Sunday, October 18, 2009

Running for Over Six Hours: The Agony & Ecstasy of the Long-Distance Runner

"but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

At 10 am, a few hours after celebrating the morning mass in the parish church, I started my long-distance run. I wore a long-sleeve quick-dry cycling jersey instead of my running singlet to protect me from the sun. I carried my hydration pack - with a bladder filled with 2 liters of water, 2 bananas, 5 extra-joss packets, 1 small bottle of peanut butter. After 15 minutes of walking I started running slowly, taking 1 minute walking break every 3-4 minutes. After running for an hour along the busy city streets, I began to ascend the Sto. Nino shrine hill. After 2 hours I was running up the mountain of Langub and Magtuod where there was no more traffic. At around noon-time the temperature must have reached 35C - running became agonizing. I stopped for few minutes to eat banana and peanut butter and drink extra-joss. I reached the juncture of Magtuod after running for 3 hours and rested for 15 minutes. At 2 pm, the sky became cloudy as I started my descent. I could see the winding Davao river below, the Davao gulf and the far-away houses and buildings. Instead of following the shorter route back, I followed the route that brought me to Waan, running along the bank of the river and then to Tigatto and headed back to the city. I noticed that after 4 hours of running I felt very fresh and strong. I didn't hit the dreaded "runner's wall" that marathoners experience after running 3 hrs. I was experiencing the second wind and the "runner's high." I noticed that I was running faster and more relaxed. There were tears in my eyes as I savored the pleasant, beautiful feeling - being aware of the trail, the trees, the mountain and the act of running. I reached the monastery at around 5 pm after running for over six hours. I didn't feel exhausted, I didn't feel any pain or ache in any part of my body. I felt I could still run another 2 hours. I don't know how far I ran but it was probably longer than the marathon distance. This was going to be my last long-distance run before the Philippine International Marathon three weeks from now. It gave me the confidence that I can finish the marathon, although I am not sure if I can do it in less than 5 hours. I don't care about the time, I will just run to finish it and enjoy the whole experience.

What helped me run this long was the easy pace and the walking breaks every 3-4 minutes (the Galloway method). I also used the chi-running method, focusing on my running form (slight lean forward, landing on the mid-foot, awareness of my core, body scanning).

This has been the longest run (in terms of time) that I have ever done in my life. My last long run one week ago was 3 hours 50 minutes. My longest training run 22 years ago was 50 km in 5 hours. My most enjoyable run was 26 years ago which I recorded in my diary:

Wednesday. November 16, 1983
Early this morning I went out for a long-distance run with Fr. Manny. This was one of our occasional "running-meeting" -- mixing meeting and exercise -- a good preparation for the difficult times ahead when we will always be on the run. After 13 kilometers, Manny headed back to Hinatuan while I continued running to Tagongon before turning back. It was a beautiful run across the rough and mountainous terrain and passing through a cliff overlooking the winding Hinatuan river. I could smell the sweet aroma of the pines from the nearby forest. The soft breeze behind me was so refreshing. I felt one with nature and with creation. I became aware of God's presence. I felt I could run forever. The words of Isaiah crossed my mind: "But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall soar with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary." I was able to run 40 kilometers in 3 hours and 40 minutes. I think I'm ready for the Third Manila International Marathon.
For me the religious and missionary life is like a marathon. What is important in not the speed but the endurance and perseverance. To sprint or to run hard all the time can easily burn out the runner and he may not reach the finish line. The runner needs to know himself -- his capacity, potentials and limitations. The pace in which one runs the marathon must be based on these factors. The more relaxed the runner, the faster he can run and the longer he will endure. In the marathon, the runner does not run against others. He runs with others. In the process, he discovers his full potential and ultimate limits. In the end, what is most important is to run the full distance and reach the finish line (despite the discouragement, the cramps, and the exhaustion). St. Paul, who must have been a runner in his youth, wrote:

"But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances; endure suffering, do the work of the preacher of the Good News, and perform your whole duty as a servant of God. As for me, the hour has come for me to be sacrificed; the time is here for me to leave this life. I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim 4:5-7)

I hope this text will be etched on my tomb as my epitaph when I am gone.

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