With the photo above and its caption pretty much explained the title of this article, let’s get it out of the way because this is the story of a girl (and it’s not about crying a river and drowning the whole world). Her name is Diane and she wanted to run her first half-marathon. Whilst browsing the internet, she stumbled upon my blog site which chronicles my running adventures and my first half-marathon run. She found me on facebook and I accepted the ‘friend request’ when I saw her profile photo is of her running (because I usually accept friend requests by runners even if I don’t know them personally). I received a personal message from her on February 9 asking me if I do coaching sessions. I said yes and she asked how much I charge for it. I told her that I don’t charge people who want to get into running and run with me, just snacks and drinks is enough. So we made a deal, food and drinks it is and since our chosen training grounds is SM Mall of Asia, she agreed to pay for my travel expenses and our sessions will be on Saturday mornings after my shift.
Our first meeting and training was set on February 17, unfortunately she was diagnosed with acute bronchitis and advised to rest for 3 to 5 days, so we rescheduled on February 24. Diane has a delicate immune system, according to her she had pneumonia twice in the past 5 years. She is very prone to tonsillitis which leads to bronchitis or asthma which lasts for a week or two. She takes a lot of medications like steroids and antibiotics and recently stopped smoking.
When I first met Diane she’s very cheerful and looked healthy for training. I planned to take it easy on her since it’s her first day of training and a slow 5k jog-walk then rest and another 5k will do. To my surprise, she was running a bit faster and longer than I expected and I scrapped the original plan and let the run go her way so I can assess her level. We ran 6.2 kilometers from SM By the Bay to CCP Complex and back before taking a break. Then we ran another 6.2 kilometers from SM By the Bay to Aseana City and back. The 2nd session is actually more than a minute faster than the first and based on my initial impression and assessment, she can run a half-marathon without problems and will likely finish it under 3 hours. She can run continuously at a steady pace and has the tendency to do random sprints when she’s fired up (which surprises me because I wasn’t expecting the sudden burst of speed).
Because I had a run on the first weekend of March, the next training session was scheduled on March 10. The week prior, she ran a 10k on a treadmill finishing it at 1 hour 4 minutes, which is faster than her personal best outdoor at 1 hour 7 minutes (Note that running on a treadmill and a controlled environment is different than outdoors with many factors that can slow you down). She also had right shoulder pain and cough and colds, but recovered before training day. We ran 10 kilometers continuously, she almost didn’t want to during the 6th kilometer, but she still pushed for it. That’s the reason why I admire her courage and motivation and impressed with her endurance. She also felt exhausted at the 9th kilometer, but still managed to finish a bit more than 10 kilometers at 1 hour and 11 minutes despite not being in her best fitness level.
I was scheduled to run a half-marathon on Sunday, Runrio Trilogy 2018 Leg 1 and found out that Diane is also running on the same event’s 10k category. So, I did not make a plan for a Saturday morning training session because it was the day before the event and told Diane to just rest and prepare for it. But, she still want to have a maintenance run before the event. The original plan was Thursday night, but I had an invitation to the ASICS Relay press conference on Wednesday morning and the lack of sleep before my graveyard shift at work affected the plan and we had to reschedule it on Friday night with at least one day of rest before Sunday. It was a slow and easy run covering 7.6 kilometers at 1 hour and 9 minutes. She performed well at Runrio Trilogy Leg 1, finishing her 10k run at 01:08:29 and with that I think she can finish a half-marathon under 2.5 hours if she can maintain a small drop in her pace. Our next training session was set on March 23, Friday night because I will attend Comiccon Asia on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, she got a Urinary Tract Infection days before and on Friday morning she confirmed the cancellation of our training to rest and recover. She was set to visit New Zealand on March 28 and I will spend the holy week with the family in Tarlac, so the next training session will be in April.
