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DNFing at TNF100

The Road to Baguio

After finishing this year’s Bataan Death March 160KM, I knew TNF100 was going to be my next ultra race, just 2.5 months away.  I wanted to keep the momentum going and my fitness level steady.  It took me a month to finally get in the groove while waiting for the knees to get back in shape.  In between I joined 10KM runs (Condura, PDA Run & Exterra Trail Run) just to keep my running stamina going.  Our mini-Team Kulit had resolved to be part of this prestigious trail run with Reylynne, Chinky and me taking on the 100KM and Sheila (plus Jenny) running the 50KM.

I did my weekday 8.8KM intermittent runs and weekly long runs supplemented by some swimming, gym strengthening and yoga.  2 weeks before, we climbed Mt. Pico de Loro followed by an overnight (6-hour) run to familiarize us on trails and moving sleep-deprived.  Arrangements for travel (courtesy of Chinky’s reliable Starex) and accomodations (again by Chinky) were finalized so all I had to do was prepare for my first ‘true’ trail/mountain run.  This is a complete departure from relying on a support vehicle (I can easily phone to get a massage, a drink and words of encouragement) I had gotten used to in my many ultraruns along the road.

Team Kulit planning for TNF

On a trail run, you lug your own food, drink and other implements which will take you to the next station before replenishing them.  Factor in the dark (it covers both the early morning and a 12-hour sunless period), the cold, the wildlife around (one runner got bitten by a snake) and the possibility of getting lost or not getting found when emergency is required and you have one jittery runner who’s only experience of mountain/trail running is negligible compared to the mountaineers and skyrunners who filled the slots.

Dawn at Baguio

Kuliters surveying Camp John Hay

We arrived in Baguio City at 7 am of Friday (20 April) with David/Paz behind the wheels to acclimatize to its cold temperature and thin air.  At 3 pm, we attended the orientation at the new R.O.X. inside Camp John Hay where I saw some elite runners (led by Iker Karrera), ultrarunners (Team Boring, Ungas, USB, Intensity were represented) and totally new faces, mostly Baguio mountaineers and sky runners.  After hearing not-so-encouraging and cautious words from the race director and medical head, we promptly took our dinner, prepared our supplies, arranged the logistics and soon dozed off.  As in any ultrarun, the longest sleep I would get was just 2 hours with smatterings of short naps in between.

Team Kulit with Paolo & Angela Osmena

Cougher runner

By 2:30 am, we were at the starting line along with the 162 100KM runners either dressed maximally (covered from head to toe and lugging loaded backpacks) or minimally (like marathon runners in the 70s).  No matter, the air was pulsating with nervous excitement at every angle.  Like bats out of hell, we were off along John Hay’s rolling terrain.  I joined Chinky and Rey but the endless coughing kicked in and I had to set my own pace and disappear in the dark, distinguished only by my hacking sound.  At one point, it had become unbearable I was gasping for air while heaving heavily, asthmatic-like.

with Team Intensity's Kharl & Nap Ocampo

with Chinky, Rey, Keshia & Sheila

But I just kept moving with the midpack crowd and soon I was breathing normally with minor bouts of coughing.

[Three weeks into the race, I had a series of minor diseases including viral intestinal flu, acidity, colds and cough, perhaps, due to some pre-TNF jitters.  Unfortunately, it followed me in this run.]

We moved around the Camp into their Ecotrails with only our headlamps to lead us through the tortuous route.  Another down trail and we were scurrying out of the city center.  I was enjoying the uneven terrain and soon found my footing when I found Rodel Montejo (Team USB) who helped me navigate the snaking narrow paths where one wrong step could mean imminent disaster.

glorious scenes at every turn

We were still in total darkness as we passed back streets and stone paths before emerging out into open fields where the sun was slowly forming an arc across the sky.  Rodel and I were doing an easy but relatively fast pace.  In between, we had our breaks to refill and take pictures.  At 6:14 am, we reached KM20 and joined his fellow USBers on the way down.  By this time, I was using a trunk to help me on my climbs and balancing.  It was a relief for the legs but added pressure on the shoulders and back.

banana break among the pine trees

up, up, up...

