Sunday, July 4, 2010

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For: My Milo Marathon Experience

It has been over 14 hours since my Milo Marathon debut came to a conclusion.  And yet, as Sunday bleeds into Monday, my heart is still racing (pardon the pun) as I try to recall and put down into writing some of the events that transpired during the marathon weekend that was.  I joined Milo hoping to find redemption at 42.195 kms.  The weekend had come and gone, and while I have yet to find redemption, I made it out of Sunday with great optimism that it just might be right around the corner.   

Allow me to regale bore you with an account of my run.  I came into the Milo Marathon with the publicly stated goal of achieving a sub-5 hour finish.  I believed in my heart that it was feasible because of the relatively "easy" route, my perceived level of preparedness and fitness, and my high level of motivation. 

My plan was to maintain an average pace of somewhere in the vicinity of 7 min/km.  This seems easy enough, even for an average recreational like me.  The challenge, however, lies in maintaining this average pace using my chosen strategy for middle- to long-distance runs:  the Galloway run-walk method.  For this marathon, I stuck to my usual 6:1 run-walk ratio. During my walk breaks, my pace normally drops to 8:30 - 9:30 min/km.  I therefore need to do a 6-6:30-ish pace during the run segments in order to pull up my average pace to my desired 7 min/km.

Everything went perfectly according to plan from Kilometers 1 to 18.  I had a great warm-up and pre-race stretching, and my body was loose.  The sun had yet to rise, and therefore heat and humidity were not yet factors to be contended with.  Hydration and nutrition along the route were plentiful, as water and Gatorade stations alternated on the roadside.  Hammer gels and sliced bananas were being given out at one station along the Macapagal loop.  All these positives helped me produce a strong start, and this was evident in my splits: 7:36 7:22, 7:10, 7:08, 7:16, 6:51, 7:14, 6:59, 7:04, 6:42, 6:58, 6:49, 7:02, 6:50, 6:36, 6: 45, 7:01, and 7:07.  All told, I cleared the first 18 kms in 2:06, with an average pace of 7:08 min/km.  So far, so good.

My pace tapered during the stretch from Kilometers 19 to 32, but I was still in good shape.  By this time, the heat and the humidity were already rising and were starting to become game-changers.  At times, the monotony of the route somewhat caused me to tune out and lose just a little bit of focus, just a little bit of edge.  Hydration, however, was still plentiful, and that definitely helped.  I was still sweating profusely - a good sign that I was well-hydrated.   My legs, knees, and feet still felt fine, no blisters or chafing anywhere. Unlike in Condura, there were no cramps.  I failed to register a single 6-something split during this stretch, but I was still doing fine.  My splits for this segment were  7:12, 7:05, 7:33, 7:19, 7:47, 7:29, 7:25, 7:31, 7:52, 7:55, 7:46, 7:45, and 7:56 .  I cleared the first 32 kms in 3:53:10, with an average pace of 7:57.  Not quite the average pace that I hoped to have by this point, but a sub-5 finish was still within reach.

And then, it all came crumbling down. They say you will hit the dreaded wall somewhere past Kilometer 32.  I rammed into the damn thing at Kilometer 36. Or better yet, the damn thing rammed into me. Kilometer 33 was a prelude of things to come as I laid a big fat egg with my first 8-something split of the run - an 8:09.  I somehow was able to recover during Kilometers 34 and 35, registering splits of 7:43 and 7:49.  But these were to be my last gasps at my sub-5 target, which was steadily slipping out of my hands.  

By Kilometer 36, the monotony of the route became more pronounced as most of the 21k runners were already  on their way back to the finish line. The sun was already dominating the cloudless sky and was mercilessly toasting the 42k runners to a crisp. Still, I was optimistic because I made it out of Macapagal Highway - all three loops of that extremely boring and arid stretch - in one piece, and in relatively good shape.  Still no cramping, no blisters or chafing, no injuries of any sort.  My legs were already sore but were still perfectly capable of doing a bit  of running.  I got back onto Roxas Boulevard having already burned 4:16.  I still had 43 minutes and 59 seconds to cover 6.195 kilometers and complete the marathon in less than five hours.  I needed to average 7:00 k/min the rest of the way to safely assure myself of a sub-5 finish.

Six kilometers in 43 minutes and 59 seconds, at the tail-end of a marathon.  With sufficient motivation, the right amount of effort, and adequate hydration, it was very achievable.  As I got out of the CCP Complex and set foot on Roxas Boulevard, my eyes wandered and scanned the route for the next water or Gatorade station.  I was already wilting because of the heat and my throat was bone-dry.  I badly needed a drink.  To my amazement and indignation, however, each hydration station that I passed was packing up and already calling it a day.  One by one, they were closing shop, literally leaving the remaining marathoners hanging out to dry.  It was time to man up for the grind that was the remaining six kilometers of what had been a very promising race.

