Friday, April 29, 2011

Start Spreading the News...

If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere...

click image to enlarge

 It's up to you... New York, New York!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Way of the Cross, Ultra-Style

Guimaras island has - get this - a 70-kilometer version of The Way of the Cross.  The route spans the circumference of Guimaras island, and each of the Stations of the Cross are spaced approximately five kilometers apart. A news program on ABS-CBN the other day featured an old woman who has been doing the ritual for a few years now. If I heard it correctly, her annual Lenten sacrifice consists of walking the entire 70-kilometer route in two to three days. No, she did not have a support vehicle. From the video footage, it seemed that the route traversed a well-paved and scenic highway, a la Mayon 360.  I'm not being sacrilegious or anything here, but I must admit that my interest has been piqued.

Paging Bald Runner...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Unfinished Business

When I got home from work yesterday, a surprise was waiting for me on the kitchen counter. It was a white envelope, and it bore the logo of the Singapore Sports Council. The parcel made its way to our place via snail mail. I eagerly peeled off the flap and pulled out the content - my Certificate of Participation from last year's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore. It was nicely laminated, and on it was etched my official finish time: 4:56:42. I smiled as I read the certificate. It was, after all, a memento of my very first sub-5 marathon finish.

Singapore 2010 was (and will always be) special because it affirmed my slow but sure improvement as a runner. While other more gifted runners can nail a sub-5 right off the bat, yours truly needed all of four tries before finally bagging one. Singapore was followed by Cebu, where I did a 4:50, and then Condura, where I finished in 4:35. I was on a roll, but somehow, all of that got lost in the haze of my preparation for my first ultra. Looking back, it now seems surreal that I had actually been treating marathons and shorter ultras as training runs for the Bataan Death March 102k Ultramarathon. I did Singapore in December, Cebu and a 50k test run in January, and then Condura and a 52k test run in February. March featured the big one - BDM 102, and a couple of weeks ago, it was the Mayon 360° 50-Miler. With a plate that full, it was almost inevitable that my marathon roll would be - as it had in fact been - unceremoniously swept under the rug. This, despite the fact that, as I trained for BDM, my marathon times went down as well.

That first ultramarathon definitely had an addictive effect. Yes, I have fallen head over heels in love with ultra running. Yes, I now enjoy running at a constant 7:30-8:00 pace more than I do at a 6:00-6:30 pace. Yes, I now appreciate a 12-hour, 15-hour, or even a 30-hour cut-off, rather than a five- or six-hour limit. I am not built for speed, and in ultra running, I just may have found my niche as a recreational runner. This does not mean, however, that I have given up on my goal of improving on my personal best for a marathon finish.  My PB currently stands at 4:35, set at Condura last February. I recall that my real goal then was a 4:30, hence my finish was actually five minutes off the mark. Maybe it is now time to take care of unfinished business.

My next race is a marathon - the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon on 25 June (no ultras for me until July). Because it will be my first time in Malaysia, I originally thought of running KL with my trusty point-and-shoot on hand, and at shameless picture-taking pace. This would mean sticking to 7:30-8:00 min/km and settling for a sub-6 finish. I hatched that plan right after Mayon, while my shin was swollen and my entire body was badly craving a break from running. Those were probably my feet that were doing the planning, because now, after I have had over two weeks to fully recover from the 50-miler, I am just raring to settle the score. To hell with a sub-6 marathon. The goal for KL will be a 4:20.

Now, let me see... how do I do those speed drills again?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Experiencing Mayon at 360° (Part 2 of 2)

Kilometers 41 to 60

I made it to the half-way point in 5:46:10. I finally got out of the climb from Kilometers 26 to 37. What goes up must come down, so it was all downhill from Kilometers 38 to 53 - literally.  It was already well past 10 a.m. by that time, and the sun was beating up on us mercilessly. I was so grateful for the cool head wind that somehow tempered the heat. Still, I started dreaming up what a treat it would be to have a support vehicle stocked with drinks and food during this stretch.  While I was dreaming it, other runners were living it. I watched with mild envy each time the support vehicle of other runners sped by. No time to mope, though. I joined this 50-miler knowing fully well that the heat would be a formidable foe, and that I will have to rely on sari-sari stores, aid stations that were spaced five kilometers apart, two 200 ml flasks, and my waist pack. I craved the challenge of doing an "unsupported" ultra run. Looking back, I think I did fine, as I never got dehydrated, felt hungry, or hit the wall at any point.

