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My Journey to Tarawera: The Wild Mud Chase


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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

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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!

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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.

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Van & Jen in the middle of the town square.

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Falling for Sapa.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jenny, our proud 10K representative.


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The CM50 2015 Chronicles: when Frodo & Sam went to Mt. Doom and back…


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RD Jon in his element at the starting line…

Except that there’s no peak to speak of, a landslide had cut off 2 kilometers going there. And there’s really no Frodo or Sam between me and Van because during this 80-km journey, we took turns taking the lead and burning the miles. It’s the landscape, really, which recalled the barren desert scape of Mordor laden with shifting river and lahar lands, endless hills, mountains and ascents plus one stunning and enormous waterfalls to conquer before reaching the turn-around and going back to where it all began – the Clark Parade Grounds.
Checking out the runners at 12 midnight (1 hour before the gun start), I can safely say that Van & I were the most well ‘stocked’ with our backpacks brimming with provisions, including 2 liters of frozen Pocari Sweat each while others were as minimal as one can get. We were here the year before, of course, but we just did the 60KM edition (which had a 16-hr cutoff). This time it’s the ultimate badass distance of 80 kilometers (18-hr cutoff) which I finished in 2012, so why the apprehension and uncertainty?Picture3
The race had already reached an international level (meaning it’s become a qualifying race for some of the most prestigious trail races including the UTMB, once the required points are reached) that we found ourselves running side by side with around 30 foreign participants. A total of 180 had registered yet around 140 only started (135 finished), if only to give one an idea of this race’s reputation. 2 kilometers from Clark, we entered the lahar area, crisscrossing mini-rivers and sand hills. Van took the lead while I glided along in the dark. [brain: so this is what we shall pass through later in the afternoon, if we ever make it on time – will we get scorched and go cuckoo, as last year?].

