Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In an Ultra State of Mind

It has been more than three weeks since I completed BDM 102 - the Bataan Death March 102k Ultramarathon. It has taken quite a bit of time, but I can now say that I have already fully digested what the accomplishment really means to me, as well as the countless lessons and learnings gathered over the course of running and walking for close to 18 hours straight. During the BDM CLP, Bald Runner related that a number of bloggers who finish the BDM inexplicably stop blogging, or go on some form of hiatus. I think I already know why.

Surprisingly, I finished BDM without any major issues. The swelling in my right knee (which I later discovered was actually brought about by a mildly inflamed ITB) never lingered. My troublesome left shin never flared up. I walked with a bad limp during the four days immediately following BDM weekend, but after that, I was fine. The only casualties of war were three dead toe nails, which I somehow wear as a collective badge of honor, my Purple Heart. I stayed away from running for a total of 10 days only, and since I resumed running over a week ago, I have already logged a number of very enjoyable and extremely relaxed short distance runs - a 5k, four 10k's, and one 15k. I say "enjoyable" because, for the first time in almost six months, I am running without the spectre of a 102-kilometer run hovering over my shoulder. I have rediscovered the joys of the 10-kilometer weekday run after months of force-feeding myself with 15 and 20k almost daily. 

Don't get me wrong, though. I had a blast preparing for BDM. It helped that I was able to incorporate a total of four wonderful marathons into my training, and each one was a doozy - CamSur, Singapore, Cebu, and Condura. It might have also helped that my training wasn't scientific at all. I did not follow any specific program, and I merely focused on spending hours upon hours on my feet, and building my base mileage. I did back-to-back weekend long runs, but those did not happen every single weekend during the run-up to BDM. As you will see, there was nothing scientific about the whole routine. I just kept these two rules in mind: First, that I had to run a lot . Second, that I had to have fun doing it. During the times when it was becoming too much of a chore, I rested for a few days and waited for my body to crave a run once again. Maybe the ultramarathon purists and those who race ultras will never agree with my method, but for people like me who simply want to run, have fun while doing it, and finish, the strategy was effective. Hey, I finished within cut-off and without injury, didn't I? Just run a lot and have fun doing it. It need not be complicated at all.

My BDM finish helped confirm what I have been suspecting for quite some time now: I enjoy running long distances more than I do short and middle distances. I guess this is, in a way, an inevitable function of my resignation to the fact that I am not and never will be a fast runner. I was not gifted with winged feet and boundless athleticism. I do not have the physique that will allow me to do a sub-4 marathon like it was nothing. What I do have are legs and feet that can withstand hours upon hours of running, and an abundant passion for actually doing just that. I also think my personality and mindset are perfect for long distance running. I am never afraid of doing things alone, and I always doggedly, stubbornly try to accomplish goals that I set for myself. The last essential ingredient is endurance, and fortunately for me, that is something that can be cultivated (and I think I've already done that), and need not be innate.

Despite all these realizations, I still do not consider myself an ultra runner. I still have a very long way to go - literally and figuratively - before I can even think of considering myself an ultra runner. To my mind, finishing a couple of runs that exceed the marathon distance does not automatically make one an ultra runner. I think it takes a hell of a lot more than that. Some would even argue that ultra running is in fact a way of life. What I am, however, is simply someone that finds joy in running for hours, and that is grateful for having been given the ability to do so. And that is a distinction I will readily claim.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Bataan Death March 102 Km Ultramarathon Experience (Part 2 of 2)

Back in Business: Km 51 to Km 60

I was back on the road by 6:24 a.m. of Sunday, 6 March. I burned around 32 minutes during the Abucay pit stop - 12 minutes over budget. Based on my calculations, I still had about nine hours and 28 minutes to finish the balance of 52 kilometers within cut-off. Very doable, or so it seemed.

