The Running Angel

Just because I don't have wings, doesn't mean I can't fly.

Life Lessons from a Race I Didn’t Run

After a long hiatus from running, my husband Roland and I joined an 8-K mountain run in Baguio last May. Running in the trails of Camp John Hay is always a treat because of the cool weather and awesome views. We both love hiking and running—and trail running combines the best of both worlds. But this blog entry isn’t about the race that I finished. It’s about the one I signed up for after.

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When I heard about the Soleus Cross Country Challenge in Timberland Heights, I was so excited to sign up. After Baguio, I was itching to do another trail run. Since we just recently got back into running, I didn’t want to break the momentum, and I figured Timberland was an ideal choice. It was just an hour away from Manila and a popular spot for bikers and runners.

I managed to drag Roland and our good friend Peaches along, though they were very hesitant to join. We heard there were going to be a lot of steep hills, and that it might be very hot or muddy, depending on the weather.

“It’s okay, we can do this! Let’s train!” I insisted. So they agreed.

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Unfortunately, just a few days before the race, I tripped and sprained my right foot while walking home from training.

Needless to say, I was very disappointed. I did RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) religiously for the next few days, hoping I would still be able to run on the day of the race. But when Saturday night came and I could still feel the pain in my foot while walking, I decided to sit this race out. After all, pushing myself might just result in a more severe injury later on.

On the day of the race, I accompanied Roland and Peaches to the starting line. I watched as they prepared their gear, did their warm-up exercises, and joined the throng of runners who were getting ready to run. I stood on the sidelines as the starting gun fired and watched them run into the distance until I couldn’t see them anymore.

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Once they were gone, I trudged back to the parking lot. Alone.

As a runner and an Enneagram Type 3 (the Achiever), I’ve been conditioned to think in terms of finish lines. What’s the next race I can conquer? What’s the next goal to be achieved? How do I improve my time and beat my Personal Best?

Prior to the race, I’ve been feeling anxious and worried—about life, work, the future. I’m not where I pictured myself to be at this time in my life. I still haven’t achieved many of the goals I set out to do nor hit the milestones that other people say you’re supposed to hit at this age. I told myself I needed to channel my grit, to work hard, to push forward—but more often than not, I wasn’t motivated enough to do so. And just when I had gathered some strength and motivation, I was sidelined by an injury.

I sat by myself in Peaches’ car, which was parked in the middle of a vast expanse of empty lots. While I read a book and watched one episode of a Korean drama, I left the doors open and allowed the morning breeze to flow around me. I listened to the birds chirping, the leaves rustling, the wind howling. There were a lot of flies buzzing around too, so it wasn’t totally perfect. But it was nice and it was peaceful.

I realized that maybe this was the Universe’s way of telling me to slow down and honor my own pace. To stop worrying about the future and appreciate where I am right now. To stop agonizing over not being able to reach the next finish line and trust that I am exactly where I need to be. In The Miracle Morning for Writers, the book I read that morning, I was struck by this quote: “The purpose of a goal isn’t to hit the goal… It is who you become by giving it everything you have until the last moment—regardless of your results—that matters most.”

When I returned to the starting line of the race about two and a half hours later, Roland was already there, and together, we waited for Peaches at the trail end. Turns out, the race was extremely difficult and my two running buddies had their own lessons to learn.

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For Roland, who chooses to stay by my side when we run despite being the faster runner, this race was a chance to explore his own limits without having to worry about me. He was able to run the downhills, push himself harder than usual, and finish the race in good time.

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For Peaches, who struggled throughout the race, this was a chance to experience the kindness of people and to learn to ask for help when she needed it. As she mentioned in her Instagram post, “Today reminded me how super kind people are—from good morning greets and random cheers when you’re about to pass out, to being lent a trekking pole by someone you don’t know.”

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So even if they both kind of cursed me for signing them up for this race without having to go through the hardship they went through, I think it was all worth it in the end, right? Hehe. (Sorry, P & R. Let’s run again next time!)

