I run…therefore I am

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When the fierce and the fearless face their fears

They say ultra trail runners are some of the coolest and the baddest of the bunch in a world where less than 10 percent of its denizens have an active and regular healthy lifestyle.  By healthy we may think that hitting the gym 3x a week and doing our weekend long runs on trails to no end is enough.  Add the fact that we eat healthier than many (though that’s still subject to debate) and we have our regular 8-hour sleeps (while our contemporaries have to resort to sleeping drugs).  And we feel invincible.  The fact is underneath those bulging quads and strong core muscles lies a complex body system which can actually be faltering without showing any symptom from the outside.










Thus, we all need to undergo our annual physical examinations.  Ever since I was diagnosed with essential hypertension 4 years ago, undergoing those rigorous x-rays, blood tests and laboratory works has become a yearly ritual courtesy of my health insurance plan.  And I thought everyone was doing the same thing, especially those who have reached their 40s.  So it was a surprise when most runners (and even triathletes) I asked seem to (or chose to) ignore this crucial annual medical checkup.

The rationale usually goes that since they have their regular physical activity and basically look fit (though that is still a subject of contention), they need not get in contact with a needle and have their blood siphoned to gauge their health level.  They ‘know’ that they have no problem, physically and physiologically.  See these rippling back muscles and steely gluteus maximus.  Now let’s run into the sunset…

Well, here’s a wakeup call, guys.  Those sub-1:45 21Ks and sub-6 50Ks – they won’t last forever, not even in the next 5 years.  Unless, one is persistent, disciplined, organized and passionate, but most of us mortals will fall on the wayside to give way to the young turks who can easily run circles around us.  For the years I’ve been into running, I’ve seen many colleagues rise to meteoric highs, peak and soon disappear into oblivion.  And they move on to the next health craze.  Parkour, anyone?

I’m what you may call a Keeper.  I don’t move from one hobby or passion to the next.  Once I’ve found my calling, I latch on to it for as long as I can and just keep going.  I guess that’s how you’d describe my running career – a long well drawn out journey with hardly any finish line in sight.  So I’m in it for the long haul, thus the need to maintain my over-all health, patience and sanity.  No short cuts, no supplemental drinks or vitamins (not even glucosamines with chondroitin), no drugs (except for my anti-hypertensives), no stimulants/uppers (except for some energy gels).  And most of all, I religiously have my regular physical assessment, which this year just included the dreaded (and painfree) but potentially lifesaving colonoscopy procedure.  Soon, I will be including my prostate examination.

An M.D.-patient of mine once quipped (when I told her of my regular barrage of medical and laboratory examinations) that perhaps, I’m might be in continuous search for problems in my body.  Which could hold true but more importantly, I simply want a functioning healthy body that I would be utilizing on my runs and adventures.  Whether it’s my car, house, clinic or body, the key is still prevention so I won’t have to blame myself if I ever found damage or problems which could have easily been resolved upon early diagnosis.

So yes, that’s my long term plan and execution.  It’s not totally fail safe but at least I have a road map to where I’m heading.  My partner complains that I stress myself too much on planning and analysis but that’s just what I’m made of.   It’s in my DNA and in the 52 years I’ve been in this world, thinking ahead has always put things in perspective and guided me through life’s confusing and convoluted boulevards.

So, are you ready to face one of life’s most feared rituals?  You know – blood, needles, hospitals, laboratory and physical examinations – don’t worry it’s not as bad as it seems.  In fact, it could actually add quality to your twilight years.  Now picture yourself at 70, still trudging along some lost trail in the steamy jungles of Reunion Island.  Now wouldn’t that be swell?



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Molars on the run

Perhaps, one of the more neglected and ignored part of the body, the tooth could easily end up last in a runner’s priority list where a well-toned musculature, a robust heart and formidable legs take center stage.  But the little devil once left untreated and rotting can easily make its presence felt during the most unexpected moment, especially during those crucial periods in a race when one’s resistance and strength are already compromised and waning.

Imagine one appropriately trained, properly nourished and well prepared participant in a trail race that took a year to manage, finance, and map out suddenly experiencing one of life’s most excruciatingly painful episodes – the toothache.  And bam! All those months of blood, sweat, mud and tears suddenly vaporizing into thin air due to one missed dental appointment.  But Mr. Badass soldiers on, having survived a plethora of generalized pain, cramping, fatigue, and sleeplessness in all its degree and variety.  But the most dramatic discomfort coming from a sore molar easily beats ‘em all in a kaleidoscope of physical agony.

While many of these trials and tribulations most runners had the chance to experience, embrace and adapt to during training days and lesser races, this rare yet unbearable episode was something unfamiliar and seemed impossible to remedy immediately. At the third aid station, Mr. not-so-bad Ass gulps a strong analgesic to ease the discomfort but an hour later, the gremlin is back with a throbbing vengeance.

Alpha male finds various ways to mask the awful experience as he nears the last aid station. He puts pressure on the cheek area, places some ice to numb them and even pinches it once in a while.  Marshalls at the last aid station are baffled to encounter one bruised runner with half of his face swollen.  The expression on his face was a mixture of relief, nervousness, and frustration.

Relief from the next pain reliever is finally coming down as two emotions surface: nervousness since time is ticking away and this thorn by his side has dramatically slowed him down, and frustration for delaying his dental appointment for weeks.  An hour after leaving the last aid station, the rest of his niggling discomfort in the muscles, the mind and the joints conspire with the odontalgic main man.  Together they collaborate to make Mr. Poor Ass one broken, pained, and wandering zombie runner.

He still makes it within the cutoff time but so do the rest of the participants who were mostly high spirited and vibrant at the finish line.  Meanwhile, our Mr. Thrashed runner is looking lost and out of synch.  In one of nature’s cruelest joke, once he completed the final kilometer of the race, all of his suffering disappears like it never happened at all.

And so he survives this one but now he has learned his lesson.  Or so we thought.  He still foregoes his dental appointment but instead arms himself with sheets of narcotic analgesics.  It works like magic, of course.  Now all the savings he made foregoing his dental visits can go to registration fees for more races to come.  After all, once all his teeth start to rot and thaw, new dentures await.  So from Mr. Badass he has completed his transformation to Mr. Toothless.  And yes, he bites more than he can chew.

