I BONKED. It was nothing short of epic.
And it had to happen at the worst possible time and place: as a 32k pacer at Run United 2. Far from happy about the experience, I’m doing the next logical thing to get over it: blogging about it.
When I decided to sign up months ago for pacer duties for the race, I truly believed it would be an opportunity for me to jump start training for my designated A-race, the Amsterdam Marathon, that would take place this coming October. My coach had incorporated swim and bike sessions for cross-training, so that I wouldn’t completely lose my fitness for triathlons; but the major part of the program was made up of run sessions that ranged from negative splits to intervals (the root canal of run training, as far as I’m concerned). With my spirits high and a killer program set, I was ready to take on a sub-six minutes per kilometer pace. Okay, it’s (the pace) not something to crow about, but it’s a start.
The subtle warnings started their parade when I tried running on a few occasions during my US vacation. With a four-state, three-week itinerary amidst a cold snap in the east, a 10k run qualified as a marathon. So I only managed four. That wasn’t too bad, given the ‘we may never pass this way again’ justification of trying everything that America had to offer in the food department. The occasional visit to Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck) for pseudo-healthy, free-range, grass-fed, locally grown, organic food to impede the evil tide of craft beer and local specialties was an exercise in futility. By the time we reached our last stop, my sister’s place in Long Island, I had just about filed my resignation letter from my foolish self-imposed lay-off with a blasé ‘I’ll make it up when I get back home to the heat.’
Much as I’ve always preferred the tropics to the temperates, I wasn’t quite prepared for the onslaught of a record hot summer that had me modifying my long runs to include more hydration stops and walking breaks. During one particular weekend long run with buddies, I fell so far behind and begged off running the remaining 10k when I finally caught up with them at the gas station. I realized that making the sub-six minute pace was impossible and humbly asked the race organizer to modify my pace to just over six minutes, which would yield a finish time of 3 hours and 15 minutes. Because that’s what I thought I’d be able to manage.
Fast forward to race day morning. With barely three hours of sleep but confident and raring to run, I patiently wait for the starting gun with the two other 3:15 pacers, Toto and Van, along with the rest of the 32k runners in the corral. Our strategy is to take turns leading our wave, with me taking the first 10k, and Toto and Van taking over the balance. The plan is to run a faster pace at the beginning, to build some allowance for the back end, where runners’ ability to keep pace starts to dip.
As we head off with the throng, the three of us stay together until the next few turns take us onto a wider portion that sees the herd panning out and hitting their proper paces. I can still see the balloons of the 3:00 pacers, which means I’m sticking to the faster-than-average pace we agreed on. There are at least five runners who have chosen to stick with me, surrounding me on either side and behind. I feel no pressure at this point, and duly instruct the runners to hydrate at each stop. We run in the comfortable coolness of the early morning, and I give no thought to the possibility of slowing down my pace that clocks an agreeable 5:50 on my wrist monitor.
By the time we make the U-turn at Luneta, I catch a glimpse of Toto and Van bringing up the rear, some hundred meters back. We wave and nod, and I momentarily think of hanging back to have them catch up so that they’re close enough for a hand-off at around km 9. Somewhere near km 10, I begin looking back for my co-pacers as I feel an unexpected labor in my breathing, taking me back to a similar sensation months back, at the beginning of a wearisome final leg of the Clark-Miyamit 60k trail run. Frustration starts to set in as I try in vain to hold my group together through the next water station.
Anger (at myself) comes quickly, followed by the fear of letting the five or so runners who have stayed with me since the start line. At Km 12, I turn to the runner nearest me and tell him to keep going, and that there are other pacers who will come from behind to keep everyone in step. Soon after, I slow to a walk, struggling to make sense of the exhaustion that has engulfed me like a heavy cloak, threatening to pull me to the curbside for a complete halt. Keep moving, I scream at myself, in a morale-deflating blend of annoyance and weariness.
Unlike the other races where I have grappled with fatigue and other factors, this race means more, because I am accountable to other people’s performance. It hits me hard, as I painfully decide to stand down and voluntarily pull myself out of the race as a pacer. Catching sight of an ambulance at Km 15, I dejectedly request the attending medic to cut the strings of the balloons that hold my pace time and unfasten the race bib from the back of my shirt. Are you all right, he asks with more than a hint of concern, you still have a long way. I’m fine, I reply in the meekest of voices, but not at that pace.
