Devirginized by the Skyway

I didn’t think I would love running this much.

Honestly, I thought long distance running was going to be so boring.

Compared to the seemingly more purposive sprints of basketball, badminton and football wherein running served merely as a tool, little did I know that running simply for running’s sake would give me as much joy.

In college, I took up running as a PE class. I had one more semester of PE, and it was either Running or Ballroom Dancing. There, I learned the basic breathing mechanics, not to run too hard, the difference between sprints and long distances, metabolism, strength training, and I established that as a human being, I can do 5k under 30 minutes, and 10k under an hour.

After college, though, I seemed to have forgotten all about running. The joy of early morning jogs in the gorgeous Ateneo Campus seemed to be a dream compared to the reality of Makati’s eternal traffic knots and imposing financial fortresses. I tried to make a career, so I thought the first thing I should have less time of was exercise. Yeah, big mistake, I know.

On to my second job. I found friends who became running enthusiasts. We started jogging together at the Ayala Triangle. We joined some fun runs together. We would encourage one another to run despite the Overtime and Over-overtime scheds. Then many other running buddies would come and go, but Jess remained. Sometimes, he accompanies me at my pace, or sometimes, we let each other go at our respective paces and just meet for a quick Gatorade after an hour or so.

He got himself into his first “accidental” 21K by being misguided by race officials. He was supposed to run just 10K, but suddenly, he found himself into another race that was being held in the adjacent surroundings. So he arrived at that other race’s finish line (raising some eyebrows, no doubt, from the other finishers because he drank from their Gatorade), then went to find his actual finish line. Then he would also run his first “accidental” Full Mary. He joined the Milo Marathon, thinking it would be in December. He registered and began preparing. When he read the fine print, he found that it was going to be in July. But instead of backing out, he went right for it. And finished. So while his circumstances may may have been accidental, his willpower is not. The great part is, although his pace has become superhuman (at least in our officemates’ eyes), we still run together – in AyalaPark, LegaspiVillage, and we’ve even tried running in Melbourne.

One such officemate Jess and I had dragooned into running was our Creative Director, Noel. One time, I submitted for his approval, a Radio Commercial. It was a routine Announcer On Board 10-seconder material, actually. So I routinely accomplished it. And was ready for a routine clearing. But he asked me: Pagod ka na, Martin?

Uh oh.

Then he went on to tell me about this Japanese writer who ran marathons because he wanted to get used to writing long novels. “Advertising is not a sprint, Martin. It’s a marathon.” I took those words to heart. I would whisper it in some runs and during nights of seemingly endless overtimes. I looked for the writer – it turned out to be Haruki Murakami. I read his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I got this notion that I could be a better writer if I became a better runner. I don’t know if it has indeed made me a better writer, but I’m sure it has made me a more persistent one.

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Before I knew it, I was buying equipment as I found them necessary – a running belt, shorts, and finally my own shoes. When I bought my first “real” running shoes, the Asics Gel-1160, I knew there was no turning back. After all, I shelled out five thousand bucks for it.

Running literature also grew on me. After Murakami, the next influential book came in the form of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. There was this entire world of Superathletes, and the unadulterated happy utopic running tribe called the Tarahumara. Through that book, I felt that I was part of a bigger movement, a world-tribe if you will, a people bonded by this insane love for running.

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In the middle of that, I was able to somehow get my girlfriend into running. There, I said it, my love. I got you into it. Bianca had always been an athlete – fencing, table tennis, tennis. Then she overtook me. We registered together for the Timex 2012 run, which was 16K long. We let each other go at our respective paces, then I was supposed to wait for her at the end. What happened was the reverse: she ended up waiting for me for a full minute. Then she went on to sign up for the Bull Runner Dream Marathon. A 5-month program specially designed for first or second time marathoners. They cover everything – nutrition, strength, pacing, chi running and walking, the right stride, the Galloway method – everything. Which benefited me, too, because she shared everything with me – heartbreaks and triumphs, hunger pangs and gel techniques. I was there when she crossed the finish line and went into a delirious “thank you” craze.

I got to interview Ton Concepcion, the founder and main man for the Skyway Marathon for a People Asia Article in 2012. I told her about my girlfriend and how she overtook me in the Timex Run. He told me I should shape up.

In any case, I ran the Run United 21K in October 2012 with my girlfriend who, even though she was not with me, embarrassed me in front of Ton Concepcion. The Run United edition was my third and best 21k. The next logical thing to do was run the Full Fuckin’ Mary. And in Ton’s words, to shape up for it.

But I couldn’t join The Bull Runner’s program. I wouldn’t be able to join all the talks and training sessions. So what Bianca did was recall all that she could and applied the training program – LSD scheds, nutrition programs, and even cheering quotes, on me.

So there I was, at the ramp-up to the skyway. Courage in my chest. God’s word in my heart. The nightwind on my hair. My girlfriend’s hand in my hand. The final reminders were given. The signal was fired. We were off.

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The story of any full marathon is worth a book. I could bore you with mine right here – there are, after all, 42.196 kilometers and 7 hours of it to share. I could share details with you if you’re my friend and we run out of things to talk about in an elevator. I’d probably share anything from the surrealism of portalets on the Skyway, the damn Naia 3 bridge, my thighs, the part of the Skyway that’s not elevated, the kindness and alertness of the organizers, my aching thighs, my wrong stride that’s probably meant more for quicker runs, my girlfriend’s super pacing skills, my aching aching aching thighs, and the thrill of trying to outrace the dawn.

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All I wanted – and if I sought prayers from you, you know – was to finish free from injury, and with a smile on my face. With a great God, an awesome pacer of a girlfriend, and raw grit (that became rawer and rawer as the kilometers grew), I did both. And with that effort, I praise the God who created human beings to run.

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Do I feel stronger? Maybe, to some extent. But I will not pretend to possess some superhuman strength. There are, after all more suffering and stronger people out there. Those running the race of life for causes and circumstances beyond a silly race that starts at midnight. There are cancer survivors, those still undergoing chemo, those hospitalized for broken bones and for dengue and for heart attacks. Those longing for lost loved ones, and those who do not even know where to get their next meal. My effort is a mere version of a bourgeois charity ball compared to their own trials. I think all that I can claim is that somehow, I can empathize with their pain better. That having pushed my own humanity to the limit, I can somehow tap into that humanity which we all share.

Do I feel like jumping and throwing my fist into the air after triumphing? Maybe, but I feel more humbled than I feel like crowing – or maybe it’s because my thighs are still sore. But in any case, I feel humbled – by the people around me whose strengths I can now see more clearly, by the limits of my own body, by the kindness of the people who helped everyone else for the whole stretch of the Skyway. Thankful – For the God who created the symphony between legs, lungs and legends. For my family that always understood or at least tried to understand. For Jess. For Noel. For my college running teacher. For Murakami and McDougall. For every other runner – in whatever shape, size, pace or madness. For Bianca. For being part of this human thing called Running.

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