Sunday, December 2, 2012

Prycegas Marathon

'Tis December in the Philippines. A month for Christmas decorating, Christmas parties, church services, and ... running races (or at least that's what I wind up doing early December in the Philippines).
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On December 2, 2012, Cagayan De Oro City hosted the Prycegas International Marathon - Unleash the Inner Flame. According to the race announcer, it is the "biggest race this side of the Philippines". Here's a short recap of my race.

Running in the Philippines is a challenge. It's a tropical country, so it's too hot to run anytime except dawn or dusk. In many urban areas, the pollution and traffic congestion pose additional challenges. Plus, being situated near the equator means that the sun sets by about 6pm, which makes it difficult to get home from interviews or field visits in time to run before dark.

It's the heat that determines race start time. Assembly time for the marathon was 3:30 am so that runners are ready for the 4:00 am start. I opted to run the half marathon, which had a slightly more bearable assembly time of 4:30 am. (The real reason for running the half instead of the full was the absence of any kind of structured training and the fact that the longest distance I'd run in the past year was about 15km.)

The race started and finished at the Pryce Gardens, a lovely cemetery near the airport. It's on a ridge overlooking lush green farms and forests. Beyond the winding river are plateaus with what looks like agricultural plantations. The Gardens are on the other side of town from where I live, so getting to the race on time required a 2:45 am wake-up.

Barangay Tablon, where I stay, is much, much quieter than Quezon City. The taxi drivers who eagerly offer their services to Americanos during the day are fast asleep in the city's outlying barangays at 3:15 am. I wanted to avoid paying an astronomical taxi fare, and so had asked a friend to recommend a driver. Even still, I was a tad nervous about hopping into a cab with a stranger when everyone else around me was tucked into bed. As a safety precaution, I've gotten into the habit of sending a text of the licence plate to Frank or to a friend whenever I take a taxi. Instead of the usual ok reply, I received this one:

k good luck. Ada is lying here saying mama pretty clearly, i think it's her way of wishing you luck

A good omen. I knew, despite my lack of training, that it was going to be a good run.

When the taxi pulled into the Gardens, it was still dark. The sky was clear and starry. The constellations are not the same ones that decorate the night sky in the northern hemisphere. (A star map for the Philippines is on our to-purchase list.) It was bit cool; in a singlet and shorts I was under-dressed for the pre-dawn hours. Though the air was still, I could feel the excitement.

I reached the baggage drop station a few minutes before the start of the marathon. The marathon began with the most incredible show I've seen at a race start (well, a flyby of F-16 fighter jets at the Boston marathon was pretty impressive too). Instead of a gun start, there as a fireworks show. Not just Roman candles or piddly fireworks either, but a beautiful display of lights and sounds. Set against the starry night sky, surrounded by runners and the electricity that courses through the re-race air, the show was magical.

Many road races have an official warm-up led by a dance or aerobics instructor. It's a chance to remind runners to loosen up their muscles, hydrate and listen to their bodies. The Prycegas marathon followed this tradition. Instead of hiring a deejay to spin the warm-up tracks, there was a live band playing mainly American pop songs. The band took a short break for a lively warm-up to Gangnam Style, complete with a stage full of dancers, a film crew surveying the runners and music blaring loud enough to drown out the sounds of incoming aircraft.

The 21km course starts off with a gentle downhill along the airport road, winding past expensive gated communities (advertised as "flood-proof" of real estate listings), the SM mall, the agricultural college of Xavier University, a BMW car dealership and giant tarpaulins advertising a zip-lining and white water rafting adventure company. The descent continues for several kilometers; there's a gradual shift from upscale businesses to more affordable Christian print and copy shops, sari-sari shops and fruit stalls. The route flattens out in the barangay of Carmen, one of the areas hardest hit by Typhoon Sendong (international designation Washi) last December. The course then takes runners along the national highway, past the new Centrio (Ayala) mall, the bargain Guisano mall to the turnaround point at the Limketkai mall. The return route  takes a slightly different route past the Provincial Capitol, a small tent city of Sendong survivors awaiting permanent relocation housing, regional government offices and the Paseo del Rio de Cagayan. The climb back up to Pryce Gardens felt a lot longer than it did on the way down. Maybe it's because the sun has risen...

The woman wearing the pink shirt who had been playing leapfrop with me for the past ten kilometers or so pulled away at 18km. There's no juice left in my tank to catch her, just enough to pick up the pace for a respectable 300m "sprint" to the finish line.

Back at the Gardens, c'est une véritable fête. Lots of picture-taking (including with the Americano). A photo booth with props. Sponsors displaying their products. Loud music. Very loud music.
Tasting the finisher and 10th place female medals

All in all, it was a good run. Especially because I knew my two biggest fans were cheering me on (from the comfort of their beds), and one of them saying her first word.


  1. That is awesome! Good work on 10th place finish! Is that a propane tank on the medal?