DALMING | One Chocolate Bar, 21 Kilometers

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

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“LOLLY” or “Leoly” or “Julie.” Somewhere along those words was her name. She herself thought my name was “Joma” and at that time, before the gun start of a national running event last December, I thought names were unimportant. A race which we call by any other name would still soak me in sweat. Could I really make it to the finish line?

She said I could. Standing alone in the sea of green-clad excited strangers, this tall woman befriended me. She was probably in her 40s and said she lives in the city area. Used to be a part of the Iloilo Running Buddies. Already ran an ultra marathon. Yes, yes, she said I could make it.

She told me to keep close to her, to calm myself. She would pace me. When the gun was fired, we ran through the arc together. There was a rain of confetti. She raised my hand. It was awkward. It was nice.

I had to resist the fervor of the pack. Everyone was high and eager to set personal records, but everybody else can run past me. I know my pace. A few months back, I dared to go for a half-marathon under the cutoff time of two hours and 30 minutes. I wasn’t trying to make a circuit record or make the podium finish. I was running for myself and I knew that if I want to make it, I have to play within my limits. I just had to run easy on my first miles.

The first few kilometers are always the hardest. Kilometer 7 is sometimes easier than kilometer 2. Beginning at anything is almost always going to be tough. I was reflecting on this idea, reinforcing it to my memory, when my newfound friend ran up to me and squeezed something into my hand. With the light of the lamp posts and the fading stars at dawn, it turned out to be a bar of Snickers. Just holding it there already gave me a surge of energy. I wish I could’ve told her that.

Along the way, the elite marathon runners were already returning. They were running tall and strong. Despite pained expressions, their strides were fast and sure. There are just some hardships we are willing to suffer for God knows why.

When can I ever run my first marathon? I had to chide myself. When I first started, I couldn’t run 500 meters without wondering if my knees are still attached to the rest of my legs or that if my lungs are still coordinating with my heart. A half-marathon is a long way from my first 3K fun run which back then I thought was crippling enough.

Running past the 10 KM sign, I thought I couldn’t run that far back plus one kilometer anymore. But looking around, it was obvious that the rest are pushing their limits. It would be a disservice to them as much as to myself to give up halfway. Somehow my friend reappeared, steady with her pace. “Kaya pa?” she said. “Kayanon,” I laughed, trying to sound strong.

I was maintaining the pace I trained in which was just enough to make it to the cut off mark. But at about kilometer 12, I was already feeling fatigued. I wanted to slow down. There are just some points at a run when it goes extremely mental and here was mine. This is the point in the movies where the character talks to herself in the mirror and some string-and-piano music plays in the background. But I was on my feet and my sweat glistened in the sun. If I were to look at any mirror, I’d be horrified at the sight of utter haggardness. Thank goodness I only have to pep talk myself.

About five kilometers more and somewhere along Dungon A, a man was putting plastics of ice water on a chair by the roadside. He was offering them for free. It was forbidden to accept assistance, but of course he didn’t knew that. It’s the thought that counts anyway.

Somehow, I managed to keep one foot in front of the other. At the final turn, I glimpsed the digital clock. It told me I still have two minutes to make it. It was still some 400 meters. I picked up my pace, managed some strides. It has been several months of waking up at 4am. It’s now or never.

When I crossed the finish line, it was just 28 seconds before cut off. Many can run a full marathon at my time. But it meant a lot to me. I teared up, but with all the sweating, I decided that once I start crying before I could grab some fluids, I could plummet into dehydration. Nah.

I hung around the finish line for a bit, basking in the elation of those who nearly missed but managed it. We defeated our doubts and transcended our perceived limits. Isn’t that glorious? I waited for my friend. Maybe she made it first? There were just too many people and I realized that I wasn’t really sure what she looked like. When we spoke before the race, all the colors were diluted with the darkness of the dawn and sulfur streetlights.

They say running is one of the greatest metaphors for life. Every time I hit the road, I can verify that. And if there was one lesson that stood out that day, it was about the compassion of strangers. Perhaps she and I have walked past each other at the malls. Perhaps we shall meet again at a fun run, perhaps never. But the memory will always remain precious and I am inspired to pass on the kindness and to keep going.

With one of those magnetic studs, I keep the Snickers wrapper at our fridge door./PN







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