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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

June 21, 2014

INDEPENDENCE DAY ULTRA MARATHON: Fire Over Cold


Ite,  inflammate omnia

EmoticonIn English, “Go set the world  on fire.” These were the words being used, on the  morning of June 14,  by the lively Fr. Jboy Gonzales of the Ateneo High School Campus Ministry as he exhorted  the parents to “burn baby burn” in being partners with the school in nurturing a culture of warmth among the students and the community. 

I was among those parents and the Jesuit motto proved to be pivotal in my decision to push thru with my participation in an ultra marathon in the midnight hour of that very same Saturday.

Days before, Wednesday to be exact, the Bicolano Penguin   was felled by a severe cold. I was sneezing a lot and the following day (a non-working holiday) I was not even able to do a short 5km run with my son Marcel in UP given the ailment which had the sick idea of festering me till the weekend and beyond. This was bad news for me because I was looking forward to nailing  my 11th ultra on June 15.  But given the cold and now fever, I had to think twice, thrice,  even.  Worst, my Commander-in-Chief (CIC)  saw my condition that Thursday night and declared, in no uncertain terms, that she would exercise a matrimonial veto to my ultra adventure if I still were not feeling well come Saturday. Thus, Friday the 13th for me was a bummer of a dark cat. I was feeling down and out because the inevitable was to be that I would not be running the ultra on Sunday.

Then came that Saturday morning activity which was the Parents’ Day for Grade 10. Boy, this Fr. Jboy is one hell of a motivational speaker. Firebrand even, he sheperded the crowd, zombie-like at the start, into an army of zealous altruists. Most importantly, he made the listening crowd feel good. And this is what I was come the end of the speech. Feeling good and feeling ablaze. The cold seemed to have vanished.

Upon closer reflection,  I figured that these  words were just the right thing for me in the face of depression and self-doubt. The founder of the Society of Jesus, St.  Ignatius of Loyola, often ended his letters to Jesuits going to the missions with the expression “ite, inflammate omnia.” These words were more than a rah-rah expression. These were serious words. The good Saint  wanted the Jesuits to be set afire with passion and zeal for whatever they pursue. 



The Jesuits being a source of inspiration for me, I figured that runners, particularly ultra runners,  must also have themselves set afire with passion and zeal for the sports they love. If my love for running is that deep, then how come I am allowing the cold and the fever to stop me from running the ultra marathon. Mind you, many an expert have prescribed rest from running when a runner has a cold. Even the great runner-philosopher, the late Dr. George Sheehan, included in his “tried and true rules of the road for runners,” the precept that one should not run with a cold.  His exact words are “Do not run with a cold.  A cold means you are overtrained. You have already too much. Wait at least 3 days, preferably longer.” 

To go against these words of wisdom, I have to adhere to words of faith which fit to a T the “ite, inflammate omnia.”

Seeing the passion in my eyes and listening to the gentle force in my words, my CIC capitulated and gave her blessings for me to run. Just come back in one piece, she requested. Dead or alive? I queried in my mind.

Come 12 midnight of June 14 transitioning into June 15, the Bicolano Penguin with my Altra Torin   lined up with  the last row of runners at the Start Area of the Independence Day Ultra Marathon. The 50-km route, as planned by the organizers – Run Mania Phils,  will take the 500+ runners  from the cradle of Philippine Independence in Kawit, Cavite to the mountains of Maragondon. Joining me to run this ultra was all-smile all-star Ernie while providing support was the formidable duo of Bob, who is one excellent  ultra runner, and Orly the ever-reliable driver. At the starting area, while waiting for the gun start, we bumped into several  familiar faces, a handful of whom we had the pleasure of having a group photo.

The BP with Efren & Vangie Gregorio

Ernie with Perkins

Singing of the National Anthem were it all started, not just for this ultra but for the country’s independence
Gunstart was not exactly at 12 am. It came at 12:11 am, by my watch. This was after a heartful singing of the national anthem.

The start was a bit late (ultra marathons are distinguished for starting sharp on the dot of the published start time)  but none were complaining because all the runners were on a festive mood. Some have even donned national costumes like the Maria Clara-inspired saya and pinoy head gear like the straw sombrero.

A diva in a saya and his friend

Minana ko pa kay Lolo Andres itong sombrero.
Ernie and myself were not garbed in a barong but instead were proudly wearing our row5runnin dri-fits. This  was more for safety purposes as this shirt had green neon 5 placed on the front center. The number served as a reflectorized item which would make us more visible to oncoming traffic.

