Monday, January 31, 2011

In Heat

With only five weeks to go before BDM 102, it's time to take heat training more seriously. No back-to-back long runs for me last weekend, as I'm on taper mode right now for next weekend's Condura Skyway Marathon and the BDM Test Run 52k the weekend after that. And so, I restricted myself to a 10k run on Saturday and a 20k run on Sunday. The Saturday run was crap because the sun was hardly out. It was very cloudy, hence there was hardly any heat to train with. So much for heat training. 

Sunday, however, was a completely different story. The sun was out and there were hardly any clouds in sight - perfect heat training weather. I ran the same route that I ran the day before. I parked my vehicle near Muji and Serendra in Bonifacio High Street, and this served as the starting point. From there, the route passed through the road where the Lexus dealership is located (behind St. Luke's and S&R - don't know the name), the vicinity of I.S. and the British School, and then the "border" of BGC and Kalayaan Avenue, before heading back to the starting point. A round trip spanned almost 10 kilometers, and I did two trips and loose change to get to 20 kilometers. I picked this route because there were no tall buildings that would block the sun. My car served as an aid station that served up Gatorade, bite-sized chocolate bars, and Hammer Endurolytes electrolyte capsules.  The 7-Eleven store at the Philplans Building near Kalayaan served as the second aid station, and there I took only water. I ran under the heat of the sun for almost 2 hours and 30 minutes, from 10:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Good heat training!

The run was productive for several reasons. Obviously, it allowed me to experience running under the sun for an extended period. It also allowed me to test the apparel that I will be using on D-Day - a white, long-sleeved New Balance running top in Lightning Dry technical fabric, which has a Sun Protection Factor rating of 20. I was also able to try the Endurolytes capsules (took them for the first time) and a prospective hydration plan. Most importantly, though, the run made me realize that I am not a complete stranger to running under the sun and in hot weather, after all. I am not a very fast runner, and I always finish my marathons with the sun already out. Who would have thought that my late finishes would one day prove useful? Certainly not me.

I hope to do more heat training in the remaining weekends before BDM. Right after I finish the Condura Marathon next week, I plan to run an additional 10 kilometers just so I would experience running under the late morning sun after having already completed 40+ kilometers. The week after that will have the 52k BDM Test Run, which will start at around 7 a.m. and which I expect to finish seven hours later at around 2 p.m. - definitely plenty of heat right there. The rest of the remaining weekends will be devoted to shorter "sun runs" as I taper for the big day.

Banana Boat SPF 70 will be my best friend for the weeks ahead!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Same Old, Same Old

In a little less than two weeks, I will be running my sixth full mary: the Condura Skyway Marathon. Condura is special for a number of reasons. For one, it marks my first anniversary as a marathon runner. Condura 2010 was my very first marathon - the rite of passage that I had to endure in order to reach the next level. More significantly, however, Condura 2010 was both a tribute and a prayer. I dedicated my first marathon to my father, who, to this day, continues to miraculously defy the ravages of an affliction that can be stayed but can no longer be beaten. I ran Condura with a deep sense of purpose that I never had in any of my succeeding marathons - and it led to the irony that my slowest marathon finish remains the sweetest yet.

At Condura 2011, a lot of things will be different. I will be traversing the Skyway no longer as a first-time marathoner, but as an ultra distance runner training for a 102-kilometer ultramarathon. The target finish time will be a more aggressive 4:30, and simply finishing within six hours will no longer be acceptable. I will no longer be clad in the silly-looking apparel I had on last year (racing tights, iPod, a belt bag that held food and SPF 70 sunblock lotion!). On race day, I will be up to 14 pounds lighter, healthier, better-conditioned, better-trained, better-prepared. What a difference a year makes, indeed.

Oh-so-many changes, but one thing remains the same: I will run Condura 2011 for my father. No more DIY race bibs this time around, but the cryptic words that I wrote on my back almost a year ago are now indelibly etched in my heart, mind, and soul - not the least bit dulled by the passage of time.