The terrain during this stretch was exactly the same as that during the first 40 kilometers. The highways were well-paved, no potholes at all. The shoulders were the same way. It truly was a road runner's dream. Contributing to the rustic and provincial feel were kilometers of unmilled rice strewn along the roadside, which forced me run on the highway. Good thing vehicles were few and far between, so the risk of being side-swiped by a speeding bus was very minimal.

Why can't Manila roads be this well-paved?

Unmilled rice lined the highway's shoulders

You would have thought that the paved roads and the 10-kilometer downhill stretch would have allowed me to recoup some lost time and quicken my pace. It was not the case because of two factors: the heat, and my right shin. It was hot as hell. As you will see from the photo above, the sun was at it full blast. While I would have preferred to run on the left shoulder and against the flow of traffic, I reluctantly headed over to the right just to avail of the occasional shade afforded by the small trees that lined the road. It was not enough though, and the heat forced me to slow down. It was also during this stretch when I started taking Hammer Endurolyte capsules (for electrolyte replenishment) and taking regular sips from my flasks. The second issue was my right shin. The sensation had progressed from discomfort into full-blown pain. It did not help that I was going downhill, and each time I tried speeding up, I felt a sharp pain in the area between the foot and the shin. The pain did not keep me from running, but it sure as hell kept me from speeding up.

Slowing down

I hit 50 kilometers after nearly seven hours and 20 minutes. That was almost 40 minutes faster than when I hit 50 during BDM 102. It was a very good split by my standards, specially considering the elevation profile of this route as compared to that of the BDM's. I stopped at the aid station at Kilometer 50, which served up some bananas, Pocari, chocolates, and eggs. I had a Pocari and a banana, and I refilled my flasks. It was a very brief pit stop. I did not want to spend too much time resting because I did not want my shin to tighten and become a bigger problem than it already was.

The heat of the moment
Tabaco City - straight ahead!
Long way to go!

Mayon not visible through the clouds

Save for the bothersome shin, the segment from Kilometers 51 to 60 was quite an uneventful stretch. This portion of the route was relatively flat. It definitely helped my shin and allowed me to pick up the pace. I was still doing the 20:5 run-walk proportion and I still felt strong. Why didn't I do this at BDM (I did 10:2 there)? My splits for this stretch, inclusive of walk breaks and stops at 2 aid stations, ranged from 7:56 to 10:56. I had hoped to reach Kilometer 60 in less than nine hours, and I did - with less than two minutes to spare. Talk about a photo finish!

Just do it.

The Homestretch:  Kilometers 61 to 82

With less than a half-marathon to go, I still felt very strong. My legs were sore but were by no means exhausted. I don't remember feeling that good after 60 kilometers during BDM, so I was quite confident that I was poised for a strong finish. My prize for getting three-fourths of the route out of the way:  more uphills. Shit. For those who are planning to do this run next year, here is the route's elevation profile, charted via Garmin Connect:

Can you say "hill repeats"?
So, there I was, confronted with another five-kilometer climb. Of course, at that time, I did not know that the incline would go on for five kilometers, and I had the moxie to actually harbor thoughts of a sub-12 finish. Slowly, however, I realized that that was wishful thinking. I asked a group of boys along the route how far the incline went, and their answer said it all: "Mahaba pa kuya, hanggang doooooooooon!" With my bubble burst and my parade completely rained on, I reverted to the original goal: to finish my first 50-miler in 13 hours or less.

With a stabbing pain in my right shin and the mid-day sun still toasting me, I was rudely reminded that I was doing a very long run. I wasn't sight-seeing, and I wasn't doing a 30-kilometer LSD at the Fort. I was doing a 50-miler in Albay. As I began my uphill climb (literally - again), I felt for the first time that I was already a bit tired. By then, I was already so sick of taking pictures of Mayon volcano. All of a sudden, it felt just like any other race, and the only thing on my mind was to make it to the finish line.

Rocking the Terrorist Look

It goes on and on

Like ice-cold Gatorade for a weary ultra runner...
... and then back to reality.

