The Road to Perdition
It was the perfect plan. Dave & I would be training regularly, 6 months into the Bataan Death March 102 km Ultramarathon. We attended most of the PAU events (Pasuquin to Pagudpud 70km, Mt. Pinatubo 50km), read up on whatever information we could get hold onto about ultra running, badger BDM veterans on their experiences and share knowledge with other registrants. For the next 6 months, our world revolved around BDM 102. Mine was disrupted by a month of hiatus in Kiwiland but promptly resumed with the Quezon City International Marathon, early morning runs, the Fat Ass Run, the 1st BDM test run and the Condura Skyway Run. Looong runs, heat trainings, uphills – we did them all. Then something happened.
My right hip started aching – it happened during the Fat Ass Run then got worse with the 1st BDM test run. I knew I wouldn’t survive Bataan under such a condition. Veteran runners Lito Lopez and Michelle Estuar led me to Coach Titus Salazar. I had my doubts but after the hip pain persistently manifested, I soon found myself one morning at the ULTRA, doing leg stretching and strengthening then later getting my hips massaged and kneaded with passion by coachT.
The Road to Recovery
It’s the first time I’ve been under the guidance a coach. It’s also the first time I felt some direction on the road to BDM. CoachT discouraged the very long runs we’ve been planning (70 kms under the sun) and instead focused on strengthening the important leg muscles. It entailed specific leg stretches every morning while I visited my gym regularly with more leg and upper body/core exercises coupled with some plyometrics. Whew!
Soon enough, I was feeling stronger even with some muscle twitches here and there. CoachT introduced me to his SAS style of running, less of the Chi and more of the Pose technique, bringing the knees higher and bouncing effortlessly. He said it was the most practical and efficient method of running for ultraruns. I thought it was a lot of bull – how can it conserve energy when you need to bring your quads higher? But the loyal student in me prevailed and soon enough I was running sprightly like a kid.
Upon the recommendation of Dr. Nida Fontanilla (a gym mate), I also started eating healthy, tossing out the standard that a runner can eat anything as long as he doesn’t stop running. This was underscored by the Tarahumara (Indians) diet which I extracted from ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall. One of the reasons they’re considered the fastest among the races is their diet of raw and fibrous fruits and vegetables, particularly the Chia seeds. I had no time to take in strange energy boosting seeds on my diet so I subsisted on what’s out there – a lot of sweet potatoes, bananas and brown rice.
In the weeks that followed, I knew that I have enough preparation and confidence that will take me to the finish line. Until we supported Team Boring (for 3 hours) and saw the finishers on the finish line of BDM 160km. At Km 102, we encountered many runners trashed and incoherent, and DNFing left and right. Then we read up on the story of Jael Wenceslao running last in the first 50 km then slowly going up the rankings (from 39 – 12) and finally seeing him finish strong and fresh at km 160. This would be our strategy – start slow, build up and run like the wind to the finish. We barely had a week to go…
The Road to Bataan
Nights leading into March 5, Wap Flores and I were trading notes for our planned pacing, expected time of arrival at every pitstop and our strategy into the final 52 kms. It was agreed that we were going to do a 7.5 – 8 mins/km pace and walking during the uphill climbs. Dave, nursing some lingering pain (plantar fasciitis) opted to go slower but I was to share with him his family support vehicle led by his ever reliable wifey Maripaz, sons Clanel, Noel & PJ plus ninang Susan.
By 9 pm, we were dressed and geared at Km. 0 at Mariveles, Bataan. At 10 pm, upon the signal of Sir Jovie (a.k.a. Baldrunner), 140 runners blasted off from the starting line. Since we had done this route during the BDM practice run, we elected to sprint mildly in the first 3 kms just to get the heart pumping then walked up the steep climb into km. 7. Minor slopes into km. 14 had us jogging/walking while gliding on down hills with the cool night breeze behind us.
The Dark Road ahead
The urge to go faster had to be contained as we still have many kilometers to conquer. Wap & I were pacing at 4:1, that’s 4 kms of mild run followed by a minute of walking. Dave (with Carl) and I (with Wap) were practically zipping up and down the darkened Roman highway with 500 meters ahead or behind each other. Along the way, a bevy of onlookers – late night drunkards, scantily-clad harlots (ok, GROs) and trannies – were cheering us to get moving. So far, no signs of any impending soreness between Wap & I.
A good 2 kilometers of total darkness had us escorting running diva Roselle. As in our experience from the previous test run, night running should be done in groups for better visibility (from the swooping buses) and safety (both from the unseen and the sinister). At km. 32, we made our final turn away from the endless highway into the safer, well-lit towns of Bataan. Unfortunately, the lights also gave one a perception of the long road ahead in contrast to the dark roads where one feels like floating, with no distant destination in sight.
Middle of the Road
Our goal of reaching km. 50 at 5:30 am was now a long shot but we continued trudging on. From the capital Balanga, we entered the sleepy town of Abucay, a good 10 kms to our first major stop. Having spent my early summers in my dad’s hometown, most of the landmarks were familiar but with fatigue and sleepiness setting in, the effort felt like struggling on a sea of molasses.
