Week 1: Zen and Shin Stress

In the first week of this year, I strove to be more quiet, simple and meditative. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I’m happy with some changes I’ve started. I reduced time spent outside and on Facebook and the Web. I read more fiction, less news and gossip. I devoted more time to my breathing meditation, the Pentagram, Vipassana walking, and other spiritual exercises. I talked less to people outside my immediate family. I talked less at home too. I threw away a lot of clutter. I rearranged some furniture. I changed all the curtains. I cleaned.  I cut my short hair even shorter.

And I didn’t run in the first seven (!!!) days of the year. Considering how running-crazy I was in the previous month, this was a major thing.

runkeeper dec-jan

As a result, my January mileage is pitifully small compared to my December total. (But this month has just started, so I can definitely add more kms in the next weeks.)

I did go out to run on January 5, but it turned out quite differently from what I had planned. At around 5 am, I went outside with my running shoes on and my new water bottle. I walked from our house, then jogged a bit, as was my habit. But before I could even complete 1 km, my shins started to feel like heavy irons. They made even slow running very difficult. There too was a slight pain on the top part of my feet. I had to stop running and walk for a few minutes. I tried stretching a bit, and loosened my shoelaces. Then I started jogging again, but with the same result. After about 20 minutes of this, I decided to give it a rest.

If this happened last month, I would have panicked. I would have worried that this might be an injury that would spell disaster for my February full marathon.

But I didn’t become upset. Instead, I thought I’d listen to my heavy shins, “honor” them, and let them be. Then I focused on my breathing, and gave thanks that I could breathe. I also attuned to my walking stride, and gave thanks that I could walk. I walked on, and the sun came out. People started to fill the streets. I watched and listened. The increasing activity was almost palpable, like the city was literally waking up and getting on its feet. The sun on my skin also felt warmer, and I headed home happy.

I ran again yesterday, this time with more success. I went to UP after seeing the girls off to school. (It was their first day back, and so there was some drama and anxiety before they unwillingly left home.)

At the UP Oval, I first did a 10-minute warmup jog, then proceeded to do 4:1 run-walk intervals. Alas, the same heavy-legs syndrome reappeared! I found it quite hard to run, even when going slow. Some walking also felt difficult. Both my legs felt really heavy and tired, and after dragging them around for about 30 minutes, I thought that was enough. I wasn’t exactly happy, but I was thankful that at least I completed a half-hour workout. That’s good enough to get started, I thought. I could come back again, no worries.

As I was doing my warm-down walk, I felt the urge to run again, just to see if my legs could manage it. Surprisingly, the heaviness was gone this time. And so I continued running around the Oval, until I finished another half-hour of straight running. My legs felt fine, apart from the normal fatigue from the run. Now, I was really happy.

When I got home, I read up on this running problem, and found out it is quite common. It’s been called “heavy-legs syndrome” and is attributed to these possible causes:

  • over-training
  • insufficient rest
  • poor nutrition
  • improper shoes
  • menstrual-period-related (for women)

The problem doesn’t seem to be as serious as shin splints or ITBS, thank goodness. Usually, resting and going more slowly will take care of it.

So, it’s been an interesting start to the new year. I wonder how my future runs will be. I wonder what my TBR Dream Marathon will turn out to be like. There’s a lot in store in the coming weeks, but right now, I’m happy where I am. Right here, right now. I am present in the Present, and I am savoring the moments.




2014 is here! How fast time speeds by.

This year’s theme for me is less. Less Facebook and Internet, for sure. Less time on useless (though sometimes superficially enjoyable) things like surfing, chatting, TV, wondering why people behave this way or that, and so on.

At the same time, I hope to do more of reading, journaling, running, letting things be, being grateful, enjoying solitude, and improving my mindfulness practice. I hope to finally finish reading Walden and The Art of Motorcycle Bike Maintenance (long overdue!). I hope to be able to walk  or run or wash the dishes and be completely *present* in my body while I do those things. I hope to do less multi-tasking and more savoring of each moment.

I hope to do less, accumulate less, and get by with less this year. With less, I hope to be simpler, quieter, and happier.

