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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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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.

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.

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Jenny, our proud 10K representative.


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The Lost Files Series: October – November 2012


[These writings were done during my October-November 2012 visit at the U.S. The draft just surfaced a few weeks ago when my brother Fred and his family visited us for our parents’ 50th Anniversary celebration.]

The Lost Files #1: And my First International Marathon goes for a PR

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this is it…

The plan was to do New York but after failing twice, I knew it was time to visit the East coast after 6 years and reconnect with family and friends. And perhaps, do my first international marathon. Chicago was the next option but a day before my visa arrived, applications closed promptly.
My to-be home base would be New Jersey so Baltimore figured in the picture easily. I was to arrive 3 days before the event so somehow I’d still be in my fittest running state, that is after battling sleepiness (never had a shut eye during the flight), jet lag and acclimatization (late fall had descended by mid October).

The day before the race, we went to the M & T Stadium to claim my bib and the race’s official lime long sleeve shirt. I also bought knee-length compression shorts only after experiencing near freezing temperature and incessant winds. Now I’m getting nervous. We stayed at my cousin Allan’s house in Virginia, just 30 minutes from Baltimore

starting cold and early...

starting cold and early…

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my jittery smile at the start…

My brother and I appeared at the starting line an hour before to take pictures and survey the scene. Around 5,000 runners in various get-ups and outfits were there, including differently-abled contenders in hand-pedalled go karts and various contraptions. I had 2 layers of upper and lower running gears but was stiff as a block of ice. I just needed to heat up inside, I told myself, and I can slowly get my stride in order. It’s been the same story – I go too fast at the start, try to find my pace and just take on the remaining kilometers with earnest gusto and eagerness.
So there I was among the lead-packers as we raced up the city’s marvelous ascending main avenue – a quirky mix of brick and modern structures. The crowd’s fevered and fervent spirit kept the runners electrified and moving. I tried to take in all that energy until I realized I was catching my breath around KM5. I tried to slow down and just enjoy the ride, hardly being able to shield my legs and feet from the numbing cold.

At that point, I felt I had put all my preparations and expenses to waste – it was time to throw the towel. And what was I to put in my FB status? So I kept trudging into the rolling streets of Baltimore, the city zoo and various parks and open spaces. I was still waiting for the heat to kick in but after KM20, I gave up and just go with the flow of marathoners. We navigated through offices and commercial temples, both new and restored along the picturesque Chesapeake Bay.
We started at 8 a.m. and even with the sun already up and glowing, it was still a cold shivering affair. Thank God for the crowd and high school bands interspersed along the city streets, cheering and pushing us with some invisible force to the finish. And easily transforming it into one memorable street party.

the final struggles...

the final struggles…

I surprised myself when I reach KM32 (Mile20) at around 3 hours. Suddenly visions of a finishing my first international marathon with a personal record (PR) started swirling in my head. The race map had shown Mile 16-22 (a good 1 hour) a steep ascent into the finish line and so I kept anticipating it, expecting to walk and slow down when the going got tough.

But it never came. They were mean ascents alright but nothing that could have pulled me down. Buoyed by blaring street music and positive vibes from the crowd who had lined up the main avenue descending to the finish line, I kept hammering the pavement and pulled myself to a glorious finish. And it’s all documented by my little brother Fred who had strategically positioned himself 200 meters from the finish line.

metal-biting moment

metal-biting moment

Now these are what marathon memories are made of. And yes it was a personal record (PR) at 4:17:36. You might also want to check out my Frontrunner article on the same subject. Check out this link.

The Lost Files #2: Bimbler’s was no Bluff

Eight days after my Baltimore Marathon triumph (t’was a PR of 4:17:36), I was back for my second race in the States. This time it’s a trail run and 8 kilometers longer that my marathon. So when my brother drove me to Guilford, Connecticut one chilly morning, he figured that I’d finish it in less than 6 hours, considering my latest full mary time. I was also hoping he would be right but at the back of my mind, I knew it was going to be one harrowing ride.

578997_4884288903192_63899419_nJael Wenceslao, who had his share ultraruns in the States, helped me choose this run. My first choice was the Fire in the Mountain 50KM ultra but when he noticed the lead packers finishing within the early 6 hours, he knew it was one tough nut to crack. Bimbler’s Bluff had early 4-hour finishers so it was the wiser choice.

Or so I thought.

I learned my lesson from Baltimore so I showed up totally bundled up from head to toe. I’m the only visitor from the southern hemisphere so the outfit divide was quite obvious but what the hey…299434_4884284183074_1965776543_n
Around a hundred runners left the starting line and headed towards the forest. The route had some mean up hills but glorious down hills, as well. Early on the race, I started feeling the heat within as the molting began. First to go were the darn gloves followed by the bonnet then the jacket. After a fast start, I began to find my stride and let others outrun (and outchick) me. Quite frustrating really but I’m taking on this race 10 days on vacation mode and did I mention, 10 pounds heavier. 197618_4884282343028_283425629_n
But I never imagined it to be that bad. Let me count the ways:

a. Stone mines.  It was supposed to be just early fall but our trail had been littered with fallen leaves all over that one can hardly distinguish flat soil from strewn angular rocks. So a single wrong step could mean one nasty sprain. Those missteps just kept happening that I stopped counting. I never learned how my American counterparts were able to pass through those ‘mines’ like fairies flitting towards the summit. Suddenly, it was no longer fun anymore.

b. The cold. After a few kilometers, I had stripped to my compression pants with shorts and singlet over my long sleeve shirt but with the towering trees shading us from the sun, the cold breeze persisted. So while many of my co-runners were sweating in their shirts and tank tops, I was struggling mildly from the cold air and breath shortness.

c. Rudderless runner. I have always pride myself of having a good sense of direction and while all the wide route was well marked but their candy-striped red and white ribbons, I still got lost 4 times during the 50-km distance (losing a good 40 minutes). How did it happen? Probably, I got dependent on running behind a group that when left to my own devices, I suddenly felt rudderless and lost. Or when I got too immersed on the lovely autumn colors of the forest or my MP3 songs.

