Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In the Heat of the Moment

What I have come to love about ultras is that each run inevitably presents a different challenge. For instance, during BDM 102, it was the sheer enormity of the task at hand. At Mayon 360, it was the unsupported run. At Fort Magsaysay, it was the hills. And the list continues to grow, because at the Western Pangasinan 65K Run last Saturday, it was something else yet again. It was the heat.

I left Pasig at 10:30 p.m. of Friday. I had been told that I should make it to Bolinao by 2:30 a.m., latest. A single missed turn in Camiling, however, turned what was supposed to be just a four-hour drive into a six-hour Tour of Pangasinan, and I made it to Coco's Resort with barely 30 minutes left before  gun  cow bell start. So, this was how it was going to be: I would run 65 kilometers immediately after a six-hour car ride and with zero sleep. Bring it on.

The run commenced five minutes ahead of the announced 5 a.m. start. We filed out of the resort as the first few rays of the sun gave the sky an almost surreal grayish orange glow. Daybreak was upon us, and the early morning chill gave no one the faintest idea of what was ahead. The plan was to run-walk at a 20:5 proportion, at 8:30 mins/km, for the first 40 kilometers, and then adjust as may be necessary from Kilometer 41 onwards. I ran by feel, and I was doing a relaxed pace that I have grown accustomed to for longer runs.

By 6:30 a.m., the sun was already lording it over the cloudless Pangasinan sky. And I thought the sun came out too early back during Fort Magsaysay. That the route was an endless asphalt highway with hardly a tall tree to create any shade only served to raise the degree of difficulty a couple of notches higher. The common conversation topic among us runners as we passed each other was, how insane the heat was. And it only got worse as the day wore on. For the first 30 kilometers, I was able to get by with going in for a pit stop every five kilometers. By around 9:30 a.m., that interval was no longer realistic, and I asked my support vehicle to leap-frog me by only three kilometers at a time, or else I might pass out. 

Believe me when I say that it was hot as hell. It was unlike anything else that I had ever experienced. During my rest breaks, as I stepped into the shade, it felt as though my skin was burning. I neutralized the heat by regularly dousing my head and nape with ice water, slipping ice cubes under my compression top and shorts,   sticking ice under my armpits, and running a cold towel across my face, arms, and legs. Except for dousing myself with water, I never had to do any of these during BDM or any of my previous ultras. I brought five bags of tube ice from Manila, and yet, by 10 a.m., I already had to instruct my driver to buy more ice because our supply was running low.  That should give you an idea of how much ice I consumed, and how badly I needed to cool off.

On my way out of Bolinao, around 7:30 a.m.

I persisted despite the heat because I generally felt great. But something strange happened at Kilometer 43, where I noticed that my hands felt numb. By that time, I think I had already been running for close to six hours, with four and-a-half under the sweltering heat. I put down my hand-held hydration bottle and looked at my hands, and for the first time, I noticed how bloated and puffy they had become. My hands had gotten so fat that I could not even remove my wedding band from my left ring finger. I also noticed that I wasn't sweating at all, and that my stomach felt bloated as well. What immediately came to mind was Jonel Mendoza's ordeal during BDM 160, and it scared the living crap out of me. I didn't think it was the onset of hypernatremia because I had only been taking water and 330 ml of Pocari every 10 kilometers, and I wasn't taking salt sticks. I also didn't think it was dehydration because I was hydrating properly, if not actually a bit too much. I had no idea what the hell was going on, so I got my phone from the car and called my good friends Din and Carrie Cordero. Carrie is a registered nurse and a runner as well, so I figured she would know what to do.

Fun in the sun

I didn't want to slow down too much, so I still walked briskly under the scorching sun as Carrie asked me some questions to find out what condition I was in. In the end, she advised me to be very alert and to quit if I notice that the bloating is worsening. And so, I went on. Still, at the back of my mind, I was already toying with the idea of calling Sir Jovie to tell him that I was dropping out. Thoughts of what would have been my first ever DNF swirled in my head. But I was making good time, and except for my bloated hands and the heat, I was feeling great. And so, I decided to go on. As a precaution, I asked my support vehicle to trail (but not shadow) rather than leap-frog me. I tried running at a faster pace in the hope that I would work up a sweat. That worked a little. I also tried forcing myself into taking a leak a couple of times. Now, that one didn't turn out very well. During each attempt, the discharge was deep yellow in color and didn't add up to more than a few drops. It also felt very warm and caused a sharp, burning sensation. 

With my hands bloated and the difficulty I had with urinating, I didn't know what the hell to think. Was I dehydrated or was I over-hydrated? I wasn't really sure what it was anymore, but a couple of things were certain: my legs still felt great, and I was on pace to reach Kilometer 50 in less than eight hours. I made a pit stop, allowed myself to cool off, downed a can of Mountain Dew, and I was on my way. I resolved to ride the thing for as long as I could, but would stop at the first sign of bigger trouble.

So, off I went. I hit Kilometer 50 in about seven hours and 40 minutes - 20 minutes faster than I did at BDM. At around noon, the running gods finally showed us some mercy. Rain clouds started to form and began covering the sky. It was as though someone pulled the plug on the sun. Freed from the shackles of the  stifling heat, I was able to run for longer stretches, buoyed by the prospect of a sub-10 finish. With my second wind upon me, I again began hitting a 7-7:30 pace. I passed a number of runners during this stretch. As I reached the zig-zagging portion of the highway somewhere at Kilometer 59, it became apparent that most of the remainder of the route would be going downhill. From out of my weary legs, I was able to squeeze a two-kilometer stretch of running at a 6:15 pace. And along the way, I passed four more runners.

I crossed the finished line in the town of Sual to the sound of sparse applause and the clanging of Sir Jovie's now-famous cow bell. Nine hours and 58 minutes after I left Bolinao, I completed the PAU Western Pangasinan 65K Ultra. Check out the look on my face as BR informed me that I was Finisher No. 29:

This is, by far, my best performance in an ultra to date.

For my effort, I received another shiny and huge-ass PAU medal. It just NEVER gets old. Only in PAU races.

As BR shook my hand and awarded me my medal, he noticed that I was warm and that I wasn't sweating. He suggested that I get an ice bath right away, and so I had to improvise and did just that. I used up almost the entire contents of my Coleman ice chest. It helped a great deal. During the drive home, I had chills and had to turn the A/C off. And then, out of sheer exhaustion, I blacked out and fell into a very deep sleep. It was the first time I had a shut-eye since I slept Thursday evening. After about an hour or so, I was awakened by a full bladder. Through out the entire stretch of the SCTEX, we had to pull over four times just so I could bless the grass lining the SCTEX shoulder. Four times in a 30-minute span, after having gone just twice in the last eleven hours. And each one of the four seemed to go on forever! As my body finally succeeded in ridding itself of all the excess fluid, I noticed that my bloated hands gradually returned to their normal size. I made it out of Western Pangasinan alive and kicking.

For now, I will rest and recover for a few days. I can't take too long, though, because the PAU Tagaytay to Nasugbu 50k run is just a little over three weeks away. I have to get back on the road soon, and, trust me - I will do just that.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New York In The Distance

The New York Marathon is barely three months away, and I am in the midst of making logistical arrangements for the trip. The main priority is lodging, and I am very fortunate that this has already been taken care of.  It so happens that Bam has an uncle who lives in Staten Island. Walking distance from the starting line, to be precise. Talk about luck. So, on marathon morning, I will wake up, have breakfast, head out the door, and walk to the starting line. How's that for convenience? I have heard and read stories about how difficult it could be to get to the starting line, so this definitely erases a lot of potential hassles.

The second lucky break came in the form of very good friends who recently moved into their newly-purchased Manhattan apartment... right in the vicinity of Central Park.  As fate would have it, their place is just couple of blocks away from the finish line. We'll be staying with them from the 6th until we fly out to Florida on the 9th. Another problem solved - no commuting after the marathon. And no hotel expenses, too. With a little help from my friends.

We've also already started looking for flights to New York. We plan to arrive in NYC on the morning of November 4th - two full days before marathon day. That will leave me with enough time to pick up my race pack and visit the marathon expo to pick up some cold weather gear.

Training-wise, I have no qualms about admitting that I am not doing anything special at all. Marathons, ultras, and weekday runs in between. No specialized training. No speed work-outs. I'm just enjoying my runs. There will be no attempt whatsoever to set a marathon PR in New York, and I plan to make a 42-kilometer fun run out of it. If I cross the finish line under 6 hours, I'll be fine. I will walk home in my finisher's shirt, with a medal dangling around my neck and a smile plastered on my face.

It might not sound like it, but I am not yet overly excited about the marathon. While I am looking forward to the trip and spending time (and getting drunk!) with friends and family, for some reason, I haven't really been giving the marathon itself that much thought. As a matter of fact, I am more worked up over the PAU Bolinao to Sual (Pangasinan) 65K Ultra Marathon, which is just a week away. Maybe it just hasn't completely sunk in yet that I will be running THE ING New York City Marathon. I'm sure I'll get there as marathon day draws nearer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Three Runs and a Birthday

Three runs and a birthday. That just about sums up the highlights of my five-week hiatus from keeping this blog updated. So now you know. Just because I don't blog doesn't mean I don't run.

June 26: Standard Chartered KL Marathon 2011

The last time I wrote an entry, I was in a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur, recovering from a spirited but thoroughly disappointing showing at the 2011 KL Standard Chartered Marathon. Hubris was the word of the day, and in Malaysia, I learned quite a few of things about myself as a distance runner. Emboldened by the KL route's reputation as a flat PR course, I thought I was already strong enough to nail a 4:20. That would have meant chopping off 15 minutes from my current personal best of 4:35 (Condura, February 2011). And I brazenly went after it, too. With only mileage build-up and no speed training to hang my hat on, I opened with splits of better than 6:15 mins/km. Heck, I even did a few kilometers under 6 minutes. The route was as good as advertised, and I kept the thing going until Kilometer 30. After that, everything went downhill - figuratively, that is. I ran head first into the wall at Kilometer 31, and survived the last 11 Kilometers via random turns of running and walking. Alright, it was mostly walking. As proof of my fine start, I still had a chance at a sub-5 finish up until Kilometer 40. It was not meant to be, though, and I finally made it back to the finish line at Dataran Merdeka after five hours and seven minutes. 

The 5:07 notwithstanding, I enjoyed the KL Marathon immensely. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed KL more than I did the Singapore Marathon, and I'll very likely do KL again next year. Sorry, no pics. I ran alone and do not want to over-pay to buy some off of Marathon Photos. No Garmin stats, either. Having a hard time transferring info from my 310XT to my notebook.

July 16:  PAU Fort Magsaysay 60k Ultra Marathon

Three weeks after KL, I was standing behind the starting line of the Fort Magsaysay 60k Ultra Marathon. This was the second offering of the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) for 2011. I ran with my friend Din Cordero, and our support vehicle was very capably manned by our driver Mang Laynes (who also drove my support vehicle at BDM - so he does know his ultra support stuff), and Din's indefatigable wife Carrie. The route went from Fort Magsaysay in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija, all the way to Dingalan, Aurora. Let me say this about the Fort Magsaysay Ultra: If boxing has a pound-for-pound champ, Fort Magsaysay has got to be, kilometer-for-kilometer, the toughest local road ultra run. The route was mostly concrete, not asphalt, so harder on the knees and legs. Practically the entire route went uphill, and at a couple of points, the elevation reached nearly 1,000 feet. It was also extraordinarily hot that day, and the sun was already out full-blast at 7 a.m. Along the route, I had chats with fellow 2011 BDM 102 veterans, and we all agreed that it was not that hot when we did BDM.

Din and I were going for a sub-9 finish, but our hopes were dashed by the second highest climb that came during the last five kilometers. It was also unfortunate that Din's shin started bothering him somewhere along Kilometer 50. Still, I would have to say we finished strong. I was able to salvage a sub-10 finish (9:43:54) - good enough for 62nd out of 101 official finishers - while Din was just a few minutes behind at 10:01:32 (67th place). For our efforts, we each came away with a cotton finisher's shirt, a huge-ass medal that showed our finishing rank (typical Bald Runner), breath-taking sights, and memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. A few pictures from   that awesome run:

Posing before the 5 a.m gun start
Break of day
Yapping away
Long way back, long way to go
Coming in for a pit stop, somewhere in Laur
Check out the green backdrop
At the finish line with BR
Taking a breather before the drive back to Manila

July 21: Happy 36th Birthday to Me

A year older, and I'd like to believe also a year wiser, a year stronger. The best birthday gift I received this year? Check out this adizero Tempo and New York Marathon-themed birthday cake that my wife Bam surprised me with. Sweet!

July 31: 35th Milo National Marathon (Manila Eliminations)

Just two weeks after the Fort Magsaysay 60k Ultra, Din and I were at it again, this time at the 35th Milo National Marathon (Manila Eliminations). The plan was to run Milo at an easy ultra marathon pace. Neither Din nor I planned to chase personal bests, and we simply wanted to use this marathon as a training run that will form part of our build-up for the longer runs and ultras ahead. A sub-5 would be nice, we both agreed, but we weren't going to kill ourselves chasing it. Another reason why we had to conserve our energy was because we wanted to do another eight kilometers after we cross the finish line, so that we'd end the day with an even 50 Kilometers. Milo + 8k = Ultra Milo. Yummy.

I'm no longer hot about joining races in the city, but I joined Milo because I've never done the MOA-Roxas Boulevard-Buendia-Fort-Back route before. What's more, it was a chance to do another "supported" LSD. That it was raining for most of the run - my first full marathon under the rain - gave the race another unique twist. I was concerned, however, about my back. I was having lower back spasms just a couple of days back, and up until Saturday evening, I wasn't sure that my body was at 100%. I actually sent Din a message over BBM that at the first sign of trouble, I wouldn't hesitate to drop out and log a DNF. I ended up running with a stabbing pain in my lower back for most of the race, but thanks to two Ibuprofen capsules taken at Kilometer 23, the ordeal became bearable. Goodbye, Ultra Milo.

With Din suffering through a recurrence of shin splints and me battling back spasms, we weren't able to sustain our sub-5 pace and instead aimed for a modest 5:15. By Kilometer 39, though, I told Din to go ahead because my condition no longer allowed me to jog for more than a few meters at a time. Din went ahead and crossed the finish line at 5:21:36, and I made it barely two minutes later at 5:23:09. After bringing my time down for each of my first six marathons, my time has gone up in both my seventh and eighth. This would likely be my last Milo Marathon, as Condura is the only Metro Manila marathon that I will consider joining going forward.

* * *

The past five weeks have been a blast, but I can't help but get even more excited about the days ahead. Next up are the PAU Bolinao to Sual (Pangasinan) 65k Ultra Marathon on August 20, and the Tagaytay to Nasugbu 50k Ultra Run on September 17. For October, there are talks of a 70k ultra from Bacolod to San Carlos City, and November has the New York Marathon. And hey - don't even get me started about next year!