Putting My Feet Up

Subtitle: I Can’t Believe I Took Up Running

My parents tell me when I was younger that I was flat-footed — ergo, prone to falling over when walking — and didn’t know how to run. My “running” looked more like a fast-paced walk. (I believe this is why I’m a fast walker to this day.)

I used to run occasionally on the gym treadmills or at the UP Academic Oval, but I was prone to slowing down to a walk, or I’d quickly get bored. When I ran my first race back in July (Globe Run for Home), it surprised me how much I enjoyed running. No, let’s correct that. It surprised me how much I enjoyed racing. For me, a “fun run” is fun because I get to try beating my previous time running the chosen distance, and I pick up on the energy of my fellow competitors. It’s a different feeling running against others versus running by my lonesome.

Thus began the past six months’ sojourn into the world of foot races: luxe races like Run for Home and Kenny’s Open Urbanite Run with timing chips and Photovendo coverage; runs sponsored by media outfits GMA7, ABS-CBN, and Philstar.com; product-powered runs like Del Monte Fit ‘n’ Right, New Balance, and Adidas. I experienced heartbreak and loss (Big Blue Run) as well as trumpets and triumphs (Race for Life).

I’ve never regretted turning up on race day — even if the start gun had gone off 15 minutes prior to my arrival, or running with a full bladder was the only option, or the route had an unexpected hurdle. There is something liberating and intoxicating about being on the open road getting to stretch my legs after being trammeled inside buildings and rooms for most of my days.

Running really boomed this year. Next year, we’ll see who really will keep running and find the love in it, and those who will fall by the wayside. Thinking ahead to the races in 2010, I’m already excited by the prospect of breaking 50 minutes once more in a 10K, or getting a podium finish once more at a 5K, or even increasing mileage to run in 15K races.

Running is teaching me patience — one cannot run only 5K and the next week move up to 21K for the first time. It’s teaching me how to think ahead — when to push and when to back off on a route. It’s taught me that finishing strong is determined not by how you start, but by how you manage yourself over the course of a race. These are lessons applicable not only on race day, but in every life’s day.

I can’t believe I took up running — but I’m glad I did.

Race for Life: I Won 3rd Place!
See you at the races!

Redemption Race: Philstar.com Celebrity Run

I couldn’t bear having my running year end on a sour note, so after taking a weekend off running, I was back on the pavement for the Philstar.com Christmas Celebrity Run. (It kind of helped that one of my friends registered for me.)

Distance 10K: check. A hilly winding course: check. Plus, the route went through McKinley Hill, which kicked my butt the first time I ran it during the Urbanite Run. I began calling it my redemption race.

Emotionally, I was nothing short of grateful to God for the race day ahead. I already knew that whatever I had lost, God would give even more. Whatever happened, I was determined to kick those thieves’ asses the only way I knew how: to return to running and prove what they did to me had not broken my spirit.

Some vestige of paranoia stayed with me, of course. I packed only a change of clothes and a water bottle in my gym bag. Money and my license wrapped in plastic went into the back pocket of my Race for Life singlet, and I slipped my cellphone into my running tights’ back pocket. The car key was in the music pocket strapped to my arm. All this just to ensure my peace of mind.

Since it was a media-sponsored run, I knew there was a slim chance race results would be published. Instead, I strapped on my good old Casio digital watch and started the stopwatch at the gun start (which was late). I started in the middle of the pack with my friend from the Ateneo run, adopting his strategy of slowly overtaking runners in front of us as they slowed down from their sprinting start. A more steady pace would keep my legs fresh for the final kick.

Water supply was plentiful, and I watched the first three kilometers whiz by. Then we turned into McKinley Hill, and I even overtook a woman and man from the David’s Salon triathlon team. On this winding route with three U-turns, I put into practice something I’d only read about: running the tangents. Instead of plodding along with my eyes on the ground, I scanned what was ahead so I could run as straight a line as possible, eliminating extra mileage and shaving off seconds from my time.