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This race also reminded me that we are all on different journeys. We run or walk at our own pace. The three of us may have been in the same place at the same time, but we all had different experiences. We can’t compare and say that one experience was better than the other. We learned the lessons we needed to learn.

But no matter how different our experiences may be, I’m glad we were able to go on the journey together. —A

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A big breakfast for runners at Rustic Mornings. 🙂

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How Running a Marathon Changed My Life

“Something has changed within me, something is not the same, I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game. Too late for second-guessing, too late to go back to sleep, It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap!”

—Defying Gravity, from Wicked the Musical

At the TBR Dream Marathon send-off party last February 11, Coach Jim Lafferty told the runners that we would not be the same once we cross that finish line—the old me would die and a new person would be reborn. He said it again on the day of the race, right before the starting gun was fired at 2:00 am on February 22.

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It’s true that this whole journey has changed me little by little the moment I signed up for this race back in August. I learned I could still push myself to take risks and do something out of my comfort zone. I started to love running in the morning (whereas in the past I hardly ever woke up before 8 am unless I really had to!). I gained the discipline to stick to a training plan for six months. I prioritized doing long runs on Sundays over lazing around and not doing anything productive.

At first I thought a lot had already changed, and that the race would simply be a graduation of sorts, a culmination of all the training we had done. What I didn’t expect was that I still had a lot to discover about myself on the day of the marathon.

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As I laid out all my gear the night before, I felt pretty confident. There were nerves, yes, but not more than the usual anxiety I feel before any race. Our family and friends were very supportive and encouraging. We had done the training and I knew we were ready for this.

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Sunrise over Nuvali

The race course was composed of two loops around Nuvali. The first half of the race went by breezily. We had previewed the course in past Bull Sessions and it was just as I remembered it—rolling hills, wide roads, green grass, and trees. The night air was cool and crisp. At one point, we joined Coach Jim’s 2:1 run-walk pace group and his occasional comments kept us entertained (“Men think they run the world, but it’s really women who do!” Right you are, Coach!). At 21-K, hubby and I were right on target, running slowly but surely at less than 10 minutes per kilometer. I remember thinking, Wow, this marathon is so easy!

Boy, was I wrong.

By the 25th kilometer, my legs started to give up on me. The pain crawled from my toes to my ankles up to my calves, knees, quads, and hamstrings. My upper body felt great—my heart strong and steady—but my lower body was screaming, begging for me to stop. I was on the verge of tears. I kept thinking, What did I do wrong? Why were my legs giving up at just 25 kilometers?! I ran 30km three weeks ago and my legs had been sore but I felt like I could still go on. I had stuck to our pace and was diligent in taking my gels, Gatorade, and water. Why was this happening now? Was it because I gained weight, tapered wrong, trained too little?!

By the second loop, the “rolling hills” felt like mighty mountains (UpHELLS, indeed!). I could not keep up our 2:1 pace anymore. As the sun started to rise, I had to walk longer and pray harder. I seriously started to doubt myself. I finally realized why people say that the marathon is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Negative thoughts crept into my head and keeping them at bay was just as hard as putting one foot in front of the other.

IMG_9124Motivational tidbits along the course helped me to keep going (and taking photos was a good excuse to stop and rest)

I was very disappointed because I knew I wasn’t going to reach my goal of finishing the race below seven hours. At that point, it was no longer about the time, but simply about reaching the finish line. Though it was extremely tempting, quitting was not an option. I put on my music to distract myself. I stopped to stretch every few minutes. I sat down to rest whenever I saw a sidewalk, even if it was just for 30 seconds. I forced myself to smile whenever I saw a camera. I took chocolates, rock salt, and Chippy from the Dream Chasers and soaked in their cheers and encouragement. Time crawled ever so slowly. By the 36th kilometer, my watch died. At first I was upset about it, but looking back, maybe it was a blessing because it prevented me from feeling dismayed whenever I would check it and realize that we had only ran-walked a few hundred meters.

