What was the point of it all?
I guess that was a question that stalked almost everyone at the height of the pandemic, when we were all crawling in the dark uncertain where the world was headed to, as we were cooped up, by no choice of our own, in our own little corners.
I pretty much had my 2020 planned out in my mind. I was excited for the year actually. In end-2019, I left my job of many years as a broadcast journalist just to have some fresh air and upskill by further studying Chinese, something I have been interested in for quite some time, while freelancing on the side.
Also, and this was what really excited me, I planned to join a couple of big ultramarathon races that I haven’t had the time to train for before. I dreamed of joining the Cordillera Mountain Ultra (CMU) in March 2020, a race that takes runners up to breathtaking mountains in Benguet including the brutal Mt. Ugo; make better time at the Milo Marathon during the mid-year; then hopefully build enough mileage to finally participate at the Vietnam Mountain Marathon by year-end and subsequently have a holiday racecation with the family in tow post-race. Then, perhaps, join my first local Ironman 5150 in early 2021.
But as they say, the best-laid plans often go awry. Gradually, and then suddenly.
When the calendar races were slowly getting postponed due to the pandemic, I remember there was the sense that this was just something temporary, that it was something we just have to live with for a few months. When CMU was postponed with just a few weeks off from the actual date in March 2020, some people in the running community were even in disbelief and weren't entirely sold with the decision as people were still hedging that things will soon be back to normal.
But as the weeks and months went by and the pandemic gradually swallowed up whole our plans and dreams for 2020, it became clear that the situation was bigger than we ever imagined. Suddenly, ruing about lost personal goals and some silly races shrank in importance over the sheer mandate to survive, to exist.
And as I was beginning to doubt the point of pushing and grinding and keeping my nose to the grindstone just to stay in tip-top shape absent any races to prepare for, a friend broached the idea in May 2020 of starting a Zoom workout class.
The idea was quite novel then, strange even, but we tried it out. Because I was somehow a fitness nut then, I was asked to lead. We did one session every other day, around one hour each, doing mostly HIIT training, but varying the target muscle areas per day.
Unmoored from our bearings and routines, the sessions gave each of us something to look forward to even as our newsfeeds dimmed with bleak updates from our network. At some point, I almost felt like the Titanic’s Wallace Hartley leading our band of musicians to continue playing even as everything around us was falling apart. The world was going south, but at least the music kept us sane, kept us healthy in our own little space.
At one point, our small group that friends facetiously dubbed BimBuddies grew from five to over 20 participants in our weekend sessions. Unexpectedly, we even got featured in TV and print.
I guess the pandemic really forced most of us to get creative just to cope with the situation. For example, without any races, Ken Mendola, a running coach based in the south of Manila, started setting up time trial events just to keep his athletes motivated.
“I need to keep pushing my athletes the right way during this time (while observing healthy protocols) to give them something to work on and hope for in times of adversity and in times when negativity around us is just too much,” coach Ken said when I asked him about how he and his team still keep at it even during the pandemic.
There was a New York Times story that came out right when we started our Zoom workout sessions in May 2020 titled “What We Can Learn From Endurance Athletes About Getting Through This Pandemic.” And it’s true that endurance sports, from its name itself, may teach us a thing or two about enduring through hard times, such as this pandemic. During races, when one is already running on fumes, but still have miles left to cover, it's inevitable to be stripped down to the bone and left only with your core intact, leading one to ask the perennial and existential question: why in the world am I doing this? And that little core of being that you eventually find in those trying moments is what you usually stuff in your pocket to help carry you through the finish line.
This training and sense of direction has likewise helped me get through the finish lines at work in PhilSTAR L!fe day in and day out — from the stories that need to be published, to the coverages that we need to plan. From ultramarathon races, raring to put out good stories within your daily shift is a different kind of thrill and purpose. And being physically and mentally healthy to beat the daily grind of editing and writing stories for L!fe amid the doom and gloom has been really helpful.
I am not big on self-help books nor life coaching, but their oft-repeated question of “what is your why?” has been resonating with me the more I got older. And I’ve since known that unlocking the answer to that question is not kooky but indeed uplifting. Fortifying even.
As the lockdown hemmed us in and cut us down to size, a line from Kerima Polotan’s The Sounds of Sunday came to mind: “Doming, she wrote from Tayug, what does a man work for? Is it not for a corner and a moment to be tender in?”
Stripped of mountains to scale, I became thankful just for having a safe corner, our family’s safe corner. Just being healthy for one’s family is the best race of them all. Indeed, that is perhaps the point of it all.