Sunday, March 8, 2020

To the Stars, Through Adversities

When I signed up for my first ever marathon - The Bull Run Dream Marathon 2020, little did I expect that it will be riddled with challenges beyond the mere training itself.

My daughter went through a spine surgery 10 months ago and I took a leave of absence (LOA).  I am grateful that my leaders, my QA team and colleagues supported my need to take time off.  Everything, including my training, took a back seat as far as priorities were concerned because caring for her recovery was a 24/7 commitment.  My life during the LOA period was never a vacation of sort.

I returned to work in time for a major external audit and life as I know it came back in full-force. There is the reality of returning to the daily grind and keeping peak engagement for work.  At home, my husband and I had to manage our yaya-less household and looking after Kyla's therapy, all the while pursuing my own training was truly a test of discipline and balancing priorities. Our children and I also had a bout with an illness and had to shelve my running once again for several weeks until I fully regained my strength.

Training for a marathon meant waking up as early as 2:00 AM for the weekend long distance runs, even when your mind and body is already weary after a full day and week's worth of work.  And after the long run, household chores and weekend errands still awaits. It is also true that there is a respite in running during wee hours of the morning and enjoying the solitariness. I find that it helps clear up my mind. And then, Taal happened and we had to run with N95 masks on as we head towards the peak distances as race day draws near (24/27/32 KM in succession).

Fast forward to one week before the race day, I experienced pain at my left tendon that had me limping around the office.  Attempting to run at my usual pace hurt and I was deeply worried that race day is around the corner.  My husband who acted as my coach-pacer had to revise our race day strategy and had to trigger last minute healing tactics in order to increase my chances of making it to the race day and finish it without an injury. Suffice it say that it was very tempting to accept the organizer’s offer for free deferment to 2021 for those who raised concerns due to ash fall and COVID-19 scare.  After all, I had a good reason to postpone it until when I am better prepared to race and pushing through might have me ending up a DNF (did not finish).

The rigorous hours of training taught me that running for a marathon is all about conquering the distance, and that voice inside you that wanted to quit. It was test of mental resilience and grit. I also had to trust the many long hours and sacrifices I gave for the training. A marathoner comes with heart and soul that roars back to say, “I shall not be defeated by this!”

There is also a spiritual element into this experience. I had to trust and keep faith in God’s grace that He will run beside me in this marathon, just as He has always done so, in the race called life.

Fueled by this inspiration, I finally resolved that I shall face the starting line and give everything I got to finish the race. As I approached the final 200 meters to the finish line, there was overflowing relief and gratitude- I finished the race without an injury or pain!  

The memories came rushing back to me - never to fear any starting lines in race and as in life; never to be defeated by life’s crucibles without giving a good fight and to dig deep into that place inside you where courage is mastery over adversities!

I dedicate this run to my forever partner in this marathon called life - my better half Alvin who chose to run with me until the finish line and to our beloved children Kevin and Kyla -- our inspiration to continue aspiring to be the better version of ourselves!

To God be the Glory!

And... it is done!

At the first 10K loop.
Photo credit: CN Creatives

At the 40KM Mark.
Photo credit: Bicolano Runners

Basking in the afterglow of a marathon finish!

I am a Marathoner!
The epic TBR Dream Marathon 2020 at Clark Parade Grounds, Pampanga

The Hero behind all these triumph is none other than my better-half / coach/ pacer
Alvin who ran his 2nd (back to back) TBR Dream Marathon

To God be the Glory for this safe finish!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Running a Breezy 10K for Beginners

If you have been running 5K for ages and felt that it’s time to challenge yourself a bit, then a 10K run is perfect for levelling up. 10K is a mid-distance run which can be comfortably completed below 90 minutes if you do a run-walk sequence. Faster runners can easily bag this below 60 minutes or a decent finish between 60 to 70 minutes, but we are not going into that territory for now.

I have been running 10K for a few months, every weekend in fact, since I decided to resume clocking more running hours to get fit and live a healthier lifestyle to compensate for my caffeine and junk food fix.  The upside was that my sickness-prone self improved significantly. 

