Category Archives: Rizal

Philippine Athletics’ New Home

In the past months, there has been talk of converting the Philsports (Ultra) football field into artificial turf. Such a move would have been disastrous for the Manila-based athletics scene – the home of the nation’s best collegiate squads and national team. With Rizal Memorial hosting an ever-increasing number of football matches, holding an honest-to-goodness track & field competition at the venue is next to impossible.

Although there a multitude of athletics stadia in the country, the looming absence of a dedicated track in the nation’s capital s speaks volumes of the sport’s insignificance. The loss of Ultra would have been the coup de grace to a dying sport.

Thanks to the head honchos of the PSC, the FIFA artificial turf project will be moved to Rizal Memorial instead of Ultra. “Athletics will benefit from the move as it will also find a permanent home at the PhilSports field,” said PSC Commisioner Jolly Gomez in an Inquirer article. “It’s a win-win situation for all parties.

There’s hope for Philippine track & field after all!

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Adjustments

When I went back to Rizal a couple of weeks ago, I was a bit puzzled at the lack of people running in the track. The recreational runners and youth athletes were nowhere to be seen. Except for a few national athletes, the stadium was practically deserted. I dismissed the observation and went about my training.

After shooing away a bunch of kids loitering by the football field, a security guard approached me whilst I was doing hurdle drills. She asked if I were an outsider. “I’m with the national team,” I replied, not wanting to abbreviate my training session. I asked Sheena about this and her answer confirmed my worst fear. Rizal is closed to the general public, as it caters exclusively to national athletes for the time being.

Read: “Thoughts on the Rizal Memorial Stadium”

My heart sank. This means shifting my weekend training base to the worn out track of Ultra from the comfortable, athletics-centric aura of Rizal. I could have continued lying between my teeth. I wasn’t raised that way, mind you. If the PSC deems it fit to close off Rizal to help our athletes better prepare for the SEA Games (or due to the renovation controversy), I’m okay with that – whatever the true reason is. It’s a privilege our national athletes deserve.

Besides, it’s not like I’ve been deprived of a training venue. Ultra is still available, despite the poor state of its synthetic track. I don’t know when I’ll be able to train in Rizal again. Until then, I have to make do with what I have and make adjustments to my schedule.

Hurdle Drills

After the debacle that was my comeback race, I vowed never to crimp on hurdle drills again. In Bacolod, I seemed to float over each barrier – a far cry from the days when my snappy hurdle clearance saved me from many a race. Such a result was unsurprising. I drastically cut down the time I spent doing hurdle walkovers and plyometric hurdle drills, in the interest of saving time. The result of that race reiterated the fact that in hurdling, as in life, there are no shortcuts.

Instead of quick, once-in-a-blue moon drilling sessions, I adhered to a strict schedule of focused, consistent reps. In each session, I cleared an average of 260 to 280 hurdles on a given hurdling day. Once I got into the training groove, I jacked up the once-a-week sessions to twice in a typical seven-day cycle and opted to clear intermediate hurdles, instead of the lower variant. I have yet to try clearing the tall barriers yet, but I have a good feeling that I’ve regained a good measure of my lost hurdling quickness. I’ve adapted well to the increasing progression of difficulty. I actually feel good doing these drills that a heightened sensation of awareness ensues after each great session.

I just found out that the PATAFA Weekly Relays will commence this Saturday. There shall be no hurried revisions to my training program. At the rate my training is going, I’ll be in tip-top shape by mid-October. As my high school coach used to say, “it takes time to cook good food.”

Home Track: Thoughts on the Rizal Memorial Stadium

I’ve been an avid reader of Rick Olivares’ Bleachers Brew since 2006, the year of the Ateneo Football three-peat. I found inspiration in the exploits of that Hall-of-Fame champion team, which Rick so eloquently wrote about in one of his most endearing pieces. Since then, I’ve written incessantly about my experiences as an athlete. Words, when properly written, immortalize moments in a way modern media could hardly reprise.

To be featured in Brew is a great honor. Thank you, Rick!

