It was a couple of firsts for me at the Green Run Vermosa 2023 Race.
I’m not exactly a seasoned runner, so there are bound to be a bunch of firsts that come as I join more races. While I went into this particular race with it in mind that I’d just focus on finishing the thing, thing’s heated up quickly.
Photos courtesy of Jaymes Shrimski and Pinoy Fitness
I think the “bleh” arc is part of every runnr’s story.
It’s that long period of just running for the sake of it, without any tangible enthusiasm for the sport. Training runs feel tedious, group runs remain just bearable because hanging with the community is awesome. But overall, running just isn’t the best thing on the entire planet (can’t believe I’m even typing that blasphemous garbage).
Truth be told, my “bleh” periods come often–and they’re only just propped up by the community running scene in Metro Manila. I hadn’t even raced since November 2022–and even that memory is painful to conjure. It was a 21km race in Intramuros, and for some reason I took it on myself to start the race at a frighteningly ambitious pace. “I can probably hold this,” I thought. I gripped a GU energy gel in my right hand, a gift from a friend who stood on my right at the starting line.
Not only did that little piece of chocolatey, jelly-mush become the lifeline that helped me finish the race, but it became the sole witness to the explosion of my loose race plan. As the leaders of the pack sped ahead, I managed to find myself in the no man’s land between the elite guys at the front and the rest of the field. “Go Jaymes!” I’d hear. “Pacing lang,” said one coach as they breezed past me.
I finished, managed to allay every voice in my head telling me to just stop running, but felt horrible. And so began an evening of cognitive dissonance: while inwardly, I felt torn that I’d allowed myself to blow up as I did, I outwardly conjured a disposition of being happy to be there. Happy that we’re all healthy.
And while truly, the largest parts of me find so much joy in the shared experience of these races–expressions of our social nature–the competitive streak that runs dormant in me during my “bleh” phases kicks around at how I could’ve attacked the race better.
And so I decided I’m not going to focus on racing
I’d wait out my “bleh” phases by just scraping through weekly runs and focusing on getting to know the folks that turn up to community events better. I found myself embracing their wins as an extension of our collective capabilities–and I think that’s been the fuel that’s kept my willingness to throw 70 or so kilometres of running on myself alive.
Signing up for The Green Run 2023 held at Vermosa, I did so with the same mindset. “I’m just going to try my best not to blow up.” “I’m just going to enjoy the time with friends in Cavite.” These are the sorts of things I’d be saying repeatedly both a month before the race and moments before the 10km event began. “I’m just excited to see the dogs run,” another favourite soundbite of mine.
The culminating event for the day was 1km dog run where owners, tired from their 21km, 10km, 5km, or 3km efforts, could jog beside their dogs–the dogs themselves unaware that they stood the chance to win anything. They were probably just happy to be outdoors and in the company of so many new things to sniff.
I recall standing beneath the starting banner, fiddling with my watch, catching up with runners I hadn’t spoken to in some time–folks from all the running groups dotting Manila–thinking mostly about how wonderful it is to be outside with hundreds of people, each a bit cold, a bit nervous.
Maybe that’s the value of races
That for brief moments of time, we can share the exact same goal with anyone from almost any walk of life.
People that wear all sorts of social badges, for the next hour would be wearing the exact same temporary one: someone, running in Cavite, trying to get from point A to point B. These races boil down life into complete simplicity for 1 breathtaking hour.
And that’s what I began to enjoy over the first couple hundred metres of the race. Some folks decided on a blistering start, others decided to kick the race off with a light jog. I’d decided to try and chat with the guy running right next to me–Dean, one of EZRC’s founders. The focus of the morning for me remained social after all. A bunch of friends were there for support and had set themselves up nicely beside the Pocari booth with foldable chairs and their own choice selection of drinks–a fact which proved handy at the race’s end, which took a surprising turn.
Things got spicy
I don’t quite remember the last thing Dean and I spoke about, but I’m certain it was an attempt at being funny. Neither one of us laughed. Whatever competitive juices our bodies could manufacture began coursing themselves through our veins, and we slowly brought ourselves just affront the gentle bob and weave around runners and saw one or two runners ahead, an open road, and 9 kilometres more for the taking.
The hills in Vermosa are notoriously brutal. None of us were kidding ourselves thinking we’d be hitting PBs or running quick times. I’d nonetheless worn my very fastest shoes, my pristine white pair of adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3s, in an attempt to get myself to point B as fast as possible. The energy rods in the shoes give me just a bit more push off each turnover and convince me with each step that I’m faster than I actually am. They save my calves by pushing my feet off the ground just a little bit as they rise off the pavement.
Convincing as they were, I let the two gents leading the race head off into the distance and focused myself on just not blowing up. I was feeling alright though. I wasn’t labouring, my arms were swinging smoothly, and I was tolerating the uphills just as well as I was moderating myself on the downhills.
When I explode, running far too quick for my own good, one of the first things that goes is my arms. Like a podracer from Star Wars, my body shuts down in pieces. My arms become this sloppy bend and slap of elastic against my sides. The strength that I’d been getting from my shoulders, the constant rise of my wrist just below my vision, tends to fade.
But today, I’d managed not to let that happen.
I turned the big U-Turn for 10km runners and some fast folks came into view. Smiling and waving at my friends, I must’ve looked a bit of a mess. The course had been almost plagued by those tiny flies which swarm on rainy days and a bunch of them had perched on my face–oblivious to my swatting and spitting.
I saw Dean again. “You’re third!” he shouted. And that was a first for me. Like being passed a basketball in the paint, I found myself uncertain. Give me the thing at the 3-point line, and I know exactly what to do (“Gooseneck, baby!”), but I don’t know what to do around the hoop.
Do I speed up? Do I chill out? Do I worry?
Just keep running and enjoying yourself
That’s the strategy I decided to employ. I waved as much as I could, high-fived as many of the people I knew as possible, and decided to focus back on enjoying the experience.
I could see the finish line coming into view. The first two guys had already crossed it, and I was quickly reminded of the quirks that come with wearing an all-pink run-fit. “There comes the first female,” one of the race directors said, before quickly correcting themselves. Not only had I been third for the first time, but first as well! I couldn’t help but smile.
Looking back at the photos of me crossing, I see the remains of one of the flies that had stuck itself to my face. I also see a look of elation, unexpected elation–perhaps marking the end of my “bleh” phase.
Collecting myself with my friends, we returned to the finish line to watch the rest of the runners come in, shouting at them and cheering them on as they found their last winds to sprint across the line. It was at that moment, I found myself most satisfied with the morning that had been.
In a world that’s become so scathing and precise in its criticism, it’s moments like this where we applaud sheer effort, where the key success indicators for the day are how much fun you had, how many cups of the free Milo you drank, and how many friends you made. These sort of success metrics crystallise a belief that I’ve held for some time. That we yearn for these experiences from a very deep part of ourselves, a core essence that is acceptance for just showing up, for trying to complete a task with fewer thoughts about how well we do and how we appear to do it, but for just getting it done.
I think one of my coaches says it best. When things feel “bleh”, when running is tough, when we’re being hard on ourselves, there’s probably just one thing we can do to keep going. “Keep showing up.”
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