I run…therefore I am

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When the fierce and the fearless face their fears

They say ultra trail runners are some of the coolest and the baddest of the bunch in a world where less than 10 percent of its denizens have an active and regular healthy lifestyle.  By healthy we may think that hitting the gym 3x a week and doing our weekend long runs on trails to no end is enough.  Add the fact that we eat healthier than many (though that’s still subject to debate) and we have our regular 8-hour sleeps (while our contemporaries have to resort to sleeping drugs).  And we feel invincible.  The fact is underneath those bulging quads and strong core muscles lies a complex body system which can actually be faltering without showing any symptom from the outside.










Thus, we all need to undergo our annual physical examinations.  Ever since I was diagnosed with essential hypertension 4 years ago, undergoing those rigorous x-rays, blood tests and laboratory works has become a yearly ritual courtesy of my health insurance plan.  And I thought everyone was doing the same thing, especially those who have reached their 40s.  So it was a surprise when most runners (and even triathletes) I asked seem to (or chose to) ignore this crucial annual medical checkup.

The rationale usually goes that since they have their regular physical activity and basically look fit (though that is still a subject of contention), they need not get in contact with a needle and have their blood siphoned to gauge their health level.  They ‘know’ that they have no problem, physically and physiologically.  See these rippling back muscles and steely gluteus maximus.  Now let’s run into the sunset…

Well, here’s a wakeup call, guys.  Those sub-1:45 21Ks and sub-6 50Ks – they won’t last forever, not even in the next 5 years.  Unless, one is persistent, disciplined, organized and passionate, but most of us mortals will fall on the wayside to give way to the young turks who can easily run circles around us.  For the years I’ve been into running, I’ve seen many colleagues rise to meteoric highs, peak and soon disappear into oblivion.  And they move on to the next health craze.  Parkour, anyone?

I’m what you may call a Keeper.  I don’t move from one hobby or passion to the next.  Once I’ve found my calling, I latch on to it for as long as I can and just keep going.  I guess that’s how you’d describe my running career – a long well drawn out journey with hardly any finish line in sight.  So I’m in it for the long haul, thus the need to maintain my over-all health, patience and sanity.  No short cuts, no supplemental drinks or vitamins (not even glucosamines with chondroitin), no drugs (except for my anti-hypertensives), no stimulants/uppers (except for some energy gels).  And most of all, I religiously have my regular physical assessment, which this year just included the dreaded (and painfree) but potentially lifesaving colonoscopy procedure.  Soon, I will be including my prostate examination.

An M.D.-patient of mine once quipped (when I told her of my regular barrage of medical and laboratory examinations) that perhaps, I’m might be in continuous search for problems in my body.  Which could hold true but more importantly, I simply want a functioning healthy body that I would be utilizing on my runs and adventures.  Whether it’s my car, house, clinic or body, the key is still prevention so I won’t have to blame myself if I ever found damage or problems which could have easily been resolved upon early diagnosis.

So yes, that’s my long term plan and execution.  It’s not totally fail safe but at least I have a road map to where I’m heading.  My partner complains that I stress myself too much on planning and analysis but that’s just what I’m made of.   It’s in my DNA and in the 52 years I’ve been in this world, thinking ahead has always put things in perspective and guided me through life’s confusing and convoluted boulevards.

So, are you ready to face one of life’s most feared rituals?  You know – blood, needles, hospitals, laboratory and physical examinations – don’t worry it’s not as bad as it seems.  In fact, it could actually add quality to your twilight years.  Now picture yourself at 70, still trudging along some lost trail in the steamy jungles of Reunion Island.  Now wouldn’t that be swell?


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Molars on the run

Perhaps, one of the more neglected and ignored part of the body, the tooth could easily end up last in a runner’s priority list where a well-toned musculature, a robust heart and formidable legs take center stage.  But the little devil once left untreated and rotting can easily make its presence felt during the most unexpected moment, especially during those crucial periods in a race when one’s resistance and strength are already compromised and waning.

Imagine one appropriately trained, properly nourished and well prepared participant in a trail race that took a year to manage, finance, and map out suddenly experiencing one of life’s most excruciatingly painful episodes – the toothache.  And bam! All those months of blood, sweat, mud and tears suddenly vaporizing into thin air due to one missed dental appointment.  But Mr. Badass soldiers on, having survived a plethora of generalized pain, cramping, fatigue, and sleeplessness in all its degree and variety.  But the most dramatic discomfort coming from a sore molar easily beats ‘em all in a kaleidoscope of physical agony.

While many of these trials and tribulations most runners had the chance to experience, embrace and adapt to during training days and lesser races, this rare yet unbearable episode was something unfamiliar and seemed impossible to remedy immediately. At the third aid station, Mr. not-so-bad Ass gulps a strong analgesic to ease the discomfort but an hour later, the gremlin is back with a throbbing vengeance.

Alpha male finds various ways to mask the awful experience as he nears the last aid station. He puts pressure on the cheek area, places some ice to numb them and even pinches it once in a while.  Marshalls at the last aid station are baffled to encounter one bruised runner with half of his face swollen.  The expression on his face was a mixture of relief, nervousness, and frustration.

Relief from the next pain reliever is finally coming down as two emotions surface: nervousness since time is ticking away and this thorn by his side has dramatically slowed him down, and frustration for delaying his dental appointment for weeks.  An hour after leaving the last aid station, the rest of his niggling discomfort in the muscles, the mind and the joints conspire with the odontalgic main man.  Together they collaborate to make Mr. Poor Ass one broken, pained, and wandering zombie runner.

He still makes it within the cutoff time but so do the rest of the participants who were mostly high spirited and vibrant at the finish line.  Meanwhile, our Mr. Thrashed runner is looking lost and out of synch.  In one of nature’s cruelest joke, once he completed the final kilometer of the race, all of his suffering disappears like it never happened at all.

And so he survives this one but now he has learned his lesson.  Or so we thought.  He still foregoes his dental appointment but instead arms himself with sheets of narcotic analgesics.  It works like magic, of course.  Now all the savings he made foregoing his dental visits can go to registration fees for more races to come.  After all, once all his teeth start to rot and thaw, new dentures await.  So from Mr. Badass he has completed his transformation to Mr. Toothless.  And yes, he bites more than he can chew.

