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.

…. 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.

Ana: How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Yesterday, my mobile phone beeped at 1:10 p.m. It was my dad, Bunny, with this text message: “John… your favorite was clobbered by Hantuchova in the 1st set, 6-0… Also, she got broken in the 1st game of the 2nd set… Hope she recovers but it’s a big mismatch thus far…”

The big tennis fan that he is, my dad spoke of the ongoing Australian Open, the year’s first tennis Grand Slam event. The match he described?

Ana Ivanovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova. I quickly devoured what was left on my lunch plate and raced to the TV screen. The score: 6-0, 2-0. In favor of Daniela. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, predicting an Ana victory, possibly in two easy sets, and here she was losing… the first eight games! Unbelievable. I sat down to watch. Ana won a game, then another, and then one more. The next thing I knew, she won six of the next seven games to snatch the second set, 6-3. We’re in for a fight. In the third set, the match see-sawed until Ana finally broke Daniela at 4-all and went on to win, 6-4.

In Tennis, Who’s The Greatest Ever?

For the past 21 years, I’ve followed the sport. I remember—long before cable TV was plugged to our homes—trooping to The Boulevard and Cafe Valeriano along Osmeña Blvd. to watch (beamed “live” via a huge satellite dish) Boris Becker diving for volleys to collect his three Wimbledon trophies. In the late 1980s, I recall seeing Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg in the “Fire and Ice II” showdown at the Araneta Coliseum. Then in ‘99, I had the opportunity to watch Andre Agassi lift the U.S. Open trophy in New York. And, just two months ago in Malaysia, I had the rare moment of shaking hands with Pete Sampras. Who, among all, do I consider the best of all time?

None of the above. Not Lendl with his three French and U.S. Open titles. Not Agassi, who’s captured the Olympic gold plus all the four tennis majors. And not even Sampras, the man I idolized the whole 1990s decade.

The best ever? Roger Federer.

Proud to be Cebuano

More than two years ago (on Nov. 27, 2005, to be exact), I wrote this article about the Opening Ceremony of the SEAG here in Cebu City…

If you were among the 20,000 who screamed and raised fists in the air last Friday night at the Cebu City Sports Center, you’ll shout this in unison with me, “I’m proud to be Filipino! I’m proud to be Cebuano!”

I’ve watched many shows in my life—from Gary V and Martin Nievera concerts to the Ati-atihan and Maskara festivals to The Phantom of the Opera in New York City’s Broadway. But believe me, nothing gave me more goose bumps, nothing made my blood pressure zoom past its limit and my heart pump three times faster than the opening bang of the 23rd SEA Games.

Ho! Ho! Hold it!

“Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall…. diet!”

Haven’t you noticed? Santa Claus singing this tune every single Christmas for hundreds of centuries now to no avail? And for good reason…

Think of that mouth-watering La Marea warm-brownie cup. Or the turtle pie only Coffee Bean perfects. Or Homebakers’ merceditas and Leona’s Chocolate Surprise. Feast your taste buds on Victoria pineapple ham, Marca Piña queso de bola, fruit cake, Dondi Joseph’s red wines…

But wait, ho-ho-hold it! Before gorging any further, did you know that U.S. studies have concluded that the average weight gain during Christmas is seven pounds! Yup. Seven pounds of excess baggage. And we’re going to pay for it. Funny how we spend 11 months flicking that shuttlecock, pushing that barbell, or rolling down those tenpin orbs—only to lose it all in three weeks!

Words of Wisdom from Ali, MJ, Lance, Tiger, Kareem…

I love quotations. Ever since I was in high school, I recall tearing out and compiling every single copy of Reader’s Digest’s ‘Quotable Quotes’ that I could find. Sports quotations? My favorite. Hope you enjoy these…

“I’m tired of hearing about money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok.” – Shaquille O’Neal

“Whoever said, ‘It’s not whether you win or lose that counts,’ probably lost.” – Martina Navratilova

“I don’t watch movies a lot. I watch sporting events. Because you can never tell how they’re going to end.” – Michael Douglas

“If they cut my bald head open, they will find one big boxing glove. That’s all I am. I live it.” – Marvin Hagler

Defeated, UV still the ‘University of Victory’

ALMOST. Just one game shy of carving it’s name in history, just two half-times away from becoming the first provincial team since 1957 to win an RP crown, just four basketball quarters away from arriving home to Cebu and carrying a banner that reads “NATIONAL CHAMPIONS” then driving to a motorcade along Osmena Boulevard amidst a thunderous rain of confetti—the University of the Visayas lost.

Shook Pete’s hand in Shook

KUALA LUMPUR—Yesterday, when my watch read “3:15,” I knew it was improbable. The exclusive, by-invitation-only Cocktails Party for Roger Federer and Pete Sampras was scheduled at 6 p.m. and, less than three hours shy of that time, I still had not received any confirmation.

But by 3:30 p.m., as I pulled out my mobile phone, my eyes enlarged reading the text message: “Ok I will meet u @ Starhill 530pm. I will pass u the invite then.”

WOW! I couldn’t believe it. We were at the IKEA store, 30 minutes away from the hotel, and I had barely two hours left. Plus, I had a problem: I brought no formal attire. So I rushed to buy a pair of leather shoes, bought a Giordano gray T-shirt, and, just as I was searching to buy a black coat, Dr. Ronnie Medalle phones to say that I can borrow his black jacket. Perfect. And so I ran. Got to Hotel Capitol by 4:15, changed, then sprinted to the venue.

In New York, two doctors make Cebu proud

(From left) Dr. Yong Larrazabal, Donna Larrazabal, Sophia Mancao, Dr. Peter Mancao


Those were the exact two words first uttered by Dr. Peter Mancao when I called him in New York yesterday at 7:40 p.m. (NYC time)—just four hours after he had finished running last Sunday’s 42.195-km. race called the ING New York City Marathon.

Then, he laughed. “Never again?” I checked if he was serious. “Dili na ko mo usab,” he answered. “Sakto na to!” Then again, he laughed. Joking or not, this he added in all seriousness: “It was an unbelievable experience. Painful, very painful… but really, really worth it. It was also very humbling. But the crowd, grabe… murag Sinulog!”