A single false glance or missed ribbon and I’m in alien territory. The longest time I wandered off was when I followed someone who himself was also lost. Anyway I just need to remember next time that in the States, trails and paths are intertwining and convoluted so the possibilities (to get lost) are endless.

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how to survive my first ultra-trail run abroad…

After the last time I got lost, I knew there was no way I could redeem this trail run. The only goal by then (8 kilometers away) was to finish within the 10-hour cut-off time. And so I surged forward, albeit still tripping on the stone traps and shivering but already keeping a sharp eye on the those candy striped flags

Going back to the finish, I realized how steep and slightly technical our furious start had been that morning. It was a minor hill so into the finish, I was basically just free falling and enjoying the final kilometers of our adventure. I clocked in at 8:08:36 and #117 out of 136 runners. I had wanted to be ranked in the mid pack somewhere in the 70s but it was not to be . Maybe next time, I could do better…hmmm.

The Lost Notes #3:  MAROONed for 5 days

It’s been 16 hours since the blackout started here at my brother’s house in New Jersey courtesy of hurricane Sandy who devastated mostly the Eastern part of the U.S. mainland. In the many times I’ve visited the States, it’s my first time to experience such a major catastrophe. 3 days ago, I was in Manhattan for a few days and I had a blast (as always) enjoying the sights, pulse and people of New York City. Now we got news that waters at Battery Park have reached 13 ft. and the Hudson and East rivers have overflowed.

upside down look at life...

life from the upside…

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Days before, I did some morning runs along those scenic river paths. Now, I’d hate to imagine how the newly revived public spaces (former railroad tracks) look like now. One of their most anticipated celebrations might hardly take place, actually. But I sure hope that within 5 days, New York City can get back on its feet again or else, the NYC Marathon is bound to doom for 2012.

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when the warm-up never led to the race…

Back in the home front, we were able finish our hearty dinner before the lights disappeared and continued with some much needed and unexpected family time – playing scrabble and hanging around sans the noise and disturbance of modern day gizmos. We had enough water and energy for my brother’s UPS (uninterruptible power supply) though we kept it at a minimum for who knows up to when this calamity would last. Even if clouds hovered above, the winds have dwindled and we even got to walk around the development to check out Sandy’s havoc. Here, it’s only 2 trees which toppled and no major harm to Mina house.

My training regimen has been in doldrums. Two weeks before, I did only 2 long runs after my 50K trail run while last week, it’s been down to one. It’s already Tuesday but I haven’t hit the pavement due to this storm. Since yesterday, I’ve been running up and down the stairs followed by some stretching and yoga poses just to keep the fitness level up.

It’s going to be a challenge but I need to rack up some serious mileage soon. I’m totally envious of my co-runners’ training runs in the Philippines as many of us are preparing for the C2C 200KM and the CM50miles. For me it’s CM50 a week after I arrive in Manila followed by the Quezon City International Marathon 2012, a week later. And I’m still weighed down by the same issues – jet lag, under training and acclimatization.

Yep, I do intend to run far and long here without getting too adapted to these conditions so I won’t have a hard time reverting back to tropical mode in 2 weeks. Wish me luck…

 

P.S. New York City Marathon, after some push and pull between organizer and the mayor’s office, didn’t push through on November 2, 2012 but many of the registered runners still ran along Central Park’s 4-mile road 6 times just to complete the 26 kilometer distance, more or less. I was there to party with the runners who many still donned their NYCM bibs.

On November 25, 2012, I took on the first Clark-Miyamit 50-mile trail run and was able to finish it at 17:12 or 48 minutes before cut-off time. A week after that, I took on a pacer’s duty (4:45) for the QCIM 2012 but with a lot of push was able to finish my 9th full marathon at 4:23:36.


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Frontrunner Article #5: The Stockholm Marathon chronicles: icy rain, mutant jellyfish and dill pickles


the Nordic dream...

the Nordic dream…

The winds and torrential rain never let up, lashing on the poor runners as we struggled around the flooded stretch of Roxas boulevard.  Am I ever going to make it to the finish?  That was 2 years ago during the Manila eliminations of the Milo Marathon.  Now it’s happening again, minus the flooding.  In its place were stings of cold winds in a marathon dominated by Europeans and took me 9,000 kilometers across the globe. Am I going to surrender after travelling this far?  Hell no.  Suddenly, the legs stiffened…

Two days before, the sun was a perfect glowing ball as I ambled around Stockholm’s quaint streets and tony avenues to claim my race kit.  A day later, the weather was swelteringly warm but cool breeze from the surrounding waters made the walk towards the stadium a pleasure.  A local band dished out 80s tunes as I wolfed down the pasta dishes during our pre-race carbo-loading gathering.jgf6hu82

I landed in Stockholm on my own after staying and conditioning at a friend’s home for 2 weeks in another Swedish city in Malmo.  I shared a hostel room with 9 other travelers so I learned to fend for myself and find my way around Stockholm’s complex metropolis of winding streets, bridges, waterways and engaging views of both sea and mountains.

with my hostel mates from Spain, Germany & Argentina...

with my hostel mates from Spain, Columbia, Mexico & Germany..