To conserve my energy, I tried adjusting my run-walk ratio to 4:1.  However, with no hydration to sustain me, I was forced to abandon this strategy and simply resorted to random run-walk patterns.  The goal was no longer a sub-5 finish, but simply to SURVIVE AND FINISH.  The heat and humidity were off the charts, and I was already seeing imaginary black spots floating before my eyes.  I was in Kilometer 38 and I had already slowed down to a walk.  I was on the brink of collapse, and I was no longer looking for a water station.  I was already scouting for an ambulance or paramedics that could attend to me in case I blacked out.  During this stretch, what kept me afloat were the encouraging words of fellow marathoners who either passed me or walked side-by-side with me - total strangers who were also going through the very same plight that was staring me in the face.

Finally, I made it to the US Embassy.  Only a little over a kilometer to go.  I stopped at a deserted hydration station and, out of desperation, scooped up some ice cubes scattered on the table.  I pressed these against my nape and the top of my head in an attempt to bring my body temperature down.  Man, did that help!  The cooling sensation brought me back to my senses, and I realized that I only had a kilometer more to go.  The boost was enough  to deliver me to the finish line and a 5:19:52 finish (Garmin time), for an average pace of 7:32 min/km.  I finally made it home.  Click here for Garmin data of my run.

Home sweet home!
Although I did not achieve the sub-5 finish that I coveted, my performance at the Milo Marathon is still cause for great optimism.  I am not into moral victories, but I have always been a "glass is half-full" type of person and I always try to find the silver lining in any situation.  And in this case, a lot of positives were evident.  For one, I improved on my marathon finish by a full 23 minutes. The 5:42 finish I had at Condura is now down to 5:19.   Another positive is the fact that, unlike in Condura, I did not cramp up.  This means my base mileage is, at the very least, already sufficient (I was sitting on 1,489 kms coming into this race), and that my muscles are getting accustomed to long distance runs.  I also believe I'm starting to figure out the marathon distance, i.e., how to pace myself, the proper hydration and nutrition plan, etc.  And lastly, I draw strength from the fact that, strictly speaking, I did not hit the wall.  There was no wall for me to hit, but the absence of hydration during the last eight kilometers simply forced me into submission.  I can only speculate what my time could have been had there been even just some (never mind adequate) hydration during the last eight kilometers.

Tired, but NEVER beaten.
I'll be taking the next couple of weeks off to recover.  There will probably be very little to no running for me at least for this week, and I'll probably ride the stationary bike at the health club just to keep my fitness up.  I'll be leaving for the U.K. for work next Saturday, and I hope to do some short runs while I'm there.  When I get back on the 19th, I will begin training for my next full marathon, CamSur, which is scheduled for  September 26.  I hear it's going to be a fast and flat course for that one.  I say, that sub-5 barrier is just about ready to be breached.

I'll leave you with a few more pics from my awesome Milo Marathon weekend.  I still have another Milo story to tell - a story of heart, passion, and love for the sport - but that deserves a separate post of its own.

Mission accomplished!
With wifey at the finish line
On to the next marathon!


  1. Congrats bro on improving your 42K end, this constant improvement, no matter how small, is what matters...hope to run into you in one of them races...and enjoy your UK runs!

  2. Congratulations! I was too tired to even take pictures after reaching the finishing line! It felt like my first marathon too! Anyway, glad to see you had a great overall run.

    Titanium Runner []

  3. Hey Julius, nice seeing you on the road. 5:19 on those tough conditions is still something to be proud of. Congratulations!

  4. I saw you as you passed through the unofficial support station :)

    you looked strong and fresh considering it was your 3rd and last time to pass by.

    your time is still awesome, actually!

    Enjoy your rest weeks/month :)

    wifey was there din pala :)

    -beabear (Bea Santiago-Hernandez)

  5. Still a great run, Julius! Bawi nalang sa camsur. See you soon!

  6. Congratulations Sir!

    I guess you're one of the lucky ones who didn't have cramps during the race (I almost did hehe). Enjoy your rest and good luck with your future races!

    - dhenz

  7. Wow, that is quite an improvement on your last time in those conditions. COngratulations on completing the race Julius. Awesome. Glad to see you had some fierce support from your wifey. That is great in itself. A sub 5 is definitely in reach for you soon. Just keep plugging away man. You WILL do it. For me too, it's not the heat, it is the humidity that really sucks the life away. Black spots? You definitely deserve a medal and much more for not DNFing. Congrats on that. On a last side note - If I ever plan to do that race, I will bring and wear my own camelbak. I believe at least a 3 liter is in order. "each hydration station that I passed was packing up and already calling it a day" is just too f$^#*d up.

  8. Congrats Julius!
    I hope I can do a marathon someday too...