Race review: Condura Skyway Marathon

Among the many marathons held in the Philippines, the Condura Skyway Marathon is, for me, the premier running event. Unlike other marathon events which seem to be more of a competition than an event or which seem to focus more on marketing a brand, the Condura Skyway Marathon seem to be more of Condura's efforts towards the helping the community. In prior years, CSM contributed to the support of the Tubbataha Reefs, the Donsol whale sharks, the dolphins of Baclayon, and mangrove trees of Zamboanga de Sibugay. This year's CSM advocacy is for the Hero Foundation, a foundation setup for sending to school the children of soldiers killed in action or incapacitated in the line of duty, an advocacy made all the more meaningful given the situation that had befallen 44 PNP-SAF soldiers who were killed while trying to capture the terrorist known as Marwan.

I had already completed the full marathon in 2012 and 2013 (there was no Condura event in 2014 due to Yolanda). This year I chose to run the 21K because I would already be running the Tokyo Marathon on February 22. I felt good and optimistic about this run. I had already established a new PR for the 32K, set in last week's Takbo.ph 20-miler event, so establishing a new PR for the 21K is a possibility. I had, in numerous occasions, attempted to break my 21K PR, which was set three years ago, but had always come out short. And not like seconds short. I had been always 4 to 5 minutes short of breaking the record. But I felt good coming into this Condura run that I felt that a new PR was at reach.

The gun start was 3:30 am. I was at the site at 3 am. After successfully looking for a parking slot, lining up for a portalet, and weaving through the crowds, I finally got to my designated corral. At that point, the organizer (Ton Concepcion?) was giving a speech and last-minute reminders about the marathon. He mentioned that along the route there were 44 soldiers, each holding a picture of one of the “Fallen 44,” and we were requested to salute as we passed those 44 soldiers.

Photo courtesy of Philippine Star

That was touching tribute. And as I ran and saluted the 44 soldiers, the thought in my head was that 44 soldiers were a lot! There were a few – probably one or two individuals among the sea of runners – who didn't bother to salute and I found that selfish, as if the act of raising your hand to your forehead would make such an impact to your running time. These people gave the ultimate sacrifice and you can't even bother with a few minutes to salute?!

The beauty of running in the Skyway is that the road is well-paved with no bumps or potholes. It is also pre-dominantly a straight route with, unlike the traditional routes around BGC and Roxas Boulevard, no intersections where runners have to stop to let cars through or counter-flows where runners have to run alongside or against car traffic. But it has its steep uphill portions, even not counting the climb up the Alabang ramp. And it can be boring. There's nothing to see except a long stretch of concrete road.

The one thing I also like about Runrio-organized runs is that they provide a lot of hydration. The hydration stations had really long tables. I like this because it is typical for runners to crowd and bunch up at the nearest edge of the station and a long table will allow runners to run past the crowd and grab a drink towards the end of the station.

My target pace was 6 minutes per kilometer. That would keep me within striking distance of a PR. My strategy was to take it easy for the first 5K, maybe run at a 6:00 to 6:15 pace, ramp it up a bit and settle on the target pace until the halfway point, then check if I have enough stamina to push the pace even faster. I wanted a PR but didn't want to burn myself out by running fast in the first half and running out of gas in the second half.

The whole run went as planned. I was a little worried because I had a slight aching in my shins and ankles and my heart rate was breaking 170. The pain disappeared around the 5K mark but HR was still above 170. Fortunately, by the time we made the U-turn (which is the half-way point), I still felt strong, despite my heart rate already breaking 180. I still held back as I was worried that I would burn out. Still I was pacing 5:50. At around the 11K mark I opened my first energy gel. It was around the 16k mark that I figured that a PR was very much possible – heart rate steady at around 180 and I knew how a 30-minute 5K felt like and I was about 30 minutes away from a PR. The fact that the last 5K was mostly downhill made the run even easier.

In the end, I finished with a new PR of 2:04:37. I wasn't drop-dead fatigued and my legs still felt strong. I wasn't waddling around. I probably could've run faster, maybe even broke the 2-hour barrier, if I went at an all-out devil-may-care pace, but I didn't want to risk injury since Tokyo – not Condura – is my objective. It does look like I am reaping the benefits of all my training – i.e., all those long Z2 runs, those short and long intervals, and those long runs with fast paces inserted.

So it makes me wonder – can I actually go 4:30 in a marathon? or even break 4 hours?!




48 days to go: I ran the Hashtag Run 21K

I ran a 21K in the Hashtag Run event, organized by a team named Runtarantantan. This was a “training run” so finish time is not so important. The original training schedule was a 25-kilometer run, supposedly 7K slow, 10K fast, 8K slow. I changed it to 7K slow, 7K fast, and 7K slow. This was supposed to mimic the fatigue in a marathon where runners struggle in the last few kilometers. Did I struggle in the last 7K? Not really. Yes there was shortness of breath and some fatigue in my legs, but I finished relatively strong and fresh. I felt no cramps. My legs weren’t wobbly. I had no muscle pain.

I arrived at the run venue around 3:45 am (run was scheduled to start at 4 am) and the Runtarantantan organizer was giving a pep talk. For once, I paid attention to the speaker on the stage. I normally zone out waiting for the starting gun. He stressed the following points:

Don’t give any attention to people bragging about their run times. This I wholeheartedly agree on. Running is a personal journey. Your time is your time. That’s why it’s called a personal record. So when you run faster (or longer) than a previous run, then you are, in your own way, a winner. And those who run can understand that feeling of beating a personal record.