Your nigging tooth, if left untreated can result to more than sleepless, lancinating nights.  Let’s look at the other possible complications:  dental abcess, difficulty in breathing (once infection crosses the midline), difficulty in mouth opening (trismus), facial swelling (cellulitis), bone loss, teeth loss, including medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

Jose Lorenzo Mina Jr has been practicing dentistry for the last 27 years and has been witness to the Filipino patient’s evolving attitude and knowledge in dentistry.  While many patients are now armed with various knowledge (some bogus and highly questionable c/o of Mr. Goggle) in dentistry and dental care, a considerable number of patients still want to hold on more to their fancy cellphones and flashy gadgets than their good ole chompers.

Special thanks to Glairold Recella for Van’s picture after ascending Mt. Ayaas last May 27, 2018 during the Outrun your Dreams trail race.






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Trail Wonders and Late Night Encounters

By Van Denn Cruz, D.V.M.

“Doc, emergency!”
Dazzled from my REM deep sleep, I had to peel off the covers and get up from my bed. Our veterinary assistant was pounding the door at 2:00 AM.
“The patient is vomiting and pooping blood” the assistant greeted me as I opened the door. “Looks critical.” He greeted me with his half-swollen eyes and a literally out-of-bed look.
I hurried downstairs to our emergency department’s treatment room. A worried client was almost in tears, presenting her dog in a debilitated state.
“Good morning. What happened to him?” I asked.
“He just puked and pooped blood a while ago. He collapsed afterwards.” After which a flood of tears came running down her cheeks.
As a doctor in a 24/7 veterinary hospital, I had countless nights of staying up late attending to numerous emergency cases. Such practice requires waking up in the unholiest of hours to save a four-legged, tail wagging munchkin.

During those times, I can’t help but credit the times I had also been awake at 2 AM with my feet pounding on soil and gravel along treacherous trails. It was my source of comfort.
Our local trail races usually start when the stars and moon still alight the dark sky. I always enjoy that time when everything is so quiet and peaceful up in the mountains. No life and death situations. No stressful cases and patients. No vet emergencies. It’s just you and your natural biological habitat. I value the feeling when the cold wind embraces my warm body and gives me some relief. It’s awesome to see the moon glow amid the sleeping yellow lights of the city below. Up there the trees stand eerily tall and quiet, casting shadows on the beaten path. For several hours I escape the crazy and busy urban jungle I have below the hills. I am free.

Feeling for a weak pulse, I immediately put the adult, male mongrel on an Oxygen mask. His femoral pulse was weak and asynchronous. We attached an IV catheter to establish a venous access and immediately gave doses of the medicines we deemed necessary. The heart beat was very quick and the legs were getting cold.
“What’s happening!? Pooochieeeeee! Nooooooooo!” the client screaming her head off.
“Poochie is in a state of shock. We need to up his blood pressure so the different parts of his body can equally receive the right amount of blood it needs” I replied.
The client was on the verge of hysteria as we put the patient under a heat lamp.
“Chie-chie don’t leave me!!!”
The client charged to her dog and smothered his head with kisses and tears. Adrenaline was bouncing from room to room.
We were defined by the white walls and glass walls of our space. The space was bare and hissed with the sound of Oxygen. The white fluorescent ceiling lights casted ominous shadows on the empty room and chairs beside us.

My right foot got stuck in ankle-deep mud as I finished my downhill descent. Focusing my head lamp below, I found my way out of the obstacle. Several meters from where I stood is a stream of jet black water. The sound of dribbling fluid played its song under the cover of the night. I sat at the bank and scooped out water. I drank it even when I was not thirsty. It was great to be in such a tranquil place.
“He’s gone!!!” the client shouted to me as the mutt’s ECG reading flat lined.
The heart beat was gone. The ECG indicated a systole – cardiac arrest.
I injected epinephrine with the hope of reviving its failing heart and administered chest compressions.
The client filled the room with her rage and hysteria. It was a scene straight out of an afternoon soap opera. Her loud painful cries resonated the quiet halls of our facility. It’s as if she was losing her mind. Her heartache was reverberating throughout the whole building. It was just too much to bear.

It was a steep uphill climb when my sweat started to pour and my heart started to beat tremendously fast. My quads began to complain. But I was having a great time feeling this suffering. The crickets were humming in unison. I started to walk slowly, rethinking of how terrible and euphoric I was at the same time. I closed my eyes and became more aware of myself and the peace that the experience was bestowing upon me.
The dog started to have a cardiac activity on the ECG. We all felt a wave of relief. He stabilized after several minutes. The rodenticide antidote must be working its magic.
We all sat down and I looked outside. The night deemed to be long and infinite. “So far, so good” I murmured. I turned my attention back to the client. “This is her second life” I told her.
“Thank you so much, Doc. I thought I was going to lose him. For 10 years, he was my source of strength and happiness. I can’t imagine a life without him.”
I smiled to her and checked Poochie. He was breathing normally and his mentation was somewhat improving. Laying on the table was this large, well-loved dog who was someone else’s family member.
“He accidentally ate the rat poison that our maid left open on our kitchen table. I was furious about it. You think he’ll make it?”
“It depends on the amount of poison Poochie’s body has absorbed. I’m afraid he may have had a lot of it.”
“Please do everything you can!” as tears welled again. “I had lost so much pets in the past few years. I don’t want it to happen again.”
“The outcome of this treatment will ultimately depend on Poochie’s fighting will and response to the medications.” I said.
Suddenly, Poochie had a seizure. The ECG was thumping with a series of tachycardias.
I hurriedly administered an anti-convulsive medication.

I drifted on top of CM50’s highest peak. It was dawn. The sunlight glistened on the evergreen fields of grasses. The clouds were hiding by the landscapes below. It was chilly and we barely made it to the cut off time at the turn around. My partner was smiling as we stopped by to sit down and ingest the awe of what we were seeing. We opened our zip lock bag of trail mix. I laid down on the blanket of grass beneath me while I munched on the nuts and dried fruits. We were halfway through the course.