Somewhere between Kilometers 61 and 70, I was forced to abandon my 20:5 run walk ratio. I could no longer ignore my painful shin, and I needed my walk breaks. I settled for a 10:2, and I slowed down even more. The aid stations and roadside stores that used to pop up at regular intervals disappeared all of a sudden, and I was forced to rely on the generosity of other runners who had support vehicles. At Kilometer 68, with both my flasks empty and no other source of hydration in sight, Bald Runner appeared  from out of nowhere and pulled over to check on me. I was walking when he found me. The good general got out of his SUV and gave me a couple of bottles of water. There is a God. He then went on his way and I went mine. You saved me there, BR. Thank you, sir! After 10 hours and 45 minutes, I made it to Kilometer 70. My splits for Kilometers 61 to 70 were very telling: 13:50, 10:31, 11:20, 9:02, 9:33, 9:40, 11:11, 9:27, 9:13, and 13:10.

10 kilometers to go!
I had a little over two hours left to achieve my sub-13 50-miler finish. At that juncture, I had completely given up on a clear-cut run-walk routine. I ran when I could and walked briskly when I couldn't. I was far from being spent, but the pain held me back. At Kilometer 74, I approached an ambulance stationed by the roadside to ask for some liniment or muscle spray. The medics had some in stock, and they also gave me a free massage for my aching shin.  The massage relieved me of some pain, and I was able to resume jogging.

At Kilometer 76, I chanced upon a memorial that had - what else - the Mayon volcano as its background. I just had to stop for a picture, aching shin and all.

Six more kilometers to go. Six, because we were told early on that the actual distance added up to about 82 kilometers. On I went with random bursts of running and more frequent walking breaks. I was practically dragging my right leg as my shin strangely felt numb yet unnervingly painful at the same time. By Kilometer 79, the pain had become debilitating, and I was left with no choice but to walk. You know that running mantra of Murokami's? "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional." That right there sums up what an ultra runner's mindset ought to be. It was also the thought that I kept on repeating in my head as I trudged through the last four kilometers. I was in god-awful pain, but I simply refused to suffer. Nobody forced me into doing this run, so I was determined to enjoy every single kilometer of the journey. And so, I resolved that I was not going to allow myself to suffer these precious last few kilometers. I remained pleasant by smiling at the people I passed, and politely greeting the elderly folk along the route. At one point, I had to stop and lean against a light post, because a very sharp pain shot through my shin and almost made me lose my balance, but I shrugged it off and plugged away. For recreational runners like me, an ultra won't be an ultra without some pain. My splits for the last four kilometers were hideous - 11:43, 11:42, 10:59, and 17:55 - but I relished every single step that brought me closer to the finish.

Finally, after rounding out the last few corners of this awesome 82-kilometer fun run, I took off my headwear and my bandana to expose my beaming face. I crossed the finish line limping, but I knew I still looked good for my finish line photo!

Out of 69 participating ultra runners, 59 made it back to Legazpi City within the 15-hour cut-off. I was Finisher No. 33.

Mayon 360° 50-Mile Ultra Marathon - DONE in 12 hours, 48 minutes, and 22 seconds!

With BR, the Race Director and tireless PAU boss man

With a member of the organizing committee

A big thank you to the organizers, Sir Jovie the Race Director, and the wonderful people of Albay province. It was a hell of a run. I'll definitely be back in 2012!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Experiencing Mayon at 360° (Part 1 of 2)

My participation in the recently-concluded Mayon 360° Ultra Marathon was an off-shoot of the BDM 102 high. I decided on joining the Mayon 360 five days after BDM, while my legs were still sore and I was still walking with a slight limp. Part of it was me thinking that it was a chance to do an ultra without having to put in "separate training," but a larger part of it was me simply longing for a BDM-like experience once again. BDM weekend went by all too fast, and  Mayon 360 was a chance to re-live some of that atmosphere, if only for a fleeting span of 80 kilometers.

Kilometers 0 to 20

April 2, Saturday, 4:00 a.m. It wasn't crowded at all at the starting line over at the PeƱaranda Park. Only 69 ultra runners showed up for this historic event, and that included two of our friendly neighborhood Kenyans. So, they're now doing ultras, too, huh? I bet they'll never do the BDM races, where the biggest prizes are pride, a silver buckle, and the RD's hug. Sorry, digression there. The Kenyans' eyes were definitely on the prize. Me? I just wanted to run and maybe make a bit of personal history on the side. After all, it was supposed to be the first ultra run around the full circumference of the world-famous Mayon volcano.

