On the road: How running caught up with me in mid-life

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

FIVE months ago, the only way I could have been found, at dawn, at the starting line of a full, 42-kilometer marathon, was if I had somehow strayed there, lost on my way home from a night of ultra marathon drinking.

I had not run more than 50 meters in all my life. Nor had I applied myself, but for brief flirtations, to anything resembling a sport. The joke was, among friends, that I had read everything there was to read about all the sports that I eventually never took up.

But there I was, on the first day of December, at five in the morning, sober, among some 16 thousand runners in the Standard Chartered marathon in Singapore.

How I got there would be, to those who know me well, a bigger story than actually to have finished it (I did). My resistance to any kind of sport, even physical activity, had been, to friends, legendary.

But then in May this year, something happened. Or didn’t. I didn’t win the elections for governor of Cebu, and, almost in an instant, as life’s failures more than victories are capable of doing, this freed me from a lot of the limitations, real or imagined, I thought had defined who I was and what I was capable of doing.

In mid-life, out of a job, and out of shape, I could be anything I wanted to be.

Even—my friends Ramsey and Joel tried their hardest to convince me—a marathoner.

These seasoned runners, who had run countless marathons and even ultra marathons, offered to drop their own training programs to take on the slow, painstaking task of converting this sedentary, middle-aged ex-politico former-something into a runner.

What I got was a lesson in life. I had known running only of the political kind, and this new kind of running demanded that I first unlearned the lessons of the other one. The road will not rise up to meet you, no matter who you are. There is a reason why in a race, you are given a number: you leave your name, your position, your possessions, at the starting line. You respect the distance, there are no shortcuts to the finish line.

PJ Garcia finishes full marathon
FLYING HIGH. The author (center, with his right hand raised) holds the Philippine flag with his running buddies as he finishes his first full marathon in Singapore. (Photo contributed to Sun.Star Cebu)

Unique reward

The punishment is its own reward.

I was later to learn that in July, and even before we had begun training, Ramsey and Joel had secretly asked our friend Brandy in Singapore, himself a runner, to register me for the Standard Chartered full marathon on Dec. 1. To this day, I do not know whether that proved their faith in how I could battle my self-doubts, or confidence born of having shared too many bottles together.

Because standing there at the starting line, those doubts begin making their presence felt. At the 16th kilometer, they whisper sweet nothings in your ear, flirtatious little devils. From the 26th to the 30th kilometer, these demons engage you in some Socratic debate about the meaning of life and what the hell you’re doing there.

And from the 30th to the 41st, they accuse you of insanity, and you, back broken and out of breath, finally agree, because it takes insanity, or some form of it, to finally reach the finish line.

When we did, we carried the Philippine flag, to honor the victims of Yolanda. We forget now whether we did so to somehow ease their pain, or to put ours in perspective. Pain is crazy that way. It doesn’t make sense, but because it doesn’t, it sometimes does. (Atty. Pablo John F. Garcia, Contributor)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 15, 2013.


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