In my mind, Lana del Rey’s Video Game single was playing. “Heaven is a place on earth with you/Tell me all the things you wanna do/I hear that you like all the bad girls/Honey, Is that true?”.
I was humming on the song as Poochie finally collapsed. Heart rate gone, breathing is none. I looked at his owner, indignant.
Poochie is in doggie heaven, running across the fields of glistening grass and eternal sun shine. He was running his own race, on the trails.

*Based on true events
*Written in dedication to the love mutually shared by people, their pets and the trails

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Our Milo Marathon 2017

Milo Marathon has been an annual pilgrimage for Van and I so even with more than a week of disruption in our training sessions (a bad flu reminiscent of my dengue bout in 2012 when I missed Milo) and minimal mileage (our longest was more than a month ago at 15 kms.), we plunged into the unknown. It helped that we had no expectations so the pressure to maintain a certain pace and target times was inexistent. We were there to just have fun and hopefully register a decent finish time. And what a race.20543592_10214429193861778_4714494226004404793_o
With a storm brewing, we were treated to a windy and cool race along Roxas Boulevard, Buendia Avenue and around Fort Bonifacio with minimal rain (bummer). It was initially a strong start for us (finishing at 59 minutes at 10 kms) then dwindling little by little (21 kms at 2:10). Still, our spirits were on a high. Perhaps, my intermittent intake of energy gel and Saltsticks helped keep the cramping at bay.
Before entering the Bonifacio area, the cramping intensified and I had to resort to walking breaks. But it was nothing full blown to totally slow me down. From KM22 onwards, there was minimal or no episodes of cramping. It was fatigue which took over and wore me down. Many a time, I told Van to go ahead so I can keep my own pace but every few hundred meters, he was there to egg me on. So I had to keep chasing his lime green presence from afar.

On our return trip along Buendia avenue, I surprised myself by jogging longer and walking more briefly. I kept telling myself that I have no stomach issues, the weather was perfect, I have little cramping and I was running for a dentist friend who’s recovering from a neoplasm excision. Plus I have the most patient pacer in the world who knew how to push my buttons. So along with music and a lot of positive energy, I was moving and grooving towards the reclamation area.
The final 4 kilometers of the Milo Marathon had always been a hellish ordeal for me punctuated by fatigue, cramps and long walks. In this edition, it was a bit of cramping and fatigue which thankfully were overpowered by a lot of good vibes and a comfortable weather. It has been some time since I’ve crossed the final 200 meters smiling and soaking in the boisterous cheers from the waiting crowd. And here I was with hardly a trace of grimace or pain (though it had to do more with the photographers strewn along than my actual physical condition), strutting and preening along the last few meters as cameras clicked and people roared.

And just like that, it was over, 4hours and 52minutes later. It’s my 7th Milo Marathon and my 24th full marathon since 2010. It’s been a long journey with hopefully, no end in sight. Congratulations to all 32,000 participants!

Thanks to Rickpet  Lens Photography, Run Lipa, Active Pinas, Running Photographers, Bicolano Runner and Photograffy for the great pictures! Cheers!

The Transylvania 50K: What (Frozen) Dreams are Made of

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Wet. Shivering. Frozen dreams. Four words to sum up our Transylvania 50K experience which ended after 8 hours at KM27. We managed to hurdle the most difficult portions – the first 5 kms of steady ascent followed by 4 kms of steeper rise, the hilly climbs among collosal boulders leading into a mile of a 70-degree ice wall. But then the mountain gods seemed to have other things in mind.

Van and I arrived at the Romanian capital of Bucharest 3 days before the race and travelled a good 3 hours to Bran via bus. Along the way, we met an Israeli named Ari who was doing the 100K edition and other crazy ultras thereafter. The third week of May in the northern hemisphere is the week before summer starts officially but in these parts, the weather can easily shift from sunny to cloudy and cold and that’s what we experienced many times as we roamed around the inviting towns of Bran and the neighboring Brasov & Rasnov.  We packed in some good mileage of walking, climbing (going up the hilly Citadel) and exploring (spelunking in the caves of Valea Cetatii) just to shake off the nerves. The day before the race, we got our race kits after presenting the long and specific requirements for the race. Both of us were on tenterhooks on what lied ahead of the alpine mountain range, mostly on the steep climb in the early part of the race and the erratic weather.

A good 300 or so participants for the 50K edition showed up near the grounds of the Transylvania castle (the 100K runners were released an hour earlier) before the 7 am start. The weather was sunny and cool and the atmosphere was jovial. Our backpacks, though bursting with the required provisions, were surprisingly bearable. And we were off.

A mild ascent to the town’s pastoral farmlands had us moving constantly. Soon the climbs steepened towards the lurking evergreen forest in front of us. The paths would widen and shrink as we gained more elevation. This was what we had come to expect so our moods were upbeat, what with all the verdant and primitive landscape at every turn. A steep climb towards a giant obelisk of a rock had us hiking but more awe-inspiring views of snow-lined peaks welcomed us near the first peak. After a few hours of continuous climb, the ground flattened a bit so we knew we had survived the testy first 9 kilometers. A few more struggles and we found ourselves flying down towards the first aid station (Km. 12, Checkpoint Malaesti) after a little over 3 hours. Amidst a fairy tale-like setting surrounded by behemoth peaks, the station was bursting with varied food offerings but we concentrated on pickles, pretzels, gummy bears plus a few energy gels.

We traipsed among pastoral meadows as early signs of snow appeared. It’s one of the highs we had during race – being able to jog while marveling at the verdant land bordered by colossal rock formations. Then the elevation of the uphill began to intensify. And it was no longer fun. Suddenly, a white hill appeared in the horizon and we saw the long line of climbers conquering it. At this time, we had latched on a new found friend George, who’s a young Romanian doctor working in London. Or maybe he realized we needed his dire help for the struggles ahead and he never abandoned us, especially during the continuous steep climb along the icy stairs of the Chimney (KM16). I never looked down during that ordeal and tried to keep my pace regular and moving while Van had the scare of his life after nearly slipping a few times while looking down at the yawning valley below (for a fleeting second, his brain whispered, ‘And so this is the end’).

