Chicago Marathon 2017: My World Major Debut

THE CHICAGO MARATHON, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary, is one of the six prestigious World Major Marathons. Many recreational runners, including yours truly, had the impression that only elite international athletes can join because of the qualification time, unless if we have huge money to donate to their charity partners for us to join the race.

I understand that many Filipino runners are quite hesitant to join because it’s too expensive. My advice to all my fellow recreational runners who also have the zest of traveling: WHY DON’T YOU GUYS GIVE IT A SHOT? Join the lottery a year before the marathon and let’s see how it goes if we get picked or not.

I signed up at the lottery not just because I’ve been dreaming of having a Six Star medal, also to spend time with my sister Amie, who moved to Chicago in 2010. Luckily, I received an email that I am going to run the Chicago Marathon 2017 and forwarded it to Amie as a surprise.

TRAINING:

It took almost six months for me to train for the marathon. Alongside, I was working overtime, booking flights and such. I even trained during my week-long vacation in Singapore last September. Although, I was still worried about committing the same mistakes again from Osaka Marathon 2016 because, I join marathons just once a year and my offseason is usually prolonged, I’m ready to take the risk.

ARRIVING IN THE U.S.:

I arrived at the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on October 4 where my sister Amie, her husband Kuya Raffy, and their lovely daughter Andi picked me up. It was probably the longest flight I’ve ever had which took approximately 16 hours excluding the five-hour layover at Taoyuan Airport. We ate dinner at IHOP before driving to their home, which is a mere fifteen-minute drive from the airport and a 45-minute drive to Downtown Chicago.

During my first few days, I focused on training, acclimatizing, and bonding with her family. I didn’t worry much about the food because my sister cooked for us and rarely dined out. She prepared eggs, chicken broccoli, tomatoes and rice for me. The only difference though is chicken portions in the States are HUGE! But, I usually slept late at night because of jet lag, which was resolved a few days later.

SHAKE-OUT RUN AND KIT REDEMPTION DAY:

On the morning of October 6, I went back to Downtown Chicago to meet-up my fellow Filipino and a few Filipino-American participants for a shake-out run lead by our good friends Ben Tanner and Stacy Mendez of the FilAmTri Team. We ran along the streets near Millennium Park, where the famous Cloud Gate is located.

Representing the Philippines!

We also passed by at famous landmarks in Chicago such as Willis Tower, the Magnificent Mile, John Shedd Aquarium, and more. We even tried to pass by at the Starting Line of the marathon but the security in-charge politely prevented us to go nearby. We ate our brunch at Yolk South Loop after the five-kilometer shake-out run.

L-R: Nick from New York, Tisha, Erin from Boston, Chloe, and yours truly

After the brunch at Yolk, we claimed our race kits at the nearby McCormick Place. We already knew that the race exhibit is so huge so we didn’t waste time to claim our race kits and checked other stuff within the exhibit. It’s like a party for marathoners but we stayed there for only a few hours. My friends and I needed to go home ASAP and get quality rest before the big day.

DJ Lani Love playing house music!
Photo by Tisha Hidalgo

THE MAIN EVENT

October 8, 6:00 AM— Participants remain their composure while entering the race venue at Grant Park. It took us more almost an hour to enter the starting line due to the volume of runners. While we are waiting for the gun start, we are pumped up by the alternative music played by the marathon’s official radio station.

At exactly 7:30 AM, the gun fired and the competition started. During the first few kilometers, everybody was like running to shatter their records. I expected that because I’m participating in one of the most prestigious marathons in the world. Instead, I just kept my pace slow and enjoy the beauty of the Chicago skyscrapers and the people’s support at the sidewalk during the first few kilometers.

Entering Grant Park via Michigan Avenue entrance

After passing by The Chicago Theater on North Street, I saw my sister and her family cheering for me. I regret that I wasn’t able to go the sidewalk to take some selfies with them because almost everyone in the race route was way too fast and overtaking me. From Mile 5, I started using my tried and tested Jeff Galloway Technique with an interval of 3.5 minutes run and 45 seconds walk with an average pace of 6.5 kilometers per minute. There were a few racers who asked me what running technique I was using.

I also enjoyed looking at those old houses and condominiums surrounded by trees along the Old Town and Park West. There were also comic shops, vintage record stores, artisan barber shops, and third-wave coffee shops.