IMG_9119My perfect pacer and running buddy

But the most important factor that helped me finish the race was my husband, Roland. He was encouraging without being overbearing, patient without being too lax. He made me run 1 minute, walk 1 minute. And when I couldn’t do that, he let me run from one pole to another and then walk to the next. He literally pushed me while we ran, especially on the uphills (he says this helped him utilize his core more). I kept asking if he was okay, but he’d always say I shouldn’t worry about him and just focus on moving forward. He’s definitely much stronger than me, but he sacrificed a faster time so that we could finish together.

When we reached the “H Loop,” which was frustratingly within sight of the finish line but had us run three more kilometers, I knew we had this. We just had to push a little bit more. We saw our friends, taking our pictures and cheering us on. With the sun burning my skin, it felt like the longest three kilometers of my life.

11006399_10153064408948363_2665074301433638854_n Thank you, Pinoy Fitness, for capturing our finish line moment!

And finally, after seven hours, twenty four minutes, and five seconds, we crossed the finish line hand in hand. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief—we are now marathoners! A familiar face came to congratulate me. It was Coach Lit Onrubia, whom I had worked with in Runner’s World. After reading his articles and hearing all his advice, it was nice to see him there. It’s like he was personally welcoming me into the elite club of marathoners, which includes less than one percent of the population!

Something definitely changed once I crossed that finished line. I learned that I can choose not to quit when the going gets tough. I became grateful for all the little things that helped me finish the race. I appreciated my body for getting me to the finish line and I realized I should take even better care of it. I decided to focus on the positive and learn from my mistakes. I was humbled when I realized that I couldn’t control everything, that there were some things I just had to let go. I’ve heard of couples who fought while running a marathon together, but I loved my husband even more after this race!

Best of all, I proved to myself that I am stronger than all my fears.

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I am very grateful to the Bull Runner founder, Jaymie Pizarro, Coach Jim, Coach Lit, the Dream Chasers, and the whole team who made the Dream Marathon possible. Thank you for giving me and all the other dreamers a chance to become marathoners and for making the experience a truly memorable one. Thank you, Coach Roel Ano, for training me and Roland and helping us prepare for the race. Thank you also to my batchmates, who shared this journey with me. You are all an inspiration to me. #42KALLTHEWAY!

To all the runners who are still dreaming about doing their first marathon, I say go ahead and take that leap! Yes, it’s extremely tough, but once you commit to it, the journey will change you in ways you never expected it to. And it’s all for the better. —A

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Birthday Run: Bull Session in Nuvali

It’s 2:00 am on December 20—the day before my birthday—when my alarm starts blaring, jolting me out of my deep sleep. I grudgingly drag myself out of bed, thinking, “Who the f*** wakes up at the crack of dawn and drives an hour out of the city, only to torture themselves by running for two and a half hours? Crazy runners, that’s who!”

Obviously, I am not in the best mood so early in the morning, but by the time we arrived in Nuvali, Laguna for the TBR Dream Marathon Bull Session at 4:00 am, I felt the excitement start creeping in, as it always does when I see other effin’ crazy runners like myself getting ready to race.

Roland and I weren’t able to attend the last three Bull Sessions held in Bonifacio Global City, but we made it a point to go to this one in Nuvali so we could get a preview of the racecourse. After a few warm-up exercises led by Coach Lit, we were divided into run-walk groups and then we were off!

We opted to join the 2:1 group (2-minute run, 1-minute walk). Though we’re accustomed to 3:1 or 4:1, we figured it would be better to run conservatively since we weren’t sure what pace the other runners in our group would take. It was very dark when we started so we didn’t really see much, but I enjoyed running with my batchmates. Unlike in an actual race, the feeling wasn’t competitive as people weren’t rushing ahead of each other. I felt one with the group as we ran together every two minutes, and fell into step every time the people in front yelled, “Walk!”