The row5runners breezing thru Kawit into Noveleta
Passing thru the towns of Kawit, Noveleta and Tanza, the first 20 kms was a breeze for the penguin. First, this portion of the ultra is all flat and the roads are wide. Second, I was being paced by Ernie and his Hoka Bondi. Running alone an ultra is tiring but it becomes less tiring when you run with a buddy. But entering the town of Naic, I noticed, given that it was just 3am in the morning, my eyes were beginning to close. Clearly, I lacked sleep and a culprit to my drowsiness was the festering cold. I wondered how long before I would just stop running/walking  and elect to seek the comforts of the Montero for some sleep. Some ultra runners we saw were at times, sitting down and resting on the many waiting sheds along the way.  

The Bicolano Penguin slowing down for some shuteye somewhere in the outskirts of Naic. Coffee dear.

There was no sleeping for me in the support vehicle as our veteran support crew duo made sure of that. Observing my sleep walking, Bob regularly shouted words of encouragement, the most effective of which was the word “Togot.” That got the penguin going and scanning the horizon for beauty and sexy. Also, they had the salt and the mountain dew ready for me at every pit stop with the support vehicle. And to reward me for my effort of finishing yet another 5-km leapfrog, they had my green director’s chair ready for me to sit down where Orly could give me a massage to my running muscles. The passion to aid was ablaze in the hearts of Orly and Bob as all the other support crews out there on the road.

Reaching the Km 30 marker in the vicinity of both Maragondon and Ternate, the complexion of the ultra changed a bit literally and figuratively. At this point, it was becoming less dark as dawn approaches. Significantly for the participants, Km 30 to Km 40 is the portion of the ultra where the race organizers have designated as zero support vehicle area. Ironically this is the portion of the race where majority of the middle-of-the-pack and back-of-the-pack runners would need their respective  support vehicles given that Km 33 onwards are hills. Rules are rules and we think the rationale for the organizers was more on safety as the road on the hills is narrower and has less shoulder areas. Of course we will follow the rules but leave it to Pinoy ingenuity to look for a loophole or 2 on them rules.

More significantly for me, Km 30 is  where Ernie would run at a faster pace. He committed to run with me up to this point and he has delivered on that promise. Knowing his penchant for negative splits, he would surely run faster which the penguin in me could not keep up. I guess I will be a solitary runner on the upcoming hills of the Mt. Palay-palay National Park. How I wish there could be some familiar faces that I could kibitz with on them uphells.

“Ask and you shall receive.” The Good Book talks about this and surely enough, as Ernie left me in his dust, there came a couple in red orange. Familiar and friendly faces in Efren and Vangie. Fellow TBRDM alumni. I admire this running couple as they conquer ultra marathons without a dedicated support vehicle. They did it in the T2N last month and they will successfully tackle this one. Smiling, I asked if I could tag along and they readily accepted my company. Perhaps to celebrate the running acquaintance, we found ourselves stopping in the water/food station of Run Mania which was serving ice cream. We gladly got our share and posed for a sweet group picture.

Ice cream at Km 30 station with Efren & Vangie Gregorio
There was more running to be had and the hills of Mt. Palay-palay National Park loomed in the horizon. We got to have our butts moving which we did.  

A welcome sight greeted us as the road veered to the left signalling the start of the uphells. There was Bob standing by the road with the cooler (with wheels) by his side. I guess he took to heart what I said at the start of the ultra that if the organizers enforce the zero support vehicle policy from Km 30 to Km 40 then one of the support crew would have to run with me, bringing along with him the cooler on wheels filled with Gatorade and Mt Dew. Laughing, I said back at the start that the prohibition is on support vehicle which is clearly different from a support runner. So there was Bob ready to execute the loophole which he did by running with me for a hundred meters with the cooler. Both of us had a hearty laugh and I could hear snickers from the passing support vehicles.

The loophole. Mea culpa.
Having had a good laugh, I told Bob that the Brotherhood of Ultra Fuckers (BUF) is clearly alive and well but this was  ridiculous. We phoned Orly to come back and pick up Bob already. I strapped on my Orange Mud Double Barrel Hydra Quiver for my hydration needs and continued with my Galloway. The Bicolano Penguin can manage, what with the running companionship of kindred spirits like the Gregorio running couple.

And there were more affable ultra runners on the road which I got to encounter and share a chat (and even a selfie) as we trudged thru the ultra which was nearing already the last 10 kms of this ultra.