During the race, I have met several Filipinos and Filipino-American kids who volunteered in the race. Some of the young race volunteers affectionately caught my attention in Tagalog “Kuya, tubig/Gatorade” while offering me hydration. I also had a chance to bump in with Mina at Mile 10 (Kilometer 16) whom I met at the shake our run last Friday. We traded amusing storied while running. In Manila, chatting with our buddies while running is called “chika pace.”

Mina and I “chika pacing” in Chinatown

There were a bunch of musicians nearby playing some great blues and singing praises to the participants found in one of the troubled areas of Chicago. I forgot where exactly it was. But, the highlight of the marathon happened on the streets of the colorful community of Pilsen where the Latino community was having fiesta like Cinco de Mayo.

At around 1:00 PM, the heat starts to build up near the New Comiskey Park. I started to slow down to avoid hitting the wall. The heat was something I can compare to the desert scenes of any action movie. Along Chinatown, the weather became desert-hot and many runners slowed down. Good thing that my pace mate Mina and I took advantage of overtaking them. We took it as an advantage since we are used to training in hot weather. We also saw Stacy (from FilAmTri Team) wearing a cute pink donut costume and gave away donuts to runners. We ate some, of course.

Suddenly, I felt weird on my left knee after passing Mile 23 marker. I became too conscious and slowed down to prevent getting injured. Good thing that the people of Chicago gave their full support for us to finish the race. I pushed my self hard from Mile 24 to the very last mile. All the months of hard work paid off.

Finally, I reached the finish line really strong and achieved my personal best of 5:15:49. Almost twenty minutes better my finish in Osaka a year ago.

We went to a Japanese Fusion restaurant along Michigan Avenue for recovery food and celebration. Arland Macasieb of the Philippine national triathlon team was also there to congratulate and mingle with us.

One Star down, five to go! #sixstarmedalchaser
With Arland Macasieb and Stacy Mendez of FilAmTri team

THE VERDICT:

So far, this is the best marathon I’ve ran not just because my family witnessed it, but also the local people’s all-out support. I’d love to come back and run another Chicago Marathon in the future because Chicago is now like a second home to me.

What to Wear for Hassle-Free Leisure Traveling

Greetings gentlemen!

There are great things we enjoy most on having vacation overseas such as learning new languages, trying out new food, commuting like locals on a day-to-day basis, taking pictures, practice your passion, and meeting new friends or potential business partners. Traveling for pleasure helps us to relax and stay clear from work-related stress.

However, some things aren’t really as fun as we think especially for those who will fly abroad for the first time. A few examples can vary from fulfilling visa application requirements (typical Philippine passport holder woes) up to boarding at the airport. Even our clothing can be a catastrophe if we wear the wrong outfit and bring what we don’t need. I have learned a lot from my experiences of traveling through the years and I have been taking these seriously.

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Feeding cookies to sika deer at the Nara Deer Park

Here are the six things I have learned from traveling on commercial planes:

1. Lightweight clothing. It is a fact that nothing beats looking sharp at the airport especially on business trips. But, it is impractical when we are having a vacation. Any decent and comfortable casual clothing will be good enough to make us look great. Make sure that there will be no shirts with offensive and especially racist statements, please! I highly recommend bringing at least a couple of button-down shirts, plain t-shirts, and a nice fitting pair of cotton trousers. Chinos are my personal favorite. Besides, we can shop for new clothes abroad if we find something great, fits well, and right for our budget. In case we’re going to the beach on a weekend, much better to bring just a pair of walking shorts, swim shorts, a few lightweight shirts.

2. Layering. It is important to wear jackets or coats when traveling in cold weather. Make sure it is well insulated and lightweight. Also, those must have enough pocket to keep our passports and boarding pass. I wanted to bring my favorite leather jacket before leaving for Japan but it was a little bit heavy so, I left it at home in favor of a lightweight fleece zip-up sweater I purchased from Uniqlo last October. I am really surprised that the fleece sweater worked well when I was in Osaka last October. I was even wearing it to warm up right before I ran the Osaka Marathon. Another great option is nylon jackets (e.g.: bomber and down jackets) just in case any clothing made of fleece can be too tacky for you. We can wear our jackets before boarding on the plane for convenience. This will not apply if were going to the beach on our summer getaway.