Eventually though, the group began to scatter as runners settled into their own paces. (And that was fine too, because I was starting to get annoyed with a runner who had her speakers on full blast. Not everyone wants to hear your playlist, gurl!) Roland and I settled into a steady rhythm, our feet moving one sure step in front of the other.

By 6:00 am, more than an hour after we had started, the sky grew lighter. The sun remained hidden in the clouds while the cool wind continued to dance around us. The view of our surroundings started to reveal itself—rolling hills, wide roads, green grass, tall weeds (a.k.a. talahib), and the occasional trees. I cannot remember the exact route, but I do remember passing a few villages and seeing signs that pointed toward Miriam College, Xavier School, and Republic Wake Park.

There were only two hydration stations on the course, as we had been aptly warned. Good thing the weather was cool so I didn’t feel the need to drink as much as I normally would. I took one GU gel (salted caramel flavor) which was a bit too sweet but gave me the kick I needed.

Toward the last hour, we switched down our pace to a 1-minute run: 30 second walk—it’s the first time we tried it and turns out, we were able to maintain our pace better than if we had stuck to 2:1. We eventually caught up with the 3:1 pace group (or maybe they had done an extra lap and caught up to us) just in time for a photo op! Woohoo!

Picture 1Photo from Instagram (@jaymiepizarro)

We finished 17km in 2 hours, 37 minutes. Pretty slow yes, but feeling good. They were serving Enervon HP—a high protein, chocolate-flavored recovery drink. So yummy and perfect post-run!

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After doing some stretching exercises, it was time for a few more photo ops!

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TBR coach and Runner’s World columnist, Lit Onrubia, reminds us not to indulge too much over the holidays. LOL!

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With The Bull Runner and Runner’s World cover girl, Jaymie Pizarro, who said the weather is usually cooler on race day. I hope so!

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With old and new AMCI members who are always up for a new adventure.

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After a filling breakfast in Pancake House, we drove back to Manila and made it home safe and sound. I know this hashtag is so overused, but having freshly showered, feeling the slight soreness in my muscles, and knowing I had a great race to look forward to, I really did feel #BLESSED in every sense of the word. —A

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A Running Tour of Manila

This article was originally published in the October-December 2014 issue of Runner’s World Philippines. Photos by Roland Aquino.

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A throng of runners stood on the bridge by the entrance of Fort Santiago, waiting for the starting gun. The water below glistened in the late afternoon sun and I shielded my eyes from the glare, regretting that I didn’t bring my sunglasses. The former defense fortress has witnessed wars, earthquakes, and other calamities over the centuries—and on September 7, it watched over Salomon’s first City Trail Race. I soaked in the history, along with the energy and adrenaline charging through my fellow 12-K runners, as the race began.

Salomon has been organizing hardcore trail runs for the past few years. I’ve joined their races in Tagaytay Highlands and Hamilo Coast, Batangas and it’s always been challenging but rewarding. This time, they brought the race to Intramuros at the heart of Manila, to allow runners to get a taste of trail running without leaving the city.

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We exited through the gates of Fort Santiago and hit the streets. It was like doing a running tour of Manila as we passed by the usual tourist spots like the Manila Cathedral, the Palacio del Gobernador, and the Plaza San Luis complex. As an editor and former journalism student, it was a treat for me to see the back entrance of the Manila Bulletin building, with the smell of newly printed newspapers wafting in the air.

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On our second loop, we climbed up to run on the walls of Intramuros, which are built with volcanic rocks. Our pace slowed as we navigated our way through the rough, uneven path, jumping over deep grooves in the rocks. This was hard to do, as the view from the walls was quite distracting. We could see a lush, green golf course and skyscrapers in the distance. We also passed through different baluartes, or fortresses where old cannons still stand in defense of the city.

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On our third loop, we ran on the perimeter of Intramuros, on the sidewalk by Bonifacio and Padre Burgos Drive. It was a less picturesque side of Manila, where we inhaled the smoke from passing cars and saw kids playing on the sidewalk, while their parents cooked dinner nearby.

