…. And Why I’m Thankful For Failure

Yesterday (Feb. 21, 2008), when I wrote about my daydream-turned-nightmare called the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, I spoke about running comfortably until the 28th km. when cramps writhed my legs in pain, when I vomited and could barely stand up when I sat down, and when I trudged on with the help of Dr. Peter Mancao until unbearable leg injury forced me to stop at Km. 36.

What happened? I started too fast. At the 21-K mark, my watch read two hours, seven minutes. At Km. 28, it was 2:50. Now, that’s nowhere near the 42-K world record mark of Haile Gebrselassie (2:04) but, considering that the up-and-down, tunnel-bridge-flyover-plenty route of Hong Kong was found in the first 25-K—then it was too fast for me. Had I ran 10 minutes slower, it would have made all the difference. Said Dr. Yong Larrazabal: “The course was really difficult. I even experienced cramps which I did not in New York.”

I didn’t run hills. Here in Cebu, I almost never ran uphill/downhill. Once, when I climbed Ma. Luisa Estate Park for 20 kms., I limped for days with knee pain. And the worst part? The downhill. And in HK, we were going fast down.

I didn’t drink enough. Looking back, over the course of 25 kms. I drank less compared to what I drink here in 10 kms. (At each water station, I grabbed only a half-cup to drink.) Knowing the importance of hydration—and carrying two empty water bottles around my waist which I almost never got to use—why didn’t I drink more? It was cold and my body didn’t sweat as much. I wasn’t as thirsty. Still, internally, my body was dehydrating faster than I was replenishing it with liquids.

No walking breaks. In a marathon, unless your body is the mold of Paul Tergat, walking after every few kms. (or during water stops) is recommended. I didn’t do this. At each water station, I stepped to the side, grabbed a cup, downed it, then zoomed away. Why? I was with Dr. Vic Verallo and Jesse Taborada—two long-time runners who’ve finished, between them, five marathons prior to Hong Kong—and they were quick-paced. And, to me that morning, the last thing I wanted to do was run alone. So I stayed with two veterans—and this neophyte suffered.

I wore shorts and didn’t use tights or thermal leggings. I expected cold weather and prepared my upper body with gloves, arm covers and a beanie on my head—but left my legs vulnerable. And when cramps struck and I stopped, the cold hardened my exposed legs.

In summary, the one strategy that I planned—to run the first half slow—I didn’t do. Good, painful lesson.

How do I feel today?

Good. Back to normal. But when I quit and boarded that bus, I could not believe it. With the six-month-long, five-times-weekly training I’ve put in (including several “long runs” at over 30 kms.), it never, ever occurred to me that I wouldn’t finish.

But, you know what, while I felt devastated inside that bus, in the hours and days that ensued, I felt rejuvenated. Recharged. And even more determined to hurdle this goal that Lance Armstrong once called “the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

I also realized that in sports, like life, losing is “part of the game.” And as I wrote in an e-mail message to Chris Aldeguer, who’s also training to finish his first 42-K soon, “Chris, if one’s not willing to absorb these knockouts of life, then why compete in sports, right?”

I’ve learned the value of friendship. And the selfless act of Dr. Peter Mancao—passing me near the KM. 30 mark, seeing me wretched in pain, almost like a crippled man; running for water, grabbing a sponge to massage my tortured legs—those were acts that I will never, ever forget.

What else have I learned?

That it’s good to be humbled. It’s good to taste defeat. It’s good to feel pain so that, when that moment finally arrives when one crosses that banner called the FINISH LINE, one can smile, maybe even cry, raise both arms and look up to the heavens and say, “YES, I DID IT… THANK YOU, LORD!”

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. don’t worry sir john there are still many marathons to come the important to thing is you’ve learn something out of that experience and able to share it to others. “Experience is the best teacher” as the saying goes… one thing i’ve learned in your experience, not the techniques in long distance run but “humility”.

    “The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” – Walter Bagehot


  2. I would not totally call it Failure, let just say Delayed Success.

    I’m sure you will make it the next time and it will be a lot sweeter too.

    Your story is very inspirational, you displayed Characteristics of a true Champion!

    P.S. So how do I join CERC?

  3. Rhys, Mic, Cerrone: Thanks a lot!

    Cerrone: Will ask the group to scan the application form then will e-mail it to you. Thanks and good luck to your upcoming triathlon event!

  4. I salute you John for your courage and perseverance. One battle may be done but the war is far from over. Remember, Rome was not built in a day and greatness comes to those who amplify patience and determeniation. There are more races to come, many more to conquer and I know you will attack each one head on with a heart of a champion!

    In the world of endurance sport we go by about it taking in everything. All the pain, sacrifices, sufferings, the satisfaction, the glory, friendships made and bonds molded. But no failures, no regrets…. only lessons learned.

    John, you may emerge from your daily battles wounded, but never defeated. That’s who you are!

    Live Free and Proud! Livestrong!


  5. Lence, you said it best. I especially love the words “no failures, no regrets… only lessons learned.”

    Came from the doctor (Dr. Tony San Juan, Cebu’s top sports medicine physician) today and he stressed two things: One, I should have covered my legs to warm them from the cold (which constricts the vessels that transport oxygen to the muscles). Two, if the terrain is up-and-down, then I should train with uphill/downhill climbs.

    As you said, “…. lessons learned.”

    Thanks, Lence!

  6. Glad you have recovered bro!

    Just like what you mentioned in Super Bowl XLII…”You never know the ending”. But lessons can be learned, and from us who have not yet dared try to run a distance more than 21K, your experience in HK is our lesson too.

    To you and the CERC guys….sorry i missed the bonding last thursday. Left lunchtime for Lipa City for a Rehab Medicine convention and a “date” with Ate Vi!

    God bless you bro!

  7. wow john, i can empathize with you talaga, kasi my husband used to do the Broad Street run here in Philadephia during month of May when its Spring (bit cold).
    But, bilib sad ko nimo for undertaking the task. As the saying goes, true failure is if you haven’t tried.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *