Full Marathon Virginity. Lost. In a foreign land.
Who runs a full marathon on a lark? Me, apparently. This is not some grandiose review of how I trained months for a full marathon and then ran the distance to a spectacular finishing, but rather it is a humble recollection of the experience which I pursued out of slapdash curiosity. In short, I was insane and undertrained and some of you may be able to predict the challenges I faced from this race. Read on for the scoop of my self-assigned misadventure:
1) I became the accidental full marathoner when I was invited by a local friend Dyna to partake in the highly anticipated Run United Philippine Marathon (RUPM) in Manila on Sunday, 6th October 2013.
2) It was my first visit to the Philippines. Looking the way I do, I am often mistaken for a local and am spoken to in Tagalog often.
3) Personally I find Tagalog a very interesting language. It is from the Austronesian family and shares some similar-sounding words with Malay (e.g. apat for empat/four, kanan for right, kami for we, mahal for expensive, etc). I’m a bit of a linguist nerd so I totally loved the exposure.
4) “Takbo” is the Tagalog verb for “run”. There is a website called Takbo.ph where you can look up running events happening in the Philippines.
5) It was the 2nd time RUPM was ever held, the first being in 2012. It was organized by RunRio, a well-reputed race organizer in the Philippines. The president of RunRio is Rio de la Cruz, a coach most known for his running and also his wild afro haircut.
6) I was hesitant to run a 42k as I had not specifically trained for it. Dyna, whom I fondly referred to as Mama, convinced me that I was capable of it because I had run 5 half marathons and ran weekly. She insisted I could do it as she ran her first FM after only 3 HMs. Rather naively, I took the bait. Most experienced marathoners would balk at this idea. I know Lini would.
7) The flag-off time for the full marathon was 3am. So by 12midnight we were already making our way to the Mall of Asia (MOA) in Pasay City where we were going to board a bus to Fort Bonifacio at Bonifacio Global City (BGC). It is about 20 minutes away from MOA.
8) Why take a bus to BGC? The start line of the 42k was there. The finish line however, was back at MOA! All other categories however (5, 10 and 21km) started and ended at MOA.
9) On the bus, we were the only 3 ladies jam packed with a bunch of guys. Dyna started introducing me and Ev as runners from Malaysia and Indonesia. The Filipino guys onboard were very friendly, and I was blushing from being advertised by Mama. Being a representative of one’s country is so daunting, especially if you’re not that fast of a runner! One Pinoy fellow attempted a bit of Malay with me by saying “Salamat datang!” The attempt was quaint.
10) Upon arriving at BGC, I was introduced to more of Mama’s friends. I felt quite at home. Save for the Tagalog-speaking part. I wished I knew more of it.
11) We also were introduced to an expat friend of Mama, American Meg and her husband Jamie. Meg taught at an international school in Manila. RUPM was her 18th marathon. I learned that she also used to live in Jakarta for 7 years and loved to travel the world to run marathons. Her next marathon after RUPM (if I remember correctly) was in Italy.
12) Meg also has a live-in Indonesian maid named Terri who has been with her for years and was taking part in the marathon at RUPM, too! Awesome! Meg was another Nancy Jackson in that sense.
13) We actually bumped into Terri a little later on while waiting to start the race and we exchanged short pleasantries. I am still impressed with this notion of having your housekeeper actually run a marathon with you. This only seems to happen to runners with association to Indonesia.
14) Before the race started, Mama made me run around the block twice to warm up. We also did some stretching with Mama’s running group, the Ayala Triads. I thought the man who led the session was rather handsome and terribly fit.
15) Ayala is the name of an upscale district in Makati City where this particular running group normally meets to run. Ayala Triads have a signature hand sign when they pose for photos; they form a triangle with their thumbs and forefingers.
16) At the start line we took A LOT of group photos, till this day I have not seen most of these pictures. We even took one with Mr. Raul Patrick Concepcion, one of the brothers behind the Condura Skyway Marathon! He is also a runner. You can read about his RUPM recap here, he did quite fantastically well.
17) Condura Sky Marathon is another huge marathon in Manila which starts at midnight and apparently does not have a cut-off time. RUPM on the other hand has a cut-off time of 7 hours, one hour more than SCKLM.
18) The RUPM flag-off started promptly at 3am. We dispersed into the early morning like wildfire. A heli-camera hovered over us to take the scene. Since sunrise is earlier in this archipelago country, that meant we had about 2-hours of pre-sunrise running.
19) BGC is a neat and newer section of Metro Manila. We ran within its vicinity until we clocked about 10km, after which we ascended onto a highway ramp to enter Makati City.
20) While in BGC I quickly learned one of the reasons some of my non-Filipino runner friends loved to run in Manila marathons: water stations were 1-2km apart, all the way! Furthermore, every single paper cup that held water or Gatorade had ice! It was HEAVEN. By 5km I was bloated with water.
21) The water stations at RUPM were some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Volunteers were so efficient in filling up cups, there was almost never an empty one on the table. Ice trucks were on standby to keep the ice flowing. Every time you attempted to run by without drinking, the volunteers would call out to me, “Water, Mam, water!” How can a girl can resist?
22) Running through Makati City totaled a distance of 7km, flat throughout as we ran through the banking and commercial centers. The route of this race is generally flat, any seasoned marathoner can easily get a good timing at RUPM.
23) As we reached the tail-end of Makati City, it was time to enter the final city of RUPM: back to Pasay City. It was when I clicked off 17km that trouble started for me.
