The Day I Tried….

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…..

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!


  1. I just read your article in the newspaper. Surprisingly, I felt devastated on what happened to you. I remeber reading your article last feb.11,2008 ( i think) that you prepared for this marathon very much. wherein, you read a lot of books and magazine, and that you share the bliss with the memories of your honeymoon. Howver, upon seeing your pics in your website, It seems that everybodywore leggings or tights except you. I could not understand, after months of preparation, you are the only one not wearng one. 🙂 hehe. Anyway, It was still something to be very proud of..,…how you stillkept on trying and fighting the cramps. Just joining the event was already an accomplishment. Congrats! I will be waiting for the 2nd part.

    lastly, I will be writing again, hopefully, when i have enough savings. I remeber your article before about investing on a treadmill. I would like to get more of your opinion soon. thanks I enjoy your articles because youtell the story in a very interesting way. And you always include moral lessons plus you never forget to mention your family. God bless

  2. Hey man. I was following your articles this past few days and was really surprised just right now that it was you who failed to cross the line. I could not believe it myself. I feel so bad for you and my “deepest sympathies”. Anyway, what can I say. I have not ran beyond 25K myself and I am sure you felt like hell that you were not able to continue way pass the 36K mark. 6K more is perhaps around 20 plus minutes at that point but that distance may very well be 6000K from the vantage of somebody who’s in pain. Now I have an idea more or less that achieving this feat is far harder and more difficult than I thought. Hope to see you back on tracks and on the road and I hope you make it on the next try. I have also dreams of running my first full marathon and with you and everybody’s inspiration plus hardwork on my part, this dream would be possible…..Best regards!!!Mabuhay kayo!!!

  3. It happens to the best John. I remember Serena Williams during Wimbledon with her calf cramping and they said the cold had something to do with it.

  4. Reggie, Ronaldo, claben: Thank you for your messages of support! My quest to finish a marathon will definitely not end with that “defeat.” Again, thanks a lot!

  5. It is said that sometimes you have to lose before you can win. My team the Central Coast Mariners are playing their second grand final tomorrow (Sunday). We lost the first in a heart breaker and tomorrow I am hopeful (you can never be confident there are too many unknown variables ) that we will come out triumphant.
    Much the same feeling for you mate. You can prepare all you can and think you have all the bases covered but in comes one of those unknown variables and it is lost in a heartbeat or in your case a few kilometers.
    I am sure as you now sit down analyse and prepare for next year your experiences will stand you in good stead for a successful outcome next year.
    Good on you mate for having a go and you will be better for the experience.
    Anyway on a more social and pleasant note tell us more about your honeymoon re-visited and should we be ticking off some numbers in November. Nudge nudge wink wink

  6. Graeme…. HAHAHAHA! That “honeymoon” and what you do during that time. That’s probably what got me weakened in that trip!!!

    Thanks, mate! Having passed through so many downs and ups yourself in your decades-long sporting life, your message is so true and will inspire me to try even harder next time.

  7. Just to let you know John we were hit by a variable yesterday. Although the preparation was what the coach had wanted we somehow contrived to come up short on the day and LOST our second grand final in three years by the same score 1-0.
    Sayang but there is always next year plus we will be playing in the Asian Club Football Championship as well .So one door was slammed shut and resigned to the archives and another opportunity will open with the new season in about five months time.

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