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7 kilometers and 55 minutes later, we reached Aid Station (AS) 1 and everyone seemed hot to trot. We told ourselves that we just had to keep burning the miles while the sun is still out and the energy is still on a high. So we went up, up, up through that endless stairs, thickets, cogon passageways and wherever the reflective markers led us. At least thrice, we had to use all fours to make the descent but the dark melted one’s perspective and one hardly notices how steep he’s going down. [brain: let’s see how you’d do with the sun in its scorching, searing presence on the return trip].mg
Passing through the Sacobia River, one had to sashay around obstacles of rocks and mild valleys. My once powerful lamp I purchased a month ago was suddenly waning (I forgot that its extra large battery required charging) that I had to let Van light our way. AS 2 (KM18) was near the passage into the cogon and corn fields, leading to the Sandbox area and skimming the SCTEX. Soon, we were descending and entering barangay Sapang Uwak. The ascents began but less than an hour later, we reached AS 3 (KM23) at 4:30 am. Quite fast by our standard but by the time we ventured towards AS 4, Van was getting bored and sleepy. I, myself, was also feeling the fatigue and the struggle of those endless and very steep climbs. But we persisted keeping our slow but constant pace and sustaining ourselves with enough water and food to last a day.12246924_10208439637206605_8747272606471558824_n mvdg
Finally after an eternity (5:45 hours), we saw the colorful AS 4. We hardly stopped and kept on conquering more hills on the way to the peak. Mr. Sun was already in its full glory but we were shielded by the hills around as we kept enjoying the cool weather and the stunning views even with the increasing elevation. There were a few rolling terrains but we knew we were ascending, one step at a time. The lead runners started packing the trail and we knew we were near the turn-around. News reached us that 2 kilometers (a total of 4, really) had been cut off due to a landslide and I knew that we will be making the cut. I reckoned a total of 1 hour had been deleted from our race.
To while away my time, I counted the runners coming in to determine our standing. At the turnaround point, I placed us at 110th so I told Van that we should get in at least into the Top 100 (let’s do some tuhog-tuhog). It was more of a joke, really but the guy had a resurgence of energy, especially with the endless downhills that when we got to AS4, we had reached 93rd place. The ranks would keep shifting, for sure but that second wind definitely boosted our waning spirits.
AS4 was led by singing diva Benj Termulo who helped us rest and replenish before going down to the wondrous and surging Miyamit Falls. The cool dip, including some customary washing and removal of the accumulated pebbles, never failed to bring new life and energy after 48 kilometers of continuous struggle. We left AS 4 (or 30 kms to go) with 8 hours and 15 minutes to go – that’s less than 4 kilometers per hour.12274382_10208439637726618_625927526128809819_n
598542_4241173742242_660676977_nI had to take the lead at this time since Van’s energy had diminished after that cool dip (I know, very strange indeed). And so the endless search for AS3 started. With the inclination of our descents in full view, I could hardly grasp the difficulty and complexity (read: rocks and rocks abound) of these same hills we trotted on with gusto a few hours before. It was daunting at first but we got the hang of it – gliding down fast then walking up to burn the miles, as fast as our knees and legs can take.
Sanctuary in the form of AS3 finally came with Joma Sison, prodding (blaring at our ears, actually) us weary runners that we have 23 kilometers to go at 6 hours before the cutoff. We had definitely slowed down by this time, reduced to walking with minimal jogging going to AS2. KM 18 (AS2) to KM 7 (AS1), I knew, would be the most harrowing with around 3 steep long climbs and passages through high grassy lahar alleys, river ways and slippery downhills with the searing sun following us. So we kept the pace going.12278691_10208439638646641_6324379105681172586_n11224668_10208439637046601_5029486402918876995_n (1)
This was perhaps the most positive stress (Will we make the cut?) I needed to help me push myself and follow Van who’s back to his vibrant self (Yes, it’s the age. Period). He told me later that he just wanted to end our little ordeal, faster and sooner. During our race, we hardly exchanged words except when we needed to eat, piss, rest a bit (more of me) and make some calculations and estimates on the time and distance (still me).
The final few kilometers leading to Puning Spa (near AS1) was as endless, long and boring as I had imagined it to be but with the soft sand to navigate on, movement was slow and dragging. Soon the concrete road came and we were flying towards KM 7 and we knew in a matter of 2 hours, we will be cleaning our shoes and hanging our feet.12294866_10208439638246631_3600173574872158778_n
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The journey along planet lahar was cooler than I had perceived. It was around 4 pm and the shadows of the hills had blanketed our way but I was still lazy to run. I told Van I’d run once we reached the Clark vicinity. We were already savoring our accomplishment at this point. Once inside Clark we managed to jog and trot a bit then dash into the final 300 kilometers to the cheers and congratulations of the waiting crowd. We reached the finish line at 16:53:45 ranking 98th and 99th.
And yes, it was gratifying, life-affirming, glorious and precioussss as I dreamed it would be…Picture2
Casualties of war: Minor sunburns on the neck, legs and face (though I imagined Kris Aquino agonizing in pain if it happened to her), chaffing galore on the nether regions and the soles of both feet (I used my old Asics road shoes since my Salomon felt tighter from all the trainings and races prior).
Congratulations to Atty. Jon Lacanlale for keeping the fire burning in the local trail running scene with CM50 and all its variations. Our profuse gratitude to all the Aid Station marshalls for keeping us sustained and taken care of during the race duration (special mention goes to Benj, Chips & Joma). Thanks to BoyP and Team Marupok for all the trail training sessions (text text soon) and our Milo Apex R2 QC group for our tri-weekly trainings. Special shout out goes to all the old and new acquaintances and friends we met on the trails and the mountains. I guess I’m back but first I got to find me a new pair of trail shoes with a wider toe box.
Special thanks go to Dr. Evelyn Ponce & Dr. Doodsie Mallari for our medical clearances.
Thanks to Alfred and Simon (congrats on your new CM50 PRs!) for the endless post-race stories and keeping me awake during the 2-hour drive home. Alf & Van had dozed off once we hit NLEX. And for my ever sleepy partner, Van for struggling to maintain our sanity and strength in the face of monotony, fatigue, rising temperatures and fluctuating elevation during the race.
Gorgeous photography by Running Photographers, Raceday, Arnold Banaay, Marvin de Guia & Adrian Aquino


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50 kilometers for this 50-year old


Since October is my birthday month, what better (and maddening) way to conclude my 50th name day than with a 50KM Trail Run. The elevation graph seemed simple enough but DBB Mountain Rockstar trail run is one deceptive little devil along the mountains (Mt. Batolusong) of Tanay & Baras, Rizal. The truth (and ordeal) unravels as one starts trudging those endless scenic ascents. We started early at 4 am and the initial onslaught, powered with excitement and anticipation was quite fast, as we clambered over boulders and crossed rushing rivers and waterfalls. But in the back of my mind, I knew it would be a pain, going through the same route backwards on the return trip.

ready to rumble!

ready to rumble!

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Morning greeted us with a sea of clouds near the summit and an ocean of cogons swaying by the wind plus our first assault on Rangyas peak, a moderate climb passing through a bamboo cover capped by some mean rock climbing to reach the top. So far, everyone was having the time of their lives.