Happy New Year! 🙂

In Search of Purity

When road running, I’d sometimes hear catcalls and comments from pedestrians or bystanders. Some people would simply say “Good morning” and smile. Others would comment with something more memorable, such as “Sige, takbo ka lang, mararating mo rin ang gusto mong abutin.” (“Go, just keep on running. You’ll get to where you want to be eventually.”) Or something to that effect. Those words of wisdom came from a drunk, pot-bellied guy on a passing truck. He was so loud that I heard him over the din of the truck and my iPod music. Hearing him made me smile. It also got me started on a long, silent soliloquy about why I run.
The little, unexpected things are what I love about running. I love feeling the wind against my face. I love feeling free and carefree. (Yes, those two are different.) I love feeling strong and fit. I love running to the beat of my favorite music. I also enjoy being “thought-less” in a meditative way, just attuning to my breathing, to my legs and arms, and letting go. I love the me-time that running affords me. I love seeing a father carrying his little tot on his back, elderly couples walking hand-in-hand, tired people coming home from work, and children marching off to school with their oversized backpacks. These sights are precious. They remind me that I’m one with these honest, loving, hardworking folks. (I don’t know why I assume they’re honest and loving and so on… it just feels that way to me when I’m running, and I feel a close kinship with them.) And last but not least, I relish the tired-but-I-did-it! feeling that comes after I’ve accomplished (or surpassed) my running goal for the day.
What I don’t like about running is when it gets technical. I confess that I don’t enjoy running intervals (e.g. run-walk-run for set periods of time). I also don’t really enjoy following a plan for a week or a month. I don’t like comparing runs and going after PRs. I don’t like feeling pressured to do core and strengthening workouts. I know that these things are meant to guide and help the runner, but they somehow diminish the pure pleasure of just running.
It’s the same with badminton, another sport that I enjoy. I don’t really enjoy training and tournaments as much as just playing for the love of the game. I don’t like having to think about footwork, drops, stances, grip and so on. I also don’t enjoy the drama and conflict that sometimes arise just because you’re in a group and you have to interact with other individuals. I just love to play, and play with abandon. If only I could do just that all the time.
All this reminds me of a favorite poem by Walt Whitman.
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Right on, Mr. Whitman. Next time I run, I’ll junk the learn’d astronomer’s advice (and my timer watch), and just enjoy the road and the stars.

Two Words

On a lazy day, I saw this photo on (where else?) the Internet.


Just two words? Some of the things that immediately came to mind were:

  • Just run. (Because I love to run.)
  • Don’t trust. (Okay, this is technically three words, but the thought is there. I’d be happier with “Don’t be too trusting,” but that’s a mouthful.)
  • Smile much.
  • Be happy.
  • Just be.
  • Be yourself.
  • Fear not.
  • Do it.
  • Laugh lots.
  • Deep breaths…
  • It’s okey. (Again, technically three words, but…)

What’s your two words for your younger self? 🙂

Running in the Dark

I tried something new when I ran last night. I used the GPS-powered running app called RunKeeper to track my run. That meant two things: one, I had to bring my phone (which I prefer not to do during any run), and two, I had to turn on its cellular data connection to have GPS. I was worried I’d stack up major phone charges, but lo and behold, after the run, I checked my balance and found out it cost me zero pesos. As in, nada, zilch. Was there a glitch? I had my data connection on for 1.5 hours, and that cost nothing? Well, maybe it’s because I used it just for GPS. I guess that means GPS use costs nothing–which definitely is great news. I’ll probably be running more with RunKeeper or the GPS-enabled version of Nike+.

Ordinarily, I just use my teeny-weeny iPod Nano in my road runs for tracking. It has the Nike+ running system built-in for music lovers who also love to run. The Nano clips on any clothing, and it’s very light. And so it’s very convenient. All I need are earphones to go with it, and already I have my running music (indispensable!) plus all the stats I could ever need: the distance I’ve run, pace, calories expended, and so on. The Nano also gives me regular voice feedback all throughout the run; it lets me know how long I’ve been running and how many more miles or minutes is left for the run. For years now, this has been my preferred run tracking system.

Last night was dark, and so I had to watch out for bumps and trash on the road that could cause me to slip. But the weather was perfect. Other than a very light drizzle at the start of my run, the cool pre-Christmas weather was ideal for a long run. I started out with a target of one-and-a-half hours, just to get past the one-hour runs which I have been logging lately. I also thought if I did more than 10k, I’d be ready for the Pink Run 16k which is just a few days away.

I ended up doing 12.7 km, according to my iPod Nano. (Yes, I also brought it with me, in addition to my phone).

LSD pre-Pink Run

On RunKeeper, my run distance varies a bit, registering 12.46 km. This probably is more accurate because it’s GPS-determined. Another bit of info I got from RunKeeper is this route map.

route Fairview

I don’t usually see other runners on the street at this time of the night. But this time, I did see two of them. We ran different routes so I only had a quick glimpse of them and then they were gone. (Or I was gone, haha.) There were a few bikers, still a lot of cars and trikes (but not nearly as much as you’d see in the daytime), and some strollers with their little children or pet dogs in tow. I’d pass by trike drivers waiting for passengers, and I’ve gotten used to their comments and stares. They’ve probably gotten used to me by now too, so I felt less stared at lately, thank goodness. I’d also often see the night-duty guard at GSCS, the school where two of my girls go to. Sometimes we’d wave at each other. I’d also pass by guards keeping watch at the gates of subdivisions. It makes me feel safer knowing they are close by. Because it’s dark and I’m running solo, and it’s almost Christmas season, there’s always the danger of being mugged. But Fairview is generally a safe place, and I’m thankful I’m able to run here.

