Very early this morning I lined up at the starting point of the Cebu Marathon (42 k) at the IT park. There were some 1200 runners who started running at 4 am, along the streets of Cebu, the SRP highway up to Talisay through the 800 meters tunnel.
I ran a very slow pace since my right knee was still a bit painful due to the knee injury I had 4 weeks ago after doing a lot of speed intervals as part of my training. I was aiming for a sub-4:30 marathon originally but due to the injury, I was content to finish the marathon using the run-walk method (4 min run/1 min walk). I reached the midpoint in less than 3 hours but after 30 k my knee became more painful that I just decided to walk the remaining kilometers. I reached the finish line after covering the distance in 7:00:o8. This is my PW (personal worst), the slowest marathon I have ever ran, 3 1/2 hours slower than my personal best of 3:33:15 which I did in 1983. But I was still happy to reach the finish line and receive my finishers' medal. The last finishers medal I received was in 1995 when I ran the Rome Marathon. I didn't get a finishers medal when I ran the Pasig River Marathon in 2009 since I was way behind the cut-off time.
If this happened over 25 years ago, finishing a marathon in 7 hours would have been a source of shame. My first marathon was 4:30, my second was 3:36 and my third was 3:33. After that my goal was to break 3 hours (which I never did due to cramps) but I always finished under 4 hours. So slower than 4 hours was even a big disappointment. But now 25 years later, I would consider a 7 hour marathon a source of pride - a badge of courage. The finishers' medal I received this morning is a symbol of patient endurance in the face of adversity. Last week, I wasn't even sure if I could get to the STARTING line due to my knee injury. I was thinking of backing out - but I already paid P800 registration fee and I was already in Cebu. So even if I have not fully recovered I just ran very, very slowly and my aim was to reach the finish line no matter how long it would take.
At my age, it seems that running a sub 4 hr marathon is a distant possibility. There are things that I could do when I was 30 that I can't do now that I am 56 year old - like running a 3:33 marathon. But there are things that I can do now which I couldn't do when I was 30 years old -like run/walking 400 km across Mindanao in 9 days, and run/walking barefoot 800 km across the French Pyrenees and the North of Spain in 27 days. I am not as fast as I used to be, but I have more endurance. In the long journey to through life what matters most is not how fast I can run/walk but how far I can go and reach my destination. What is most important is not speed but patient endurance - because life is not a 100 meter sprint.
I dream of making the journey of a lifetime - a solo, unsupported run/walk across the Philippines from Davao to Aparri via the Cordilleras (around 2,200 km), averaging 42 km/day in two months, 7-8 hours a day with one rest day per week. When I was 30 years old such a dream would seem to be an impossible dream. But now that I am 56 years old, such a dream appears attainable. But first, I have to allow my knee injury to fully heal and recover. I hope I can do this within one year.
Running the marathon this morning is a fulfillment of a promise I made to myself when I was newly ordained priest 30 years ago - that I would run a marathon every year even when I reach 80 years old and beyond. I failed to keep this promise for 14 years (after I got injured in the Rome marathon and took up biking) but took it up again last year. This time I intend to keep my promise. Maybe when I am too old to run marathons (probably when I reach 90) I will enter the wheelchair division. So it is not how fast, but how long I can run - for a lifetime.
Still, I dream of breaking my 3:33 pr someday - before I turn 60 years old. When I turn 80, I might have a better chance of finishing first in my age division (80 and above). Dream on.