Your nigging tooth, if left untreated can result to more than sleepless, lancinating nights.  Let’s look at the other possible complications:  dental abcess, difficulty in breathing (once infection crosses the midline), difficulty in mouth opening (trismus), facial swelling (cellulitis), bone loss, teeth loss, including medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

Jose Lorenzo Mina Jr has been practicing dentistry for the last 27 years and has been witness to the Filipino patient’s evolving attitude and knowledge in dentistry.  While many patients are now armed with various knowledge (some bogus and highly questionable c/o of Mr. Goggle) in dentistry and dental care, a considerable number of patients still want to hold on more to their fancy cellphones and flashy gadgets than their good ole chompers.

Special thanks to Glairold Recella for Van’s picture after ascending Mt. Ayaas last May 27, 2018 during the Outrun your Dreams trail race.






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Trail Wonders and Late Night Encounters

By Van Denn Cruz, D.V.M.

“Doc, emergency!”
Dazzled from my REM deep sleep, I had to peel off the covers and get up from my bed. Our veterinary assistant was pounding the door at 2:00 AM.
“The patient is vomiting and pooping blood” the assistant greeted me as I opened the door. “Looks critical.” He greeted me with his half-swollen eyes and a literally out-of-bed look.
I hurried downstairs to our emergency department’s treatment room. A worried client was almost in tears, presenting her dog in a debilitated state.
“Good morning. What happened to him?” I asked.
“He just puked and pooped blood a while ago. He collapsed afterwards.” After which a flood of tears came running down her cheeks.
As a doctor in a 24/7 veterinary hospital, I had countless nights of staying up late attending to numerous emergency cases. Such practice requires waking up in the unholiest of hours to save a four-legged, tail wagging munchkin.

During those times, I can’t help but credit the times I had also been awake at 2 AM with my feet pounding on soil and gravel along treacherous trails. It was my source of comfort.
Our local trail races usually start when the stars and moon still alight the dark sky. I always enjoy that time when everything is so quiet and peaceful up in the mountains. No life and death situations. No stressful cases and patients. No vet emergencies. It’s just you and your natural biological habitat. I value the feeling when the cold wind embraces my warm body and gives me some relief. It’s awesome to see the moon glow amid the sleeping yellow lights of the city below. Up there the trees stand eerily tall and quiet, casting shadows on the beaten path. For several hours I escape the crazy and busy urban jungle I have below the hills. I am free.

Feeling for a weak pulse, I immediately put the adult, male mongrel on an Oxygen mask. His femoral pulse was weak and asynchronous. We attached an IV catheter to establish a venous access and immediately gave doses of the medicines we deemed necessary. The heart beat was very quick and the legs were getting cold.
“What’s happening!? Pooochieeeeee! Nooooooooo!” the client screaming her head off.
“Poochie is in a state of shock. We need to up his blood pressure so the different parts of his body can equally receive the right amount of blood it needs” I replied.
The client was on the verge of hysteria as we put the patient under a heat lamp.
“Chie-chie don’t leave me!!!”
The client charged to her dog and smothered his head with kisses and tears. Adrenaline was bouncing from room to room.
We were defined by the white walls and glass walls of our space. The space was bare and hissed with the sound of Oxygen. The white fluorescent ceiling lights casted ominous shadows on the empty room and chairs beside us.

My right foot got stuck in ankle-deep mud as I finished my downhill descent. Focusing my head lamp below, I found my way out of the obstacle. Several meters from where I stood is a stream of jet black water. The sound of dribbling fluid played its song under the cover of the night. I sat at the bank and scooped out water. I drank it even when I was not thirsty. It was great to be in such a tranquil place.
“He’s gone!!!” the client shouted to me as the mutt’s ECG reading flat lined.
The heart beat was gone. The ECG indicated a systole – cardiac arrest.
I injected epinephrine with the hope of reviving its failing heart and administered chest compressions.
The client filled the room with her rage and hysteria. It was a scene straight out of an afternoon soap opera. Her loud painful cries resonated the quiet halls of our facility. It’s as if she was losing her mind. Her heartache was reverberating throughout the whole building. It was just too much to bear.

It was a steep uphill climb when my sweat started to pour and my heart started to beat tremendously fast. My quads began to complain. But I was having a great time feeling this suffering. The crickets were humming in unison. I started to walk slowly, rethinking of how terrible and euphoric I was at the same time. I closed my eyes and became more aware of myself and the peace that the experience was bestowing upon me.
The dog started to have a cardiac activity on the ECG. We all felt a wave of relief. He stabilized after several minutes. The rodenticide antidote must be working its magic.
We all sat down and I looked outside. The night deemed to be long and infinite. “So far, so good” I murmured. I turned my attention back to the client. “This is her second life” I told her.
“Thank you so much, Doc. I thought I was going to lose him. For 10 years, he was my source of strength and happiness. I can’t imagine a life without him.”
I smiled to her and checked Poochie. He was breathing normally and his mentation was somewhat improving. Laying on the table was this large, well-loved dog who was someone else’s family member.
“He accidentally ate the rat poison that our maid left open on our kitchen table. I was furious about it. You think he’ll make it?”
“It depends on the amount of poison Poochie’s body has absorbed. I’m afraid he may have had a lot of it.”
“Please do everything you can!” as tears welled again. “I had lost so much pets in the past few years. I don’t want it to happen again.”
“The outcome of this treatment will ultimately depend on Poochie’s fighting will and response to the medications.” I said.
Suddenly, Poochie had a seizure. The ECG was thumping with a series of tachycardias.
I hurriedly administered an anti-convulsive medication.

I drifted on top of CM50’s highest peak. It was dawn. The sunlight glistened on the evergreen fields of grasses. The clouds were hiding by the landscapes below. It was chilly and we barely made it to the cut off time at the turn around. My partner was smiling as we stopped by to sit down and ingest the awe of what we were seeing. We opened our zip lock bag of trail mix. I laid down on the blanket of grass beneath me while I munched on the nuts and dried fruits. We were halfway through the course.

In my mind, Lana del Rey’s Video Game single was playing. “Heaven is a place on earth with you/Tell me all the things you wanna do/I hear that you like all the bad girls/Honey, Is that true?”.
I was humming on the song as Poochie finally collapsed. Heart rate gone, breathing is none. I looked at his owner, indignant.
Poochie is in doggie heaven, running across the fields of glistening grass and eternal sun shine. He was running his own race, on the trails.

