Note: This is my 8th article for Frontrunner magazine and it came out on December 2014, a month after Purgatory 30KM, our preparation race for CM60 a few weeks later.
So here I am trying to descend the final 10 kilometers of my first mountain/trail run since my knee surgery at the Purgatory 30km. The views are sweeping and commanding, the mossy forests exude a certain virginal character I’ve never set foot on before in my life and the trails are strips of soil covered in dry pine needles that one misstep can send one plunging into the valley below. And I did slip a few times, only saved by my trusty trekking pole for the nth time.
I remember the times (was that just over a year ago?) when I could glide down these endless down hills that I felt tough and invincible. Descents are usually the secret weapon of average trail runners like me who can hardly hike up the hills without pausing and catching our breath. So after that difficult and almost eternal climb, it’s a respite to just fly off and take on the finish. Later in my brief trail running history, I learned that I’m one of those ‘gifted’ ones who could embrace those tricky and complicated down hills and just plunge down like there’s no tomorrow. That’s a bit of an exaggeration actually but I know of runners who really take more time going down than up.
That’s not me.
Even if I’m a bit thrashed already, I can easily convince my legs to start moving and let gravity take control until the terrain flattens finally. Eons ago, I had no qualms of soaring down along dark paths where the other side is a deep ravine lit only by my headlamp while chasing the impending cut-off time. That was just like two years ago when I felt more confident and firm on my steps, which is not to say I didn’t slip, slide or fall. I did actually and a lot of times but I easily picked myself up and just kept going. The fear of falling off a mountain track into a 100-foot valley hardly entered my system. Maybe I was foolish or clueless or too brave for my own good but with every triumphant finish, I was more challenged and just kept stacking up the ultra distances.
Just how time flies.
Over a year since I had my knee surgery (which my Orthopedic surgeon blamed from too much descents) and my uneventful recovery, I had become more concerned of my mortality and physical limitations. When before I was light footed and flitting, I had become more careful in my foot falls, making me a tad slower in my moves. It has to do I guess with age (though, I was already 47 when I was doing my daring ‘moves’) or perhaps I’m still in my adaptation stage since I’ve concentrated of late on the road and less on the trail.
No matter, I’m thinking this would be a slow brew before strength and skill would finally kick in. But once I get my groove back, it’s not going to be the same endless adventure of weekly trail runs and spontaneous recons. No more foolish (agaw buhay) and careless behavior on the trails though the feeling of freedom and flight would never diminish. None of the spontaneous hikes into wherever my feet would take me but the excitement would still be there. I guess I can’t afford to go through the same ordeal I went through last year while waiting for the knee to recuperate.
If anything, I’d learned that no matter how addicting, one need not be in the trails every weekend to be a strong and fast trail runner. Strength and speed can be honed in the gym, the road and running clinics. Yep, even if the nearest hills are less than an hour by foot from our doorstep. It’s not that I suddenly abhor the mud, those skin-lacerating cogons and getting toasted (until you forget your true shade), it’s just that I don’t have the convenience of time and crossing out a full day to explore Balabag or Deadman’s trail a whole Sunday. Just like that, the demands of the clinic seem to outweigh the call of the mountains.
Or maybe I’m just getting old, you know – gathering wisdom (while gathering dust) and acting more with my mind than via my instinct. Whatever.
I think I’ve reached my peak 2 years ago when I can tackle ultra-trail races, challenging terrains, inclement weather and still show up at the finish line in one piece. I’m now in my cruise/maintenance mode – still taking on the trails and mountain races without pushing my body to its mortal limits. It’s a journey that sees no end except to pause and take in all the spectacular sceneries, every now and then. Sorry, there’s no stopping this old goat, a 49-year old mountain goat, if you will.
Call me grandpa when you let me eat your dust along the trails, I don’t mind.