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Next goal was to take on Bundok Susong Dalaga – another endless ascent where the turn-around gave each runner a star (a 50K finisher should have amassed 7 stars on his race bib).
By mid morning, the sun has come out in its full glory and assaulting the final peak (the radar), a mere 400 meters of lung-busting climb can deplete one’s energies. My partner Van was already a bundle of negative vibes but we persisted. Finally, we were led to our mini-oasis, a wade through the cool rivers of Kay Ibon waterfalls. It was a time to get our senses back and prepare to final descent (featuring very sharp drops among rivers and ravines) to KM 25, the turn around point and starting line.

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By this time, Van had decided to remain in the cool, comforting gymnasium of Barangay San Andres while I made my way back to take on the final 25 kms. The climb back on the same path had me stopping and resting many a time – the fatigue and the heat was already taking its toll. This was very similar to my TNF 2013 experience from KM54 going up but more difficult, I think. Maybe it’s the age.

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Passing through the same waterfalls and rivers, I reached my first climb to conquer on midday afternoon. I knew I wasn’t going to finish this race if I kept stopping throughout. So I went through the motion of taking on the snaking path of Radar mountain by moving for a minute then taking 30-second pauses. It was a regular pace which yielded good results. And in the heat of the moment, my spirits were lifted.

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Now it’s time to get to Susong Dalaga but first I had to pass through the many trail ways, mostly irregular strips of land shaped by the rushing waters from the mountains during the rainy season. I put my trail senses in active mode so I barely slipped nor tripped. With the scorching heat breathing on my neck, I had to take my breaks, regularly checking on my palpitation, urine color, nutrition and overall mental and physical conditions.
The hikes the second time around were more taxing and I felt I was moving on quick sand. But the diligence paid off. I reached Susong Dalaga turnaround point and was on my way to the final peak of Rangyas. Compared to that morning, the area was a lot sadder with very few runners in view. The saddest part was that they were already going down while I still had to climb up. A good 30 minutes later, I got my star.

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If going down that boulder from the peak was a breeze in the morning, the second time around and 35 kilometers later, I was like an octopus holding on to dear life. My senses were already wracked up and my muscular responses (coupled with cramping on both the lower hamstrings) were a bit slow. Finally after what felt like eons, I reached the grassy areas and the marshall said I have 8 kilometers to go and everything was downhill.
Of course, I never believe everything I hear. And rightly so because the that final 8 kilometers felt like eternity that I thought I might have taken a wrong turn but the yellow ribbons abound so I was never in doubt. Finally, the rushing sound of rivers and my most dreaded encounter – the drop along the river which fortunately had 2 marshalls to guide us through. But it was starting to get dark so I traipsed through more rivers and cogon trails but the end was nowhere in sight.ddadgada
During our fast start that morning, I knew this part was short and sweet. Finally, the main road beckoned. A short turn and I got my final 7th star. I reached the finish line at 5:40 pm (13:40) and night time has totally cloaked the place in darkness. But I was glowing with satisfaction and relief. I just survived a 50KM ordeal – and the hardest, so far in my short trail history. Well, what do you know – I’m a mountain rockstar!  FYI, elevation gain was at 3,600 +++!

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Thank you Dabobong (Rayman Delos Angeles), MGM production and the best trail race marshalls (particularly to Ronnel & Doc Joyce, Dianne, Daphne, Dexter, Bong and all the those helpful MGM team) one would ever encounter in the mountains for organizing and ably managing this memorable, grueling but eventually fulfilling experience. Cheers everyone!
Gorgeous pictures c/o Ariel Tuto Aquino, Eric Socrates, Ronnel Go, Tantoy Faustino and Dexter Salonga Dela Cruz.12195819_1100628869947969_1747658179772187260_n


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My Milo Lucena 21K story: 6 seconds between triumph and tragedy


A week after that devastating Milo Marathon finish, I trained a week after – for 3 weeks (courtesy of Coach Alfred Delos Reyes) with all the requisite strenght trainings (c/o Van Denn Cruz), speeds & LSDs. I had my gels & saltsticks ready and travelled 300 kms to get to the starting line and what do you know? All it took was a mere final 1.5 kms to nip my Milo dream off its bud.

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when the going gets tough, the tough gets walking…and dragging.

