Volunteering for NAMFREL: Day 1

(NAMFREL is an independent poll-watch body composed mostly of volunteers. I was a volunteer in 2010 (?), and again this year for the May 13 elections. I was tasked to observe the delivery of PCOS machines today at a school in Fairview, and here’s what happened.)

It’s another hot, lazy Saturday, and when I woke up at close to 9 am, my first thought was not wanting to leave the air-conditioned comfort of our bedroom, ever. I turned on my phone and saw a message that convinced me that was my first wrong move of the day. Our NAMFREL coordinator, Francis, had texted, asking could I please go to North Fairview Elementary School today at 8 am and observe the PCOS delivery there. My sleepy brain suddenly registered the time. 8 am? But it’s past nine already. Heck, I had to get up and get going, fast!

I made sure I had with me my NAMFREL ID, my smart phone (for texting updates and taking photos), and my SLR camera (for taking more, and hopefully better, photos). Breakfast was not an option, as I was very late already. But I did put some crackers and water in my already stuffed handbag.

I headed straight to Fairview Elementary School (FES), which wasn’t too far from where I lived. I voted here before, so I was familiar with the place. I noticed that like yesterday and every day this summer, it’s warm, warm, warm outside. I was glad I had an umbrella, a hand fan and some water. Yup, I’m a regular girl scout!

At the school entrance was a poster with the PCOS delivery schedule. It said that the machines were supposed to be delivered any time between 8 am and 5 pm, so that gave me some leeway. Our coordinator, Francis, had also texted to correct the 8-am time he had mentioned earlier.

School entrance with schedule of PCOS delivery

School entrance with schedule of PCOS delivery

A teacher coming in late like myself 🙂

Inside the school, at around 9:50 am, some thirty teachers or so were already waiting for the delivery. The principal wasn’t there yet. I introduced myself to the teachers, and sat waiting with them. They said they had been there since 8 am. One teacher worried that the PCOS might be delivered late, but hopefully today, not tomorrow. Apparently, in the previous election, they had a very late next-day delivery of the PCOS machines.

Teachers at Fairview Elementary School waiting for PCOS delivery (9:50 am)

Teachers at Fairview Elementary School waiting for PCOS delivery (9:50 am)

After a while, I thought it might be a good idea to check out the action in nearby North Fairview Elementary School (NFES). Maybe they had better luck there and their PCOS machines had arrived. It wouldn’t hurt to see. Besides, waiting here was tedious.

NFES is just about ten minutes from FES. When I got there, I immediately saw that the PCOS machines had indeed been delivered. They were lying on the floor, and the Air 21 delivery man and a school official were conferring in front of what seemed to be delivery documents.

PCOS machines delivered at North Fairview Elementary School (10:15 am)

PCOS machines delivered at North Fairview Elementary School (10:15 am)

Air 21 delivery person and school official receiving the PCOS machines

Air 21 delivery person and school official receiving the PCOS machines

I learned that eleven PCOS machines were delivered, and that there too were eleven clustered precincts in the school. I asked if there was a twelfth extra PCOS in case one of the others malfunctioned. The school official said there wasn’t. This made me frown a bit, because Francis had told me that there was supposed to be one reserve PCOS per school. The school official was Ms. Eden Mercado Salamera. I hadn’t ascertained if she was the school principal, but she did seem to be the person in charge. She was busy with the delivery documents, and I didn’t want to bother her too much, although she was very accommodating naman. She said it would have been nice if I had been there earlier to witness the unloading of the PCOS machines. I asked the delivery man, and he said their next stop was Fairview Elementary School, where I had been waiting earlier. I thought, “Great! I can be there and watch the whole shebang, from unloading to turnover!”

With that in mind, I quickly snapped a few photos at NFES and almost ran back to FES. I didn’t want to miss the arrival of the vans there. When I got to FES, I was panting and sweating. Of course, the teachers were still there, and they were glad to hear that the PCOS had been delivered in nearby NFES. That meant they didn’t have to wait much longer.

