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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Running for a Cause: Lace Up for Anika

Don't be fooled. Every time we do something, it is always for a cause, it's just sometimes, the cause is our own. So we celebrate when we come together to do something for the betterment of others.

I've always loved fundraisers. Maybe it was because when I was in Grade 1, Mt. Pinatubo erupted and it was common for our teachers to ask us to bring old clothes, canned goods, used newspapers and the like to raise funds for the "nasalanta."

In high school, I was shipped to my mother in Cotabato and in my third and fourth year, all I did was head donation drives and fill truck loads of goods for the endless needy: a community whose houses have been diminished into ashes, children from the local orphanage, civilians caught in the middle of a war.

In college, I volunteered to teach street children, to build houses, to clean rivers.

As an adult, I volunteered to teach underprivileged children to make their own dolls. Yes, dolls. Apparently, by making their own cloth dolls, they are able to relate their stories, some of abuse.

And now, since my love affair with running, I am happy that I can put my fat legs to help a little child. Anika, a 5 year old child with only one ventricle. So, as an adult, she can truthfully say that she half-heartedly did things, everything. Hopefully, she can reach adulthood with the help of more people who are willing to do things for her cause.

Kudos to Team Breathe Hope and Breathe Hope Runners, Raianne Kei Mata and Boo Toledo for giving us the chance to help children such as Anika.

Should you want to further help Anika and know more about her condition, please read below:

Anika, now 5 years old, is a baby girl who has a single ventricle loosely translates to having a HALF HEART. For further details, here is her medical condition:

The 2d echo showed that she had a Single Ventricle defect (basically half a heart), a rare type of CHD (Congenital Heart Defect) with other heart defects such as:

Single Ventricle – A complex heart defect that results in one of the heart’s pumping chambers (ventricles) being underdeveloped.

Dextrocardia - is a congenital defect in which the heart is situated on the right side of the body; a otherwise harmless condition. Or refers to the heart being a mirror image situated on the right side.

Pulmonary Valve Atresia –She has a small pulmonary artery. Blood can’t flow from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery and on to the lungs so low-oxygen (bluish) blood mixes with the oxygen-rich (red) blood in the left atrium.

Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) - also known as a "hole in the heart". Is a congenital heart defect in which the wall that separates the upper heart chambers (atria) does not close completely.”

Banco De Oro (BDO)
Account Name: Anika N. Arjona
Savings Account Number: 0281005540
Branch: BDO SM Megamall B

So there, it is not always important to run fast, run long, run like the Tarahumara. Sometimes it is more important to run together and help someone in need.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

ZemGear Terra

Since I started running March 2012 I've had 4 shoes, one is a Regatta Trail Shoe from my aunt, it has gum sole and I think pretty much zero drop too but the upper is a little bit bulky and non-flexible. Then I bought a Speedo Pool Runner, now pretty much worn out. Next I got New Balance Minimus Zero Trail which was ok but a let down because the seams are already starting to wear out after 3 trail runs.

Anyway, after my Speedos retired, I no longer had any road shoe, and I can't always run barefoot because our city streets are not as clean as I wish it to be, so I went to Sports Warehouse to scout for new ones. Although I have a love-hate relationship with New Balance, their shoes were the most in stock so I tried the NB Minimus Road but I felt that my toes would push forward during the entire run because the shoe had too much sole in the mid and heel and too little in the forefoot. I tried other road-trail hybrids but they were too bulky or too stiff. To appease my friends, I also tried the stability and motion control shoes, and I'll leave it at that.

So off to R.O.X. and I went home with ZemGear Terra.

Price: 2,990pesos (way cheaper than VFFs)
Upper: 4-way stretch with reflectorized bands, these bands hold the foot in place AND keeps you visible when running at night
Sole: split toe recycled rubber that reached to the sides, unlike their previous models where the sole was literally just under the foot
Fit: snug fit, very comfortable, just like wearing a sock with sole, literally makes my feet happy
Runnability: easy to run with, hotspot on the big toe during the first run but easily remedied, no blisters formed, the rubber sole was thinner than VFFs and Merrell Glove series but thicker than my Speedos 

Will use my Terras for Milo Marathon and possibly all my other road races and LSDs.

