*My apologies to Mr. Kubrick for demeaning Dr. Strangelove
The day before I was to take part in the PAU Fort Magsaysay 60km ultrarun, I sat staring at my 2” x 1” oval unhealed blister – a painful reminder of the CDO-Dahilayan 57km Trail Run just a week before. Thinking that it would shrink and disappear just like the Nuvali blister nearly a month before, my CDO badge was belatedly popped only last Wednesday (upon Dr. Topher’s suggestion). 2 days later, it was still tender and sensitive to finger pressure. Just how far will my feet take me (with the blister carrying my whole body weight) for next day’s 60km race? 5 kms? Maybe 15 kms at the most. Then I can just DNF (did not finish). Or maybe I can just DNS (did not start) and lighten up my weekday dental appointments. And treat Saturday patients with my mind in Nueva Ecija?
Friday clinic was quite hectic so I got home by 6:30 pm. I was still in luck to have slept for 2 hours before the whole Buban family showed up in front of our house at 11:15 pm. We reached Fr. Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija by 2:30 pm with enough time to meet up with co-runners and Team Boring. The Boringers hired 2 vans to support members who will be running – a total of 13 plus 7 race supporters.
I positioned myself in a slightly lit corner of the parking area to coat lé blister with rolls of leukoplast tape and a layer of Vaseline under my thick Drymax socks + extra cushion on my right foot. This was a desperate experiment that would fail big time.
The first 5 kms. I felt like I was walking on water. Dave & I planned to go fast in the first 30 kms while the sun hasn’t fully shone and maybe just walk/run in the final 30. It’s a plan that had worked for me in my last 2 trail runs and we hoped it would do wonders on the Central Luzon road. As we left the Fort vicinity into rolling paved roads, we chanced upon Keshia (who will eventually become #17 and the 2ndfastest female finisher) and Larry (of the Fairview Runners). We talked and ran with the sun rising from the horizon by 6 a.m. So far the feet were hardly feeling any pressure.
The steepest and longest ascent came early to usher in the start of the blistering pain on my right foot. I had resolved to nurture and love that little devil into the final kilometer. It is but a one layer of skin which would eventually regenerate underneath. It’s not a major injury like ITBS or Plantar Fasciitis which may render me cripple for weeks if pushed to its limits.
When my mind is unable to delete it, the pain felt like a million needle pricks on the anterior sole of the right foot at every step. It becomes excruciating when I put my body weight on the right side so I tend to use my left foot more (or my right heel). Unfortunately, Mr. Lefty was exhibiting signs of plantar fasciitis and mini-blisters, as well (just like in CDO).
Soon enough we were running along the highway (surprisingly with lesser vehicles) lined by trees and surrounded by fields with waterways. Every 7 kms., Team Buban (including Paz & Dave’s 4 sons) were there to replenish our drinks and solid food requirements. Later, it dwindled to every 5 kms. then 3 kms. when the sun was at its blazing & scorching glory.
By 7 am, it was way up and beating hard on the weary runner. 3 hours and 30 minutes after, we reached the halfway point, still relatively strong. And we got the most pleasant surprise of our running lives – we were ranked #38 & #39!!! This was most elating to Dave who had been used to finishing in the bottom group. I had advanced a little in the rank department during the last 2 runs (#56 in Nuvali & # 66 in CDO) but to be in the Top 40 was just unbelievable.
At this point we knew we should be monitoring our ranking (or maybe break into the top 30). No one will know that we were in the top 40 at km.30 but the final ranking will forever be etched in the annals of PAU running history. And we kept trudging on, suddenly aware of the other runners in front and behind us. We intend to keep the status quo.
Somewhere in km.36, we were climbing another uphill with no flats in sight – I was parched, hungry and cramping on my right calf. It’s one of those mind busting moment when I felt I was just going to burst into flames. After what felt like eternity, we finally see the Boring & Buban vans nestled right under the mango trees. It was time to have a real meal – I scarfed my remaining spaghetti noodles before they could spoil.
10 minutes later we were invigorated and refreshed – ready to take on the final 23 kms. The blister – it’s still there, of course. In fact, the pain has expanded into the middle part. But once you’ve dealt with the little sucker – assess the extent of inconvenience and havoc it would wreak – it simply slithers in its little corner becoming almost incognito.
At km. 45, we linked up with 2 ultra virgins & Boring team mates – CJ Palparan & Chap Grande. Both nearing DNF mode, the two were melting from the heat and were being weighed down by various injuries here and there. Dave, ever the motivational guru, started to barrage them with words of encouragement and positivity. “Feel the air around you, breath in and take in all that energy.” “Summon the trees, drain the mountains of its power to push you.” It was working. We were gliding with the wind powered by nature’s forces, along with our 4 individual strength entwined together into one potent force, in our mind, at least.
And then the uphills began. At first they were just mild ascents progressing into real climbs that one is forced to just nimble his way up the concrete byway. Problem is the slower the movement, the longer and greater the contact of the foot is on the pavement, especially when one tilts the body forward in ascending slopes. At this point, almost everyone was just winging it, like Auschwitz Jews marching into the gas chamber.
But since we were bunched with competitive participants, a runner would suddenly surge from behind and start overtaking (nanunuhog) the contenders in front. Some were seriously guarding their ranks, they kept glancing back for some surprise attack. Of course, we took part in this hilarious cat & mouse game we used to dismiss when we were in the bottom pack. So this is how it is to be running with ‘giants’. I’m just imagining the bloodbath in the Top 15.
My overly emotional partner would take it quite personally (bombarding him with colorful adjectives) when someone suddenly sneaks up from behind and just lets us eat his dust. I told him it was a race so we were no longer contending with ourselves but all the 113 runners.
Km. 55, after non-stop mild and dangerous uphills, I felt fluid flooding my sole and the contact with the skin is more palpable than ever. The last 5 kms. had me and Dave just walking throughout. Not even the downhills warranted a free fall. The pain at every step was becoming a bother, I was slightly limping. Dave had sensed it (as we recalled later) but we never bothered bringing it up (and what – flood our minds with negative thoughts).
We suspected runners from behind were miles away so we felt secured when we saw signs of the final destination. Until out of nowhere, one runner (Rodel Montejo) suddenly materialized in front of us 100 meters into the finish line. Dave manages to make a dash. I attempt to catch up with him but the cramping on the right leg suddenly shows up. And so I allowed Rodel to go ahead. I muster some kind of run into kilometer 60. Which was a good thing because just 50 meters awau were 5 other runners marauding to the finish line.
After the customary medal/t-shirt presentation from Sir Jovie Narcise (aka Baldrunner), I settled in one of the nipa huts and peeled off every layer of armor from my right foot. Underneath it all was a swollener oval blister and just below it was a baby blister reddish, swimming in yellow fluid and crying in pain. I wanted to tear up myself upon seeing the creature but I’m in an all new level now – I finished #40. I’m a tougher and stronger runner now so a whispered ‘eeeew’ sufficed.
Special thanks to Carlo Serrano, Bave dela Cruz, Paz Buban & Team Kamote runners for the unforgettable pictures…sa uulitin!
Epilogue: A fourth of the Team Boring members and the Buban family hied off to a nearby resort in Dingalan to stay overnight and enjoy the place. In morning, I joined them at the beach and my blisteraccumulated some of the black sands so when I got home, I had to slice the lesion and irrigate the particles off. Last Friday, I was able to run 15 kms. with Dave. And the tale of the blister continues…