Unfortunately, it took more than an hour before the Air 21 vans arrived. Right smack when the teachers were having their lunch at around 12:03 pm, the vans and their police escorts came in at FES. There were two vans and two police cars. The vans were carrying eight PCOS machines each, which made for a total of 16 PCOS, equal to the number of clustered precincts in the school. Again, there wasn’t a reserve PCOS. The principal at FES, Ms. Eugenia Cristobal, was in fact startled at the idea of having an extra PCOS machine. I guessed she thought it might pave the way for election cheating, and I could see how that might be possible.

Air 21 vans at Fairview Elementary School

Air 21 vans at Fairview Elementary School

The delivery vans had police escorts

With the arrival of the vans, the delivery man (who was the same person who delivered the PCOS at NFES) sat down with the police officers and looked at delivery documents. There seemed to be a lot of paperwork. They checked serial numbers and precinct numbers. The two had to match exactly.

Air 21 delivery man and police officers checking delivery documents

Air 21 delivery man and police officers checking delivery documents

There was a few moments of waiting before the unloading could commence. The principal still wasn’t there, and she was called by one of the teachers to come as soon as possible.

Police escorts, while waiting for the principal to arrive

Police escorts, while waiting for the principal to arrive

When Ms. Cristobal arrived, she welcomed everyone, including the three PPCRV volunteers who had also come. She was very accommodating and eager to show how things were done under her leadership.

They first inspected the seals on the van doors. In each van, there were three seals in place.

School principal checking seals on the vans

School principal checking seals on the vans

Seal on van door

Seal on van door

Another seal on van door

Afterwards, the vans were opened one at a time. This was how the inside looked.

Inside the van upon opening of the doors

Inside the van upon opening of the doors

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Next came the unloading of the PCOS machines.

Unloading of PCOS machines

Unloading of PCOS machines

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All in all, there were 16 PCOS machines in sealed white boxes, 16 black boxes and their covers (sometimes referred to as “garbage bags”), and 16 power supplies. The principal and delivery persons checked whether the precinct numbers on the PCOS machines matched exactly. Also printed on the PCOS were serial numbers that had to match with what was on the delivery documents.

Labels on the PCOS machine: serial number, precinct number, school location, and other identifiers

Labels on the PCOS machine: serial number, precinct number, school location, and other identifiers

Principal and Air 21 personnel checking delivery documents

Principal and Air 21 personnel checking delivery documents

When everything had been unloaded, the principal called each precinct chairperson (who was a teacher in the school), and turned over to her a particular PCOS machine. As mentioned, every PCOS corresponded to one particular precinct, and there couldn’t be any mismatching. This was another tedious process. Each chairperson had to check her PCOS paraphernalia, present her ID to the Air 21 personnel, check the delivery documents and sign them. After the paperwork, she then took her PCOS machine and deposited it in the school library, which was the designated storage place for all the voting machines. As there were 16 PCOS machines, 16 people had to do all these individually, and it took some time.

Turnover of individual PCOS machine to each precinct chairman

Turnover of individual PCOS machine to each precinct chairman

Moving the PCOS machine into the school library

Moving the PCOS machine into the school library

Four PCOS stored in the library.

Four PCOS stored in the library.

Even though the Air 21 delivery guy had what seemed to be high-tech equipment, the turnover took a long time. He painstakingly checked against many documents, wrote down the names of the receiving persons, checked their IDs, and so on.

Delivery document signing during turnover to school precinct chairman

Delivery document signing during turnover to school precinct chairman

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I couldn’t stay to watch the entire process, but I think I saw enough. Everything seemed to be done correctly, and in an organized although lengthy manner. I thanked the principal for accommodating me, and said goodbye to the PPCRV volunteers who said we should work together.

As I was leaving the school, a heavy downpour had started. It was about 1:40 pm already, and I had missed lunch (in addition to breakfast). But I left with a satisfied feeling, glad that I had helped in some way, no matter how minute and perhaps inconsequential to the grand scheme of things.

My Run United 1: Great Balls of Fire, Master Yoda, and a New PR

Early this year, I had to take a break from running because of an injured right knee. During this break, I missed an important race I was previously, and aggressively, training for (the Condura Skyway marathon). Staying inactive is probably any runner’s worst nightmare, and so I was very glad when my knee finally seemed to have healed and I could get back to running again.