I was a fifteen-year old high school junior when I first laid my eyes on the Rizal Memorial Track & Football Stadium. I can still remember that big lump of nervousness I felt on my chest, as I lined up for my first ever athletics competition. The track was wet, thanks to a light morning drizzle. Clad in my awkwardly long basketball shorts and spike-less running shoes, I shivered with both fear and cold as I waited for my heat to commence.

Click here to read the rest of the post

*Note: This article also appears in In the Zone.

 

Battle Scars

I’ll never forget 2 November 2006. It was a particularly nondescript Thursday afternoon. The team was on its first training session after the Bacolod Unigames. Save for a couple of athletes, all of my teammates were in Rizal Memorial Stadium.

I was still somewhat pissed at my forgettable third place performance, not to mention bothered by matters of the heart (a laughable fact, in retrospect). The hurdlers and I were doing our usual five step warm-up over senior hurdles. I could feel the rage brewing deep inside.

When my turn came, I felt something amiss whilst clearing the hurdles. My rhythm was off. I clipped the third or fourth hurdle with my lead leg. Strangely, I was somewhat distracted by a kid walking beside the hurdle. As I hit the crossbar, I saw the imaginary horizon fall. I’ve hit hurdles countless of times before, so I just went with the flow, so to speak.

Everything went black.

I was roused to consciousness when I vaguely heard the word “Kamay! [arm]” When I looked at my left arm, I saw it horribly twisted from my forearm’s midpoint. I was in shock for a few seconds. My coach came to my side. “Coach.. sorry,” I said. The first thing that came to mind was the UAAP competition, which was barely two months away.

Read my original blog post about the injury here

Then I felt the pain. It was the most excruciatingly sharp sensation of suffering I’ve felt to date. I could do nothing to stop it.

Needless to say, the entire team was shocked by the turn of events. Too shocked, in fact, to adhere to basic first aid principles. Instead of finding a splint to stabilize the fracture, my worried coaches had me walk the 200m or so distance to the sports clinic. I was walking with the other half of my forearm hanging limp from the broken radius and ulna, until Coach Toto had the presence of mind to straighten it, so to speak.

All throughout my trudge to Calvary, I was grimacing. I saw Jerome Margallo, a future Team Hwa Liong/PPVC teammate and I screamed “Jerome, ang sakit! [it hurts]” He could only glance in pity. Halfway through the parade of pain, I bellowed a raucous, almost desperate “Beijing 2008! [in reference to the upcoming Beijing Olympics, since I’ll be missing the UAAP!]” to a bunch of PATAFA officials. When we got to the clinic, I slipped on my way down the ramp. The pain, needless to say, was unbearable. It turned out that I was still wearing my spikes!

My arm with the metal plates. A few months after the operation.

I was rushed to a nearby hospital, before being transferred to my mom’s preferred medical institution. That very night, the entire team went to my house for an impromptu dinner gathering. I was in shambles, but the presence of my friends did much to assuage the hurt.

View pictures of the operation

View video clips of the operation: Part 1 Part 2

A few days later, my surgeon-uncle operated on my fractured arm. At the end of the procedure, I had two titanium plates and ten screws in my forearm. It took four to six months to fully rehabilitate my arm. I was back on track in nine months, clocking a relatively competitive 15.3s in my first race since the injury. Two months later, I broke the fifteen second barrier.

Despite my quick recovery, nine months simply were not enough to heal the psychological scars of the freak accident. For the remainder of my collegiate career, I was silently haunted by the injury. Even if I was running faster than ever, there was this latent fear of the one-meter high barriers that remained.

Almost five years later, the fractured bones have fully healed and the plates and screws have long since been removed. Psychologically, the two years I spent away from athletics did much to bury the demons of the past. All that reminds of me of the injury are small grooves on the fractured part and two nasty scars [which are good conversation starters, by the way]. I might not have won a UAAP gold medal in college, but I do have some mean-looking battle scars to show.

Return to Rizal (30 July 2011)

I went back to Rizal Memorial Stadium for the first time since the Philippine National Games. Thanks to a tropical storm that skirted Luzon, gray skies and a steady drizzle greeted my homecoming. There were still traces of the Azkals match, with the benches, FIFA-labeled sheds and advertisement banners at the sidelines.

