Month: March 2009

Tokyo Marathon: "I Promise My Goal"

At the Tokyo Marathon Expo, the theme was “I Promise my Goal.” Not a perfect English translation, but we figured it meant set your goal and accomplish it. That sort of pressured me to do just that. Thing is, I didn’t really want the stress and the pain of attempting to break 4 hours again. The last time I tried five months ago, I missed it by 2 seconds! But even though I had less time to train for this one, the night before the race I decided I would to try again. I would run an under-4 hour pace for the first 21k and then see how it went from there.

At the Expo - visualizing my elusive goal
At the Expo - visualizing my elusive goal

With that decision, I had to stay up an hour later, scribbling my splits per km on my white medical tape which I taped to my wrist. Arggh!

my splits taped to my wrist
my splits taped to my wrist

I was actually out late the night before mingling with the other guests of the Tokyo Metropolitan Govt. Officials from other countries were there and I had a wonderful exchange with the women representatives from Singapore, Thailand and Japan, talking about women issues, like discrimination and empowerment. I was the only guest who was running the race. All the others were just there to observe.

Race Day:

The holding area was filled with runners, not a surprise since there were 35,000 participants. I was hoping that they would release the runners in waves so it would not be as crowded when we started running. But as I had feared, it was still very congested at the start and we were forced to run at a much slower pace for the first two kms until the runners spread out more.

As the run progressed, there didn’t turn out to be much to see. There was just building after building and then more buildings. But what was interesting were the people who ran in costumes. I was passed by a slimmer version of Winnie the Pooh, a clown and lots of runners in funny hats. I also spotted a gay fairy and most memorable of all was a girl who passed me in angel wings. I remember thinking, buti pa siya may pakpak.

To my utter horror my garmin malfunctioned and was showing wild numbers for my pace. Grrr! Oh well, the race went on. After about four hours of running, what will forever be etched in my mind is the finish line. The last three kilometers we ran thru the howling winds and the pouring rain. I had to hold on to my cap and shades because it already got blown off early in the race. It was never sunny enough to put on my shades.

Into the last 3kms, I already knew that we would not break 4 hours. We might have if I had been able to maintain a 5:30min/k pace at 35kph. But at km 39, we had about 14 minutes left and I had slowed down a bit. I told Joey he could do it, but being the gentleman that he is, he said we would finish together.

So we pushed thru the wind, climbing one of the very few bridges, where to our delight the theme song of Rocky was blaring (Joey and I are Rocky fans because we box as part of our cross training). The Japanese spectators enthusiastically cheering us on, sadly in a language that was totally foreign to me.

At the 1km mark, the crowd got thicker, the cheering got louder and the rain poured harder. I loved it!

By then I started looking out towards the bleachers, because my kids and Che were suppose to be there. When we turned the last bend, I finally saw the finish line! I felt like I was running in slow motion because I can remember carefully scanning the faces in the crowd trying to find my children.

I was suddenly knocked out of my slow-mo mode when this female runner in blue tried to run pass me just a hundred meters to the finish. I outsprinted her and Joey and I crossed the finish line in 4:04 but still no children in sight.

Then right after I crossed, to my right I saw them, my two girls smiling, clapping standing in the rain in raincoats! I had requested that our host the Tokyo Metropolitan Government arrange to have my kids at the finish line, but I expected them somewhere up in the bleachers. I was blown away. I was so so happy to see them. This was my birthday gift good health and my family.

my girls in raincoats at the finish
Joey Torres, me and my girls in raincoats at the finish

My kids were with Che (who did her first 10k, woohoo!) Usec Cesar Lacuna of MMDA who gave me beautiful pink flowers!!!!…and the people from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in their suits (reminding me of Men in Black) .. all of them standing in the rain in raincoats cheering for us.

Finish line with my kids and the rest
Finish line with my kids and our super supporters

After I hugged them, we lined up to get our goodies and then Joey and I did what we always do after a race. We ran again. Just 1km.. to celebrate life.

Oh and what does “I promise my goal” mean? Well, the Japanese refer to the finish line as the “goal.” So, I promise my goal, means to finish.. I guess we can say that we accomplished that. Meanwhile, I still have my under 4 hour marathon to work on. Maybe next birthday run.

My strawberry cream surprise birthday cake!
My strawberry cream surprise birthday cake awaiting me at the hotel!

n.b. I will write another article about the race course, race conditions and other details runners may want to know.

Women Who Run

Lately, I am often asked are you running? I need to clarify that question before I can answer it. So, I ask, do you mean, what race am I joining soon? Or am I running as a candidate at the next election?

Funnily enough, half the time it turns out I am being asked the first question, the other half of the time, the other question.

You see, there are really two kinds of women who run:

– Women who put on running shoes and run recreationally or competitively,

Women Running at the 2008 Pinay in Action event


women who run for public office

Women Parliamentarians Unite Against Violence against Women and Children
Women Parliamentarians Unite Against Violence against Women and Children

I am a woman who runs, on both counts.

Sponsoring a bill at the Senaterunning at the NY triathlon

Although these two kinds of running seem like they are worlds apart, in truth they are not. Both entail grit and determination, a commitment, support from family and friends and most apparent of all, both are male dominated.

Women have historically been side-lined when it comes to participation in the political process and in running as a sport.

In politics, women were not allowed to vote in many countries until decades after men were voting. Even then, women were not allowed to run for public office. Today, most countries allow women to run, but statistics show that women politicians are still in the minority.

