My throat and lips were parched, the fingers and my face I can hardly feel, the toes were quivering on their own and I was ready to call it quits along the city’s deceptively continuous ascents. And we’ve hardly reached 7 kms. That’s 35 kms. to go but the cold was just too much for someone who just flew in from the tropics 3 days before. Btw, I weighed 140 lbs. with nary a fat to pinch on.
I registered for the Baltimore Marathon after failing New York and Chicago. It was no surprise since my brother lives 4 hours away from the Maryland area. I figured that before I bloat (from all the mouthwatering food) and undertrain (sleeping was most glorious there), I would fly in a few days before the race while I’m still in tip-top condition. It was the fall season so the weather would be most perfect for someone who has survived some of the most damning tropical road conditions.
It was a wonder for me why the marathon had to start at 8 am – that’s 4-5 hours later than a local race gun start – will we get fried if we ran up to 12 noon? Until I showed up at the Starting Line 30 minutes before and had a hard time parting with my fleece jacket and bonnet. The plan was for me to run in shorts (over compression tights I bought the night before) and long sleeve tops (over my MIM singlet) and just start peeling the outer layer once I had warmed up 5 kms after. At least that’s how I had envisioned it.
Still reeling from jetlag, I positioned myself near the starting line (for my brother to take great pictures) so once the horns screamed, I found myself in a sea of fast runners going up the hilly boulevard. It was a jolt that I fully latched on, taking in the wondrous mix of neo-colonial and glass-and-steel architecture of this surprisingly exciting city. Well, until I realized I was gasping from the cool breeze and the endless up hills. It was no longer amusing but I knew that once I’d reached the 10-km (6 miles) mark, I was going to get into my groove.
So I slowed my pace a bit until I saw the 3:15 pacer group behind me. I had been overexerting it too early but I hardly felt any overheating perhaps, due to the biting cold. Since I had no pacing device on, I settled to a more comfortable stride and removed by long sleeve top only to take in the assault of the chilly winds. I was hoping for my body temperature to settle in and adjust, as well. But it never happened. Up to the finish line, I would suddenly shake and shiver while my singlet remained sweatless (or maybe, it just dried up too fast for me to even notice).
We entered the city zoo and traversed through some old growth forest areas which may sound like an oasis if you’re racing it in say, Tacloban. But in the northern hemisphere, it means absence of any sunlight and puffs of cold air every now and then that you’d go scampering towards the solar sources. Finally, we were moving along open parks, expansive public spaces and avenues but since majority of it faces the picturesque Chesapeake Bay, I hardly experienced any warmth and solace during the run. The fresh stinging breeze wouldn’t let up so I learned to embrace and enjoy the remaining miles ahead. I didn’t travel this far just to trash a ‘perfectly’ great marathon. Truth to tell, I was dreading what I would put in my Facebook status for the running universe to gawk on. “Survived my first international marathon, not my best run but had a blast!” just wouldn’t cut it.
I had vowed to dedicate this run for my beloved nephew ‘Kiko’ who has special needs so DNF was out of the question. 32 kms (20 miles) into the run, the path goes around the giant lagoon where runners were circling around like some flawlessly choreographed balletic number before going through the neighborhoods where the folks have come out to push the runners into their final miles. All that genuine positive energy pushed me like no energy gel or 2nd wind could.
The elevation graph had shown Miles 16-22 insanely ascending so I braced for the worse, already planning to walk when the up hills got tough but it never got that challenging. A few walks I did but hardly felt any sign of bonking, so the recovery was swift and sure. Into the final downhill assault, the city had come out in full force – marching bands, costumed dancers, full blasting music and well-meaning wishers carrying placards that will get you laughing and sprinting (‘run like you’re being chased by bees’, ‘I thought you said 2.62 miles?’, ‘worst parade ever’ and my favorite, ‘smile if you’re running commando’ ).
My legs had fatigued, my feet were still unfeeling and the shoulders were stiffening like hell but the festive electric atmosphere easily drowned one’s sorrows and grumbles for only a few minutes away was rest and redemption. And so I raced like it’s the end of the world. I found my brother Fred strategically tucked among the waiting crowd, gave him a triumphant pose before crossing the finish line. The goal was to do a 4:30 but fate had another plan and gave me a PR of 4:17:38. Yep, it was definitely an all-time high in my running career. More than the PR, it was about digging oneself out of some unforeseen predicament and making a glorious comeback. Good morning, Baltimore!
Special thanks go to my brother, Joseph Frederick for driving me from New Jersey and back and to my cousin Allan Melliza for the accomodations, food, support and pasalubongs. I just realized I’m one lucky dude. Cheers!