A Son Never Forgets.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Crossing the Line

As I was stuck in traffic on my way to work yesterday morning, I started browsing through the files in my Blackberry, looking for stuff to delete. I came across the photo above - a random shot that I carelessly took during one of my walk breaks at last weekend's BDM Test Run 1, a.k.a. my first ultrarun. Only now have I realized how symbolic the image actually is.

It is the first kilometer post beyond Km 42.

And another journey begins.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Natural Evolution

BDM Km Post 50 in Abucay, Bataan, at 4:36 a.m.

Yesterday, I completed my first-ever ultra run: the BDM 2011 Test Run 1, which also doubled as a Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) 50k Run.  My finish time (Garmin) - 6:46:29 - was far from stellar, but I'd like to think that it was quite decent considering the challenges posted by the route (Mariveles to Abucay, Bataan - mostly rolling terrain, blanketed in total darkness) and the fact that it was my first foray into ultra distance running. I finished my maiden ultra run barely six days after doing last weekend's Cebu City Marathon.

The last couple of days before the run were also less than encouraging, as I was in Singapore from Thursday to Saturday morning -  the day of the run! - handling a very stressful contract negotiation. Saturday morning saw me taking a 9:40 a.m. flight out of the Lion City. From there, it was a whirlwind of activity. I landed in NAIA at 1:10 p.m., was home and packing my gear and supplies by 2 pm, and was en route to Bataan by 4:15 p.m. At 8:30 p.m., I was finally standing at Km 0 in Mariveles - very closely resembling a total wreck and running almost purely on adrenaline (no Red Bull or Cobra for me), anxiously waiting for the start of the next big test.

Banana break at Km 45

Six hours, 46 minutes, and 29 seconds later, I reached the BDM Km Post 50. Average pace was 8:07 min/km. For the first 30 kilometers, I used a Galloway run-walk ratio of 8:1, which I adjusted to 7:1 for Kms 31 to 40, and finally to 6:1 for the last 10.  Statistics of my run here. I survived my first ultra run - as well as the murderous inclines, the complete darkness that seemed to go on and on, the stray dogs (it seemed like there were hundreds of them!), some drunks along the interior roads, the taunting members of the third sex, and the practitioners of the world's oldest profession plying the red light strip along Roman Highway - and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.  I'll never join another overpriced half-marathon in BGC again.

With the promotor himself - BR - at the finish point.

More than being just a "regular" ultra run, this one was in fact a test run for the first half of the BDM route. The purpose of the run was to prepare idiots like me who are insane enough to run 102 kilometers or, worse, 160 kilometers in the dead of our country's tropical summer. The run achieved this purpose very convincingly. Here are some of my most significant learnings from this experience. I know, a lot of them are common sensical, but it was just fantastic to see them "work" during an actual run:

(a) I now know that, in colder climate, running 102k is very doable. Come BDM in March, the distance won’t kill me, but the heat and humidity will. Heat training will be critical.

(b) Walk all uphills and run when it is flat. Galloway is the way!

(c) Be friendly and courteous to all people you meet along the route - especially the locals.

(d) You won’t survive BDM without a headlamp or flashlight of some sort. If you're afraid of the dark, just stay home and don't even think of doing this.

(e) The fewer runners being supported by a single support vehicle, the better. But a ratio of one runner per vehicle is best.

(f) Having the support vehicle chase (but not shadow) the runner (rather than the vehicle leap-frogging) is a viable strategy. In my case, it worked to perfection. My vehicle gave me a 10 to 15 minute lead before catching up to meet me, and we repeated this routine through out the run.

(g) When stocking up on supplies, include an allowance for other runners who may need support while their own vehicles aren’t around. You should do this for them because you would want them to do this for you. You'll never know when you will need to look to other runners' crews for provisions. 

The aftermath

And just like that, I entered the next stage of my continuing evolution as a runner.

Next up for me is the Condura Skyway Marathon on 6 February, and then the BDM Test Run 2 52k on 12 February. But for now... a two-day recovery period.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coming Up Short

It is said that good things come to those who wait. If that indeed is the case, then I guess I will have to console myself with the prospect of better days ahead.

In my previous post, I came out with the stated goal of finishing the 2011 Cebu City Marathon in 4:45. It was rather ambitious of me, to tell you frankly, considering that I have gone sub-5 only once before - and it happened only last December. But hey, we all have the right to aim high (or perhaps more appropriately - dream big). If I nail it, good. If I don't, well, redemption could be had on the Skyway next month.