Going to the starting line on race day, the runner is given various options of free rides on all public transportation.  I opted to make the 20-minute walk to calm my nerves and decide which outfit to use.  Reports of mid afternoon rains had me in my favored minimalist set – my MIM singlet and NYCM shorts.  A last minute decision to ditch my rain poncho and long-sleeved base layer was a nifty move that saw me through this race.

race kit claiming when the sun was still up...

race kit claiming when the sun was still up…

twice across the loop and then some...

twice across the loop and then some…

proudly Pilipino!

proudly Pilipino!

quite hard to imagine running in this kind of costume but it's one sure way of getting the most photos...

quite hard to imagine running in this kind of costume but it’s one sure way of getting the most photos…

Around 22,000 had registered for the Stockholm Marathon 2013 but not everyone showed up at the starting line (only 16,755) and even less would make the 6-hour cut-off time.  Still, we were divided in 5 waves and took off starting at 12 noon under a perfectly cool overcast weather.  This is after all the Nordic territories where the sun hardly shines, even during summer.  So the going was good, the breathing was a bit struggled but I was adjusting nicely to the semi-fast pace in an ocean of wall-to-wall runners.  Meaning to stop in the middle was to be trampled flat.

bag station

bag station

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we started at 12:10 along with the other last waves...

we started at 12:10 along with the other last waves…

There are enough distractions to take one’s mind from the incessant plodding – tree lined boulevards, interesting architecture, charming castles and a jovial crowd at every turn.  A slight drizzle made for a more enjoyable romp as we felt refreshed and rejuvenated.  We were now entering the old city and skimming the shoreline with its killer views of the waterways, cliff side hills and nearby islands.  We crossed 5 bridges with only mild ascents in the first loop (a 30-m sharp uphill wasn’t as tough as I’d imagined).

ready, set...

ready, set…

and off we go!

and off we go!

So far so good.  Maybe I could keep up this pace and score a sub-4 as I stayed close to the giant balloon of the 3:45 pacers.  We took on the second loop, this time entering the green reserves and the Djurgarden – both wide spaces where one can glimpse the river of runners snaking across from the far verdant distance.  A good 9 kilometers of thick forest growth outlining the open meadows soon gave way to the city’s asphalt and cobblestone jungle as we took on the same route as the first loop.

a verdant respite from the cityscape...

a verdant respite from the cityscape…

Out of nowhere, the rains came hard and strong and with it washed away my visions of a sub-4 finish.  At first, I was remembering the many runs I’ve done in the rain and tried to enjoy it in the face of the fierce winds.  Just then, the cramps came, taking on both the inner thighs.  Probably triggered by the dipping mercury, the hardening came and clung to me like some mutant jellyfish.  It’s the first time for me in a race and I had no idea how to remedy it.  Medics abound along the way but to stop and get a massage and some liniment would slow down my already diminished rate.  Besides, it’s never a guarantee of it not recurring, a few kilometers later.asm4

one of the few ascents in the route.  this first pass was manageable but the second one had lashing icy winds to contend with.

one of the few ascents in the route. this first pass was manageable but the second one had lashing icy winds to contend with.

I didn’t travel this far just to be weighed down by some muscle hardness.  Thus, it was decided to keep burning the miles – running and trotting while walking in between or maybe, most of the time as my personal videos would attest later.

Scenes on the final kilometers included local rock bands with their growling guitar licks and young girls doing some joyous number in carnival headdresses and bikinis while many runners were slowing down and dropping like flies.  I saw one splayed along the asphalt road while medics hovered around.  That’s not going to be me.  And so I dug deep into the recesses of my memory.  My most recent encounter with rain was in the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya during the H1 where I was wet to the bone while struggling on muddy, ascending trails with just my headlamp to light the way.  Now this was a far better condition, with water hitting and passing through my minimalist ensemble.  Glorious rain on a glorious day.

push it...push it real good.

push it…push it real good.

And so push I went, ignoring the cluster of discomfort – emerging blisters, dying toenails and faltering strength.  Instead, I focused on the sights, the people and the positive vibe the city was dripping with. Soon, the Olympic Stadium beckoned.  The 1912 structure was the site of the Summer Olympics during that year and was a fitting welcome to those who had survived the 42.195-km experience.  Wet and fatigued, I sprinted on the tartan track with guns blazing and spirits soaring.  Runners were entering the stadium in droves as their final struggles were flashed on the big screen and their names reverberated across the colossal venue.

I did it!  now where are the showers?  brrr...

I did it! now where are the showers? brrr…

names of finishers were flashed on the stadium screen.

names of finishers were flashed on the stadium screen.

sweet wet success!  mwah!

sweet wet success! mwah!

It would have been a superb finish without the relentless rains but last year, they say, was much worse with temperatures nearing the zeroes.  So I thanked the heavens for these tender mercies and surviving my 12th full marathon.  At 4:14, it’s 3 minutes shorter than my Baltimore finish last year.  It’s probably the wads of dill pickles and mints I gobbled up during the run.  Or just that overflowing warmth and cheering I got from the lovely folks of Stockholm that made the difference.  Tack sa mycket, Sweden!P1030434

shiver mi timbers!

shiver me timbers!

P.S.  It’s the final scene of me walking back towards downtown after changing my top but still dripping wet in my old shorts.  Every now and then, I would shiver but the high of achieving something great still superseded the minor inconveniences  (e.g.  a grumbling stomach even after downing solid food at the finish line).  Then a light bulb moment happened (ting!) – now, this can get to be a yearly habit.  Stay in a hostel, roam the city and run one destination marathon.  And I can go cheap, really.  No plush hotel rooms, no expensive tours, no classy dinners overlooking the city.  I can easily subsist on cheap rooms, walking tours (I’m getting good with maps) and street foods.  And I won’t feel a bit deprived and less privileged of enjoying the place.  Now where do I begin?   Paris, Berlin or London?  Maybe Chicago or Vancouver.  The possibilities are endless and the kilometers never end.

