The Big Guy in Black

You could see him from afar. He stood at least a head above “regular” people. He always wears a tight black dri-fit shirt that emphasizes his ballooning midsection. He wears shades and has earphones on his ears – as if to say he couldn’t care less about the world around him. But I saw through him. He was a big, galumphing piece of reality that was destined to be my arch nemesis. Even if he doesn’t know it yet.

It all started in the Rexona Run. We both ran the 10 kilometer MOA-Manila course, supposedly the flattest course in Metro Manila.  Here was where runners came to set their personal best records. That’s exactly what I came to do. I prepared (or at the time, I thought I had prepared enough). I ran. But I didn’t conquer. Instead of establishing my personal best, I clocked in at my second worst time. I attributed it to my not knowing the course well enough (hey, it was my first time to run the course), or being distracted by the beautiful view of the bay, or lack of hydration (I didn’t go to enough water stations). But he was there.

He looked like he didn’t care about the world, but everytime I would catch up with him, he would speed up and dash off. After a few minutes, I’d see him walking. I’d catch up, then he’d speed off again. The guy used me as his marker! So I ran harder, trying to save whatever I could of my race time, and ran the speed consistently. Predictably, he tried to run at my speed. But my guess was correct – he couldn’t maintain a pace like that. Hey, I tried my best not to judge! I know we’re all trying to be healthy and lose some pounds here, but he should have known better, using me as his marker. So I finally lost him as I neared the finish line.

I saw him again at the Unilab Run. I was headed back to the Bonifacio Global City. There would be no excuses now. It was a familiar course, no bridges, and few slopes. But the Monday of the week before the race, I felt a sharp pain in my right foot. To this day, I am still unsure of what it is, but it hurt enough to make me miss half a day of work. I pushed my practice, and was still able to race. But at the 7k Mark, I felt the awful pain coming back. So I tried to compensate by using more of my left foot. Bad move. Now both feet hurt. I had to walk. Then I saw him overtake me. And I couldn’t do anything about it.

I don’t know why I didn’t like the guy. Okay, maybe I do. It’s my competitive nature trying to tell someone I don’t know that he can’t just make a marker out of me. Or, maybe it’s just because the guy reminded me of my worse runs. To be melodramatic about it, he was my worse self.

Today, I ran the AXN Run. It was a new course for me (and for most people, actually). The 10k entailed 4 inclines (I hear the 21k run seemed to be a never-ending series of flyovers). It could have gone down as another one of my worse races, but I’m proud to say it didn’t. The course was tough, but I was blessed to have been able to practice better this time. Between the Unilab Run and today, I took running more seriously. I read up more on running, I asked my (more serious) running friends how to get a better 10k time, and I put in the actual time and effort necessary to run better. The result was a time better than the flat course of MOA.

Yes, I saw Big-Guy-in-Black at the race. I was just thinking about him and my disdain for him, when I saw his head, towering over the others. But this time, I was already coming from the U-Turn, and he was still making his way toward it. I had sufficiently put almost a 2 minute gap in between the two of us.

After seeing him there, I kept looking behind my shoulder to check if he was at least within a glance away. He wasn’t. And for the rest of the race, he never was. The next time I saw him, was at the Finish Area. I had already clocked in a few minutes ago, and he seemed to have just reached the finish. I had succeeded. Take that, Big-Guy-in-Black.

I know, I know. Running is actually a very personal sport. It’s not like basketball or badminton, wherein the opposition is what drives the players. But that guy, as I said, represented my old self. My worse running times. My self that had not logged in enough practice but expected a better 10K result.

And if running is a way to exorcise personal demons, today,  I had just kicked an elephantine one out.

EMPTY CLASSROOM

I began my first day of teaching with an empty classroom.

The students were late (it would turn out that only one of them would come in that first day). The aircon was humming. The chairs were neatly arranged in rows and columns. The teacher’s desk, lonely at one end of the room, invited me over. Excitement was palpable. Optimism was at its brightest.

