I’m simply amazed at how much the running scene has grown here in Metro Manila. From when I started in 2009 to 2015, it’s amazing how many people are signing up for races, especially the longer distance categories. I was following news about the Condura Skyway Marathon last weekend and there were over 5,000 runners doing the full marathon — unheard of years ago! Longer distance categories also have a way of selling out before the shorter distances these days; the demand for these race kits are so high that some people even think they can profit by buying kits in bulk and reselling them at highway robbery prices. (Aside: DO NOT PATRONIZE THESE SCALPERS!)
But I’m sorry to say I think running is flourishing in Manila despite the road conditions we have, not because of it. After a frustrating long run this morning where I had to dodge rush-hour traffic, step on and off the sidewalk, and take my chances crossing a highway, I definitely know Manila wasn’t designed for runners to use.
Manila simply isn’t a pedestrian-friendly city; motorized vehicles are the priority, not people on foot. You can see this whenever road-widening projects chip away at sidewalks. Oh sure, we have a lot more pedestrian overpasses so you don’t see people attempting to dodge cars while crossing a highway. But building a stairway to the overpass sometimes means there’s only room for half a person to stay on the sidewalk.
That’s if there is a useable sidewalk. Some roads have none, some roads have large bits of broken concrete that pass for sidewalks, and some roads will have vendors’ stalls built right on the sidewalk.
There are a few oases in this concrete desert, places that runners flock to: the welcoming roads of the University of the Philippines Diliman, the wide sidewalks along Roxas Boulevard, even the rush-hour polluted Ayala Triangle is fair game. But for many, it’s not as easy as lacing up shoes and running straight off their doorstep; the irony is we ride public transport or drive to get to our training grounds.
As for who we share the road with, motorists treat pedestrians largely as pests that get in the way — if they even see you. If you’re a fast-moving pedestrian, like a runner, chances are they won’t see you crossing the street until it’s too late, which is why you should always wear bright and reflectorized clothing, cross at pedestrian crossings, and follow traffic lights. If you need to hop onto the road because the sidewalk is impassable, you need to be on the lookout for cars coming up from behind or in front of you, ready to jump out of the way in case they don’t go around you. I still remember hearing about a runner doing his training at McKinley Hill in the early morning when out of nowhere a speeding drunk driver ran over him, permanently disabling and disfiguring him.
The only time I actually feel as if I belong on the roads is when they are closed to traffic for races. I love the absolute freedom of choosing where on the road to run (away from the canted sides that can cause ITB pain!) and not be afraid that a car will come zooming past. But even while running, cars at an intersection honking their horns as we run past remind me that the road is simply borrowed. In a few hours it will no longer belong only to us runners.
And yet, we continue to run. We are here, we are growing in number, and we are finding ways to train in this concrete wilderness, taming it with every step we take. Manila isn’t made for runners (yet), but that won’t stop us from running anyway.