By 4:30 a.m, we were off. Again, the inimitable feel of a "small" and intimate race. I opted to position myself at the tail end of the pack, as I did during BDM. The plan was to run at a comfortable 7:30-8:00 pace for 20-minute intervals, and then go on a five-minute walk break. The weather was chilly, and I found it rather difficult to break a sweat. It was dark in certain areas, and lighting came only from cars and buses that whizzed by (we ran along the national highway - hardly any street lighting). Had I known that it was going to be that dark, I would have brought along my headlamp. Good thing other runners brought theirs, and I paced with some of them during the really dark stretches. It was also fortunate that the road was well-paved, so there was practically no need to watch out for potholes. It was exhilarating to be running in the dark, in unfamiliar territory. 

As I passed (and skipped) the first aid station at Km 5 in Daraga, I got to thinking about hydration and nutrition along the route. Unlike other runners who drove from Manila (I flew), I did not have a support vehicle this time around. All I had was a waist pack that held some supplies and Bald Runner's and the organizers' assurance that necessary food and drinks would be provided along the route at five-kilometer intervals. Still not wanting to take any chances, I stocked my waist pack with some essentials - GU gels, cereal bars, Gatorade powder, extra socks, Bodyglide, some Ibuprofen (Alaxan FR), some Hammer Endurolyte capsules, two sachets of Hammer Recoverite, and cash. Buttoned to the belt were two 200 ml. plastic flasks. The damned thing must have weighed at least five pounds. Had I known that the route would be dotted with roadside sari-sari stores and that food and drinks would in fact be sufficient, maybe I would have settled for a hand-held water bottle instead, and a smaller pouch with fewer supplies. 

Daybreak came at around 5:30. I had already covered around 11 kilometers by then, and the 20:5 run-walk ratio seemed sustainable. This stretch featured a rolling course, and at the highest point, it gained a maximum elevation of 173 meters. According to my 310XT, this was somewhere along Km 9 (For those interested and who are planning to do this race next year, I will post the full route's elevation profile later on.). It was also around this time when I had my first glimpse of the Mayon volcano in the pale morning light. By this time, most of the runners were settling into his or her preferred pace, and the small bands that ran together in the darkness were breaking up one by one. I was very mindful of my right knee and ITB, which became very sore during BDM. I was also cautious with my left leg, which had a bout with shin splints just fairly recently. All in all, however, I was running without any issues and simply having a good time. Here are some photos of this portion of the route. Some of these are blurred because I took them while I was running.

Early glimpse of Mayon volcano
Dirt and grass shoulders provide respite for the knees
No gravel or pebbles on the roadside. Nice!
From the photos above, you will see that the shoulders of the highway consist of dirt and grass. No gravel or pebbles, unlike the shoulders of some portions of the Roman Highway in Bataan and the MacArthur Highway in Pampanga. Given the type of surface, running along the shoulders actually felt good for my tortured knees and shins.

I eventually reached the municipality of Guinobatan. After skipping the first aid station, I passed by the ones located at Kms 10 and 15. These first few aid stations served up only water and some chocolate bars (Cloud 9), and one of them, if I'm not mistaken, had boiled bananas (saba). I sped up a bit during some portions of this stretch, and I hit a 6:20-6:30 pace for a few kilometers.  It was a combination of factors, I guess. The weather was cool, still no sun, and I was pain-free and raring to explore the unfamiliar route. As daylight broke, I got a better glimpse of my surroundings. I definitely liked what I saw.
Next town, please.
Damn wires spoiled the view.

Clean and living rivers
Right on time

Kilometers 21 to 40

I hit the 20-kilometer mark 17 minutes before my target time of three hours. For the first quarter of the distance, I went slightly faster than my target pace. The aid station in Km 20 did not have any food, so it was a good thing that I got a banana and some chocolates from the one in Km 15. I wolfed those down because I was already feeling some hunger, and the next aid station that will have some food was still five kilometers away.  At my pace, that meant running for 40 to 45 minutes more. I was not tired at all, but the banana and the chocolate worked wonders and gave me an energy boost. I also took in one caffeinated GU gel, as I strangely felt a bit sleepy. Still no issues up to this point, and at 7:13 a.m., I reached Ligao City. Situated there were the next three aid stations, at Kms 25, 30, and 35.  At the aid station in Km 25, I took in a couple of hard-boiled eggs with some salt, a banana, some soda and water. I also refilled my flasks with water.

