I had a definite, set-in-stone goal for my third marathon (first international race): I was going to PR. There was honestly not an idea that occurred in my mind that I WOULD NOT PR. This time around, through training, I religiously did cross training and speed workouts, and I was a hundred times stronger than I was the first time around. My long runs felt more comfortable, my tempo runs were faster, and I was so sure that everything just went smoothly. I was so confident that I even had secret running goals/secret future races set in my mind (as you can see, I was a little bit obsessed with running during this training cycle).
The Halong Bay Heritage Marathon, however, had other plans.
I had reviewed the elevation map before the race, and I wasn’t too bothered by what I saw. Sure, there were a couple ups and downs, but nothing scary – the biggest elevation change that I saw was 250 meters over a mile or so. And for the first half of the race, the uphills honestly did not bother me that much; I finished the first half under pace for a PR… But then we circled through the loop again. And by mile 20, there was not a single person running up the hills — not even the pacers. You’d reached the hill and immediately see the next two coming up. It was as much a mental battle as it was a physical one. And it absolutely wore all my emotions out.
Even without looking at my Garmin for the second half of the race, I knew a PR was now far away — it had flown to a different universe, out of the question. The goal that I had previously thought I’d get — I was pacing with the 4:50 group during the first half, imagine that? Well, anyway, the goal PR, no question, was completely out of reach. I was going to have to go back to Manila and have people ask me, “How’d it go? Did you get your PR?” and say “No, actually, not even that close. Halong Bay’s my slowest marathon.” It made me pretty upset and frustrated, to be honest. I felt like I was letting myself down, of course, but also like I was letting down everyone who had supported and helped me train to reach this goal — my strength coach, my running group, even my family and friends who had put up with my running/training talk and posts non-stop for several months.
However, now that I’ve had a couple days to reflect on one of the most difficult runs I’ve ever had (did I mention that the gun start for 42k was at 530 AM and we were expecting for the temperature to be a bit cold, but oh boy, 77-80 degrees for like 3/4 of the race? Mercy on us, I kept praying for all the runners that day). I’ve realised that there are more ways to measure the success of a marathon race than by just looking at your finish time. Here are a couple points I’ve managed to gleaned
- Comparing your results to the group: As it turned out, I finished in the top ten in my age group. The winning female finished in 2:59- don’t get me wrong, that’s a time I would kill for, but it’s also very reflective of the course’s difficulty. Only 65 out of the 81 women who joined the 42 km finished the race.
- Enjoying the course: As you might have guessed from the above notes, the course and I weren’t exactly the best of friends (within a couple of minutes of finishing, I told my running crew, some were thinking of joining HBHM next year, “I wouldn’t recommend this race to my friends. Probably to those who I secretly hate? Haha.”). However, the scenery along the course left nothing to be sighed for. We ran through the stretch of Bai Chay Bridge — what a great, scenic view view! And definitely amazing to see the sharp contrast between the centuries old iceberg-like natural karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes in the bay and then this modern man-made structure. I was definitely in awe. Witnessing such a beautiful sunrise while we were running our lungs and heart out. And in some Instagrammable moments, actually ran through a course of picturesque spots of mountains and coastal lines along the bay and beautiful fishing villages. I can’t think of anything cooler, honestly.
- Having the best family and friends: My family supported me and my cousin like we were some elite national athletes fighting for the country’s honour. They asked for updates and made sure they were with us via our chats and was rooting for us to “win” the marathon. My cousin, Lyssa and I supported each other during training and during the race and we both made sure we finish this one happy and most importantly safe. Sharing water or gel when needed, we saw each other at halfway point and it was more than what I had asked for. Grateful to see her and made sure we were both fine — legs capable — before going back to running the other 13.1 miles under the scorching sun. Pair that with having friends message and call you to make sure you made it to the finish line, armed with virtual flowers and hugs, I honestly think my support crew won that race day. I love these people.
Until the next marathon, friends! 💛