I remember asking Noelle how she felt when she finished her first marathon, she said something in the likes of, “it changes your life.” At that time, I honestly could not understand how completing 42.2km do that much change in a person. And I never realized how much I have already changed — it took a step on the finish line and a finisher’s medal for me to see what a life-changing journey The Bull Runner Dream Marathon has been.
Allow me to tell you my marathon story, which began in December 2008, when a doctor told me that I can never take part in endurance sports ever again, and that I will forever be relying on an inhaler whether I liked it or not.
I was diagnosed with bronchial asthma when I was still a kid, but it remained dormant for quite some time. Two years of playing basketball, my asthma was kept at bay. But I was stupid, and I started to smoke cigarettes. Smoking for five or six years took its toll on me. In late December 2008, I was rushed to the hospital ER in desperate need of oxygen — my asthma had officially resurfaced.
I tried to do everything I could to keep the asthma at bay. Gym, boxing, badminton, a bit of running… Nothing seemed to work that much. Though I lost a bit of weight, I was still borderline obese and my asthma still manifested ever so often. I could not hike or climb so many steps without breathing heavily, I could not survive a hot summer’s day without that awful weight on my chest. My husband Marc always had to check on me whenever we traveled — I felt like I was a weakling who needed “special” care.
I remember the first time I joined a running event, the first Globe Run for Home in 2009. I only ran 3k, but it was torture. I ran with old-time friends while my husband conquered the 10k, but I was so slow I urged them to go ahead. I knew they were worried about me, I saw them looking back every few minutes to check if I was still ok.
Me struggling during my first 3k at Globe Run for Home 2009
I have to admit I enjoyed the extra attention for some time. I felt like a “baby” my family and friends take care of. But eventually, the looks of pity and “kawawa ka naman” (poor you) comments started getting to me. I was tired of being weak.
I joined more races, but none longer than 5k. I was afraid I’d drop dead if I tried to go for a 10k. I no longer needed my maintenance meds, but I still had to carry around an inhaler for the bouts of asthma I still experienced. I ran cautiously, and I never took risks. I was afraid. I didn’t want to die alone on the side of the road gasping for air. I was a paranoid runner for some time, that is, until I accompanied Marc to the first TBR Dream Marathon in May 2010 as a volunteer.
Volunteering at TBR Dream Marathon 2010
I wanted to be there for my husband even when I wasn’t fit enough to be his pacer. I helped managed the stations at the major turnaround, and I got more than I wished for. I got inspired. I saw the struggles of the marathoners, the pain, the joy, and the triumph. I told myself, next year, that’s going to be me. I will be a marathoner.
The moment Jaymie told me that slots were open for the second TBR Dream Marathon, I signed up before I lost my confidence. I didn’t think, I just signed up.
I took part in all the TBR activities as much as I could, and met new friends along the way — friends who were as crazy as I was signing up to run 42.2kms. Everyone who knew and cared about me wore a look of surprise whenever I told them I was running 42.2km in March. “What about your asthma?” I saw doubt and worry, but they supported me all the same.
Part of the TBR Dream Marathon program were the weight management sessions. With the generous help and expertise of Mitch and Armand Mendoza, I started to lose weight. I followed Coach Jim Lafferty’s training program, I attended Jeff Galloway’s talk on injury-free running, and I began to feel the changes in me. Not only did my clothes start to get lose, but I breezed through the cold months without any single asthma incident. Not even once, I didn’t get any attack. I felt healthier, but best of all, stronger. I was no longer a weakling.
I ran my first 21km at the Condura Skyway Marathon last February. I finished at the tail end, but I didn’t care. After all, who’d have thought I’d finish half a marathon when the farthest distance I ran in a race was 5k four months back? I haven’t even participated in a 10k race before that!
The month after Condura came and went. Next thing I knew, I was to submit myself to a medical exam for clearance before participating in the TBR Dream Marathon. My doctor, not surprisingly, doubted if I could do it. She made me undergo a series of tests, the “ultimate” one being the Treadmill Stress Test. I aced the stress test, and got clearance. But that wasn’t all:
My asthma was officially in remission!
And so there, I found myself at the starting line at 2am in the morning with fellow marathoners more fit than I was. Although my doctor cleared me, I was still feeling insecure. Unlike my fellow TBR Dreamers, I was overweight. They all looked so fit and ready, while I stood before them, listening to their stories of how many 21km and 32km races they’ve already completed prior to the marathon. Albeit completing the recommended long runs religiously, I have only joined ONE 21km race — I could not even talk about 10km races, for I have never joined any my entire life.
Marc was to be my pacer from start to finish, but an evening of volleyball strained his back and he could only run with me during the second loop. I went to the starting line terrified. I wanted to pee in fear, but I couldn’t. I wanted to cry. Gun start, and we were off. I can’t remember much from the start except for hearing Jaymie cheer me on while on back-ride of Coach Jim’s motorbike.
