08 April 2017

My First Taste of Dima's Cardiovascular Sprints


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When the NCAA football season finally came around in the second semester of my senior year, I wasn’t sure at all because of the Gencars fiasco that I would still retain my starting position in the team. But I did, and it would turn out to be a much better season for me that the one before.

Because Rey Ferraren had either graduated from college or used up his years of eligibility to play in the NCAA, and several of the previous season’s squad had not returned for one reason or the other, I found myself in the unfamiliar position of being one of the squad’s more senior players. I was still only a sophomore as a varsity player; but as a college student, I was already a senior. For the second year running, Dima was in rebuilding mode; and many of the new players drafted in were either freshmen or sophomores.

It was not so much that the new players were better than those drafted the previous season. Rather, it was a case of majority of the players not having club football and so could join the regular midday training at the field. This enabled us to get to know each other better unlike the previous season when we would see some of the players only on match days.

Because Dima failed to win the championship for the first time in eight seasons the previous year, his methods improved somewhat in pre-season. Tactical coaching, to my mind, was still awfully limited; but at least physical conditioning was so much better than the previous year. Much as we hated all the running, particularly this modified version of the Swedish training method called Fartlek, none of us could deny that it was beneficial.

It was insane, really. The Fartlek was developed in a country close to the Arctic Circle; yet there we were in the tropical midday heat running till we got vertigo. I would be so exhausted from the training that, after grabbing a quick lunch, I would hurry to the air-conditioned comforts of the library to doze off even for just a few minutes on the sofa so considerately made available for students at the periodicals section. One time, the librarian snuck up behind me and gave me a light tap on the shoulder and reminded me that the library was a place for study, not naps. I muttered an apology under my breath and pretended to return to the magazine resting on my lap. I went back to sleep as soon as she was out of sight.

Then there was the Saturday morning when Dima introduced me to my first cardio-vascular test. We were told the previous day to get up early, eat a light breakfast or not at all and be at the Rizal Memorial Stadium by eight in the morning.

The test consisted of five consecutive two hundred meter sprints. That may not sound a lot to those who have never tried this but believe me, it was lung-busting. A thousand meters may not seem much for middle distance runners, but these were sprints. Moreover, to pass the test, we needed to complete each 200 meter run in 27 seconds or less.

The first sprint wasn’t bad at all, especially for a natural sprinter like me. The second one still wasn’t too bad, even if the legs started to feel a tad heavier. After the third and fourth sprints, you just wanted to die at the finish line. You needed to grit your teeth and call on powers you never knew you possessed just to get there. Curiously, the last sprint felt fine once again, probably because by that time, the adrenaline had kicked in.

By nine, everyone had completed the runs. Dima called the entire squad into a huddle and told us we would scrimmage against the club team of the Philippine Air Force, a Division I side. “You need to be able to run even when you are tired,” he explained. So naturally, the Air Force passed the ball around us as though we weren’t even on the pitch. We were too tired to care.


Mapua, which won the championship the previous year with its core of expatriate Iranian and Thai players, were still the favorites to retain the title. But we were also wary of Letran, which did not participate the previous year but was doing so this season after having recruited practically an entire team from the national youth training pool.

Dima also warned us not to be complacent about San Beda, whom he said recruited new players from Lipa. One would turn out to be Manolo Lucido, who was in the Little Olympics elementary team that I coached when I was still a high school senior. The other one was Ogie Bautista, whom I did not know yet at the time.

At the start of the new NCAA season, Dima deployed me out on the left wing in a classic 4-3-3 formation. Paul Zuluaga, a college freshman who was, however, playing his sophomore year with the college team, was the center-forward. Ronnie Joseph, like me a rookie the previous season, was playing my favored right wing position.

I was being sent out to the opposite flank, Dima had told me, because I could kick with my left foot. This was only partially true. Yes, I could kick with my left, but nowhere near as accurate as it would become in the future and certainly nowhere as good as my right.

At any rate, because I wasn’t even certain before the season started that I would retain my place in the starting lineup, I was happy to play anywhere as long as I started. Unlike the previous season, we stayed close to Mapua who as expected led the standings as the season progressed.


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