Somewhere in Abucay, Bataan
Upon hitting the road, I walked for a couple of minutes to get loose and warmed up again, before resuming to run at an 8:30 pace. I adjusted my gait to favor my right knee, as I was worried that the sharp pain that I experienced from Kilometers 40 to 49 would return. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. It then occurred to me that  keeping up the unnatural gait could strain my left shin, which had yet to recover fully from its own bout with an injury. And so, I decided to run "normally" to test how my knee would respond. No pain. I ran for eight minutes straight and I remained pain-free. Good thing I had that long break.  I was hitting a 7:00 pace at my preferred 8:2 run-walk ratio. Beginning at Km 52, I registered splits of 8:27, 8:17, 8:12, 8:35, 8:46, 12:32, 8:36, 10:07, and 9:00. These were better than my splits for any previous 10-kilometer stretch. After almost 10 hours of running, I was unexpectedly turning out negative splits, and was able to overhaul the one-hour backlog from the Km 40-50 segment. I was back in business.

Back in business
As my support vehicle caught up with me (they stayed behind at Km 50 to have breakfast), I gave them a thumbs-up and signaled for them to go ahead and take a two-kilometer lead. "I'm good," I said. And I really was, and it was going to be that way for the next ten kilometers or so. This particular stretch of the BDM route - Kms 51 to 60 - was quite scenic: green fields, hay stacks, cows grazing lazily like it was a Sunday (wait a minute, it was a Sunday!), with the rising sun serving as a fitting backdrop. It was a scene lifted straight from a postcard. I felt great as I ran with the light morning breeze gently blowing against my face. My confidence was soaring once more. All of a sudden, the first 50 kilometers seemed like a distant memory. I  breached the 60-kilometer mark in 9 hours and 58 minutes. My reward? Two 500 mg Alaxan FR capsules at the next pit stop.

It's Getting Hot in Here: Km 61 to Km 70

As seen on TV!
During our drive to Bataan the night before, I told Bam that a part of me was hoping that the sun would go all out on Sunday. My reason? I wanted to have the "full BDM experience." BDM won't be BDM without the sun and the heat. The talk of last year's BDM was the 40-degree heat, and my masochistic side wanted to have a piece of that. Well, my prayer was answered (sort of) as the sun was already lording it over the Bataan skies by 7:30 a.m. A bit unexpected, as it was raining most of Saturday. The heat was tolerable at first, and I did not need to put on anything more other than my UV-protective compression sleeves and shades.  The heat did not seem to have any significant effect on my pace, as I was able to registered splits of  9:28, 9:08, 14:52, 8:33, and 10:47. This already included walk breaks and pit stops, so I wasn't doing too bad.

By around 9 a.m., things started to get too hot for comfort. The sun took me up on my dare and was beating on us from its perch on the cloudless sky. I needed additional insulation as my solar sleeves and cap were no longer getting it done. From my duffel bag, I pulled out the Solartek cap that I bought in Subic. Amusing but true - my chances of survival rested on the wide brim of a god-awful looking headgear.

Thirty minutes later, the heat started taking its toll on me. My pace dropped significantly beginning at Km 65, and for the next three kilometers, I registered splits of 10:02, 11:21,and  9:09. I was already walking more than I was running. Vehicular traffic had already picked up, and the speeding buses regularly sprayed us runners with black fumes. The whole experience was sloooowly becoming unpleasant, but at least I was still pain-free.

Km 67 - Dinalupihan, Bataan, 9:20 a.m.

The heat was already getting to me in a major way, and this became evident somewhere along Km 68, still in Dinalupihan. I had just completed a very brief pit stop where I downed an entire 330 ml bottle of Pocari Sweat. Feeling somewhat refreshed, I instructed my support vehicle go ahead and leap-frog me by two kilometers. My specific instruction was for them to wait for me at BDM Km Post 70, which was a few hundred meters before the Bataan-Pampanga boundary. My vehicle left as instructed, and I was going to be on my own for the next two kilometers. 

I returned to the left-hand side of the road and resumed my run. It wasn't too long after that when I noticed that I felt somewhat light-headed. I slowed down to a walk in an attempt to regain greater balance. Not working. I then told myself that I better cross over to the right-hand side of the highway while I still can, and not wait until I passed out. The challenge was that I had no way of calling my vehicle back, as I did not have a cell phone with me. You know the feeling right after you stare directly at a camera flash at very close range? I was already on the brink of that. I could have sworn that my vision was beginning to dim, and I was already seeing imaginary amoeba-like objects floating before my eyes. As soon as I reached the other side of the road, I gathered my composure under the shade of a small tree. It was hot as hell beyond the shade. I rested for a couple of minutes, and when I felt somewhat certain that the worst of that episode had already passed, I resumed my walk. It was a veeeery slow walk. After a couple hundred meters, I stumbled upon another runner's support vehicle, a dark green Isuzu Highlander - a virtual oasis in the middle of the desert. I asked for some water (I received some in a large, ice-cold bottle), said thank you, and went on my way. Good Samaritans - where would we all be without them?