Fairivew night run

When I got home, I was tired but happy. The “runner’s high” I always get is definitely one of the reasons why I love this sport so much. Apart from the endorphins, I also love the solitude, the freedom, and the me-time that running affords me. Another bonus–from the tiredness–was that I didn’t have the energy or the appetite to sit down for a full dinner. I just ate mangoes and drank lots of water, and that felt enough. Hmmm. If I wanted to lose some weight (and I do!), I should probably do this more often.

On the downside, I found out that sleeping was difficult. I read somewhere that night workouts may interfere with a good night’s sleep, and this, unfortunately, is oh so true. Oh well, I guess you can’t have everything.

Just the same, I won’t exchange this experience for anything 🙂

Votin’ (and NAMFRELin’) on Election Day

May 13, Election Day, started drizzly though still summery warm. I almost didn’t want to vote, given the dearth (in my opinion) of credible candidates. But being a NAMFREL volunteer prodded me to go out and participate in the electoral process. And so I set off to Fairview Elementary School, where I’m a registered voter.

The road leading to the school entrance was lined with candidate supporters giving out flyers and even sample ballots. I noticed that most of them were women and kids. (I wonder if that’s significant. Cheaper labor, maybe?)

A kid handing out flyers

A kid handing out flyers

Members of the "flyer brigade"

Members of the “flyer brigade”

flyer people 2

A sample ballot being handed out (with the candidates' names shaded)

A sample ballot being handed out (with the candidates’ names shaded)

Past the throng of flyer people, barangay tanods manned specific locations and directed people where to pass.

Barangay tanods at work

Barangay tanods (in orange vests) at work

One tanod stood next to a garbage bag. He encouraged people to throw the just-distributed flyers there to avoid littering the streets. (Elections are such a waste of precious paper!)

An early clean-up attempt

An early clean-up attempt

Inside the school, I was surprised to see so many people already. It was just around 8:05 in the morning. There was a PA system in the PPCRV area announcing names of people. Apparently, people who didn’t know their precinct numbers and where to vote sought help there. They submitted their names and PPCRV volunteers looked them up in their records, then told them which room and building to go to to cast their ballots.

I didn’t know my precinct number, and I thought of lining up there too. But the queue (if there was one) was long and disorderly. Some people in the crowd looked angry and confused, and I didn’t want to join in.

Instead, I found another area where two COMELEC people were stationed. They also helped voters locate their precincts.

The COMELEC help desk

The COMELEC help desk

Two COMELEC members sharing one master list of voters

Two COMELEC members sharing one master list of voters

The queues here were shorter and faster, but still, help was slow because the two COMELEC members shared only one master list of voters. There was an angry elderly voter who said his name was on the master list, but when he went to his designated voting room, his name wasn’t there. What the COMELEC person did was he signed a piece of paper indicating the voter’s name and precinct number; this piece of paper supposedly certified that the voter was indeed in the master list and that he should be allowed to vote. I don’t know if this system worked, but I sure hope it did. The elderly person seemed angry and really intent on exercising his right to suffrage. Bravo to him!

All around the school were signs and posters meant to guide the voters on what to do and where to go.

The list of voters outside each voting room was helpful, but the voter must know which room to go to in the first place

The list of voters outside each voting room was helpful, but the voter must know which room to go to in the first place

Precinct location board:. helpful in finding which school building the precincts are found

Precinct location board indicating the school building where the precincts were

Instructions in Filipino

Instructions in Filipino

Sign outside a room showing precinct numbers. The editor in me cringes every time I see "precinct" spelled incorrectly. It happens so very often.

Sign outside a room showing precinct numbers. I used to cringe every time I saw “precinct” misspelled, but I’ve seen it so often that now I don’t care anymore.

Once I knew my precinct number and its corresponding room, I went there right away. It was on the third floor of the Mathay Building. Usually, one had to stay in a “holding room” first before being allowed into the voting room itself. This happened if many voters were waiting their turn. In my case, I was able to go straight into the voting room because there were only a few voters in my precinct at that time.

Inside a holding room

Inside a crowded holding room

I had to wait for only about five minutes, and then I was given a ballot. I sat down and shaded the proper circles quickly. I only voted for ten candidates out of a total of more than twenty. I checked if the marks I made on one side of the ballot showed on the flip side. They didn’t, which was great.

My ballot was then inserted into the PCOS without any hitch. I noticed that the the number of ballots cast in the PCOS was 92, and after my ballot, it registered 93. There were a few seconds of waiting before the number changed. I asked the technician (who stood near the PCOS and assisted in the insertion of ballot) if I could snap a photo of the ballot count on the PCOS. He said “no,” as I expected. Pictures weren’t supposed to be taken inside the voting room, especially pictures of the ballot itself.