Finally, we reached the top but the minor climbs at the peak never let up. Many a time, the visibility was almost zero and the wind velocity was quite strong as we had our hypothermic struggles (at 3 degrees Celcius) searching those darn ribbons. Thankfully, George was there to lead us along the summit. At this time, we had put on our final armour (gloves, buff masks) against the harsh surrounding but the cold and the wind were piercing and a bit unbearable. A few more climbs and we entered a weather station where hot drinks and food were sold. It was a relief for us tropical denizens whose coldest experience in trail running was high up in the mountains of Kalinga at night.

Venturing outside, under poor visibility and a worsening weather condition, the going became tension-filled while the clock kept ticking away. Along with the rain, pellets of hale pummeled our jackets and we could no longer feel our hands and faces A lot of waiting and backtracking coupled with the strong rain and winds just heightened the uncertainty. Finally, on our way down, a series of towers greeted and guided us, as haunting views of hills and mountains appeared and disappeared with the ever moving clouds and fog. When the elements cleared up, the views were amazing, sending positive vibes and getting us moving. George waited for us a number of times as we negotiated along shrubs and bush areas and the more challenging steep trails around boulders and narrow waterways.

Traces of the meadowlands appear from afar but it would take us over 30 minutes to finally reach Aid Station Pestera  (KM 26). It felt like entering an oasis of food, comfort and warmth. As I was munching on the yummy snacks soaking wet, I started shaking furiously as the metabolism slowed down and the inevitable cold set in. The support team got into business, as I stripped off my wet garments and got my feet immersed in a warm water bath. In that state, any thoughts of going outside and finishing the race simply evaporated.

And so culminates our edited journey with me shaken, stirred and shivering (and the salvage team trying to thaw me back to normalcy).

And yet looking back – I feel that we could have finished the last 23, mostly descents, within the last 6.5 hours or it might have been too foolish. Aaaah, the regrets and tribulations of another DNF (did not finish)! Don’t worry I’ve moved on and the lessons I’ve gathered from this adventure I will take with me to the next. For in the face of cold harsh conditions, we also witnessed and experienced some of nature’s most awe-inspiring sceneries and creations. Some of which I may never do again like walking and climbing along hardened ice (slippery but manageable with a pair of poles), being assaulted by the raw beauty of the steep Carpathian mountain ranges outlined by melting snow and sharp ridges and surviving my first alpine encounter.

I have to thank some kind hearted souls who heeded our last minute requirements for this race (all in taped seams and seamless zippers) – Cheryl Bihag for the pink TNF jacket, waterproof pants and ice claws, Atty Jon for the TNF jacket (sent via LBC hours before my departure), Keshia Fule for the Gopro wrist holder and my patient Rossana who lent her Gopro camera. Thanks to Majo, Aldean, BoyP and Jael for the invaluable tips, fellow trail runners and Team Marupok for all the training runs. Cheers!


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Our Old Spanish Trail 54 Kilometer Journey

The last time I was in Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya was two years ago when we finished our Four Lakes 100K trail race. It was not the best our races since Van was still not used to such distance and time but we managed at a little over 27 hours.

It was only a matter of time when we finally made our come back since we’ve been concentrating on the trails of late. This was perhaps, one of my most enjoyable trail races I’ve experienced to date but it had also its low moments though the highs were more frequent and longer. Now let’s go back to the starting line at April 1, 2017, 3 am. It was a good 104 runners taking on the OST 50 race and we were properly garbed with our long black compression pants and base layers plus our trekking poles and we look like divers of some deep sea treasure. We arrived (along with my cousin Jessica) a day before and were able to invest on some good sleep so the spirits were high as we met up with old friends, Alfred, Simon, Doodsie and Carlo. And we were off on our rollercoaster journey of highs and lows. Here’s a run down…

High on KM 2: The eagerness, cool windy weather, the dark trails, the happy company of runners (even if jostling to overtake each other) were just too infectious as we kept moving like there’s no tomorrow before the sun could come out. It was a trying climb but to see others struggle with you takes the weight out of it. Soon, we were beginning to go down as we kept pounding the ideally packed solid earth. My Peregrines (I bought 3 weeks ago) were adjusting a bit but once tightened at KM 9, we were soaring like the peregrine falcons.
High on KM 15: Taking on the the new Ansipsip route which dips tremendously towards a brook and the rice fields then suddenly pulling us up on a continuous ascent towards Mt. Ugo. There was hardly a perception of distance and depth as the whole place was relatively cloaked in darkness with flanks of headlamps moving around the trails like fleeting fireflies. I thought I had landed on Rivendell.
Low on KM 21: The ascent to the peak of Ugo is perhaps just a kilometre but with an elevation gain of 350 meters, it was an ordeal to keep a constant pace on its rocky, rooty route. Our trusty trekking poles served us well as we employed our shoulders to pull our bodies up, one step at a time.


High on KM 22: But once we have reached the peak and taken in the awesome scenery, we knew it was time to fly. At first, the steep and irregular descent was a bit difficult to navigate but once it eased out, we were free falling and enjoying every moment of it. The route would take us on hairline trails under the cover of giant pines and sweeping vistas. It reminded me of how gorgeous the mountains and landscape of Nueva Vizcaya were so I always keep coming back. Suddenly. Disaster…17499536_1890147474557131_7505941367932533283_n (1)
Low on KM 25: Slipping on a single track downhill path and getting splayed at the edge of the ravine. Stayed for a few moments until the runner behind assisted me to get off my ass and start moving again. It was a sweet reminder of how a single misstep could easily lead to big blow or injury. The going got a tad slower after but I hardly made any stops. It was an endless undulating descent around mountain edges.
Low on KM 30: The endless descent going to Kayapa East Market as we tried to beat the clock for the 8-hour cut-off time while battling fatigue and keeping up with my younger and faster partner. The knees were taking all the brunt that variations in my cadence and footfalls had to be done.
High on KM 35: We reached AS4 in less than 7 hours so we took all the rest, liquid and food (the Halo-halo was still a winner!) we could get as we prepared to the next battle ahead. And there it was. Looming in front of us was the Wall, as high and as steep at the one in Winterfell.
Low on KM 36: Going up Amelong Labeng in the early part as I tried to fathom and calculate the extent of our continuous climb with the sweltering heat zapping me at every step. Many seasoned runners were dropping like flies but Van was never pausing except to hydrate and wait for that cute old guy from below. It’s not even fast but a constant plodding and moving along the zigzagging trail. So what was his secret weapon?