Without returning to the left-hand side of the road (sorry, BR!), I walked the rest of the way to the rendezvous point at BDM Kilometer Post 70. If I was going to faint, I wanted to faint where other support vehicles would find me. I drank some of the water and poured the rest on my weary head. There were to be no more dizzy spells until I hit the milestone. As soon I was reunited with my support vehicle, I downed a can of Mountain Dew and ate - inhaled - a chocolate bar (Chocomucho!).

Reunited and it feels so good...

As I sat under the shade of my vehicle's hatched door, I asked myself, "What the hell happened back there?" It was a rhetorical question, of course. It was definitely the heat, the exhaustion, and the fact that I was doing what I was doing in a sleep-deprived state.

Everybody livens up for pictures

After 11 hours, 45 minutes, and 24 seconds of running and walking in uneven proportions, I made it to the 70-kilometer mark. I wouldn't say I was still very strong at that point, but I knew I still had more than enough left in the tank to go all the way. I was already feeling some mild discomfort in my injured shin, but I was certain that it was just the strain caused by exertion, and not the recurrence of shin splints. Lost amidst my dizzy spell was the fact that, as early as four kilometers ago, my right knee already felt numb and had some swelling. I knew something wasn't right.

Bored to Death while Marching: Km 71 to Km 80

It was almost 10:00 a.m. of Sunday. I had one of my longer pit stops in Km 70, as I readied myself for one final push. The next long break was going to be somewhere along Km 80-80 in Guagua, Pampanga. The sky was annoyingly clear and totally devoid of clouds. There was no chance in hell that the day would suddenly turn overcast. If I was going to have my first BDM finish, I will have to do it under the sun. You asked for it, you got it. Now, deal with it.

On to the next province!

I did not have fond memories of Pampanga from the last test run. Pampanga was notorious for only one thing - and it sure as hell was neither sisig nor halo-halo. To my mind, the province was notorious for its national highway with unpaved and uneven shoulders. I vividly recalled how the gravel-strewn shoulder tortured my inflamed shin during the second BDM test run. Back then, I winced in pain each time I stepped on a stone or a pebble that forced my left foot to hit the ground awkwardly. I loved Bataan for its even highway shoulders and interior streets, but I flat-out dreaded Pampanga.

To minimize the risk of re-injuring my shin, I decided that I would walk when the surface was uneven, and sneak in a run whenever the highway was clear. By doing this, I thought, I would also be able to rest my legs in preparation for the homestretch. I had all of six hours to cover the last 32 kilometers, so I had time. I can walk for most of the next 17 kilometers and then run-walk the last 12. It sounded like a good plan, so I went ahead and traded running for very brisk walking. By that time, BDM 102 had already turned into one big walkathon. It was amusing because, although I was walking, I was still able to overtake around five other runners. A couple of runners whom I chatted with actually planned to just walk all the way to San Fernando.
Fighting the heat, or breaking the monotony?
The stretch from Km 71 to Km 80 was an extremely boring one, and the fact that I walked most of it only aggravated the situation. It was during this stretch when, to amuse myself, I sang New Wave songs from the '80s aloud. More to Lose, I Don't Like Mondays, Shake the Disease, Bizarre Love Triangle --- name it, I belted it. Out loud. Anyway, nobody could have heard me as I was in the middle of the highway, with buses whizzing by. I also stopped looking at my Garmin and used objects along the route as determinants of how far I would run. Run up to the next gigantic electric post, run up to the next pakwan or alimasag stand, run up to the dump truck. I was already sick of glancing at my Garmin, so I had to get creative. But really, it was amazing how bored I was. Were the heat and the distance already driving me mad? Was the lack of sleep making me delirious? I didn't think so. But I was bored to death. All of a sudden, the initials "BDM" took on a whole new meaning for me: Bored to Death while Marching. That was the point where BDM 102 became a mind game of sorts, I guess, and also where I felt really glad that I was so used to running alone. I was still sane when I got to Km 80, and my Garmin read 13 hours and 40 minutes. The injured left shin was holding up well, but the right knee was really numb and could have been mistaken for dead. And it was hot as hell at 11:50 a.m.

