In this very first RunnersPH Interview on The Finish Line, an asthmatic jogger turned ultra marathoner shares his inspiring and motivating journey that goes beyond limitations.
Gilson Valeza, welcome to The Finish Line! Tell us something about yourself that the world doesn’t know.
Hi, you can call me “Gil.” I work as a Paralegal in a corporation in Makati City, the country’s financial business district. Aside from running, I also love reading mangas, especially Naruto and Fairy Tail.
When did you start to run and what motivated you?
I started running in December 2013. Initially, I had no intention to participate in any kind of fun runs. I jogged at the academic oval in the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus to reduce my weight. I have asthma and being overweight was one of the reasons for my having frequent attacks.
One time, out of curiosity, I joined a fun run with my friends, then I registered in a half-marathon (21K). I was so shocked to see my record of two hours and six seconds (2:00:06). I was very happy to have achieved that considering that it was my first half-marathon. I am asthmatic and I had no proper knowledge in running. Eventually, I joined other half-marathon events, 50K trail run, and 106K and 100K ultramarathons.
At first, what problems did you encounter or what physical complaints did you experience? How did you take care of those?
I had blisters and muscle cramps. I also suffered from dehydration. According to my seasoned running friends, proper training and rest are needed to prevent injuries during the race. Right pair of shoes that is compatible with your feet is also a very important consideration.
Do you run individually or in groups? Tell us something about your running community if you have joined one.
I run with my teammates and our running team is called Team Shotgun. We formed this group to help other runners to enjoy running and to bond on and off our training.
We are family and we help each other in different ways. For example, I volunteer as a support crew for our members who will be joining in an ultra-marathon. I had cramps in one of my 50K ultramarathons and several runners paused to help me until I recovered. The ultra-marathon community is the best community because of the kindness they show to one another, the running tips they share, and the bonding moments we have during trainings.
Please describe your typical training ground. Where do you usually run?
Our training grounds are roads and trails. We usually run in Shotgun and Timberland located in Montalban, Rizal. Actually, our running team was formed in Shotgun, so we named it after the place.
- UP to Shotgun and Timberland (via Marikina) approximately 41K, Two-way
- UP to Daranak Falls (via Sierra madre) 73K, One-way
- WAWA Dam in Rizal (Trail)
- UP to Café Katerina (via Sierra Madre) 51k, One-way
- UP to Daranak Falls (via Antipolo and Teresa) 51k, One-way
Which running shoes are you using? Please share some personal tips on how to choose the right shoes for optimum performance.
Since I overpronate, which means my foot tends to roll inward slightly when I’m running, stability shoes are recommended for me. I wear Saucony Guide 7, which is very comfortable and light. I would recommend to go to a running store to check the right shoes that are compatible to you.
What other running-must-haves do you wear or carry with you and which you cannot run without?
Since I run long distances, it is better to have complete gears like hydration bag, visor cap, sun guard sleeves for protection from direct heat of the sun, and some medical stuffs like band-aid. Because of my asthma, it is necessary for me to always have my salbutamol nebulizer in my pocket in case of attacks.
How do you prepare for a major running event? Tell us about the details of your training plan.
When I was starting in ultramarathon, one month was enough for me to prepare for running events. But when I’ve been exposed to veteran runners, I realized that one month is not enough if you want to complete the race with strong finishing time. Now, I train at least two to three months or more before the race. Usually, I run three times a week – two short distances like 10k – 20k, then one major LSD like 50K up. I do heat and uphill trainings two weeks before the race. I eat well, sleep, and do some stretchings.
How often do you participate in organized fun runs? What is your most favorite running event (in the Philippines) and distance. Why?
Since ultramarathon events require long periods of preparation, budget for registration, and expenses for other stuffs, I usually participate at least two to three ultramarathons per year. As of now, my favorite event is the 100K BondokPeninsula (BONPEN) Ultramarathon held in Quezon Province. All kinds of obstacles were present during that event.
In one of the legs, we had experienced a Signal No. 1 storm and the lightning served as our torch as we traversed the long dark, rolling road that was almost zero visibility due to heavy rains. It was already raining when the race started. After 9AM, the sunlight hit us so we were like “basang sisiw” (drenched ducklings) and “daing” (dried fish). Despite all the obstacles, my teammate Ivan Arca and I have finished the race.
During the race, how do you keep yourself motivated and strong to reach the finish line?
In all ultramarathon events, you have to keep yourself motivated. The support of my family and teammates is what gives me strength. In times when my feet and body are in extreme sore, when the heat of the sun pricks into my skin, when the dust and smell of the road hurt my nostrils, I ask why am I putting myself in such pain and struggle.
But after I hear the cheer of my supportive colleagues, I realize that yes I can, that I am almost there. Showing others a great example of not giving up and the eagerness to obtain the trophies and medals, and the feeling of fulfillment for crossing the finish line are what motivate me to finish what I have started.
Can you think of an embarrassing moment you had while running? Do you mind sharing it with us?
Hmm…embarrassing moments! Actually, I have a phobia with rats. During the Nature’s Trail Discovery Run, which was my first ultra trail marathon, I saw a big rat along the trail. They told me it was a mountain rat. I suddenly stopped and the rat did the same. “Naku, huminto din siya!” Then, I waited for at least 30 seconds for the rat to go away, but it seemed that it was eating something. I didn’t want to pause longer, so I braved to run and cross over the rat. Suddenly, the rat also ran and we encountered each other. I jumped and we both surprised each other. After I’ve moved past the rat, I felt weakened. Hahaha! Because of the fear, I rested on the rocks for about five minutes to compose myself.
What is the first thing that you do after finishing a race? Give us also some methods that you found effective for your post-race recovery.
I don’t know if this post-recovery is recommended or good. In our team, after a race we drink SanMig Light or low alcohol drink. Hahaha! I usually do ice bath. I soak my feet in a bucket of ice water to boost recovery on the broken muscles. I do recovery runs after two days, at least 5-10K with a slow pace to stretch the sore muscles. Don’t treat your injuries like a baby.
Share with us the benefits you have gained from running ever since you started.
I gained both physical and mental benefits. Now, I have a fit body and healthy physical condition compared before. I developed strong endurance against strenuous physical activities. Also, I learned how to focus and discipline myself. Socially, I gained more friends.
Inspire us with the greatest accomplishments you had so far achieved in running.
As long as I finished the race, for me that’s an accomplishment. In my last 100K ultramarathon, I ranked 6th with a good finishing time (14:24:00) despite the heavy rain, low visibility, uphill and downhill route.
Looking back, how has running changed or impacted your life as a whole.
Running has a big impact in my life. Just explore your possibilities. I never expected that running will be my sport due to my asthma. Just keep exploring!
We’re interested to know your future goals, if there are any, as far as running is concerned. It can be something else that you want to do more.
I want to become a physical education (PE) teacher, to share my experience, and to inspire others.
Finally, please give a personal message or advice to inspire and encourage those people who are about to start running.
Continue the hard work, be competitive in a good way, love the pain, and respect your co-runners.
RunnersPH Interview features inspiring stories of Filipino runners. It is a series of conversations where they share proven tips, personal advice, lessons learned, and gainful experiences that show the delightful ways that running can intersect with life.