How I ran my first 21K half marathon

I know. Running my first 21-km half marathon doesn’t make an expert on running. But at least I finally mustered all the guts to finally run one, my very first 21-km half marathon in my 36 years of existence.

So allow me to share with you my experience at least for some people who have been dying to try it, but always scared to do so. Now let me tell me you how I finally did it. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but take it from me who is not really athletic, always lazy to run and practice, and not in a very good shape, because I know in time, you can also do it.

My first 21-km finisher medal. At last! To God be the glory!
My very first 21-km finisher medal. At last! To God be the glory!

1) Take one step at a time

I entered Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Baguio City in 2000 out of curiosity. Apart from being a natural born Filipino citizen, passing the exams, etc., applicants have to be physically fit and of good moral character to get in.

In PMA, there is a minimum requirement for PFT and it gets rigid and stricter inside, if you cannot pass it twice or thrice, you can be discharged from the academy.

Minimum Requirements for PFT

  Male Female
Sit-up 35 reps 25 reps
Pushup (M) / Bench pushup (F) 30 reps 25 reps
3.2 km 19:00” 21:00”


Believe it or not, when I entered the academy I cannot even do a single push-up, sit-up, flex hang, or even run a mile, but I took one step at a time and tried passing the minimum requirement. Who even thought I would even enter a male-dominated, military school? Not in my wildest dreams!

But with constant practice and very big help from my upperclassmen who pushed me to the limits and mistahs who would always, always encouraged, cheered me up, and paced me during 3.5-km runs and push my back during our company up-the-hill runs, and my family and friends who supported me all the way, I would always pass my quarterly physical fitness test (PFT) in “passing” colors or at least always after second takes, or else I’ll be discharged from the academy.

2) Practice makes perfect

Back in the academy, I belonged to a group called, SMC or Strong Man’s Club. But it’s not what you think. It’s a group of cadets who had a hard time passing their PFTs. I was so embarrassed to be part of it, but I had no choice. The wisdom behind the SMC was to put in special attention/training to cadets who needed it the most when it comes to improving their physical prowess.

Cadets who belong to SMC need to run extra miles, extra push-ups or exercises, and lot more extras to make us stronger and pass the next PFT, which I do appreciate. But it’s really embarrassing! You always fail in PFT when you are expected to be physically fit in the military.

So in order for me not to belong to SMC, I would really give time to run during my free time, practice my push-ups or sit-ups so I would pass my next PFT. And thank God, I passed, but my academics suffered because I would always sleep in my classes and study periods due to fatigue.

Well at least, I was discharged from the academy not because of failed PFTs or broken bones. That was my goal and consolation. And I did realize that military life was not for me so there.

That is another entry. Watch out for it.

Anyways, technically, I had the basic physical training inside the academy. Unfortunately, 14 years after I went out of the academy, I wasn’t able to maintain it so I went back to my old, carefree civilian self and gained additional 50 pounds. Sadly, I cannot run regularly because of work.

So now I am experiencing a lot of discomforts, minor illnesses, pains, and shortness of breath due to my excessive weight. They say, if there’s a will, there’s a way. So I devoted my weekends for running and I also join fun runs courtesy of Unilab and try circuit trainings and Yoga before/after work to supplement my running.

I really find time to run not just to lose weight, but to be healthy as well.

3) Get inspiration from friends

I often joke my marathoner friend based in Singapore Chona Duroga that I will unfriend her on Facebook because I don’t like seeing her photos wearing sexy, fit running attires but in reality, her photos inspire me to be like her whose always actively running, biking, and swimming. So I would like to thank her for inspiring people like me to run and stay active.

Chona Duroga (Photo from Facebook)
Chona Duroga (Photo from Facebook)

Special mention also goes out to my mistah Anne Endaya, who was not really athletic during our cadet days if I remembered it right, but is now running several marathons and climbing mountains and making her own #ANNEventures, and her cousin Vanj Endaya, an ultramarathoner, coach, and mentor who have aced numerous local and international running competitions that are too many to mention.

Vanj Endaya (Photo from Facebook)
Anne Endaya (Photo from Facebook)

Such an inspiration for all women and I look up to them as idols, inspirations, and reminders on Facebook when I’m tempted to eat that bar of chocolate or stay in bed instead of going out there to run and be active.

4) Sign up for 21 km

Before I ran my 21-km half marathon, I started running 5 kms, then 10 kms, and then when I felt like it’s time for me to go out of my comfort zone, which was after four years of joining fun runs, I finally signed up for 21-km recently to challenge myself.

Unless you really sign up for 21-km, you won’t really try it. Of course, you will hear a lot of discouragements, but in my case, I heard a lot of encouragements. Thanks to you guys who supported me all the way, especially to my family and my mom and nephew who accompanied me to SM Mall of Asia.

Finally signing up for a 21-km run signaled me that this is a serious thing. I realized there are some things you should really try once in your life. If after running 21-km and you didn’t like it, at least you tried it once in your lifetime. But I think I’m going to try it again, but next time, I will prepare more and train hard.

I’m too old to be holding back, but I am never too old to try something new. Life is more fun when you say, “yes” to all possibilities because I believe it will crack all the impossibilities.