 

I warmed up at the grandstand to escape the rain. And lo and behold, I was awestruck by the spanking new plastic seats! The guys from the PFF (I think) took out the scratched, rotting wooden benches of the past. Too bad track athletes can’t lie down on these individual seats!

 

Save for a few security guards and the occasional street cat, I had the stadium to myself. Of course, the memories of that splendid game was fresh on my mind. Being a hardcore track athlete, what struck me most was the history of the place. Whilst warming up, I could almost feel the aura of past Filipino champions from a bygone time – Simeon Toribio, Miguel White, Isidro del Prado and Lydia De Vega.

I learned the ropes of the sport in Rizal. I’ve experienced my biggest triumphs (to date) and my most crushing defeats in the decades-old Art Deco stadium. Despite being antiquated and run-down, Rizal shall always be home.

Circuitous (29-30 July 2011)

I started the week with a bang, but lost steam in the middle. A typhoon and a simmering bout with colds necessitated bed rest. A crucial football game, believe it or not, made me skip last Thursday’s training.

The two-day hiatus did wonders to my body and mind. By the time I got back on Friday, I was eager to train again. Gone was the feeling of subtle staleness that had haunted the workouts of the past days. My left leg, which I mildly strained the week before, was back in tip-top shape.

Since it was loading week, I made the workouts extra harder. I had three training sessions in a span of two days – which was a relatively heavy load in light of my full-time day job and weekend morning classes. I did speed endurance work on Friday night.

After class in Makati the morning after, I headed out to good ole Rizal Memorial for a badass session of hurdle drills and some light speed work. I had a high quality hurdles session. I was focused entirely on the task at hand, trying to correct the deficiencies in my form. I practically had the entire Rizal Memorial Stadium to myself, until my friend Ninoy came in. Two hours later, I rode the train, the jeep and drove all the way to Celebrity Club in Quezon City for a gym workout to top the tiring day!

Despite shuttling between a classroom and two different training venues from opposite ends of the vast concrete jungle of Metro Manila, I had great fun!

All Set (14 May 2011)

The problem was purely psychological. In the past few weeks, I had difficulty clearing the senior hurdles. I hesitated. I was scared, considering the fact that it has been more than three years since I last sprinted over the actual 1.067m high barriers. All the pent-up frustration soured my mood and pulled down my confidence level.

I almost reached the breaking point last Wednesday. I couldn’t seem to get my act together. I couldn’t focus. I started to question the very reasons for my comeback. Fortunately, fate found other ways to lift my spirits. I had good nonchalant talks with a college block mate, a couple of high school teammates and a colleague from work. God seemed to take pity in my solitude!

I worked doubly hard to keep my emotions in check and settled for junior hurdles instead. As expected, I breezed through the workout. My technique and physical conditioning are adequate. It was the psychological aspect that spelled trouble.

To stem the bloodletting, I took two days off. I watched Peaceful Warrior again, just to get my wits together. Prior to yesterday’s workout, I was still somewhat apprehensive – and scared. The visualization techniques from the movie did much to calm my nerves. Despite a few botched start attempts, I kept my emotions level.

With my legs well-rested and my mind at peace, I stormed through the workout! For the first time in more than three long years, I had successfully cleared five senior hurdles. The long wait was over. I felt like a true senior hurdler again.

Whilst doing my post-workout stretches, I wanted to shout from the bottom of my lungs an emphatic “hell yeah I’m ready for the Nationals!” But then again, my good manners took hold over such a wild gesture.

Hurdler (7 May 2011)

Last Saturday’s Rizal training started decently enough. Perhaps it was the heat or the sheer emptiness of the stadium. The solitude can get into one’s nerves, even for the most resolute of athletes. I had difficulty transitioning from clearing the first hurdle up to the second. I felt that my strides were inadequate, instinctively prompting an abrupt brake.

For a hurdler, this is a big no-no. No matter what, a hurdler should strive to clear the barriers. This had happened to me in the past. A good talk with my coach (or my training buddies) gave enough adrenaline boost. Most of the times, however, I let my bad temper get the better of me.

This time around, I did not have the luxury of devoted coaches and teammates.

