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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.

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.


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!

Homecoming (12 March 2011)

The high cost of fuel (thanks to the Middle East crisis!) have necessitated a drastic revision to my weekend training plans. Instead of driving all the way to Ultra (a good 20-25km drive all-in-all), I had to think of a cheaper alternative. I didn’t want to train in Ateneo since I cannot use the hurdles there without a coach. Then it hit me, why not leave my car in Trinoma and ride the train all the way to Rizal. I’d hit two birds with one stone by (1) saving gas and (2) immersing myself in a true athletics environment.

Last Saturday, I did just that.

The change in scenery was refreshing. I must admit that several months’ worth of training solo amidst the oft-dreary company of joggers took a big toll in my extrinsic motivation. Even the LRT I proved to be a wondrous experience, since I’ve always looked at the run-down environs of Manila through nostalgic lenses. Despite the grime, pollution and relative chaos, my heart has a soft spot for the mighty capital city.

When I arrived at Rizal, I couldn’t help but gawk at the majestic Art Deco buildings. I pictured the great Filipino athletes of a bygone age – the likes of Simeon Toribio, Miguel White, Carlos Loyzaga and Felicissimo Ampon – walking the same worn path. There’s so much history in the Rizal Memorial that one tends to overlook its dilapidated state.

In light of my two year temporary retirement and the controversy regarding the renovation of the athletics stadium, I honestly did not think that I’d get the chance to hurdle and sprint in Rizal again. While I was doing my warm-up routine on the track that had seen my greatest victories and sorriest defeats, I was grinning like an expectant child on Christmas eve. Despite the distance, I felt so much at home in Rizal – more so than in Ultra or Celebrity Club. The fact that several of my athletics friends (Coach Emer’s pole vault training group and Robin Tuliao) were there heightened the endorphin high.

The staleness that had hounded my training for the past few weeks were blown away by a familiarly refreshing breeze. Needless to say, the training session was superb. In my second hurdling session of the 2011 season, I hardly felt the rustiness of early season exuberance.

My comeback will only be complete once I cross the finish line of a 110m high hurdle race below 15 seconds. But when I was doing nondescript five-step hurdle clearances last weekend, I felt so happy and thankful at being given a second shot.

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.

Rizal renovation leaves track & field athletes homeless

The PSC is converting the historic Rizal Memorial Track & Field Stadium for football use. The news of the tie-up with DLSU came out months ago, so I was not really surprised at the turn of events. From what I heard from people, the field will no longer be used for the throwing and jumping events. The 8-lane track would temporarily be closed to the national team athletes and the general public to make way for the renovation.

There are conflicting views on the issue. Apparently, the long-standing feud between the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee plays a central part.

Note: Another issue in question is the proposed commercial complex beneath the bleachers. Since Rizal is an art deco gem, new additions to the stadium’s original design naturally goes against its general architectural theme.

As a track & field man who traces his roots in this once grand stadium, I’m engulfed by a certain sense of sadness. After all, I ran my first ever sprinting and hurdle races in Rizal. The most memorable moments of my young life took place in that very stadium.


Built for the 1934 Far Eastern Championship Games (now the Asian Games), Rizal, as its habitues simply call it, has hosted all of the major international events held in the Philippines, the most recent of which is the 2005 Manila SEA Games. Years ago, while reading about the exploits of the 1932 Olympic High Jump Bronze Medallist, Simeon Toribio, the stadium was the constant milieu, the ever-present backdrop of Toribio’s inspiring life story. Philippine track & field greats like Lydia de Vega, Elma Muros-Posadas and Isidro del Prado competed with distinction on the 70-year old track. Blurry photographs of yore evoke feelings of nostalgia for a time long lost.

Jampacked Rizal. Sea Games 2005.

Despite the disrepair, the leaking roof and the relatively cramped confines, Rizal is a stadium us Filipinos can be proud of.

Rizal has nurtured generations of Filipino athletes – Filipino track & field athletes. For those athletes, myself included, Rizal is more than just a training facility or a place of competition – it is something akin to a home away from home.

Jumpers and throwers – permanently displaced

The conversion of Rizal into a football-specific stadium would temporarily displace the multitude of young track & field athletes based in Manila, in light of the capital’s lack of athletics facilities. The jumpers and throwers would suffer in the long run. It’s unfortunate to think that the Philippines’ ace long jumpers, Henry Dagmil and Marestella Torres, would lose their home track. Dagmil, the current national record holder at 7.99m, broke Nino Ramirez’s 75-year old long jump record at the National Open held in Rizal in 2003. Both Dagmil and Torres scored a long jump double for the Philippines in Rizal, during the 2005 Manila SEA Games.

Likewise, many time SEA Games Hammer Throw Gold medallist, Arniel Ferrera, would have to shift training bases to either Baguio or Ultra. However, throwing in the cramped confines of Philsports poses some sort danger to the multitude of joggers who frequent the Pasig oval.

More importantly, the current crop of youngsters would bear the most sacrifice. Public school students who flock to Rizal during the PATAFA weekly relays would have to make do with the substandard jumping pit in Ultra. The elementary and high school students from populous Manila would have to bear the brunt of extra travel time as well.

Win-win situation for both Football and Track

I have no arguments against the PSC’s goal of promoting the beautiful game. But please, don’t accomplish the latter at the expense of track & field. Manila only has three synthetic tracks open to public use* – Marikina Stadium, Philsports, and Rizal. Marikina has an abominable asphalt bike lane at the inner lanes while Philsports has a shorter-than-usual 110m starting line, certain uneven areas on the track and a badly-maintained jumping pit. Of the three, only Rizal barely meets international track & field standards.

I’m not espousing a black and white, all-or-nothing approach. Football is a fine sport where Filipinos once reigned supreme in the Asian ranks. I’d love to see the next Paulino Alcantara strut his football wares on the world stage. But then again, one cannot disregard the fact that our track & field squad has contributed its fair share to national glory. In light of our country’s shoestring sports budget, a win-win situation between should be reached.

Consider the example of Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Stadium. It underwent renovation a few years back. The centerpiece of Hitler’s Olympics hosted the 2006 World Cup for football and the 2009 World Championships for track & field. It currently serves as the home stadium of a Bundesliga squad and as a venue for various track & field meets.

The following line of Quinito Henson’s column seems promising enough: “The school will also be responsible for the preservation and maintenance of the football field and track oval, amenities and equipment during its use of the facility for varsity practices, tournaments, physical education classes and fitness activities.”

But the wording from a Manila Times article evokes fear in this track & field fanatic: “PSC Chairman Harry Angping and the De La Salle University (DLSU) community assured on Friday they would push through the transformation of Rizal track oval to a world-class football field.

The Philippine Olympic Committee has opposed the PSC’s renovation plans, according to this Inquirer article. I’ll be eagerly anticipating updates on this issue. Let’s just hope our bickering officials resolve their differences and work towards the betterment of Philippine sports.

For now, unless the Philsports/Ultra Oval’s sub-standard facilities undergo a face lift or an entirely new track stadium is constructed, Filipino track athletes – especially those competing in the field events – will be left marginalized and homeless.

* – The newly-constructed University of Makati Oval is for the exclusive use of UMak students only, except for a short two-hour window each morning.

Additional Links:

Quinito’s article

Inquirer article

Manila Times article

Ian Velasco’s blog post (about the renovation going against Rizal’s art deco design)

Photo credits:

Carlo Ricohermoso

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