At 6:03 am, we finally reached the Abucay pit stop. We washed up, used the gas station bathroom and had a taste of our first real meal since blasting out of Mariveles. I had to wait for the Buban support team before changing into my white long sleeve shirt, my sun hat, calf supporters and new shoes & socks. It was 6:57 am when we left km. 50, wasting some 20-25 minutes. With renewed energy and confidence, we started hitting the road a tad faster. By this time, I had transferred most of my bags and supplies to Wap’s vehicle.
The Lonely Road
Soon enough, Mr. Sun came out of the mountains. At around 8:30 am, it was in its full shining glory, following us in every scorching step.
At km. 60, I started feeling some shot of pain in my right hip while Wap complained of stabbing pain on his left knee area. While he opted to walk briskly right throughout, I found myself slightly running to free the hips of any pressure. Our paces were no longer in synch so at around km. 70 near the Pampanga welcome arch, I decided to bolt out bringing with me a small backpack containing 3 of my last fuelbelt bottles filled with frozen Gatorade and my packed lunch.
I felt desperate and alone with no support vehicle to turn to and my limited supplies weighing me down on every step into the desert zone where vehicle emissions freely mixed with concrete dust from the on-going road construction. Fortunately, the Buban red vehicle showed up to replenish my dwindling food/drink requirements and to finally surrender that darn knapsack.
Two for the Road
After Wap, I chanced upon my second partner in the person of Laarni de Guzman. This time around, we were running continuously while talking endlessly on the road. I would later find out that she is a tri-athlete (having represented Team Timex at the last Camsur Ironman). We would intermittently find and lose each other on the final 30-km stretch, pushing and pulling each other when need arises.
After pulling myself out of dusty country, I soon found the Buban vehicle a little after 12 noon. I plopped myself on a small chair and partook of my lunch under the scorching midday sun (sorry, still no trees at this point), as lahar, concrete dust and smog churned and swirled around me. As passing runners battled with the elements, I was ensconced in my quiet little corner of the world, relaxing and giving my tired legs a much sought rest while enjoying my last major meal for this race. 4 kilometers after I would get my final supplies from the Bubans as the gap between me and Dave had stretched too far.
Hit the Road Jack
Fortunately, the heavens sent me an angel along my lonely sojourn – Lani, again(!). She was there to press me on whenever I felt like walking it all the way to Km. 102.
At one point, we were doing 4:1 dwindling into 3:1 and 2:1 (my bad) pacing while many were just walking it through. Her ever ebullient support group, Kars and Tatax, were always there every 2 kms, pushing us to run (within the cut-off time) and providing us with food, drinks and my glob of ice to suck on. Now I’m no longer the orphan runner – well, until the second wind finally came at around 15 kms. into the finish.
How it happened is still beyond me. But the pressure to put one’s effort for almost 15 hours into motion (by making the 18 hour cut) finally kicked in and I was flying with REM, Prince, Alphaville and David Bowie pushing me to strut along the road. I was free falling. The effort was minimal as I heard CoachT barking, “bounce, bounce, bounce!” in every stride. Along the way, I saw myself transform into Wilnar Iglesia (sorry part of my mind games) gliding over every kilometer marker and running with glee on winged feet.
End of the Road
As runners started appearing on the horizon, they became my goals to reach and outrun. And after a song or 2, I had overtaken my unknowing targets, little by little, without getting too competitive or aggressive. And why should I be, I don’t have a support vehicle and the last of my supplies were dwindling very quickly. I just wanted to get this race over and done with soon. Finally, the San Fernando Capitolyo came into view as more walking participants materialized. I myself was nearing my breaking point but at the last 200 meters, I pushed myself to a semi-sprint and finally touched the BDM 102 band. My time – 17:28:29 (93rd among 112 finishers and 140 starters). From Km. 23, I ranked 120. 8 minutes into the cut-off time, Dave comes surging in still fresh but quite exhausted after tearing into the final 5 kms.
So there I was relishing the moment as Sir Jovie awarded me that coveted BDM trophy, medal and shirt as the ultrarunning community cheered and congratulated me. All those cold early morning runs, endless long runs and sessions with CoachT had not been for naught. And now I’m part of a rare breed of runners who look after each other and treat everyone like family. I think I’ll be enjoying it here for some time. I’m just getting started…
Damages: 3 blisters, slight left knee pain, mild right hip soreness, generalized leg fatigue and weakness, humongous chafing (after copious amounts of glide/petroleum jelly) on both inner thighs, minor sunburns due to minimal skin exposure.
Gains: one unforgettable experience I will be mining for a lifetime – whenever I’m in a quandary in my clinic or caught in life’s many obstacles I only have to tell myself – “If I survived the ordeal that was BDM 102, why should I not overcome this one.?”
P.S. Thanks to my dad for helping with the editing…
P.S.S. My heartfelt gratitude for the many strangers (from support vehicles) I met along the road who were never short of a smile, a cheer, a bottle of water or a bar of chocolate [now you know why I made it].
Photos courtesy of Paz Buban, Aaron Anievas, Alex Baguio, Julito Jojo Pauly, Topher Montaos, Team Boring (Aylab!) & Vener Roldan. Salamat!