*Based on true events
*Written in dedication to the love mutually shared by people, their pets and the trails

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Running the Blues at 52

It’s my first ever time to run a full marathon on my birthday and it was golden (+2 at 4:39). Nature seemed to have connived for a lovely and cool race even if my body acted the other way (way South).
Here are the highlights of last Sunday’s road adventure…

The Run Rio Trilogy full marathon was never in our calendar as we had planned to return to the trails after the Milo Marathon last July 30. But when I found out it was taking place on my actual birth day, I knew we had to run it. Free race kits (from Frontrunner) for a 21K race (Run With Me) 3 weeks before sealed our decision.

Two LSDs (20K & 18.5K) after the 21K and our weekly functional gym routines buoyed our hopes for a stronger performance than Milo (at 4:53). But days before the big day, I was experiencing some pre-race jitters, most especially at the soles of both feet. I might have overdosed the Lacrosse ball rolls or something but fears of a full blown plantar fasciitis along Roxas boulevard kept me on tenterhooks.

5 hours in bed fully awake and waiting to doze off was all the rest and ‘sleep’ I could muster until it was time for our 12 midnight departure to MOA. Along the way, we picked up Keshia and Reylynne, beneficiaries of 2 unused bibs of good friends Bon and Carlene. A few hours before, it had rained quite hard so I was excited but the rain dissipated soon but the cool weather lingered into the morning.

The 42K participants barely numbered a thousand and so as we were released at 2 am, we had the reclamation area (5 kilometers) for ourselves (a complete departure from Milo where for many kilometers, one has to jostle among cavalcades of runners). Initially, Van and I kept a pace of 6:00 mins/km and went up to 5:30 – 5:45, two kilometers after. By the time we entered Roxas boulevard, I had found my rhythm while listening to our footfalls (Van had told me to do away with music and just feel the moment every moment). Along with the clopping my shoes, I timed my breathing (2 breathe ins, 2 breathe outs) and I hardly slowed down. Except to stop at ALL the water stations. And so, it was 57 minutes at KM10.

I had a full download before leaving the house so I was confident I won’t have any stomach issues. But at KM17, something began gurgling and I knew I wanted to get behind those bushes (of the Roxas center island) and do my business ASAP. Fortunately, the gleaming yellow Shell station beckoned on the other side. So off I clambered over the center island, crossed the busy boulevard and lightened my load. It was swift, clean and complete in 5 minutes. Time to go back to battle.

I chanced upon Van who had overtaken me later. He was already on the other lane on his way to Buendia. And so I kept chasing him in the dark until I caught up with him after the railways. I was already struggling at this time but bursts of continuous jogs kept coming so I knew I was moving within the target pace (6 mins/km) up to the first half (2:03 at KM21). The last time I saw Van was on my return trip to Buendia while he was going to BGC for the turn around. I thought he was doing fine.


Along Buendia, I let music push me while the darkness made the route looked less daunting. Math also served as a positive distraction from fatigue after hours of stomping (e.g. at KM 25, I have 17.20 kms to go and if I keep up with my 6min/km pace, I could finish at 4:12, at 6:30min/km, it would be at 4:33). I was waiting for cramping to set in at this point (as in most of my full marathons) but it NEVER happened. Perhaps, the sports massage 3 days before helped. Also, my energy gels (at 0:00, 1:30, 2;30, 3:30) and Saltsticks (1:00, 2:00, 3:00) might have done wonders. Whatever it was, I was latching on this rare experience (for a long time) and enjoying every second as I kept knocking the kilometers away.

The final 1.5 led to the end of Seaside boulevard then makes a U-turn going to the finish line. It was a slow march of beaten and weary runners of all 4 distances. But I kept telling myself – ‘it’s the final struggle and in just a matter of minutes, this ordeal will be over and done with.’ So in between walks, I sneaked in a few meters of slow trot.
The finish line seemed light years away but in the final 50 meters, I managed to continuously keep moving fast, strutting and smiling among the bevy of official photographers before crossing the finish.


And it’s all as I’ve imagined and planned it to be, weeks before – crossing strong, smiling and thankful with a shock of blue on my head to cap my 52nd name day. The only missing was my partner Van who had disappeared in the darkness of Buendia. Reylynne, who crossed minutes later, told me Van was complaining of cramping and gagging when she last met him. I was imagining him getting picked up by the emergency team and never finishing the race. Fortunately, a little over 5 hours, he showed up at the other side of Seaside boulevard, walking but steadily moving. Many minutes later, he finally crossed the finish line, albeit slow and a bit shaken.


And so ends another 42K journey (my 25th by the way) – this one featuring a bit of cool confidence, a new found running rhythm, some GIT issues (had numerous moments of gagging and acidity) and reaping the benefits of functional and strength training. Cheers!

Thank you RunRio, Bicolano Runner for the great pictures!

P.S. And to celebrate my 52nd birthday, we hied off after to Wildflour in Makati along with some of my chummiest running friends. That’s Van, Alfred, Keshia and Reylynne!



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Our Milo Marathon 2017

Milo Marathon has been an annual pilgrimage for Van and I so even with more than a week of disruption in our training sessions (a bad flu reminiscent of my dengue bout in 2012 when I missed Milo) and minimal mileage (our longest was more than a month ago at 15 kms.), we plunged into the unknown. It helped that we had no expectations so the pressure to maintain a certain pace and target times was inexistent. We were there to just have fun and hopefully register a decent finish time. And what a race.20543592_10214429193861778_4714494226004404793_o
With a storm brewing, we were treated to a windy and cool race along Roxas Boulevard, Buendia Avenue and around Fort Bonifacio with minimal rain (bummer). It was initially a strong start for us (finishing at 59 minutes at 10 kms) then dwindling little by little (21 kms at 2:10). Still, our spirits were on a high. Perhaps, my intermittent intake of energy gel and Saltsticks helped keep the cramping at bay.
Before entering the Bonifacio area, the cramping intensified and I had to resort to walking breaks. But it was nothing full blown to totally slow me down. From KM22 onwards, there was minimal or no episodes of cramping. It was fatigue which took over and wore me down. Many a time, I told Van to go ahead so I can keep my own pace but every few hundred meters, he was there to egg me on. So I had to keep chasing his lime green presence from afar.