Here’s a compilation of the Stockholm marathon experience running to the song ‘Alive’ by Empire of the Sun.  Do watch it at 720p for that HD experience.  Most videos were emailed to us while others were extracted from marathon.se.  Wait for 1:01 of the video for some Pinoy surprise.  And please be patient with my walking scenes (probably 60% of the race), I was just warming up for the big surge ahead.  Hehe…enjoy!

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The Sweden Chronicles and then some


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It started taking shape just a year ago when former co-dentist (now a full-fledged Oral Hygienist in Sweden) Badette Larsson and family vacationed here.   She invited us (it eventually came down to just me)  to visit them at Malmo, Sweden.  Finally, after securing a Schengen visa, a two-way ticket to Copenhagen, Denmark (a steal at P46,000) and being one of the last registrants for the Stockholm Marathon (they re-opened registration on Feb. after some runners backed out), I was off.  From Copenhagen, Badette welcomed me and we took a 10-minute train ride that traversed a bay and led us into Malmo.

stepping on Swedish soil...

stepping on Swedish soil…

P1030111I had 2 weeks to acclimatize and condition before the big race so I ran around the Bunkeflostrand area 3x a week, exploring the various subdivisions (no snooty guards, nor gates here), the shoreline, swamps and hills along well marked trails at 10 am onwards.  In between, I shopped (Ikea and other malls were just a bike ride away), helped in the house, doing laundry and washing dishes.  I also met up with Uffe & Badette’s circle of friends and close family, along with other Filipinos there.  Many times I wandered aimlessly around downtown Malmo, appreciating the well preserved towns, modern architecture and immersing in both food and culture.  It’s easy to move around since Swedes are a warm people who could dish out good English, not to mention a good looking lot.

First day of exploration...

First day of exploration…

Leaving the Larsson house for some adventure...

Leaving the Larsson house for some adventure…

wooden bridge to cross the stream...

wooden bridge to cross the stream…

I heart Bunkeflostrand...

I heart Bunkeflostrand…

greens and blues...

greens and blues…

I could run here all day...

I could run here all day…

the sacred and the modern...

the sacred and the modern…

At Kungsparken with Uffe...

At Kungsparken with Uffe…

Malmo!

Malmo!

Soon, I was on my way to Stockholm and deposited my stuffs (after walking from the airport and pulling my wheeled luggage) at the Best Hostel at Skeppsbron, an island dotted with castles, museums and medieval bridges.  Our room is shared with 12 other travelers from around the world and it felt surprisingly safe with everyone respecting each other’s bed space and privacy.  Two days before the big day, I explored Stockholm with its numerous fortress islands, castles and waterways.  Being the capital, it’s more grandiose and touristy with museum and palaces at every turn.  I was usually dead tired when I reached our room so I always have a great sleep in the company of strangers.  The marathon commenced at 12 noon and under chilly rain and howling winds, I was able to improve my personal record.  (Pls. wait for the actual account in a few months.  In the meantime, you could read the full text in the current issue of Frontrunner magazine)

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quaint city scene...

quaint city scene…

Coasting along Skeppsbron...

Coasting along Skeppsbron…

Awesome Stockholm!

Awesome Stockholm!

sweet Stockholm moment...

sweet Stockholm moment…

When I got back to Malmo, Badette was on leave so we booked flights and a nice hotel room in – surprise, surprise – the fabled city of Prague, Czech republic, most unknowing that the Charles river and bridge (the main city attraction) had been inundated by rising flood waters.  But there were enough sites to visit in their medieval Old Town, Prague castle and Wensceslas Square.  It’ a lot of tram rides, walking and hiking.  But the scenes are to die for, especially the panoramic view of the city from the castle.

no, that ain't the Philippine flag...

no, that ain’t the Philippine flag…

this strangely looks like Disneyland.

this strangely looks like Disneyland.

Ever-bustling Old Town Square

Ever-bustling Old Town Square

flooded attractions

flooded attractions

no entry to the Charles bridge...

no entry to the Charles bridge…

Amazing view from the Prague castle...

Amazing view from the Prague castle…

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When we returned to Malmo, Badette still had the time to drive me around the modern districts of the city and even the southernmost tip of Sweden (I drove during parts of the journey).  I was able to also take in Copenhagen, just a train ride away in one day.

The Turning Torso building by Calatrava

The Turning Torso building by Calatrava

that's Badette and Jane at the far end...

that’s Badette and Joan at the far end…

when the sun comes down, the temperature drops

when the sun comes down, the temperature drops

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copper chameleons...

copper chameleons…

silence and solitude with Badette

silence and solitude with Badette

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Gardening chores in between...

Gardening chores in between…

that's the bridge leading to Denmark

that’s the bridge leading to Denmark

Alfresco, Swedish style with the Larssons...

Alfresco, Swedish style with the Larssons…

Malmo in black & white...

Malmo in black & white…

No doubt, it was a memorable and even-filled vacay but the most unforgettable ones are times spent with the Larssons who took me in their abode and made me feel at home.  Up to now, I still dream of Uffe’s homemade barbecues and meatballs and their swiss bagoong (Kalles kaviar).  Tack så mycket, Sweden!


