Grit, balls and my husband’s blanket approval to run…
these were my passport in doing a bang-up job in Calle Arco Pagsanjan 60k Ultra Marathon on April 23-24.
Serving as my recovery run after a marathon in the Nat Geo last April 17, this Run Mania event had me hoping for a better route and race after promising myself that I would not have a comeback to this pro-earth run due to my experience which does not merit a space in my blog. Just take a look at these pictures by two photographers. Their lens perfectly captured the boredom and the lethargy on my face in the course of this run.
So, for Pagsanjan Ultramarathon, I had a lot of expectancy since this back-to-back runs I’m doing is my idea of preparing for a very ambitious ultimate goal (which has already gone pfft) in my running.
Joined by two latest running partners from 2BatQ (see related post at https://wanderingjouster.com/2016/02/18/2batoq-a-display-of-my-masochistic-streak/), I had to label this out-of-town race as special as the others. Why? Well, our last-minute change of plan in our trip to reach the start area at Areza Town Center would make our troika’s adventure worthy to land in a Disney movie! Just visualize a cartoonized turtle Vanessa Labit, a cartoonized rabbit Roby Amil and a cartoonized cat Mau Gines going thru unfamiliar and dark roads just to make it on-time for the gun start at 10:30 pm of April 23, Saturday. And surprise, surprise! The tortoise was in charge of the wheel. Thanks to her daredevil disposition, we arrived in the venue as scheduled. Aaht aahht bloooot!!! Bong! Beep beep beep beep screeeech ruuurrrump pa-lump!!! Bonk! Hahaha… I could go on with this Toontown version of my story, but I know you’d rather have a plausible one. Yet, this is half-truth.
Our waiting for the van that would transport us to Pagsanjan Laguna for more than an hour at the South Station in Alabang partly compelled Vane to decide on using her vehicle and driving us three. In a fast-forward pace we took a jeepney then a trike in going to her residence, picked the vehicle, and knew the best and less traffic way from her ever-supportive husband Chris before resuming our thrilling expedition. It was one of the best road trips I’ve ever had with two people whose cool demeanor in a stress-inducing situation was admirable and infectious! As targeted after surviving the traffic and unlighted “long cut” road, we took our dinner at a Jollibee branch in Calauan a few minutes past nine. I am not used to taking a meal an hour before a run, but my inner voice poked me to do so. Listening to that murmur, I knew the food would help in my endurance. I just have to brace myself for any unexpected gastrointestinal reaction I would be experiencing afterwards.
Express carbo-loading concluded, we headed for our final destination. At around 10:10 pm, we saw ourselves reverting to our swift motion as we donned our respective running ensembles. Truly, kindred spirits do beautiful synchronized movements even under time pressure. Wow and whew!
The race commenced according to schedule. My second Run Mania event after almost three years, this was placed in my bucket list after joining two long distance runs in February. Its organizer had left an indelible impact on me with its commendable job during my initiatory ultra marathon in 2013 (read story at https://wanderingjouster.com/2013/09/04/t2k-unleashing-my-grit-and-balls-as-an-ultra-marathoner/). Personally, one of my guides in registering in a run is my fellow runners’ positive impression about an organizer. Then, if my own experience belies these remarks, a repeat will no longer be in the offing. Evidently it’s different with Pat Maranan, who is known for his consistent hydration and food supply for a certain mileage. This gave me confidence not to bring a support vehicle anymore. The fact that I had survived a longer ultra alone minus the presence of a back-up in my 2015 Mayon 360 (see post at https://wanderingjouster.com/2015/04/20/mayon-360-2015-amazing-beauty-in-solitude/), I told myself that I could go through another one. Furthermore, I have already trained myself not to use energy gels and even Bodivance for the last three runs that I have joined. For me, dependency on them is purely psychological. The mint lotion I purchased from my favorite spa was what I carried with me. It substituted the Perskindol which I would apply when sore muscles struck. Not to mention was my being fine with “no costume change” all throughout. I did this “running gear transformation” once at T2K to see its effect on me and found out that it did little. I realized that I can be a fastidious dresser, but I ain’t a fussy runner. Ha-ha! In my thoughts, this and an adequate supply of water and energy food on our way would make me pull through within the 13-hour cut-off time.
