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?!

 

 

 

Race results: Takbo.ph 20-miler

Yes, running at zone-2 works. I am now a believer in this. I was doubtful about this, even if all the science seems to point towards its effectiveness. Proof of the pudding is in the eating, so they say, and the fact that I established a new PR in the 32K is proof enough.

My previous PR was set in November 2011 and it was a grueling experience. I had hit the wall at around the 28 kilometer mark and walked for most of the remaining kilometers. I ran a couple more 32-kilometer races but the result was more or less the same – I would struggle in the last 4 to 5 kilometers and would eventually succumb to walking.

But in today's Takbo.ph 20-miler race I didn't fold. I didn't stop to walk AT ALL. Ok, maybe that's not accurate. There were a few situations where I did stop for a few seconds to grab a cup and at least one situation where the marshalls signalled me to stop to let traffic pass, but I didn't stop because of exhaustion. And I beat my previous PR by four minutes!

Honestly, even days before this race, I had a good feeling about my condition. I conquered the uphill climbs in last weekend's 32K Resolution Run so I figured that I should be able to come out with a good result in the Takbo.ph event. I figured to take it easy in the first 5k and, since the route was actually 2 “loops” of a 16-kilometer route around Bonifacio Global City, I could gauge my pace and stamina after the first route.

The weather was cool – in fact it can be considered cold by Philippine standards. There is a typhoon in the south and rain was forecasted to hit Manila in the afternoon. The run started exactly at 3:30 am and the route took us through the International School and then close to the new Valkyrie club (where I could still see plenty of cars parked by the road) and then we ran up the Kalayaan Flyover, ran along Gil Puyat Avenue, and then making a U-Turn before we got to Sergio Osmeña Avenue for the run back. That's one loop. Unlike last week's 32K Resolution Run, this was a route I was familiar with. I knew the uphill climbs and I knew how far one landmark is to the next. I knew that it was predominantly a downhill run from Mckinley Avenue to the finish line so I planned that section for my last hurrah.

And I also knew that GPS signal would be erratic, so I knew that I couldn't rely on the distance indicator of my running app. Around BGC it was off by a few meters but after a couple of kilometers, once I got to Gil Puyat with all its trees and tall buildings, it was hundreds of meters off. When I completed the first 16K loop, my running app registered 16.7 kilometers so I knew I couldn't rely on the pace that the app was measuring.

At around the 25-kilometer mark, after running for about 3 hours, I knew that I would at least beat my PR. I knew that I could run all the way. I felt good. I didn't feel the onset of any drop-dead exhaustion. The constant thought in my head was “I COULD DO THIS!” Even running up the Kalayaan Flyover didn't sap my energy. Yes I felt my legs get tired but it dissipated once the incline levelled off. At the final U-turn near McKinley Avenue, I estimated two more kilometers until I reach the finish line so I picked up the pace a notch. When I saw the tarpaulin declaring the 31-kilometer mark somewhere by High Street, I looked at my watch (it was indicating 32 kilometers) but I paid that no mind. I was more interested at the time and I knew that even if I ran the final kilometer at a slower pace, I would make a new PR!

All in all I am more than just satisfied with my performance. I ran the second half faster than the first. And to achieve a new PR at my age is proof that age is just a state of mind. Those long boring Z2 runs did pay off!

 

Takbo.ph 20-miler tomorrow

Tomorrow is the Takbo.ph 20-mile run. Once again, just like last week’s 32-kilometer Resolution Run, I am excited for this run. I fared pretty well in last week’s 32k run, where I ran strong with some energy in the tank despite the long and steep uphill climbs. Tomorrow’s route is still a hilly route but not as steep as last week.

I also reviewed my run stats.  My PR for a 32k is 3:54, which I achieved in November 2011. That’s 3 years ago. Will I be able to beat that record?

Ok. Let’s put some goals to shoot for:

  1. Finish in 3:46 (that means I can theoretically finish the marathon in less than 5 hours)
  2. Get a new 32K PR
  3. Finish without walking

So I wonder, how should I approach this run? Definitely I won’t start off by running my marathon pace. Probably do an easy (but no too easy!) run for the first 5 kilometres then settle into a steady pace. I don’t want to burn out and struggle in the last few kilometres.

32K Resolution Run

As I write this, I am experiencing muscle aches and pains in my legs – most especially in my glutes, my quads, and my soleus.

Yesterday's 2015 Resolution Run, which was run at Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, was grueling. And while I am elated that I finished the 32k, I would still give the organizer Runmania a thumbs-down on the way they had handled the event. More on that later.

Notice the elevation gain. 589 meters!

I actually discovered that the route would be an uphill run when I stumbled upon the Resolution Run event page. They posted a picture of the elevation gain and it showed that the gain would be 589 meters. Then, during the opening speech, the organizer gave more details about the route and mentioned that the route would take us up to Palace in the Sky, which an incomplete Marcos mansion but now converted to an urban park. Though I have never physically been to the site, I knew that it would be a really steep ascent. My friends and I were once contemplating a mountain bike trek to that place and we knew that it would test our strength and stamina. I mean it was named Palace in the Sky – not Palace on a Mountain or Palace on a Hill. Palace in the mother-f*ckin SKY!

Gun start was 4 am. I started the run slow. Slow as in zone-2 HR training slow. My heart rate averaged 134 for the first 11 kilometers and my heart rate stayed below 140 for most of the that portion. There were a few hills but it was nothing compared to the “mother-of-all-ascents.” I think it was that slow pace that made me survive the entire run. At the start of the run, people were overtaking me but when we reached the uphill portion, they were walking while I was running (albeit it at a slow pace) and overtaking them.

The uphill climb began at around the 11-kilometer mark, taking a right turn from the road which would have led us to Canlubang Country Club. It was about 5:30 am and still dark. It took me about 90 minutes to reach the peak which was at about the 20-kilometer mark. The sun was up by then. That's 1.5 hours! Granted that it wasn't a continuous uphill climb (there were brief moments of flat roads), but it was still a 9 kilometer torture fest that saw me climb more than half a kilometer uphill! Moreover, there were portions of the road that were unpaved.

I was running – even running uphill! – until I hit about the 19-kilometer mark. That was when I saw that it was one continuous climb to the top. At that point I uttered something like “f*ck this” and chose to walk. I still walked briskly, overtaking a number of runners as I strode up. You could hear a few runners asking the ones on the opposite side (they were going downhill) how far to the top. I really thought that we would reach the Palace in the Sky but the U-turn point was some distance away. We didn't even get a glimpse of the gate. That was disappointing. Maybe I misheard the organizer because I clearly heard him say we would reach the Palace.

Anyway, the marker for the U-turn point was an ambulance. Come to think of it, that was the first and only ambulance I saw throughout the run. I reached the U-turn point, there was also a hydration station so I took two swigs of water. Then I began “running” downhill. I put quotation marks there because it seemed more like shuffling than running. If you think going uphill is hard, running downhill is just as difficult. Running uphill is tough because your legs muscles are pushing you up; running downhill is tough and painful because your body is absorbing the shock as you hit the pavement!

I walked another time when I reached somewhere close to the 23-kilometer mark. I got hungry and ate an energy bar while holding on to a plastic cup of water.

A funny thing happened though at around the 4-hour mark. Suddenly everything felt light and easy and I really genuinely felt that I could finish strong with plenty of energy left. That feeling disappeared at around the 4:30 mark. It was supposed to be the final stretch and it looked endless. My running app was already registering 33 kilometers so I knew I couldn't rely on it. Was the GPS so unreliable that it was off by 2 kilometers?! My landmark was the parking lot, which would have meant that the finish line was a few hundred meters away, but as I looked far into the horizon I couldn't spot the parking lot! It was 8:30 am and the sun was already up so it was beginning to get warm. I kept on asking myself: “Where was the finish line?” At that point I began to walk.

Then, after a few minutes, I could hear music from a distance, which meant I was nearing the finish line. I saw the parking lot appear to my left. I began to run once more and finished at 4:45. The app measured the distance at 34 kilometers.

So why did I give Runmania a “thumbs-down” rating? Here's a summary:

  • It didn't mention anything about an uphill route in their site.
  • It didn't mention anything about dirt roads or rough, unpaved roads. It wasn't much, maybe about a kilometer in total, but if I had known earlier, I would have brought a different pair of shoes.
  • Given the difficulty of the route, a 5 1/2 hour cutoff seems unreasonable.
  • I spotted only one ambulance, and it's at the 20-kilometer mark. Given the difficulty of the course, there should be more medical facilities available.
  • The organizer mentioned bananas at the 13.5-kilometer mark. I didn't see any.
  • Some hydration stations ran out of cups.

I would think twice joining another run organized by Runmania.

 

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.

 

Chocolate Kalabaw Milk

I subscribe to the practice of drinking chocolate milk after a run. The more strenuous the workout, the more important it is to imbibe some nutrition for recovery. Many health and running articles espouse chocolate milk as the ideal recovery drink. So when I spotted Kalabaw (or in English, “Carabao”) Milk at our local supermarket the other day, I did not hesitate to grap a few bottles. I tried it and it was delicious! The taste was not that different from that of cow's milk but somewhat creamier and sweeter.