The class is always perfect on Day 1. The syllabus and lesson plans you worked hard on and rejoiced over (I’m so brilliant! This topic will change their lives! I wish my parents could sit in on this lecture!) are at their untarnished forms.

On days 2 and onward, not only is the classroom a mess. So are the schedules. So is your lesson sequence. You’re trying your best to make sense out of a structure that is crumbling. Your mighty syllabus has fallen. You’ve found the class’s working level – and you’ve been disappointed. But more often than not, your students keep surprising you with wisdom you never thought they had.

On the last day, the classroom is empty once more. Its poetry screams through the silence.

The aircon is humming. The chairs are neatly arranged. You’re still high from your students’ successful final exams. You feel like you could teach till you drop. The teacher’s desk cries out to you, “leaving so soon?”

You shut the lights. And close the door.

You tell the desk, “Till the next sem.”

PAIN IN STRIDE

There is no such thing as a perfect run.

Or at least for us amateur runners (or for myself?).

There is always the thigh muscle that tenses up as you hit the 7th kilometer, the bad back that never manifested itself before, the slightly different way of tying the shoelace that you finally realize at kilometer number 6. No matter how hard you trained, how many pounds you’ve lost, or how correctly you’ve eaten (or not eaten), there’s always something.

As Haruki Murakami said in his book about being both runner and novelist, the only hard and fast rule about running a marathon is that you’ll never really know what you’re up against – your body condition, and how you’ll overcome them until you finally hit the road.

But we still try to train as best as we can, if only to approximate the conditions that we will face come race day. We approximate the number of hours, the distance, and possibly, even the time of day. I used to run 5 kilometers at 30 minutes as preparation runs. When the day of the 10k race neared, I ran 7k at around 45 minutes.

Then I started to hit a wall in my 10k time. I never got to cut it down to a duration I could be proud of. I became stagnant. I asked around, and my running friends told me that I should hike my running time and distance to at least an hour, if only to allow my body to get used to the idea of running for that long. My mistake was in thinking that even if I run shorter durations, my body could suddenly adjust come race day and use the spare energy I didn’t use in training. That actually worked for the first few 10k races – until, as I said, I hit a wall.

Murakami also mentioned this – so I have to add him to the people who gave me advice. Tell your body how long you intend to run. Let your body get used to it. Come race day, it will follow you.

So I began running for longer periods of time. From my initial 3o minute runs, I hiked it gradually to 45s, then I finally did a training run for an hour. Almost like the duration of an actual average 10k race.

This morning was my first 1 hour training jog. I felt like I could run all day (sort of ). However, nearing the 50 minute mark, I felt a familiar pain on my left thigh. I knew it the moment I felt it, as the same pain that appeared during my 10k race days. That was when I finally understood not only in mind but deep in my gut what my friends and Murakami was on to. You have to simulate the running time. You have to make your body understand what it will go through.

You have to simulate the pain. You have to learn how to run with the pain.

Come race day, you’ll never know what to expect, really. There might be a stupid, seemingly-insignificant way that I tied my shoelaces, with its repercussions manifesting themselves in the latter minutes. There might be a sudden wrong step that will shock my entire body.  Different pains will come. And I have to be ready to keep them in stride.

That’s probably what life is about at times, too. We will never be able to manage everything that comes our way. We’ll never really know what will happen with our work, our family, our business. Some stupid thing can start a war (as stupid things have done many times before). All we can really do is to brace ourselves, and train to take the pain in stride. We have to learn to run with our pains.

So after I felt the familiar pain this morning, I became keenly aware of the sensations in my thigh, approximating how this would actually feel come race day. Then  I imagined how I could possibly respond to this. I told myself that all I could really do, is to keep taking the next fucking step.

Come my next run, I shall not be as naive to think I could run it perfectly. But I could tell the road, that my body is ready for whatever pain it will bring. And that I will be confident that I could run with it.