Finishing the race is another hurdle altogether. I argue with myself for the next two kilometers whether I should cut my run short or just keep on running. I’m exhausted at this point and have failed in my duty as a pacer, so there’s no point in wearing the shirt and plodding through the remaining distance like a ronin, a wandering samurai without a lord or master. The first impediment is a physical one: there is no shortcut. The route ahead is a straight traverse through Gil Puyat Avenue with breaks between street islands manned by marshals, water stations, and policemen. The second and more dissuading complication is ethical: I signed up to be a pacer, and even if I fail in my role as one, it would be improper not to finish the race. And that was reason enough for me to put left foot over right for the next fifteen or so kilometers in a protracted medley of walking and running (mostly walking though) before reaching my final destination.
When I finally join Toto and Van in the pacer’s tent for a post-race meal, of which I have no stomach for, I discover that only Van successfully crossed the finish line at the correct pace. Suffering from cramps late in the race, Toto fell behind but managed to close the gap by about ten minutes. Me? I lurched across the finish more than forty-five minutes past the target pace. It’s no consolation to hear that another pacer did not hit his target time, or that one from the shorter distances sprained his ankle and was unable to finish the race. This was my responsibility, and I had failed. I apologize to the race coordinator, tell her that I’ll pass on the next race, and take the long walk of shame back to my car.
As I pull out of the parking lot and weave through the dispersing crowd, the sight of people celebrating their run achievements with smiles and selfies all around is enough to perk me up. So it wasn’t that bad. I still finished. And didn’t die. I’m walking away unscathed and injury-free, but like all of my previous race struggles, I’ve learned a thing or two (again).
And it’s like I always tell myself: You live to run another day.
Those Who Can’t, Troll
An old joke goes, ‘If you can’t, teach. If you can’t teach, teach P.E.’
I laughed heartily the first time I heard it back in college, and even passed it along a few times; but I realized later that it was a grave insult to teachers the world over (Even to those who teach P.E.). Heck, my sister is a teacher, and I have a number of friends who are teachers. So maybe I’m trying to redeem myself by finding a better and more apt rewrite of the joke.
Next to radio jocks who fill the airwaves with empty prattle, bad grammar, and poorly researched factoids, internet trolls rank near the top my list of least favorite things (even if they’re technically people). Let’s not get into the showbiz and political personalities that we just love to hate, since they’re on another level altogether, and because this is just a short rant.
The business of kibitzing - second nature to many, more so with Filipinos- is all at once amusing to the kibitzer and ingratiating to the kibitzed. Unlike your typical onlookers and fence sitters, trolls are shrouded in anonymity, and thus have the ability to pillory any personality with puny and punitive damage through the harshest and most damaging of weapons: words.
Trolls spew acid and fire from the comfort of their dark places, unleashing the worst tirades that they could never let loose in the light. Trolls assume larger-than-life personas that claw and bite with unaffected viciousness, that pathetically hide their own inadequacies and smallness. And that’s what makes them the biggest cowards.
Online forums, chat rooms, and social media make it easy for anyone to communicate thought or opinion, be they knee-jerk reactions or well-conceived monologue. But the damage wrought by backhanded compliments and morale-crushing invectives cannot be covered up by salve or stitch, because the sort of injury wreaked pierces deeper than any blade or bullet. It goes to the soul.
It’s become a business to gain fame from shaming, where some trolls try to appear cool by criticizing without offering any worthwhile input. It may raise a guffaw or tickle for a while, but it gets tired really fast. Nothing good can ever come out of a continuous yarn of insults, critiques, and deconstruction. And yet they proliferate in great numbers, because it’s so much easier to tear down than to build.
A culture of dumbing down by putting down is spreading faster than the ebola virus, and it’s just as lethal. It’s time to stop the stupidity and clear the air of know-it-allness. We have too many experts without the expertise and enough idiots to begin with.
“If you disagree with something, it's easier to say 'you suck' than to figure out and explain exactly what you disagree with. You're also safe that way from refutation. In this respect, trolling is a lot like graffiti. Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.”