On our return trip along Buendia avenue, I surprised myself by jogging longer and walking more briefly. I kept telling myself that I have no stomach issues, the weather was perfect, I have little cramping and I was running for a dentist friend who’s recovering from a neoplasm excision. Plus I have the most patient pacer in the world who knew how to push my buttons. So along with music and a lot of positive energy, I was moving and grooving towards the reclamation area.
The final 4 kilometers of the Milo Marathon had always been a hellish ordeal for me punctuated by fatigue, cramps and long walks. In this edition, it was a bit of cramping and fatigue which thankfully were overpowered by a lot of good vibes and a comfortable weather. It has been some time since I’ve crossed the final 200 meters smiling and soaking in the boisterous cheers from the waiting crowd. And here I was with hardly a trace of grimace or pain (though it had to do more with the photographers strewn along than my actual physical condition), strutting and preening along the last few meters as cameras clicked and people roared.

And just like that, it was over, 4hours and 52minutes later. It’s my 7th Milo Marathon and my 24th full marathon since 2010. It’s been a long journey with hopefully, no end in sight. Congratulations to all 32,000 participants!

Thanks to Rickpet  Lens Photography, Run Lipa, Active Pinas, Running Photographers, Bicolano Runner and Photograffy for the great pictures! Cheers!

The Transylvania 50K: What (Frozen) Dreams are Made of

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Wet. Shivering. Frozen dreams. Four words to sum up our Transylvania 50K experience which ended after 8 hours at KM27. We managed to hurdle the most difficult portions – the first 5 kms of steady ascent followed by 4 kms of steeper rise, the hilly climbs among collosal boulders leading into a mile of a 70-degree ice wall. But then the mountain gods seemed to have other things in mind.

Van and I arrived at the Romanian capital of Bucharest 3 days before the race and travelled a good 3 hours to Bran via bus. Along the way, we met an Israeli named Ari who was doing the 100K edition and other crazy ultras thereafter. The third week of May in the northern hemisphere is the week before summer starts officially but in these parts, the weather can easily shift from sunny to cloudy and cold and that’s what we experienced many times as we roamed around the inviting towns of Bran and the neighboring Brasov & Rasnov.  We packed in some good mileage of walking, climbing (going up the hilly Citadel) and exploring (spelunking in the caves of Valea Cetatii) just to shake off the nerves. The day before the race, we got our race kits after presenting the long and specific requirements for the race. Both of us were on tenterhooks on what lied ahead of the alpine mountain range, mostly on the steep climb in the early part of the race and the erratic weather.

A good 300 or so participants for the 50K edition showed up near the grounds of the Transylvania castle (the 100K runners were released an hour earlier) before the 7 am start. The weather was sunny and cool and the atmosphere was jovial. Our backpacks, though bursting with the required provisions, were surprisingly bearable. And we were off.

A mild ascent to the town’s pastoral farmlands had us moving constantly. Soon the climbs steepened towards the lurking evergreen forest in front of us. The paths would widen and shrink as we gained more elevation. This was what we had come to expect so our moods were upbeat, what with all the verdant and primitive landscape at every turn. A steep climb towards a giant obelisk of a rock had us hiking but more awe-inspiring views of snow-lined peaks welcomed us near the first peak. After a few hours of continuous climb, the ground flattened a bit so we knew we had survived the testy first 9 kilometers. A few more struggles and we found ourselves flying down towards the first aid station (Km. 12, Checkpoint Malaesti) after a little over 3 hours. Amidst a fairy tale-like setting surrounded by behemoth peaks, the station was bursting with varied food offerings but we concentrated on pickles, pretzels, gummy bears plus a few energy gels.

We traipsed among pastoral meadows as early signs of snow appeared. It’s one of the highs we had during race – being able to jog while marveling at the verdant land bordered by colossal rock formations. Then the elevation of the uphill began to intensify. And it was no longer fun. Suddenly, a white hill appeared in the horizon and we saw the long line of climbers conquering it. At this time, we had latched on a new found friend George, who’s a young Romanian doctor working in London. Or maybe he realized we needed his dire help for the struggles ahead and he never abandoned us, especially during the continuous steep climb along the icy stairs of the Chimney (KM16). I never looked down during that ordeal and tried to keep my pace regular and moving while Van had the scare of his life after nearly slipping a few times while looking down at the yawning valley below (for a fleeting second, his brain whispered, ‘And so this is the end’).

Finally, we reached the top but the minor climbs at the peak never let up. Many a time, the visibility was almost zero and the wind velocity was quite strong as we had our hypothermic struggles (at 3 degrees Celcius) searching those darn ribbons. Thankfully, George was there to lead us along the summit. At this time, we had put on our final armour (gloves, buff masks) against the harsh surrounding but the cold and the wind were piercing and a bit unbearable. A few more climbs and we entered a weather station where hot drinks and food were sold. It was a relief for us tropical denizens whose coldest experience in trail running was high up in the mountains of Kalinga at night.

Venturing outside, under poor visibility and a worsening weather condition, the going became tension-filled while the clock kept ticking away. Along with the rain, pellets of hale pummeled our jackets and we could no longer feel our hands and faces A lot of waiting and backtracking coupled with the strong rain and winds just heightened the uncertainty. Finally, on our way down, a series of towers greeted and guided us, as haunting views of hills and mountains appeared and disappeared with the ever moving clouds and fog. When the elements cleared up, the views were amazing, sending positive vibes and getting us moving. George waited for us a number of times as we negotiated along shrubs and bush areas and the more challenging steep trails around boulders and narrow waterways.

Traces of the meadowlands appear from afar but it would take us over 30 minutes to finally reach Aid Station Pestera  (KM 26). It felt like entering an oasis of food, comfort and warmth. As I was munching on the yummy snacks soaking wet, I started shaking furiously as the metabolism slowed down and the inevitable cold set in. The support team got into business, as I stripped off my wet garments and got my feet immersed in a warm water bath. In that state, any thoughts of going outside and finishing the race simply evaporated.

And so culminates our edited journey with me shaken, stirred and shivering (and the salvage team trying to thaw me back to normalcy).

And yet looking back – I feel that we could have finished the last 23, mostly descents, within the last 6.5 hours or it might have been too foolish. Aaaah, the regrets and tribulations of another DNF (did not finish)! Don’t worry I’ve moved on and the lessons I’ve gathered from this adventure I will take with me to the next. For in the face of cold harsh conditions, we also witnessed and experienced some of nature’s most awe-inspiring sceneries and creations. Some of which I may never do again like walking and climbing along hardened ice (slippery but manageable with a pair of poles), being assaulted by the raw beauty of the steep Carpathian mountain ranges outlined by melting snow and sharp ridges and surviving my first alpine encounter.