Falling Apart: Km 81 to Km 90

I had roughly four hours and 20 minutes to cover the remaining 22 kilometers. I was feeling pretty good, and the 10-kilometer walk worked wonders on my previously flagging energy. With renewed confidence, I set my sights on a sub-17 finish.

To boost my chances of meeting my target finish time, I decided to abandon my plan to go on an extended pit stop and break for lunch. I opted instead to take my meal on the run. Spam pandesal, chocolate flavored suman, and fresh fruits were on the menu, and I had them in installments. They say hindsight is always 20:20. Looking back now, I am convinced that my decision not to break for lunch actually cost me more in terms of lost time as a result of forced slow-downs in the last few kilometers.


.... and run!

By the time I finished "lunch," I was almost out of Lubao. The gravel-strewn shoulders were no more as the route finally led me off the highway. I was finally going to enter the paved interior roads of Guagua. I heard my shin breathe a sigh of relief. This was somewhere in Kilometer 83. Only 19 more to go.


Numb right knee and all, I finally resumed running. It felt fine at first, and if I remember correctly, I was even hitting a 7:00 pace - remarkable under the circumstances. It did not last too long though before things started to fall apart. From out of nowhere, my dead right knee was jolted back to life when a sharp pain emanated from inside the joint (I know of no other way to describe it) and shot through the outer side of my thigh. The sensation literally made me stop dead in my tracks. I leaned against one of those gigantic electric posts and tried to stretch it out, but to no avail. I tried random run-walk patterns, where I ran until the pain was no longer bearable, but I stopped the routine when the pain I felt at one point was so sharp that I almost lost my balance. The emotional surge from Km 81 was gone by then, and from targeting a sub-17 finish, I was reduced to calculating whether I could make it within cut-off if I walked all the way to San Fernando.

It was also during this stretch when I struck up separate conversations with fellow runners Tess Geddes from Canada and Ellen Castillo. The common conversation topic was, were we going to make it within cut-off? Ellen was particularly concerned, as her Garmin had already died and she was trying to tell the distance using the BDM kilometer posts. I told her that the kilometers posts were inaccurately placed, and that they were almost two kilometers behind in actual distance. I knew this from the last test run, but at that point, with my bum right knee killing me, I too was no longer very sure. I was beginning to doubt even my own recollection. Again, a mind game.

I went ahead of Ellen after she went on a pit stop. Somewhere during this stretch, Rico Villanueva, well-known in the running and multisport community as the athlete behind the blog By Sheer Will, found me. Rico was scouring the route for friends and acquaintances who were still at it, still doggedly trying to get to the train station. We exchanged pleasantries from opposite sides of the street, he on his bike, and I, hobbling like a newly-circumcised penguin. He wished me well and went on his way. Little did I know that Ironman Rico would eventually play a critical role in this unfolding BDM photo finish.

And so, I went on. It was not looking good - I could barely walk and my knee was awfully painful - mahapdi in the vernacular. From the following pictures, you would be able to tell that I was hurting:

Somewhere along this stretch, the confluence of assorted feelings and emotions - pain, exhaustion, heat, sleep deprivation, hunger, frustration, thirst - got the best of me. And before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face. I could not recall the last time something like that happened to me, let alone during a run. I never saw it coming. And for the first time ever, after close to 15 hours of continuous running and walking, I asked myself this question: "Why the fuck am I doing this to myself?" Mind game. I slowed down and composed myself. Instead of trying to find the answer to the question, I told myself to just stay in the game, and to remember the short prayer that I whispered somewhere in Lubao. A son never forgets. And I was again on my way.

It felt like forever, but I finally cleared this 10 kilometer stretch. My 310XT was almost dead. I would have wanted for it to go all the way to Km 102. It would have been a nice souvenir. I turned the watch off at the Km 90 mark. I took all of one hour and 50 minutes to cover Km 81 to Km 90. The display read 15:34:08.

