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My Journey to Tarawera: The Wild Mud Chase


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Tarawera was never in my radar early last year.  My default plan for a destination race was a full road marathon with Berlin and Chicago in the running.  But then, my brother who’s an active road biker in New Zealand phoned me about Tarawera and that some of his buddies were joining and in the less than an hour, I made the decision to take on it.  So am I gonna do a 60K or an 85K?  A little research and some advice from Jael (with a lot of guidance from Filipino Tarawera finishers) and my 85K registration was finalized.

After finishing some road business (the Milo Marathon & Milo Lucena 21K), I plunged into trail training with DBB’s Mt. Batolusong 50K and CM50 as the highlights.  A few cramming time on the trails, mostly with Team Marupok on the hills of Montalban and by February 6, I found myself at the starting line of the Tarawera Ultra Race, albeit 5 pounds heavier.

The last statement demands some clarification.  I started my vacation a month before the race but I’ve mapped out a detailed training schedule to make sure I won’t go off the fitness level grid.  Unfortunately, after coming from a busy, stressed out environment (I was rushing patient cases days before my departure), all I wanted to do was relax and reconnect with my brother’s family.  After all, I was on vacation mode, right?  Add up my poor sleeping habits and the irresistibly luscious dishes my sister-in-law kept feeding us and you have one out-of-shape, unrecognizable me.

Fortunately, I registered for the SMC 10K run in Sydney (52:26) and the Hutt River Trail Marathon in Wellington (4:36) to ensure myself of some mileage.  In between, I squeezed in more kilometers while touring & walking Sydney’s labyrinth of streets and back alleys plus more jogs and runs along Bondi and Blue Mountain.  Wellington was more tricky with its numerous hills and windy environment but the minimal slow runs I did was augmented by indoor workouts.20160205_135942

We arrived at Rotorua a day before the Tarawera race in time for the race kit claiming, briefing and sports expo where I also reconnected with Filipino runners Arlene, Kirk & Kian.  Four more New Zealand-based Pinoy runners were also there to bring Team Pilipinas to a total of 8.  Tarawera is the second race in 2016 of the Ultra-Trail World Tour calendar and the presence of some elite runners made for an intimidating situation for undertrained and unfit me.  Those thoughts kept me awake that night with only a maximum sleep of 3 hours and soon, it was time to prepare and head off to the start.

 

And we are off.  The Tarawera race started quite late at 6 am with runners from the three categories bunched together.  It was a dark and rainy slow start as all 1,300 runners negotiated the crowded trail inside a pine forest for the first 4 kilometers.  I dove into an ocean of bobbing headlamps, trying to pass runners who have been overwhelmed by the numerous hills and slippery terrain.  The light rain on my face and the slowly revealing silhouettes of giant trees and ferns all around made for a fairy tale setting.  Still infused with enthusiasm, I attacked the race with gusto with enough walks on the uphills.

Leading to the first aid station, the terrain started to descend and kept on it as we circled the edge of Lake Tikitapu.  It was my golden hour as I glided down with ease among zigzagging paths laden with soft mud of ideal consistency – soft enough to absorb the pressure but not too sticky to accumulate and cause sliding.  Or maybe, the leg muscles were still strong to help me counter any forces which can lead to a nasty fall.  16.4 kilometers later, we were sprinting towards the beach side of the lake as hordes of well-wishers and volunteers welcomed and cheered for us at our Blue Lake station.24901093855_ea1b8b72a1_z

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The next aid station was only at KM22.8 and relatively flat but it was the next aid station (Okataina Lodge) at KM39.4 which took light years to reach.  The third leg of this race at 16.6 kilometers is without a doubt the longest and has the two steepest climbs before descending into some mean technical downhills.  Even if I was a bit spent, I just had to suck in the endless climbs and muddy landscape lest I fail to make the 1:50 pm cut off.  The women and senior runners I overtook earlier started gaining on me but I just stayed in my glacial pace until the ground started to tilt down and I was soaring.

Weather predictions expected the rain to cease before noon but by 12:30 pm when I left Aid Station 3, the light shower kept pummelling the trail and would continue up to the early evening.  The next leg offered a rolling slope with intermittent views of the lovely Lake Okataina.  The route slithers around the still water of Okataina and a steady pace can be had while keeping an eye on the deep yawning gorge below.TUM_2016_001089

By KM 49.2, I was welcomed by a groovy bevy of hippies and hefty slices of pizza at AS 4 (Humphries Bay) so even if I was drenched to the bone, I was on a high.  The Tarawera Aid Stations even if at times are too far in between are a welcome oasis of fruit slices, yummy sandwiches, hot soups and energy gels & power drinks.  And they are manned by some of the most enthusiastic volunteers in the planet while garbed in various outlandish motiffs – Santa Claus town, Star Wars space station, etc.