I have to thank some kind hearted souls who heeded our last minute requirements for this race (all in taped seams and seamless zippers) – Cheryl Bihag for the pink TNF jacket, waterproof pants and ice claws, Atty Jon for the TNF jacket (sent via LBC hours before my departure), Keshia Fule for the Gopro wrist holder and my patient Rossana who lent her Gopro camera. Thanks to Majo, Aldean, BoyP and Jael for the invaluable tips, fellow trail runners and Team Marupok for all the training runs. Cheers!


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Our Old Spanish Trail 54 Kilometer Journey

The last time I was in Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya was two years ago when we finished our Four Lakes 100K trail race. It was not the best our races since Van was still not used to such distance and time but we managed at a little over 27 hours.

It was only a matter of time when we finally made our come back since we’ve been concentrating on the trails of late. This was perhaps, one of my most enjoyable trail races I’ve experienced to date but it had also its low moments though the highs were more frequent and longer. Now let’s go back to the starting line at April 1, 2017, 3 am. It was a good 104 runners taking on the OST 50 race and we were properly garbed with our long black compression pants and base layers plus our trekking poles and we look like divers of some deep sea treasure. We arrived (along with my cousin Jessica) a day before and were able to invest on some good sleep so the spirits were high as we met up with old friends, Alfred, Simon, Doodsie and Carlo. And we were off on our rollercoaster journey of highs and lows. Here’s a run down…

High on KM 2: The eagerness, cool windy weather, the dark trails, the happy company of runners (even if jostling to overtake each other) were just too infectious as we kept moving like there’s no tomorrow before the sun could come out. It was a trying climb but to see others struggle with you takes the weight out of it. Soon, we were beginning to go down as we kept pounding the ideally packed solid earth. My Peregrines (I bought 3 weeks ago) were adjusting a bit but once tightened at KM 9, we were soaring like the peregrine falcons.
High on KM 15: Taking on the the new Ansipsip route which dips tremendously towards a brook and the rice fields then suddenly pulling us up on a continuous ascent towards Mt. Ugo. There was hardly a perception of distance and depth as the whole place was relatively cloaked in darkness with flanks of headlamps moving around the trails like fleeting fireflies. I thought I had landed on Rivendell.
Low on KM 21: The ascent to the peak of Ugo is perhaps just a kilometre but with an elevation gain of 350 meters, it was an ordeal to keep a constant pace on its rocky, rooty route. Our trusty trekking poles served us well as we employed our shoulders to pull our bodies up, one step at a time.


High on KM 22: But once we have reached the peak and taken in the awesome scenery, we knew it was time to fly. At first, the steep and irregular descent was a bit difficult to navigate but once it eased out, we were free falling and enjoying every moment of it. The route would take us on hairline trails under the cover of giant pines and sweeping vistas. It reminded me of how gorgeous the mountains and landscape of Nueva Vizcaya were so I always keep coming back. Suddenly. Disaster…17499536_1890147474557131_7505941367932533283_n (1)
Low on KM 25: Slipping on a single track downhill path and getting splayed at the edge of the ravine. Stayed for a few moments until the runner behind assisted me to get off my ass and start moving again. It was a sweet reminder of how a single misstep could easily lead to big blow or injury. The going got a tad slower after but I hardly made any stops. It was an endless undulating descent around mountain edges.
Low on KM 30: The endless descent going to Kayapa East Market as we tried to beat the clock for the 8-hour cut-off time while battling fatigue and keeping up with my younger and faster partner. The knees were taking all the brunt that variations in my cadence and footfalls had to be done.
High on KM 35: We reached AS4 in less than 7 hours so we took all the rest, liquid and food (the Halo-halo was still a winner!) we could get as we prepared to the next battle ahead. And there it was. Looming in front of us was the Wall, as high and as steep at the one in Winterfell.
Low on KM 36: Going up Amelong Labeng in the early part as I tried to fathom and calculate the extent of our continuous climb with the sweltering heat zapping me at every step. Many seasoned runners were dropping like flies but Van was never pausing except to hydrate and wait for that cute old guy from below. It’s not even fast but a constant plodding and moving along the zigzagging trail. So what was his secret weapon?

High on KM 37: After I caught up with him, he told me to incorporate breathing with movements of the trekking poles. Breath in upon planting the pole then breath out upon retrieval. It was hard at first but once I got the hang of it, I was moving more regularly and was slowing down less. It worked wonders and soon we were on our way towards the two towers.
Low on KM 41: The communication towers seem light years away and with a kilometre of continuous uphills, my energy and enthusiasm was beginning to dry up. I was moving at a glacial pace and taking breaks in between. Before I was about to call it quits, an oasis in the desert materialized – the Marupok contingent with multitudes of spicy tuna sandwich and cold drinks was the jolt I needed at that moment. (Maraming Salamat, Team Marupok!) With less than 15 kilometers to go, it was time to mine our remaining power.


High on KM 43: Once the downhills started, I knew we were on a roll. We kept moving while taking advantage of the gravitational pull. The grassy soil would lead to double concrete trail strips but we just kept going and overtaking certain runners. Whenever I was getting bored and tired, Van would play our little game – 3 concrete borders of walking and 3 borders of jogging. It burned the kilometres and kept us distracted from the rising temperature.
Low on KM 51: After an eternity (average pace of 12min/km means 5 kilometers per hour), we finally reached the main highway with a kilometre to reach the last aid station. It was a hot and draining walk but once there, a cup of piping soup (served by my cousin Jessica who also acted as medic at Castillo station) and some solid food and we were off and running.

Australian runner James Kalleske caught up with us and we let him go ahead but it was a downhill road so we kept chasing him on the last 3 kilometers. We finished #31 and #32 with a time of 10:54:49 (out of 83 finishers). Now that’s one high we won’t forget too soon.

Thank you Frontrunner Magazine (RD Jonel and Ms. Con Mendoza) for a punishing, surprising, memorable, well-organized and professionally-manned trail race. Thank you to all the volunteers who gave us power and confidence during our low moments during the race. Congratulations to all participants! Kayapa holds a special place in my heart with all the highs and lows I’ve experienced on its wondrous trails since 2012. See you all in the trails soon! Cheers!