It was not easy resuming the training after a seven-year hiatus. I started running when we lived in Singapore and my friends encouraged me into running for leisure. The effort to start all over again required patience and a great deal of commitment to get to a point where running 10K becomes a breeze. You need patience because you have to accept that running from zero for the first 200 meters would leave you breathless already on that first day; tenacity and determination- because running for 10K means making that time, whether it is on a hot summer weekday afternoon or waking up at 4:30 A.M. on a cold, rainy weekend instead of being able to grab extra hours of sleep.

500 meters away from the finish line of the Skechers Performance Run
where I ran my 3rd 10K and my best time so far!
photo credits: Starting Line PH

Here are a few tips I can share to beginners like me who decided to make that next big step and level up to 10K:

1. Find a comfortable pace and stick to it.  I started running for fun. In fact, I still do.  I happily run with my turtle-paced 9 min/km while listening to my favorite go-to music and simply enjoy watching life around me.  When running an official race, I stick to my training pace while everyone else were running past me.  Don’t give in to the temptation of trying to run with the bandwagon (i.e., everyone else’s pace) if it is simply not your pace. It will wear you down and zap all your running energy in no time.  I find that when I stuck to my pace, I finish the race while maintaining a healthy heart rate level and without any trace of muscle soreness the next day.
My husband who is also into running coached me into getting into a faster pace via this strategy that he researched about and tried it in his own 21K run which he finished below his targeted 2hr 30 minutes (!), but that is another story I will write about someday.

2. Consistency is the name of the game.  Once you made up your mind to run for 10K, be prepared that to finish it comfortably meant clocking in at least 50% of the distance for about 2-3 days in a week in training.  This will help build your strength and endurance which you will definitely need when hitting the grounds for about 60 minutes or so.  I wouldn’t recommend trying to wing it or train less than what is required as this leads to injuries and very sore muscles after the event. The target is to finish strong and not almost dead!
When I trained for my first 10K, I ran 3x a week for 4 weeks running 5K on a treadmill.  In my second 10K race, I was able to run up to 8K on regular training days prior to the event at my comfortable pace.   In my last 10K run at the very first Skechers Performance Run in SM by the Bay, I have been running 10-12K for the last 5 weeks prior to the event itself. I was very happy on the outcome of that run, ending 9 minutes faster than my usual training time and hitting my best pace so far.  I enjoyed the run and appreciated that my last 2K stretch before the finish were my fastest pace and more importantly, I sustained a healthy heart rate throughout the run with no shortness of breath, no fatigue or any other cardiovascular drama during and after the run. Note also that there are many apps that can be downloaded which can give you a training plan to follow.

3.  Maintain a healthy diet regimen.   I admit this is the most challenging part.  We are often psyched to believe that because we run and burn calories as we do so, it gives us the license to eat just about anything we want.  I make a conscious effort to not fall into that trap.  I realized though that when I started running consistently, the temptation to give in to sweet cravings went zap and it was easier to regulate the quantity of what I eat. Quality over quantity, as they say.  Same is true on the race day itself- stay hydrated at the right intervals.  If you have been training prior to the race day itself, you will have a good baseline on when to hydrate and when to take extra fuel.  Before running a 10K, my ritual includes eating a slice of toasted bread with peanut butter, banana and wash it down with water.  The part I found daunting was having to cut down on caffeine and chips several days prior to the run During the race day itself, we found that what worked for me was to refuel every 4K, so I bring power gel or chocolates with me.  It worked perfectly so far.

So, there’s my ten cents worth! If you are planning to level up to 10K soon, stick to the training plan with rigor but most importantly, enjoy the process! You are making an important investment to your health and well-being, and those are priceless.

My 1st  Philippine 10K run at the Runrio Trilogy 2018 races

My best 10K run so far.
I ran several weekends of 10K prior to the race day itself.
It was a very happy run day for me and felt light
and good through out the race.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Team Umale Runs

Getting started on running is quite easy.  But being able to sustain the passion for running requires rigor and commitment, more so, running together as a family especially in this age of social media when it is just so easy to lose oneself in the digital universe.