Starting the run terrified, but still smiling
Next thing I knew, I was nearing the end of the first loop. But I was starting to lose it — my legs were fine, my lungs were fine, but I was bored out of my mind. I ran a bit with Jed, Gejo, and Macel during the first loop, but we got separated after the major turnaround. A Dream Chaser shouted my name, who sounded remarkably like James (was that you, James?). But since then, I only had my iPod for company. I started to sing along Lindsay Lohan, loudly Ferdie the Dream Chaser probably heard me talking to myself as I passed the Dream Chaser tent, and was kind enough to keep me company until Marc came along.
First loop almost done!
Finally with my pacer
I was doing ok until we reached the major turnaround of the second loop. I cramped up, and I needed to pee. The pee break became my rest, and I walked up that notorious uphill while munching on Chippy and sandwiches the friendly Dream Chasers gave me. But then I saw it, the Kilometer 32 marker. My confidence failed. 10km more to go?!
I felt the pain double. I no longer cared about finishing the race in 8 hours — I didn’t even think I could finish it in the first place. I didn’t want to go on. I wanted to cry, but I thought crying would only dehydrate me further. I couldn’t speak. My husband kept urging me, but I couldn’t hear him.
Then I saw Coach Rio and Suzanne in their car stopping beside me. I could only nod when Coach Rio insisted that he will meet me at the finish line. I so wanted to hitch a ride with them back to the finish line, but Marc said we needed to keep going. I needed to think about the people who pledged for CARA through my run, I needed to think about everyone who prayed for me to finish. The cheers from Coach Rio and Suzanne gave me a boost, and Marc’s urging kept me going.
We ran and walked a bit more, but each kilometer seemed to be getting longer. We were at kilometer 36 when we saw a cow sprinting on the road. Maybe it was the heat and the pain causing me to think irrationally, but I really felt at that moment the cow was mocking me. I could imagine it saying, “you’re tired, I’m not. Muwahaha!” Well, it gave me a boost. I didn’t care if I finished dead-last, but I felt being overtaken by a cow was more than my pride could take.
Just before a steep uphill right after the last bridge on the route, the pain on my left ankle was getting too unbearable. The medic said that my tendon was tired, and that worried me. Could I still run? Fortunately, the pain subsided after he applied ice and massaged it a bit. I stood up, and heard a Dream Chaser cheer me on. I smiled my thanks, wondering who it was, then Marc said, “Kassy!” Oh, so that’s Kassy! What an awful time for us to meet, just when I was about to throw in the towel. But seeing her reminded me of all my friends online, all the people who wished me good luck and believed I could finish all 42.2 kilometers. I walked up the last uphill with Marc, my mind fixated on the finish line.
The last three kilometers were the longest 3k I’ve ever experienced. I was already crying when a kind Dream Chaser accompanied us just before the Secondwind zone. I was so afraid of dehydration that I could not even let a single tear fall. The three kilometers felt so far, and I felt my heart rate pick up, faster than it should be. I got scared. The last time I felt this, it was more than five months ago — just before I was on a verge of an asthma attack. Maybe I was just being paranoid (after all, my doctor certified that my asthma was on remission). But I couldn’t let it happen, not when I was so near the finish line.
The Dream Chaser and Marc calmed me down, told me to relax, reassured me I was near. Next thing I knew, we were at the last rotunda, where the Dream Chasers fueled me up for the last two kilometers. Pringles never tasted so good, the ice and massage on my weary calves were such a relief.
Then I saw it: the kilometer 41 marker. If this was a cheesy movie, I would have seen the sign with sparklers and a spotlight from heaven. Marc asked if I would like to run. I said no, I can’t, I’m walking. And so I walked. Fast. Marc had to jog to keep up with me. He said something about us being near the finish, but I growled at him like an angry Shih Tzu and told him to shut up, I was concentrating. He just laughed and followed me.
I turned to the last corner, and there it was, the finish line. I heard Gary and Janice shouting my name. I saw Jun. Then I saw it, the finisher’s medal. Coach Rio waved a bunch of them at me, the medals bouncing in time with his big hair. The mental blocks I put over the pain in my calves came crashing down, the muscles stiffening with every step I took. But I couldn’t let the pain get to me. I was so near.
“Pain is only temporary, but quitting is forever.” I thought of this repeatedly in my mind, hoping to put the mental blocks on the pain back on. The next thing I knew, I was done. I crossed the finish!
Noelle was right. A marathon will change your life in ways you could not have imagined. I thought my condition will make me a weakling forever, but I was wrong. I was given a second chance to live a happier, healthier life — all because I ran and walked 42.2 kilometers.
I finished the race after 8 hours, 41 minutes, and 33 seconds. I was one of the last to finish, the 308th runner out of 313. But I could now say one thing that not many people can ever say in their lifetime: I am a marathoner.
With Coach Jim Lafferty and Jaymie Pizzaro
Up next: my thank you post
Photos by PhotoVendo.ph, Marathon-Photos.com, Eric Alfonso, Matthew Estrada, Marc Villanueva and me.