With Angels On My Shoulders: Km 91 to Km 102

I had a little under two and-a-half hours to cover the last 12 kilometers. Pretty tight, considering my knee's condition and the state of mind that I was in. At the Km 90 pit stop, I took two more Alaxan FR capsules and sprayed some vapo-coolant on my troublesome knee. I wasn't even attempting to run anymore, because each time I did, it felt as if my right leg would fall off. According to my 310XT, my very slow walk yielded splits ranging from 11:00 to 13:00. At the rate I was going, there was no way I was going to finish within cut-off, and I was facing the prospect of getting to Km 102 in 18 hours and 15 minutes, or somewhere in that vicinity. But hey, I had come that far and I had a promise to keep. I replaced the 310XT with my trusty old F305 and set out to finish the race.

I was already resigned that I would have to hobble the rest of the way when, from out of nowhere, appeared marathon-running couple Billy and Marian San Juan, together with their barefoot-running friend Mike Galas. I met Marian at last year's Camsur Marathon, and Billy at the last Rizal Day Run. The couple crewed at the 2010 edition of BDM 102, so they definitely knew their stuff. As early as the Rizal Day Run, Billy and Marian offered to be on my support crew for BDM, but I was dyahe and did not want to rob them of their weekend. And so, I told them that Bam and our driver would be enough. I would later on learn that, after meeting up with another finisher-friend at Km 102, they decided to scour the route and look for me. Amazing.

Marian immediately made her presence felt by "commandeering" my support vehicle and guiding Bam and our driver on how to better support me the rest of the way. Bam and the driver had been doing an awesome job since the night before, but at that point, it was imperative for my support crew to adopt a more aggressive (rather than passive) approach. As it turned out, during the final 10 kilometers leading up to Km 102, Marian would see to it that I got the best support possible, playing the role of de facto crew chief to perfection.

Billy, for his part, continuously barked out instructions and motivation from their vehicle. From proper brisk walking form, to the pace that I should be aiming for, and finally to raising my pain threshold. Billy made it perfectly clear that he would not let me quit. Obviously, the drill sergeant approach worked.

As if Billy and Marian weren't enough, Rico returned somewhere at Km 94 and delivered the coup de grace. This guy, I swear to God, is one of the world's greatest motivators. Sheer Will did it all - from taking charge of locating the next kilometer post, to delivering motivational gems along the lines of "if you don't finish, we don't finish," to racing back and fourth between me and my support vehicle to let them know in advance what I will be needing at the next pit stop. And that's not all. At one point, Ironman Rico actually converted  a group of tricycle drivers and street kids into impromptu pep squads! Truly unbelievable, the gifts this guy has. I've been reading in blogs how generous and giving he is, and now, in the biggest race of my life to date, I was benefiting from that generosity first-hand.

And so, the stage was set for the last 10 kilometers. Everyone in my reloaded support team showed tremendous heart in setting me up for a memorable ultramarathon finish. How does one repay heart? I know of only one way: By showing some heart as well - or maybe a lot more, but definitely nothing less. It must have been adrenaline, or perhaps simply not wanting to disappoint the people that were rooting for me, but somehow, I was able to will my tired body and aching legs to run once again.

My right knee still hurt like a bitch, and at one point, the pain almost drove me to tears. Strangely though, it didn't seem to matter anymore. I just wanted to keep on running and to finish what I started. Each time I stopped because I could no longer take the pain, Billy and Rico would take turns pushing me, cajoling me to dig a little deeper and to give a little bit more, for just a little while longer. Bam and Marian, meanwhile, saw to it that I was well attended to, in terms of physical support. Heck, even Mike got into the act and started running barefoot a few paces behind, imploring me to finish strong.

The team was rolling like a mean and well-oiled machine, and the results were unbelievable: for the last six kilometers, I logged splits ranging from 8:00 to 9:00. That was no longer just me. That was us. What happened next, I will let these photographs re-tell:

By the grace of God, I made it to Km 102 in 17 hours, 49 minutes, and 32 seconds, just a little over 10 minutes under the mandated cut-off time of 18 hours.  My effort made me the 108th runner to cross the finish line. After me, only four other runners made it within the alloted time.