Philstar.com Celebrity Run 10K Route
based on Jaeb’s GPS map

As we got back onto 5th Avenue on the 7th kilometer, I checked my stopwatch. Only twenty-five minutes had elapsed?! I began mentally ticking off the kilometer markers I’d passed, and I was confident I’d collected all the checkpoint bracelets being handed out.

And then I realized: McKinley Hill wasn’t as hellish as I’d expected. No way?

The David’s Salon tri-team overtook me at Kilometer 9, but I kept hard on their heels. Breathing steady: check. Pain-free: check. I kept right behind the tri-team as we approached the last stretch of road before the finish. Cameras snapped. I saw the timer at the finish line read 48+ minutes. As the man from the tri-team sprinted away for his own sub-49 finish, I accelerated to keep an older man from finishing between me and the woman triathlete. I crossed the line and tore off my tag to give it to the race marshal. Then I clicked off my stopwatch. 48:33.

Given that it took me 31 seconds from the gun start to cross the start, and a few more seconds after I crossed the finish line to turn off my stopwatch, my conservative estimate of the time it took me to run the course was 48 minutes, only one minute behind Piolo P’s heartbreak 47.

Wait wait wait. Forty-eight minutes? *faints* I’d been trying to get below 51 minutes since I ran the Globe run, and the flat course during the PIM only helped me bring it down to 51:15. And then all of a sudden to breach the 50-minute mark? I’d have done cartwheels if people didn’t all have their cameras out to take photos with the celebrities at the finish line. Eep!

On GPS trackers, the distance was only 9.8 kilometers. However, since GPS doesn’t measure topographical changes, that’s within its margin of error. Even if the distance were that short, I was running 4:54 minutes per kilometer and would still have finished a 10-kilometer distance in 49 minutes.

I returned to my car, half-expecting my bag to have disappeared again. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my doors were still securely locked and my bag was still stashed in the back, in the same position I’d left it.

McKinley no longer Hell: check! New PR: check! No thievery: Check! Elation flooded me, and the only thing I could do was lift up a prayer of thanks for a beautiful end to this year’s running. My redemption race was a runaway success. Ü

Sports Earphones: Nike Flow

Running while listening to music over earphones is supposedly a bad habit to get into. If you’re pounding the pavement while something’s jammed into your ears blocking surrounding sound, you’re ripe pickings for getting run over before you even know what hit you. Also, being too in tune with your music might mean you’re not listening to your body enough, making you prone to pushing too hard, too fast.

Still, it’s undeniable that music can give you that extra push, particularly if you’re trying to beat a personal record. I’ve run races with and without music in my ears; I know my legs have a faster turnover when I’ve got a high-tempo song on, rather than if I were just listening to the sound of my own breathing.

So, maybe the next best thing to running without music is running with a good pair of earphones that stay in your ear but allow ambient sound to come through. For Christmas this year, I got myself a pair of Nike Flow sports earphones.

Nike Flow earphonesNike Flow unboxingNike Flow storage pouch
Going with the Flow

Rather than being of the in-ear variety, the Flows clip onto the earlobes and nestle comfortably atop the ear canal. This means they won’t fall off and I get great sound even without turning the volume way up. In turn, I can hear sounds around me, including the hum of a car engine and tires getting uncomfortably close. The Flows are also sweat-resistant, which is a must for sweaty runners like myself.

I used the Flows at the Philstar Run last Sunday and despite a hiccup with my left earphone (it slipped off whenever I flipped my cap to dunk water on my head), I’m really very happy with it. Ü

Pahabol (But Wait! There’s More!)

After all was said and done about the Del Monte Fit ‘n’ Right Run, there was one thing I didn’t mention in my post about it: I won an award.

Dare to Be Fit 'n' Right: I got an award!
O hai. What am I doing here?

Apparently, there were special prizes up for grabs at the run: Press Photo (for the best photo of the run published in the press), Blog Post (for the best blog post written about the run), and a special award for the runner who “dared to be Fit ‘n’ Right while looking good in the process!”