3. Sunglasses. Those will protect our eyes from the harmful sun rays regardless of the weather regardless if those are a pair of Aviators, Wayfarers, or even a pair of five-buck shades. As long as it is not those specs good for industrial work. Unless, if you’re attending a cosplay event or a steampunk-themed party. The type of weather will determine the color of the lens we have to wear. I highly recommend gradient brown or gray lenses for all-season eye protection.

4. Comfortable shoes. I find running shoes comfortable despite the lack of versatility compared to boots and dress shoes. Many people may find running shoes as the oddball or ugly duckling of our traveling ensemble. But comfort and convenience are important. Modern-day running shoes have an impeccable cushioning that helps us to withstand long hours of walking from one tourist spot to another. Most of all, there’s no need to take off your shoes at the airport security checkpoint. During my most recent trips, I wore a pair of now-discontinued New Balance 870v4. If you’re not into running shoes, a nice pair of old school sneakers will do.

5. A small backpack as your hand carry.  No offense to so-called stylish people out there, but satchels and overnight bags do not work for backpacking no matter how stylish they are. Trust me! I highly recommend (not required) backpacks because they are easy to carry. Those can range to a simple water-resistant waxed canvas to the lightweight and sophisticated Cordura nylon commonly used for day trekking. If you are not comfortable with backpacks, go for lightweight tote bags.

6. Running gear. Our running shoes will not be complete without our trusted running top and shorts. If you’re a running junkie like me, you’ll need your running gear after finding a nice route or park along with the place you’ll be visiting. Besides, we can also wear those whilst pumping iron at the hotel gyms if you’re not into long-distance running. Don’t forget to research the best running routes in the place you’ll be visiting first.

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String a pose at Fushimi Inari-Taisha in Kyoto. Photo by Gilbert Enriquez

Always remember that comfort comes first before we can carry our clothes in style when we are away from home.

Osaka Marathon 2016: My International Debut

OSAKA MARATHON is one of the hottest marathons in Japan today. Its theme called “Making a Rainbow Together” featured seven charity themes based on the rainbow colors, including green for a clean environment and navy blue for children’s future. The 2016 edition happened last October 30th.

Back in May, my friend and fellow 2015 TBR Dream Marathon finisher Arlene Cao who kept on encouraging me to join. She knew that I wanted to join marathons overseas at all costs. Heavy workload has been an obstacle for me to join races even just outside Metro Manila. So, I signed up and got accepted. There’s no looking back.

I resumed my marathon training right after receiving my acceptance email. My training consists of short tempo and LSD runs, incorporated with some weight training. It took four months for me to get back in shape and lost around 10 lbs.

ARRIVING JAPAN:

I arrived in the Land of the Rising Sun for the very first time on October 26. Right after landing at the Kansai International Airport, I took a train straight to Tengachaya to drop my luggage where I was staying at. I immediate grabbed some food and enjoyed walking on the streets of Tengachaya. I felt safe there. My first night in Japan was short yet sweet. I needed to sleep early because I had a lot of places to visit the next couple of days.

GOING SOLO ON DAY TWO:

I visited a few heritage parks in Nara, which 1 1/2 hour train away from Osaka. I had fun visiting the Nara National Museum, Todai-ji, and feeding deer at Nara Deer Park. There was a pregnant deer bit my butt after I ran out of deer cookies. Too bad that I was not able to visit other historical landmarks including the famed Kasuga Grand Shrine because of the sunset at 4:00 PM.

Nara, Japan

Before I went back to Osaka, I watched a great street musician named Starduck Tony outside of the Nara Kintetsu Line. I also saw the giant Glicoman LED billboard on Dotonbori by chance while walking towards Shinsaibashi. Gosh, there were lots of cosplayers and tourists around since it was just a few days before Halloween. Before day two ends, I went to the nearest branch of Tower Records to buy CDs of my favorite j-rock artists.

DAY THREE:

Gilbert I met on the third day of my vacation. We went to Kyoto to Fushimi Inari Shrine. Too bad, we didn’t stay that long at the shire due to heavy rain. So, we went to a cat café nearby called Neko Café Time to spend for an hour because we both like cats. Neko Café Time is known for its laidback setup and adorable rescued cats. We enjoyed our time with the resident cats there.

Gilbert and I in Kyoto
Exploring Kyoto
Food and souvenir market in Kyoto
Neko Café Time

When the rain stopped we left Kyoto to meet up with Chaps, Jay, and Pam. Afterward, we went straight to INTEX Osaka to claim our race kits. We are impressed by how organized the staff is. We also bought gear by Mizuno, exclusively made for the Osaka Marathon as souvenir items. I had a pretty long day three.