After the second test run last February, I told BR that I will not have my picture taken with the iconic BDM Kilometer Post 102. I explained to BR that I wanted to earn my first ever photograph beside the historic milestone. By crossing the finish line, I believe I had finally earned the right not only to pose beside the white obelisk, but to plant a huge kiss on it as well. I hope I didn't make Bam jealous.

To my wonderful and wondrous support crew - both the originals - Bam and Mang Laynes - and the reinforcements - Rico, Billy, Marian, and Mike, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, my soul, and my aching knee. This one's for all of us.

Photo courtesy of Vener Roldan. Thanks a lot, bro!
See you in Mariveles next year!!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Bataan Death March 102 Km Ultramarathon Experience (Part 1 of 2)

My first BDM 102 experience lasted for all of 17 hours, 49 minutes, and 32 seconds. Truth be told, it was a largely uneventful exercise, which normally would be the case if one would run and walk for almost 18 hours straight. But BDM finishes are destined to be remembered, for one reason or another. Thanks to certain individuals and the crucial roles they played on that fateful Sunday afternoon, this humble BDM finish had a saving grace, and somehow became more memorable than I could have ever imagined.

Last-Minute Hitches

My issues during the days leading up to BDM 102 were well-documented. I developed shin splints on my left leg after the Condura Skyway Marathon on 6 February, which I aggravated by running the second BDM Test Run (52 kms) less than a week later on 12 February. At that point, my body might have already been telling me to ease up a little, and I did not listen. I paid a very steep price as my grotesquely swollen leg kept me off the road for two full weeks. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and physical therapy, I was cleared to resume running five days before BDM. Doc's send-off message for me was, "I'll see you after your ultramarathon." Nice one, doc. Thanks a lot.

The Team

For my first triple-digit distance run, I was going to be back-stopped by a lean and mean support crew: old reliable Mang Laynes, our family driver who was with me for the two BDM test runs, and my wife Bam, whose extensive running credentials consist of a 3k run at last year's Globe Run for Home. That was it. I was confident that I could survive BDM with just the two of them manning my support vehicle. Under the circumstances, Mang Laynes and Bam did a fantastic job. They got me to the finish line in one piece and within the 18-hour cut-off...with a little help from some friends. More on this later.

We hied off to Mariveles at 3:45 in the afternoon of Saturday, 5 March. 

Km 0 to Km 50

By 8:45 p.m., we were at Km 0 in Mariveles, Bataan. The atmosphere was festive. Runners of all shapes and sizes - all very serious ones - milled around and mingled with family, friends, and fellow runners. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced at the starting line of an over-priced and commercialized half-marathon at the Fort. There was an unmistakable air of competition that night, but there also was an undeniable feeling of camaraderie. No wonder ultramarathoners keep on coming back for more. I was getting an education in Ultramarathon 101 right there and then, and I gladly soaked in every single moment.  

With an hour to kill before gun start (only, there was no gun), I had time to do a bit of stretching here...

... and pose for posterity there.

A brief program followed - the singing of three national anthems (US, Japan, Philippines), an invocation by Tess Geddes (grand daughter of a true Death March survivor, and who would eventually make it to the finish line four minutes ahead of me), and finally a few words from the patriarch of local ultra running, Sir Jovie, good old BR, the Race Director.

At exactly 10:10 p.m., BR sent us off with a countdown. No fireworks, no music blaring from speakers, no fancy LCD screens, no hired pep squads. That was just the way hardened runners - ultramarathoners - liked it. It was just us and our respective support crews, the road, and the elements. And just like that, our trek to the old train station in San Fernando began.

It was a chilly evening - perfect ultramarathon weather. For a while there, I was worried that the rain would not stop, as it was raining for most of our drive from Manila to Bataan. I did not relish the idea of a rainy evening run for several reasons. For one, it would be very cold. Secondly, running in wet shoes and socks could lead to blisters, which could, in turn, make the rest of the run very uncomfortable, or even knock me out of the race. Non-stop rains could also flood the shoulders of Roman Highway, and force us runners to run on the highway itself. That would have been rather dangerous, considering how dark the Bataan evening was.

Fortunately for everyone, the rain stopped. It drizzled from time-to-time but there were no unwanted downpours. The cool draft kept all of us fresh and strong as we ran under the blanket of darkness. The rain also seemed to have kept the stray dogs and drunks off the route, which made for a very peaceful, almost serene, night run. The blinkers and headlamps of runners flickered like fireflies. Convoys of support vehicles traversed the race route and gave us runners a reassuring sense of safety and security. Believe you me - one can never ever experience anything close to the atmosphere that night by running in the big city. Only in Barangay BDM.