Later on, when the uphill terrains sharpened, I went on my own until I found another running/talking companion on the road.  He’s Jun Zapanta and just like me, he seems perturbed by the kilometers to burn for the next 26 hours.  But we kept at it, forging ahead and resting when necessary.  In between I got to walk/hike with Ambow (Allen Gaspar) who seems to be enjoying our endless jaunt even with the sun already in full bloom with an ocassional breeze out of nowhere.  Maintaining a constant pace, I found myself alone as I neared the KM29 station.

that's Jun with Ambow trailing behind

Mount Doom?

In the Company of Mountaineers

It was a relief to refill my empty bladder with cool water and take in something flavored and sweet plus bananas and the sweetest ‘camotes’ I’ve ever devoured.  While consuming the treats, I joined Boy Pra (Meljohn Tezon) and Major Ron Illana who was nursing an ocassional cramping.  The route just kept going up to heaven but I was able to keep up with the group, now made up of Baguio mountaineers led by Rashel Pena, Jules and Earl Warren Nebres Navor .  Our group was one solid pack for a good 5 kilometers until I couldn’t keep up with their non-stop pace.

the fellowship of the trail

just another hill to conquer...

At Philex ridge with Jules, Earl & Rashel (mountaineers all)

goodwill along the trails

Eventually, I found myself in the company of Boy Pra and Major Ron who seems to be more agile now.  Their pace was quite relaxed as we moved up along grassy hills then dramatically descending into the dark forest.  We did rappelling with thick nylon ropes twice and I surprised myself I could manage the balancing and descending/ascending act.  Unfortunately, my two companions seem to gather new energy and again, I’m left on my own.

breathtaking at first until becomes a breath taker (huff, huff)

Boy Pra in his signature topless look

The climb can seem deceptive since the path kept twisting on one side or the other.  But the angles hardly flatten, arduously moving up and up.  For a while, I had my trusty MP3 player to lull me out of the ordeal.  The perfect moment was when the music and the steps were in synch and the effort was non-existent.  The breathtaking terrain along the mountain profile was rolling but I was gliding until player (along with my camera) conked out and I was left on my own devices, trying to negotiate the down hills with minimal light steps.

all by myself (don't wanna be...)

one of the many scenes why TNF100 rocks

Spiral down

After what seemed like eternity, I finally found KM41.2.  I promptly replenished my food/drinks and started my descent.  And what a descent – the angle keels way too low one has to put on the brakes to avoid falling face down.  Unfortunately, it’s the knees which suffered the brunt so even if I wanted to give it a slight dash, I just couldn’t.  Besides, the path was either concrete, loose pebbles, irregular hardened earth so it was quite tricky.

down, down, down

But perhaps, the reason I had slowed down to a near walk was that I just felt drained and spent.  The sun was in its glorious piercing stage and many runners I saw along believe they’re dehydrated.  I also wanted to just rest my fatigued legs and throw in the towel but I’ll be doing that after 9 kms.  Meanwhile, I just have to keep going down.  After 2 hours or so, the station was still nowhere in sight.

By this time, I felt like a battered warrior who had lost a battle, longing for home and relief.  I chanced upon other mountaineers who were doing the downhill pilgrimage, cursing Neville (the race director) for the gruelling path he had mapped out.  If these experienced mountaineers are no longer continuing the race at the midstation, what chance have I got to keep going?  So it was decided there and then that I had reached my optimum energy and will be DNFing (did not finish).

My resolve just kept getting stronger as we went down hell’s corridor.  There seem to be no end in sight that I was imagining throwing my worn body on any flat surface to rest/sleep the rest of the day off.  Soon we were hearing the roars of vehicles but Kennon road was just mirage.  Finally, we caught sight of the Bridal Veil falls surrounded by a fortress of thickly forested mountains.  So this is where I’ll be going up?

the final scene going down...

End of a Journey

End of the road...