Dare to Be Fit 'n' Right: Special Awardee
Out of the hundreds of photos, they chose this!

Yes, dear reader, I was that runner with bib number 1695. I was informed a day or two after the race via a text message from Marianne Tapales of CEMG, much to my surprise.

So tonight I went to Bonifacio High Street (site of most of the runs I’ve done this year) to the awards ceremony and blogger event at The Stock Market. Aside from a great dinner, I came away with a framed photo mosaic of me at the run, a water bottle and wash bag, two sacks of Del Monte goodies, and a box of Fit ‘n’ Right bottles — I’m set for the rest of the year, juice drink-wise.

Rodel the Argonaut of Takbo.ph was a finalist for the Blog Post award. (He won 2nd place, yay!) According to Rodel, I looked completely different from my photo. I told him, “I had my race face on.” What I didn’t tell him was I was simply thankful my photo wasn’t anything like the one taken of me at the Urbanite run. Ü

Apparently, I was wrong in assuming that Del Monte had promoted the Fit ‘n’ Right Run through the tri-media. Rather, they had taken a blogger-centric approach to the media campaign and had been overwhelmed with how large the turnout to the race was. According to Alvin, the group manager for Fit ‘n’ Right, they got to taste first-hand the power of feedback from blog posts after the race and were taking the feedback to heart for next year’s run. (Alvin also looked for Parkie at the blog event; it was on Parkie’s blog that Alvin wrote the apology from Del Monte for the way things had turned out.)

Like I said in my earlier post, I really hope next year’s run will be a lot smoother. With the way Del Monte and CEMG seem to be paying attention to bloggers and blogs, I think it could happen.

Bye-Bye, Bag at the Big Blue Run

OK, so I did say the New Balance Power Run was my last race of the year. But I changed my plans and signed up for the Ateneo Big Blue 150 Run that was held last Sunday, December 6. What happened last Sunday makes me think I should have stuck to that resolution, instead of giving in to the urge to try the BBR’s route.

The Lesson Is: Stick to the Plan

It was almost too good to resist: a new route that wound through the Ateneo campus before busting out onto Katipunan. It had never been done before, so I allowed myself to be sales-talked into singing up for it.

So I went to the Blue Eagles Gym last Saturday and paid the P500 entry fee that purchased me a singlet and a race kit with my bib number and route map. Since I’d signed up late, the only singlet sizes available were Large and Extra-Large. That probably should have clued me in to something not being quite all right about going on the run.

On race day, I got to Ateneo right before a big traffic jam started and parked very near a guard outpost. I stashed my bag out of sight on the floor and made sure my car doors were locked before I left the lot. I tucked my cellphone into my compression pants’ zippered back pocket because I was running the route for the first time and might need my cellphone in case something happened. (This is what’s called foreshadowing.)

A Beautiful Run

At the starting line, I met up with a friend who was willing to pace with me. He’s a tall and fast guy (he finished Globe Run for Home 10K in 49 minutes, 25 seconds), but he said he wasn’t aiming for a PR anyway.

So there we were, two yellow birds (we were both wearing yellow shirts, since he never wears a race’s official singlet and I used my KOTR singlet) in a convocation of Blue Eagles. The 10K start gun fired, and we were off. He stayed on my tail, but his long legs carried him forward until he remained constantly 200 to 300 meters in front of me. The Ateneo campus has small inclines and declines and even though the race map shows a road as straight, there were curves along the road which made it difficult to speed up.

I already knew I wasn’t going to make a PR when I hit Katipunan; I couldn’t get my earphones to stay in my ears properly, so I couldn’t stay pumped with my power songs. I’d also spent a lot of energy passing slower runners and trying to catch up to my friend. I knew the upcoming flyover was going to sap me even further. That Katipunan flyover is a killer! The climb up felt like it lasted more than a minute; it’s definitely tougher than Kalayaan flyover from Taguig to Makati, or Buendia flyover on Roxas Boulevard. And after the flyover, a long stretch of hilly road until the U-turn — and then we had to do it all again in backwards order.

