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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
End of a Journey
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.
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.
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.
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.
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