Finishing the Silakbo 2018 Run for the benefit
of the Sta. Rosa Laguna Watershed
We got started into joining fun runs in Singapore where we lived for about 2 ½ years. Our first fun run in 2012 was a 5K event with the theme “Daring to Dream” which was sponsored by the company I work for to as a benefit run for charity and to commercialize its sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympic Games.  We did sort of a run-walk sequence but nonetheless, ended to be an enjoyable way to exercise together and we agreed to do it again.

Our first 5K Fun Run in Singapore
P&G Olympic Games Day
This was followed by another charity fun-run, POSB Passion Run for Kids held in picturesque Gardens by the Bay which was on soft-opening that year.  Kyla had a chance to join the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon’s Kids’ Dash event in 2012 and also raised funds for the Terry Fox Run for cancer research at the Canadian International School, even when she had to run with a broken arm.

POSB Passion Run for Kids at scenic Marina Bay.
We had to stop several times for photo-op.

Kyla finishing the Standard Chartered
Kids' Dash in Singapore

Completing the Terry Fox Run for Cancer Research
even with her broken arm
When we returned home in 2013, Kyla and I continued joining fun runs, limiting ourselves to 3K events which were mostly organized for the benefit of a chosen charity. Run for the Angels, Pink Run for Breast Cancer, SponsoRun and Silakbo Run for Sta. Rosa watershed – to name a few.  We consider this as our mom-daughter bonding time with no pressure of having to run faster and chase record time.  It was simply about running together, having fun and finishing the course.

On the other hand, Kevin and my husband wasn’t into running then.  It was a motor challenge for Kevin because running involves the coordination of feet, arms, body and breathing properly to sustain the effort for a stretch of time.  It was in November 2017 when we decided to sign up for the Hope Run for children with special needs as a family unit.  Alvin knew that Kevin and Kyla need to be properly trained for them to finish it without great difficulty.  And so, we started running together at Nuvali every weekend and holiday mornings.  We decided to continue running as a family after the Hope Run.  That meant pursuing the training even with school days and work days at helm. Some days meant getting up earlier than usual.

Opening the Year 2018 with the CDH Resolution Run 

Our first attempt for a 5K run was at the 2018 Resolution Run at Greenfield City, Laguna where Kevin, Kyla and I ran together while Alvin took his first 10K run. This was followed by the RunRio Trilogy Manila Leg 1 back in SM Mall of Asia upon the encouragement of a family friend (D. Eric Francisco) to try the RunRio races.  This time, it was Alvin’s turn to pace the kids while I ran my first 10K after a seven-year hiatus from mid-distance run from my Singapore running days.  We are so happy that Kevin and Kyla did well and continue to get better in their 5K runs, especially since this was quite an effort for my daughter given her spine condition.  We had to ensure proper training and pacing so that she can finish the run with a healthy heart-rate level.
Asian Hospital's Pink Run for Breast Cancer.
It was a rainy morning run.
Here are a few learnings we can share for families who wish to get started into running, and hopefully, continue the endeavor for a long time…

1.  Set clear, realistic goals for the family.  My husband and I were very clear that we want to run as a family as a part of our bonding time and for our children to have fun in the experience while keeping fit and healthy.  When we were just starting, Alvin spent time researching and testing techniques that will make it easier for Kevin and Kyla to transition into longer running time.  Kevin lost excess weight and baby fats from his daily in-house exercise and this made outdoor running easier because he became lean and lighter.  Even if we started to pursue our individual goals too as a sidelight, we agreed that our children will to continue to be a significant part of those goals. This is the reason why one of us always had to stay behind as a pacer for Kevin and Kyla during running events.  We alternate on pacing duties and carve out time for the week to continue training them.

