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2016: The last quarter report (more touring than running)

Our last article suddenly jumped to 2017 for the Rizal Mountain Run but let’s look back at my last quarter for 2016. We take off from my last Milo Marathon in 2016. We will cover August 1 to December 31. And as I look back, it seems I did more sightseeing than actual running though a lot of walking through picturesque places didn’t slow down my adrenaline.

By August, I went back to my regular road training either in UP or around Rancho Estate coupled with some strengthening P90X workouts.  On August 20, Van and I did the Trail Valley Challenge 50K (though my Garmin read 48.68 kilometers) at the ever progressing Nuvali area in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.  It’s our annual pilgrimage (thank you Frontrunner magazine) which never ceases to surprise since the route keeps changing as the villages keep expanding and the trails are relegated to the fringe territories.  This time, the rains kept the rolling route a bit challenging but we kept trudging.  And actually, we enjoyed the drizzle since the place can get very humid, with minimal trees as in the past editions.  On our return trip, the rain drops have swollen to a full shower and we were like kids playing and running to a wet satisfying finish (while bypassing some runners in the process).  8 hours and 16 minutes later, we were welcomed by Frontrunner editor/RD Jonel and Ms. Connie.


14080020_10154419730824687_1850768716489560557_n13051496_10154085052694687_1956452807072853161_nThe last 2 weeks of August had me heading to my friend Bon Aga’s functional gym to pack in some muscles (to fit in a suit), as opposed to the usual intense cardio workouts.  The reason – I belatedly got the news that our movie, “Ang Babaeng Humayo” (The Woman Who Left) was accepted for the Main Competition at the Venice Film Festival.  I think I forgot to tell you that last May, I was invited by a long time patient, Director Lav Diaz to join his crew in Mindoro for a week while they were shooting their little film starring Ms. Charo Santos-Concio and John Lloyd Cruz.  Weeks before that, I was shuttling to ABS-CBN to create dentures to uglify the main characters (including Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino).  So it was a whirlwind affair with the Lav Team as they created before my eyes part of a film which would eventually become one of the best in world cinema for 2016.



img_20160513_122549It was a hectic 12 days in Venice where I explored and enjoyed the main island for 5 days (including a day trip to Florence).  After that, I joined the group at Lido island where the Venice Filmfest was happening, as we binge-watched on the finest new films from all over while going gaga over the stars (chanced upon Christ Pratt and Tom Ford in an elevator and got up close with Natalie Portman).  It was a relaxed time for our group to meet up with fellow cineastes and bond more.  The highlight for me was sashaying in my royal blue suit along with the cast of ‘Humayo’ on the red carpet and getting featured on ANC.  A day later, on Awards Night, our film (yes, I did have a small speaking part here) would take home the highest honor for Venice, the Golden Lion Award.  And that’s my brief foray into showbiz .


14264849_10210959333997450_668110860608137206_nLater in September, our beloved UA Milo Apex school reopened so we found ourselves at the Quezon City Memorial Circle on Tuesdays and Thursdays doing runs, workouts and a lot of heart-thumping, intense hard work that after an hour we were sweating like dogs and searching for our favorite restaurants.



On October 2, a day after I turned 51, we took on the Clark-Miyamit trail marathon.  We were familiar with it’s steep ascents at the beginning so we just kept scaling the unending heights in a trail laden with soft, slippery mud and sharp stones.  The going wasn’t easy but we managed until I made a wrong turn from the main route.  A good 30 minutes later, we were back on the designated trail but we had a cutoff to chase at the Miyamit Falls which we were reminded at the turn around at the peak.  So under the pelting rain, we rushed down towards the falls area until we were informed in mid portion that we no longer have the time.  And so we were officially declared DNFers (did not finish).  Though, 35 kilometers of trail mileage on a Sunday morning ain’t bad training at all.  Still, it was a wakeup call on our poor trail skill levels.


By the middle of October, we finally visited a place not because we had a scheduled official race or a filmfest but to relax and unwind.  And Japan, with its disciplined citizenry, serene places and quaint streets, looked promising. Still, Van mapped out an itinerary that required a lot of walking and hiking around mountainous trails and hidden temples atop glorious views. A 5-kilometer bus ride, why not just walk it out and enjoy the quiet views and simple pleasures of wandering around (while scrimping on our yen fund).  A 2-kilometer tram climb – let’s just take the stairs and take in the views less fleetingly and more musingly. Maybe, it’s his way to make up for the runs and workouts we missed for a week and balance out our gustatory conquests everywhere we went.  From our AirBnB base in Osaka, we were still able to visit the sights in Kyoto, Kobe and Himeji.  But the most pleasant surprise of them all was, with a little research and proper planning, Japan turned out to be cheap but still satisfying.  Now let me just troll the net for some dirt cheap tickets to Tokyo.

Our UA Milo Apex running school covered the months of October and November 2016 but we never tested our running mettle until the NB 25K Powerun on November 6.  We joined the race around BGC detouring to Buendia with little expectations.  But when we realized how constant and comfortable we were running, it was time to up the ante and finish the run at a decent 2:28 (less than a 6 km pace).  I guess, all our Apex training had paid off pretty well.  Btw, our 10K was reached at :54 minutes while our 20K at 1:57.  Not bad at all.