A survey conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) shows that across the world, women make up about 18% of members of Parliament. In the Philippines, there are 4 female senators out of 23, and about 25% of the members of the lower house are women. But the number of women are even smaller at the local level.

Why is it important that there are more women in politics?

It is important because women bring a different perspective to governance. Women see things differently because of their experiences and background. True democracy and prosperity requires gender equality at all levels and all sectors of society.

Consider the following: Many women are joining the work-force because of economic hardships or the desire to find professional fulfillment. Many women continue to be full-time homemakers or work from their homes. Many ailments and diseases are specific to women or affect women differently. Women deal with consumer issues, the education of their children, housing issues and more.

All these require policies that are specific to women. Why then, are those making decisions mostly men? Shouldn’t women have an equal say on these matters? Who else can better promote policies that affect women then women themselves? But how can they, when they do not occupy political positions?

Again in a survey conducted by the IPU, women stated family responsibilities as the primary obstacle in pursuing a political career. But if you think about it, if men shared more of the family responsibilities, then women could participate more in politics.

As for women who run with their running shoes on, we take this for granted, but the reality is, women were not allowed to join marathons until the 70s. Kathrine Switzer is the first woman to officially run a marathon which she did in the Boston Marathon in 1967 disguised as a man! She was instrumental in getting the Olympics to finally include a marathon for women in 1984 which was won by American Joan Benoit Samuelson.

In most races, I join, I’m guessing from the looks of it, participation of women is about 10%. Just like politics, women are allowed to participate, in fact they are quite welcome, but there are still a lot of obstacles that prevent them from doing so. These include misconceptions on the effect of running on a woman’s body and health (including her ability to conceive), lack of training and insecurity about her ability to engage in physical activities, balancing family, work and running, and the lack of support from her family, particularly her spouse or partner.

When I run in a race, I proudly run on behalf of women. I run to empower women. I run to raise awareness that there is still a lot of discrimination and injustices against women in our country. I run because I know this will be a better place when women’s voices are heard as equally as men. Mostly, I run because I know a little girl is always watching from the sidelines and I hope to empower her, to inspire her to be a woman of substance and perhaps a woman who runs one day.

Are you a woman who runs? Or a woman who wants to or dreams of running? Join me at the Pinay in Action 10k, 5k and 1.6k fun run at the MOA on March 29, 2009 at 6 am. Registration is on-going at Maxiworks in High Street or Rockwell until March 25.

We need more women who run and more men who support women who run.

For more details on both kinds of running, visit my official website and

Women: The Unpaid Worker

All over the world, women perform unpaid work as homemakers and care-givers. Imagine this: Ms. A is a mother and takes care of her three kids and her elderly parents. She cannot work outside the home. Compare this to another woman, Ms. B who works outside her home. Ms. B cares for the children of another family. Ms. B is a paid worker for caring for other children. Her work is recognized. She will obtain benefits like medical insurance and retirement. Unlike Ms. A. who is invisible to the productive world, has no protection, no rights and benefits.

What can we do to uplift the plight of people, mostly women like Ms. A? This was the topic of the Inter Parliamentary Union’s conference, which I chaired at the United Nation’s last week. I summarized some of the key points of the speech I delivered at the session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Chairing the IPU-UN Session on Shared Responsibilities, March 4, 2009

We need to reduce the burden of unpaid work and promote equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women. Historically, women have been the homemakers and care-givers. But today, many women need or want to be part of the work force. This, men need to take on more responsibilities at home.

Many countries have ratified relevant labor conventions. But each country needs to review their national policies and legislation that relates to workers with family responsibilities, that recognize women as part of the labor force, that provide maternity protection, breast feeding support, reasonable hours of work, and so on.

In determining the right policies, we need to emphasis the importance of a gender balanced approach to care-giving (as opposed to focusing on the woman alone) and the need to develop measures to support a more active role of men in care-giving.

There needs to be a change in mind-set. Likewise, action needs to be taken to address gender stereotypes. This begins with education and promoting gender equality and addressing gender stereotypes in school curriculums and grassroots programs.

There also needs to be institutional changes, say in parliaments. We discussed the difficulties faced by women in politics. Parliament was historically a male only profession. Many of its traditions still endure, making it difficult for women to enter or survive (more on this in another blog).

We also noted that during time of economic uncertainty, governments may tend to reduce spending on social services. The consequences of this move would be tremendous. This would put more stress on an already over-burdened health and social services/welfare sector. Without reliable health care and social services, women again will bear the bigger burden “ a burden that will go unrecognized and unprotected.

Back in our respective parliaments, we need to look at the tools at our disposal to bring the value of unpaid care work to the fore. We need to question our national accounts systems, make use of time-use surveys and most importantly, use the national budgetary process to take into account the contribution of unpaid care work and provide support to those who perform it.

As an aside, I note that in the Philippines, there are a lot of families where the man is now the primary home-maker and care-giver. For more reason we need to address gender stereo-types. These stay-at-home dads, need the support and in many cases the training needed to be good home-maker and care-givers.

In conclusion, we need to to reassess how we view women’s unpaid work. We need to put in safeguards and protection for these women (and men). We need to recognize and reward women’s various contributions to the economy and promote a more gender balanced approach to the sharing of responsibilities.

n.b. this is part of a series of articles I am writing in connection with our observation of Womens month and the conferences/meetings I attended in New York.