Sunday, April 01, 2012

Running and Walking Across the Philippines - first anniversary

One year ago, today, I took the first step on a journey of 2,060 km across the Philippines - from Davao, along the Maharlika highway and via the Cordillera mountain ranges and ending in Aparri. I did it alone, carrying my backpack, without any support vehicle or crew, to preach the message of life and peace in the churches across the country. I fasted during the day and had one full-meal a day (dinner). It took 57 days to cover the distance on foot, mixing walking and running. I rested after every seven days (so actually, 50 full days on the road). I averaged almost a marathon a day (41 km) - with 60 km on the longest day and 23 km on the shortest, 8 to 12 hours a day. I endured in spite the blisters, the cold, the heat, the diarrhea, the rain and Typhoon Chedeng. I was 57 years old and had been diagnosed with myocardial ischemia and atherosclerosis four years before. As I look back on that incredible journey, I still find it hard to believe how I was able to do it. But by God's grace and the kindness of so many people along the way, I reached my destination.

Thirty years ago, when I was a newly-ordained priest running marathons in three and a half hours or more, it was an impossible dream. I couldn't even finish a 90-km adventure run from Iligan to Cagayan due to a knee injury in 1985. But what happened since then was a preparation for this journey of a lifetime. In 1994, I hiked almost 200 km in six days from Rome to Assisi, carrying a backpack and sleeping under the stars at night. After running my slowest marathon in Rome in 1995, I decided to stop running marathons due to a recurring knee injury. So I took up mountain-biking when I returned to the Philippines. In 2000, I biked alone from Davao to Pagudpud, covering 2,080 km in 18 days. In 2006, I biked around Mindanao, covering 2,120 km in 21 days. In 2008, I biked around the Philippines - from Davao to Aparri and back to Davao via the Cordilleras - covering over 5,000 km in 56 days. In 2009, I made a marathon comeback, after 15 years of lay-off from marathoning. It was my slowest marathon - six and a half-hours. In March 2010, I ran-walked across Mindanao - from Davao to Iligan via the Bukidnon mountains - covering almost 400 km in 9 days. Four months later - I ran-walked mostly barefoot from the French Pyrenees across northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago - covering 800 km in 27 days. I knew then that I was ready for my run/walk across the Philippines.

A few others have ran/walked across the country. Cesar Guarin ran with a support vehicle from Zamboanga to Baguio in the 1980s. Fr. Robert Reyes ran across the Philippines by installment - across Mindanao in 1996, around the Visayas in 1997, and across Luzon in 1998 - with support vehicles and accompanied by local runners. Joy Roxas ran from Davao to Pagudpud with Mat Macabe with a support vehicle. I am the only one who did it alone, without a support vehicle or crew and the oldest. This is an accomplishment that I can be most proud of.

I will be a senior citizen two years from now. I have accomplished my "impossible dream." What more should I dream? How about breaking my marathon PR (3:33) which I did in 1983? Well, I can't beat my younger self. Can I? If I can't, at least someday I can win in my age-group division (80 years and above). But I have to resist the temptation of competing and trying to win. I can also do the Camino de Santiago once more - during the next Xacobeo in 2021 - but this time continue on to Muxia.

Before I forget, here's a link to the photo-video of my journey across the Philippines.

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