I saw my friend take the U-turn, then he ran back towards me and went round the U-turn with me. This time he stayed by my side, keeping up a stream of positive words and updating me about what was playing on his iPod. U2’s “Beautiful Day” kicked in as we went up the flyover again, and although I couldn’t hear it, I was singing it in my head.

He made a fast dash to the finish line, while I just kept up the steady thrum-thrum of my legs until I crossed the tape too. Time elapsed? 52 minutes, 17 seconds. Good enough, considering the hilly route. We spent some time congratulating ourselves, drinking water, and then walked back to our cars which were parked in the same lot.

That Sinking Feeling

As I approached my car, I noticed that all the doors were unlocked. “Did I lock this door?” I thought to myself, but knew that I had. I rationalized that sometimes the power locks don’t work, but hoped that nothing had been taken. It had never happened before, anyway.

I opened the door, and it felt like the ground had dropped out from under me. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” I started screaming. My bag was gone! My bag, with my change of clothes, my Havaianas slippers, my house keys, MY OTHER CELLPHONE, MY WALLET, MY CAMERA! Each realization of what items were stolen hit me like wave after wave dragging me down, down, down…

And then I pulled myself together as my friend ran over to me, concerned because he thought I’d received some bad news over the phone. Thank God I’d taken one of my phones with me on the run; I used it to call my parents to tell them what happened. Then we hailed a nearby police detachment and one of the campus security guards, and I started telling them in what condition I’d left my car and bag, and how long it took me to get back to my car after I’d left it.

While the Ateneo guard took photos of my car and its doors and locks, another couple in the same parking lot discovered their trunk had been broken into, and the woman’s purse taken. There were no visible signs of a break-in: no windows broken or door jambs jacked. Our vehicles were both Mitsubishi, both manufactured in the early 1990’s, and both with no alarm systems. For an experienced thief, easy pickings. Sigh.

My friend stayed with me until my parents picked me up to drive me home. I couldn’t drive because my stolen wallet had my driver’s license in there (along with some cash and ATM cards). This was the first time I’d ever felt so helpless.

What we’ve concluded is the perpetrator was already loitering in the parking lot when people started arriving. He’d taken notice of me not setting any alarm on my car, and the woman putting her purse in her trunk. Then, when everyone else had left the lot, he’d picked our locks and walked away with the bags as if they belonged to him. Simple to do because other people were also walking around with big gym bags heading to the race’s staging area.

Ateneo security later found my bag in a restroom. As predicted, my cellphone, wallet, and camera were no longer there — but the thief had also made off with my Ateneo singlet (I’d packed it just in case) and my Havaianas flipflops!

Rebuilding

Through it all I just found myself laughing about how surreal the situation was. I was thankul that the car itself hadn’t been stolen. I didn’t really need the second cellphone anyway; it was a spare. I’ve already secured a replacement for my driver’s license and my ATM cards (I had the old cards blocked on Sunday). The flipflops were one of four pairs of Havaianas I have in the house, so no big loss. The race organizers have a new singlet set aside for me. But I really do miss my camera.

Last Sunday after the incident, my friends and family rallied around me. One of them reminded me of a verse about theft and payback.

Proverbs 6:30-31 “People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; He may have to give up all the substance of his house.”

I may not ever find out who the thief was, but I do know that God restores and provides. I can always buy a new camera. Ü

I’m just wiser and more guarded about my things, particularly on race days when there are a lot of things going on and security might not be very reliable.

New Balance Power Run

I was supposed to run a race on September 27. Then Ondoy hit.

What I was supposed to run in
New Balance Power Run

Two months later, the race finally pushed through. Instead of being my lead-up to Race for Life, the New Balance Power Run became my year-ender race — and what a race it was!

NB Power Run: oversized singlet
Eat my dust.