2. Make running a fun affair.  When we first ran as a family for a weekend training, we probably just clocked in a few hundred meters and were mostly walking, before gradually picking up the pace and finish a 4K tune-up run in preparation for the kids’ first 5K run.  Key is to make it comfortable and repeatable before taking it a notch higher.  Alvin found a way to set up a pace that both Kevin and Kyla can manage, without burning them out.  The highlight of our weekend run is having brunch in any one of our favorite breakfast joints at the Nuvali area.  This is something that our two teenagers look forward to as well.  For Kevin, he can equate running with a healthy dose of reward afterwards (just don’t eat way too much, of course!).  In our last run, Kevin had a big smile on his face when we reached the finish line. He knew, there is a nice breakfast coming his way!  They also get lots of high fives after a good run.  We also set them up with appropriately tested running shoes and gear.
Weekend runs at The Fields of Nuvali

3. Continue investing on fun runs that is commensurate to your family goals and values. We started to run for charitable purposes as we believe it elevates running into a more than just a personal achievement, and these values hopefully stick with them even as they grow older.  As for our family, we still choose to support fun runs with a purpose. The Resolution run is an annual event for the benefit of Calamba Doctors Hospital.  We are on our 2nd year with SiLakBo run which is organized by the City of Sta. Rosa for environmental sustainability.  Our next family fun run will be held for the benefit of children with cancer.  And of course, the annual finale will the Hope Run for children with special needs at the SM Mall of Asia which we dedicate to our son Kevin.
The Hope Run for Children with Special Needs

The RunRio Trilogy Manila Leg 1
See you at Leg 2!

Running is great way to pursue an active lifestyle and at the same time, create a bonding time for the family.  You need to invest time, the patience to train and do it properly, the commitment to help each other become a little bit better every day. And while Alvin and I do have our own personal running goals, running together as a family will always come first.  We pray that this is something we can all do together for a long time!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Of Clouds and Silver Linings

Foreword: This is the transcript of the speech given on the occasion of Optimal Academy's 2017 Commencement and Completion Exercises where our son Kevin was conferred as a graduate.

Speaking in public in not always easy, more so when it is about a topic that is so close to my heart and triggers memories that is sure to make me emotional.  In the process of writing the speech, I edited and rewrote it several times. I had to remind myself that this is not about me.  

This is in honor of a son who, every single day, had to struggle fitting in into a world that doesn't make sense to him. This is the story of his journey and the Divinely Orchestrated coincidences that steered us to paths we have taken as a family.


Good afternoon to all! It is an honor to share with you the highlights of Kevin's journey leading to this blessed day.  

Let me tell you a bit about myself and our family.  I am a Chemical engineer and I work as the Supply Chain/Operations Manager in a multinational corporation.  My children grew up with my workplace as a constant, significant part of their lives.  In fact, the people I work with know Kevin and Kyla very well.   But, end of the day I am simply “Mommy Armie” to Kevin and Kyla, and the better half of whom all of you know so well as Daddy Alvin 

Kyla is our younger daughter and she grew up taking over the role of an elder sister for Kevin.  You will see her in Optimal Academy whenever she doesn’t have classes and she likes helping around.  She promised that she will continue to take care of Kevin when her father and I grow old, and while we cannot beholden her to that promise, I of course silently pray that she will continue to be the loving sister for Kevin, wherever life takes her.

Today is a very meaningful day for Kevin.   This day is the culmination of those colorful, sometimes difficult but surprisingly wonderful journeys that he had to take in his life.

11 years ago, it was Kyla’s moving up day in toddler school.  When the preparatory class entered for the graduation march, I stood there watching and I couldn’t hold back the tears.  I kept thinking that our son, Kevin, should have been there with them and we didn’t know if the time will ever come for him to march in his own graduation. 

Kevin attended Early Intervention program for nearly 3 years, and one day we were told by the Developmental Pediatrician that Kevin’s chance of being able to talk and join regular school will be very slim-- that we should consider just having him stay at home and use picture exchange communication system (PECS), and instead save the huge expenses for speech therapies and SPED.  We still followed the doctor and adopted PECS for Kevin.  But we also continued with the therapies even though it was evident that Kevin did not like it.  More importantly, it forced us to evaluate what does he need, what is most impactful to his development and where do you find that help?