The fifth leg was a good 8.1 kilometers but with the expansive and mysterious Lake Tarawera (our third and last lake) on my right, it was a pleasurable jaunt.  Many a time, I would try to hook up with a train of runners running moderately but consistently while sharing war stories.  It was a worthy distraction from the cold and fatigue plus it burned the miles, unnoticeably.  We were at the tail end of the race and many of the men were already planning to quit or downgrade to a shorter distance.  It was the women who were more enthusiastic and kept me going.TUM_2016_005103

The last 4 kilometers leading to the 60KM finish line was a series of winding paths eventually tracing the course of the Tarawera River.  With the rushing waters in the background, I linked with Mac who related to me the running scene in New Zealand.  He is witness at how Kiwis of whatever gender, age or size prepare and train systematically and regularly months before their races.  I told him how many times I saw Wellingtonians run, walk or bike to and from work with their backpacks on. It’s no wonder that many of us were left biting their dust come race day.TaraweraFallsLg

The rains never ceased so the swollen river led us to 2 raging cascades before the behemoth multi-layered, grandiose Tarawera Falls.  I was in awe of its gushing waters in full display but we had the final cut-off to catch.  85KM runners should leave the 60KM mark on or before 5:50 pm.  We arrived at 5:20 pm but we had to leave soon so there was little room to change to a new base layer and grab some snack.  Along the way, I grabbed Mac and Kirk (who had arrived earlier and was having issues of making the 6:20 pm cut-off at KM 72, for 100KM runners) to join me on our 85-KM quest.

With no cut-offs to chase, we settled to a more relaxed slow pace even if a pang of guilt for not pushing myself hovered like some dark cloud.  The rain and the impending cold was simply zapping what’s left of my enthusiasm.  The final 25 kilometers was supposed to be the most runnable portion of the course but there I was making small talk with two guys and we have settled to just finish the race. So walk we did along a wide corridor flanked by tall pines on both sides, as dusk settled in.  Fortunately, Mac’s pace was rather brisk that Kirk and I had to catch up with him every now and then.  The path was now grassy and a welcome relief from the previous muddy and rolling terrain, pre-60K.24272726244_d5bfad522a_k

At the Titoki station, we stayed longer to ward off the cold (with piping hot soup!) and take to the portalets which were remarkably well-stocked and most welcome at this part of the race instead of digging some hole in the dark forest.  We left the station with the dark slowly bleeding across the land.  The rain had ceased and it was a bit foggy as we settled into a walk and jog routine.  Soon, we were traversing an isolated road as we swapped more stories and experiences.  The final kilometres was a trot in the dark highlighted by a purple-lit cage bridge, a ‘floating’ aid station manned by multiple Princess Leias and two steep sandy uphills.

Finally, traces of civilization appeared into view – street lights, houses, distant sounds.  But it would take us almost an hour before the finish line beckoned.  We came charging in as one flank with me holding the dinky Philippine flag over my headlamp.  Among the 85K finishers, we were at the tail end but the cheering crowd and supporters were as animated and enthusiastic as they were in the morning, as Race Organiser Paul Charteris gave us a warm hug.  Many of the 100K finishers, by this time were finishing in small groups, as midnight slowly crept in.  Less than an hour later, our lone Filipina runner, Arlene Agulto, finished her 100K adventure while Kian finished his hours earlier.

And so culminates our journey which circled three lakes, explored forest reserves, entered enchanted territories we only used to dream of.  This was New Zealand in its untamed, harsh and natural state we had experienced and immersed in that day.  And for many of us who have found bliss and fairyland, this seems just the beginning of something big, incredible and exciting.  See you soon Kiwiland!

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Photography by Marceau Photography, Joseph Iric Mina & Tarawera Ultramarathon


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Third time’s a charm, Dagupan (or the looong road to a Milo qualifier)


My road to a Milo qualifier began years back but 2 years ago when I knew that a 4:10 Marathon finish was not feasible along Pasay and Manila’s chaotic streets, I started setting my sights via a 21K race. The aim was to finish 1:55 or less, which at hindsight seems doable since I’ve done two finishes within such time. So in 2014, when I crossed the Milo Marathon thrashed and crawling, I knew my next chance to run the Milo Finals was the Milo Lipa eliminations which was happening a few weeks later.

