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The Lost Files Series: October – November 2012

[These writings were done during my October-November 2012 visit at the U.S. The draft just surfaced a few weeks ago when my brother Fred and his family visited us for our parents’ 50th Anniversary celebration.]

The Lost Files #1: And my First International Marathon goes for a PR


this is it…

The plan was to do New York but after failing twice, I knew it was time to visit the East coast after 6 years and reconnect with family and friends. And perhaps, do my first international marathon. Chicago was the next option but a day before my visa arrived, applications closed promptly.
My to-be home base would be New Jersey so Baltimore figured in the picture easily. I was to arrive 3 days before the event so somehow I’d still be in my fittest running state, that is after battling sleepiness (never had a shut eye during the flight), jet lag and acclimatization (late fall had descended by mid October).

The day before the race, we went to the M & T Stadium to claim my bib and the race’s official lime long sleeve shirt. I also bought knee-length compression shorts only after experiencing near freezing temperature and incessant winds. Now I’m getting nervous. We stayed at my cousin Allan’s house in Virginia, just 30 minutes from Baltimore

starting cold and early...

starting cold and early…


my jittery smile at the start…

My brother and I appeared at the starting line an hour before to take pictures and survey the scene. Around 5,000 runners in various get-ups and outfits were there, including differently-abled contenders in hand-pedalled go karts and various contraptions. I had 2 layers of upper and lower running gears but was stiff as a block of ice. I just needed to heat up inside, I told myself, and I can slowly get my stride in order. It’s been the same story – I go too fast at the start, try to find my pace and just take on the remaining kilometers with earnest gusto and eagerness.
So there I was among the lead-packers as we raced up the city’s marvelous ascending main avenue – a quirky mix of brick and modern structures. The crowd’s fevered and fervent spirit kept the runners electrified and moving. I tried to take in all that energy until I realized I was catching my breath around KM5. I tried to slow down and just enjoy the ride, hardly being able to shield my legs and feet from the numbing cold.

At that point, I felt I had put all my preparations and expenses to waste – it was time to throw the towel. And what was I to put in my FB status? So I kept trudging into the rolling streets of Baltimore, the city zoo and various parks and open spaces. I was still waiting for the heat to kick in but after KM20, I gave up and just go with the flow of marathoners. We navigated through offices and commercial temples, both new and restored along the picturesque Chesapeake Bay.
We started at 8 a.m. and even with the sun already up and glowing, it was still a cold shivering affair. Thank God for the crowd and high school bands interspersed along the city streets, cheering and pushing us with some invisible force to the finish. And easily transforming it into one memorable street party.

the final struggles...

the final struggles…

I surprised myself when I reach KM32 (Mile20) at around 3 hours. Suddenly visions of a finishing my first international marathon with a personal record (PR) started swirling in my head. The race map had shown Mile 16-22 (a good 1 hour) a steep ascent into the finish line and so I kept anticipating it, expecting to walk and slow down when the going got tough.

But it never came. They were mean ascents alright but nothing that could have pulled me down. Buoyed by blaring street music and positive vibes from the crowd who had lined up the main avenue descending to the finish line, I kept hammering the pavement and pulled myself to a glorious finish. And it’s all documented by my little brother Fred who had strategically positioned himself 200 meters from the finish line.

metal-biting moment

metal-biting moment

Now these are what marathon memories are made of. And yes it was a personal record (PR) at 4:17:36. You might also want to check out my Frontrunner article on the same subject. Check out this link.

The Lost Files #2: Bimbler’s was no Bluff

Eight days after my Baltimore Marathon triumph (t’was a PR of 4:17:36), I was back for my second race in the States. This time it’s a trail run and 8 kilometers longer that my marathon. So when my brother drove me to Guilford, Connecticut one chilly morning, he figured that I’d finish it in less than 6 hours, considering my latest full mary time. I was also hoping he would be right but at the back of my mind, I knew it was going to be one harrowing ride.

578997_4884288903192_63899419_nJael Wenceslao, who had his share ultraruns in the States, helped me choose this run. My first choice was the Fire in the Mountain 50KM ultra but when he noticed the lead packers finishing within the early 6 hours, he knew it was one tough nut to crack. Bimbler’s Bluff had early 4-hour finishers so it was the wiser choice.

Or so I thought.

I learned my lesson from Baltimore so I showed up totally bundled up from head to toe. I’m the only visitor from the southern hemisphere so the outfit divide was quite obvious but what the hey…299434_4884284183074_1965776543_n
Around a hundred runners left the starting line and headed towards the forest. The route had some mean up hills but glorious down hills, as well. Early on the race, I started feeling the heat within as the molting began. First to go were the darn gloves followed by the bonnet then the jacket. After a fast start, I began to find my stride and let others outrun (and outchick) me. Quite frustrating really but I’m taking on this race 10 days on vacation mode and did I mention, 10 pounds heavier. 197618_4884282343028_283425629_n
But I never imagined it to be that bad. Let me count the ways:

a. Stone mines.  It was supposed to be just early fall but our trail had been littered with fallen leaves all over that one can hardly distinguish flat soil from strewn angular rocks. So a single wrong step could mean one nasty sprain. Those missteps just kept happening that I stopped counting. I never learned how my American counterparts were able to pass through those ‘mines’ like fairies flitting towards the summit. Suddenly, it was no longer fun anymore.

b. The cold. After a few kilometers, I had stripped to my compression pants with shorts and singlet over my long sleeve shirt but with the towering trees shading us from the sun, the cold breeze persisted. So while many of my co-runners were sweating in their shirts and tank tops, I was struggling mildly from the cold air and breath shortness.

c. Rudderless runner. I have always pride myself of having a good sense of direction and while all the wide route was well marked but their candy-striped red and white ribbons, I still got lost 4 times during the 50-km distance (losing a good 40 minutes). How did it happen? Probably, I got dependent on running behind a group that when left to my own devices, I suddenly felt rudderless and lost. Or when I got too immersed on the lovely autumn colors of the forest or my MP3 songs.