The blessings came and our questions were answered.   Kevin was accepted into Kyla’s pre-school class three times weekly for socialization, music, art and PE class.  He was the oldest and tallest kid there.  Kyla’s classmates adore him, took care of him and they all call him Kuya Kevin too.  This created a world of difference to Kevin -- he enjoyed going to school, he gladly performed in the school programs, which he used to not like.  He learned from the school kids by imitating proper social behaviors.

In 2010, Kevin marched for his first graduation day in pre-school.  Everyone applauded for him when he went on stage to receive his award.  They all knew, he had come a long way.  Indeed, when a door closes, a window opens You have to also trust what your child really, truly needs.  Kevin taught us that being in a community where he is loved, accepted and where he can be happy is a powerful life-changer.

While these were all happening for Kevin, my husband and I had to make a very important decision.  My husband Alvin left his career at San Miguel Corporation and dedicated his time to be with Kevin.  It was a tough call but in the end, we both understood that it was over and beyond our individual aspirations in life.  I cannot forget what he told me, he said, “I can live with letting go of a career and what-might-have-been, but I cannot live with not doing everything that I can to help Kevin.”

Through Alvin, we learned to understand Kevin better- like why he acts or responds a certain way.  Alvin followed through at home the programs from school.   Kevin’s focus and attention span improved!   Alvin continued to provide significant inputs in shaping up Kevin’s learning program over the years.

Looking back, I strongly believe that the events in our life were part of divinely orchestrated coincidences.  In late 2010, our family moved to Singapore because of my job.  By that time, Kevin was more prepared to live outside of the Philippines because of the improvements in his adaptation.  Kevin took up Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and after exactly seven days, one morning Kevin surprised us because he was able to finally communicate with us verbally!  Since then, he began to express his needs and say simple phrases… “I want to eat”, “I want to sleep”, “I want toilet”.  This validated my belief that our relocation to Singapore happened for a special reason.  

We came back to Philippines in 2013.  Kevin was already in his teens and it felt like starting all over again.  One afternoon, we visited Teacher Weng of Trails Center.  While waiting for her, I saw this yellow brochure of a SPED school.  Alvin and I thought that this seem to match what Kevin needed.  So we went there—to Optimal Academy (author's note: this is Kevin's current DepEd accredited school for special education).   Initially we were hoping that he will be able to say the ABCs but after a few months, Kevin learned to read, learned to use the laptop and copy-type and he expanded his vocabulary.  The rest as they say is history.

Now that Kevin had become a young man, we are again, in a new learning curve.  We have learned to see his individuality, understand his changing moods.  We learned when to impose authority and when to back off and just let him be. 

Kevin gave us the inspiration to never give up and that in this world, our love and acceptance is all that mattered.  We are grateful to the Lord who gave us the strength to push on, to always look forward to better days.  For giving us Kevin and Kyla, who made us better persons.

We are also thankful for the Angels around us- the teachers and educators, who have selflessly given Kevin their patience and encouragement in ways that made his life richer and meaningful.   They too, have given us hope to cling on to, during the days when the skies look overcast.

To end, I would like to share my favorite quote from a fellow parent-writer (Pinky Cuaycong) : “When the clouds are forever hiding the sun, you learn to squint your eyes and look hard for the silver lining.  And true enough, by God’s mercy, they are always there.”

From the bottom of my heart… congratulations to all of you, dear students and graduates --  PJ, Stefi and Kevin.  Congratulations to my fellow parents for reaching this wonderful milestone!   May God continue to bless us all!

Good day and thank you for listening!