I’ve made it a habit to wake up at 3am for these races because it takes my brain and body about two hours to boot up (I’m not as efficient as my laptop). For the Power Run, though, I was unusually alert that early in the day, quickly got through my race day prep (food, dressing, packing extra clothes), and was out of the house by 4am. I arrived at the race venue in Fort at 4:30am, which was the assembly time for 21K runners. Excited much? Ü (To compare: back in July for Globe Run for Home, I arrived at Fort around 5am.)

When I got there, the stage, booths, race arches and railings, and portalets were already set up. (And I must say, that long row of portalets in the field was a beautiful sight after Fit ‘n’ Right Run’s measly 8 portalets split between men and women.) All that was left for runners to to do was wait for our turn at our assembly points, squeeze past the checkers (no bandits allowed!), and run when the gun went off!

So run I did. It was a new route around the Fort, which I appreciated, and it wasn’t as hilly as I thought it would be; thank God the revised 5K route didn’t take us into McKinley Hell Hill, where the 10K route looped. Water was plentiful at the strategically-positioned hydration stations on both sides of the University Parkway (no gridlocking of runners coming and going).

Everything was going along smoothly. Then I made one crucial mistake which cost me a year-end PR. I spotted a little boy, around 4 feet tall, running with his parents. He came from behind me, then overtook me, then slowed down so his parents could catch up with him. My ego was bruised; at all costs, I had to beat him to the finish line. So I picked up my pace around kilometer 2. I felt good — for 500 meters. Then the side cramp hit; it knocked the wind out of me. I could barely breathe deeply and my legs refused to stride longer. I yelled in frustration and was reduced to walking for two minutes before the cramp subsided and I could pick up the pace again.

Still, according to the unofficial results on the eXtribe website, I made it to the finish line in 24 minutes and 41 seconds. I don’t know if I made the top 20, but it was fast enough to make me one of the lucky few to get New Balance socks and a huge bar of Hershey’s dark chocolate along with the medal, bananas, water, and 100Plus drinks given as freebies right after the finish chute. Race organizers, take note: this is the best way to distribute freebies, rather than setting up a separate booth and making people line up again.

In case you missed that part, yes I got a medal! While other races this year gave out medals only to finishers of their longer-distance events (21K for instance), at the Power Run whether you finished 3, 5, 10, or 21 you got a medal, in lieu of a finisher’s certificate. I prefer a medal any day!

The best part about the race routes were the different start and finish points for the race categories. While all runners started at the same arch, the 3K and 21K runners would finish at that arch while 5K and 10K runners would make their way to a different finish arch. Logistically it must have been more complicated for race organizer eXtribe to manage, but it made for a very smooth chute experience, with no crowding at the finish line. I loved not having to sidestep slow-moving 3K walkers!

While I was pakalat-kalat (wandering around) after the race, I spotted Tessa Prieto-Valdes running by her lonesome in a fuschia pink top, black running tights — and a skirt. Not a tiny fringe around her hips, no. A flouncy, bouncy skirt. She was still sporting the skirt, with a few more furry embellishments, when she got up on the stage to host the awarding ceremony.

NB Power Run: oh, Tessa!
Oh, Tessa!

Also (still while pakalat-kalat) I spotted running coach Rio de la Cruz, who had participated in the 10K as a leisure run. I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken with him. Hey he may not be Piolo Pascual, but he’s the man who trained Piolo to run 10K in 47 minutes. (Dinaig ako ni Piolo! Hmpf!)

NB Power Run: with coach Rio
Question for Coach Rio: How does your hair stay puft?

Even though I didn’t beat my 5K PR, or have a hi-tech timing chip laced to my shoe, or get an award, I have to say that the Power Run is my favorite race this year because of my no-hitch experience with it (barring the two-month delay, of course). It was definitely a race worth waiting for.

