I run…therefore I am


The Crater Run, part I

Song of the Moment:  Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes

the destination...

Two weeks before the 50km Pinatubo Trail, I bought what I thought would be proper trail shoes but a week of abuse convinced me that these were not the shoes that would be bring me to the crater and back.  Instead, I brought 3 shoes that have been with me at runs on end.  And rightly so, because this ‘trail run’ really tested my limits to the edge.

my armory for the battle ahead...

Saturday, October 9.  We were up and about at the assembly point, Capas, Tarlac, at 4 am after meeting up in Manila with Team Boring 4 hours before.  I left the clinic by 4 pm that afternoon in the hope of getting some zzzzz’s which never came (but opkors!).  I brought along an old kumpare, Ian who was searching for some redemption after failing his 1st PAU 50km and the Milo marathon.  In the dark, we silently changed to our running outfits replete with the ubiquitous camel back filled with enough water and other necessities which hopefully will replenish us until the next pit stop.

the few, the brave and the insane...

62 runners burst off the finish line at exactly 5 am as soon as race organizer Sir Jovie Narcise (a.k.a. Baldrunner) signaled the beginning of our 50 km adventure.

tan taran tan, tatanan (cue in 'Indiana Jones' movie theme)

Less than a kilometer into the race, we were trudging on soft, moving lahar trails.  It took some time to get use to the unevenness, shiftiness and small obstacles along the dark path, but soon enough, we were gaining speed and momentum.  In less than an hour, we encountered our first major obstacle – one of the many shallow rivers which would get our feet wet and dry intermittently during the whole run.

Toto, Ian, Wap...on the road to perdition?

Staying with the main pack (safely in the middle) was what we opted for since there were hardly any directional signs.  A wrong left turn early in the race in near darkness wasted about a kilometer of our run but when we returned to the right path, I was united with Ian and Wap.  As the first rays of the sun appeared out of the horizon, we were treated to rows upon rows of verdant hills, some sinuously shaped by the explosion in 1991.  We also saw the type of terrain we were running on – sparsely cogon-grown flat laharlands – some of which are easier to navigate (compact portions) while most are soft and unstable.

across the desert...

At around 10 kms, we saw the race station and promptly took in some rice cakes and Coke.  Without any definite paths, we just tried aiming for the shortest route going to the mountains where many of the runners were headed.  Along the way, a runner tries to avoid sudden deep river troughs, eroding lahar cliffs and thick cogon walls.  When we got to our service 4×4 vehicle, I changed to my fairly new running shoes (Asics Cumulus Gel) since the Puma trail shoes I used in a mountain trek last summer was inviting a fairly good amount of sand and pebbles (at first, it felt good getting a foot massage in every step until my steps were no longer balanced).  The particles have entered all the way to socks so they also have to go, as well.

when the going gets tough...the tough changes shoes...

At 17 km, we had our last stop (since the vehicles can longer venture beyond) to replenish our supplies for the 8 km trek towards the crater turnaround.  We were only a little over 2 hours so we were aiming for a 3:30 hour 1st half since it’s only 8 kms away, right?  Sometimes, reality and perception don’t meld.  In this case, they’re poles apart.


A few more meters and the endless desolate landscape makes an abrupt left turn to a narrower road (about 400 meters wide) barricaded by eroding lahar hills on both side.  This was where Frodo and Sam traveled on their way to Mt. Doom.  We had to look behind regularly to check if Gollum was following us.  After a few ascending treks, we made another right turn as the path grew narrower every kilometer.  By this time, the rivers were wider and deeper as we kept going up, up, up.  Runners were already separated by kilometers but thankfully, we could still see some in front and behind us.

ain't no mountain high enough...

Ian started slowing down as mild cramps got the better of him.  At this point, we were stumped on which route to take – to go straight or turn left.  We need to follow the main river but both paths had wide and deep rivers going up.  But the 3 people ahead of us opted to go straight which to my mind was the wrong one since the organizer told us to take the left path when in doubt.  I half expected them to hit a high wall or a dead end so I slowed down as it would be shorter for me to make a turn around if we did make the wrong choice.  But they kept going while I kept asking from afar if it’s the right path.  After 2 kilometers, we finally caught up with the first of the returning runners.

the road to Mordor...

We were on the right way after all.  I had to double up my pace, leaving Ian behind and trying to catch up with Wap and the others.  We had to reach the crater by 4hours 30 minutes or we won’t get any trophy (accdg. to BR).  So I had to leap from boulder to boulder and walk across shallow riverways just to catch up and qualify when I suddenly sank on a real quicksand pit.