Making my way out the Mariveles Ecozone
Still in Mariveles, Bataan
A convoy of support vehicles makes its way out of
the zig-zag path in Mariveles, Km 3++

When I did the first BDM Test Run a few weeks back, I covered the first 50 kilometers in 6:48:28. This time around, my goal was to get to Km 50 in seven hours.  That would mean arriving in Abucay, Bataan at a little past 5 a.m. I could then go on a 20-minute break to have a quick breakfast, stretch, change my shoes, and put on some dry clothing. The plan was to be back on the road by 5:30 a.m. and still have 10 and-a-half hours to cover the remaining 52 kilometers.

Kilometers 1 to 40 were generally problem-free. I was strong all through out and ran without any issues. The recently-injured shin was doing fine and was never bothersome. The cool draft kept me refreshed. I was more or less familiar with the route, having done the first test run just a few weeks back. I was perfectly aware of the critical junctions in Kilometer posts 14, 23, and 32. After getting out of the famed zig-zag stretch in the first six kilometers, I employed a run-walk strategy with an 8:2 ratio - run for eight minutes and brisk walk for two minutes.  For the run segments, I kept an 8 to 8:30 pace, and for the walks, 9:30. For hydration, I turned to water and Pocari, and for nutrition, I had GU gels and bananas at regular intervals. I walked almost all uphills (and there were a lot in the Bataan segment) to conserve my strength. I was being very conservative as I wanted to have enough juice left for the home stretch. The idea was to be fresh at 50.

Everything was going according to plan, and I was right on schedule. However, shortly after clearing Km 40, I started feeling a mild, sharp pain in my right knee every time I pushed off it. The pain was almost negligible at first, but by Km 42, it was becoming too bothersome to ignore. For the first time since clearing Km 7, I was forced to abandon my 8:20 run-walk ratio in favor of a knee-friendly 4:1. The pit stops, too, grew longer. The result was a tough 9-Kilometer stretch that saw me register splits of 11:20, 9:09, 10:16, 13:11, 9:31, 10:57, 10:35, 10:33, and 9:57. Buoyed by thoughts of breakfast and a stool - rest - I was somehow able to pick up the pace at Kms 48 and 49, for splits of 8:48 and 8:32.  I made my last pit stop at Km 48, at which point I told my support vehicle to go ahead to Km 50 and prepare my breakfast.

By the time I finally reached Km 50, it was almost 6 a.m. I was not discouraged, though, because I knew I still made it in good time. Even if I were to slow down tremendously the rest of the way, I was confident that I would still have more than enough time to clear the last 52 kilometers and finish within cut-off.

As the night bled into a new day, I pulled into the plaza in Abucay, Bataan, the site of BDM Kilometer Post 50, to take in some much needed rest and nutrition. At that juncture, I had already been running and walking continuously  for close to eight hours.

Breakfast in Abucay

As soon I reached my support vehicle, a stool was already waiting for me. Man, it felt good to be seated and off my feet after almost eight hours of non-stop running and walking. I immediately took off my shoes (I ran the first 50 kilometers in my Nike Zoom Structure Triax 12) to let my feet breathe. No blisters at all, thanks to the right pair of socks (Nike dri-fit cushioned running socks), band-aids on my big and small toes, and duct tape covering the balls of my feet. Ice packs were immediately strapped to my knees and the lower portion of my shins. I was still feeling strong, and had it not been for my troublesome right knee, I would have made it to Km 50 on schedule, if not sooner.

Breakfast consisted of rice, pork adobo, Spam (regular, not Lite - I needed the sodium), fresh diced fruits (mango, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe), and water. As I wolfed down my meal, the only thing that was going through my mind was whether my right knee would give me a tough time the rest of the way. That would definitely be a problem because a bum knee could force a DNF. I tried my best to perish that thought and instead savored the meal that was my just reward for running through the night.

