Friday, October 30, 2009

THE SOUNDTRACK OF MY RUNS: My Top 10 Running Songs

I never run without music. I've been running three to four times a week for quite some time now and I can count with the fingers on one hand the times that I ran without music. It's a rather eclectic mix, the songs you will find in my running playlists. Punk, rock, grunge, alternative, electronica, house, folk, new wave, pop, hip-hop -- you name it. When choosing a running song, my criteria are simple: It should have a beat/tempo that suits my pace and is conducive to running, and its lyrics should stir some strong emotion. If the word "run" happens to appear in the lyrics, then all the better. Here are my top 10 running songs (in no particular order):

1. "#41" by Dave Matthews Band, from the album "Crash"

This song has an excellent relaxed tempo, and I find it perfect for LSDs - long runs at a steady, easy, relaxed pace. It's not an "angry" song, but it's intense enough to keep my energy at just the right level for a sustained effort over longer distances. This song is a staple in most of my "chop suey" running playlists, and I normally place it in the middle of the loop so that it would come on just when I'm at the peak of my run and when I’m feeling strongest. This song was a frequent accompaniment to my long runs prior to SIM 21k.

2. "In This Diary" by The Ataris, from the album "So Long, Astoria"

This pop punk classic combines a great tempo and killer lyrics that never fail to get me motivated (and nostalgic!). How’s this for a chorus?

Being grown up is not half as fun as growing up
These are the best days of our lives
The only thing that matters is just following your heart
And eventually you'll finally get it right

I usually place this track towards the end of a playlist so that it would kick in during the homestretch of my run. This was one of the songs that propelled me during the home stretch of RotaRun 10k.

3. "The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World, from the album "Bleed American"

An absolute running classic. If the lyrics of this song don't get your heart racing, nothing will. It talks to you and tells you not to quit, to give it your all, and to pay no attention to what others might say:

Hey, don't write yourself off yet
It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on
Just do your best, do everything you can
And don't you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say

It's the perfect background music when you're working your tail off trying overtake another runner at the last kilometer.

4. "Ocean Avenue" by Yellowcard, from the album "Ocean Avenue"

How can I not throw in a song from one of my favorite bands of all time? From the opening guitar riffs all the way to the last few bars, this song is sheer energy. It's fast and edgy -- perfect for running at tempo pace, or even for intervals where you need quick bursts of energy. But ultimately, I listen to it simply because it's by Yellowcard, and it sounds so “angas.” And the cherry on the sundae? The word "run" was actually used in the chorus:

If I could find you now things would get better
We could leave this town and run forever
I know somewhere somehow we'll be together
Let your wings crash down on me and take me away

5. "I Could Not Ask For More" by Edwin McCain, from the album "Messenger"

Talk about versatility. We used this song for our wedding video, and now it's one of my favorite running songs. I've always pictured this song as being the perfect track for an LSD set against a very scenic background, and SIM showed me that it would work. I was listening to this song during Kilometer 3 of the half-mary, while I was running at sunrise along Argonaut Highway by the Subic coastline, with cool wind on my face. I’m nowhere close to being religious, but the chorus of this song precisely summed up how I felt during those priceless few minutes:

These are the moments I thank God that I'm alive
These are the moments I'll remember all my life
I have all I've waited for
And I could not ask for more

6. "Freedom '90" by George Michael, from the album "Listen Without Prejudice"

The tempo of this song makes it a great opening track. But what makes it a great running song for me is the repeated use of the word "Freedom." I always tell wifey that the times when I run are the times when I feel most free. I just let go of everything for a couple of hours and forget about the concerns that plague daily life. Running affords me some much needed alone time – it’s just me and the road. This song is the perfect soundtrack for those moments.

And hey, I don’t care what you guys think about George Michael hahaha!

7. "Welcome to the Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance, from the album "The Black Parade"

Absolutely great for attacking uphills and inclines. It starts out very slowly and with a very ominous feel, and then suddenly explodes into an angry track with a relentless tempo that can make you will your way up a steep incline. It’s a song that’s dripping with anger and raw emotion – the perfect soundtrack for the tough stretch of a 10k run where there’s no time to pace. I know, because this song fueled my rain-drenched run up the Kalayaan flyover during Ecodash.

8. "Wonderboy" by Tenacious D, from the album "Tenacious D"

In case you didn’t know, the frontman for Tenacious D is comedian Jack Black. That should give you an idea of how nonsensical the words of this song are. The lyrics are crap (actually very funny), but the melody and the tempo of this song makes it a powerful running song. For the longest time, this track was my Power Song in my Nike+ iPod – the one song that I turned to each time I needed a quick surge of strength. And for some reason, I’ve just got to have this song on everytime I run along Father Masterson in the Ateneo campus.

