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.
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?!