Del Monte Fit’n’Right Fun Run

After the PIM 10K, which was held on Roxas Boulevard, my next race took me even further southwards, to the Mall Of Asia complex. My running friends and I signed up for the Del Monte Fit ‘n’ Right Fun Run after our PIM stint because we really enjoyed the camaraderie, the photos, and the eating after our run, and we wanted an event to cap off our year. At 300 pesos per entry, we thought it was a good deal for a singlet, a bib number, and a Radio Frequency ID sticker that would serve as a timing chip. Then my family, my sister, and her fiance joined in the fun as well.

After some trouble claiming the race kits (according to race organizer CEMG, the singlet supplier was late on deliveries), I finally got them the Friday before the race, except for mine. Good thing I called the CEMG office (particularly the point person Marianne Tapales) and was told they’d deliver my singlet to my doorstep. Ü

On the morning of November 22, My family and I arrived at 4:30am, the assembly time. However, when we got there, the arch hadn’t been built yet and the booths were still being set up (ahhh, assemble-y time). When we went to look for portalets, there were only eight of them — four for men, and four for women. I was thankful I was only going to run 5K, and purposely held back on hydrating myself too much before the race to avoid a Tatakbo Ka Ba running-with-a-full-bladder scenario.

I bumped into some of my co-instructors from Fitness First, and both of them were there not to run, but to perform in the race’s program. Joanne Ignacio, as last year’s winner of the Fit ‘n’ Right reality show, was one of the hosts, while Andre Sunga would lead the race participants in the warm-up.

Fit n Right Run: the host and the warm-up
Fitness First, represent!

Well, Andre tried to lead the participants in the warm-up (part of the program that began really late), but not everyone in the crowd were dancers (he used a modified BODYJAM warm-up). There was also poor crowd control because the 10K, 5K, and 3K runners had not been segregated. As a result, when the gun fired for 10K start, the warm-up was still ongoing and some 10K runners were unaware that their event had started.

We 5K runners moved to the front of the line, but even then there was no real countdown to the starting gun. All of a sudden everyone was running, and I wove through the slower runners to get ahead. This was when I started to enjoy my run. The route was flat, the air crisp and cool, and I was able to get my first (and only) cup of water from the hydration table. I noted that it was a short table, and true enough, from the horror stories of people post-race, there were hydration problems. The 5K and 10K routes were the same (10K runners would do two laps), and by the time the 10K runners were on their second lap, the tables were out of water.

I finished the race with a time of 24 minutes and 7 seconds, a new 5K PR for me (even beating my Race for Life time), and then waited for my friends to come through the finish chutes. I was able to stand really close to the finish line because none of the marshals were making me leave. I found out post-race that the bib checkers were crowded out by participants waiting for their friends, and this caused problems in verifying which bib numbers had crossed in what order.

The Del Monte freebie booth by that time was handing out huge sackfuls of Del Monte products, but it was located very near the finish. People standing in line were blocking the way of runners. There was a general air of frenzy in the place, and there were no safeguards to determine who had already claimed their loot bag. As a result, when our turn came, there were no more goodies. Well, at least we still had each other. Ü

Fit n Right Run: my running buddies
Good Running Buddies = Salvaged Race Experience

I had fun with my friends, but it was only after the race that the sad faces set in. I had a hiccup with the RFID timing chip when I was recorded as coming in 3 minutes later than my actual finish time. I thought that was the biggest problem, but then I didn’t know how bad other participants’ experiences were until I checked out the comments on the Fit ‘n’ Right fan page on Facebook. Ouch!

Del Monte was quick to offer an apology and to accept responsibility.

From my point of view, CEMG, being a first-time race organizer, had miscalculated the logistics needed for the number of participants who had signed up — water, portalets, marshals, and grounds set-up. I do think they’ll learn from their mistakes, and I appreciate the way they handled the backlash — with an apologetic attitude and a promise to do better. I think they just might have bitten off more than they could chew with a big product race such as Del Monte’s (which received a lot of promotion in the tri-media). Perhaps they should have gained experience first with smaller events, like company runs with a lower number of participants.

Hopefully, next year’s Fit ‘n’ Right run will be a lot smoother. Ü Which reminds me — I can still claim my loot bag at CEMG this week.