T’was a controlled pace in the first 3 kilometers (at 5 mins/km) with Rollie DC pacing me along with Payasso boys Ariel Tuto Aquino, Chad Akol, Arnold Banaay along the rolling terrain of Lucena. Then the boys disappeared in the distance as I kept hammering with what I hoped was a sub-5 mins/km pace (KM 10 was reached at 51 minutes).

when cramping strikes...

when cramping strikes…

Then came the second half with its steady but continuous ascent as the sun revealed Lucena’s scenic places. In the final turn-around (about the final 6.5 kms), I was flying with the music and the cool weather pushing me downhill. I was hitting my target times using a 1:50 pacelet.

The moment I saw the SM tower (the final kilometer) was when the cramping went full blown and I had to slow down – drastically. I couldn’t find an alternative style of jogging without aggravating the little devil – even tried moving sideways but to no avail. The clock was ticking but I forced myself to keep moving and finally reached the finish at 1:56:05 (a minute beyond my qualifying time).

And so ends my quest for my Milo Marathon qualifying time. But who knows, exactly next month, it will go up to 2:00. Nah, I’m going back to the trails for the mountains are a-calling…11959962_1025669990800108_5534863970172745875_n

Call me Mr. Cramper and I won’t take offense.

Epilogue.  My final time of 1:56:05, I would learn later was only 6 seconds over the qualifying time of 1:55:59.  Sorry I wasn’t aware that 59 seconds or less the official qualifying time of 1:55 was still acceptable.  Now had I pushed myself easily during those final meters, I would have easily qualified but it’s those lessons in running which would keep me going.  Anyway tomorrow (Oct 1), my new qualifying time will be 2 hours for my new age category.  11913020_10206412316578375_138977169_n

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the final scene – but a second mat would read at 1:56:10

Milo Lucena 2015 - resultsCheers!

Photos by Dan Alvarez Sagayap and Runaholic.

 


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Hope & Despair at my 18th Full Marathon and 5th Milo Marathon


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At the starting line with Dennis & Van…

A timer and a 4:00 pacelet (c/o Alfred Delos Reyes ) guided me throughout my journey where I slowed down when I felt I was going too fast and vice versa (180 steps/minute only c/o Scott J.) The last 4 nights before the race, I was waking up at 3 am and reading for an hour Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run so most of my inspiration came from that book.  Among them:  maintaining my forefoot strikes which are the most efficient since it uses the elasticity of the Achilles tendon and the arch of the foot.  Thus, less energy is lost.  Foot should be landing slightly in front of one’s center of mass.  Also, I should be breathing abdominally using just the nose – which was quite difficult, really.

By KM 32 (3:01), I was over by 1 minute which isn’t bad since my qualifying time was at 4:10 – I just wanted to have enough time when the inevitable started.

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running is controlled falling

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so far, so good

 

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It went full throttle after the final turn around in Tramo. After KM32, I was forcing myself to keep moving but the cramping would suddenly stab me from behind and I was reduced to stopping and losing a bit of balance (I felt like Moses with my arms out and trying to part Roxas blvd.). Thankfully, there were kind-hearted runners to support me from falling and after a few seconds I’d get going. Many offered to help me sit by the sidewalk but that wasn’t in the plan. I was thinking of Scott doing the Hardrock100 with a broken ankle and I was flying (more of jogging, really).  I had to also remember even in moments of desperation, to keep my posture proper – shoulders behind and arms bent 45 degrees at the elbow.  I had to also lean a bit forward but not at the hips so the body is still one straight line.

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5 kilometers into the finish and already beyond my target qualifying time, the major hardening disappeared so I slugged it out without awakening the major cramping. I was thinking of running through thin ice or hot coals so the steps were light and fleeting – a bit slow but it burned the miles. I didn’t want the same episode last year of a cramping finish so a 4:30 wasn’t so bad. Quite happy that I wasn’t grimacing at the last 200 meters (where photographers abound) and was taking in all the good vibes from the crowd

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the final struggle…

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whew, finally made it!

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no more, that’s it. I’m no longer running…

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My Milo experience (5:49, 4:52, 4:24, 4:36) hasn’t always been my best but I vow to keep coming back even into my 60s (when my QT has reached 4:30 hehe). Now that’s one vow I will keep. My profuse gratitude to Coach Jim Saret & Toni Saret and my MARRS (Milo Apex R2 Running School) running family for making our 3-month training lotsa fun, informative and competitive. Thanks to Jonel C Mendoza for all the tips (1 GU ever 45 minutes). Now where the hell do I buy those salt sticks?

Capturing my moments of ecstacy and agony were the Running Photographers (Pido), Dennis Centeno, Flat Ironman, Lakbay Buhay, Run Lipa & the Official Milo Marathon photographers (Dhona Castillo).