9. "All Out" by Tupac Shakur feat. Outlawz, from the album "Until the End of Time”

Tupac Shakur is one of the greatest and most influential artists of his time. Call me weird, but I have his name carved on my arm. I did the carving myself on the day he was mudered back in '96. Dala ng kabataan at kalasingan hahaha. No way am I running without The Master.

Put the women and children to bed. This stuff is hardcore. This track was one of my earliest running favorites, and I still turn to it for inspiration every so often. Check out the chorus and you’ll see why I usually have this blasting in my earphones during uphills and tough stretches of my runs:

We goin’ all out, bomb first till they fall out
Take them to the war route, without a doubt
Ball, which means we all ride if it's on
Each n***a handle ya own, bring it on strong
If you got bills to pay, n***a go all out
Bustas playin’ with ya peeps, betta go all out
Try'na see the next day, n***a go all out
Obstacles in ya way, you better go all out
Without a motherf****n’ doubt

You want passion? That’s thug passion right there. Whether you’re on a treadmill or going up St. Martin outside ULTRA, this song will get you to the top.

10. "City of Blinding Lights" by U2, from the album “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”

Dozens of U2 tracks are good enough to make this list, but I give the nod to this one. It’s perfect for starting long runs with, because it starts out slow and then just morphs into a subtly intense piece, but does not grind you out or tire your brain like a lot of other heavy tracks. I remember listening to this song while I was heading for Lawton Avenue during the Urbanite Run last March. Picture this - a cool night run at a pace straddling somewhere between easy and tempo, with the glitzy lights of the 40-storey residential towers dotting the horizon, with Bono and U2 playing in the background. What an experience.

There you have it, folks. The soundtrack of the runs of an average recreational runner. What’s on your running playlist? It would be great if you’d leave a comment and let me know what makes your motor go. Help me create a new playlist composed exclusively of songs that rock your runs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NOT A RANT POST: My Weekend in Subic (Second of Two Parts)

We touched down at the Subic Bay Free Port at a little past 6 p.m. We checked in at the Subic Bay Yacht Club (thanks, Jym!) at around 8 and then met up with my folks for dinner at good old Xtremely Xpresso. I loaded up on carbs by feasting on a rice meal, some pasta, and pizza, and I topped it off with a choco-peanut gelato. No wonder I'm not losing weight despite all this running.

10:30 p.m., I was back in the hotel. After preparing my gear, I went to work on the playlist that would serve as the official soundtrack of my first official half-marathon. I purposely limited the length of the playlist to just a little over 2:30. I had resolved to cover 21k in no more than two and-a-half hours. I was confident that I'd be able to accomplish this because, during my two previous 21k training runs (that both included hill repeats), I clocked in at 2:27 and 2:28.

11:30 p.m., I was tucked away in bed. I was out cold approximately half an hour later.

Sunday, 25 October

4 a.m. I awoke to the sound of my phone's alarm. It was time for the Breakfast of Champions.

I finished (almost inhaled) my breakfast in 15 minutes, freshened up, and put on my gear. After doing my stretching routine in the room, I was off to Remy Field with my entourage (i.e., wifey Bam and niece Jym) in tow. Fortunately for me, the Yacht Club is literally just right beside the start line at Remy Field. During our short five-minute walk, I had my first photo op. Ah, the joy of having a "support crew" for the very first time. :)

A couple of minutes later, we finally set foot on Remy Field. The scene that greeted me left me in awe. This would be my first time to start a race in a track oval with packed bleachers. Wifey knew that merely describing the entire scene in words would not do it justice, so she went trigger-happy on her point-and-shoot and started clicking away.

Off-topic, wifey underwent a key moment in life and had her picture taken with THE Chris Tiu. Notice how oblivious she was of the other equally-famous Smart Gilas players in the background (i.e., Dylan Ababou, Andy Barroca, Jayvee Casio).

This is supposed to be a feel-good post, so I won't tell you about how disorganized and how delayed the start of the race was. At 6 a.m., the gun finally went off for all runners (i.e., 21k, 10k, 5k, and 3k). At last, we were off.