The final station of my voyage was KM55 and when I saw it, I knew I had found home.  Yep, it was a 13-km down hill ordeal from the 4th station.  I arrived at 4:10 pm, well within the 5 pm cut-off time.  But the sight of other runners who were splayed on every horizontal surface told me I might as well join them.  Boy Pra & Major have departed and I have no one I can latch on and take me along, at least up to the KM75 station before 1 am (the cut-off time) the next day.  I’ve never felt this weakened and fatigued, not even during the BDM races.  Perhaps, this race was not for me.

post-war scene

Who am I, anyway?  One inexperienced mountaineer who will be taking on the dark forest with only a headlight to guide me along technical uphills.  I’ll never even make past KM60.  And so I informed the organizers (where are you Neville?) that I’m DNFing and promptly joined the DNF warriors who can now look forward to sleeping on a comfy bed that night.

our final stop

Nearly an hour later, Team Kuliters Chinky & Reylynne arrive at the station, sounding frustrated and disgruntled at the organizers who informed us that station 5 is at KM50 only to add 5 kms. more.  The girls have conserved their energy for the next 50 only to be disqualified since they came 7 minutes beyond the 5pm cut-off time at KM 55 which was supposed to be just KM50 in the first place.  I told them it was for the best.  The forest fortress would just be too impossible to penetrate at night at a pace which may be impossible to sustain.  As we returned to our hotel, something inside me rejoiced – we will be resting and sleeping peacefully tonight, not among trees and the wild life.

that's it, folks!

Post-run assessment

The next day, when I woke up, reality set in.  And so did frustration, regret and more regret.

– Why did I quit when I was practically uninjured?  Except fro some overworked knees, I had no chaffing, blister or ITBS.  Trail running is indeed less severe to the legs.

– I still had 16 hours to finish 46 KMs., so why hadn’t I even tried?  I would have easily reached KM75, even if it’s beyond cut-off time.  Now that was one precious adventure I easily let go, after 55 KMs.

– So the evening was setting in – it also meant I’ll be gaining renewed energy with a cooler environ.

– Why did I let the dark, solitude, an unexplored terrain and cold surrounding deter me from even attempting to go on?

– I’ve continued moving on during the BDM 160KM in the face of a full bloom ITBS, blister, etc., so why did I throw the towel too early and easily?

Oh well.  I guess these would be the lessons and memories I’ll be taking with me until the next TNF100 where I promise to perform better (fingers crossed).  So, it’s back to the trails and mountains for me from hereon in.  I’ve discovered something new & wondrous and I intend to get stronger with every race/trek I get on.  My next goal:  King of the Mountains 100KM.

probably the highlight of our TNF100: endless eating with Team Kulit

P.S.  Team Kuliter Sheila Gavar-Compendio also DNFed at KM22 of her TNF50 race due to an impending asthmatic attack.  Her companion, Jenny Aggangan (BR’s Dream Marathon 2012’s fastest woman) DNFed, as well, at KM42.  The path going back from the radar was just too steep and risky to run at 9 pm.  And so, it was a DNF night for Team Kulit as we traded war stories with the resolve to succeed on this unfinished business call the TNF100.  With 55 finishing out of 162 runners, TNF 100 is proving to me more enticing and tempting a prospect.  See you in 2013!

Gorgeous photography courtesy of Boy Praning (Meljohn Tezon), Earl Warren Nebres Nabor, Rocketbong Alindada, Chinky Villavicencio, Keshia Fule, Erell Villalba & Maripaz Buban

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Peaking at Pico de Loro

the goal...

With the TNF 100 (The North Face) fast approaching, I knew I had to get a feel of going up and down a real mountain – not city trails or stairs.  Fortunately, Team Kulit was fielding 4 contenders for the mountain trail run at Baguio and beyond.  Me, Chinky and Reylynne are taking on the 100KM category while Sheila is running the 50Ms.  Along with Boringer Keshia, we ventured early morning into Cavite via the coastal road passing through various towns and endless roads, practically crawling and running out of stories to share.  Finally, after what felt like eternity, we settled at the DENR compound and waited for our guide Alex, also stuck in traffic.  By 10 am, we were traversing a trail going up into the peak of Pico de Loro.

start of another adventure...