Awesome photography courtesy of Team Marupok, Jaja Ferrer, Laiza C. Manuel, Active Pinas & Jessica Gonzaga.  Cheers!OST elevation50k

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The Maragondon Five Peaks Trail Marathon

It’s our first time to do a trail race in Cavite which we never imagined would have hills, even mountains. And what we thought would be a short journey from Marikina took us over 3 hours. Well so much for assumptions.

The trail scene has changed quite significantly for the last few years that faces were no longer familiar. Fortunately, Van and I took in Jonel Mendoza and Lito Lopez on our way to Maragondon and was welcomed by RD Benedict Menesis, the same guy who guided us on the crucial.paths of the first edition of the Hardcore100 (2013) until he disappeared in the dark and we were left on our own devices.

Now back to 2017. It was a sparsely occupied gym of the public school where runners from all over the Metro have congregated, mostly unfamiliar yet pleasingly warm faces. Around 114 runners have signed up for the 42K edition and by 3 am we were released.

It was a good 2 kilometers of rolling road with a swinging bridge around the town before exiting finally on dirt trails. A few kilometers into the race, we made a sudden turn going down an endless path strewn with sharp rocks and pebbles. It was only then that I realized my headlamp was emitting a weak light. Add to the recipe my returning newbie skills with my new trekking pole and trail shoes I just bought 5 days ago and it was a disaster waiting to happen. And so it was one slippery turn after another. No major falls really but the struggle was real especially at the turn around tracing the same way going up.  Many runners were awaiting for daylight to reveal so they can navigate more consistently and lessen their slips.

Before the brightness would take over, I had a nasty fall where I sprained my right pinkie with my trekking pole and it still hurts as I write this. The unexpected muscular strain resulted to cramping which was easily eased by the kind souls around me. More ordeals were in the offing. Some mild coughing had emanated coupled with activated gag reflexes as I felt my throat dry up. A few kilometers later, I felt acidity in my tummy and was near to vomiting all the solids I’ve consumed during the trip to Cavite. Memories of TNF 100 in 2013 came rushing in and I wanted to just quit. Then I felt my stomach croaking that I had to find me a dark corner and unload the extra food I’ve devoured for the last few hours.

Ten minutes later (KM 18), I was back to life – no more vomiting nor acidity nor fatigue, as if I had resurrected from the dead.

And just I like that it was time to rock and roll. Amidst cool breezy weather, the sun slowly revealed some of nature’s lovely rock formations, ragged cliff structures and thick verdant forest grounds. It was an easy rolling terrain entering minor hills, rivers and expansive fenced ranch areas. We saw one quarry site but in general, it’s obvious the local government is protecting them from illicit occupants and kaingeros. Soon, we were going up – nothing really challenging but it slowed the pace in general. But we weren’t complaining as the territory was covered with medium sized trees and the sceneries at every turn were picturesque.17361927_667789986746760_5726279839157362711_n

As the angulation became sharper, we knew were nearing the peak (Mt. Bolboc) and the turn around. Many runners have deposited themselves in the peak area as they replenished their liquid and food supplies. We hardly stayed and began our downhill journey. Now was the perfect time to test our Saucony peregrines for some semi-technical descents and topography changes. And they didn’t disappoint. They were clawing and sticking on steep curves and slippery soil. And off we flew.

An hour or so later, the land flattened and we took on the road leading to the Bonifacio Monument, where Andres and his brothers were assassinated upon orders of Aguinaldo. A very technical climb on a hill gave us our third and last band. And then we were on the road back to the finish. No more challenges lay ahead so we gave our all in the final 5 kilometers, halting every now and then, then zooming on. We were able to go past some runners as the familiar town road soon took us to where we had began. We reached the finish at 7:28 ranking #s 52 and 53. Congratulations to Conquer led by Benedict Menesis for a satisfying and memorable race! Cheers!


Special thanks to the photographers who recorded our struggles and triumph – Shawn Michaels, John Eruel Oquino and SPDS group.

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2016: The last quarter report (more touring than running)

Our last article suddenly jumped to 2017 for the Rizal Mountain Run but let’s look back at my last quarter for 2016. We take off from my last Milo Marathon in 2016. We will cover August 1 to December 31. And as I look back, it seems I did more sightseeing than actual running though a lot of walking through picturesque places didn’t slow down my adrenaline.

By August, I went back to my regular road training either in UP or around Rancho Estate coupled with some strengthening P90X workouts.  On August 20, Van and I did the Trail Valley Challenge 50K (though my Garmin read 48.68 kilometers) at the ever progressing Nuvali area in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.  It’s our annual pilgrimage (thank you Frontrunner magazine) which never ceases to surprise since the route keeps changing as the villages keep expanding and the trails are relegated to the fringe territories.  This time, the rains kept the rolling route a bit challenging but we kept trudging.  And actually, we enjoyed the drizzle since the place can get very humid, with minimal trees as in the past editions.  On our return trip, the rain drops have swollen to a full shower and we were like kids playing and running to a wet satisfying finish (while bypassing some runners in the process).  8 hours and 16 minutes later, we were welcomed by Frontrunner editor/RD Jonel and Ms. Connie.


14080020_10154419730824687_1850768716489560557_n13051496_10154085052694687_1956452807072853161_nThe last 2 weeks of August had me heading to my friend Bon Aga’s functional gym to pack in some muscles (to fit in a suit), as opposed to the usual intense cardio workouts.  The reason – I belatedly got the news that our movie, “Ang Babaeng Humayo” (The Woman Who Left) was accepted for the Main Competition at the Venice Film Festival.  I think I forgot to tell you that last May, I was invited by a long time patient, Director Lav Diaz to join his crew in Mindoro for a week while they were shooting their little film starring Ms. Charo Santos-Concio and John Lloyd Cruz.  Weeks before that, I was shuttling to ABS-CBN to create dentures to uglify the main characters (including Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino).  So it was a whirlwind affair with the Lav Team as they created before my eyes part of a film which would eventually become one of the best in world cinema for 2016.



img_20160513_122549It was a hectic 12 days in Venice where I explored and enjoyed the main island for 5 days (including a day trip to Florence).  After that, I joined the group at Lido island where the Venice Filmfest was happening, as we binge-watched on the finest new films from all over while going gaga over the stars (chanced upon Christ Pratt and Tom Ford in an elevator and got up close with Natalie Portman).  It was a relaxed time for our group to meet up with fellow cineastes and bond more.  The highlight for me was sashaying in my royal blue suit along with the cast of ‘Humayo’ on the red carpet and getting featured on ANC.  A day later, on Awards Night, our film (yes, I did have a small speaking part here) would take home the highest honor for Venice, the Golden Lion Award.  And that’s my brief foray into showbiz .