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Snippets of my Stockholm Tour/Marathon


jgf6hu82

Last June 1, 2013, I did my 12th Full Marathon, and it was a windy, freezing finish at the Stockholm Olympic Stadion.  It marks a lot of firsts not only in my running but also travel history. 153250-846159-381530

P1030462a.  It’s my first time to travel alone and stay in a hostel.  Inside some old non-descript neo-classical building at Skeppsborn (the old city in an island) in Stockholm, Best Hostel was reached after a series of winding stairs reminiscent of some old French film.  I was deposited inside a large room filled with IKEA double beds along with 11 my co-hostel occupants, both of the male and female of species.  I never imagined I would be able to get a good sleep, especially before the marathon but I did – no irritating phone/electronic gadgets in the middle of the night, none of the sudden blinding light inside the room and hardly any human sounds like snoring or farting.  It was a polite, civilized and safe 3 days for me, which perhaps helped me in my run.  I never imagined of travelling Europe on a bargain but it can be with a little imagination, fewer expectations and some creative research.

new friends from Spain, Colombia and Mexico...ole!

new friends from Spain, Colombia and Mexico…ole!

a short walk from the hostel...

a short walk from the hostel…

b.  Europe on the Cheap.  Food, travel and shopping in the Swedish capital can really burn a hole in one’s pockets so I found some nifty ways to maintain my Stockholm budget on check.   Subway and Falafel are sandwiches of western & eastern origins, respectively but they were my go-to meals for they were both filling, yummy, healthy and inexpensive.  I did one boat tour on the city’s many islands and islets and was able to visit the Vasa Museum (an old ship ressurected to its titanic glory), the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art, Djurgarden and the various design/furniture stores– all impressive and worthy sites. P1030608

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sign o' the times

sign o’ the times

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one verdant shot…

But for most of my time roaming the city, I relied on my two feet to take me from one destination to another.  The old city (Gamla Stan) with its winding streets was just a few meters away from my hotel and the city center was only a 15-minute walk.  But what I enjoyed the most was getting lost in Stockholm and finding quaint surprises at every turn – the seaside street going up the hill with its panoramic view of the city and the quiet streets near downtown with its small shops of lighting and furniture merchandise,  come to mind.

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c.  Running 42.5KM at 12 noon.

recon walk...a day before the race.

recon walk…a day before the race.

Pluses:  Ample sleep in normal cycle (10 pm to 7 am) – now try that in  Milo/Condura Marathon

Normal Schedule in the bathroom and the dining table

Cool, cloudy weather, at least at the first 10 kms.

Awesome sights and exuberant cheering Swedes in every street corner

Well stocked hydration/food stations with well-manned medical teams

Minuses:

Cold, rainy weather from KM20 onwards, thus, the gloomy atmosphere

Cold, cold, cold especially after crossing the finish line and the body started cooling downasm2

More details  of this on the September issue of Frontrunner.

d.  Finishing a Personal Best in the face of inclement weather conditionsasm6

4:14:25 – it’s unexpected, surprising and bewildering since I battled cramping and did a lot of walking during the race.

tack så mycket, Sweden!

Do watch this video for a close view of my struggles in the streets of Stockholm.  Music is ‘Alive’ by Empire of the Sun (yup from the movie title by Steven Spielberg featuring a young Christian Slater, pre-American Psycho).


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Frontrunner article no. 3 – Running Cold: Hard Numbing Lessons in Acclimatization and How Mark Zuckerberg pushed me to my limit


My throat and lips were parched, the fingers and my face I can hardly feel, the toes were quivering on their own and I was ready to call it quits along the city’s deceptively continuous ascents. And we’ve hardly reached 7 kms. That’s 35 kms. to go but the cold was just too much for someone who just flew in from the tropics 3 days before. Btw, I weighed 140 lbs. with nary a fat to pinch on.

this is where I shall run...yaay!

this is where I shall run…yaay!

 

retrieving my race bib a day before...

retrieving my race bib a day before…

I registered for the Baltimore Marathon after failing New York and Chicago. It was no surprise since my brother lives 4 hours away from the Maryland area. I figured that before I bloat (from all the mouthwatering food) and undertrain (sleeping was most glorious there), I would fly in a few days before the race while I’m still in tip-top condition. It was the fall season so the weather would be most perfect for someone who has survived some of the most damning tropical road conditions.

at the starting line early...brrr!

at the starting line early…brrr!

one jump shot while I still have the power...

one jump shot while I still have the power…

It was a wonder for me why the marathon had to start at 8 am – that’s 4-5 hours later than a local race gun start – will we get fried if we ran up to 12 noon? Until I showed up at the Starting Line 30 minutes before and had a hard time parting with my fleece jacket and bonnet. The plan was for me to run in shorts (over compression tights I bought the night before) and long sleeve tops (over my MIM singlet) and just start peeling the outer layer once I had warmed up 5 kms after. At least that’s how I had envisioned it.

this is it!

this is it!

and we're off to the races, races...

and we’re off to the races, races…

Still reeling from jetlag, I positioned myself near the starting line (for my brother to take great pictures) so once the horns screamed, I found myself in a sea of fast runners going up the hilly boulevard. It was a jolt that I fully latched on, taking in the wondrous mix of neo-colonial and glass-and-steel architecture of this surprisingly exciting city. Well, until I realized I was gasping from the cool breeze and the endless up hills. It was no longer amusing but I knew that once I’d reached the 10-km (6 miles) mark, I was going to get into my groove.

So I slowed my pace a bit until I saw the 3:15 pacer group behind me. I had been overexerting it too early but I hardly felt any overheating perhaps, due to the biting cold. Since I had no pacing device on, I settled to a more comfortable stride and removed by long sleeve top only to take in the assault of the chilly winds. I was hoping for my body temperature to settle in and adjust, as well. But it never happened. Up to the finish line, I would suddenly shake and shiver while my singlet remained sweatless (or maybe, it just dried up too fast for me to even notice).

