My Back-to-Back 21K Weekends

At long last, I finally have a 21K tucked under my belt. And the past 2 weekends gave me the opportunity to run back-to-back 21Ks – the Quezon City International Marathon (QCIM) and the 2009 Adidas King of the Road (KOTR). I had planned to run my first 21K at the 2009 Condura Run, but dengue kept me out of it. I rued that missed opportunity last March – all the training and all the mileage being flushed down the drain. I vowed to come back and run a 21K before this year ends. It took a long time coming but it was well worth the wait.

At first, the plan was to run my first 21K at the Adidas KOTR. But as my training positively progressed, my mind started entertaining thoughts of doing it at QCIM. It got me excited, but at the same time, I was proceeding with caution – two injuries in 1 year of running can really alter the decision-making process. So many what ifs in my mind – What if I get injured? What if it’s too early? What if I don’t finish?

Then, my sister gave me a great idea – that is, run 21K at an easy, comfortable pace at QCIM and use that as a benchmark for the Adidas KOTR. It was a great plan that convinced me to sign-up for my first 21K at QCIM…and my first back-to-back 21K at Adidas KOTR the week after.

QUEZON CITY INTERNATIONAL MARATON (QCIM)

Running at the QCIM proved to be the perfect event to jump-start my foray into the 21K distance. It was one of the most anticipated races in October. It had the hype and the buzz, not to mention the “international” standing. It also offered a new route along the usually busy Commonwealth Avenue, La Mesa Eco Park and North Avenue.

My 21K QCIM Run

I felt no pressure. I was very, very excited. I had a good night’s sleep and woke up as the cell phone alarm rang (it has been a habit of mine to press the snooze button and sleep some more). I arrived at the venue around 4:30 am and was able to park easily at the QC City Hall. With the gun start still 30 minutes away, I casually walked towards the start area, went to the portalets, warmed-up and stretched for about 10 minutes.

The goal was simple – finish the race. But I still wanted to “relatively” push myself so I’ll know my limits – not too fast and not too slow. Fortunately, there were designated pacers. I saw yellow balloons with the desired finish times. Right there and then, I did a quick math on what could be an achievable finish time – I thought of my 15K time at the Rota Run and I calculated various pace times. A sub-2 hour time was unrealistic. As such, I saw 2 possible finish times – 2h 15m or 2h 30m. I approached the guy who had the 2h 15m finish time and asked the pace he’ll be running. He said it’ll be around 6:43/km and I quickly decided to run with his pace. (In our brief conversation, I learned that he’s Patrick or vVinceth in Takbo.ph; We work in the same company, but in different divisions; When I got home, I also found out we’re friends in Facebook; Small world indeed!)

The run started on time in the midst of loud and motivating cheers – the perfect atmosphere on an early, dark and chilly morning. I got held back by the influx of runners weaving through the traffic. As the road started to clear, I looked around and caught up with Patrick’s pace group.

I religiously followed the pace set by Patrick. There were times when we were running faster, especially on a downhill but it was manageable. I did not pay much attention to the distance we were covering. I was having a great time and a great run. It was fun running at a new route – perhaps the only time you’ll see Commonwealth Avenue devoid of cars and traffic. Plus, we were all entertained by the drumbeat of cheers and encouragement that created a party and lively atmosphere.

Passing the 15K Mark

As we passed by the 15K marker, it was unchartered territory. I smiled and got more excited. Down to the last 6K. I was not tired; I felt strong. It was only a matter of time. All I had to do was to stay with the pace and drink fluids to keep myself hydrated. As we chip away from the last 6K, it was all going along just fine – or so I thought!

Last 1K

The last 1K provided a bit of a drama in my otherwise casual and straightforward run. Suddenly, I felt some tightening in my right hamstring. Then, as we made a u-turn along North Avenue leading to TriNoMa, I felt something brewing on my right hamstring down to my right calf – CRAMPS. I immediately drank half of the Gatorade that I brought along (By this time, I still had 2 flasks left from my hydration belt – I used the Nathan 4-flask hydration belt for this race – 1 flask with Gatorade and the other flask with water). I told Patrick that they can go ahead as I needed to slow down to mitigate the possibility of having full-blown cramps.

Slowing down made my hamstrings loosen up a bit. With renewed confidence, I caught up with the 2:15 pace group inside TriNoMa grounds. As we turned right to North Avenue, Patrick said that we are behind the finish time of 2h 15m. He asked if we can increase the pace to about 5:45 to 6:00. At first I was hesitant – I was fearful of cramps. Then again, it was down to the last 700 meters or so. What else can go wrong? I agreed and followed him. I still had enough energy when we increased the pace. Fortunately, my right leg was cooperating.

Then, as we turned right to QC Circle, cramps finally kicked-in. Ironically, it happened on my left calf. With about 200 meters to go, I slowed down and thanked Patrick for all the help and encouragement.

The Finish

With cramps slowing me down, the last 200 meters seemed like another 1K. But my eye was already on the finish line. I told myself – “I dare not walk now!” And there it was – after 2h, 17m I crossed the finish line with a throng of people cheering and congratulating every finisher. Finally, I told myself, finally! A plethora of emotions filled me as I crossed the finish line – I was very happy, I was overwhelmed, I was on a high, I was filled with a great sense of accomplishment.

I walked around and thanked Patrick again for helping me accomplish my goal. It was a one-a-kind experience to be able to run with a pacer. He surely kept me focused all throughout the race and encouraged me to run around the cramps I experienced.