Since the Milo Finals was just a week after the Clark-Miyamit 50 miles, I had to bail out of CM but I was still able to join the recon run the week before.  On November 20, I joined buddies Keshia and Alfred for a 22-kilometer jaunt across grassy trails and lahar lands with some climbs along the way.  It was my way of keeping my trail skills in check in preparation for the many upcoming trail races and trainings in early 2017.  Yes, trails would be taking up a big chunk of our 2017.


We capped off the year with the Milo Marathon Finals in Iloilo, my mom’s home province and favorite hunting ground ever since I can remember.  We hopped on a plane the day before the race to claim our race bibs and met up with cousins who treated us to a memorable and sumptuous carboloading lunch.  On December 4, at 3 am, we joined fellow Milo Finals qualifiers (remember my 1:57 qualifier at the Milo Dagupan?) at the Iloilo Convention Center to start our 42K adventure.  The weather was cool perfect along 8-lane to 4-lane highways with nary a trace of jeepneys, tricycles, buses to contend with (so un-EDSA like).  It was our first time to run along Iloilo’s newly constructed roads and developments and we just kept going for it.  Water stations abounded and the sweet Ilonggo hospitality was overflowing.  Here’s my run splits:  10K at 59:34, 20K at 2:02, 30K at 3:12.  So it’s not really a fast race for me (Van and I separated in the 30Ks) but there were no cramping episodes so it’s a good day indeed.


Most memorable was the Milo Qualifier ribbon they gave us 10 meters into the finish line.  We proudly raised it while crossing the finish as cameras clicked.  Sadly, I still have to find those pictures.  I finished at 4:41:50 while Van did it at exactly 5 hours.  We celebrated the day’s accomplishments with a buffet breakfast at Injap hotel where we were billeted before being whisked away to Igbaras, Iloilo to stay and meet up with relatives.  Igbaras had a lot of natural sights to offer so besides bingeing and feasting on the endless eating marathon among relatives, we were able to visit Igcabugao caves.  It was a challenge to go up and down its treacherous trail a day after the race but we managed.  And we were rewarded with dark mysterious cavern halls, gargantuan boulders rising to the sky, gushing rivers and waterfalls.  It’s great to be finally home.  My bond with Igbaras with never waver ‘til I kick the bucket.

2016 had been full of surprises and unexpected adventures.  I look forward to what 2017 has in store…


Thank you to Butch Maceda, Daphne Codilla & Paksit for the great pictures.  Cheers!


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Losing my voice and my heart on the RMR trails

Aaaah…the Rizal Mountain Run 2017 – I missed last year’s first edition as I was going to do Tarawera then. Since I heard no ‘punishing’ or ‘killer’ feedbacks, maybe it would be a nice return (from last September’s dnf at the CM42) after a series of road races. But it comes from the notorious Baboy Ramo group so I was expecting nothing less. I also didn’t notice that this year’s cutoff time was stretched to 14 hours from 12. I barely read on the details of the race as I don’t want to pressure or stress myself. I guess I wanted to shock my system and see how I would react, whether positively or otherwise.12540810_1661740604108425_3306404452932455341_nFor a month, Van and I trained 3x a week at Al’s Functional gym which included short runs, workouts utilizing tires, ropes, kettle bells, free weights, etc. On weekends, we did semi-trail LSDs at 15K and building up to 25K the week before the race. On the final week, we felt trail-ready and this race would be the litmus test of all this hectic training program. I was planning to leave the clinic early last Saturday but the sudden surge in patient influx (it was a payday weekend) had me tinkering up to past 7 pm. A free and open clinic schedule allows me to rest and even doze off in between patients, especially when muscle fatigue from the previous workout was still pronounced. The night before, I was already feeling a mild case of generalized body malaise and difficulty in swallowing but my sister-physician saw nothing to be alarmed about so she just adviced me to hydrate a lot. I ‘forgot’ to inform her that I will be doing a 50K trail run on Sunday.
So there we were at Base Kamp in the hinterlands of Pintong Bukawe, San Mateo. I barely slept for an hour (the Antipolo neighbors were having their videoke party) and my voice was starting to get hoarse but was sprightly and my usual self while Van was his expected sleepy quiet self as we met up with friends Keshia and Alf who were doing the 30K edition.
By 3 am, a little over 50 runners dashed out of the Starting Line as they began their 50 kilometer adventure. Van and I were part of this contingent armed with night lamps as we navigated swiftly through our first downhill. It wasn’t the most ideal trail to speed down but with a little adjustment on its irregular rock strewn path, we were already flying with the help of our newly christened trekking poles. It was a sharp 2.5-kilometer drop until it flattened a bit only to rise continuously. The climb was endless but still on fresh leg, it was faster with hardly any pause. The darkness helped a lot for one has no idea that the peak ahead was still 4 kilometers away. One just needs to concentrate on the rocky path within a meter in front.