High on KM 37: After I caught up with him, he told me to incorporate breathing with movements of the trekking poles. Breath in upon planting the pole then breath out upon retrieval. It was hard at first but once I got the hang of it, I was moving more regularly and was slowing down less. It worked wonders and soon we were on our way towards the two towers.
Low on KM 41: The communication towers seem light years away and with a kilometre of continuous uphills, my energy and enthusiasm was beginning to dry up. I was moving at a glacial pace and taking breaks in between. Before I was about to call it quits, an oasis in the desert materialized – the Marupok contingent with multitudes of spicy tuna sandwich and cold drinks was the jolt I needed at that moment. (Maraming Salamat, Team Marupok!) With less than 15 kilometers to go, it was time to mine our remaining power.


High on KM 43: Once the downhills started, I knew we were on a roll. We kept moving while taking advantage of the gravitational pull. The grassy soil would lead to double concrete trail strips but we just kept going and overtaking certain runners. Whenever I was getting bored and tired, Van would play our little game – 3 concrete borders of walking and 3 borders of jogging. It burned the kilometres and kept us distracted from the rising temperature.
Low on KM 51: After an eternity (average pace of 12min/km means 5 kilometers per hour), we finally reached the main highway with a kilometre to reach the last aid station. It was a hot and draining walk but once there, a cup of piping soup (served by my cousin Jessica who also acted as medic at Castillo station) and some solid food and we were off and running.

Australian runner James Kalleske caught up with us and we let him go ahead but it was a downhill road so we kept chasing him on the last 3 kilometers. We finished #31 and #32 with a time of 10:54:49 (out of 83 finishers). Now that’s one high we won’t forget too soon.

Thank you Frontrunner Magazine (RD Jonel and Ms. Con Mendoza) for a punishing, surprising, memorable, well-organized and professionally-manned trail race. Thank you to all the volunteers who gave us power and confidence during our low moments during the race. Congratulations to all participants! Kayapa holds a special place in my heart with all the highs and lows I’ve experienced on its wondrous trails since 2012. See you all in the trails soon! Cheers!

Awesome photography courtesy of Team Marupok, Jaja Ferrer, Laiza C. Manuel, Active Pinas & Jessica Gonzaga.  Cheers!OST elevation50k

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The Maragondon Five Peaks Trail Marathon

It’s our first time to do a trail race in Cavite which we never imagined would have hills, even mountains. And what we thought would be a short journey from Marikina took us over 3 hours. Well so much for assumptions.

The trail scene has changed quite significantly for the last few years that faces were no longer familiar. Fortunately, Van and I took in Jonel Mendoza and Lito Lopez on our way to Maragondon and was welcomed by RD Benedict Menesis, the same guy who guided us on the crucial.paths of the first edition of the Hardcore100 (2013) until he disappeared in the dark and we were left on our own devices.

Now back to 2017. It was a sparsely occupied gym of the public school where runners from all over the Metro have congregated, mostly unfamiliar yet pleasingly warm faces. Around 114 runners have signed up for the 42K edition and by 3 am we were released.

It was a good 2 kilometers of rolling road with a swinging bridge around the town before exiting finally on dirt trails. A few kilometers into the race, we made a sudden turn going down an endless path strewn with sharp rocks and pebbles. It was only then that I realized my headlamp was emitting a weak light. Add to the recipe my returning newbie skills with my new trekking pole and trail shoes I just bought 5 days ago and it was a disaster waiting to happen. And so it was one slippery turn after another. No major falls really but the struggle was real especially at the turn around tracing the same way going up.  Many runners were awaiting for daylight to reveal so they can navigate more consistently and lessen their slips.

Before the brightness would take over, I had a nasty fall where I sprained my right pinkie with my trekking pole and it still hurts as I write this. The unexpected muscular strain resulted to cramping which was easily eased by the kind souls around me. More ordeals were in the offing. Some mild coughing had emanated coupled with activated gag reflexes as I felt my throat dry up. A few kilometers later, I felt acidity in my tummy and was near to vomiting all the solids I’ve consumed during the trip to Cavite. Memories of TNF 100 in 2013 came rushing in and I wanted to just quit. Then I felt my stomach croaking that I had to find me a dark corner and unload the extra food I’ve devoured for the last few hours.

Ten minutes later (KM 18), I was back to life – no more vomiting nor acidity nor fatigue, as if I had resurrected from the dead.

And just I like that it was time to rock and roll. Amidst cool breezy weather, the sun slowly revealed some of nature’s lovely rock formations, ragged cliff structures and thick verdant forest grounds. It was an easy rolling terrain entering minor hills, rivers and expansive fenced ranch areas. We saw one quarry site but in general, it’s obvious the local government is protecting them from illicit occupants and kaingeros. Soon, we were going up – nothing really challenging but it slowed the pace in general. But we weren’t complaining as the territory was covered with medium sized trees and the sceneries at every turn were picturesque.17361927_667789986746760_5726279839157362711_n

As the angulation became sharper, we knew were nearing the peak (Mt. Bolboc) and the turn around. Many runners have deposited themselves in the peak area as they replenished their liquid and food supplies. We hardly stayed and began our downhill journey. Now was the perfect time to test our Saucony peregrines for some semi-technical descents and topography changes. And they didn’t disappoint. They were clawing and sticking on steep curves and slippery soil. And off we flew.

