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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!

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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 replenished.blog-pic-2

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.


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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.

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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.


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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.