For the next two hours, I was subjected to a complete "media blackout" (i.e., wifey and Jym went back to the hotel for a nap). This is the part where I am supposed to tell you about how, on several occasions during my run, I marveled at the wondrous scenery that surrounded me, and how extremely thankful I felt for having been given the opportunity to conquer the highways of Subic. About how, as I observed the multitude of PNP cadets who joined the run, I noticed how poorly equipped they were (gear-wise) for a half-marathon, thus prompting a lot of them to turn back way before reaching the designated turn-around point. About how I noticed how few and far between the water stations were, and how I failed to see any race marshalls for the entire length of the 21k course. About how I came to the realization that SIM 2009 had miserably failed to live up to its lofty billing as the "most prestigious" running event in the country. About how strong I felt throughout the race, and how I ended up asking myself what would have happened had I joined the full marathon instead.

So many thoughts raced through my mind as I plugged away and headed back towards the finish line. So much so that, before I knew it, I was once again in front of the Yacht Club where my "entourage," fresh from a power nap, was waiting to take souvenir photos of my first ever half-marathon finish.

This would have been a great shot, but the genius in the foreground ruined everything. I decided to post this anyway, since this is the only photo wifey was able to take as I was about the cross the finish line.

And so, two hours and eighteen minutes after I crossed the start line, I finished my first official half-marathon. That's nine minutes better than my previous unofficial PR of 2:27, which I set during a training run the previous weekend. Need I say that the satisfaction I felt was indescribable?

What made everything even more special was the fact that, for the very first time, I had loved ones at the finish line to welcome me and share in my joy (not to mention take lots of pictures) in completing this humble milestone. That fleeting moment when I crossed the finish line, coupled with the uncommon sight of familiar faces waiting for me there, made the entire experience absolutely worth it. I may not have gotten a finisher's medal because I failed to land among the top 500 21k finishers, but these pictures and the memories they will evoke years from now are a more than ample reward that could never ever be trumped by any other superficial token.

With the task completed, I headed back for the hotel. As I walked off Remy Field, I looked back and surveyed for one last time the scene that served as the backdrop to my just-concluded conquest.

At last, I already have a half-marathon under my hydration belt. Now, it's time to start training for my first full marathon, which will take place during the Condura Run on 7 February 2010.

FROM THE SHOULDER: Next time you require PNP cadets to join a half-marathon, better make sure you give them, at the very least, the right shoes. You put them at risk of injury by making them run 21kms in flat rubber shoes that provide no support and cushioning whatsoever... By all accounts, it seems to me that the conditions under which the SIM full marathon was held placed the safety and lives of runners in danger. Let's hope this doesn't happen again, as this could irreparably damage the growth of running in the country, and the country's image as a viable running destination... All you race organizers out there, please keep this in mind: A runner's waiver of liability can be disregarded by courts if it is proven that the organizer had been grossly negligent in performing its obligations, and that, in so being, caused loss or injury to runners. Don't think that the signed piece of paper you've got there would absolve you of any and all liability in case a runner dies or gets injured (Do you now believe that I'm a lawyer? Hehehe.)... To all the full marathon runners of SIM 2009, whether finisher or not, congratulations. You make me proud to be a runner. And to those who performed little acts of generosity and heroism on that fateful night -- you all know who you are -- you deserve special mention. Take a bow. You have all earned my utmost respect. I hope to run alongside all of you in future races, because I know you'll get my back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

NOT A RANT POST: My Weekend in Subic (First of Two Parts)

By now, the local running world has undoubtedly heard and read about how disappointing the 2009 edition of the Subic International Marathon was. What was ballyhooed to be the country's most prestigious marathon turned out to be nothing more than a so-so out of town race. Yes, the vaunted Kenyan runners came, saw, and conquered. Yes, the scenery was spectacular (in the case of the full mary, it was spectacular until the runners were enveloped in total darkness). Other than these, SIM was a total let-down of enormous proportions.
For now, however, I'll let the rest of the blogging world worry about bashing everything that has anything to do with SIM 2009. Here's MY Subic story, delivered Average Rec Runner-style...

Saturday, 24 October

Together with wifey and my favorite niece (actually, my only niece hehehe) Jym, I hit the well-paved asphalt of the SCTEX at a little past 4:30 p.m. As had been the case during my previous trips down this highway, I found cruising down the SCTEX to be such a calming, almost surreal experience.

A few minutes after we hit the Floridablanca stretch of SCTEX, I noticed that the southbound vehicles had been redirected onto the northbound lane.

A few moments later, I saw them. Resplendently striding down the other side of the road were the brave and proud marathoners of SIM 2009.