On our final loop, just as the sun was setting over the city, we got a chance to run underneath the walls. It was dark and a tad spooky as we ran through the tunnel, treading carefully since we could barely see a few feet in front of us. When we emerged on the other side, the moon was out and the street lamps had been turned on, casting an eerie glow on the cobblestone streets.

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Roland and I crossed the finish line after one hour and 50 minutes. They were already calling the winners to the stage as we went to collect our medals and free snacks. The people at the food stand asked, “Chicken or sisig?” Of course, we went for the less healthy choice. After that grueling run, eating sisig was a fine reward!

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When we visited Tokyo last year, Roland and I ran around the Imperial Palace and I remember thinking, I wish there was a place like this back home where we could run and feel the city’s vibe and culture. As it turns out, there is such a place. Joining the City Trail Race allowed me to see Manila in a whole new light. Intramuros, which I only ever visited during field trips back in school, has a rich and vibrant history that I was only able to appreciate while running through it. Sure, Manila may not be as perfectly clean or picturesque as Tokyo, but it’s real and beautiful in it’s own way—and it’s a place I’m proud to call home. —A

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The Journey Begins

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About two weeks ago, on September 24, I was driving to the first Bull Circle of The Bull Runner Dream Marathon. On my way to the venue in Fort Bonifacio, I got stuck in heavy traffic due to construction on the corner of C-5 and Pasig Boulevard. I had training early that morning so I was tired, sleepy, and irritable. Several times, I was tempted to just turn around and drive back home. “F*** this!” I voiced out loud to my equally frustrated husband. “I’d rather go home and sleep!”

But somehow, we trudged on until we finally got to the venue an hour late. Just as we sneaked into the back of the room, Coach Jim Lafferty started playing this video about Terry Fox, a Canadian athlete who did a cross-country run that spanned several months to raise awareness for cancer research—and he did it all on one leg.

Of course, I teared up while watching the video, because here I was complaining about traffic, when this guy just did something truly heroic.

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When I started running almost 10 years ago, I never dreamed of doing a full marathon. I always had a lot of excuses: I’m too busy, it’s not really on my bucket list, I’m not at the peak of my fitness, etcetera. But at the heart of it lies all my fear and self-doubt. Can I really run 42 kilometers? Can I commit to the training? Do I have what it takes to go the distance?

By showing Terry’s video, Coach Jim wanted to tell us that if Terry could do it, anybody could do it. But according to Coach Lit Onrubia, we need to answer three questions first:

1. Why are you racing?

Two months ago, I decided I needed to climb out of the rut I was in and to stop living in fear. Running a marathon always seemed like this big, scary monster to me, and I thought it’s high time I conquered it. But more than that, it’s a way to remind myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to and that I am brave enough and strong enough to conquer other big, scary things in the future.

2. How much time do you have to spare?

As my work load decreases in the next few months, I have plenty of time to train. And this time, I’m committing at least three days a week to running. What I love about the TBR Dream program is that it allows you to incorporate running into your lifestyle—and not let it take over your whole life.

3. What are you prepared to sacrifice?

So far, I’ve sacrificed late nights in lieu of sleeping and waking up earlier and started spending significantly less time doing leisurely activities. I know I have to sacrifice sweets and other unhealthy food as well, but I have to admit, that part’s been a real struggle!

Aside from the TBR program and training sessions with my coach, another thing that’s been really helping me prepare for the marathon is The Runner’s World Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training. The training tips and practical advice are spot on, but what I really love are the inspiring stories of other runners who overcame various obstacles to finish their 42-K.

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I truly believe that the journey is just as, or maybe even more important than the destination. Two months ago, I embarked on this journey by signing up for my first 42—or maybe it began when I first started running back in 2005. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m pretty sure it will be all kinds of awesome.

Other marathoners have said that the journey will change you… that you won’t be the same person you were once you cross that finish line. Who will I be after this journey ends?

