My Second Wind by Eric Rivas

FlatFoot’s Note: Last November 1, 2009, Eric, my officemate and friend, successfully and proudly finished the “2009 ING New York City Marathon.” He is among the 42,000 runners who mustered enough courage and determination to run in one of the most celebrated and toughest marathons in the world. Here, he chronicles his triumph that will leave us inspired and determined to finish our own marathon. To Eric, many congratulations once again and thank you for agreeing to have your story be published in this blog. Cheers and Happy Running to more marathons and, perhaps, another round of NYCM!
My Second Wind   

 42 @ 40       

A hundred meters or so from the bright blue arch, I almost burst into tears as I choked on my emotions. But my body was too tired so I had to do without the drama. My legs would get whatever strength I had left for the purpose of bringing me across the finish line and when I did, raising my arms would burn whatever few calories I had left in my system.       

I was spent. But I was happy. Extremely happy. For there I was in beautiful Central Park in the middle of autumn. I had completed the New York City Marathon in less than five and a half hours and no one can keep me from claiming my prize, the finisher’s medal.       

What started out as a simple game of chance, a minor gamble if you will, has paid off big time. Early 2009, Valee and I were planning to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in New York. We decided to do it in November so I can also celebrate my big ‘four-oh’ in style. Two of my very good friends (and bros), Jam Mariquit & Jay Tambunting, were joining the 40th running of the NYC Marathon around the same time and the suggestion for me to run with them was hatched. I had been running for about a year but never going beyond 5kms (or roughly 3 miles). Running a full marathon (42.195 kilometers) was just not in my to-do-before-I-die list. Or so I thought.       

To join the run, one had to participate in a lottery. What the heck, I had nothing to lose. I thought back then that I probably wouldn’t get chosen anyway. My application was sent second week of April. A month later, the running gods would smile upon me and I was accepted. Out of the 58 applicants from the Philippines, 52 were accepted. I dreaded getting the congratulatory email, but welcomed the challenge (I had no choice!) set before me. First order of business, find a running coach and commence training.       

The Preparation       

What followed were weeks of active training, doing drills, perfecting my form, strengthening the core, building endurance and participating in organized runs. Twice a week, I would don my running shoes and head off to the track in ULTRA or the perimeter of High Street. Investments were made on gear and supplements. New friends were won in the running community. Sundays were reserved for long runs around the Fort and the villages straddling it. There are days I just wanted to give up and get a massage instead but the discipline was slowly growing within me and I started looking forward to pushing my physical boundaries. One perk was the continued weight loss despite the endless binges. For the most part, getting started was more than half the battle and looking back, I can honestly say that those days spent in training gave me great joy.       

Pre-race ‘Jitters’       

Four and a half months later (and more than 10 pounds lighter), I was filled with so much hope going into New York that I can finish this race. I had never done the full distance during training and the farthest ‘long run’ I have done was 32kms. But I knew I was ready. I had a week to overcome jet lag and acclimatize. It was just too cold in NY and I got tired of converting Fahrenheit to Celsius watching the weather forecasts. Bottom-line, we runners from warm, sunny Manila would be freezing our asses off come race day. One pre-race highlight was the Expo. It was like Disneyland for runners. A mecca for fun-runners, weekend warriors and sub-elite runners alike. Anything and everything related to running was there. If you couldn’t find it in the Expo, it probably doesn’t exist. After claiming my race kit and getting a souvenir shirt, I was ready for one last condition run prior to the marathon. Central Park beckoned.       

Running ‘Saints’ From All Nations       

The night before the run, we attended the Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral. It was packed. My guess was that a lot of the would-be-marathoners were there with their friends and families. The priest’s sermon centered on the celebration of All Saints’ Day and he talked about how in the book of revelation, 144,000 saints from all corners of the world would converge and stand with Jesus. We had runners from all corners of the world in attendance and it was more than enough reason to celebrate. A special blessing before the run would be nice, I thought to myself.       

The wish would be granted as the priest called on all the runners to come to the sanctuary for the final blessing. People started to flood the aisles and it didn’t take long before the altar was crowded with runners in every shape and form. It gave me goose bumps as I imagined myself in medieval times gathering with other soldiers before the bishop for a final sprinkling of holy water prior to going into battle. Reality was way better so I snapped out of my fantasy and marveled at the moment unfolding before my eyes. Then as a final word, the priest cited my guiding verse from the second book of Timothy. Wow.       