Do your research before buying:
ZemGear Philippines on Facebook

Please do not launch into barefoot running and run 10k with it at the first salvo. If it's your first time, try walking barefoot in the gym, running 1k barefoot and increasing mileage by 10% each time. Do your research and make sure you are ready for the initial pain as your feet, ankles, calves and core become stronger. You may also visit Barefoot Running Philippines on Facebook for training.

Ok, after all the caveat, let's run like the Tarahumara!

Sorry for the crappy photos, my camera got busted after Merrell Adventure Run. 
So we're stuck with my camera phone photos for now.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

31k: frontRUNNER 2nd Valley Trail Challenge: A Newbie’s Post-Run Ruminations

Pre-race Stats:
May 2012 Feet2run 5k: 50mins
May 2012 Cortal 10k minimalist: 1hr:26mins
June 2012 Merrell Trail 10k barefoot: 5hr:30mins
June 2012 Run United 2 10k minimalist: 1hr:12mins

After Merrell, I thought I could take on anything. That it took me almost 6 hours to finish a 10k trail run bothered me for 20mins and then I said, well, how many women can say that they did a 10k technical trail run barefoot? Not many, at least during that race. Then I thought, how many beginners can say the same, probably only someone crazy like me. And then another thought struck me, I said to myself, “Hey, you can scramble up and down slippery slopes for almost 6 hours, that’s something about your endurance, baby!”

At about that time when I was still chewing on my Merrell experience, I was getting acquainted with Boo Toledo and his fiancĂ© Vivian. I found Boo online because he is the organizer of Lace Up for Anika: A run for a child with a single ventricle or half-heart. I am fond of outreach programs, runs for a cause and everything that entails giving my time, effort and heart to someone in need. So when I heard he was having a difficulty with the venue, I messaged him and started talking about possibilities. Eventually I found out that this big guy, he’s tall and robust at the same time, is an ultramarathoner! I was floored! All along I thought that runners of that caliber are lean mean running machines, something like KB who can take his shirt off all he wants and no misplaced fat would go a-bouncing. But ho and a hey, here comes one who tells me I can do it too. Suddenly my ultrarunning dream wasn’t so far off. I could picture myself running the BDM and with a smile on my face at that.

Scouring facebook for more races to run, I was beginning to get tired of the city’s road races because it usually isn’t much different with me running around UP Acad Oval: we simply run around things. I wasn’t much for that. I am also quite clear that before I take on another trail of the Merrell level, I have to lose more fat and develop more leg muscles and upper body strength. I told myself I have a year to get myself ready for Salomon, Nature’s and another Merrell. So I wasn’t really looking for trail runs but at least I was looking for a different route. And then I stumbled upon an album that featured rolling plains, kind slopes and endless grass. It was a very modest invitation to the 2nd frontRUNNER Valley Trail Challenge. I studied the photos, there wasn’t any rappelling or mountain climbing involved, there couldn’t be any of that in Nuvali, right? I was all for it, I was excited, blood was zip zinging inside my veins and arteries, my head was a big balloon. There was only one catch: the distances were only 25 and 50k. And there was a cut-off, 5hrs for the 25k and 9hrs for the 50k. Ok, that’s two but, you know me, I like to make the odds sound cute and ponderable.

Well, I said, I was able to keep moving for almost 6 hours in Merrell, and this was plain jane terrain, so I did the next stupid thing and posted the event poster on my wall, tagging my equally crazy running friend AstroboyRunner with the inert words: Jepoy, 25k? Clearly I was inviting him to run 25k and maybe I will tag along as support, at the back of my head I was wishing he would convince me to run because I wasn’t so convinced I can do it. True enough, I can trust him to feed my crazy when he said, “You run 25k, I’ll run 50k.” I said “Yes, let’s do it!” and the rest is history.