Breakfast at Km 50

With my crew chief, biggest booster, and No. 1 Fan
Morning had come by the time I finished breakfast. As I rested, other runners were still slowly trickling in for their first extensive rest after running non-stop for over eight hours. The scenes around me were reminiscent of pit stops in F1 races - a runner would come in, and the support crew would immediately work the runner over. Talk about being being spoiled.

Breakfast was followed by some stretching, a wipe-down with ice-cold water to wake up and refresh those tired muscles, a change of shoes (I changed into my  Nike Zoom Structure Triax 14), and slipping into light-colored running attire that would help repel the sun.  After all, it was already well past 6 a.m., and the sun was already up.

Thirty-two minutes after I came in for a brief rest, I was again ready and raring to hit the road, to finish what I started. I had 52 kilometers more to go and a full day of running ahead of me, and I felt strong and rejuvenated. The rest and nutrition lifted my spirits, and I was energetic once again.

Fresh at 50!

I overshot my arrival at Km 50 in Abucay by a little over 40 minutes, and my planned 20-minute rest was extended by more than 10 minutes. By the time I was ready to hit the road again, my Garmin showed that I had already consumed eight hours and 32 minutes. That meant that I still had nine hours and 28 minutes to negotiate the remaining 52 kilometers. I was still confident because, during the second test run, I covered that distance in only seven hours - and that was with an injured shin.

The ride had been smooth thus far. The recently-healed shin felt good and had not given me any problems. The question now is, can my right knee hold up and go the distance? The answer was about to come as the real challenge of BDM 102 began to unfold.

Monday, March 7, 2011

It is DONE.

I finished the 3rd Bataan Death March 102k Ultramarathon Race in 17:49:42, just a little over 10 minutes under the mandated cut-off time of 18 hours. My effort made me the 108th runner to cross the finish line in San Fernando yesterday. After me, only four other runners made it within the alloted time. 

I am still at a loss for words right now, as it should be when one experiences something that one knows will never happen again. I hope to share my story in the next few days.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

On to Mariveles!

This is the deep breath before the plunge.

In about an hour, I will be heading to Mariveles, Bataan to take part in what some people had described as a life-changing experience. My participation in the 3rd Bataan Death March 102-Kilometer Ultramarathon Race, BDM 102 in local runner's parlance, will be the culmination of almost six months of preparation. I don't know whether I have sufficiently trained for this test, but I believe I have done enough to justify even just standing behind that hallowed starting line. I know in my heart that I have done enough to at least give myself a fighting chance of finishing this thing within 18 hours. 

At this distance, they say your feet can only take you so far, and that, at some point, your heart will have to take over. Well, if that indeed is the case, then maybe I have what it takes to make it all the way to that old train station in San Fernando, Pampanga. No dedications this time around. I claim this one for myself.

God bless the ultramarathoners of the 2011 BDM 102. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ask And You Shall Receive

With just four and-a-half days 'til prom night, my doctor finally gave me the green light to give it a go. On Saturday, the 5th of March, I am going to take part in the country's second-longest solo road race, the Bataan Death March 102 Kilometer Ultramarathon Race. This is my just reward for abstaining from running and attending daily treatment and therapy sessions for two full weeks. From the reaction of my doctor and the attending PT, I could tell that I made a quick and somewhat unexpected recovery. The power of wanting it badly.

Doc's clearance notwithstanding, I don't know if the injured tissues in my left shin have recovered fully. He said that shin splints, particularly one as severe as the one that struck me, could take anywhere from six to eight weeks to heal completely. I did my healing in a little over two. All I know is that I am pain-free at the moment, and doc has said that I can do it. That's good enough for me. I do realize, however, that I am in a very precarious position here. The injury may or may not come back during the run. And if it does... let's just say I'd rather not think about it for now. It won't come back. Mind over matter. 

Today will be another rest day - a little more time to heal. I will try and get my legs back with a 5k run tomorrow and on Thursday. I don't know what level of conditioning I'll be in, but I'm confident that the drop would not be significant. If anything, I'm hoping that the two-week rest will serve me in good stead come the later stages of the run.

Prior to the injury, my goal was to cover the 102-kilometer route in 17 hours or less. Given where I am right now, I'd be happy to just finish pain-free. Finishing within the cut-off time of 18 hours will just be gravy.

The road warriors of BDM 160 had their fun last weekend. Now, let us have ours.