February 17, 2008. That date was to have been one of my life’s biggest moments. Like that first kiss. Like my graduation. Like winning that first tennis event. Like my wedding. Like my daughter’s birth nine Novembers ago.
When I woke up at 4:45 a.m. last Sunday, I was sure that when I crossed the Finish Line to record my first-ever 42-K run—the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon—that it would mark one of my life’s most memorable days.
Well, dear readers, guess what: I didn’t make it. I failed.
When the horn roared along Nathan Road at 7:45 a.m. four days ago to signal the start, I felt confident. And running beside Jesse Taborada, the president of the Cebu Executive Runners Club, the first part was easy. We laughed, talked, overtook dozens. At the 10-K point, our time was one hour, two minutes. With barely a sweat.
Thirty minutes later, Dr. Vic Verallo joined us. Down the tunnel, up the tunnel, down the foot of Tsing Ma Bridge, up the world’s sixth largest suspension bridge, down, up the Ting Kau Bridge, down. Flyovers. Tunnels. Bridges.
At the halfway mark, we timed 2:07. Not bad. At that point, I felt no signs of tiring and even glanced to marvel at the majestic scenery from atop the bridge. My targeted time of under 4:30 was within sight…
Then something happened. Near Km. 28, I felt a twitch on my calves. Hmmm, I thought. I hope it’s not cramps. In all the six or so months that I’ve trained, I never experienced cramps. And the last time I had one? In elementary varsity basketball. And so I continued to run behind Jesse and Vic until—BANG!—it snapped. I stopped. Pulled my hands to touch my calves. They bobbed. My calves pumped. Oh no!
I looked at my watch. It was 2:50. I walked. Massaged my calves. But then my inner thighs started to hurt. Another set of cramps. I stopped again, limped to the side of the road and stretched. And that’s when another attack came… I vomited. Twice.
After minutes standing by the curb, I felt better after vomiting. And so I tried moving again. Walking, brisk-walking, jogging… it felt better until the worse arrived: My left calf muscle, which protrudes outward, turned inward! My whole left calf muscle contracted. It was sucked in. For several seconds. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
I relaxed. Told myself that I had ran two-thirds of the way and only had a mere 14 kms.—which was an easy, mid-week run for me—to go. But then my legs stiffened. Maybe because I hadn’t worn tights or thermal leggings and just wore shorts (in 14-degree temperature)—my legs hardened. I felt excruciating pain at the sides of my knees.
I sat down. Bad move! I could hardly get up. My left leg was as stiff as a log. By this time, I was confused, worried, wearied, unsure at how this all would end. My watch? It read around 3 hours, 20 minutes at that point and, with 14 kms. left, I knew the 4:30 goal wasn’t possible. And so I told myself: Let’s do “under five hours.” I walked. Limped. Tried to jog. Stopped. But my legs hurt and I felt unbearable pain…
Somewhere near Km. 30, that’s when Dr. Peter Mancao passed. And at that point, I could hardly move. “Kuyogan ta ka,” he said. Our top cardiovascular surgeon picked me up at the side and we walked. It was a reassuring feeling to see a friend at that moment of pain. Dr. Mancao ran to a water station, got cups for me to drink, and sponges that I applied to my legs.
“Pete, go ahead,” I said. “Ayaw, kuyog ta,” he replied. And so for the next hour, Dr. Mancao—like a good doctor with his ill patient—walked beside while I limped. When the cramping had subsided, I jogged mini-steps.
“Can we still make it?” I asked, this time, my only concern was to finish within the 5:30 cutoff time.
“Yes, at this pace, we can easily make it. We still have a lot of time,” he said.
For over three kms. with Dr. Mancao, I trudged on. We descended down the Western Harbour Tunnel and had barely eight kms. left with over an hour to go. But midway through the tunnel, the pain struck again. The cramping was gone but my legs stiffened. The bones and muscles all over my legs bore intolerable pain.
“Pete, una lang,” I said. “OK ra,” he said.
I sat at the curb as Dr. Nicole Chua passed. Together with Serge Amora (who helped rub my legs with linament), Dr. Chua pulled out a pain reliever which I took.
After five or so minutes of waiting, I had to force Dr. Mancao to go. Reluctantly, he did. Alone, I hobbled on for one more km. until, at Km. 36 and at the 5-hour mark—and knowing that, with my injury, I could not finish within the 5:30 time—I waved down the bus and crawled inside. Devastated and in disbelief, inside that bus I felt like I was headed for prison…..