An hour or so later, the land flattened and we took on the road leading to the Bonifacio Monument, where Andres and his brothers were assassinated upon orders of Aguinaldo. A very technical climb on a hill gave us our third and last band. And then we were on the road back to the finish. No more challenges lay ahead so we gave our all in the final 5 kilometers, halting every now and then, then zooming on. We were able to go past some runners as the familiar town road soon took us to where we had began. We reached the finish at 7:28 ranking #s 52 and 53. Congratulations to Conquer led by Benedict Menesis for a satisfying and memorable race! Cheers!


Special thanks to the photographers who recorded our struggles and triumph – Shawn Michaels, John Eruel Oquino and SPDS group.

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My Journey to Tarawera: The Wild Mud Chase


Tarawera was never in my radar early last year.  My default plan for a destination race was a full road marathon with Berlin and Chicago in the running.  But then, my brother who’s an active road biker in New Zealand phoned me about Tarawera and that some of his buddies were joining and in the less than an hour, I made the decision to take on it.  So am I gonna do a 60K or an 85K?  A little research and some advice from Jael (with a lot of guidance from Filipino Tarawera finishers) and my 85K registration was finalized.

After finishing some road business (the Milo Marathon & Milo Lucena 21K), I plunged into trail training with DBB’s Mt. Batolusong 50K and CM50 as the highlights.  A few cramming time on the trails, mostly with Team Marupok on the hills of Montalban and by February 6, I found myself at the starting line of the Tarawera Ultra Race, albeit 5 pounds heavier.

The last statement demands some clarification.  I started my vacation a month before the race but I’ve mapped out a detailed training schedule to make sure I won’t go off the fitness level grid.  Unfortunately, after coming from a busy, stressed out environment (I was rushing patient cases days before my departure), all I wanted to do was relax and reconnect with my brother’s family.  After all, I was on vacation mode, right?  Add up my poor sleeping habits and the irresistibly luscious dishes my sister-in-law kept feeding us and you have one out-of-shape, unrecognizable me.

Fortunately, I registered for the SMC 10K run in Sydney (52:26) and the Hutt River Trail Marathon in Wellington (4:36) to ensure myself of some mileage.  In between, I squeezed in more kilometers while touring & walking Sydney’s labyrinth of streets and back alleys plus more jogs and runs along Bondi and Blue Mountain.  Wellington was more tricky with its numerous hills and windy environment but the minimal slow runs I did was augmented by indoor workouts.20160205_135942

We arrived at Rotorua a day before the Tarawera race in time for the race kit claiming, briefing and sports expo where I also reconnected with Filipino runners Arlene, Kirk & Kian.  Four more New Zealand-based Pinoy runners were also there to bring Team Pilipinas to a total of 8.  Tarawera is the second race in 2016 of the Ultra-Trail World Tour calendar and the presence of some elite runners made for an intimidating situation for undertrained and unfit me.  Those thoughts kept me awake that night with only a maximum sleep of 3 hours and soon, it was time to prepare and head off to the start.


And we are off.  The Tarawera race started quite late at 6 am with runners from the three categories bunched together.  It was a dark and rainy slow start as all 1,300 runners negotiated the crowded trail inside a pine forest for the first 4 kilometers.  I dove into an ocean of bobbing headlamps, trying to pass runners who have been overwhelmed by the numerous hills and slippery terrain.  The light rain on my face and the slowly revealing silhouettes of giant trees and ferns all around made for a fairy tale setting.  Still infused with enthusiasm, I attacked the race with gusto with enough walks on the uphills.

Leading to the first aid station, the terrain started to descend and kept on it as we circled the edge of Lake Tikitapu.  It was my golden hour as I glided down with ease among zigzagging paths laden with soft mud of ideal consistency – soft enough to absorb the pressure but not too sticky to accumulate and cause sliding.  Or maybe, the leg muscles were still strong to help me counter any forces which can lead to a nasty fall.  16.4 kilometers later, we were sprinting towards the beach side of the lake as hordes of well-wishers and volunteers welcomed and cheered for us at our Blue Lake station.24901093855_ea1b8b72a1_z


The next aid station was only at KM22.8 and relatively flat but it was the next aid station (Okataina Lodge) at KM39.4 which took light years to reach.  The third leg of this race at 16.6 kilometers is without a doubt the longest and has the two steepest climbs before descending into some mean technical downhills.  Even if I was a bit spent, I just had to suck in the endless climbs and muddy landscape lest I fail to make the 1:50 pm cut off.  The women and senior runners I overtook earlier started gaining on me but I just stayed in my glacial pace until the ground started to tilt down and I was soaring.

Weather predictions expected the rain to cease before noon but by 12:30 pm when I left Aid Station 3, the light shower kept pummelling the trail and would continue up to the early evening.  The next leg offered a rolling slope with intermittent views of the lovely Lake Okataina.  The route slithers around the still water of Okataina and a steady pace can be had while keeping an eye on the deep yawning gorge below.TUM_2016_001089

By KM 49.2, I was welcomed by a groovy bevy of hippies and hefty slices of pizza at AS 4 (Humphries Bay) so even if I was drenched to the bone, I was on a high.  The Tarawera Aid Stations even if at times are too far in between are a welcome oasis of fruit slices, yummy sandwiches, hot soups and energy gels & power drinks.  And they are manned by some of the most enthusiastic volunteers in the planet while garbed in various outlandish motiffs – Santa Claus town, Star Wars space station, etc.