Wanting to take in the atmosphere of the SIM 2009 full mary, I pulled over, stepped out of my vehicle, and, with indescribable envy, watched these gallant marathoners pass me by.

Unable to stand watching all of this unfold as I lamely stood in the SCTEX's center island, I boarded my car and decided that enough was enough - I'm heading for Subic to do about my first official half-marathon the following day. But then, this sight stopped me dead in my tracks:

The near-mythical, world-class Kenyan runners. Poetry in motion. The final straw. As I stood there watching in awe, all I could do was think to myself -- I've got to give this marathon thing a try. Soon.

I boarded my car and drove off to Subic. With Yellowcard blaring in the background, I rode into the clear Saturday afternoon thinking that, tomorrow, I will have my own battle to wage, my own race to run. For now, the long road to Subic continues...

Friday, October 23, 2009

FUEL FOR THE FIRE: Some of the Little Things That Keep Me Running

Let's face it. Running CAN get boring sometimes. This is especially true for someone like me who almost always hits the streets alone. You see, I come from a group that lives and breathes basketball. When my friends first learned that I've started taking running a bit more seriously, none of them seemed to understand how I could turn my back on the one sport that we played growing up and that we swore we'd be playing until we grow old. I've been trying my darndest best to sell to my buddies the merits of running, in the hope that, somehow, I'd be able to convince even just one of them to join me on the road. However, up to this day, I've never had the pleasure of running alongside any of my closest friends.

I've also launched countless spirited attempts to get wifey to lace up a pair of running shoes. Oh well. No success there, either. The chances of that happening are probably as bright as that of me topping the Boston Marathon.

And so, here I am -- a lone wolf. El Lobo Solo. For runners like me, motivation is crucial because it is so easy to fall prey to laziness and give up on runs. You go runless for one day, and then another, and then another, and before you know it, running is already out of your system. I intend to keep on running for as long as my body would allow me to, that's why I'm always on the look-out for little "carrots" that will keep me hooked.

What are the little things that keep me heading back out on the road? Here a few that always do the trick for me:

1. The Soundtrack of the Road

I've always been a big music buff, and music has always been my source of inspiration for a lot of things. I have songs that make me want to drive ("1979" by the Smashing Pumpkins), play basketball ("All Out" by Tupac Shakur), and party ("Fade" by SOLU Music). Heck, when I was in law school, I even had a song that made me want to study ("I Don't Dance" by Frank Sinatra). It's therefore inevitable that I have a song that makes me want to run. Right now, if I'd have to name just one song that almost always makes me feel like hitting the road, its "#41" by Dave Matthews Band.

2. Looking the Part

It never fails. Everytime I purchase new running gear, gadgets, or accessories, I always hit the road to take it for a "test drive." Whether it be a new pair of running shoes, shorts, a shirt, a hydration belt, a cap, sports earphones, or base layer apparel, new running gear always get me going. Nothing beats looking like a runner to get yourself pounding the roads like one. Here are some of the gear that keep me heading for the road:

3. Information is Key

Next to my running shoes, my most indispensible running accessory is my iPod Nano. When equipped with the Nike+ sports kit, my Nano becomes more than just an MP3 player. All I have to do is plug the receiver into my Nano and plant the transmitter in my Nike+ ready running shoes, and I'll get real-time info on the distance I've covered, my pace (in mins/km), the number of calories that I've burned, and how long it took me to finish my run. The data is fairly accurate. With this combination, I'm in no hurry to get a Garmin GPS watch (yet).

4. "Seeing" My Run

This is another benefit of having an iPod that is equipped with a Nike+ sports kit. After each run, I "sync" my run by hooking my Nano onto my laptop, and iTunes automatically sends my run data to The site then "graphs" my run, shows my splits, logs all my runs in a chart, and gives me other options to play around with.

5. The Grub

I always look forward to having my pre-race meal at the break of dawn, while the city is still fast asleep. For me, the usual fare consists of a triple-decker Skippy peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, two Cavendish bananas, a 500 ml bottle of Gatorade Tiger sports drink, and two glasses of water. If the race would go on for more than 10k, I also thrown in a pack of GU Chomps for good measure. I also take Schiff Move Free Advanced glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM supplements and One-A-Day multi-vitamins everyday. Breakfast of champions hahaha!

Of course, what works for me might not for work for others. If you're really passionate about the sport, it's very likely that you won't even need any motivation or incentive to lace up those running shoes. Every runner is different, and, at the end of the day, you stick to whatever floats your boat. Cool runnings, boys and girls!