It was during this period when we engaged in some mean speed training at the UP oval via the Payasso class of Jon Las Bruce’s group (Milo Apex classes have finished by July). So we were quite confident with our footfalls and pacing when the gun exploded at Lipa that rainy 4:30 morning. Unfortunately the race was hounded by brownouts, lashing rain and surprise uphills into the final kilometers. I had some cramping issues as well leading to the finish line which I crossed at 2:01. So it’s back to the drawing board.13700097_10210399653845796_687803459353473732_n

Last year, I had another devastating finish at the Milo Marathon courtesy of some twisting cramp periods going to the finish line so I plunged into a summarized 21K training program under the guidance of Coach Alfred Delos Reyes. The program is a healthy mix of strength training, speeds and long runs. It shook my system (t’was my first foray into speed running) but I was confident as hell when I showed up at the starting line of the Milo Lucena after travelling for more than 5 hours. The race travelled around the city’s rolling streets as I bounced with confidence and a qualifying finish dancing in my head.

The last 8 kilometers included my favorite downhills so I was flying until my major adversary reared its ugly head. I was dragging my cramping self into the finish line but when I saw the clock at 1:55, I lost all hope and just forced a 1:56:05 finish. Had I put on some extra strength and slashed 6 seconds, I would have finished at 1:55:59 and get qualified. Oh well.

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Coach Alfred’s 21K Training Program

On October 1, 2015, I turned 50 and extended by Milo qualifying time to 2 hours.

Early this year, I was able to finish a 21K road race at 1:57 in New Zealand so when I paced for the RU2 32K race, I knew I was going to bring our runners to the finish at my designated 3:15 assignment. This never happened of course. I ended up stopping and reviving myself back in the final 10 kilometers c/o of my good old buddy, Mr. Cramps. It was a wake call for me.

So even before I could recover, I was back in training mode with 5 weeks into the Milo Dagupan 21K Eliminations. It’s the same ole program from Coach Alfred but this time our strength workout was the dreaded 45-minute Insanity program, as Van had devised, coupled by a 4K jog after. Speeds were with the guys of Coach Al’s Functional Gym led by veteran runner & friend Bon at the Marikina Oval and one time along a steep hill. Short runs were done in an adjacent rolling village while Sunday long runs took place at the UP oval.

My final long run tipped at 19 kilometers (2:01) but I was thrashed the last 2 kilometers so I was questioning my race readiness. The last week was more relaxed but preparations like booking for a room, road mapping and nutrition took up most our time.13887061_10210585953903181_4745321482711515430_n

And so Van and I showed up at the starting line 30 minutes before the 4:30 am start. Even if sleep was short and shallow, I was feeling quite relaxed and excited to test all the preparations and training we’ve done for the last 5 weeks. And we were off, starting to a slow but steadily accelerating pace. Soon we were hitting 4:45 so I had to temper it to 5:15 -5:30. The route was technically flat save for more some minor bridges and one major one. In the early part, we had the road to ourselves but soon, we were relegated to the border of the road.

The going was steady with water stops every 2 kilometers. I was struggling a bit in the turn around but just kept going. 10.5 kilometers was reached at 57 minutes (averaging 5:31) so I was calculating, we have an extra 6 minutes into 2 hours if we could maintain the same speed in the second half.

That was wishful thinking, of course. By this time, my struggle wasn’t muscular but more on the breathing so it was time to turn on the music and move to the beat. Pace would dip into 5:45 and even once into 6:00 but when the second and third winds came, I tried to rack it up to 5:15s just to even out the slow periods. Van played the perfect pacer, mostly just shadowing me when I was in the zone and running by my front when I was losing steam. His quick foot exchange kept me chugging along.

The return journey was mired by walking and blocking 10K joggers we had to dodge. Van worked double time to clear my path as signs of an impending cramping started to show up. In the final 2 kilometers, cramping worsened but I’ve somehow learned to manage it – slowing a bit and varying my steps. I was a bit shaken but I knew I had this damn race in the bag and true enough when we reached the finish line, my clock read 1:57:50! There were no cameras to capture that instant which was two years in the making. But that moment signaled a turning point in my running career – after 7 years of running, I’m finally a Milo Marathon Qualifier. Cheers!

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A League of Milo Apex Running School alumni.