The main culprit was the lack of speed in my starts. So I took extra time to rest in between reps. I listened to music whilst visualizing the entire hurdling motion. And it worked! Although it wasn’t the best of workouts (technically), I was glad to find my mojo again. For the first time in years, I actually cleared 10 hurdles (junior) and ran over senior hurdles.

This is a major personal milestone.

At the end of the workout, I had a good light chat with some national athletes. In the hallowed stadium of Rizal, I felt so much at home – and at peace. More importantly, I’m becoming more and more of a hurdler with each passing day.

With a little help from my friends (16 April 2011)

The past few weeks had been quite hard. The stresses of training alone had been getting into my head. No man is an island. Although solitude is at times, beneficial, there comes a point where the silence becomes too deafening. I was becoming stale as I went through the motions of hurdling and sprinting. There was no intensity. I started to doubt myself and my ability to compete head-to-head with the nation’s best hurdlers.

I was on track to another lackluster workout yesterday afternoon when I bumped into Ninoy  Marayag in Rizal. I haven’t seen the guy in months and, naturally, we talked about all things track & field. I confided my self-doubts. The national level triple jumper was very supportive and prodded me not to scrap my plans of competing.

The mere presence of a friend did wonders to my training session. He was able to spot some deficiencies in my hurdling (trail leg doesn’t snap forward, flailing arm action). Even if he’s a triple jumper, he knew the basics of hurdling. His inputs were very helpful indeed!

Ernie Candelario, the 2003 SEA Games 400m champion, was also there with his family and some national tracksters. After one good run, I saw him clapping and widely grinning. I basked under his praise! I grew up reading about this guy’s exploits. Hell, I idolized his quarter-mile running. To see him clapping at my hurdling was simply flattering.

The slew of frustrating training sessions were stopped, thanks to the mere presence and support of Ninoy and Ernie.

Ninoy shared an Ilonggo saying, which loosely translated into Tagalog: “Hindi pa nagsisimula and laban, panalo ka na.” In English the line means winning in your mind before the start of  the actual competition. It was a wake-up call. I realized how soft I had become in the years I spent away from the track. Self-doubt is the worst thing an athlete can do to himself.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be gradually reaching my peak in time for the National Games in Bacolod. Everything is on target.

Cut Loss (9 April 2011)

There’s this term in securities trading called “cut loss.” Simply put, cutting your losses means selling a particular losing position. It ends the blood-letting potentially bigger losses and enables the trader and the institution to absorb the trading loss outright – to start anew with a clean slate.

Last Saturday, I did just that in my hurdles session in Rizal.

I couldn’t seem to find the speed in my legs. I was having a hard time maintaining good form over the hurdles and in-between the barriers. At first, I wanted to blame the bunch of joggers loitering around the 50m mark. They were distracting, all right, but I know for a fact that it takes so much more to put me out of my hurdling groove (hell, I train in Ultra at night, where joggers literally crowd the track). I had to clear youth hurdles again, just to enable my body go through the motions. But still, something felt horribly wrong.

I sat on the moist track, just to compose my thoughts. I did n0t have the luxury of time. I had a seminar for work scheduled on 8:00 AM (I got to Rizal at around 6:30 AM). Soldiering on will be counterproductive, I told myself. Moreover, I was feeling a sharp pain in my right calf. My ego wanted to push through, of course. I’m not the type to shirk from a challenge.

But then again, I’ve been through the same situation before. The best move is to cut one’s losses, to retreat and fight again another day! I’ve put a tremendous toll on my body the past week as I juggled training with commitments at work. A botched training session was the price I had to pay.

I rued the missed training opportunity well into the remainder of my weekend. I felt the frustration seep into my very bones. I shut out my ears to the screams of my overwrought head. I rested the entire Sunday, opting to skip my gym and plyo’s workout.

Game Face (2 April 2011)

My right Achilles was acting up yesterday. I surmised that it was from the hurdles workout last Thursday or from wearing leather shoes all week long. I felt crappy during warm-up. I wanted to err at the side caution and simply go home. I can ill-afford another injury.