The first half of this portion of the route - Kms 21 to 30 - brought us through green rice fields. The sun was already up as it was already past 8 a.m., and the absence of trees meant that there would be nothing to shade us from the sun. It was at this point where I had to bring out my shades and my Nike solar sleeves. Solar sleeves with UV protection are normally used by golfers (I bought it at a golf store in California), but are also quite perfect for runners like me that hate using sun block. Still no issues, and my pace hovered in the 7:00 to 9:00 range. Everything around me was green and refreshing, and once again, I felt very fortunate to be running outside the tired routes of Manila. I already sound like a broken record by now, but let me say this once again: You'll NEVER experience anything like this in Bonifacio Global City, Makati, Roxas Boulevard, or the MOA complex.

The road stretches on and on

Green everywhere

Life is a Highway
Saturday stroll

Pit stop at Km 30
I made a pit stop at the aid station in Km 30. There I had a banana and one of my cereal bars. I also made myself some Gatorade using one sachet of the powdered Gatorade concentrate that I had in my waist pack. As I took a break, I noticed that the area between the foot and the shin on the front of my right leg was throbbing. It was just mild discomfort rather than bothersome pain at that point, but I was a bit concerned. The discomfort felt awfully familiar, and it was a sensation I was very familiar with. It was the onset of shin splints. Oh no, not again. My 310XT showed that I had only been running for 4 hours and 10 minutes. I still had a very long way to go. I can't get hurt yet.

Still on target
I had an hour and 50 minutes to cover the next 10 kilometers. Up until that point, except for the usual and expected soreness, it had been an issue-free run thus far.  Little did I know that the most challenging stretch of the Mayon 360 route was just around the bend. As a matter of fact, though I did not realize it, it had already started four kilometers ago. The highlight of this stretch was the steady incline that went on for almost 10.5 kilometers. It began at Km 27 and kept on going until just before Km 38. According to my 310XT, the ascent reached its apex at around Km 37.5, where the total elevation gained was approximately 289 meters.

Two words to describe this 10-kilometer stretch: Pleasure and pain. The incline was brutal, but somehow, I hardly noticed it because I was enjoying the scenery and terrain (not to mention that I just walked briskly through the really steep parts). It was a winding mountain road reminiscent of the zig zag path in Mariveles early in the BDM route. Sure, I slowed down a lot, as shown by my splits that ranged from 7:18 to 11:18, but this was also the part of the route where I kept on giving myself a pat on the back for joining this race. The following photos speak for themselves. Definitely no captions needed.

A kilometer before the highest point of this ascent, I received my prize: A spectacular and postcard-perfect view of the centerpiece of this ultra marathon, the Mayon volcano. It was indeed a sight to behold. At that point, I was no longer sure as to what really it was that almost took my breath away - was it the climb, or the view?

I took several shots and finally went on my way. I nearly forgot that I still had a race to run. I made one final stop at Km 37 for a picture break (I had to have at least one decent souvenir shot along the route)...

... and then I went on to accomplish my goal of reaching Km 40 in six hours or less.  I was able to accomplish that, and after 5 hours, 46 minutes, and 10 seconds of running, I was already half-way through the Mayon 360° Ultra Marathon.  I was on pace for a sub-13 finish.

Almost one marathon down, almost another marathon to go. And still more than nine hours left on the clock!

(To be continued)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thank You, Albay!

If you can't go through it, go around it

I completed the 80-kilometer run around the Mayon Volcano - the Mayon 360° 50-Mile Ultra Marathon Race - in 12 hours, 48 minutes, and 22 seconds. It was a hell of an experience. This is one race that ought to be in every ultra runner's calendar for 2012, and which I will gladly participate in year after year.

Thank you very much to the organizers, Bald Runner the Race Director, and the kind people of Albay province. I had a wonderful time. My Mayon story and more photos of the route to follow as soon as my swollen shin stops disrupting my train of coherent thought.