Here’s my music list for the last 10 kilometers: New Song (Howard Jones), Can’t Hold Us (Macklemore), Modern Love (David Bowie), Hey Soul Sister (Train), Super Bass (Nicki Minaj), Running Down a Dream (Tom Petty & the Heartbeakers), Master & Servant (Depeche Mode), Telephone (Lady Gaga), She Bangs (Ricky Martin), Let My Love Open the Door (Pete Townsend), Fancy (Iggy Azalea)13775778_10154319754749687_3116944021621885468_n

Postcript:  Two weeks after (July 31, 2016), Van & I ran the 40th Milo Marathon which took the old 2014 route passing (almost) the whole stretch of Roxas Boulevard, going to Buendia and BGC and back.  It was a relaxed pace for us, maintaining the 6:00 min/km.  On the way to BGC, I started slowing down but bursts of 2nd winds got me moving again.  Along the return trip in Buendia, I started taking walk breaks, urging Van to go ahead but he kept pushing me and played pacer up to the last meter.

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Signs of cramping developed during the last 5 kilometers with me my modifying steps and taking walk breaks.  The little devil never intensified but fatigue had apparently already set in so the jogging got slower but my very patient and encouraging pacer kept nudging me on, reminding me that we’re almost at the end of the road.  Finally in the final 200 meters, I tried to preen and look great running as photographers from everywhere started appearing.  Maybe it was a combination of mental fatigue,  fear of a full cramping episode and thrashing I was experiencing that I managed to just strut a normal jog (It was hard to feign normalcy when all sort of discomfort are emerging all over one’s body).  I told myself, at least, I wasn’t crawling the pavement like some wandering octupus.  4:53:15 was our final clock and yes, it was one marathon we both enjoyed.  Cheers!

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Btw, this 40th edition featured many trained and mean runners missing their qualifying times.  Maybe it was the humidity at the start.  Some veteran runners were just gunning to make it to the cut-off time with a few missing it.  Now this is reminiscent of the 2010 edition, really.  Here’s how my Milo Marathon stack up:

Milo 2010 5:49

Milo 2011 4:52

Milo 2012 4:24

Milo 2013 DNS due to dengue

Milo 2014 4:36

Milo 2015 4:30

Milo 2016 4:53

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Photography by RuN AnD ShooT, Pinoy Fitness and The Running Photographers


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50 Peaks of Love


Constant running partners in an ultra trail race are hard to come by, considering the trickling number of runners, the total distance and the varying paces of the participants. The longest time two runners would stay together would be just a few hours or a number of legs of the race, especially at night when things become unpredictable and creepy. One eventually breaks down, gives in, and reluctantly lets faster partner go.
So, what if two runners committed themselves to stay together during the whole duration of the race? Well, it’s gonna be a story of forever or they’ll go down in flames. Another bromance story in the brew? Not in a thousand kilometers. I’m talking about romance on the ridge, love on the rocks, pecking on the peak, titillating tales on the trail – a true vow between 2 people in the mountains and in life.endlessly_by_devoshun
I mean, how many times have we compared running to our journey through life? A runner goes through a gamut of emotions and states during a race that soon enough, all the façade and masks come melting away and the real person emerges beyond the sunscreen, mud splatter and sweat. It’s almost comparable to life itself that if 2 people can survive 30 hours of being together through all the good, the bad and the ugly – it’s safe to say they can go through life’s roughest and most testy phases together. And emerge as winners.
Most of these relationships actually emerged and were nurtured on the trails.

Imagine being a lone female runner struggling through killer up hills and eventually getting thrashed come night time when the atmosphere becomes altogether different. Suddenly Alpha male runner comes swooping in. Sweating gorgeously, he strikes a cute conversation on his death defying experiences and how he lost so much blood after being sucked dry by a diabolical limatik. Girl rolls her eyes at boy’s absurd tales but finds comfort and security in his unwavering determination to stay and protect his new found partner who seems to be floundering every now and then. Soon night cloaks the mountains into total blackness with only 2 bobbing headlights on the seeming horizon.

