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.For 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 replenished.
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.