Song of the Moment:  I’m Going Down by Bruce Sprinsteen

It was a scene straight out of those Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan tv shows.  Even if the mud was just waist deep, I had trouble moving.  I held on to a nearby boulder and shouted ‘saklolo’ (help!) but runners were so far apart from each other that it’s just the bug next to me who reacted and flew away.  Upon moving my right leg, the calves started cramping so I had to straighten the whole leg.  A few more attempts and clumsy moves, I was out of that darn pit – caked with mud all over but surprisingly still spritely.


The Crater Run, part II

Soon enough, I was able to outrun the other runners and caught up with Wap. This time we were following a narrower and deeper creek going to the crater as returning runners vigorously went down the other way while we struggled towards Pinatubo’s lake. The path got steeper as the entrance signaled the start of another 30 mins or so of uphill climbs on constricting winding trails.


Almost paradise...


It was 4 hours and 40 minutes later when we got to the turnaround point but we still have to go all the way down towards the lake – to have our souvenir photo shot (but opkors!).


Oooh heaven is a place on earth...



take my breath away...



perfect for my FB profile pic


The tourquise water of the lake enclosed by mighty green peaks was Shangri-la for the weary and worn runners.


wish you were here!


We were fortunate to partake of the some real food (rice and chicken!) from the family of one of the Ilonggo runners. After washing up and resting a bit (for 2 minutes), we started our way down to the finish line when suddenly Ian emerges from the nowhere – he was skipping barefoot with only a sock on his left foot. He was also a victim of that ‘kumunoy’ trap. In his struggle, his right shoe was buried under the quicksand so barefoot with one sock, he ran towards the crater (there’s a wacky climax with pics to all of this so keep reading).


here lies the remains of Ian Ferrer after he was swallowed by the quicksand of Pinatubo...


The run back was a lot easier since we’re already familiar with what we’ve already negotiated on the way up. We were traveling faster but we were also running on empty. It would take us almost 3 hours to reach our first support vehicle so we used the rivers’ waters to refresh from the stinging heat. Many times we had to go back since the side of the river we chose was unpassable. We can’t just keep walking, we had to use our better judgement – which boulder to bypass, which path to enter, which side of the river to take, etc., all the while, navigating the route towards the visible destination.

Song of the Moment: Running on Empty by Jackson Browne

In many road runs, you just keep moving on the designated road until you reach the finish line. With trail runs, you choose where to step next, avoiding any rock or barricade, which can easily lead to your fall, sprain or trauma. My ‘Don’t do anything stupid!’ mantra intermittently resounded with ‘Dig deep!’ and ‘the end is at hand’. Fortunately, my innate skills in moving seamlessly (Wap, your objections later) among rocks, pebbles and water kicked in. Ok, ok. I’m a bit of a klutz but a fortunate klutz so the First Aid kit stayed dry and intact.

After what felt like eternity (of mountains and hills and sandy trails), we finally glimpsed two 4×4 vehicles. We replenished our dry camelback bladders and took in enough energy drink and rice cake. We were back on the flat endless Jurassic desert but this time, the sun is way up, stinging and burning us. After 8 hours of walking and running, we were abruptly stopped by the Team Baldrunner guys. We were glad to see runners ahead of us resting and waiting. Never realized we traveled that fast.

Song of the Moment: The Long Run by the Eagles

We did not (hellow?!). A Balikatan military exercises were on-going so to avoid being missile target, we had to stay out of the firing range of the soldiers under the acacia trees among the middle-ranked runners. It was a time to rest, clean the shoes of debris and basically rejuvenate from the all the day’s work. It took us over an hour of waiting (I think I was able to doze off a little) before we were finally allowed to run the last 12 kilometers.


baby, we were born to run...


With too much relaxation, the muscles cooled down so getting back into the groove was a real struggle. I tried to run with the group but after a few kilometers I started walking, I was panting and struggling on shifting sand paths. I just wanted to keep moving until I reach that elusive finish line. Then something hit me – I’m nearly 3 kilometers away from finishing so why not turn up the music on my MP3 player. The first strums of Prince’s ‘1999’ would start me flying as I passed by the other runners. The Kinks’ ‘Come Dancing’ would take me across the river run into the finish line with Elton John’s oh-so-apt ‘I’m Still Standing’ blaring and pushing me to a jumping conclusion.

It’s my first full trail run, I’ve survived it – #33 (though this is disputable) among 56 runners. Got my mug trophy from Sir Jovie while I waited for the others to arrive.


the thrill of victory...of finishing a trail race.


Finally, the rest of the runners came in trickles along with a muscular one wearing pink Ipanema slippers! It was Ian – he finally got to borrow Pac’s sexy slippers on the crater area so for the last 25 km, he ran in them (he actually enjoyed wearing them, it brought out his feminine side daw).