I haven’t ran a 21k road race, he hasn’t run a marathon. But we were two hardheaded people and when we say let’s run this, we will run it until the road gives up on us. We just don’t know when and how to give up. We were running on the hot air in our heads.

So I went to A Runner’s Circle for their Fun Run Thursdays and registered. Most of the people there were ultras, they were big names but they were… goofy. Like me. I was laughing my head off with them. It helped that I won a USB drive, too. Come visit them every Thursday, let’s run and win some spunky stuff. At the end of the day I registered myself and AstroboyRunner for the Valley Trail Challenge. I took a deep breath and texted Jepoy of what I just did. He said, “This is it! No one can stop us!” And just like that we jumped into the unknown.

We started training for 25 and 50kms. I was teaching him drills and nutrition and other technical running information that I learn in the Milo Apex Running School, running websites, blogs and chitchat with other coaches, runners and ultras. He was teaching me to run like a child. It was a good training plan. And then I read from blogs that there were freebies in this race, the kind that the faint of heart cannot begin to believe. Last year, instead of 25k it was 28.5k and instead of 50k it was 57k. We panicked, for about 5mins, and then we said, what the heck, andito na ‘to. Game on!

A week before the race our training plan failed because we had personal things to attend to. We were getting cramps in our life’s races and we had to attend to that.

Days before the race we were both feverish. Hours before the race my blood pressure was doing a JLo, it was on the floor, way too low.

But we were already in Nuvali. And we had one heck of a support team of ONE person, namely Lee Flores, but he was more than enough. He pushed us when we needed pushing and he held us back when we were being too much into things. He carried our bags, he managed our food and hydration, lay down on the cold stone floor with us. He took pictures of us so finally we have decent pictures to post on facebook. Usually we run and then we go home, this time at least, we have someone to stop us, let us pose and take our mugshots. He was a one-man support team and I’d take him to my T2N and BDM races if he will oblige. You know what’s even more heartwarming? The guy hates me. He hates my blabbering, laughing, smiling, cheering, noisy mouth. But he was there for me all the way, and for that Lee, you have my heart. Thank you. And don’t puke now, but I’ll say it again, I love you super, you’re the best!

There, I think I managed to make him hate me again by writing this but at least I know he has a smile on his face; at the end of the day, baby, I hope I was able to teach you that happiness comes from within. That no matter how hard and long and hot the race of our lives can be, we can always summon the muster to smile and laugh. And we should, because the opposite, to whine, frown and flare up in anger is just too easy and too self-indulgent and such a detriment to life, yours and others alike.

So, AstroboyRunner was off with the 100+ 50k runners and I was left behind with 300+ 25k runners. And then, Sir Jonel, EIC of frontRUNNER magazine and head honcho organizer of the event, announced another surprise: instead of 25k or 28.5k we were in for 31k. And just like that he led the countdown. And we were off and I was thinking, “Woohoo, 31k! Dear God in heaven let me live through this one.” I had meager 10ks under my belt. I needed St. Jude, master of the impossible to weather this one out. I laughed it off and made a few friends at the starting line.

The first 5k was heart-poundingly looking like Merrell. Trees on either side, mud in between, with steep slopes straight ahead. I said, damn, if this keeps up I am not going to make the cut-off. I was wearing my bright orange New Balance zero drop, Vibram sole trail shoes with no socks on so I wasn’t even taking my time finding a way around the mud and waters, I simply ran through them, wetting my feet in the process. I rabbit-hopped the dry and sped through the muddy downhills. I was crazy about the time and it did not help that one of my fellow runners was a Green Lantern with a talking iPhone app that loudly declaimed the time (1 hour 14mins) and the distance (7k). I promptly ran away from him, his all-black body suit and his gadgets. Damn! I need to make that cut-off.