14264849_10210959333997450_668110860608137206_nLater in September, our beloved UA Milo Apex school reopened so we found ourselves at the Quezon City Memorial Circle on Tuesdays and Thursdays doing runs, workouts and a lot of heart-thumping, intense hard work that after an hour we were sweating like dogs and searching for our favorite restaurants.



On October 2, a day after I turned 51, we took on the Clark-Miyamit trail marathon.  We were familiar with it’s steep ascents at the beginning so we just kept scaling the unending heights in a trail laden with soft, slippery mud and sharp stones.  The going wasn’t easy but we managed until I made a wrong turn from the main route.  A good 30 minutes later, we were back on the designated trail but we had a cutoff to chase at the Miyamit Falls which we were reminded at the turn around at the peak.  So under the pelting rain, we rushed down towards the falls area until we were informed in mid portion that we no longer have the time.  And so we were officially declared DNFers (did not finish).  Though, 35 kilometers of trail mileage on a Sunday morning ain’t bad training at all.  Still, it was a wakeup call on our poor trail skill levels.


By the middle of October, we finally visited a place not because we had a scheduled official race or a filmfest but to relax and unwind.  And Japan, with its disciplined citizenry, serene places and quaint streets, looked promising. Still, Van mapped out an itinerary that required a lot of walking and hiking around mountainous trails and hidden temples atop glorious views. A 5-kilometer bus ride, why not just walk it out and enjoy the quiet views and simple pleasures of wandering around (while scrimping on our yen fund).  A 2-kilometer tram climb – let’s just take the stairs and take in the views less fleetingly and more musingly. Maybe, it’s his way to make up for the runs and workouts we missed for a week and balance out our gustatory conquests everywhere we went.  From our AirBnB base in Osaka, we were still able to visit the sights in Kyoto, Kobe and Himeji.  But the most pleasant surprise of them all was, with a little research and proper planning, Japan turned out to be cheap but still satisfying.  Now let me just troll the net for some dirt cheap tickets to Tokyo.

Our UA Milo Apex running school covered the months of October and November 2016 but we never tested our running mettle until the NB 25K Powerun on November 6.  We joined the race around BGC detouring to Buendia with little expectations.  But when we realized how constant and comfortable we were running, it was time to up the ante and finish the run at a decent 2:28 (less than a 6 km pace).  I guess, all our Apex training had paid off pretty well.  Btw, our 10K was reached at :54 minutes while our 20K at 1:57.  Not bad at all.


Since the Milo Finals was just a week after the Clark-Miyamit 50 miles, I had to bail out of CM but I was still able to join the recon run the week before.  On November 20, I joined buddies Keshia and Alfred for a 22-kilometer jaunt across grassy trails and lahar lands with some climbs along the way.  It was my way of keeping my trail skills in check in preparation for the many upcoming trail races and trainings in early 2017.  Yes, trails would be taking up a big chunk of our 2017.


We capped off the year with the Milo Marathon Finals in Iloilo, my mom’s home province and favorite hunting ground ever since I can remember.  We hopped on a plane the day before the race to claim our race bibs and met up with cousins who treated us to a memorable and sumptuous carboloading lunch.  On December 4, at 3 am, we joined fellow Milo Finals qualifiers (remember my 1:57 qualifier at the Milo Dagupan?) at the Iloilo Convention Center to start our 42K adventure.  The weather was cool perfect along 8-lane to 4-lane highways with nary a trace of jeepneys, tricycles, buses to contend with (so un-EDSA like).  It was our first time to run along Iloilo’s newly constructed roads and developments and we just kept going for it.  Water stations abounded and the sweet Ilonggo hospitality was overflowing.  Here’s my run splits:  10K at 59:34, 20K at 2:02, 30K at 3:12.  So it’s not really a fast race for me (Van and I separated in the 30Ks) but there were no cramping episodes so it’s a good day indeed.


Most memorable was the Milo Qualifier ribbon they gave us 10 meters into the finish line.  We proudly raised it while crossing the finish as cameras clicked.  Sadly, I still have to find those pictures.  I finished at 4:41:50 while Van did it at exactly 5 hours.  We celebrated the day’s accomplishments with a buffet breakfast at Injap hotel where we were billeted before being whisked away to Igbaras, Iloilo to stay and meet up with relatives.  Igbaras had a lot of natural sights to offer so besides bingeing and feasting on the endless eating marathon among relatives, we were able to visit Igcabugao caves.  It was a challenge to go up and down its treacherous trail a day after the race but we managed.  And we were rewarded with dark mysterious cavern halls, gargantuan boulders rising to the sky, gushing rivers and waterfalls.  It’s great to be finally home.  My bond with Igbaras with never waver ‘til I kick the bucket.

2016 had been full of surprises and unexpected adventures.  I look forward to what 2017 has in store…


Thank you to Butch Maceda, Daphne Codilla & Paksit for the great pictures.  Cheers!


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Losing my voice and my heart on the RMR trails