We entered the city zoo and traversed through some old growth forest areas which may sound like an oasis if you’re racing it in say, Tacloban. But in the northern hemisphere, it means absence of any sunlight and puffs of cold air every now and then that you’d go scampering towards the solar sources. Finally, we were moving along open parks, expansive public spaces and avenues but since majority of it faces the picturesque Chesapeake Bay, I hardly experienced any warmth and solace during the run. The fresh stinging breeze wouldn’t let up so I learned to embrace and enjoy the remaining miles ahead. I didn’t travel this far just to trash a ‘perfectly’ great marathon. Truth to tell, I was dreading what I would put in my Facebook status for the running universe to gawk on. “Survived my first international marathon, not my best run but had a blast!” just wouldn’t cut it.

I had vowed to dedicate this run for my beloved nephew ‘Kiko’ who has special needs so DNF was out of the question. 32 kms (20 miles) into the run, the path goes around the giant lagoon where runners were circling around like some flawlessly choreographed balletic number before going through the neighborhoods where the folks have come out to push the runners into their final miles. All that genuine positive energy pushed me like no energy gel or 2nd wind could.

and the outside layer comes off...

and the outer layer comes off…

The elevation graph had shown Miles 16-22 insanely ascending so I braced for the worse, already planning to walk when the up hills got tough but it never got that challenging. A few walks I did but hardly felt any sign of bonking, so the recovery was swift and sure. Into the final downhill assault, the city had come out in full force – marching bands, costumed dancers, full blasting music and well-meaning wishers carrying placards that will get you laughing and sprinting (‘run like you’re being chased by bees’, ‘I thought you said 2.62 miles?’, ‘worst parade ever’ and my favorite, ‘smile if you’re running commando’ ).

so near, it's stirring the blood in their veins...

so near, it’s stirring the blood in their veins…

one medal-biting moment...

one medal-biting moment…

proudly wearing the national colors...

proudly wearing the national colors…

exhilaration + triumph + hunger pangs

exhilaration + triumph + hunger pangs

My legs had fatigued, my feet were still unfeeling and the shoulders were stiffening like hell but the festive electric atmosphere easily drowned one’s sorrows and grumbles for only a few minutes away was rest and redemption. And so I raced like it’s the end of the world. I found my brother Fred strategically tucked among the waiting crowd, gave him a triumphant pose before crossing the finish line. The goal was to do a 4:30 but fate had another plan and gave me a PR of 4:17:38. Yep, it was definitely an all-time high in my running career. More than the PR, it was about digging oneself out of some unforeseen predicament and making a glorious comeback. Good morning, Baltimore!

an all-time low for me...personal best time for 2012!

an all-time low for me…personal best time for 2012!

Special thanks go to my brother, Joseph Frederick for driving me from New Jersey and back and to my cousin Allan Melliza for the accomodations, food, support and pasalubongs.  I just realized I’m one lucky dude.  Cheers!

still found the time to explore the wondrous city after...

still found the time to explore the wondrous city after…


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My H100 Story: Unbowed. Unbent. Unbroken


smiling while we still can...

smiling while we still can…

[Note:  Sorry dear readers, but just like the H100 race, I DNFed many times writing this entry.  Good thing, I found my second winds, thus the late arrival.  My apologies.]

It took place in the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya & Benguet – one of the most picturesque and well-preserved places in the country.  Perhaps, one of its enticement was its near isolation from the rest of Luzon where travelling may take hours just to get to the main highway.  I’m quite fortunate to have been part of the longest trail race in the Philippines (and the only 100-miler at that), even if I surrendered at KM 85.

outfit and supplies for the battle ahead

outfit and supplies for the battle ahead

Welcome to the Hardcore 100 Ultratrail Race – definitely the baddest and the longest trail race in  Southeast Asia.  Consider the statistics.  160 kms of mostly mountain trails, 46-hour cut-off, 4 UTMB points, 3 nights & 2 days covering 2 summits (Mt. Pulag & Mt. Ugo).  One would be at a loss for words in sizing up this kind of adventure.  One can easily get discouraged once faced with the enormity, extent & difficulty  waiting in front of him at the starting line.

watching CJ's stocks for H100

checking out CJ’s overflowing stocks for his H100 picnic…

Battle ready with Aldean & Earl

Battle ready with Aldean & Earl

So there I was along with 42 other runners (including 7 from our Southeast Asian friends), prepared to run, walk and move in our goal to make the 3-cut off times (at KMs 62, 102 & 160).  And be part of the maiden run of the Hardcore.  Definitely, it was not the most ideal of conditions with rains commencing just before the 12 midnight gun start showering the weary and apprehensive runner.  For in the face of the some of the most treacherous uphills and insane descents, the mercury had dipped near the zeros.  Factor in a slippery rain-bombarded  track  which could easily spell disaster or death with just one misstep a tired and sleep-derived runner may find himself in.

H100 Class of 2013

H100 Class of 2013

nervous 3:  CJ, Toto & Benj

nervous 3: CJ, Toto & Benj

Let’s Do This…

We’ve seen the elevation graph and we’re well aware of the early continuous ascent as I, along with my ‘pacer’ Kirk joined the cavalcade of headlamps climbing into eternity.  The darkness has a way of shrouding the extent of one’s Calvary so we can concentrate on moving continuously, one heaving step at a time.  The route was familiar since this was the final few kilometers of the Four Lakes 100km last May but done the other way.  We passed through the mossy forest and descending into the highway towards KM14 for our first aid station. We took in some solid foods and resumed our trek.

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We kept moving with enough gusto and energy, unmindful of another major ascent (Ambasa Pass) on the horizon and the persistent rains.  At KM22, I was surprised to chance upon Singapore’s Terence Chan whom I met & befriended during last year’s BDM 160.  He joined us on our trek up and also shared some caffeine tablets with Kirk who was already feeling woozy.  It was still dark as runners started distancing themselves from each other but the trails were quite familiar covering mountains and hills into our KM28 stop at Banao Elementary School.  It was a comfort to take shelter in a covered structure as we took in some sustenance of camote, noodles, etc.  Kirk was weary of his ankle injury and kept inspecting it.

