When I was a kid growing up in Manila, I hated sports. Truly hated sports. Everyone was so into basketball and I simply did not see the point. I so dreaded gym class. In college, I almost flunked swim class because I freaked out in the middle of my freestyle exam when our instructor told us to start swimming at the deep end of the pool. I panicked because I had been training to start at the shallow end where I could reach the floor. They had to haul out a long wooden pole so I can hang on to it and they can pull me out of that pool of embarrassment. That stupid mistake almost wiped out my chances of graduating cum laude.
I was the complete opposite of anyone athletic until I started getting hooked on running in 2006. That was the year I ran my very first race, the San Francisco Marathon. It was a huge deal for me considering I never ran a marathon before let alone a 5K. I signed up and trained with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which made it more meaningful since I was helping raise money for a very good cause.
After 26 weeks of training, over 400 logged miles, two pairs of running shoes, one shin splint incident, two blistered toes, a pair of sore legs, and a pair of numb feet, I finished my very first marathon. I still vividly remember that fateful marathon day. It started dark and early at 3:45 AM. The first 18 miles were smooth and scenic but soon became hilly and hard. We ran along the Embarcadero toward the Fisherman’s Wharf, up and over the steep hill by Fort Mason, and then along the Marina toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The sight of the two northbound lanes of the Bridge filled with runners on a cool and crisp summer morning was absolutely amazing!
After crossing the bridge and running back, we proceeded to run toward Golden Gate Park passing through Baker Beach and the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods. Sunday in the park was not an easy stroll. I began to tire at around mile 18 because of the hills and the heat. I had J-U-N spelled out on my chest in big bold red letters cut out of red duct tape and so I felt the love from everyone who yelled out Go Jun! along the course. I definitely needed all the love once we entered the Haight, the Mission and the Dogpatch when it became unbelievably hot. It felt like 90 degrees.
I will never forget the feeling while I was running the last mile stretch from China Basin toward the finish line. I felt not only nauseous because of exhaustion but because I was so emotional. I was having a rough time with relationships during that year. I was miserable and I was losing confidence in myself. And this was partly the reason why I signed up to run a marathon. I needed a distraction. I needed something to help me move on. And so, on the last mile stretch I kept on reassuring myself that I have trained hard and I have to finish strong.
I did move on and I did finish the race. Four hours and 37 minutes. Injury-free. Not bad for a first time marathoner.
Two full marathons and six half marathons later, I am still hooked on running. Last Sunday, I ran the second half of the San Francisco Marathon. This last race was a little tougher than previous ones because I did not have the chance to train consistently for it. My left leg started to hurt at mile 4 while running through foggy Golden Gate Park. I tried to ignore the pain and just focus on finishing no matter how long it takes. I finished the race with a time that was a minute longer than my usual pace, which frankly is not at all that bad.
I still get choked up whenever I cross the finish line. I always felt so insecure and unhealthy growing up. Seriously, I was the clumsy kid who nobody picked to join their team. But now I feel more confident and fit. I hope I can stay healthy and can continue to run races but one of my lofty goals in life right now is completing a triathlon. I personally think it is too ambitious considering I have to get over my fear of water. But I think I will try.