Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Face at the Finish Line of Singelloop Breda

 “Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and keep it lit.”

– Mary Lou Retton, Olympic Gold Medalist

Photos by
Singelloop Breda

The Photos

I was about to log off from my husband's computer, after finalizing the booking of our accommodation, for our short Autumn school break trip to Germany, when an urge made me click on the thumbnails of my finish line photos.
2 weeks ago, I ran my best half-marathon since my injury, at Singelloop Breda.
I did not like the photos from the organizers, the first time I saw them (about 2-3 days after the race), and did not share them online, as everyone does, after every event.
This is not the first time. I do this a lot. I wait a couple of days, a couple of weeks, when I do not feel so comfortable about a certain race photo, or any photo for that matter. Sometimes even years.
My eyes were closed at 2 out of 3 Singelloop Breada photos , and I did not like how my left leg looked like on the picture.  
On the third, the scar I have been insecured about since I was a little girl, showed prominently on the picture.

A scar, which made me feel very self-conscious of wearing shorts, or of participating in any activity, where I had to wear shorts.
This scar also stopped me from opening myself to the world of sports and fitness, not until I turned 39 years old.
It took about 3 decades for me to get over this insecurity. At 40, I will wear shorts because it enables me to run better, and I no longer cared (too much!) about people seeing my scar, or how my legs looked like.

Running before I was  40 ushered the years I will be wearing shorts confidently during races watched by thousands!

2 weeks later

Today, 2 weeks later since I first saw the finish line photos, I feel much different looking at them. This was expected.

I felt pride over the pictures. I was filled with enormous happiness looking at them and remembering the day, 2 weeks ago. As well as the many years, which preceded this special day.
This phenomena of seeing photographs of myself with different eyes, with different perspective after a time is not new.
It has not happened for the first time today. I have been experiencing this for decades.
This has allowed me - usually very self-conscious of how I look like on photos - to let others take a picture of me, even if I do not want my image to be captured at certain moments.  
This is also why between 2006-2011, when I was in the middle of a personal crisis, I did 365 days of photo challenges as a creative therapy.
We create our reality; I strongly believe in that.
Sometimes, when we struggle to visualise who we really are, where we are in life and what we truly want in our life and out of our life, photography and photos help us remember, recognize and see with clarity.

2 weeks ago

Before I went the start of Singelloop Breda, I was very vulnerable; it was written all over my face, and the last thing I wanted was to be photographed, and for that vulnerability to be preserved.
Surpringsly, at the same time, I felt my inner-strength rise. Specially the moment, when the decision had to be made: go and run, or stay at home.
The 4 years of running changes you in a subtle ways, sometimes so subtle that it surprises you.
I surprised myself when I heard my voice say to my husband, "I'm going. Please, help me."
This is how I showed up on race day, a race day that was very important to me, and for a change I did not let my mind sabotage an important day.

Before the run, I was nervous but asked
MeeusRunClub ambassador Erben Wennemars
former Olympic speed skater
for a photo for positive energy

minutes before the start
this was the last corral
I told my husband I will join the MeeusRunClub team,
corral in front of where I was
for psychological boost

2 days before Breda

A few days before the race, I experienced pain on my right leg.

During my last two training runs, I could barely complete a km. 
The test/warm-up run the day before the race gave me a sliver of hope. The first km was hard. I was conscious of the nagging pain the whole time but kept going.
I told myself, if I stopped and walked in this slow 3 km test run, I will skip the race altogether.

The Wisdom of 4 Running Years

I've ran more than a total of 50+ race events all over Holland & abroad, and I know I'll be running more in the future.
If I don't apply the lessons , which I've learned in the past 4 years of running, I might lose once again the joy for it, which I just recently regained.
It would perhaps be another year of "I need/have to.", instead of "I want to!".

A collage of my 3 marathons
2012: Berlin & Amsterdam
2013: Paris

The mantra I've learned to say, when I have to make an important decision, of letting go of a running event I prepared myself for: nothing is lost on race day, the months of training led me closer to a stronger me.

The Voices in My Running Head

At kilometer 2 of my warm up run, the pain was gone. The warm gel I applied, which I have been massaging onto my leg during the day and a few minutes before my run, was very warm at this point and very soothing to my muscles, at the same time.
The confident part of me said, "Yesss! I'll run and if I have to step out by kilometer 10 or 15, so be it. I'll see this (Singelloop Breda) to the end!"

Finish line photo of my 10 EM (16 km) race @ Dam tot Damloop 2 weeks before Breda Singelloop

Photo courtesy of
Wieste Visser Photography

The conservative, ever cautious part of me said,
"Wait! Are you sure, you are not repeating Paris? Can you sacrifice again months or years of struggle for one probable day of runner's high from one race, which you can run again, next year?"

The day/evening before Breda collage
My cautious side is verbose & can pretty darn well be very convincing!
After a difficult night, literally last minute, I decided to listen to the confident voice in my head.
I wanted to see it to the end! Even if the end was unsure. Writing this makes me realize it is a metaphor for life.
Unlike in Paris, I vowed to step out and not run/walk stubbornly through the pain.

At this point (between 22-25 km??) I could have stepped out.
P walked, jogged, ran with me for at least 5 km from here.