The next 20k took me to New Zealand, it was a fantastic stretch of grassy hills with cows lounging around and cow dung on my feet. The cows were so sedentary, taking their time chewing on cud that staring at them would make you want to stop and lay around in the grass all day. That is, until you smell and see the cow dung, huge, gigantic piles of them, and then you would want to move fast. I was overtaking runners like my life depended on it. But the overtake was a long and lonely process. There were almost no runners immediately in front and behind me. When that happens, I run like a madman and hope that I catch someone in front. When I do, I stop and chat for a while, give some encouragement and then I run again to catch someone ahead. It usually took me at least 10mins of running to catch up to the next ones in front.

The runners were almost always ready to share a laugh. I would prod them, tell them that we were halfway there, that we can now run a marathon after this, what is 11.195 more kilometers now that we have already ran 31? We were cracking up like loons. I am happy to have made a few of them get over their pains that they eventually overtook me.

In the last 6k, the sun was beginning to pound on our skin, my hydration was lukewarm, and since I had water, Pocari and Hydrite mixed together, a salty-sweet lukewarm drink wasn’t very refreshing. At about this distance I took my gel, a terribly sweet Stinger or something like that which I bought at Riovanna Katipunan for about 70 pesos, it was all-natural, made of honey, and it was also the cheapest but I think I’m not buying it again in my next races. It was much too sweet, and yes, I do eat honey from the jar. I didn’t try it pre-race, I was stingy. So there. Lesson learned. Let us all please have a taste test of all the gels available. I would say I loved Nature Valley granola bars though, if only it had enough electrolytes and B-vitamins and whatever else is on an energy gel, I would simply go with it.

Before I tell you about my grueling final 6k, let me back track and tell you how much food Sir Jonel had prepared at the aid stations every 5 or so kilometers along the route. We had water, Pocari, and colas. Yes colas! Lovely and sweet on a hot day. We had Regent cakes and Tiwi cracker nuts. We had candies galore. We had Gardenia with peanut butter and strawberry jam. We had endless eggs. Man oh man, this was something else. In Manila, you were lucky if a 21k race had bananas. And Sir Jonel had the modesty to tell us to prepare and be self-sufficient. Self-sufficient my derriere! You could sit down and have breakfast at the aid stations! Food means a lot to me on races, I discovered during my training LSDs that I run better when I eat a meal immediately before running (and yes, I still have my appendix intact) so I know that I would have to eat something every 10k if I want to survive 31k. For all the food that made us runners go the distance, thank you Sir Jonel!

And so, let us now go back to my final 6k. I had just passed by Boo and Vivian, shared some laughs and moved along. I passed by Nuvali’s wakeboarding area. I was keeping myself from plunging into the water. Man was it hot! I was passing by runners who were walking with scraps of discarded items they have fashioned into umbrellas. I kept running, I needed to make the cut-off. I was thankful for the two heat training session I did: one along Commonwealth, one barefoot at 12noon in UP. I would suggest you do the same, and add more if you can. It has helped me weather the heat.

At this point I was asking anyone with a GPS watch if we were going to make the cut-off at the rate we’re going. They said yes, but barely. That was enough to fuel me. I would give them a final encouraging punch line and then I would pick up my feet and run. When the gravel paths came, my forefoot strike was both a curse and a gift. I trod lightly but the pads of my feet were beginning to ache. Looking back, I needed to learn all foot strikes, mid and heel, if I wanted to survive longer distances.

Finally we reached the paved road. The uphill road. At about this time my feet and legs were telling me they could run no more, I bent down to stretch my hams and pointed my toes upward to stretch my calves too. Again, looking back, I know now that it was lactic build-up and I should have lain down, brought my legs and feet up instead of bending over. I said to myself my body can still make it, I have no cramps in my legs, my breathing was great, nagiinarte lang yan, itakbo mo. So I ran. I ran the final stretch of road until I met with runners that looked like they have been running for decades, ripped and lean and… walking. So I walked with them. I was beginning to think I was going to walk to the finish line when I heard one with a GPS watch say to her friend, “We have to run or we won’t make the cut-off.” When I heard that, my legs bolted. I don’t know where I got the strength but it was suddenly there. My pace was almost that of my 10k road race, around 7mins per km.