But lo and behold, the pain disappeared once I wore my spikes! During my hurdling warm-up, the pain was totally gone. My weekend Rizal workout was saved.

Rizal was almost devoid of people. The pole vault guys were competing in the Filipino-Chinese meet in Ultra, so I was left training alone. I must admit that it was an eerie feeling, having the stadium all to myself. In the middle of my hurdles workout, a few training pool members  and a national team decathlete hung around the 1st hurdle mark, to kill time before their training.

I’m not used being around real track and field athletes anymore since I train around fitness enthusiasts and recreational runners most of the times! I was quite dazed and distracted by the national team guys. After all, they are much better athletes than gym buffs and joggers! Since a couple of those guys also do the hurdles, the pressure to perform well naturally built up.

I shrugged off those irrational emotions and buried the my inferiority complex underneath a new-found confidence in myself. I told myself that hell, I was once one of the top hurdlers in the Philippines. It’s just right to walk with some swagger. Putting my game face on, I had my best hurdle workout to date.

I was satisfied with my starts since I didn’t slow down before the first hurdle. Again, I had some difficulty transitioning from hurdle clearance to sprinting. More importantly, I’ve found my hurdling rhythm albeit a considerably crude version of it. It was a decent effort altogether.

Extreme Conditions (26 March 2011)

Yesterday morning, I went to Rizal for my customary weekend hurdle workout. Instead of the usual afternoon session, I joined pole vaulters Jerome Margallo and Tonio Ching in Rizal at 8:00 AM. I’ve forgotten how hot the Manila sun can be without adequate shade. Being the night owl that I am, naturally I wilted. Back in the day, I was an all-weather kind-of-guy (I can compete and train under extreme conditions!).

The stadium was a lot crowded than usual. A small group of DLSU tracksters were at the tail-end of their workout. On the far side of the track, Amir Khan himself was in the midst of an intense conditioning session. Also, there were the occasional tennis players competing in the ongoing Mitsubishi Lancer Junior Tennis competition. Being surrounded by gym habitues and running enthusiasts all week long, I found the company of elite athletes personally inspiring!

I cannot recall the last time I trained under such harsh conditions. The sky was almost cloudless as the sun shone mercilessly. I looked with a certain sense of awe at the exuberant kids doing sprint workouts with nary a whimper. I was at the tail-end of my endurance. I wanted to hit the shower, pack my things and head straight to McDonald’s for my recovery meal! With two months to go before the meet, there was no time for such non-sense.

So I soldiered on, resting in the cool dugout in between reps. It wasn’t the best of workouts, with the heat sapping most of my juice. Hence, I was careful not to transcend the limits of my body. Nevertheless, it was an eyeopener – a reminder that I should be ready for all kinds of conditions come competition time. At the end of the customary post-hurdle workout sprints, I felt so fulfilled. Despite my unwanted bout with the harsh mid-morning sun, I was on schedule.

Askal in Rizal

Whilst training in Rizal yesterday afternoon, Coach Jeannette Obiena noticed a stray dog lurking by the trash bin at the bleachers. The hardy askal (not Azkal, mind you), reminded me of the infamous dog chase during last year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

It might take a few generations before we see the rise of an athletics facility to rival that of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, but hey, our very own Rizal Memorial Stadium is at par with the former – in terms of furry companions!

Return to Rizal

After dropping by our former team captain, Rob Sargan’s running shop, I decided to visit the good ole stadium. I haven’t been to the decades-old Rizal Memorial since February 2010. Since then, the controversial memorandum between the PSC and DLSU had taken center stage.

Read: Rizal renovation leaves track & field athletes homeless

Construction of the new football pitch is in full swing; the field events have transferred to faraway Teacher’s Camp in Baguio (for the throws) and to Philsports in Pasig.

Seeing athletes train in the hallowed stadium brought forth fond memories. At least the track is still usable, despite a few holes here and there. The PATAFA Weekly Relays will be held in both Rizal and Philsports starting this November.

I’ve heard much opposition about the legality of the aforesaid document. The inner workings of Philippine sports is a quagmire I’d rather not delve in. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed until the issue is solved with finality.

I hope the parties concerned come up with a win-win solution for both track & field and football athletes.

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