5) Positive mental attitude

What I realized when I started long distance running was that, while running was really partly how you run or the form, it’s also what you put inside your head.

While practicing my 10-km runs, I almost gave up at every 5km and 7km, but I kept pushing myself hard and motivating myself to go on and finish what I started. It’s all in the mind. I can do it. If others can, why can’t I?

I barely had enough sleep the night before my 21-km run. I had to sing for a church event, which is a yearly thing, that night that I had to leave immediately after my song just to get some sleep. I woke up at 2 am, left the house at 2:30 am for the 4 am gun start.

I started slow, ran continuously for 12 kms, but it became frustrating whenever I see runners on their way back already, but I thought this was not a contest anyway. I always thought running as an adventure and something I had to enjoy, so I kept on moving, running (and walking at the same time).

But it still kept getting harder, hotter, and my strides getting heavier as I continue to run no matter how I motivate myself. I now blame all my laziness, my rubber shoes which I should have replaced with something new, all the rice and full meals I ate, and all the times I missed my training just to extend my sleep because I watched Descendants of the Sun all over again the night before.

“Why in the world did I sign up for this again? Do I really have to finish this?” Those were the exact thoughts running through my head while I was running. But I have to finish it or else, it is even more embarrassing. I am not doing this for anyone, but myself.

Then I thought of my training days in PMA: “It’s all in the mind”, “Take one step at a time”, “If others can, why can’t I?”, “Positive Mental Attitude”, and among many others. And I realized, it’s not really the running that PMA developed in me, but the attitude to keep on going despite hurdles, struggles, difficulties, and hardships. Remember, glory is always at the end so keep on moving.

6) Treat yourself

Like most athletes say, they work out to compensate for what they eat. After my run, which lasted for more than three hours, I honestly ate breakfast at McDonalds and drank my coffee and lots of water to celebrate my victory, because yes! I finally did it!

But even during ordinary, non-training days, I eat all types of food. I don’t like depriving myself. But as much as possible I go easy on meat and beef. I also try to avoid sweets, sodas, and junk foods because we have a family history of diabetes.

7) Don’t overdo it.

Maybe I was just really tired from everything that had happened in my personal and family life last year and this 21-km run was the zenith, because two days after my half marathon, I was down with flu I had to be absent from work for three days.

I am now recovering as of this writing; at least I have found time to write again after a long draught and got my well deserved rest. But yes, give yourself a time to relax and rest. Give your muscles time to repair. I know getting sick reminded me to take things easy and rest.

They say when you’re doing long distance running, it is advisable to run every other day and do some cross trainings in between. Let’s say, if you run Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, do biking, swimming, a fitness class or strength training on Tuesdays and Thursdays and rest on Sundays as it prevents injury, boredom, and burnout.

I tried running every day, but I got a sprained ankle afterwards and wasn’t able to run for a week, so I heeded the advice.

8) Pray. 

I always believe that in everything we do, we should: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I want to acknowledge our good Lord for making it all possible for me. I may have the best training, meal plan, and fit body for this run, if He didn’t guide me all throughout the run, I won’t be able to make it. Thank you Lord. All praises and honor are for you.

I prayed that He grant me good health and strength to finish the run without injuries or fainting. And He did, I was able to finish the run without injury, but He made sure I would realize had I practiced and trained more, running would be faster and easier and I won’t get sick had I took it easy and properly. Remember, the Lord helps those who help themselves.

So there you go. But before I finish this entry, I would like to acknowledge my classmates and upperclassmen from PMA whom I also saw during the run, it was really nice seeing you bok and sirs; and to my officemates (Ate Mona, Kenneth, Rey, Regina) whom I always push to join Unilab runs so I will be encouraged as well and so that it’ll be hard for me not to finish it myself.

Regine, Rey, Kenneth, and ate Mona (Photo from Kenneth Gojar’s Facebook)
PMA classmates and upperclassmen (Photo from Reyn Laboy’s Facebook)

So for those who want to run their first 21-km, go for it! Experiences vary for different people. You’ll never know unless you try. Good luck and see you on the next running event! God bless you!




Published by Mylene Orillo

Mylene Orillo is a contributing writer at My Pope Philippines. Prior to that, she contributed to the Health & Lifestyle magazine.  She's a former correspondent at The Manila Times; former editor-in-chief of TravelPlus magazine; and former assistant editor of Health & Lifestyle, Zen Health, and DiabetEASE magazines by FAME Publishing, Inc., a company owned by cardiologist Dr. Rafael Castillo who has given her the much-needed break and opportunity in the health industry and medical field.  Her previous job as a Media Consultant at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and Writer-Researcher at the Headquarters Philippine Army ignited her passions for charity, volunteering, selfless service, and love of country. As a young girl, she loved reading her mom's collection of Mills & Boons pocketbooks, which started her passion to write romance stories.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Sto. Tomas in España, Manila. She is now working towards earning her master's degree hopefully this year. She loves traveling, long-distance running, reading romance and non-fiction books, watching Korean Drama series, feel-good rom coms, military movies, and documentaries during her spare time. Someday, she wants to meet Prince William and Pope Francis, settle down with the love of her life and have a family and kids of her own; and become a bestselling romance author.

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