There was the running pair of Mon and Jai. What got my attention was both of them were wearing Newton running shoes. Unlike Asics, Brooks, Saucony, Nike and even  Hoka, the Newton brand is not a common sight in the local ultra running scene. Given their running shoes noted for speed, the duo were constantly overtaking me. The mystery for me was how come I kept being overtaken by them when I didn’t recall overtaking them back.

Team Newton

Photo with Mon
Another pair was two runners from the Samahang Mananakbo ng Smart (SMS). Walking uphill as we neared the Km 40 marker, I saw the 2 walking a hundred meters ahead.  Knowing that they were part of SMS, a running group I admire, I transitioned from a lazy walk to power walking so that I could catch up with the two. Successful in keeping abreast with them, I  got to chat and told them how I admire the SMS and Smart’s involvement in activities of its employees. The SMS experience, to my mind,  is a best practice case study for employer-employee engagement. The 2 SMS runners were kind enough to have a selfie with me.  The male runner’s name was Ipe but I forgot the name of the lady.  Early bout of alzheimer’s   for the BP.

Catching up with 2 SMS runners

Selfie with SMS
Beyond the Km 40 marker, the runners could not yet turn left on the road to Kaybiang Tunnel but instead had to run roughly 2.5 kms forward to Caylabne  and then do a U-turn in front of the gate entrance to a military  base for the Philippine Marines. Looking at the big billboard that says “The Few The Proud. The Marines”, I found it to be appropriate in referring to the local ultra runners. We are relatively few and definitely we are a proud bunch. Add loud to the equation.

The Few. The Proud. The Loud.
At the U-turn point, Orly pointed out that the odometer in the support vehicle read already 49 kms. With at least 2.5 kms going back to the point where we could turn (right this time) to Kaybiang Tunnel and then at least  1.5 kms beyond the turn to reach the finish line, the exact distance was definitely beyond 50 kms for the Independence Day Ultra.  Again, another brand signature of Run Mania-organized ultras.  It is never “kulang”, always “dagdag.” 

Following the unwritten rule in the local ultra scene of not quibbling with the distance (after all if you have done close to 50 kms already, what is a handful more kilometers), the runners gamely trudged on. We know fully well that the finish line was almost there for the taking.

But before we had that blissful finish, one last delight remained. That is the penetration of the 300-meter long Kaybiang Tunnel, which was less than a kilometer away from the finish. Expectedly, many photographers were in position. No doubt, the ultra runners did not disappoint with their best running form(s)  and sweetest killer smiles.    

Ernie all smile

A tired yet smiling penguin

Clapping all the way thru the tunnel

A blissful smile
The finish line was a hub of blissful emotions. There was the generous applause from fellow participants as you near the finish. There was the solo photo opportunity to raise  the finish line banner. There was the queue to get the finisher’s medal, certificate, trophy and meal. I really didn’t mind the long line (very short actually when compared to RU standards)  and in fact, it gave me the opportunity to talk with the other runners on the queue. Turns out that the next  runner to cross the finish line after me is a fellow Bicolano while the one next to him is a fellow parishioner of mine in Paranaque.  Small world indeed.

Sweet smile of success

Thank you for the privilege to raise this banner.

The blue sea was our witness.

Lining up with fellow Bicolano (in red) and fellow parishioner (in yellow)

We are happy to represent our Ateneo de Naga HS Batch 1983 in this ultra.

First Balfour – inspired by values, powered by good

Ernie represented BPI quite well.

With Efren
Which brings me to the finish of this article. Running ultras, for me, have the effect of making our world smaller. So small that travelling from one point to another point can be had by the power of our own two feet. Years back, that is before my running, I would not have imagined that I could reach Maragondon from Kawit just by running. But now, any place is fair game for conquest by foot as long as our hearts are set afire with passion and zeal.  

Fire conquers the cold anytime, anywhere.Emoticon

Got me a lobster from a vendor in the finish line area. Fire will surely conquer this seafood.

A rare middle-of-the-pack finish for a perennial back-of-the-packer


P.S.  

Many thanks to Pat and the people behind Run Mania for a job well done with the Independence Day Ultra Marathon. The running fiesta(s)  that you produce is getting to be a habit for many in the local ultra community.


Thank you to all the photographers (Shuttermae, Manna Manganar, Run Lipa, Day Spotted, Believe & Never Give Up, and many more) on the road that June 15 morning. Your  patience and artistry captured succinctly  our romantic quest to be extraordinary. 

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