Lake Buaca

Lake Buaca

Rivers + Mountains

And then we were off again – into a favorite route that encircles numerous hills with the rushing rivers on the other side.  Crossing those wobbly hanging bridges, we traversed the rivers many times, I no longer have any idea which side we started.  The rivers were replaced by mountain ranges as the trails kept going up.  I have some idea how Napo Tuyak was to be reached (from the previous recon) but on race day when conditions are at their most trying, the travel becomes one arduous climb, hardly rolling into more uphills one loses count eventually.  I almost gave up in anticipating that final ascent into the clearing until it came.

foggy weather...

foggy weather…

A few more breaths and we were in Napo Tuyak.  It was a relief to finally reach KM44 where some 20 runners later would be denied of access into Mt. Pulag due to lack of time.  With Benj, Kirk and CJ, we set out into what I believe would be the most exasperating part of this race.  The trail going up Mt. Pulag is a seldom used one except for the hardy local people in the area.  Yup, we hardly found any living soul along the way.  Soon enough we would find out why.  Welcome to the newly christened Hardcore Trail.

Napo Tuyak to Summit:  Are we there yet?

We had reconed this route already and were anticipating the continuous climb, moving from one hill to another, from one mossy forest to the next but the major mountain was simply out of sight.  I was trudging with Kirk, Benj and some other lost souls, struggling through flowing water ways, boulders and slippery moss covered trails.  I was half expecting a mini-leech to clamber by me but it never happened (were we going too fast?).   Our spirits were already faltering but the peak seems out of reach and just doesn’t get near us.

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After hours of getting soaked to the bone by rains, sweat and all sort of secretions, one just keeps going, unmindful of the lesser bother of these conditions because what matters is getting to one’s destination before getting cut off.  Many have prepared for this for months – physically, psychologically and financially.  And with just a smidgen of negative factor, one could easily throw it all away.  Well, I hardly saw that during the race.  Everyone was just damned determine to get through the hurdles and hopefully finish the race in time.

Peaking by the Peak

Finally, it came.  First it was the grassy fields then the imposing Mt. Pulag summit.  We promptly reported to the peak officer (Aga Dulin) who directed us towards the camp site area leading into the downhill trail towards the ranger station (KM 62!). The weather conditions had cut out an extra 3 kilometers going up and down the summit.   I moved across the ice cold rushing waterways with eagerness and enough speed to ward off the winds and the cold (in fact, my right middle finger is still slightly numbed from a minor case of frost).  I had done this free fall during the recon when the weather was much worse.  I turned around to see Kirk by my tail as we made our way down along the rocky and slippery trail.  Luckily, no bad slips happened, considering our exuberance and pace.

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We reached Babadak station by 4:45 pm (or 1:15 ahead of the cut-off time).   We learned that around 20 runners had not been allowed to go up Mt. Pulag upon reaching the Napo Tuyak station too late.  Those who reached KM 62 were treated to coffee, soup and solid food.  It was a great time to recover and revive our lost strength by the crackling fireside.  Perhaps, we were too tired or did too many things (I stayed in the bathroom too long) that by the time we left Babadak it was already 6:30 pm (or 11:30 hours to reach KM102).

Favorite place on earth...

Favorite place on earth…

Bold & Brassy Trek to Balete

We were welcomed by an assault of cold winds and rain that suddenly I longed for our former warm and well stocked quarter at KM62.  But we had no choice but to keep going.  I was regretting not borrowing one of the jackets of those who had decided to stay at Babadak.  More than once, we tried retreating just to check if we were on the right track.  It was quite endless and under total darkness (many times, I found myself at the edge of a cliff) that we started to wonder if we had missed an important fork and have entered the twilight zone.  I was walking/jogging ahead of our group in anticipation of our approaching aid station but it never came.  We were looking at 2 hours to reach KM76 but 3 hours later we were still in the dark literally with nary a trace of a lighted community ahead.

By 10:30 pm (or 4 hours later), we finally reached Balete.  We nourished and replenished ourselves and set out towards the narrow  trail snaking down many mountains and hills.  I hooked up with Gigger (Benedict Menesis) in our mission to reach Banao (KM91), the last station before KM102 with the clock furiously ticking like some berserk timebomb.  I was quite fortunate since Gigger had the good sense and direction in finding trails where markers had become sparse or maybe, the dying rays of our headlamps would no longer suffice.

for the night is dark and full of terrors...

for the night is dark and full of terrors…

Dark News,  Dark Trails

Soon enough, Che & Jojo had joined us with Gigger guiding us now on the never-ending sharp ascent out of one of the valleys.  The crawl was slow but constant and I was loosing hope if we would ever find our way out towards Banao and have enough power to get to Dayap before dawn breaks.  I’m not sure how it happened but we started searching our way back and tracing the tracks we had passed during the late morning.  You could say we were lost already.  We used the waterway as our guide, going back & forth until we found the area where the trail disappeared (courtesy of a mini-landslide).  But I guess everyone was dogged determine to find their way back so we crossed the steep obstacle and found our way back little by little.

Gigger was minding all the trail markers and it seems we were on the right track but the guy was flying like some bat out of hell that I had a hard time following him while still monitoring Che & Jojo from behind.  Soon, we were back on the river complex, skirting zigzagging trails and crossing swaying bridges with the rushing water just meters under our feet.  Eventually, Gigger’s light disappears in the ocean of darkness and I waited for Che & Jojo who was now leading us into Banao.