Except for scattered areas of cogon covered trails, majority of the route was canopied by mature trees so we were hardly exposed to the now scorching sun.  Soon enough, Keshia and I were sprinting along the soft trail with Chinky a few steps behind.  The ground was quite soft without being slippery and except for some random stones, it’s basically flat so it was liberating to glide and move with little effort.  A few kilometers later, the path started ascending and it became testy just to bring one’s body one step up and so on.  A strong and worked out shoulder was a lot of help.  But the pace never let up only stopping to wait for the others and when we felt we were lost.  Our only guide were the ribbons attached to the branches as we made our way up.

Resting at the 1st station with Chinky...

new found playground?

The path went up and down moving across tree trunks, creeks, giant boulders and overgrown giant roots.  The effort was twice compared to running on pavement but being in the heart of a tropical forest serenaded by sounds of insects and birds, the feeling was magical.  Suddenly, I’m a child again – awe-inspired and fascinated by nature’s little wonders.

a sweet moment in the middle of paradise....

this way to the top...

Finally the path led to an open area where many of the climbers were huddled on rocks and grassy spaces.  It was the stopover where one can take in the the glorious views of the peak (resembling a parrot’s beak) and the surrounding rock formations (where we espied some climbers sprawled).  After the customary picture taking we set out to conquer the summit which seemed to tilt too vertically, one can easily fall into the edge of Batangas.

Keshia, Sheila, Chinky, Rey....Btw, my name is Charlie (cue in 'Charlie's Angels' theme)

peak gliders take on Pico...

great brooding shot, execrable outfit (but comfy, really)

The trick (at least for me) is to keep looking up and finding spaces/undercuts to position one’s feet and hands while climbing the peak.  Quite tricky since some surfaces were covered with pebbles and dried grass.  After endless struggles, we finally made it.  Expectedly, the view was glorious and surreal.  Just perfect.  We tried to stay longer but soon enough, we knew we will be contending with the steep path going down.

uphills? no problem...

on Pico's peak...surfing the skies...

Hamilo Coast...

Keshia takes in the panoramic beauty...

take my breath away...

Sliding (dumausdus) would not be a wise choice as one might easily find himself hanging by some sharp cliff.  So we crawled our way down at the early portion of the path while looking down at our very steep destination which seemed to end at the center of the earth.  Finally, I reached the point where I’m able to stand up while going down and in just a few minutes I was at the stopover area.  Soon enough we were making our way down with Chinky, our downhill queen, leading the way.  She was followed by Rey then me and Keshia & Sheila.

the road back is paved with uneven surfaces...

It was a joy to follow Chinky who was most nimble on the descent, stepping effortlessly on well chosen stone or earth then promptly shifting to the next step with such fairy-like lightness, she was almost floating.  Now this is the runner I’d like to join on the endless descents of the TNF100.  After 4 hours, we were back where we started.  We estimated the distance at 20 kms.  Now if I could just multipy that distance by 5 with the same time then I’d finish by 20 hours.  Wishful thinking especially when one considers the weather, elevation and the night runs.  Fortunately, the return trip was much faster that we were still able to have a hearty meal of ramen at some Capitolyo resto.  All in a day’s effort.

that's a wrap...

P.S.  Two days after we did our ‘Puyat’ run this time with Jenny at the Bonifacio Global City from 11 pm to 5 am.  The goal was to condition our system into staying up at night while still having the energy to run, climb and descend.  Done it during the BDM 160KM so I just hope we would still have the power to cross the finish line in less than 30 hours.  So help me God.

with Jenny, Sheila, Chinky and Rey (holding the camera)...

Photography by Chinky Villavicencio & Keshia Fule

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Running. More Fun in the Philippines

Been meaning to do this for some time since our Department of Tourism came up with that catchy and personalized logo, More Fun in the Philippines.  Here’s my take on it depicting my brief and memorable running history, so far…

Nov. 2009: Unicef Run, 10KM

May 2010: PAU's 50KM Tanay Ultramarathon, my first...

July 2010: my 1st Milo Marathon, epic fail.

Aug. 2010: Secret Training ground.

