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