Alright, I'll get straight to the point - last Sunday in Cebu, I came up short.  I finished the Cebu City Marathon in 4:50:04 (Garmin time), a new personal best and an improvement of six minutes over my Singapore time, but way off the mark by a full five minutes. For a while there, I thought I had it in the bag. Up until Km 35, I was shamelessly flirting with a 4:30. A 4:30! And then - shit Mango Avenue happened. Fueled by adrenaline and hubris (and Roctane!) - and in full pursuit of a 4:30 finish - I ran the inclines instead of walking them. And the outcome was... cramps on both my thighs almost every 200 meters for the rest of the way.  To say that Kms 36 to 42 were a struggle would be a huge understatement.  Those last six kilometers were even worse and far more excruciating than the last three kilometers of my maiden marathon.  More than the physical pain though, as I was hobbling my way through Salinas Drive, what tortured me mercilessly was the notion that I had the 4:30 well within reach, and I just let it slip away. At Km 40, I reverted to the original goal: 4:45. The original prize had become but a mere consolation. Still, it was not to be. My quads refused to cooperate, and even the 4:45 vanished. So, with the finish line in sight, I mustered whatever juice I had left and sprinted. I could still salvage a 4:49 and loose change - and that would still look loads better than a 4:50. But, well, you already know the rest of the story - I crossed the line five seconds too late. Voila, a bittersweet personal best - 4:50:04.  Statistics and splits of my run here (the race distance was fairly accurate - the SRP Tunnel just screwed up the readings).

Now that I've gotten all of that off my chest - let's talk about the marathon itself.  Let me say this: The Cebu City Marathon was as good as advertised. Actually, it was waaaay better. Fireworks at the starting line, a very festive atmosphere, aid stations every 1.5 to 2 kms, overflowing water and energy drinks and abundant food items (banana, crackers, chocolates) at the aid stations, bands, performers, loudspeakers, and cheering sections at almost every turn, countless race marshalls that actually knew what they were doing and that were very polite, a scenic yet fairly challenging route, ambulances and first aid stations, full support of the local government, fantastic-looking finisher's medal --- I can go on and on and on. The Cebu City Marathon was THAT GOOD. I have done five marathons thus far, all within the last 10 months - Condura, Milo, Singapore, CamSur, Cebu, and I can say with all objectivity that Cebu was by far the best. Of the five marathons under my belt, if I were to choose just one that I would run again in 2012, it would be Cebu, hands down. Yes boys and girls, Cebu was that good. It really was. You want to run a world-class marathon? We have one right in our own backyard. Just head down south. Thank you, Cebu. I will definitely be back next year.

Pardon the digression --- but I never meant for this to be a feel-good post. I will claim my 4:30 at the Condura Skyway Marathon next month. After what I went through in Cebu last Sunday, I know in my heart that it can be done. A wee bit too cocky? Perhaps. But so what? It's a free country.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Riddle Me This

This definitely is not the way to spend taper week.

Only three days to go before my next race, the 2011 Cebu City Marathon, and I'm wracking my brain over two critical details that could make or break me during my fifth mary.  It's kind of annoying, really, because I should already have established a set routine by now.  I am no longer a marathon newbie, and, as a matter of fact, I already have certain well-formed habits that have carried me through four injury-free marathon finishes. But with only about a hundred hours before my next full, I find myself in uncharted territory because I will be running my first ultramarathon less than six days after I complete a full marathon.  After Cebu on 9 January, I will be doing the Bataan Death March Test Run 50k on January 15.  BDM TR 50 will trace the first half of the BDM 102 route, spanning 50 kilometers from Km 0 in Mariveles to Abucay, Bataan. 