I can’t wait to find out! —A

 

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Running with Salomon

My very first pair of hiking shoes was from Salomon. I had just signed up for AMCI mountaineering club and was about to climb my very first mountain. I heard that Salomon was a good brand for hiking and since I wasn’t sure yet if I would really pursue the sport, I opted to get a cheap pair at a warehouse sale. I can’t remember what model it was but it did get me through my first few training climbs in one piece—albeit with a few dead toenails!

Fast forward seven years and I found myself at the starting line of the 2012 Salomon X-Trail race in Tagaytay Midlands. Salomon’s brand manager, Janice Tañada, was my batchmate in AMCI and she invited me to cover the event for Runner’s World.

So that’s not me but I love how this photo captures the beautiful trails we passed during that race. It was challenging but enjoyable. We ran through dirt roads, farmlands, and pine forests, breathing in the cool, fresh air as the early morning fog enveloped us.

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Now that’s me crossing the finish line at 2:42. Pretty slow for a 12-K, but I always believed running through trails is an experience to be savored and enjoyed (and captured on camera, too!).

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I missed the 2013 edition of the Salomon race because I had an important event to attend that weekend (like, you know, my wedding! LOL!) so I was psyched when I got to join the 2014 X-trail race in Hamilo Coast, Batangas last April. This race was a helluva lot tougher (or maybe I was just out of shape), with runners climbing steep hills within the first kilometer.

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This vast expanse of flat land was a welcome respite from all the steep ascents and descents.

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We only had about a kilometer to go at this point but that kilometer was a whole stretch of large rocks and boulders. I finished this race in over 3 hours but it was well worth the effort. At the finish line, Roland and I were reunited with a lot of AMCI members and old friends.

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It may seem quite daunting, and I’d understand if some people think it’s crazy for us to do this. But for those who want to get into trail running, Salomon has come up with a city trail race, which allows you to experience the joys and challenges of trail running right here in the city. The race is happening on September 7 at Intramuros, Manila. Imagine running (we’ve been warned that there’s some jumping involved as well) through the historic streets of the walled city, retracing the steps Rizal took in Fort Santiago, and soaking in our country’s culture and heritage. It’s the perfect race for trail newbies! You can still register at R.O.X. Bonifacio High Street from August 30 to September 5.

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I’m definitely looking forward to running and writing about this race. (Watch out for my race writeup in the October-December 2014 issue of Runner’s World.) See you in the trails! —A

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Starting Over

The other day, I was updating the list of races I’ve joined and I realized it’s been more than two years since my last half-marathon. As I looked through my old race bibs (yes, I’m sentimental like that) and photos of past runs, I began to miss the days when I was a more active runner. I think running is a lot like being in love. From late 2008 to early 2010, I was caught up in the romance of it all. I was so passionate about the sport and signed up for race after race. But after about two years of being on a high, other things demanded my time and attention and running took a backseat. I was so comfortable in my relationship with running that I failed to make time for it and it slipped down my list of priorities.

Now, running seems to be nudging me, beckoning me to come back. “Remember how much fun we used to have,” running says. “Let’s rekindle our relationship.”

And what better way to ignite my passion than by training for another half-marathon? I haven’t picked a race just yet (though I’m looking at one in January or February 2013), but I’ve decided to start training again next week. And just as I did before my first half-marathon, I’m once again turning to Runner’s World for a proper training plan.

I hope to write more about my training in the coming weeks, but for now, a quick trip down memory lane of my past 20 to 22-K races.

All smiles after my first half-marathon in Singapore. December 7, 2008.

Running on the Skyway at the Condura half-marathon. March 22, 2009.

Trudging through miles of lahar at the TNF100 in Sacobia. May 24, 2009.

Breathing in the fresh scent of pine trees at the TNF100 in Baguio. April 25, 2010.

A pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream after the Nature Valley half-marathon. Best post-race reward ever! May 30, 2010.