A single false glance or missed ribbon and I’m in alien territory. The longest time I wandered off was when I followed someone who himself was also lost. Anyway I just need to remember next time that in the States, trails and paths are intertwining and convoluted so the possibilities (to get lost) are endless.


how to survive my first ultra-trail run abroad…

After the last time I got lost, I knew there was no way I could redeem this trail run. The only goal by then (8 kilometers away) was to finish within the 10-hour cut-off time. And so I surged forward, albeit still tripping on the stone traps and shivering but already keeping a sharp eye on the those candy striped flags

Going back to the finish, I realized how steep and slightly technical our furious start had been that morning. It was a minor hill so into the finish, I was basically just free falling and enjoying the final kilometers of our adventure. I clocked in at 8:08:36 and #117 out of 136 runners. I had wanted to be ranked in the mid pack somewhere in the 70s but it was not to be . Maybe next time, I could do better…hmmm.

The Lost Notes #3:  MAROONed for 5 days

It’s been 16 hours since the blackout started here at my brother’s house in New Jersey courtesy of hurricane Sandy who devastated mostly the Eastern part of the U.S. mainland. In the many times I’ve visited the States, it’s my first time to experience such a major catastrophe. 3 days ago, I was in Manhattan for a few days and I had a blast (as always) enjoying the sights, pulse and people of New York City. Now we got news that waters at Battery Park have reached 13 ft. and the Hudson and East rivers have overflowed.

upside down look at life...

life from the upside…


Days before, I did some morning runs along those scenic river paths. Now, I’d hate to imagine how the newly revived public spaces (former railroad tracks) look like now. One of their most anticipated celebrations might hardly take place, actually. But I sure hope that within 5 days, New York City can get back on its feet again or else, the NYC Marathon is bound to doom for 2012.


when the warm-up never led to the race…

Back in the home front, we were able finish our hearty dinner before the lights disappeared and continued with some much needed and unexpected family time – playing scrabble and hanging around sans the noise and disturbance of modern day gizmos. We had enough water and energy for my brother’s UPS (uninterruptible power supply) though we kept it at a minimum for who knows up to when this calamity would last. Even if clouds hovered above, the winds have dwindled and we even got to walk around the development to check out Sandy’s havoc. Here, it’s only 2 trees which toppled and no major harm to Mina house.

My training regimen has been in doldrums. Two weeks before, I did only 2 long runs after my 50K trail run while last week, it’s been down to one. It’s already Tuesday but I haven’t hit the pavement due to this storm. Since yesterday, I’ve been running up and down the stairs followed by some stretching and yoga poses just to keep the fitness level up.

It’s going to be a challenge but I need to rack up some serious mileage soon. I’m totally envious of my co-runners’ training runs in the Philippines as many of us are preparing for the C2C 200KM and the CM50miles. For me it’s CM50 a week after I arrive in Manila followed by the Quezon City International Marathon 2012, a week later. And I’m still weighed down by the same issues – jet lag, under training and acclimatization.

Yep, I do intend to run far and long here without getting too adapted to these conditions so I won’t have a hard time reverting back to tropical mode in 2 weeks. Wish me luck…


P.S. New York City Marathon, after some push and pull between organizer and the mayor’s office, didn’t push through on November 2, 2012 but many of the registered runners still ran along Central Park’s 4-mile road 6 times just to complete the 26 kilometer distance, more or less. I was there to party with the runners who many still donned their NYCM bibs.

On November 25, 2012, I took on the first Clark-Miyamit 50-mile trail run and was able to finish it at 17:12 or 48 minutes before cut-off time. A week after that, I took on a pacer’s duty (4:45) for the QCIM 2012 but with a lot of push was able to finish my 9th full marathon at 4:23:36.

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Frontrunner article no. 3 – Running Cold: Hard Numbing Lessons in Acclimatization and How Mark Zuckerberg pushed me to my limit

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.

this is where I shall run...yaay!

this is where I shall run…yaay!


retrieving my race bib a day before...

retrieving my race bib a day before…

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.

at the starting line early...brrr!

at the starting line early…brrr!

one jump shot while I still have the power...

one jump shot while I still have the power…

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.

this is it!

this is it!

and we're off to the races, races...

and we’re off to the races, races…

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.

and the outside layer comes off...

and the outer layer comes off…

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’ ).

so near, it's stirring the blood in their veins...

so near, it’s stirring the blood in their veins…

one medal-biting moment...

one medal-biting moment…

proudly wearing the national colors...

proudly wearing the national colors…

exhilaration + triumph + hunger pangs

exhilaration + triumph + hunger pangs

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!

an all-time low for me...personal best time for 2012!

an all-time low for me…personal best time for 2012!

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!

still found the time to explore the wondrous city after...

still found the time to explore the wondrous city after…