Aaaah…the Rizal Mountain Run 2017 – I missed last year’s first edition as I was going to do Tarawera then. Since I heard no ‘punishing’ or ‘killer’ feedbacks, maybe it would be a nice return (from last September’s dnf at the CM42) after a series of road races. But it comes from the notorious Baboy Ramo group so I was expecting nothing less. I also didn’t notice that this year’s cutoff time was stretched to 14 hours from 12. I barely read on the details of the race as I don’t want to pressure or stress myself. I guess I wanted to shock my system and see how I would react, whether positively or otherwise.12540810_1661740604108425_3306404452932455341_nFor a month, Van and I trained 3x a week at Al’s Functional gym which included short runs, workouts utilizing tires, ropes, kettle bells, free weights, etc. On weekends, we did semi-trail LSDs at 15K and building up to 25K the week before the race. On the final week, we felt trail-ready and this race would be the litmus test of all this hectic training program. I was planning to leave the clinic early last Saturday but the sudden surge in patient influx (it was a payday weekend) had me tinkering up to past 7 pm. A free and open clinic schedule allows me to rest and even doze off in between patients, especially when muscle fatigue from the previous workout was still pronounced. The night before, I was already feeling a mild case of generalized body malaise and difficulty in swallowing but my sister-physician saw nothing to be alarmed about so she just adviced me to hydrate a lot. I ‘forgot’ to inform her that I will be doing a 50K trail run on Sunday.
So there we were at Base Kamp in the hinterlands of Pintong Bukawe, San Mateo. I barely slept for an hour (the Antipolo neighbors were having their videoke party) and my voice was starting to get hoarse but was sprightly and my usual self while Van was his expected sleepy quiet self as we met up with friends Keshia and Alf who were doing the 30K edition.
By 3 am, a little over 50 runners dashed out of the Starting Line as they began their 50 kilometer adventure. Van and I were part of this contingent armed with night lamps as we navigated swiftly through our first downhill. It wasn’t the most ideal trail to speed down but with a little adjustment on its irregular rock strewn path, we were already flying with the help of our newly christened trekking poles. It was a sharp 2.5-kilometer drop until it flattened a bit only to rise continuously. The climb was endless but still on fresh leg, it was faster with hardly any pause. The darkness helped a lot for one has no idea that the peak ahead was still 4 kilometers away. One just needs to concentrate on the rocky path within a meter in front.

After Aid Station 1 (Km. 9, Bgy. Calawis), we were still on a high as we went down effortlessly across a wide road (partly in concrete) for 2.5 kilometers until it started to ease out while passing through rivers and valleys. There were a few mild ascents but we knew it would be a matter of time when the hills would begin to rise sharply again. At Km. 17, we crossed a wide river to reach Aid Station 2 where we hydrated and filled up in preparation for the big climb ahead. The sun was already up 7 am when we did the climb. The cool weather hardly changed and the cool breeze kept us moving. It was a 3-kilometer ascent which reaches the peak of Mt. Malimod until it starts to drop again. Soon we were climbing a minor peak. The rise wasn’t that intense but the downhill was steep enough to force us to just walk and find our proper footing on the rocky steps. Of course, I would slip again but gravity has a way of keeping my lazy ass moving.  11 kilometers later, we finally caught sight of Aid Station 3 (Km. 28, Bgy. Puray) as we rested and

Throughout the race, mathematics would keep my mind preoccupied with numbers. Early on, when our pace averaged 10 minutes per kilometers, I was thinking, we might finish in 10 hours or less. Until the pace kept slowing down but in my mind, a 13-15 min/km pace would still burn 4 kilometers in an hour. At 5 hours and 44 minutes, we reached the halfway point so it was possible to finish the race at 12 hours. But there were surprises that await us in the final 25 kilometers.
We began our assault enroute Mt. Ayaas, the new peak that was included for this year’s edition. And then this is where my agony began. The profile was sharp that I was grappling on any available rock, trunk or root. I did a lot of stops and decelerated along the way as Van kept moving in front to pull me up, psychologically. I was challenged, of course but the body was not willing. Halfway to the peak, I chanced on Dennis Uy who was also taking his long breaks and soon, I was seeing the neon shorts of Tin Salazar above. So I guess I wasn’t alone in this battle.


Finally, we reached Mt. Ayaas and hurriedly scuttled down the steeper downhill. It was a struggle, really as I feel I’ve drained my energy level from that wicked climb (250 m). Plus my coordination was no longer reliable as fatigue and mild cramping took over. It’s supposed to be a brief 4-kilometer descent only but I feel I’m no longer in control of my functions. 2 kilometers into Aid Station 4, I was a walking zombie as sleepiness finally caught up. Van, the ever patient pacer, had to make regular stops while awaiting for the octopus to climb out of the aquarium. This was perhaps my lowest hour as thoughts of DNF and sleeping forever on the boulder kept entering my woozy head. We were hearing the sounds of the videokes but civilization was light years away.

Finally, Km. 34 (which actually read 36 kilometers in my Garmin) and I knew I will survive this little devil. Friends Bryan Tan Seng, Juvy Pagtalunan and CJ Paran attended to us like arriving gladiators from a 100-year war and I devoured every available food, liquid and provision. I took a 10-minute nap but Van who was supposed to wake me up also dozed off. So 30 minutes later (12:45 pm), we had to leave our little oasis and take on the desert, our final 16 kilometers.

For some perspective, it would help to know that I have finished 100-km trail runs without sleeping. Sleepiness or boredom were never an issue for me so it was felt weird to be get sleepy for a 50-km race. But the decision to sleep perked up my sluggish body and once on the trails we were moving more regularly. We started slow for the mild ascents but when the numerous downhills came, we were free falling (well, almost). It was a relief to feel alive and back in my trail mode. At Km. 45 (AS 5, Casile), we soon caught up with around 6 runners, including veterans Jonel and Dennis who had quietly slipped out of AS 4 while we were in slumber land.
The pact was to finish as one contingent but Van was already itching to take off his shoes. They have tears in front and small rocks have accumulated inside. And so we tried to move faster than usual. We knew we won’t be the last finishers but we also want to push ourselves and learn to bounce back after that near-dnf episode. Finally, the uphills flattened out and it was a rolling rollicking jaunt to the finish line.
We crossed the finish line at 13:03. Our elevation gain was 2,724 meters while elevation loss was 2,754 meters. It was one energy-zapping, mind-wracking, but mind blowing day and we survived it. By the time I got home, though, I have a full blown laryngitis and have lost my voice, thus the title.


Special thanks to people who captured us during the race’s highs and lows:  Brian Tan Seng, Goldy dela Cruz and the Running Photographers.

A million thanks to the Baboy Ramo Group for one hell of a race, perhaps the most difficult 50K trail run in the country.  I was wary of getting lost but throughout the race, whether in the dark or daylight, your ribbons and markers were everywhere, especially those crucial turns.  The route (c/o the Master Gene) was testy and punishing but gives a reprieve and break just when I was about to zap out (I’ll have another downhill, pls.).  The Aid Stations were brimming with food, liquids and kindness/attention/good will from the volunteers.  With a timing chip (c/o Raceyaya), properly marked distances (my Garmin read 50.1 kms.) & well documented race data (e.g. elevation profile, race results, etc.), constant updates in social media with great pictures and videos, professionally manned booths and aid stations, this feels like a real international trail race.  Kudos to Aldean, Jael, Ronald, Gene and Majo!  I see this race having more editions in the years to come.