The fifth leg was a good 8.1 kilometers but with the expansive and mysterious Lake Tarawera (our third and last lake) on my right, it was a pleasurable jaunt.  Many a time, I would try to hook up with a train of runners running moderately but consistently while sharing war stories.  It was a worthy distraction from the cold and fatigue plus it burned the miles, unnoticeably.  We were at the tail end of the race and many of the men were already planning to quit or downgrade to a shorter distance.  It was the women who were more enthusiastic and kept me going.TUM_2016_005103

The last 4 kilometers leading to the 60KM finish line was a series of winding paths eventually tracing the course of the Tarawera River.  With the rushing waters in the background, I linked with Mac who related to me the running scene in New Zealand.  He is witness at how Kiwis of whatever gender, age or size prepare and train systematically and regularly months before their races.  I told him how many times I saw Wellingtonians run, walk or bike to and from work with their backpacks on. It’s no wonder that many of us were left biting their dust come race day.TaraweraFallsLg

The rains never ceased so the swollen river led us to 2 raging cascades before the behemoth multi-layered, grandiose Tarawera Falls.  I was in awe of its gushing waters in full display but we had the final cut-off to catch.  85KM runners should leave the 60KM mark on or before 5:50 pm.  We arrived at 5:20 pm but we had to leave soon so there was little room to change to a new base layer and grab some snack.  Along the way, I grabbed Mac and Kirk (who had arrived earlier and was having issues of making the 6:20 pm cut-off at KM 72, for 100KM runners) to join me on our 85-KM quest.

With no cut-offs to chase, we settled to a more relaxed slow pace even if a pang of guilt for not pushing myself hovered like some dark cloud.  The rain and the impending cold was simply zapping what’s left of my enthusiasm.  The final 25 kilometers was supposed to be the most runnable portion of the course but there I was making small talk with two guys and we have settled to just finish the race. So walk we did along a wide corridor flanked by tall pines on both sides, as dusk settled in.  Fortunately, Mac’s pace was rather brisk that Kirk and I had to catch up with him every now and then.  The path was now grassy and a welcome relief from the previous muddy and rolling terrain, pre-60K.24272726244_d5bfad522a_k

At the Titoki station, we stayed longer to ward off the cold (with piping hot soup!) and take to the portalets which were remarkably well-stocked and most welcome at this part of the race instead of digging some hole in the dark forest.  We left the station with the dark slowly bleeding across the land.  The rain had ceased and it was a bit foggy as we settled into a walk and jog routine.  Soon, we were traversing an isolated road as we swapped more stories and experiences.  The final kilometres was a trot in the dark highlighted by a purple-lit cage bridge, a ‘floating’ aid station manned by multiple Princess Leias and two steep sandy uphills.

Finally, traces of civilization appeared into view – street lights, houses, distant sounds.  But it would take us almost an hour before the finish line beckoned.  We came charging in as one flank with me holding the dinky Philippine flag over my headlamp.  Among the 85K finishers, we were at the tail end but the cheering crowd and supporters were as animated and enthusiastic as they were in the morning, as Race Organiser Paul Charteris gave us a warm hug.  Many of the 100K finishers, by this time were finishing in small groups, as midnight slowly crept in.  Less than an hour later, our lone Filipina runner, Arlene Agulto, finished her 100K adventure while Kian finished his hours earlier.

And so culminates our journey which circled three lakes, explored forest reserves, entered enchanted territories we only used to dream of.  This was New Zealand in its untamed, harsh and natural state we had experienced and immersed in that day.  And for many of us who have found bliss and fairyland, this seems just the beginning of something big, incredible and exciting.  See you soon Kiwiland!


Photography by Marceau Photography, Joseph Iric Mina & Tarawera Ultramarathon

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50 Peaks of Love

Constant running partners in an ultra trail race are hard to come by, considering the trickling number of runners, the total distance and the varying paces of the participants. The longest time two runners would stay together would be just a few hours or a number of legs of the race, especially at night when things become unpredictable and creepy. One eventually breaks down, gives in, and reluctantly lets faster partner go.
So, what if two runners committed themselves to stay together during the whole duration of the race? Well, it’s gonna be a story of forever or they’ll go down in flames. Another bromance story in the brew? Not in a thousand kilometers. I’m talking about romance on the ridge, love on the rocks, pecking on the peak, titillating tales on the trail – a true vow between 2 people in the mountains and in life.endlessly_by_devoshun
I mean, how many times have we compared running to our journey through life? A runner goes through a gamut of emotions and states during a race that soon enough, all the façade and masks come melting away and the real person emerges beyond the sunscreen, mud splatter and sweat. It’s almost comparable to life itself that if 2 people can survive 30 hours of being together through all the good, the bad and the ugly – it’s safe to say they can go through life’s roughest and most testy phases together. And emerge as winners.
Most of these relationships actually emerged and were nurtured on the trails.

Imagine being a lone female runner struggling through killer up hills and eventually getting thrashed come night time when the atmosphere becomes altogether different. Suddenly Alpha male runner comes swooping in. Sweating gorgeously, he strikes a cute conversation on his death defying experiences and how he lost so much blood after being sucked dry by a diabolical limatik. Girl rolls her eyes at boy’s absurd tales but finds comfort and security in his unwavering determination to stay and protect his new found partner who seems to be floundering every now and then. Soon night cloaks the mountains into total blackness with only 2 bobbing headlights on the seeming horizon.

During the night’s journey, girl would falter, move on, slow down and almost DNF but suave partner would be by her side every step of the way, offering sustenance, corny anecdotes and solace whenever the cut-off time seemed out of reach. It was a golden moment for boy to strut his trail skills on the mountains and into her heart. He would coax, joke, push, flirt and egg on girl to keep moving in the light of fatigue, boredom, hypothermia (“body heat will get us through this one, sugababe”), negativity and just plain longing for the softness and familiarity of one’s bedroom.
In the seeming mix of extreme emotion, mental and physical battery, girl finally relents and in their lowest point of the race when they were about to throw the towel and just sleep it out at KM50 station, love triumphs over all absurdities and craziness. Now committed to each other, girl & boy take on the last few legs of their first official ultra race as a couple with new found vigor after being “struck to the bone in the moment of breathless delight”. They almost fail to make the cut-off time but since I love a little suspense and happy endings, they finally reach the finish line seconds before the cut-off and the waiting crowd roars in approval and delight. Girl lands on boy’s waiting arms, two lips connect and they exchange body fluids, tinged with mud, sweat and detached limatik fangs. Ewww.lovers_in_the_sunset_by_sageata-d2pebkf
In the subsequent races, they run as team Red donning their matchy-matchy scarlet uniforms and always sealing their finishes with an extended lip lock which later on had become vomit-inducing and slashed the number of trail participants by 50%. But the pair kept conquering more adventures and ultraraces and was inseparable at every kilometer. Through all the kilometers together, they’ve seen and experienced each other’s best (“pumpkin, your sexy booty is setting my soul on fire”), worst (“munchkin, I think I just plunged on quicksand and I’m sinkin…”) and in between (“honey, my soul is taking flight and it’s going to land into your heart”). But as in life, they’ve chosen to stick together in all its facets, spectrums and nuances. And their exploits just kept piling up, up to this time.
So this trail story is a mishmash of various stories I’ve compiled through the years but in the spirit of inclusion and tolerance (courtesy of Pope Francis), it’s not only between boy & girl. It may well be boy & boy, girl & girl or boy & dog etc., as well. Belated Happy Valentines everyone! Or as friend would put it – happy V.D., just don’t get V.D. (which in the 1990s has become S.T.D.)

