Wednesday, April 26, 2017

From Couch Potato to Certified Runner: Finishing My First 21k at NatGeo Run 2017

It still feels surreal that I was able to finish a half marathon for the very first time just last Sunday! In all honesty, I have never, in my wildest dreams, thought I'd come to a point in my fitness journey where I would go beyond the 10k race that I was already so happy to finish two years ago. You can read about that story, here.

with my rightfully earned 21k medal :)
But, I guess leveling up is mandatory in many aspects of life, running definitely included. In fact, I just ran my first 16k two months ago (that one can be found here) and had my hubby and friends encouraging me to go for 21k soon because, as they said, I just have to add 5k to the distance. Yeah, right. As if it's that easy! 

And yet, opportunities seem to present themselves at the right time, just when I needed a little push. When my husband and I were invited to cover the launch of NatGeo Run 2017, I had the "now or never" feeling when I was about to choose my distance category. Okay, I thought, I just have to psych myself that running an additional five kilometers wouldn't be so bad.

my barefoot runner coach / hubby
who finished his nth 42k
photo credit: Rickpets Lens
So I trained for a month and a half, doing practice runs two to three times a week and trying really hard to "break the wall" and get a second wind to avoid giving up too soon. My distances ranged from 8k or 10k on some days to as far as 12k or 14k on other days. My very encouraging husband assured me that accumulating those distances are making me stronger and getting my muscles used to longer runs enough to finish 21k on race day.

On April 23rd, hubby left our hotel room for MOA at midnight to make it to the 2AM gun start for 42k runners while I followed two hours later to catch my 3:30AM gun start. The race village was already filled with thousands of people when I got there and, despite being alone, I felt very comfortable in the presence of fellow runners who were, I assumed, as stoked as I was to start running.

before the 21k gun start
photo credit: NatGeo Run FB page 
I joined the first wave of 21k runners at the starting line and ran at my usual training pace. It was very tempting to try and catch up to the pacers who have specific finishing times (2:00, 2:15, 2:30, etc.) on their backs. As much as I would love to do a sub-three, calculations based on my average pace during practice runs indicated that I'd most likely finish the course around 3 hours and 30 minutes. And that's fine with me. I'd rather reach the finish line still breathing instead of collapsing somewhere along the route and going DNF.

For the first time, I ran past the usual 10k U-turn along Roxas Boulevard and reached Rizal Park after one hour. I smiled at the thought that, on ordinary days, I wouldn't be caught dead (pun intended) in that area while it's still dark. But, on that particular moment, at 4:30AM, I appreciated the chance to pass by the place and nod a salute to our country's national hero before I went on my way.

Rizal Park before dawn
Once more, I passed the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) going to the Buendia flyover then the EDSA flyover. I couldn't help but stop once in a while to take photos so I can preserve memories of this new milestone. Approaching the flyovers, it's always quite a sight to see hundreds of other runners who are also on their way to reach his/her own individual fitness goals.

If there's one thing though that disappointed me about the race (well, actually even during other races in the past), it's the lack of discipline shown by many runners when it comes to disposing trash. Yes, I know that many are pushing themselves to clock in new personal records and are rushing to finish running as soon as possible, but that is no excuse to litter the road! 

a lovely banaba tree standing proudly along Roxas Boulevard
we live in a beautiful world, let's keep it that way!
While the organizers have provided drinking stations, paper cups, and trash receptacles, it is up to us to make an effort to help keep our running route as litter-free as possible. If you don't have a personal bottle to refill, consciously stop at the hydration area, finish your drink, and leave your cup there before running again. That's not too hard to do, people!!!

Seriously, it's not okay to have the mindset that there are others who will be cleaning up after the race so there should be no problem about littering. The NatGeo Run is an Earth Day Run for the benefit of World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and there you were, tossing your cups, sponges, and even banana peels at the side of the road way past the drinking stations. That is so not cool, guys and gals! I can't blame people bashing the run on social media but the bad publicity has reflected on everyone. How shameful, indeed, to be called eco-warriors when you don't even know how to properly dispose of trash :(

badges of honor: 21k finisher's shirt and medal
I wish everyone who got these also deserve to be called eco-warriors
For the non-runners who readily judged the race participants as a whole, I hope you'll realize that NOT ALL the runners are hypocrites. Many of us also care about the environment and are trying to do our part without any fanfare.  I just want to set the record straight. Anyhow, rant over. 

Let me just end this post on a positive note that anything can be achieved if you set your mind and heart to doing it -- whether it's running your first 5k or being an environment advocate. At the end of the day, our goal should be to serve as inspirations to others so that they, too, could change for the better. As to leveling up, to those who also ran last Sunday, whether it's your first time to join the NatGeo Run or not, I hope that you would also aim to improve your attitude and mindset when it comes to protecting our planet. After all, it's the only one we've got.

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