24) I was having a sudden dip in emotions moving into the 20th km region. I simply cannot explain the feeling, but it was like a sweep of depression and the soles of my feet were beginning to hurt unbearably. I was actually shocked at this point because I have run further without issues before. Dhitri’s theory was that I was running out of glycogen fast – in other words, hitting the wall. But was I?
25) I was not tired from running in the stamina sense, but rather the pain in my feet were contributing to my rapidly declining feel-good factor. I believe the reasons for my feet hurting were a two-fold new practice on race day (which is always a no-no!).
26) Firstly I had applied Vaseline on the soles of my feet before putting on my socks and shoes (due to Mama’s advice – she says her feet “burn” after about 30km without having the lubricant on). I have NEVER practiced running with Vaseline on my feet, hence I was not used to it. The slight additional gliding movement of my slippery feet within my shoes over the first half of the distance may have built up fatigue in my feet. This is just my theory, albeit not necessarily an unfounded one.
27) Secondly, I was not wearing the blue Kinvara 3 shoes which I would normally wear on a race; I had worn a new pair of shoes instead, albeit it was a model which I know I can run far in and even though I had run in them a few times, they were not quite yet ready to take me on this long journey painfree. Argh!
28) By the time I hit km22, I knew I could no longer run properly without wanting to scream in frustration. Mama, who was somewhat pacing us, looked back in alarm at me but I motioned for her to press on ahead. I could not bear to bring her finishing time down. So she left me going full speed ahead but promised to wait for me at the finish line.
29) What happened next was a somber walk all the way to km30 on the long stretch of Roxas Boulevard. A few concerned marshals asked me how I was then, then added a “Run, Mam, run!” Filipinos and their courteous ways!
30) I have a Garmin FR10 watch which I wore at RUPM. True to its word, the watch died on me after 4 hours 26 minutes. Truly this watch is for sub-5 marathoners.
31) To take my mind off my feet, I took time to appreciate the scene, watching the locals bike, run and walk on the Roxas Boulevard which faces the Manila Bay. Some were getting outdoor back massages and vendors were selling ice cream and food. I passed by Rizal Park where many Filipinos were pumped up in a session of aerobics with loud music blaring.
32) After all that walking along Roxas Boulevard, I decided enough was enough, I had to pick up the pace again. I started jogging gingerly starting at km30. I could hear loud music in the distant and felt optimistic. I could smell the finish line.
33) Just before I started running again, a young Filipino guy who was brisk walking beside me started to converse with me in Tagalog. The only thing I understood from him was “sakit,” which apparently means the same thing in Malay (pain)!
34) At km33 we actually passed the finish line and I could see scores of people running, walking, waddling, crawling, dancing, etc – to the end. But because we were on the other side of the road, it felt daunting as we had another 9+km to go! It was getting hotter and it felt like 11am in Malaysia, but when I checked the time, it was barely 9am in Manila.
35) RUPM has a lot of U-Turns in its route – which can be a mind-addling affair. It is a bit of a psychological warfare to see people running against you when you know you’ve got a long way to go to get to where they are. Some runners may not enjoy this sort of a race course.
36) We finally managed to get to the finish line and just before that, two guys were giving out the Philippines national flag. I took one and stuck it in my visor. It fell so I just held it in my hand and ran like the dickens, as best as I could.
37) I nearly wanted to kiss the timing mat at the finish line – I was done! 6:44:22. Just under the 7-hour cut-off. Oh my God. Must. Get. Out. Of. These. SHOES.
38) After we were given the RUPM finisher medal (which I swear could double as a weapon – that thing was so sharp-looking!), we were ushered to to the finishing area where a photographer was waiting for us to snap a photo on the red carpet! I thought this was a brilliant idea, every runner was treated like a celebrity!
39) But before that, two girls from the event organizer were nearby, handing out wet tissues and alcohol to sanitize our hands. I thought this was such a quirky touch – I mean, who cleans their hands after running a race? The Filipinos, apparently. This was one aspect of Filipino culture which reminded me of the Japanese: they are obsessed about cleanliness – which is a great thing!
40) After reaching the photographer at the end of the red carpet, Mama greeted us and snapped some photos with her iPhone. Then we went to collect our goodie bag. I was hot and bothered and couldn’t wait to sit down and take off my shoes. Socks. Everything.
41) RUPM had a really nice finisher’s t-shirt, much to the envy of my friends who had ran at SCKLM a week earlier (apparently this year’s one was a bit crummy-looking). The goodie bag was just bursting with pharmaceutical products ranging from ibuprofen, constipation pills to Indonesian lulur (body scrub!).
42) The best freebie was hands down the RUPM slippers – ingenious! Runners can remove their shoes and slip on a pair to cool off their feet! Which I immediately did.
43) After posting my finisher photo on Facebook and Twitter, I was so overwhelmed by the number of comments and ‘Likes’ that I received. My phone was also buzzing like mad with well wishes on Whatsapp! Geez, runners do enjoy seeing their friends complete their first marathon – just insane support! Thanks, guys and gals.
44) Thank you Mama Dyna, my new Filipino friends, RUPM and Manila for my first FMV experience. My marathon performance was not ideal, but I did the best that I could, given the circumstances. I learned a lot from this trip and promise to respect the distance a lot more!
Maraming salamat po, Pilipinas!
- Marathoners exceed themselves at 2013 Run United Philippine Marathon
(coverage by GMA Network, Philippines largest TV & radio network; includes a group photo of me with the Ayala Triad runners!)