You’re right, running. Though we’ve had our fair share of challenges, it’s mostly been an enjoyable ride—one filled with memorable moments and valuable learning experiences. I can’t wait to do it all again. —A

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Running in Paradise

Last summer, I had the opportunity to join a race on the beautiful island of Boracay. I wrote about the experience in the July-September issue of Runner’s World Philippines. Below is my article along with a few extra photos. 🙂

When I’m at the beach, there’s nothing I love more than just lying on the sand. When I’m on vacation mode, the last thing I want to do is get up and run. But on the eve of April 20, I found myself jogging on the soft white sands of Boracay Island. I had signed up for the Skyathon 2012 Boracay Beach Run the next morning and I was trying to figure out whether I’d be able to run in my shoes or if I should just go barefoot. I had never run 10km on sand before so I was feeling a bit nervous and apprehensive.

I was running toward Station 1 when I looked up and saw Willy’s Rock bathed in yellow orange light, while the sky slowly turned shades of pink and deep purple. My breath caught in my throat as I gazed at the majestic sight before me. The Boracay sunset gets me every time—or maybe I was just getting tired! Time to head back and save my energy for the race.

As I turned around and made my way back to the Tides hotel, I saw a different type of light. Establishments along the shoreline emitted colorful flashes from strobes, signaling that it was party time soon. But there would be no partying for me as I had to get up early the next morning for my 10-K. Instead, I settled on a bottle of Banana Rhum shake from Jonah’s after dinner (together with my new friends April, Franc, and Jhe) to cap off the night.

The next morning, about 300 runners gathered at the starting line across Epic beachfront. The sky was just starting to lighten and it seemed like it was going to be a cloudy day. The sea was calm and the waves lapped quietly on the shore. I did a few stretches and took a few pictures while waiting for the race to start.

At about 6am, the starting signal rang and the runners sped off towards Station 1. The 5-K loop went on until the end of Station 1 and back, then moved on to Station 3 before turning back to the finish line at Epic. The 10-K racers would simply have to run the loop twice.

I had decided to wear my shoes during the race but since it was harder to run on dry sand, I opted to run closer to the shore where the sand was harder and more compact. I also decided to just take my time—I was not aiming for a personal best; I simply wanted to relish the sights and enjoy my first race in this island paradise.

The first 3km (1.5km to the end of Station 1 and back near the starting line) went pretty smoothly. There weren’t that many people at the beach yet and there was a relatively wide, clean area near the water where the sand was nice and compact. But as I moved toward Station 3, the shore seemed to slope upward and the hard space between water and dry sand grew narrower. It felt like I was playing a game of tag with the waves, as they moved forward and back, trying to catch my feet. One area was also covered with a carpet of slippery green seaweed. I didn’t want to risk falling on my butt, so I just dug my feet into the soft sandy floor.

On my second loop back towards Station 1, I was getting a bit tired but happy to be on hard sand again. A group of lean, tanned men—all barefoot—in a two-line formation (probably a Dragon Boat team) waved as they ran past me. More people were at the beach now and they gazed curiously at the runners who trickled toward the finish line.

Back at Station 3, the tide seemed to have gotten even higher—and since most runners had the same idea of running on the compact sand near the shore, it was quite difficult to avoid the water. The waves finally won the game of tag and managed to catch my shoes, making them wet. As I ran forward, I noticed barefoot runners on their way back, and felt jealous of their feet skipping on the water.

As I reached the turnaround point on Station 3, I thought, what the heck—I’m taking off my shoes and running the last kilometer barefoot! I didn’t even mind running (or maybe it was more like trudging) on dry sand because I loved feeling the soft, powdery surface beneath my toes. I alternated between run-walking on sand and water until I finally crossed the finish line.

Though it was my slowest 10-K yet (I finished at 1:30), it was definitely one of my most enjoyable runs. I savored every minute of the race, absorbed the sights and sounds, and felt energized by the beauty of the place. And I believe that’s what every runner should strive for once in awhile—to join a race where one can run for the sheer pleasure of it and have fun from start to finish. —A

The best part? Relaxing in the pool after a long hard race!

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