My comeback race was a half-marathon in the very popular Run United (RU) trilogy. (This first leg of the series is dubbed RU1.) Needless to say, I planned to take it slow and not put too much stress on my newly recovered knee. I thought I’d just enjoy the race as much as I could. If my knee started hurting, I’d walk and jog. And if it didn’t, I’d be grinning all the way to the finish line while thanking my lucky stars. I wouldn’t even think about PRs and finish times.

Another strategy I planned to adopt for this race was to make it meditative. I’d meditate on how fortunate I am to be running again, among other things. In this race, I’d be thankful, prayerful, and celebratory…in my own fashion.

I’ve been reading up on the topic of meditating while running, and putting into practice what I’ve learned during the short training period I had. It required some getting used to. My usual style was to turn on my iPod and lose myself in the music, zone out, go blank, let the endorphins flow. But if you want to meditate properly, zoning out is a no-no (I think). You have to be present and be aware–of your breathing, the motions of your feet, and more or less everything that your body is doing. This is “union” of mind, breath and body, which is what yoga literally means. At times, you can shift your focus to your environment and what’s happening around you. But at all times, you have to try to be mindful and present in the moment.

Well, it seems that if you think positive, and if you let go of pressures and expectations, things do work out quite well for you. I didn’t feel any pain at all in my knee during the whole race, and I didn’t have cramps. Those were the two worst things that could happen to me. Thank God they didn’t!

I even got an unexpected bonus at the end of the race: a new PR. My official chip time was 2h:19m, my best so far. But even better than this was feeling so wonderful, almost ecstatic–and strong!–at the finish line. Sure, I was tired too, but in the nicest possible way.

My 21k run on Nike+

Post-race, after the euphoria had worn off, I got to thinking, what exactly happened? How did I manage to run my fastest 21k when all I planned was a slow, meditative, don’t-hurt-your-knee run?

A huge chunk of the answer has to be the race route. It was as flat as any route could get. It had no flyovers, no hills, no slopes at all. If my memory serves me right, all my previous 21k races (there were seven) had hills of varying gradients. The most challenging one passed through at least six flyovers, and it took me a little over three hours to finish. In RU1, the route was all flat roads. Sure, some parts of the route had problems (such as congestion and car fumes), but no one could refute its flatness.

It also helped that the race was very well managed. There were plenty of hydration stations that served not just water but also sports drinks. I stopped in maybe half of all these stations. I also saw some bananas for us runners, but I was content with the energy gels I had brought along.

I must say that focusing on my breathing really helped me a lot too. Just being aware of the inflow and outflow of your breath is in itself a simple yet powerful form of meditation. While running, it is doubly helpful because it can be your guide to slow down, speed up, or maintain your current pace. In this race, I really watched how I breathed. And based on my respiration pattern, I got to know when I was running just right–not too slow, and not too fast either. If I went under or above a particular breathing level, I knew I had to make adjustments, and I did.

I admit I got tired of watching my breathing all the time, so I shifted focus every now and then. I would try to “attune” to my legs, my stride, the rhythm of it, and the feeling of my feet touching and leaving the ground. As I “felt” my legs, I would naturally progress to thanking them, praising them, and “sending” them love and energy. It sounds funny and weird as I write this, but that’s how it really is. Meditating for me means, among other things, communicating and communing with your body.

At other times, I’d focus on my core. By “core,” I mean the general area where the solar plexus is, above the navel and below the ribcage. (I don’t know if this is the same “core” that fitness experts refer to.) I would imagine in this area a glowing ball of light and energy, which sustained and energized me. During the race, I experimented with making this ball of light brilliantly blue, then white, then orange. I found out that blue and white were the colors that seemed right for me. Whatever I imagined its color to be, I visualized this ball of light to be a source of unending energy and vitality. When I felt tiredness in my legs, I would imagine the ball of light in my core to radiate strength outwards, reaching my tired limbs and energizing them.

