‘Running long races was for people who had something to prove, I thought. I was happy with my life’
Why on earth would a 59-year-old female finance executive think of running a full marathon? I look back now and think it was really a crazy idea when I started training a year ago.
Back then, my idea of exercise was a 30-minute walk three times a week, and possibly a round of golf on the weekend. This routine was certainly more than what most of the folks I know in my age group did.
Running? I believed that it was totally bad for my knees. Running a marathon was for people who had something to prove. I was happy with my life.
In February 2018, I reconnected with friends from the UP (University of the Philippines) Mountaineers, the Diliman-based organization I joined when I was 20. With this motley group with different levels of fitness, I went on a day climb to Mt. Manabu in Batangas.
Needless to say, I huffed and puffed my way to the peak, stopping multiple times to rest my tired feet and calm my beating heart. At the summit, the idea to tick off the ultimate item on our bucket list was born.
A group of us would trek to the Mt. Everest Base Camp in May 2019. I had more than a year to get in shape.
I postponed my training for a couple of months. I planned to cop out at some point due to lack of training, but I did not anticipate a message from one of my UP Mountaineer friends that my training was already paid for, and I was to report to Coach Jay.
I had no choice but to drag my heavy behind (and heart) to UP for an assessment run. I walked for the most part, in spite of the efforts of my friend, who tried to pace me.
In my heart, I felt that Mt. Everest Base Camp would remain impossible. But I kept that to myself, because I could not disappoint my friends, who were excitedly preparing for our trip to Nepal.
Walk and run
My first assignment was to alternately walk and run for 30 minutes. Gradually, the walk-run routine increased to an hour. As Coach Jay explained, at my age, consecutive training days were not advisable because my body needed time to heal.
Eventually, the walk was eliminated from my routine and I started to join 5-kilometer fun runs. My coach encouraged me to join longer races and to target a full marathon by December or January.
I heard about the Sunlife Bullrunner Dream Marathon. This one is designed for first- and second-time runners. The organizers provide a training program consisting of lectures and actual runs.
The race in February 2019 promised a generous cutoff time of eight hours. That meant I should run each kilometer in 11-and-a-half minutes to finish.
I felt some hope, since I was clocking 12 minutes a kilometer and I still had six months to train. I signed up.
In the succeeding months, my routine meant waking up before 4 a.m. three times a week. I needed enough time to fulfill my assignment before getting ready to leave for work at 7 a.m. No evening runs for this morning person. Additionally, evening traffic was unpredictable.
Over time, my training assignments were getting longer and tougher. On long weekend runs, I prepared myself mentally by telling myself I could finish 12 km. Then it became 15 km, until my longest weekend run of 30 km.
By December I reached the point where I was thankful for 10-km weekday runs and 21-km weekend runs. I was surprised that my body was coping with all the training, and the level of fatigue was manageable. I watched what I was eating and how much water I was drinking.
At some point, I took vitamin supplements to address nutritional gaps which resulted in sudden fatigue and sleepiness in the office.
I iced my knees after every run to manage the swelling. I invested in a Garmin watch to ensure my runs were recorded and analyzed. Since I had already suffered from a stress-induced heart attack, I regularly consulted my cardiologist and nephrologist during the training period.
My supportive husband started doing the groceries because Saturday mornings were reserved for my long-distance runs. The rest of the weekend would be spent recovering to be ready for work on Monday morning.
The leisurely weekend golf game with my husband was put on hold until after the marathon. When we traveled, I needed to ensure I had access to a gym or a safe place to run.
24 km on Dec. 24
Interestingly, I found out that it was unsafe for a woman to run in the streets of Morocco, while it was 100-percent safe to run at any time of day (or night) in Osaka. I started to look forward to my early morning runs in the hills of Alfonso, Cavite, or along the peninsula of Calatagan, Batangas.
I gave up a morning tour in Istanbul to run along the banks of the Bosphorus. I declined half of my Christmas parties to sleep adequately for my run the next day. I remember running 24 km on Dec. 24 and then doing my best to stay awake for Noche Buena. Training schedule dominated my life.
Two weeks before the race, I started telling friends that I would be running a marathon. At this point, I was confident I could do it, I would do it, even if I had to crawl to the finish line. I was touched to the core with the the support I received.
The week before the marathon, I slept early, hydrated consistently and ensured that my diet would carry me through the race. I read up on tips for marathoners. I not only visualized every kilometer of the marathon, I prepared a schedule, taking into account my desired and likely pace.
This schedule was given to my family and friends so they would know where to position themselves as they planned to cheer me on.
Everything came to the fore on the night of Feb. 16. The marathon started at the stroke of midnight. I had until 8 a.m. the next day to finish. During the race, I never doubted myself. I was going to nail this.
The support was awesome. Coach Jay was there from the starting line to the finish line.
My son saw me off at the starting line. He was still there at the 10-km mark. My husband was standing by our designated meeting place as I finished the first half of the marathon.
I ran my race alone until the 31st kilometer. At that point, fatigue was overtaking me. But I perked up when I saw my daughters, son-in-law and friends from work and UP Mountaineers cheering me on.
For the last 10 km, a former colleague paced me. One of my brothers and his wife ran a few kilometers with me. Another brother trailed me on his bike, documenting my last 10k with his camera. Friends and family waited at the finish line. I was so happy when I crossed that I forgot to cry.
Awesome, it was. At 59 years old, I did it! I was the 497th runner to cross the finish line, clocking in at six hours and 57 minutes. Of the more than a thousand runners who registered, 765 completed the marathon. Only 3.5 percent of the same set of runners were at least 50 years old.
After 10 months of pain, sweat, early-morning runs, missed parties and three dead toes, I am a marathoner! Nobody can ever take that away from me.
My advice for anyone near my age who plans to run a marathon? Get a good coach. Just keep training and believing that you can do it. Do it for a good reason, because when you feel like quitting, you will need to go back to your “why.”
And my main takeaway? It is never too late to set a goal or dream a dream. Mt. Everest Base Camp, I’ll see you in a couple of months!