During the night’s journey, girl would falter, move on, slow down and almost DNF but suave partner would be by her side every step of the way, offering sustenance, corny anecdotes and solace whenever the cut-off time seemed out of reach. It was a golden moment for boy to strut his trail skills on the mountains and into her heart. He would coax, joke, push, flirt and egg on girl to keep moving in the light of fatigue, boredom, hypothermia (“body heat will get us through this one, sugababe”), negativity and just plain longing for the softness and familiarity of one’s bedroom.
In the seeming mix of extreme emotion, mental and physical battery, girl finally relents and in their lowest point of the race when they were about to throw the towel and just sleep it out at KM50 station, love triumphs over all absurdities and craziness. Now committed to each other, girl & boy take on the last few legs of their first official ultra race as a couple with new found vigor after being “struck to the bone in the moment of breathless delight”. They almost fail to make the cut-off time but since I love a little suspense and happy endings, they finally reach the finish line seconds before the cut-off and the waiting crowd roars in approval and delight. Girl lands on boy’s waiting arms, two lips connect and they exchange body fluids, tinged with mud, sweat and detached limatik fangs. Ewww.lovers_in_the_sunset_by_sageata-d2pebkf
In the subsequent races, they run as team Red donning their matchy-matchy scarlet uniforms and always sealing their finishes with an extended lip lock which later on had become vomit-inducing and slashed the number of trail participants by 50%. But the pair kept conquering more adventures and ultraraces and was inseparable at every kilometer. Through all the kilometers together, they’ve seen and experienced each other’s best (“pumpkin, your sexy booty is setting my soul on fire”), worst (“munchkin, I think I just plunged on quicksand and I’m sinkin…”) and in between (“honey, my soul is taking flight and it’s going to land into your heart”). But as in life, they’ve chosen to stick together in all its facets, spectrums and nuances. And their exploits just kept piling up, up to this time.
So this trail story is a mishmash of various stories I’ve compiled through the years but in the spirit of inclusion and tolerance (courtesy of Pope Francis), it’s not only between boy & girl. It may well be boy & boy, girl & girl or boy & dog etc., as well. Belated Happy Valentines everyone! Or as friend would put it – happy V.D., just don’t get V.D. (which in the 1990s has become S.T.D.)

Images obtained from Deviant Art.

 

Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015


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The Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015: Meandering & Struggling in the Fields of the Gods


It was a year in the making.  It was last year when a fellow Team Kulit Jen Aggangan opened up the possibility to the whole team of joining the Vietnam Mountain Marathon.  Many were interested, of course.  But in the end, it was me, Van and Jen who went through with the circuitous online process of registering for the race, searching for the most sensible and viable flights and accommodations, plying and preparing for the trails, finalizing on equipments, gears, nutritional requirements – the works.

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Van & Jen in the middle of the town square.

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Falling for Sapa.

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Last minute mileage:  Going around the indigenous communities around Sapa the day before the race.

We landed in Hanoi, woozy from a red eye trip and promptly explored the bustling city into wherever our weary legs might take us.  The next day, we were off into the northern town Sa Pa, the venue of the VMM 2015.  After 6 hours in a sleeper bus, we found ourselves wandering around the mountain village which used to be one of the hill stations the French had set up during their Indochinese occupation.  And their influences persist to this day – from the neo-classical architecture to the everyday baguette bread.  To say that Sa Pa exudes a more European feel would be an understatement – we felt suddenly transported to some Swiss principality tucked on the hills of Indochina.  Or something like Baguio city in the ’70s.

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Let’s do this!

Race kit claiming took place the next day and on our third day, Van & I were at the starting line for the 42K participants.  Gun start was at 7:30 am with the rains welcoming us and persisting throughout the morning.  After a kilometer of rolling terrain, the runners disappeared down a muddy trail where the consistency of the earth got mushier and more slippery as the elevation dipped.  The 70K group (released at 4:30 am) and the 42K lead packers had successfully molested and cumulatively produced a descending treacherous path, more fit to slide on than run in.  And so it was a slow train of runners, groping for whatever stable structure is available but eventually sliding, slipping and goofing around.  Many a time, we just slid the path and let gravity take its course.  Fortunately, my Salomon SLAB was more stable than Van’s ratty Columbias which was threatening to separate from its sole.  So even with the trekking pole, Van required my aid to survive the mudfest.Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015

Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015

A few decent descents later, the assaults began but the stunning sceneries more than made up for the struggles – what with endless green valleys of terraced rice fields, towering blue mountains and rambling rivers at every turn.  We just kept moving while the sun hasn’t completely come out and the rain was ever present to keep us cool and calculated.  The countryside feels familiar and tropical except that they have the four seasons up here (I was in search for oak trees donning their red and orange foliage but all I saw were swaths of giant bamboos).  China, by the way, is just a little over them mountains, just to remind us that we’re already in the temperate zone.

 

If only to emphasize that we were still in ASEAN territory, we were led through the rice fields and were made to walk through its irregular, unstable and narrow dikes (pilapil).  If one is a bit wary, he can always wade through the watery paddies and many did as we passed through brooks and small waterways.  It was a brief chance to cool down and wash off the mud that had accumulated from hours of rain.  The valley of rice fields gave one a glimpse of how far one is to venture by looking at the runners miles in front and struggling through the next race path.

Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015

The trails soon gave way to roads as we passed through living communities with people doing their daily business.  No drunkards drowning on gin along the streets nor fish wives brandishing those poker cards.  What we saw instead were the Hmong ethnic minority, mostly in their native fineries minding the fields while the children helped or frolicked.  They were shy, curious and innocent of the world outside.  Even in the presence of a mechanical rice grinder, the place still feels unspoilt and isolated and we were light years away from modernity.

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Around noon, a heavy fog had shrouded the surrounding areas but we kept trudging and enjoying the cool ideal weather.  Last year they say was damn hot and so we thanked the heavens for a perfect trail weather, even with diminished visibility.  After an hour, the fog finally cleared up to reveal stunning vistas of thickly forested mountains where our guide the day before told us of roaming sun bears, jungle cats and boars.  Fortunately, the path stayed within the valley area across more terraced rice fields (they seem to have perfected this art form from our northern ancestors).Frontpage-Curve11054440_359402114258582_6717057081370314136_n

Soon, the ground started to rise and never let up.  The final climb was steepest and a bit technical so we mined and fed on our recent trail experiences.  We recalled those endless ascents to reach Dayap elementary school, the final assault after Miyamit Falls and many of our more challenging local trails.  And we were off and running.  From the fourth major peak, it was almost like a free fall as we put our quadriceps into beast mode.  Dusk was starting to set in so we kept going, hoping to see a glimpse of that thatched colony of the Sapa Eco lodge but to no avail.  As soon as we saw the hill from afar, we started flying like bats from hell (and overtaking a few runners).  We already have our own Philippine flag securely perched on our trekking pole but the final path leading to the finish hoisted all the national flags of the participants.  I spotted ours and promptly retrieved it.  The flag was huge but to wave it proudly while crossing the finish line of the Vietnam Mountain Marathon was pure heaven.  Some of the Filipino 21K participants and supporters saw it and joined us for one glorious moment in the Filipino running community.

Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015

P.S.  The next day before the awarding ceremonies, it was the 10K runners turn to go around the rolling roads and trails of Sa Pa town and Jen was the lone Philippine representative.

Photography courtesy of the Vietnam Mountain Marathon and David W. Lloyd photography.

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Jenny, our proud 10K representative.


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The need for speed


 

Ever since I can remember, I always get antsy when a work takes a lot of detours to get it done. I can’t seem to take people who move like there’s zero gravity. I get impatient when vehicles in front of me start halting to a crawl. Or when a phalanx of runners start blocking the road and take groupies like they’re in a street dance number. In my mind, I was moving like Mercury and cutting through people, streets and buildings and reaching my destination in a flash. In the real world, it would take me eons to accomplish what I had set out for. Even if I’d like to finish ahead of time, a lot of other factors beyond my control would weigh and eventually slow me down.

 

That’s what I love about running. You feel like everything rests on your shoulders (and two legs and the other major muscle groups aiding them). If you fail to make the cut and miss being qualified, you have no one to blame but yourself – for being unable to train properly and consistently, for letting the rain and the wind dampen your spirit or for letting all those negative emotions flood your being, sucking out everything with it.

 

But it took me years to harness and unleash my speed demons into my runs and races.  I never learned how to push myself and overtake the runners in front of me.  I felt that finishing my races within cut-off time was more than enough, considering many were quitting or going beyond the cut-off time.  Not that I wasn’t competitive.  But I was content being the middle-aged runner among the midpackers.  I thought that being able to run, almost injury free and finishing it was more than I’ve envisioned and yearned for.

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Speed time with Fatima, Rob, Bon & Dennis at the Marist oval.  2014

But I knew something was trying to break free as I neared my mid-century life.  Perhaps, it started when I chanced upon the book Advanced Marathoning.  In it, I learned about VO2max, lactate threshold and running economy in a more structured and comprehensive narrative.  So I learned a great deal on the physiology and science of running, now how was I to apply them on the track and the road?

 

I tried to follow the training log for the slowest group and still modified (read:  cheated) its grueling and demanding training schedule.  The most lung busting of the routine is the speed run which has greatly improved my breathing where I usually struggled.  There were also workouts to increase the lactate threshold and VO2 max, which I still haven’t optimized as I’m still prone to cramping.  But overall, I’ve put on some speed and was less to walk or slow down.