Aug. 2010: PAU's Pasuquin to Pagudpud Ultramarathon, 70KM

Oct. 2010: Mt. Pinatubo Trail Run, 50KM

Dec. 2010: Quezon City International Marathon

Jan. 2010: Fat Ass 2010, 66KM

Mar 2011: Bataan Death March, 102KM

May 2011: Greentenial Run, 16KM

June 2011: Nuvali Trail Run, 57KM

July 2011: CDO-Dahilayan Trail Run, 57KM

July 2011: Ft. Magsaysay-Dingalan, 60KM

July 2011: my 2nd Milo Marathon

Aug 2011: PAU's Western Pangasinan Ultrarun, 65KM

Sept. 2011: PAU's Tagaytay-Nasugbu, 50KM

December 2011: Shotgun, Timberland training runs

Jan 2012: Fat Ass Run, 70.4KM

January 2012: Bataan Death March 160KM


Other memorable runs would be my Condura half and full marathons, my first Aquathlon, etc. but I guess there weren’t enough interesting shots to merit a fun factor.

Here’s a video of my running history:

Photography by Jeffrey Avellanosa, QCIM 2010/2011, Milo Marathon 2010/2011, Ruby Bambalan, Keshia Fule, Maripaz Buban, KB Photography & Carlo Serrano

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The Forgotten Marathon: QCIM 2011

Last December, I was swamped with training for the Bataan Death March 160KM coupled with a busy clinic schedule and the arrival of my brother and his family (who were also my patients) from New Zealand so pardon me if this write up comes 4 months late.  I mean this should definitely be part of the annals of my running history for so far, it’s become my official PR (personal record) for a full marathon.  Plus the memorable turn of events and unexpected ‘firsts’ then it makes for an interesting read.

It was a cool December 4 morning when I showed up at the starting line to join the more than 700 runners for the 42.195KM distance of the Quezon City International Marathon 2011.  Somehow, I found myself in the company of two powerful Powerpuff boys – Joemar Paras and Beeps delos Santos who easily agreed to take me in as I planned to go all out in the first half of the race then just wing it on the way back.  It’s a typical cloudy weather as we dashed through the UP campus into the wide avenue of Don Mariano highway.  Their pace was quite furious but surprisingly I was keeping up with them.  Suddenly visions of breaking into the 4:30 bracket were swirling in my head.

Beeps was definitely setting the pace but Joms and I were able to go along as we entered the compound of the La Mesa Dam.  The sun had fully come out of the horizon when we reached the 21KM point.  At less than 2 hours, this was a new unofficial PR for me.  As expected, Beeps soon disappeared from view as he continued with his insane speed.  Joms stayed along as I tried to push myself along the La Mesa route then back to the highway.  So far so good.

it seems when we're together, I pray for stormy weather...

Then it came, KM25 had me slowing down for some strange reason – thoughts of just DNFing (did not finish) came out of nowhere.  I felt spent and tired.  I told Joms to just go ahead as I was already doing my intermittent run and walk.  But perhaps he knew that once on my own, I will start walking into the finish.  So he stayed with me and continued pushing and pacing me.  A few kilometers later, I was more upbeat but still feeling fatigued.

Entering the UP campus, we were welcomed by the impending drizzles which soon became a full blown rain with whipping winds to boot.  Perhaps sensing that I was losing my will to a strong finish, Joms started narrating the landmarks of the Diliman campus (“the gates of knowledge at the entrance”, etc.) just to distract me from surrendering less than 10KMs into the finish line.  I was also attempting to zone out via my 80s music lineup to dismal results.  Soon, Joms started targetting landmarks before I began walking again.  I was trying my best, really.  But it was obvious that something had gone wrong.  Early on the race, I had confessed to Joms that I donated blood the day before at 5 pm.  I was allowed to run 24 hours after but not 12 hours.  But I was registered already.  So I hope that’s a fair explanation (or excuse) for you.

one stormy finish...

We were soaked wet by the pelting rain drops when we finally reached the finish line.  It’s my official marathon PR of 4:42:27.  My Manila International Marathon record of 4:38 doesn’t count since the distance is 1KM short (shame, shame).  Anyway, I’m learning to find my groove to a better PR which I hope to improve on, hopefully at the Milo Marathon this year.  And if I’m fortunate enough, I could find someone as helpful and encouraging as Joms Paras on the road.  Now this is one rare guy who wouldn’t mind sacrificing for others on the road.

post-run stretch with Ronnel 'Kampuger' Go...