After Aid Station 1 (Km. 9, Bgy. Calawis), we were still on a high as we went down effortlessly across a wide road (partly in concrete) for 2.5 kilometers until it started to ease out while passing through rivers and valleys. There were a few mild ascents but we knew it would be a matter of time when the hills would begin to rise sharply again. At Km. 17, we crossed a wide river to reach Aid Station 2 where we hydrated and filled up in preparation for the big climb ahead. The sun was already up 7 am when we did the climb. The cool weather hardly changed and the cool breeze kept us moving. It was a 3-kilometer ascent which reaches the peak of Mt. Malimod until it starts to drop again. Soon we were climbing a minor peak. The rise wasn’t that intense but the downhill was steep enough to force us to just walk and find our proper footing on the rocky steps. Of course, I would slip again but gravity has a way of keeping my lazy ass moving.  11 kilometers later, we finally caught sight of Aid Station 3 (Km. 28, Bgy. Puray) as we rested and

Throughout the race, mathematics would keep my mind preoccupied with numbers. Early on, when our pace averaged 10 minutes per kilometers, I was thinking, we might finish in 10 hours or less. Until the pace kept slowing down but in my mind, a 13-15 min/km pace would still burn 4 kilometers in an hour. At 5 hours and 44 minutes, we reached the halfway point so it was possible to finish the race at 12 hours. But there were surprises that await us in the final 25 kilometers.
We began our assault enroute Mt. Ayaas, the new peak that was included for this year’s edition. And then this is where my agony began. The profile was sharp that I was grappling on any available rock, trunk or root. I did a lot of stops and decelerated along the way as Van kept moving in front to pull me up, psychologically. I was challenged, of course but the body was not willing. Halfway to the peak, I chanced on Dennis Uy who was also taking his long breaks and soon, I was seeing the neon shorts of Tin Salazar above. So I guess I wasn’t alone in this battle.


Finally, we reached Mt. Ayaas and hurriedly scuttled down the steeper downhill. It was a struggle, really as I feel I’ve drained my energy level from that wicked climb (250 m). Plus my coordination was no longer reliable as fatigue and mild cramping took over. It’s supposed to be a brief 4-kilometer descent only but I feel I’m no longer in control of my functions. 2 kilometers into Aid Station 4, I was a walking zombie as sleepiness finally caught up. Van, the ever patient pacer, had to make regular stops while awaiting for the octopus to climb out of the aquarium. This was perhaps my lowest hour as thoughts of DNF and sleeping forever on the boulder kept entering my woozy head. We were hearing the sounds of the videokes but civilization was light years away.

Finally, Km. 34 (which actually read 36 kilometers in my Garmin) and I knew I will survive this little devil. Friends Bryan Tan Seng, Juvy Pagtalunan and CJ Paran attended to us like arriving gladiators from a 100-year war and I devoured every available food, liquid and provision. I took a 10-minute nap but Van who was supposed to wake me up also dozed off. So 30 minutes later (12:45 pm), we had to leave our little oasis and take on the desert, our final 16 kilometers.

For some perspective, it would help to know that I have finished 100-km trail runs without sleeping. Sleepiness or boredom were never an issue for me so it was felt weird to be get sleepy for a 50-km race. But the decision to sleep perked up my sluggish body and once on the trails we were moving more regularly. We started slow for the mild ascents but when the numerous downhills came, we were free falling (well, almost). It was a relief to feel alive and back in my trail mode. At Km. 45 (AS 5, Casile), we soon caught up with around 6 runners, including veterans Jonel and Dennis who had quietly slipped out of AS 4 while we were in slumber land.
The pact was to finish as one contingent but Van was already itching to take off his shoes. They have tears in front and small rocks have accumulated inside. And so we tried to move faster than usual. We knew we won’t be the last finishers but we also want to push ourselves and learn to bounce back after that near-dnf episode. Finally, the uphills flattened out and it was a rolling rollicking jaunt to the finish line.
We crossed the finish line at 13:03. Our elevation gain was 2,724 meters while elevation loss was 2,754 meters. It was one energy-zapping, mind-wracking, but mind blowing day and we survived it. By the time I got home, though, I have a full blown laryngitis and have lost my voice, thus the title.


Special thanks to people who captured us during the race’s highs and lows:  Brian Tan Seng, Goldy dela Cruz and the Running Photographers.

A million thanks to the Baboy Ramo Group for one hell of a race, perhaps the most difficult 50K trail run in the country.  I was wary of getting lost but throughout the race, whether in the dark or daylight, your ribbons and markers were everywhere, especially those crucial turns.  The route (c/o the Master Gene) was testy and punishing but gives a reprieve and break just when I was about to zap out (I’ll have another downhill, pls.).  The Aid Stations were brimming with food, liquids and kindness/attention/good will from the volunteers.  With a timing chip (c/o Raceyaya), properly marked distances (my Garmin read 50.1 kms.) & well documented race data (e.g. elevation profile, race results, etc.), constant updates in social media with great pictures and videos, professionally manned booths and aid stations, this feels like a real international trail race.  Kudos to Aldean, Jael, Ronald, Gene and Majo!  I see this race having more editions in the years to come.