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I still have to do a podium finish or qualify for the Milo finals but the strides I’ve made this year have made my finish times more predictable and controlled even in the absence of a pace watch (I just need to finish 160 strides in a minute to know I’m within acceptable pacing).  Who would have thought, I’d still be breaking PRS at age 50?  So I perhaps, there could be something exciting that still awaits me.  No matter, I’m just here for the ride of my life.


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To be foolish & young or to be wary & old


Note:  This is my 8th article for Frontrunner magazine and it came out on December 2014, a month after Purgatory 30KM, our preparation race for CM60 a few weeks later.

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So here I am trying to descend the final 10 kilometers of my first mountain/trail run since my knee surgery at the Purgatory 30km.  The views are sweeping and commanding, the mossy forests exude a certain virginal character I’ve never set foot on before in my life and the trails are strips of soil covered in dry pine needles that one misstep can send one plunging into the valley below.  And I did slip a few times, only saved by my trusty trekking pole for the nth time.

I remember the times (was that just over a year ago?) when I could glide down these endless down hills that I felt tough and invincible.  Descents are usually the secret weapon of average trail runners like me who can hardly hike up the hills without pausing and catching our breath.  So after that difficult and almost eternal climb, it’s a respite to just fly off and take on the finish.  Later in my brief trail running history, I learned that I’m one of those ‘gifted’ ones who could embrace those tricky and complicated down hills and just plunge down like there’s no tomorrow.  That’s a bit of an exaggeration actually but I know of runners who really take more time going down than up.

That’s not me.

Even if I’m a bit thrashed already, I can easily convince my legs to start moving and let gravity take control until the terrain flattens finally.  Eons ago, I had no qualms of soaring down along dark paths where the other side is a deep ravine lit only by my headlamp while chasing the impending cut-off time.  That was just like two years ago when I felt more confident and firm on my steps, which is not to say I didn’t slip, slide or fall.  I did actually and a lot of times but I easily picked myself up and just kept going.  The fear of falling off a mountain track into a 100-foot valley hardly entered my system.  Maybe I was foolish or clueless or too brave for my own good but with every triumphant finish, I was more challenged and just kept stacking up the ultra distances.P1130133

Just how time flies.

Over a year since I had my knee surgery (which my Orthopedic surgeon blamed from too much descents) and my uneventful recovery, I had become more concerned of my mortality and physical limitations.  When before I was light footed and flitting, I had become more careful in my foot falls, making me a tad slower in my moves.  It has to do I guess with age (though, I was already 47 when I was doing my daring ‘moves’) or perhaps I’m still in my adaptation stage since I’ve concentrated of late on the road and less on the trail.

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Jumping for joy on my first Ultrarace after a bout with dengue at the halfway point of I Shall Return 50K at the Leyte-Samar bridge. 2011

No matter, I’m thinking this would be a slow brew before strength and skill would finally kick in.  But once I get my groove back, it’s not going to be the same endless adventure of weekly trail runs and spontaneous recons.  No more foolish (agaw buhay) and careless behavior on the trails though the feeling of freedom and flight would never diminish.  None of the spontaneous hikes into wherever my feet would take me but the excitement would still be there.  I guess I can’t afford to go through the same ordeal I went through last year while waiting for the knee to recuperate.

If anything, I’d learned that no matter how addicting, one need not be in the trails every weekend to be a strong and fast trail runner.  Strength and speed can be honed in the gym, the road and running clinics.  Yep, even if the nearest hills are less than an hour by foot from our doorstep.  It’s not that I suddenly abhor the mud, those skin-lacerating cogons and getting toasted (until you forget your true shade), it’s just that I don’t have the convenience of time and crossing out a full day to explore Balabag or Deadman’s trail a whole Sunday.  Just like that, the demands of the clinic seem to outweigh the call of the mountains.

Or maybe I’m just getting old, you know – gathering wisdom (while gathering dust) and acting more with my mind than via my instinct.  Whatever.

I think I’ve reached my peak 2 years ago when I can tackle ultra-trail races, challenging terrains, inclement weather and still show up at the finish line in one piece.  I’m now in my cruise/maintenance mode – still taking on the trails and mountain races without pushing my body to its mortal limits.  It’s a journey that sees no end except to pause and take in all the spectacular sceneries, every now and then.  Sorry, there’s no stopping this old goat, a 49-year old mountain goat, if you will.

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Call me grandpa when you let me eat your dust along the trails, I don’t mind.