"I'm too sexy for my shoes..."


Meanwhile, Doc Topher and company got lost along the way and was chased by a carabao on the way back. It was indeed a day of comedy, drama, action and triumph for everyone who joined. Besides testing our limits, PAU races are always memorable because there’s always something new and unexpected – something I will always remember and look back to in my advanced years and say with a smile, “I was there and I made it.”

P.S. My feet survived the sporadic wet and dry conditions – look, ma, no blisters! My secret – a full Leukoplast tape on the balls of my feet (the anterior part). Salamat, Ambow (Allen Gaspar) for that valuable tip.


Bodies of Evidence

By November 2010, I will be celebrating my second year in running by…..running some more, this time in the hinterland of Wellington, New Zealand where my brother has scheduled me for some races.  I am sure it would be a whole new experience as I discover the hidden wonders of trail running in one of the most preserved corners in the world.

As I look back, these last two years have transformed me to be tougher, stronger and more resilient runner – something a skinny nerd in high school would have only imagined and dreamed of.  But here I am – having not the best body I’ve had (will elaborate on this later) but definitely healthier and going stronger.  You see running and weight lifting have been in a tug-of-war set-up in my mind for these last 24 months.  Of course, both can co-exist along each other but definitely, one will have to give in.  In my case, running reigned and reined me in.

In my high school years, sports was never in the agenda but a requirement I have to hurdle to graduate.  Even with a lanky built, basketball never came in the picture when I found myself panting after running a few times across the court.  In college, I was determined to have one sports before I die (shades of ‘The 3 wishes of Billy Grier”) so I trained for swimming at our local sports center along with other school kids one summer.  After a few months, I was doing laps across the mini-Olympic sized pool but the stamina was never developed.  It was enough for me to know that if ever I found myself in the middle of an ocean, I would be able to swim to the nearest land (if it’s less than 2 km).

After college, I found myself in a neighborhood gym (a converted garage, actually), lifting weights.  It was the start of my gym life as I begun bulking up little by little – quite a feat for someone who has a high metabolism rate.  By 1997, I was able to secure a lifetime membership at Slimmers World in Marcos highway, just 10 minutes away from the old clinic.  It was the perfect set up.  I was introduced to the world of protein shakes, steroids and anabolic drugs.

In 2003, I joined a group which regularly lifted heavy weights in the middle of the day then ate a humongous lunch together.  We were guided by a former trainer aptly named ‘Bato’ (he’s Joel in real life).  It was this time that I was able to do full squats and heavy bench presses, among others.  Within a year, my shirts and pants were tightly filled with muscles I never imagined I would have.  It was probably the best body I’ve had in my entire existence.  Or so I thought.

During that time, we never got involved with any cardiovascular exercise to ‘prevent’ the shrinking of our bursting musculature.  So there we were – hulking, burly dudes strutting and lording it over in the gym but could hardly survive a 10-minute aerobics routine.  We were also partying too much (at least for me), consuming too much alcohol and coming home late. Eventually, the fellowship had to break up as we took different paths along the way.  For me it was the Rotary presidency in 2005.

3x the fun in Rotary...

In 2008, when the running phenomenon entered my system, I found new strength and freedom I’ve never experienced outside the walls of our gym.

23.11.08: my first run!

It also took some toll on my body.  The once proud arms and mighty chests started shrinking as the pounding on the pavement became regular and addictive.  I got a lot of notice from my patients who missed by ‘bulky’ self with the white facial glow.

less bulk, more power

What they saw was a haggard looking, toasted and skinny me.  Was I returning to my old high school body?

Now I was torn.  Should I continue with this running antic or should I preserve my beloved ‘sexy body’?  For a time, I concentrated on maintaining my muscle bulk but once Dave & I got into our regular training groove early this year, it was most inevitable to let go of those muscles and strengthen the body and the heart, especially when my cardiologist started getting me into a daily regimen of blood pressure maintenance drug.

09.05.10: my first foray in the world of ultraruns (DNF I ain't).

Today, I still do the gym routine (2-3 times a week), concentrating on important muscles which matter in running – the core, the legs and the back.  I’m still able to maintain my normal weight of 147-149 lbs, though I wish I could bring it up to 155 so I could fill up those old shirts more.  But hey, life is a web of choices.  You stand by them if you make one so I’m happy I still have this ‘athletic’-looking body (that’s accdg. to one gym trainer) that will bring me to the finish line in the next few years.

mind over muscle...

Post-script:  The always muscular Marc Nelson after finishing his Camsur 3 km run confessed he’s not really fond of running.  The naturally skinny model loses weight very easily and has a hard time putting it back on.