My reunion run of sort with Vane and Roby, I had to tell them point blank that they just stick to their pace and not to worry about me. I had witnessed how this tandem run and I didn’t want to derail their early finish because of my own speed which I jokingly referred to as “earthworm pace”. Hihihi… But what heightened my belief that I would do fine with my run is that we started it before midnight and we’re more than 200 runners in the 60-k solo category! Yay. On the other hand, my apprehension was triggered by the fact that it’s my first time to run in that kind of hour when I would be totally deprived of sleep. Of course, having brought with me that Gabriela spunk, I was expected not to whine or whimper if ever my physical condition betrays me.
And so, we all cleared the start area. One could easily see the runners who were either raring to set a new PR or simply wanting to survive the challenging route. I think I belonged to the latter.
In my first 7 kilometers, I performed satisfactorily. With my empty hydration bottle strapped to my waist, I felt lighter and a little faster. I was even able to keep up with Roby. But as the humidity increased, I sweat profusely which resulted to tiredness and parchedness. Since we’re still 3-kilometer away from the first hydration spot, I looked for an open sari-sari store. I was lucky to find one after running another kilometer. I quickly consumed a small bottle and transferred the contents of the two to my own container. Properly hydrated now but overtaken by several runners, I calmed myself and double checked my bodily condition. Diagnosis: Normal. Nothing to be anxious about. This means I could continue pounding the sparsely lit roads harder.
Majority of my running this ultra was done during the dead of the night. Without my own headlamp, I’d be falling in a ditch as we passed by under construction highways. I had to be extra cautious with each stride especially when there were no fellow runners on sight. I think if there’s one regret I had while traversing Calauan was my not seeing the natural beauty of this place at broad daylight. But there were two scenes that caught my attention despite the absence of brightness. The first aroused my curiosity and the second hit me with deep sadness. While passing a ricefield, I noticed several crouching people with headlamps too. Had they been closer to the road, I could have asked what they were doing at that very hour. Then, in the desire of a local government official to be of service to his or her constituents, the road widening project had to be prioritized over the continued existence of a row of mature street trees. I was aghast! I walked past them somnambulistically and mourned while looking at these cut and now dead trees. I silently asked for forgiveness for this human error. If I had my mobile phone, I could have documented both of these encounters.
I was slightly affected by what I saw, but I had to shake the wave of melancholy. I resumed my run.
From km 40, my main goal of finishing the race was surprisingly motivated by unexpected musings. Faced with a string of uphills which appeared to be boundless, I arrived at a decision that it would be my last ultra. No, it’s not the uphill struggle which was responsible for it. There was something deeper.
Going through a stream-of-consciousness, I had a barrage of questions to myself: Why put yourself at risk again?, Why exchange the safety of your children with your personal satisfaction?, Should you really overspend because of registered runs? Why resort to lying just to be able to join a run?, What do you want to prove to yourself? What is your real goal?
Beyond shadow of a doubt, I was guilty as charged. Like a self-flagellation, I pushed myself harder even if the persistent sharp pain on my foot bugged and slowed me down. For all that, my open admission of my culpability and my arriving at this final decision repainted my face with a distinctive aura as I shortened my distance to the finish line.
The ice cream at km 48.5, the two glasses of cold fresh buko juice which I bought, a short encouraging conversation with another runner, a funeral procession, and my growing anxiety that Vane and Roby had already finished an hour earlier and had been craning their necks for me, served as my abettors. Thus when I crossed the finish line at 11 hours, 11 minutes and 39 seconds to complete the 63k, no one would know how I gritted my teeth for each aching step. No one would really fathom whether it was victory or surrender which they saw on my face. No one would even have any inkling that after receiving another addition to my bragging rights, I shared my ponderings to someone who could empathize with a wife’s/mother’s/ultra runner’s sentiments.
But what made this exit from ultra running more meaningful was our mystical experience at the Padre Pio’s National Shrine in Sto.Tomas, Batangas. Despite the heavy traffic, we went there to offer our prayer of gratitude. Silently, I was overflowing with my words of thanks for my sixth ultra marathon, where I also ran sans my eight-year-old ponytail for the first time. I ended my petition by lifting to Him not only my physical pain but most specifically my emotional pain which was partly caused by the demise of my friendship and running odyssey with somebody who turned out to be a big let down.