ADIDAS KING OF THE ROAD (KOTR) 2009

After finishing at QCIM, my focus shifted to the Adidas King of the Road (KOTR) 2009 – my second 21K. This year’s KOTR featured races for 5K, 10K and 21K with awesome yellow singlets. It also marked the 10K debut of my wife and brother, as well as the 5K debut of my sister and cousin. We were all looking forward to this run. In fact, we were the first 5 registrants at Adidas Podium as soon as registration started. Talk about being excited!

Drama at the KOTR Claiming Process

The race kit claiming process provided a lot of drama a week before the race. On Oct. 17-18, KOTR registered runners had to troop to SM Megatrade Hall 2 to claim their race kits and to participate at the Adidas Running Expo.

However, those who claimed their kits on Oct. 17 had a rough experience (rough being an understatement). The troubles have been well-documented – very long lines, very long waiting time, unavailable kits, wrong singlet sizes, insufficient food and a lackluster expo just to name a few.

If you logged-in at Takbo.ph during that time, you’d find deluge of comments on this particular topic. In fact, it generated one of the highest number of comments for a particular topic. Furthermore, I also noticed that the “Adidas Running Philippines” facebook page was inaccessible later in the afternoon. Runners were looking for answers and none were given.

As I read through each comment, each story, each ordeal, I was surprised at how it all progressed from bad to worse to worst. This is Adidas, I told myself! How could this happen? I can only sympathize to all runners who went through the hassle and inconvenience.

It was a complete turnaround the following day, Oct. 18 – a complete opposite! I already prepared myself for long lines and long waiting times. I did not even expect to partake of carbo-loaded food – I just wanted to claim the race kits. We (me, my brother & sister) arrived at 5:00 pm. To our surprise, there were no long lines. It was already our turn when we arrived at the booth. Then, we were able to claim the chicken steak by KFC. We were surely lucky!

A few days after, Adidas and Mr. Rudy Biscocho of RACE, posted a letter of apology. Then, their facebook page was re-activated.

My 21K Adidas KOTR Run

Like the QCIM weekend, I was very excited. The goal now was to improve on the 2h 17m time. The KOTR course was more challenging in terms of the many uphills, particularly Kalayaan flyover and Bayani Road. My mindset was to increase the pace in the flat roads and taper off for every uphill run. It has worked before and I was confident it would work again.

This time around, I did not get the chance to warm-up. We did not arrive early enough for me to do some warm-ups. As such, I just stretched for about 5 minutes while waiting for the race to start.

A few more minutes passed and off we go at exactly 5:30 am. I ran slowly content to let other runners pass me as I wanted to warm-up first. I picked up the pace upon turning right to Rizal Drive as I would eventually taper off approaching the ascend to Kalayaan flyover. After that first uphill run, I increased my pace along the flat roads of Kalayaan.

The downhill run exiting Kalayaan provided a very good momentum in my run along the flat roads of Buendia. This is where my race officially began – I made up for lost time and I ran at a consistent and moderate pace. I made sure to take advantage of this long, flat road. I figured it would be more difficult once we’re back at the Fort Bonifacio area. I was feeling very good and strong. I was focused. I was in ‘game-face’ mode (which was ironic considering what I had written in my blank bib – “Why So Serious? Smile…Have Fun”).

As I was heading back, I was welcomed by some of my friends who joined the 10K category. We exchanged high-fives and they also encouraged me to just go on and continue. It was a great feeling to receive motivating cheers. It also happened at a very good time as I was approaching the dreaded uphill to Kalayaan flyover – a long and steep uphill run that leads us back to Fort Bonifacio. As I saw other runners walk in that uphill portion, I just kept my head up, leaned forward and maintained short strides.

I felt relieved after that section of the flyover. It took me a while to shake off the heaviness from that uphill run. As soon as I felt okay, I began to increase my pace again. I was mindful of the fact that once we reach 5th avenue and Bayani Road, it would be quite a struggle – lots of uphills with the heat beginning to be a factor.

Once I turned right to 5th avenue, it was now a conscious effort to stay with the plan and with the course – taper off in an uphill run and ‘attack’ on the few flat roads along Lawton Avenue and Bayani Road. It was all going very well, until tragedy struck for a second time.

18K Mark

Guess what? It was CRAMPS again – starting with the right hamstring! This time, it came earlier at the 18K mark. At first it was manageable but I had to consciously manage the way I ran. I welcomed and enjoyed every downhill run as it enabled me to rest my legs. At the same time, I despised every uphill run as it triggered the cramps. I was very frustrated. How could it happen again?!

From this point on, I had to drastically reduce my pace. I was trying my best to shake it off and hope that it’ll just go away. There were times when it was getting better, but it was quite painful most of the time. I still resisted the urge to walk. I just maintained a slow pace the rest of way.

This I can say – the last 3K was the longest 3K I had to run. It was another humbling experience like the one I had at the Men’s Health 15K All-Terrain race where I walked for the last 2 kilometers. The mind was willing but the legs were not. It was a test of mental toughness.

I had a sigh of relief when I made it through 26th Avenue (near Fort Strip). Only a few meters left to the finish line. Then, I had the surprise of my life on the final turn at 28th street leading to the finish. My eyes were focused at the finish line looking for the time for 21K. At first, I did not know where to look. But when the marshal directed me towards my lane, I had a wide smile on my face. It erased all the frustration and sadness I felt for the last 3 kilometers. I finished and I improved with a time of about 2h 1m. I was very happy. Deep inside, I was cheering. I looked up and thanked God (During the last 2 kilometers, I prayed and asked for strength to finish). Not only did he let me finish, but he also rewarded me with the gift of confidence.

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