A BEI then placed indelible ink on my left forefinger, and I was done.

Voters' records inside the voting room

Voters’ records inside the voting room

I was fortunate in that I was able to vote quickly. In other rooms, there were long queues, some of them extending outside the holding rooms into the corridors and stairways. I went into another school building and saw even longer lines of voters.

Crowds of voters

Crowds of voters

The queues spilled into stairways and fire exits

The queues spilled out into stairways and fire exits

Some queues extended outside the building, where people had to wait under the heat of the sun

Some queues extended outside the building, where people had to wait under the heat of the sun

I heard this PPCRV volunteer radioing for help in organizing the queues

I heard this PPCRV volunteer radioing for help in organizing the queues

Waiting in line

Waiting in line

Queues everywhere

Queues everywhere

A huge crowd of voters, as early as 9 am. I bet the crowd would get bigger as the day progressed.

A huge crowd of voters, as early as 9 am. I bet the crowd would get bigger as the day progressed.

I went into some rooms and asked if the PCOS machines were working. A school staff said they were, though sometimes the PCOS didn’t “accept” the ballot or was slow. But all they had to do was to turn over the ballot and it would be inserted into the machine without any problem.

I also saw the principal making the rounds. I reintroduced myself as a NAMFREL volunteer, and asked her if they had any problems so far. She said “no, not yet.” It was still early in the day.

The school principal  busily making the rounds

The school principal (wearing white) busily making the rounds

As I left the school at around 9:30 am, I was dismayed at the sight of street litter from campaign flyers. This was so early in the day; I’m sure it would get much worse by the end of the voting period.

Street litter and litterers

Street litter and litterers

When I got home, I did a little experiment to test the “indelibility” of the ink on my forefinger. I cleaned up using nail polish remover. Some of the ink was removed, but not all.

Before and after cleaning out the "indelible" ink

Before and after cleaning out the “indelible” ink

And that ended the voting part of the day for me. Later on, after 5 pm, NAMFREL volunteers like me would observe the random manual audit as our final task.

I hope everything goes well 🙂

Let’s Please Be Nice (Or Not?)

I went with my daughter as she enrolled in college today. As an incoming freshman, she’s understandably excited and anxious. She’s excited that she’s taking her dream course: animation and game development. She’s anxious about college life and how to survive it.

She’s fortunate to get a scholarship because of her good grades in high school and the entrance test result. As part of the enrollment process, she had to be briefed on the terms and conditions of the scholarship. The person in charge of this was an unsmiling man with a loud voice. He gave my daughter a document to study, and told her to come back after 15 minutes.

The document mostly explained grade requirements. My daughter was unfamiliar with the college grading system that has 1.0 as the highest grade and 5.0 as a failing mark.  She’s used to grade percentages (with 75% as barely passing and 95% as excellent). And so, she probably didn’t understand everything that was in the scholarship contract. She did study it a bit, and then came back to Mr. Stern-and-Loud.

What he did was to quiz her on what she had read. From where I sat, I could see my daughter cringing as she failed to answer some of his questions. I could also see his facial expressions and gestures. He would slap his forehead in exasperation, hide his face in his hands, and behave like he was talking to a moron. I felt bad for my daughter. I wanted to come rescue her, but this, in a manner of speaking, was her fight. So I just suffered in silence, praying that he’d quit with the twenty questions already and just brief her properly.

After the interrogation interview, my daughter was visibly rattled. She didn’t have to tell me she felt very embarrassed. What she did say was that she felt degraded. According to her, Mr. Stern-and-Loud said he wouldn’t be surprised if she failed math, and that he couldn’t believe she was a scholar. She said she was confused with some Tagalog words he used (like “uno” and “singko”); unfortunately, her Filipino vocabulary isn’t as good as her English. She must also have been confused with phrases like “lower than 3.0.” Numerically, this of course refers to anything less than 3, such as 2.5 or 1.75. But grades-wise, it means 4.0 or 5.0, which are worse and therefore lower grades than 3.0. To confound matters, the school had unique grades such as 7.0 (for subjects dropped). Oh well.

Mr. S&L wasn’t nice at all, that’s for sure. But I told my daughter to just take it as a normal part of life. I told her she’ll surely meet people who are mean and rude. She just has to learn to have thicker skin and not be too stressed by them.

Besides, it’s not all bad. Something good seems to have come out of this incident. My daughter says she’s now more determined to get really good grades so she could slap her report card in Mr. S&L’s face when scholarship renewal time comes. I believe her. Like everyone else, she seems to be strengthened by challenge and adversity. But a mother worries still.

So, was it alright that Mr. Mean was rude and demeaning? I don’t think so.

…But without people and situations like him, how can we learn to be tough?