terre (a place in my bucket list! Woohoo!), Venice, and Pisa too. At the same time though, I had never been more anxious for any marathon than this one.

You see, I’m a forward-looking, obsessive, control-freak who always plans ahead for anything, especially my marathons. I always have a program to follow and I stick to it as if my life depended on it. Doing so gives me confidence that not only will I finish the race but I’ll do so without bonking, crawling, or cursing myself the entire time and, most importantly, I’ll cross the finish line with a smile.

For this training period though, I had three bouts with the flu and/or fever, which completely messed up my training schedule. By the time I discovered that all my illnesses were actually due to allergic rhinitis, it was too late. I had missed my 32k run. My longest run was a back-to-back 24k on Sunday and 13k on Monday just 2 weeks before race day. Lord, heeeeelp me. (more…)

Fitness, Family and Fun at Alaska Milk Day

Tuesday, 21 June 2016  |  Race Reports

Pizarros

Last Saturday, June 11, my children and I woke up bright and early to join the Alaska Milk Day run at McKinley West. Now on its 4th year, Alaska Milk Corporation holds this annual event to celebrate World Milk Day. With the children heading back to school this week, I thought a fun outdoor family activity was a fitting way to celebrate their last weekend of summer as well.

A_START

Nutrition. Action. Champion. Those are the three words that Alaska wishes to instill in both adults and children in its advocacy to live healthier lives. It’s one that I personally share in my own life and in the way I raise my children. I felt fortunate to be part of this event. (more…)