Here are my issues:

First - Do I race Cebu, or do I run at picture-taking pace and conserve my legs for the following weekend's ultra? During last week's Rizal Day Run, I sought Bald Runner's advice on how I should tackle Cebu. Being an ultramarathon virgin, I am totally clueless on how I should handle the two races given the relatively short time interval. BR's advice was simple and made a lot of sense: Take it easy in Cebu and have just enough juice to finish BDM TR 50.  He said the Cebu route is relatively easy, so he doesn't foresee that I would need to push myself all that much.  Logical and uncomplicated approach --- and then good ol' BR threw in the monkey wrench.  I did't know if he was kidding, but he said the magic words:  If you can improve your marathon PR by five to ten minutes, that should be fine.

Oh boy, here goes nothing.  My original plan - my goal - was really to chase a 4:45 finish in Cebu. This would be an improvement of almost 11 minutes over my 4:56 finish in Singapore last month.  And I know in my heart that it is very much feasible, as I did 35 kilometers in 3:47 at the Rizal Day Run just last week.  I mulled this over while I was doing my easy run a while ago, and I think I already have my answer:  I'll go for 4:45 in Cebu, recover during the five-day lull (i.e., do a single 5k recovery run two days after Cebu, as well as regular stretching routines), and then run BDM TR 50 at a relaxed pace. This plan is somewhat consistent with another nugget I picked up from one of BR's older posts.        

Second - What shoes should I wear? It's almost absurd that I am asking this question just days before my fifth marathon.  Again, I have BR to thank for my dilemma.  In this post, he noted that a lot of the participants in the Soochow 24-Hour Endurance Run were wearing stability shoes and/or shoes that provide cushioning.  This got me thinking- again.  For my first three marathons, I ran in my recently-retired adidas Adizero Tempo.  For the fourth (my PR marathon), I wore the adidas Adizero Mana.  Both the Tempo and the Mana are lightweight stability shoes (I overpronate) - almost minimalist and very close to the ground, ergo, reduced stability and cushioning.  However, because I will be doing a marathon (at my target marathon race pace of 6:20-6:30 mins/km) and an ultramarathon only five days apart, I think I will do my body a huge favor and wear full-on stability trainers for both races.  I would have loved to run these two events in my adidas Supernova Sequence, but the poor soles (pun intended, as always) have already breathed their last breath.  And so, a blast from the past (i.e., my shoe cabinet) shows up and saves the day.  Back from the grave (and covered in dust and cobwebs!) came my Nike Zoom Structure Triax 12 - my very first stability trainers that I ditched over a year ago after I became an Adi guy.  I have been doing a lot of training runs in them lately, and I ran the Rizal Day Run in them at my target marathon race pace last week.  Felt great after the Rizal Day Run (35k @ 6:30 pace), thanks no doubt in large part to the Triax. During my 10k training run on a tartan track a while ago, I ran in the Adizero Mana just so I'd have some basis for comparison. Suffice it to say that I'm now kicking myself for not having given the Triax a chance in any of my previous marathons.

And so --- this, too, is almost settled.  I will go with the Triax for Cebu and for BDM TR50.  And maybe even for Condura and BDM TR 52 next month.  And maybe even for BDM 102 in March!  And then the Triax can go out in style.

Riddle solved.

Can't wait to hit the streets of the Queen City of the South.  Taper week sucks big time.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Running with Murakami

I am a huge admirer of the works of the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.  I have read a couple of his works - the ground-breaking Kafka on the Shore and the critically-acclaimed The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - and I must say that I am hooked.  I have stocked up on a few other Murakami titles for me to read as soon as I'm done with my flavor of the season (2666 by the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano) - Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the Word, Sputnik Sweetheart, and Norwegian Wood.  I make it a point to pick up one of his works each time I get lost in Fully Booked, for fear that they would run out and I would not be able to find copies when the time comes that I already feel like reading them. Talk about panic-buying. 

A few days ago, I picked up yet another Murakami opus - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Sports Illustrated describes the international bestseller as "a brilliant meditation on how his running and writing nurture and sustain each other... with spare, engaging prose... Murakami shares his runner's high." The book was written by Murakami in 2007 while he was training for the New York City Marathon. I have a gut feeling that this book will serve as my personal good luck charm - my rabbit's foot - as I await the results of the 2011 NYC Marathon lottery.

I'll sink my teeth into the book tonight.  It is only 180 pages long, so I should be able to finish it in PR time. I'm off to a fine start for 2011, so expect a synopsis to follow very soon.