P.S.  Minutes after crossing the finish line, I felt groggy, drained and sleepy.  I forced myself to drive the car back home and finally rest.  So this was how it felt to run with a depleted hemoglobin blood level.  Lessons learned.

Photography by Philips BF Photography & Vener Roldan

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Visita Iglesia & Lenten whereabouts

with Bong, Aleth & Keshia...Boringers all

beginning of a journey...

I’ve never experienced a Visita Iglesia during Holy Week because since time immemorial, I’m off to our silent retreat by Holy Thursday into the hills of Angono, Rizal. Lately, however, we’ve been commencing our lenten exercise after lunch of Thursday so when the opportunity to run while visiting 14 churches came, I knew I had to finally experience this unique Catholic ritual. And it was being spearheaded by Team Boring so imagine our surprise when Keshia and I arrived at Mcdonald’s near MOA filled with running netizens of every color and shape.

At the MOA church...not in our Holy Thursday mood yet.

Taking it to the street of Taft...

Holy Angels church, Malate area

Balancing by the whale slide across the Manila Zoo entrance...

When we started the run we had reached almost 30, some were not even Catholics. But they were in it for the spiritual journey which many times would move quite fast like a real race with many imagining podium aspirations. The 14 churches represented the 14 Stations of the Cross of Christ’s Passion leading into His Resurrection (the new 14th station). We started by 5 am at the MOA church and ended at the Binondo Church before 10 am. Boringer Gab along with some of the ANR-MOA runners planned and led the assault in the various churches which were sometimes closed.

Inside the compound of the Malate church...

Banana cue break at San Agustin Church, Intramuros

In front of the Manila Cathedral, Intramuros

Racing with Maya across the Ayala bridge...

Sago & melon break at San Miguel church...

St. Jude church...

In front of the gothic facade of San Sebastian church...

Along the way, we moved parallel to Roxas Blvd. (Mabini St. & Taft Ave.), passing the Rizal Memorial Stadium and Manila Zoo with a major stopover inside Intramuros. We continued towards Legarda St. and Ayala bridge entering the Malacanang palace area into Mendiola and a minor street parallel to Recto Ave. We emerged into Quezon Ave. and took the Quiapo underpass then advanced into Ongpin St. and finally Chinatown where we had our fill of genuine chinese delicacies at Hwa Ying (along Buenavidez St.) upon the suggestion of Jason King Tan. Many of us savored the Beef Wanton mami and the steamed tofu – a worthy reward for all that morning’s efforts.

By the side of the Binondo church: everyone hungry?

after the abstinence and fasting comes the feasting...go Boo!

The Visita was a chance to somehow go through Christ’s experiences into Calvary that Lenten week. It was also an opportunity to traverse the streets of Manila with minimal vehicles and people. And take in the colorful scenes – pilgrims walking on foot, flagellants bleeding themselves to death and the incomparable character of Manila’s churches and streets. While others visited the churches via car or bicycle, we went through it the best and basic way possible – by foot. Our mileage registered at 21 kms. Not bad to start the Holy Week…

bleed me, baby!

Here’s the list of churches we visited. Try it for one memorable Holy Week. MOA – Holy Angels – Malate – San Isidro – Assumption – Ermita – San Agustin – Manila Cathedral – San Miguel – St. Jude – San Beda – San Sebastian – Quiapo – Binondo

Later that day, I headed out to Angono, Rizal where I joined a silent retreat at the Loyola Retreat House. For us who’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, the silence and isolation can be most refreshing and revitalizing for the spirit. Every afternoon we joined the people of Angono to join in their traditional Lenten celebrations. I espied my running buddy Dave and his family during the Good Friday mass. During the retreat, I was also able to fit in 2 morning runs on Friday & Saturday – a good 7 kms. of uphills, descents and trails per session.

St. Clements church, Angono

the whole town joins in at the start of the Good Friday procession...

a full moon at the Loyola retreat house...

A Happy Easter to everyone and may we learn carry our own crosses and go through life’s everyday agonies!