The honor of giving Kevin his graduation medal belongs to his Dad.
This is his milestone too, in many ways.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

No Apologies (Ruminations of an Introvert)

Nobody believes me when I tell them – or more appropriately, when they learn – that I am an introvert. In my job, I interact with people all the time and being an introvert, it is very taxing to one’s energy.  On Monday mornings, after the daily feet on floor time at the production floor, I kid my team that it already felt like an entire week has passed after all that talking.  But all too well, I am not actually kidding.

In my daily work routine, I always needed a few minutes of time over a cup of coffee – alone – which is a critical element for recharging an introvert’s mental battery; or if I have to sit with a bunch of folks, I endeavor not to talk much; else I defeat my purpose of recharging.  This then would mean that oftentimes I am mistaken for a snob or a very serious person.

Introverts have been mistakenly equated for being shy, anti-social, docile and quiet--  a person who does not like to talk much or a wallflower in a social gathering.   I grew up thinking I was an introvert because I don’t like speaking in front of a crowd.  I am not good at small talk and would rather read a book.  I like carving out times for me to be alone and be able to do the things I like to do in solitude -   like writing a poem or a short article, talking a walk around the village or listening to my favorite song.

That doesn’t mean I don’t need friends, people to confide to, or that I shun human presence in general.  It doesn’t mean I am not a team player, in fact, I believe I am the kind who plays my role well in a team while the rest, talk and talk and talk.

Much later, when I was assessed for the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, I learned that introversion is a personality trait characterized by focus on internal feelings and how our energies are best recharged, rather than on external sources of stimulation and social exposure.

Understanding the fine line between introversion and extroversion was liberating. It made me comfortable over the choices I made instead of struggling to be this 'someone else'.  As a mother, I endeavor to also understand and respect my daughter’s personality instead of pressuring her to be someone she is not.  

End of the day, there are no apologies for being true to oneself.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Festival of Tulips at the Gardens by the Bay

I have seen the Marina Bay Gardens in its early days, having lived in Singapore for 2+ years.   I have never been inside any of its two garden domes though.   When Kyla and I spent a week-long vacation in Singapore, we decided (at the drop of a hat, mind you) to go and have a look... Kyla's best buddy Tintin accompanied us to MBS.  Kyla and I stayed over at Tin and her mom Vi's home at the west coast of Singapore for the early part of the week.

There are two garden domes - the Flower dome and the Cloud Forrest dome.  She told us that this time of the year, tulips are showcased at the central area of the Flower dome.  And since I adore tulips, it was our chosen attraction for the day. Had we arrived a few days earlier, it would have been Cherry Blossoms.

I never knew there could be so much species of tulips that existed! It was indeed a visual feast to see those colorful beauties.

Note that in the multi-level deck of the dome, plants and trees from different parts of the globe are also on display.

Scroll below to see more pictures from the Flower Dome....

By the time we visited Gardens by the Bay, they started to take
down the dinosaur displays around the Supertrees.
We were still able to catch T-Rex in one piece.

Besties bonding day

Rembrant's portrait in its floral glory

Lots of bright colored tulips!

I didn't know such exists!

This for real?

Ah... so innocent and pure-looking beauty

A tribute to Julia

Lovely streaks of spring... or spryng

The red and yellow blooms make a stunning contrasts

Young buds 

This made me think of the book, The Little Prince

These white and fuchsia tulips are my personal favorites

Add caption

Grand Perfection: in my mind, I call them tiger tulips

Orange blooms

Side by side with Barcelona Beauty

A tribute to its host country

2nd personal favorite.

Yep. We wore flip flops for sheer comfort.
Lesson learned: if you are about to embark on a
> 10,000 steps a day adventure, better have flip flops!

Reminded me of orchids....
Van Gogh's Starry Night. In tulips.

Glad to have a week-long mom and babes bonding.

Perfect dark pink blooms

Taking a breather...

There is also a wide display of succulents around the dome

...more succulents at the upper deck of the dome

A giant succulent ?

Kyla was not happy to see her most-hated plant.

Ants at work on display. Really big ones.

View of the MBS from the Gardens
Special thanks to Kyla's BFF Tin for gamely joining our unplanned adventure to the city!