So it piqued my curiousity. The Kalabaw Milk I tried was produced by DVF Dairy Farm. No, DVF does not stand for Diane Von Furstenberg. It represents the initials of the farm's founder – Danny Fausto. The farm itself is located at Talavera, Nueva Ecija, a “very ideal location,” so says their website, that is “far enough to be spared from the pollution of the metropolis, and near enough to assure that milk can be brought to you daily, fresh from the farm.” I am so tempted to pay their farm a visit just to see how the carabaos are taken care of. I hope they are not treated the same way as described in this article (though I doubt the article's accuracy) as it describes how cows are maltreated in U.S. farms.

 

55 days to go: 20 km run

I am happy that I was able to complete the scheduled 20-kilometer run today. The training schedule called for an easy 6k run, followed by a fast 7k, ending with an easy 7k. I had been preparing (dreading?) this long run for many days now. Yesterday, I had bought a bottle of Gatorade and stuffed the fridge with chocolate milk.

I was out the door by around 530 am, carrying a bottle of Gatorade and two packets of energy gels in my running belt. As it was still dark outside, I considered wearing reflectors but changed my mind. I figured that the skies would be illuminated by the light of dawn by the time I would hit the busy roads.

The route I chose was not an easy route. Fort Bonifacio is not a flat course. It had long, uphill roads, especially the one leading up to McKinley. I told myself that if I am lazy to tackle difficult, hilly routes then what more when I face the struggles and difficulties of a 42-kilometer run?

The first 6 kilometers was uneventful. My heart rate was steady at zone 2. The weather was cool. There weren’t that much cars on the road. People probably were still too lazy (or hungover) from Christmas celebrations.

The next 7 kilometers was tough but not too much of a challenge. The actual challenge was trying to nail the exact pace of 40 seconds below marathon pace. I hate it when I feel that I am maintaining a steady pace but my running app fluctuates wildly. The app was registering a deviation of up to 3-minutes plus-or-minus when I know I am running a constant pace! Is it because the GPS is spotty at the Fort where there are tall buildings and scaffolds above the roads? Or is it because iPhone GPS signals are more erratic than other devices (like Garmin watches)? It makes me begin to consider buying a running watch.

The last 7 kilometers, despite the easy pace, was not “easy.” My lungs weren’t bursting but my legs were heavy. I felt depleted. Again I told myself that this is how I would feel in the second half of a marathon. I would be drained and depleted. I should get accustomed to that feeling. So I sloughed through, one shuffle at a time, keeping my form in check, trying to relax, keeping my body erect, my head up, eyes looking forward.

I finished the 20k in 2:27:55. The sun was already up when I finished. I was still a good 500 meters away from home so I treated that walk home as a “cool down.”

Sunday is my next long run, and it is actually a 21k run event called Hashtag Fun Run. I am looking forward to it.

 

70 days to go: Running Affinitea 16K

I had no expectations in the Affinitea 16-kilometer run. I joined not to “race” nor to establish some PR but just to run. My marathon training plan called for a 17-kilometer easy run with the the last 5K at faster-than-marathon-pace so I had figured that joining a 16K run, even if it were a kilometer shot, would still give me the same benefots and would also give me some motivation. The run would start at the CCP complex and would cover the full length of Roxas Boulevard. I enjoy running along Roxas Boulevard. It’s a straight and flat route, except for the two flyovers crossing Buendia and Edsa, with few intersections. I could just tune out and enjoy the run, unlike Bonfacio Global City with its uphill runs and twist and turns.

I was able to run the route at the prescribed pace. The only times that my heart rate jumped above Z2 was during the times I had to run up the flyovers. GPS signal was erratic – sometimes my watch would tell me that I was running at an incredibly slow pace of 9 mins/km and at other times at an incredibly fast pace of 5 mins/km, even if I knew I was running at a slow steady pace.

The main problem I had with this event was with the hydration stations. The tables were short. They were practically unmanned. I saw dozens of runners crowding to get water. This was “only” a 16-kilometer run so I figured that I wouldn’t need a drink. Weather was cool and it even drizzled at some point so I guess I really didn’t need to hydrate. I also chuckled when I saw sponges – even bananas! – being handed out. Bananas?! For a 16K run?! Maybe that would explain the run’s higher-than-average registration fee! It costed P900 to join and it didn’t include a timing chip. I’m sure people would also complain that there were no sports drinks.

But again I joined not to establish a PR so finish time was not a priority for me. I did finish in 1:56.

 

Milo Marathon is postponed!

Milo-Marathon-National-Finals
Bad news to all those running the Milo Marathon tomorrow December 7 – IT’S POSTPONED!

In a statement released earlier today, the National Finals of the 38th MILO Marathon will be postponed “in view of the imminent arrival of Typhoon Ruby and to ensure the safety and welfare of all concerned.”

Typhoon Ruby (international code name: Hagupit) is the strongest storm to hit the Philippines since Yolanda last year.

I feel for the runners. I am not running any Milo Marathon event but I can imagine the frustration of the runners who had trained hard to get to tomorrow’s run. Of course safety should take precedence over beating a personal record.