My husband came with me to the race to be by my side until I have to go to the starting line. 

I needed his presence to remind me of the strength we both have in us and we both worked hard to achieve.

Let's Go Breda!

At home minutes before we drove to Breda
I wanted to celebrate my personal changes in this specific race, amongst thousands of other runners.

(Incidentally this is my 3rd year of running with Meeus Run Club, and my 3rd Singelloop Breda in succession with them as sponsors; they've been very supportive and instrumental in motivating my running since my recovery period from my injury.)

Runners, who recognize without words, why it is on many days, lacing up is not just a training day but the strongest motivation, the cleares reason to keep going, when everything else do not make sense.

Photo courtesy of 
Wieste Visser Photography
Race day was magical.

Photo courtesy of 
Wieste Visser Photography

During the first 5 kilometers, I was very cautious.
From kilometer 8, my legs were completely warmed up and were in harmony with my mind and spirit: I was in a flow.
From kilometer 10, my confidence grew steady with each kilometer. I knew at this point that I will finish.
I met runners along the course, and exchanged encouraging, positive affirming words with them. I will write about this some other time because it deserves a blog in itself.
The leader of the race, and other elite runners passed me by on my first round of the course, on their way to the finish (the "advantage" of being at the back of the pack in a race, where the course has to be run twice, is you get to run a mini-second along side the elite :D !)
One runner from the leading group, even landed on my back (3 kilometers away from the finish line) for a few seconds as he made a sharp turn. Luckily, I did not fall!
Between kilometer 10 - 15, the words, "Keep going. Steady. You got this. Looking good" were repeated in my mind.
From kilometer 16 - 20, the words, "BE strong! You are strong. You got stronger!" (I knew at this point by checking my time that I PRd on the 16 km.
From 18 - 20, after a gentleman, who already finished, paced me for about a kilometer towards kilometer 18, I ran with a gentleman being cheered by his wife and son, and a lady whose (I assume) boy friend was supporting her (ran with her from kilometer 20).
I cheered both of them on because I needed to cheer myself on as well.
I think I would have been a minute or 2 faster if I did not shout out to the spectators, "Bedankt Breda!" at each cheering point (well, actually from kilometer 10 I already started this thanking the people of Breda! hahaha I am a polite Filipino at heart!).
The two last kilometers before the finish were fun but I lost my puff at the last few hundred meter to the finish line. :D

Photo courtesy of Jeroen van Pelt
taken by Brigitte van Pelt

I did not mind! The negative splits from kilometer 18-20 will always make my day when I look at them.
I went without any expectations, remember? :)
This mental preparation (letting go of every thought or wish before a race and treating it as just another run in preparation of the next goal) helped me enjoy the race.
I was able to take everything in around me.
My focus and challenge was applying the small improvements after my race at Dam tot Damloop. Small things that I could have done in Dam tot dam loop but couldn't or missed doing it.
I was satisfied with my D+D race 2 weeks prior to Breda, and achieved an unexpected but much welcomed PR (1:20 min, a lot for me, since I have been chasing it for the 3rd year in a row).
My years of running experience gave me the confidence, that I could do better with simple adjustments. My time for 16 km (10 miles) was 1:58:50, and two weeks later in Breda 1:55:03!

Photo courtesy of 
Wieste Visser Photography
I went to run, to be surrounded by runners, to be cheered by the enthusiastic (consistent every year - such a positive energy!) people of Breda
I went to run to see the pride & joy in my partner's eyes because I did not let bipolar disorder rule my day, my life.
Nothing less, nothing more, and all achieved.
As you can see, I was very surprised here - at the runner's area after the finish - to see Mijn Liefste P !
He asked very nicely if he could come in to take a picture of his wife.
At the Meeus Run Club lounge

The Running Rewards 

3 consecutive years of running
Bredase Singelloop
5K: 2013, a month after I got my orthotic insoles, 2 months after my injury
10K: 2014, a year and a month after my injury, a year of struggling to keep running
Half-Marathon: October, 2015 PR since my injury!
My 10th half-marathon in 4 years.
My running rewards?
A proud partner at the finish, who waited for me so patiently and passionately cheered for me when I passed him twice along the course; the most unforgettable day in Breda; a dozen of photos, each telling a story of how I conquered myself, and the limitations I struggle with my mind.
I absolutely can't believe how close I was to having missed out on this amazing day, if I did not say to myself: get out of your head (fear of the pain, fear of being injured again, fear of being last, fear of not finishing), get on the road, and see how far you can go.

Looking at my face on the 2 finish line photos:
I remembered the years I struggled with losing my father so suddenly to a heart attack. How I accepted the loss and forgave the past.
I remembered the years I struggled with staying in an unhappy marriage. How I accepted the lost years, and forgave both of us.
I remembered the years before and after my diagnosis with bipolar disorder. How I accepted, who I am and forgave all my "mistakes", I made along the way.
I remembered the years my partner & I needed in order to build a strong foundation for our home (in our hearts); the foundation to the new beginning in our lives. How I let go of perfection and accepted living in the now.
My face at the finish line in Breda will always be a symbol of strength for me and how I finally embraced & recognized, and let that strong person, that I am, take the control of the direction of my life.

(roughly calculated: 292.66 km/10 weeks of training for Singelloop Breda)