– Hence, no cutoff times. This I don’t exactly agree on. There should be cutoff times, not so much for the logistics (i.e., roads have to be opened up at some point), but also because people should avoid tackling a distance if they aren’t prepared. Cutoff times can be generous – 3 hours should be more than enough for a 21K, maybe 2 hours for a 10K – and that should serve as a motivation for people to train before tackling a specific distance.

– And because everyone is a “winner,” everyone deserves a medal. I used to wonder why people give so much emphasis, so much emotion, and so much importance on the medal, but then I realized that I had also cherished my first marathon meddal and that I would also soon treasure my Tokyo Marathon medal since that would be a milestone in my running life. So while local races are no longer that significant to me, it is still a significant milestone to others and I should not belittle that achievement.

– He also answered many criticisms about whether or not the route is accurate in terms of distance. He corrected the misconception that GPS signals were accurate. It bugs me when people refer to their app or their watch to contest a route’s distance. “According to my GPS, the route is wrong,” they would say. “It was actually 21.2 kilometers!” GPS is not an accurate measure of distance! Trees and buildings can block the satellite signal. GPS will also encounter problems in routes that have twists and turns! I wish people would stop contesting the race distance using GPS as their basis.

– He also mentioned why the Roxas Boulevard route is better that the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) route. I also agree that Roxas is better than BGC, the latter having more turns than the former. Moreover, he did mention that Roxas is “fully closed” as in all intersections are closed (not that there are many to begin with) unlike that of BGC where you have to stop at intersections to let the traffic flow.

Yes I do prefer the Roxas Boulevard route than BGC. It’s easier to tune out since all you have to do is run the length of Roxas Boulevard, between Luneta and the end of Cavitex, unlike that of BGC where you have to pay attention to marshalls and wondering if you took a wrong turn and ended up with runners tackling a shorter distance.

But the run was not without it’s problems. I had no problems with how the run was organized – there were plenty of hydration stations and there was no “traffic jam” in those stations. My problem was with how I used my running app. I fumbled with my running app buttons, screwing up the lap times. The full workout was still recorded, but the “middle” lap (the fast 7K portion) registered as the “last lap.” So while I have the full run recorded, I don’t have the averages for the final 7K. No big issue, but it is a lesson learned on how to operate the running app.

The other “lesson learned” was that the app begins recording after I press PAUSE if I begin moving again. The app recorded a time of 2:44 but it included the walk I took from the finish line to the finisher booth. Fortunately, I took this picture shortly after I crossed the finish line. While the time isn’t in the picture, the is time-stamped at 6:41, which means that I finished at around 2:41. I did mention that time isn’t the priority – this was not a “race” and I wasn’t aiming for any time goals nor for any personal records – but it’s also nice to have an idea of how long I took to run the 21K.

The good news was that I was able to maintain an easy “zone 2” heart rate in the first 7K, maintained close to the prescribed pace (6:20/kilometer) for the middle 7K, and was able to bring down my heart rate to below 150 for the last part.

Now I have to figure out why Spotify stops in the middle of the run. I wonder if it has something to do with the intervals. It stopped twice during the run, both close to the beginning of a new interval. My guess is that when I enter a new interval, Spotify waits for the end of the current song and then stops. I should take note of this in my next run.

And my next long run will be a challenge – 32K Resolution Run. I have always struggled at that distance. Now am excited to see how my training has prepared me for that distance.


97 days to go: Survived a 21K race

The cutoff time for yesterday's Pinoyfitness Challenge run was 2 hours and 30 minutes and I thought that I would struggle to finish below that time. I just recently returned to running, having gotten back to the regular routine only in October. My longest run had been 12 kilometers, and at a relatively easy pace. So while I was confident that I can complete a 21 kilometer run, I wasn't sure if I could finish within the cutoff time. It meant running at a pace close to 7:00 per kilometer, a pace that I had sustained only for a few kilometers during my regular runs. To make matters worse, my headphones were faulty so I had to run with no music to distract me.

Well, it came out that it wasn't that much of a struggle. I started slow but I guess the crowds slowly drew me in to run faster even without me realizing it. Before I knew it, I was running below the targeted 7:00/km pace. I had to consciously slow down, else I burn out in the end. Don't get me wrong – it was still a difficult race. I had to continuously repeat a mantra not to quit, to push on, not to stop, but at least it wasn't that kind of grimacing run that burned my lungs and turned my legs into weighted jello. I still struggled. My legs were a little heavy in the first 3 km but then I settled into a groove for the next 12 km. I thought I could up the pace for the last 5 km but then I held back, worried that I may burn out and resort to a walk break. I finished at 2:27.

In hindsight, I should've slowed down in the end. I wasn't shooting for a PR. I just wanted a long run and end within the cutoff. As I write this, my legs are a little shaky with some slight residual pain in my hips.

I don't enjoy the runs in Bonifacio Global City (BGC). It's hilly, especially the route on Rizal Avenue leading up to the McKinley Avenue intersection. I also don't enjoy going up Kalayaan bridge. Routes in BGC tend to have a lot of twists and turns, plus the fact that you have to cross intersections where you hear cars impatiently honk their horns. Sometimes the traffic enforcers let the vehicles loose, causing you to stop and wait for the traffic to clear. Well, on the bright side, it did give me a few seconds to “rest.”

I need to do more long runs, runs that challenge my body and tax my mind. Having no music to divert my attention, I focused on my breathing and how my feet were pounding on the pavement. One thing I learned in the 21K run was that my posture and form tend to deteriorate. My next long run is this coming weekend, where I will log 15 kilometers, so I should work on improving my running stance.