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A Blazing Story of the Running Goddess


Note:  This is my 7th article for Frontrunner magazine and is an amalgamation of the various sexiest and colorful female runners I’ve encountered on the road.  It came out during the magazine’s special issue on Women.

by Kitty Cat Runner

Before I came into the spotlight, the local running world was drenched with sweaty, smelly guys whose only purpose in life was to cross that darn finish line, claim their loots and go home.  I know it was that boring and remised of color and spectacle.  And no one took notice of their feats, how fast they were, how hard they trained and how much time they’ve sacrificed to achieve their goals.  Soon enough, running was already running the danger of being relegated into the dustbin of sports history…

Until it suddenly gained a new found life around 2009 – that’s when my running career came roaring in.  Yes, yes, I was there when the new wave in running suddenly surged and I grabbed onto it like a blazing comet and took charge of my new found career – the running diva of the new millenium.  Seriously, it was never in my plans but the running universe was in search of a nova star – somebody who’ll bring the fun back in fun runs, be the mistress of marathons, the diva of dashes, the siren of sprints, the flame in the darkness and desperation of despondent runners who fail to make the cut-off time (but still insist on getting that medal).  So I stepped up the plate and became the ambassadress in running as the sexy and stimulating muse of road races.

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Base training, VO2max, lactate threshold – just what the hey are they?  I came here to relish a street party and trumpet my showbiz running career.  Sorry I have no plans of finishing early and what?  Deprive my time to meet and greet my fans along the route?  I value them like my plastic jewelry collection and they’re the reason I wake up really early in the morning and abstain from my Saturday night life so they deserve more than my snob and animosity.  I don’t want to hear another item of distraught fans jumping off the Manila Bay and disintegrating in its grime and flotsam.

So here I am shimmying across Roxas boulevard with its flank of garish sputnik lamp posts and I feel like I’m sashaying across the red carpet as cameras snap and cheers & claps erupt from the curious onlookers and even fellow runners.  What can I say – they know a true diva when they see one.  So I reciprocate them with my feigned smile, calculated hand waves and blown kisses at every turn.  As the finish approaches, I make a conscious check of pretty old me – no running mascara, check, no messy hairdo nor sweaty armpits, check, check.  I have taken on this role of road muse and intend to play it to the hilt.   I mustn’t disappoint my gaggle of male admirers who would be watching every move I make, every step I take.  Sting could even be one of them.

Of course, as a part of showbiz royalty, threats abound – those cheap, catty, copy cats, they abound like stray cats in the night, ready to pounce and grab the glitter off my running streak.  But they won’t thrive – the outfits, the make-up, the drama – they either look like second rate courtesans or some out-of-job mascots.   It’s would take them a lifetime to even approximate my class, stature and influence.  But they can be plain mean and vicious.

Once my Facebook status only reaped a measly 300 LIKES and I thought I was losing my touch.  Where have all my minions gone?  Even worse was when a picture of me in one unflattering angle suddenly popped in the internet and spread like wild fire as those despicable netizens had a party taunting, chitchatting and making fun of their running goddess.  Such blasphemy.  I wallowed in misery but only for a day, for the next day was another chance to reinvent myself.  It’s all about keeping them interested, intrigued and seduced in my little universe.  And that I got in spades.

To be sure, I do have my share of bashers.  All that vitriol and negative vibe and back stabbing – they keep mushrooming everyday in social media, in hushed whispers and team drunken get-togethers.  And yes, my sparrows do inform me their chatter revolves around me and my pink universe of waterproof make-ups, scented moisturizers, rainbow-striped calf guards and fancy visors.

But you can’t knock a shining shimmering icon like moi – for I do have my fan base of deranged maniacs, dirty old running men (D.O.R.M.), awe-struck admirers and legion of stalkers – drooling at the sway of my hips, anticipating every jiggle of my puppies and at every pose I strike.  I hear they even have their secret Facebook page where they decode, decipher and discuss about me and my lesser starlets, the way fishwives would do on the docks of Storm’s End.  And who said men don’t gossip.  Duh.

Yep, it’s been quite a reign – longer than any queen can imagine.  Soon enough, I will be retiring from the road and I will be passing the crown to one of my wannabes, who have been forever breathing behind my neck.  I’m really considering taking on the dreary world of trail running.  I think they are in desperate need of a trail nymph to bring some sparkle and fun along those dark treacherous paths.  Anyway, it’s been quite a ride.  Better leave while I’m still at it.  To my legion of fans – I want them to always remember and cherish me, hopefully not for the wrong reason (Banana girl, who?) but as someone who inspired them to run and enjoy life in all its sparkle, color and world peace.  I thank you.

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