Race Day       

It would be an early start at 5:30 as we boarded the bus that would bring us to the starting line. We had a few hours more before gun start so after coffee and a bagel, it was time to find our spot inside the runners’ tent and catch a nap. We would then share stories with other runners as we waited for the call to proceed to the designated corral. As expected, it was freezing and the wind chill added to the ‘suffering’. Excitement was building and before we knew it, the starting gun (or cannon more like it) signaled the start of the first wave of runners… then the second wave… and finally, our group, the third and final wave.       

Enjoying It

The run was just surreal. Going through the five boroughs of NY with thousands of other runners and thousands more on the sidelines cheering you on, it was simply thrilling. My end-goal was simple; to finish the race. This was broken down further into bite-sized strategies so I don’t feel overwhelmed;        

  1. Dedicate the first 10 kilometers to my wife, Valee – something that proved relatively simple and joyful as I savored and loved the experience. A lot like our ten years’ worth of togetherness and married bliss.
  2. Dedicate kilometers 11 to 20 to Raine, our 8 year old daughter – again quite enjoyable with moments of minor discomfort as my muscles started to show signs of tiring. She’s a good kid, I thought to myself and as my muscles strained, I recalled the challenges Valee and I went through as first time parents.
  3. Dedicate kilometers 21 – 30 to our 14 month old son, Raco – whew, this is the part where things started getting complicated (perhaps a preview of things to come with my energetic and strong-willed boy?). Call of nature, fatigue, wind chill, cramps in my upper thighs and side stitches. This can’t be happening to me. I had barely gone past the halfway point. Luckily, Valee was waiting just after the 27km mark and she was a sight for sore eyes (and aching muscles!). After giving her a kiss, I get a boost and I was off to the last stage.
  4. Final 12 kilometers would be my run time with God – I whispered, “Lord, this is it, just You and me”. I was certain He’d bring me home, but this turned out to be the most difficult portion of the run. Constant cramps in my thighs, bloating from too much fluid intake, my body salt depleted, and exhaustion creeping in. Every mile marker seemed farther and farther away. Walk, run, stop, stretch, run, walk, stop, stretch… Are we there yet?!!

Entering Central Park

And then finally, it was over…       

Running the Race       

The back of my race shirt bore the text from 2 Timothy 4 verse 7, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”. Runners behind me may have read the verse but all I needed was one (out of the more than forty two thousand who participated) to acknowledge it and my goal to be His messenger would be complete. A young lady came from behind and ran alongside of me and uttered four simple words, “I like your shirt.”. I smiled at her. Mission accomplished.       

From what I observed, people who joined the marathon ran for different reasons. Some dedicated the run to departed loved ones while others to promote or support a cause. There were those who came in silly costumes and those who proudly wore the colors of their country’s flag. I also saw men and women who conquered their disabilities and to them goes my utmost admiration. As for myself, the actual run was the crowning glory to the weeks and months of preparation I had committed to realizing this goal. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life and it wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for;          

–          the torment of bringing my heart close to bursting during speed workouts         

–          the difficulty of waking up ridiculously early on Sunday mornings         

–          the misery of going up the flight of steps when I do stairs training         

–          the agony of the last crunch doing sit-ups for my core         

–          the exhaustion and dehydration while doing long runs    

But it wasn’t all pain and suffering. I could always count on my loving wife and supportive family and friends to provide the encouragement and cheer. There were others who trained with me and helped make the experience lighter. There was also a coach who gave me guidance and pushed me when I doubted myself. The pre and post run carbo-loads were always a treat. The physical transformation and the feeling of being healthy were just priceless.      

Twelve months ago, the notion of finishing a marathon would have been unthinkable. And I can’t help but reflect on this Christian journey I find myself on with the goal of reaching heaven as my finish line. I realize now that God has set for me a mission that is not impossible. But there is a need to prepare and train hard for it; to love people in our lives with all our heart, to make sacrifices when things seem to go beyond our control, to look up to Him and persevere as difficulties challenge us, to be prepared to get hurt for reasons we may not immediately understand, to carry on in times of spiritual dryness and to fix our eyes on the reward that awaits those who choose to run the race.      

At the Finish

I feel immense happiness in having been able to finish this marathon. Imagine the great joy in store for those who finish HIS …