I was scheduled to meet with someone to buy his Xbox 360 games on Sunday morning, so our fourth training session is on a Sunday morning. Diane never had a serious training run for more than 2 weeks since Runrio Trilogy Leg 1 and that made her slower than usual. It’s not her best form and she finished 6.7 kilometers at 52 minutes in the 1st session and 5.5 kilometers at 42 minutes in the 2nd session. I encouraged her to join Fire Run 2018 as her tune up run because an easy run on the 16k category is the ideal preparation so she can have a preview of what it feels like to go beyond 10 kilometers.
She offered me to join the run as well and I accepted it so I can assess her fitness at the time and she performed better and it didn’t surprise me this time.
On April 20, Friday night, we had our last short run in Bluebay Walk in preparation for NatGeo Run on Sunday. It’s a 5 kilometer run, but she still closed it a bit faster than usual at 34 minutes. After that, I told her that sleep is very important and she should rest and relax until race day.
NATGEO Earth Day RUN 2018
April 22. NatGeo Earth Day Run 2018. Diane’s first half-marathon. This is it, the culmination of five training sessions and a tune up race. I know Diane can do this, I know she can finish strong. I woke up late again and almost missed the last trip of the commuter van from Calamba to Alabang (because there are no more buses from 10:30 pm onward). Still made it a couple of hours early to SM Mall of Asia and had time to walk around the activity area and prepare. I don’t think much of anything else other than to make sure that Diane finish her first 21k run. We met up 16 minutes before the 3:30 am gun start. She’s warmed up and ready. We positioned ourselves as close as we can to the starting line, but since there are thousands of runners, we’re a bit far from it, but ahead of the middle of the pack.
The race started on time and it took us more than 2 minutes to cross the starting line. Diane is fired up, she was overtaking the crowd, swerving left and right, whilst I’m trying to keep up because I’m a very careful runner when it comes to crowded and cramped roads. I had my eyes locked on Diane and my other senses on the surroundings because I don’t want to lose sight of her especially when there’s too many runners all around you. Diane only slowed down to walk after 2 kilometers and started running again at a decent pace. It was a very hot and sweaty run especially in the first 3 kilometers and our water bottles deplete easily. Part of my strategy for this is to refill Diane’s water bottle when it’s near empty while she keeps going and I’ll catch up as fast as I can. We finally had some breathing room when we finally reached Roxas boulevard. She told me that she’s having some trouble with her pace because her mood is off and she feels a bit sleepy (lacking sleep due to the anticipation of the run earlier). She asked me to lead and she’ll follow my pace, I did, but there’s a time that she’s actually overtaking me because I was taking it easy on her. I like it when she’s giving effort and her pace is efficient enough, covering 10 kilometers at 1 hour and 12 minutes.
Some time between the 11th and 12th kilometer, we stopped because she had to take off her shoe when she felt something. And like a random encounter with a wild Pokemon appearing out of nowhere, a runner friend, John Paul Gentica spotted me. I know he was at the event and was near the front line of the starting area when he texted me (and I was suppose to give his long awaited Sungay 50k Ultramarathon trophy earlier). But, what I didn’t expect is us overtaking him in the first half of the race. I introduced him to Diane and he ran with us (I told him he can go ahead if he feels we’re slowing down because my priority is to pace with my runner and to make sure she finish this race). It’s good to have him with us because it pushed Diane to keep going and add more effort now that she has two pacers along for the ride (well, along for the run). The three of us are having a good chat while still moving at a decent pace. John Paul decided to go for a Sub 2.5 finish and he left us after kilometer 15. Diane is slowing down, so she asked that she run while listening to music. I agreed because music can help boost the pace and gave her the earphones.