Images obtained from Deviant Art.


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The Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015: Meandering & Struggling in the Fields of the Gods

It was a year in the making.  It was last year when a fellow Team Kulit Jen Aggangan opened up the possibility to the whole team of joining the Vietnam Mountain Marathon.  Many were interested, of course.  But in the end, it was me, Van and Jen who went through with the circuitous online process of registering for the race, searching for the most sensible and viable flights and accommodations, plying and preparing for the trails, finalizing on equipments, gears, nutritional requirements – the works.



Van & Jen in the middle of the town square.


Falling for Sapa.


Last minute mileage:  Going around the indigenous communities around Sapa the day before the race.

We landed in Hanoi, woozy from a red eye trip and promptly explored the bustling city into wherever our weary legs might take us.  The next day, we were off into the northern town Sa Pa, the venue of the VMM 2015.  After 6 hours in a sleeper bus, we found ourselves wandering around the mountain village which used to be one of the hill stations the French had set up during their Indochinese occupation.  And their influences persist to this day – from the neo-classical architecture to the everyday baguette bread.  To say that Sa Pa exudes a more European feel would be an understatement – we felt suddenly transported to some Swiss principality tucked on the hills of Indochina.  Or something like Baguio city in the ’70s.


Let’s do this!

Race kit claiming took place the next day and on our third day, Van & I were at the starting line for the 42K participants.  Gun start was at 7:30 am with the rains welcoming us and persisting throughout the morning.  After a kilometer of rolling terrain, the runners disappeared down a muddy trail where the consistency of the earth got mushier and more slippery as the elevation dipped.  The 70K group (released at 4:30 am) and the 42K lead packers had successfully molested and cumulatively produced a descending treacherous path, more fit to slide on than run in.  And so it was a slow train of runners, groping for whatever stable structure is available but eventually sliding, slipping and goofing around.  Many a time, we just slid the path and let gravity take its course.  Fortunately, my Salomon SLAB was more stable than Van’s ratty Columbias which was threatening to separate from its sole.  So even with the trekking pole, Van required my aid to survive the mudfest.Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015

Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015

A few decent descents later, the assaults began but the stunning sceneries more than made up for the struggles – what with endless green valleys of terraced rice fields, towering blue mountains and rambling rivers at every turn.  We just kept moving while the sun hasn’t completely come out and the rain was ever present to keep us cool and calculated.  The countryside feels familiar and tropical except that they have the four seasons up here (I was in search for oak trees donning their red and orange foliage but all I saw were swaths of giant bamboos).  China, by the way, is just a little over them mountains, just to remind us that we’re already in the temperate zone.


If only to emphasize that we were still in ASEAN territory, we were led through the rice fields and were made to walk through its irregular, unstable and narrow dikes (pilapil).  If one is a bit wary, he can always wade through the watery paddies and many did as we passed through brooks and small waterways.  It was a brief chance to cool down and wash off the mud that had accumulated from hours of rain.  The valley of rice fields gave one a glimpse of how far one is to venture by looking at the runners miles in front and struggling through the next race path.

Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015

The trails soon gave way to roads as we passed through living communities with people doing their daily business.  No drunkards drowning on gin along the streets nor fish wives brandishing those poker cards.  What we saw instead were the Hmong ethnic minority, mostly in their native fineries minding the fields while the children helped or frolicked.  They were shy, curious and innocent of the world outside.  Even in the presence of a mechanical rice grinder, the place still feels unspoilt and isolated and we were light years away from modernity.


Around noon, a heavy fog had shrouded the surrounding areas but we kept trudging and enjoying the cool ideal weather.  Last year they say was damn hot and so we thanked the heavens for a perfect trail weather, even with diminished visibility.  After an hour, the fog finally cleared up to reveal stunning vistas of thickly forested mountains where our guide the day before told us of roaming sun bears, jungle cats and boars.  Fortunately, the path stayed within the valley area across more terraced rice fields (they seem to have perfected this art form from our northern ancestors).Frontpage-Curve11054440_359402114258582_6717057081370314136_n

Soon, the ground started to rise and never let up.  The final climb was steepest and a bit technical so we mined and fed on our recent trail experiences.  We recalled those endless ascents to reach Dayap elementary school, the final assault after Miyamit Falls and many of our more challenging local trails.  And we were off and running.  From the fourth major peak, it was almost like a free fall as we put our quadriceps into beast mode.  Dusk was starting to set in so we kept going, hoping to see a glimpse of that thatched colony of the Sapa Eco lodge but to no avail.  As soon as we saw the hill from afar, we started flying like bats from hell (and overtaking a few runners).  We already have our own Philippine flag securely perched on our trekking pole but the final path leading to the finish hoisted all the national flags of the participants.  I spotted ours and promptly retrieved it.  The flag was huge but to wave it proudly while crossing the finish line of the Vietnam Mountain Marathon was pure heaven.  Some of the Filipino 21K participants and supporters saw it and joined us for one glorious moment in the Filipino running community.

Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2015

P.S.  The next day before the awarding ceremonies, it was the 10K runners turn to go around the rolling roads and trails of Sa Pa town and Jen was the lone Philippine representative.

Photography courtesy of the Vietnam Mountain Marathon and David W. Lloyd photography.


Jenny, our proud 10K representative.