And then, I could see the clubhouse. I could hear the music. I could feel my legs getting faster and faster. I was sprinting. I was on a high. I was summoning all my energy reserves and putting myself in the highest gear. On turbo, on nitro. I heard the whistles, I thought that signaled the cut-off, my God I was bolting like there’s no tomorrow. And finally. A handshake from none other than Sir Jonel himself. A smile between runners: from him, an ultrarunner, to me, a beginner, he knew exactly how I felt. I had my medal and I was in heaven. He said he was organizing a 42k in Nuvali and that maybe I want to be a part of it. He invited me to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya for the King of the Mountain Trail Run series. He never once looked me over to assess whether I can do it. He had faith in his runners. He is a great man and I said yes, I will run your races. Most definitely.

It was my first medal as I had not run any 21k road race. It was also my first finisher’s shirt. Let me prove to you that I am still a girl because I was squealing with delight when I found out that the small sized shirt fit me very well. I am wearing it as I write this one down. Squeal.

We waited for AstroboyRunner to finish (he did within the cut-off, the damn boy is now officially an ultrarunner, congratulations!), I had just finished eating my free lunch care of Sir Jonel and I was telling my story to Lee while I cheered for every runner who was trudging over to the finish line, urging them to run. I could tell he wanted to put me on a leash so I thought I’d relieve him of having to talk to me and I said I’ll just say hi to the other runners. I greeted Boo who was with Coach Mar. I was lucky to meet the greats. Coach Mar was Batch 1 of the 42k group in Milo Apex Running School and here I was, the current batch. I was milking him of running techniques and he knew what I was trying to do yet he happily obliged.

Ultrarunners are just my people. They feel like family and I am at home with them. Like ancient brothers in arms, they seem to have known pain and have made friends with it so they can travel long distances together. It was like meeting Beowulf only that they did not slay their Grendel, instead, they rode and ran with it and reveled in its ferocity. You don’t always have to kill your demons, much less be subdued by them, you simply have to learn to deal with them and sometimes when you’ve respected them enough, they will give back the respect and indulge you and run away with you and be a friend. After all, in long distance running, pain tells you that you are doing something wrong, without pain, you have no chance to correct anything and you’ll just fall off like a leaf on autumn.

Unlike shorter road races where speed is all that matters (I know, I am generalizing, please forgive my novice ignorance, I may just be making excuses for my slow legs), in long distance running, endurance matters more. And endurance is all me. My grandmothers taught me that early on, “Just tiis, anak.” So I know how to weather the pain in my legs, I know how to play mind games with myself. I know I don’t have well-developed leg muscles yet but that doesn’t mean I should put a limit on finding out how far I can go. The distance is already there, the fat will fall off and the muscles will come soon enough as long as I don’t stop running.

What’s next after this? I know in my heart I will do Tagaytay to Nasugbu or T2N this December. That was what came to mind right after my jubilation with the medal and the finisher’s shirt. Unless Sir Jonel comes up with another 50k in Nuvali or somewhere near Manila, T2N would be my next. Can I do it? Yes, with time and proper training, I can. Can you do it? Why not? Did you know that I just started running March 2012?

Back in February, I drastically ended a relationship that was making me lose my self-worth, my grandmother who raised me had just died, my life was on reset and I was 180lbs. Biggest Loser level kind of fat, Biggest Looser level kind of depression. I did some cleansing diet which meant I was eating mostly fruits and dropped down to 160lbs by March. Then I started running in UP. At first I could barely run 50meters before I have to stop and catch my breath. But I didn’t stop running almost every day even when I looked ugly bouncing in my running clothes. Soon enough I could run through a whole song, then 2 then three songs. And then it was May and I ran my first 5k road race at 150lbs. Now, I have just finished my first 31k trail run and I am at 142lbs.