When we finally reached CCP Complex and the last 3 kilometers of the race, I was surprised when Diane asked me to lead her to a 2.5 hour finish. When I checked my GPS watch the time was around 2 hours and 15 minutes, which means we have to finish 3 kilometers in 15 minutes or less. But, from what I’ve seen in Diane’s condition at that time and knowing that she never ran 5 minutes per kilometer before, it’s too risky, like dangerous to your health kind of risky. And I don’t want to be put in a scenario of a boxing coach who will throw the white towel when he sees his boxer is in critical danger. And unlike Rocky Balboa in Rocky 4, I will seriously throw the damn towel. So, I told her to just relax, we can finish this under 3 hours and even under 2:45, and that would be better than to get seriously injured or DNF (Did Not Finish). In the last 2 kilometers she started to feel pain on her shins (shin splints) and a moment later on the thighs. That is what I’m worried about and that is why I told her to go easy, walk if she has to. Jog-walk is what we did in the last kilometer and it’s very safe and effective. In the last 300 meters she started running again, she saw and waved at her father and family. She smiled and the sight of her loved ones gave her a second wind. Her father even ran behind her while recording her finishing run towards the finish line. I boosted my pace to run by her side, but there are runners that we had to overtake and I’m not exactly sure, but I think we stepped on the finish line side by side but with some runners in-between us.
She did it. She finished the race at 2 hours 41 minutes and 51 seconds (for her Personal Record, her chip time is 02:39:22), rank 1,198 (don’t know how many 21k runners this year, but in 2015 there are more than 6,000 runner in the 21k category).
As per my expectations, she finished under 2:45 and it’s just her first half-marathon and she’s not even in her best health and fitness level. Compare that to my first half-marathon which I finished at 02:51:31, she’s faster and has a lot of potential and definitely big improvement if she continues to run and train harder. I hope she does because she has the heart and will of a long distance runner. It will also be good for her health and immune system because running strengthens our immune system (in my case, I never had bronchitis or broncho-pneumonia for 7 years now since I started running). Based on my overall assessment from training day 1 to NatGeo Run, her biggest strengths are her perseverance and endurance even with current health conditions preventing her from reaching full potential. She is fit for to run more half-marathons and with more training and in good health she can definitely finish a half-marathon under 2.5 hours safely. She can definitely finish a full marathon and with time and more experience she can run and do well in ultramarathons.
For me, it’s mission accomplished as a pacer and running buddy. I’ve ran with first timers before, but this is the first full time job (from training to race day) and I’m very glad that everything turned out great. Thanks to Diane for the experience and the opportunity to join this year’s NatGeo Run.
As for this running event, it’s good that they managed to enforce the “no cups” policy for the environment successfully. I only encountered one or two stations that couldn’t keep up with the supply for the runners, but I didn’t experience any major problems with hydration. The bring your own water bottle policy should be enforced in other running events as well. The lack of cold sponges is understandable to avoid littering of sponges on the race route, but they should’ve thought of something to help cool the runners especially since it’s a summer time running event (the fire truck spraying water is okay, but there’s not enough water supply and it’s too much waste of water. why not something like a tub or huge pail of ice cold water that runners can splash their face with or dunk their face towels with?). The medal distribution is a mess, it’s a high volume run, thousands of runners on the route, it’s okay if medal claiming is in a booth inside the activity area. The queue near the finish line is taking too long and taking up too much space and it’s the reason why some runners can’t cross the finish line immediately. And the biggest issue is with the medals and finisher shirts. As seen in the top photo, why is the letter “R” missing in the word Finisher? who in quality control was dumb enough to miss this? why was this not noticed early in production? do they not know how to spell finisher? At least the 10k medal has the complete word, but another problem based on what I’ve read in the comments section of the FB page is that they ran out of 10k medals. And why do the finisher shirts don’t have 21k Finisher printed on them? there’s a lot of space on the back of the shirt. It’s not a big issue for me, but too bad for those who chose this event as their first half-marathon (like Diane). Since my bad experience from the my first NatGeo Run, I have no intentions to join any more this event and the only reason I joined this year is for Diane. I give props for the “no cups” policy, but I hope that next year’s run will be better (for the good of those who plan to join their first Earth Day Run or those who made this event their yearly tradition run).