A DAY BEFORE THE RACE DAY:

We did our practice run along Osakajo Park and saw the Osaka Castle. After running we headed straight to Dotonbori and ate at the world-famous Ichiran Ramen. We also had a chance to see beautiful and talented girls auditioning to become an idol right before heading to our respective hotels on sunset.

The Osaka Castle
Glicoman wishes us strong and injury finish
Gelato at Dotonbori

THE RACE DAY:

My friends and I arrived at Osaka Castle Park at 7:30 AM. I was pretty cold probably, at around 10 degrees Celsius and the sky was clear. We did warm-ups and took pictures whilst walking towards the starting line outside of the Osaka-jo Hall. It was reported that there were more or less than 30,000 runners from different countries joined the marathon.

Prepping my Osaka Marathon race gear

The gun started at 9:00 AM but we waited for 45 minutes before our wave’s turn. My body especially my legs started to shiver from the cold whilst being stuck at the starting line. I paid the price of not wearing full-length compression tights.

Ready to rumble!
Striking a pose before the race starts

At the first 10 kilometers, Gilbert and I started the race slow. But, I started to up the pace after an hour of running and I left Gilbert for me run a bit faster. I also took pictures of runners and race attractions from the opposite lane. What I have noticed was water and sports drink stations were placed strategically every three or four kilometers. Maybe because the race happened on a cooler season to prevent us from overhydrating.

Those faster runners…

The locals were showing full support by cheering and giving away all sorts of stuff from candies, green tea, chocolate, fun-sized takoyaki to Air Salonpas for free. That shows how warm the people of Osaka are. In return, many participants gave them high fives.

Children’s choir outside of the Osaka City Hall

Somewhere along the 16th kilometer, I bumped into a friend Vincent, whom I have met at a rock concert in Hong Kong in May of 2015. We were catching up for several minutes while running before I left him at kilometer 19.

with Vincent Lee from Hong Kong

Suddenly, I felt dizzy and experience bad cramps on my thighs along the 24th kilometer. I was about to hit the dreaded wall TOO EARLY. I was heavily focused on exceeding my goal of 5 hours and 15 minutes that almost took a toll on me. I had no choice but to stop at the nearest medical station to get some treatment. Medics gave me a can of oxygen and thigh massage to recover. That thigh massage was pretty stiff! I hurt like hell, believe me! Yet, it helped me to recover. I started taking Salt Stick capsules given to me by Gilbert to increase my body salts. Recovery is a bit struggle for me since this was my first time to run in the cold. It would have been prevented if I wore full-length tights.

The sun went up and the weather became warm at around 1:00 PM. I began having signs of life from kilometers 27 to 30. While my momentum was increasing, I started having fun at the race after seeing race volunteers wearing costumes of popular anime such as Lupin III and Rose of the Versailles. I suffered some cramps again right before the kilometer 34 marker so, I paused at the sidewalk and stretched it out to fasten my recovery. The hydration stations around that area were too far from one another. I was a little bit worried after almost running out of water in my squeeze bottle.

All-out support by Lady Oscar and her troupe

Finally, I felt strongest from kilometer 37 to the finish. Thanks to a few race spectators who gave out water and green tea to racers. I ran at a consistent pace of one-minute run and 30-second walk pace until I crossed the finish line at INTEX Osaka.

Despite not meeting expectations of finishing at 5 hours ad 15 minutes, I managed to finish strong with well-kempt hair and established a new personal record at 5:34:09.

Mission accomplished!
 What a colorful medal!

I am also happy for my friends who have either broke their respective records or finished injury-free.

AFTERMATH:

After the race, we all went inside the stadium to claim our medals and baggage which were nicely arranged per wave. After the race, my friends and I treated ourselves with sumptuous sashimi and cold beer in Shinsaibashi.

Yummy!

Too bad, I had to fly back to Manila the following night after the race due to work. Good thing, a quick dip in a bathtub full of cold water followed by a nice hot shower helped me to recover easily. I even sprayed almost my entire body of a can of Air Salonpas before sleeping. Good thing recovery was quick enough despite the thigh cramps and slight fever symptoms.

I wish I had stayed a few more days in the Kansai Region to explore more places and do more shopping. Otherwise, finishing the Osaka Marathon has been one of the finest races I have ever joined.

I will be back in Japan for sure!