At other times during the race, I’d visualize my core to be the seat of love and compassion. From this center, I’d radiate those feelings outwards, until they filled my entire body, and spilled outside to embrace my surroundings and the runners near me. At one point, I saw a fellow runner who seemed to be cramping, and I visualized sending him love and strength. I felt very peaceful and serene at these moments, almost forgetting that I was running.

I must confess I got a bit wild in my visualization sometimes. That’s when I imagined Master Yoda (from Star Wars, of course) to be seated in my core, driving me and pushing me forward. This made me smile. But it worked very effectively! It really helped to propel me forward. What can I say, the Force was with me.

So there, that’s my version of meditating while running. I drew from the traditions of Buddhist Vipassana, Rosicrucianism, and pranayana–some areas that I dabbled on in years past. It’s a continuing process, and I’m learning as I go (or as I run, if I may say so).

Getting Ready for Run United 1

 

Just four days to go, and I’ll run a half-marathon (that’s 21 km for those unfamiliar with running lingo) in the Run United 1 (RU1) race. I can’t believe it’s going to be my seventh eighth 21k! Have I been running that long? (Read: Am I that old?)

Because I’ve done it so often, I notice that I go through practically the same routine just days before a race. This routine almost always involves much worrying and anxiety (and just recently, a trip to the grocery store to get giant bottles of Gatorade). Sound terrible? Well, it may, but I now know from my own and other runners’ experience that it’s entirely normal to be anxious before an impending race. If you’re not anxious, it could mean you don’t care about the race, and that’s not a good thing.

I get pre-race jitters because something might go wrong during the race. Anything could happen, like cramping, knee problems, dehydration, diarrhea (!), wardrobe malfunction, a car hitting you, and so on. (Need I mention that death is also a possibility? But that’s just too dreary to dwell on.)

I’ve had cramping problems in previous races, and I know it can be so bad that you’ll have no choice but to stop, stretch, walk limping, and hopefully get to jog later when the cramps wear off. But by then, you’ll be saying goodbye to all hopes of setting a new PR. Just the same, you can still enjoy the race, and be proud of earning another 21k finisher’s medal. Oh yes.

To prevent cramps, what I do now is wear compression sleeves on my shins (where the cramps occur), guzzle about two liters of Gatorade one day before the race, and stay hydrated and full of electrolytes during the race itself. It also helps to train sufficiently for the race. So far, I’ve seen that this formula really works, at least for me.

What now worries me is that, this time around, I lack an important element in my fool-proof formula: sufficient preparation. I’m woefully undertrained for RU1. According to online resources, you should do at least 16-18k in your training runs prior to a half-mary. My longest training run has been only 13k (see picture), and I did it just yesterday, less than a week before race day. Uh-oh.

image

Ideally, in the week just prior to a race, you should be tapering off. That means you should be more relaxed, running infrequently and shorter distances, so that you’ll conserve your energy for the big day. Clearly, I’m not doing this.

I’ve had knee issues recently, which prevented me from running a 21k in the much-awaited Condura Skyway race. What a bummer that was. Afterwards, I could only train with great restraint, mindful of not hurting my knee again and, God forbid, having to miss out on this Run United race as well.

Oh well. I have never felt totally prepared for any race anyway, so I’ll just try to have an enjoyable, albeit slow, race on Sunday. I won’t be targetting a new PR at all. As I’ll be running with a newly-recovered right knee, I’ll be doing a slow sweet 21k.

Good luck to me and to everyone doing the RU1. See you at the Finish Line! 🙂

Hello, WordPress!

For my first post ever, I won’t write about how I’ve been wanting to try out WordPress for a long time now (I’ve been using blogspot.com), or how today was such a boring day (nothing on my To-Do list, hah!) that I thought I’d create another blog just to have something to do. No, no, no. Instead, I’ll write about how the weather is so warm today, and it’s not even officially summer yet! The humidity meter on my corkboard says 55%, but the air  feels way heavier than that. But wait, that’s not such a nice topic for a first post either, so scrap that.

Okay, what to say, what to say?

Heck. I’m just testing out WordPress. Playing around with the templates and widgets. Let’s see if something worthwhile comes out of it.

See yah when I have something more meaty to blog about!