In four months, I lost 38lbs, I am beginning to regain my life back, I am beginning to look like my old self and I have finally found a sport to fall in love with. In four months, I went from a 50meter breathless jog to a 31 kilometer trail run, I think that is not bad at all. Not bad at all.

By the end of this year, I am hopeful that I would have run 50k and have become an ultrarunner; that I would have lost more fat and gained more muscle and achieve a healthy 120lb lean body; that I would have finished my business with UP and perhaps start another career; that I would have found whoever it is that needs to be found so I can settle down and start a family, a running family, wouldn’t that be nice? I have found another starting line in life and took advantage of it. This race’s finish line is far from near, but I will run until I’ve crossed it. And after that, I’ll look for another race to start and run that and finish that and move on to the next, forever forward, until I am in crutches, or maybe even then, I’ll find a way to go the distance.

To you I would say, never grow tired of starting over. In races, we are always given a chance to start with kilometer zero like everyone else at the starting line. No matter what race you’re running, a 500meter sprint or a 200mile ultramarathon, everyone is given a starting line. You can always start over and run again. And if during the race, if during your life you get crampy, everything hurts, everyone has deserted you, everything sucks and you’re about ready to raise the white flag and put your name on the list of life’s DNFs, please don’t. Just as there is a starting line to every race, there is also a finish line. Always. Don’t mind your speed for now, but mind that you get to that finish line. Come to a race, come to your life with good training and preparation and you will finish with a smile. Be prepared for the pain and be prepared to find happiness within yourself.

With this I would like to thank everyone who has supported me, my dear Uncle Jim Taguiang who is as crazy as me about running. Mia, my running friend whose family turned out to be long-time family friends (what a small world!). Without her and her Nanay and Kuyas I would not have a place to cook the carbonara and the fried chicken that I brought with me for Lee and AstroboyRunner to share in Nuvali. I would also have literally died of dehydration if not for her Hydrapak. To Lee for being the best support crew and for sharing the day with us. To Jay Em for the mid-run text message that made me really push myself and for the post-run call that allowed me to share my joy. To Boo Toledo for the inspiration to keep running. To Coach Mar for the precious post-run advice. To Coach Janette of my 5k group at Milo Apex Running School QC Chapter for the pre-race advice and for forgiving me of my absences. To Ernest aka Takbo Bilis Takbo of Smile Runners for the encouragement, well actually he was discouraging me to run because I got sick but that made me want to run even more! To Printipe and Bullverine for checking in on my training (yes, they make me feel elite, harhar). To Amer for inviting me to train with his dragonboat team, Onslaught, the upper body workout paid off! To PEx Running Club for the banner (joke!), seriously, to PRC for being my running family, and like all families, we may bicker every now and then but we know that at the end of the day, we will be there to support our members in their races and in their life’s battles. To Jepoy, thank you for daring me to go further and farther since day 1. To the judges, Direk and my fellow actors thank you for this award… Ay, hahaha.

I love what I am doing now. If you want to start running but feel you are too fat or don’t have time or any other debilitating and lame excuse; if you really want to start running, message me and I’ll be happy to share my journey with you and hopefully make you move into a shuffle, and a jog and maybe you will even eclipse me and do a BDM before I do. I also teach basic swimming for free; it’s the perfect cross training for running. I give back because I have received so much from the running community. I want you to be a part of us too!

Tsk. I run 31k and I end up writing a post this long (seven pages, single spaced in MS Word). Once I start running ultras, I suggest you print out my posts, free up your afternoon, get some hot chocolate and curl up in a cozy corner to read. I wonder if I can come up with a book by then. You’ll buy won’t you?

As usual, I invite you to run like we were intended to run. Run like the Tarahumara!

All my love,
girlrunningbarefoot <3