Dimming Lights, Dimming Hope

At around 1:30 am, we were tracing our way back still with the river noisily rushing at our right.  Jojo was still finding some markers but some of the areas seem very alien to us.  Did we even pass this way?  It felt that we had gone beyond the race route, what with deep gorges and waterfalls I never noted during the day.  Now I’m more convinced that we were in the twilight zone.  Cue in TV theme…

At 2:30 am, Che and I finally decided to abort our mission.  Besides, even if we reached Banao, we won’t have the chance to even travel back to Dayap for the 6 am cut-off time.  We went back to where we had begun and realized how far we had wandered off (and perhaps, we were really on the road to Banao).  We just wanted to seek some shelter but there just wasn’t any after an hour or so.  It was raining.  And we were both drained but we had to keep moving to sustain the body heat.  We found the majestic rice terraces and decided to just settle someplace where our butts could rest.  It’s already 4:30 am.  Perhaps, the place would come alive by sunrise and some good soul would bring us to the highway where we could take a vehicle going back to Kayapa.  But as in anything in H100, things aren’t as simple as they seem…

Attack of the 1-inch Leeches

diffused extravascular hemorrhages due to leech anti-hemostatic enzymes...

diffused extravascular hemorrhages due to leech anti-hemostatic enzymes…

I woke up with a colony of mini-leeches (limatiks) feasting on my legs.  I panicked and sprayed Che’s alcohol on them.  They eventually fell off and soon a new battalion would make their next assault.  And why weren’t they even attempting to scale Che’s legs just across mine? Another H100 mystery (or maybe I’m one ‘hot guy’ as a stalker had messaged once). Soon, I got tired and just let ‘em bloat before finally falling off as nature had intended.

The return to Kayapa could fill up pages of this blog – one involving reluctant folks manning the rice terraces who directed us toward Cabayo – the nearest pick up point towards the highway; a two-hour trek joined with George Javier in the midst of glorious vistas and untouched tropical jungle; a 2-hour motorcycle ride on mostly slippery mud trails whence we needed to disembark a few times and me, burning my right calf from the muffler.

We reached Kayapa by mid-afternoon and learned that only 12 had made the 6 AM cut-off at Dayap, including 2 foreigners – Shine and Hendra plus friends Aldean, Wilnar and BoyP.  The leaders including James Tellas  and the formidable Atty. Jon Lancanlale had already crossed the finish early.  I freshened up, gobbled some of that rice meal at the Boulevard place and waited for the 12 gladiators to trickle into the finish line, hopefully before the 46-hour cut-off time.

100 Ways to Say Goodbye

Night started setting, as well as the biting cold while everyone was positioned by the Kayapa Barangay stage, awaiting for the race to come to a close.  Most ‘strong’ contenders were unfortunate to have missed the 6 am cut-off that morning, including Kirk & Gigger who missed it by a few minutes.  But no one was in a sullen mood, even 160-miler grand slam contenders Bong & CJ Miles.  Each had a story to tell and a million memories of the H100 adventure.  Everyone was in agreement that this was the mother of all beasts and vowed to make a revenge run next year.

But one story stands out.  Mr. Rocky Go, the sandal-wearing (Waharuchi)  Ilonggo who came with Aldean and ran side by side with Alain, both of whom thought they were running with an elite contender.  And so they stuck with each other throughout the race.   Maybe they were both colored blind and so the red flags looked yellow and follow they did.  So instead of heading to Mt. Pulag on day1, the two had proceeded early to Mt. Ugo, the mountain to conquer on day2.  Suffice to say, they DNFed happily upon realizing their epic fail.  It’s a story which keeps making the rounds and still elicits enough guffaws and hoots from everyone to listen over and over.

Happy DNFers:  Benj, Allen, Majo & Che

Happy DNFers: Benj, Allen, Majo & Che

Soon the group of Koi, Aldean & Shine triumphantly make it with Mia Constantino following.  She’s the only female contender to have survived and she ranked 6 even!  Wilnar, Bob, Hendra & Ron eventually make the cut with the sands of time slowly trickling in. On bated breath, the crowd patiently awaited until they let out a roar as a battered but smiling BoyP showed up at the Barangay Hall.  It was a fitting moment to a race which never had a lack of cliffhangers, excitement, crushing defeat and triumphant victories.  And we will all remember this…thanks for the H100 memories!

the morning after...

the morning after…

Photography courtesy of Gey Enriquez, Nick Paskin, Pinoymountaineer.com & Frontrunner


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My CM50 Story: Taking the Beast by the Horns


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The New York City Marathon overzealous shopper…

What effing Mileage?

3 weeks before the CM50-mile trail race, I was still in the States, reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, replete with a 4-day blackout, fallen trees and long lines for gas (we back in the 70s?).  I came 2 weeks before quite conditioned for my Baltimore Marathon on the 3rd day and Bimblers Bluff 50-km trail run 10 days later.  From thereon in, I had done a couple of runs around my brother’s hilly New Jersey village but with the sudden onset of the early cold, the runs had dwindled from 2 a week to one to none.  The cold was just too much for me even at 10 in the morning even in my various permutations of cold running gears.  Plus, I think, I got too spoiled with my training team (the Voltes Team) in Marikina that in their absence, I had zero motivation to even put my trainers on and brave the cool breeze of Jersey.

Tina, Toto, Dennis & Cris...

Tina, Toto, Dennis & Cris…

I actually had more luck whenever I’m in Manhattan (3 days in a week) since I see more of my kindred running spirits traversing through NY’s streets and avenues at any given time of the day.  Plus, I like to scrimp on my train/bus fares (to feast on my fave Falafel & Ramen dishes) so I move up and down Manhattan by foot in my newly acquired Asics Cumulus 14 trainers (20% off at Paragon or ½ of its local price).  I usually have my backpack with me so maybe that constituted my training run with a hydration pack.  When I had the time, I was able to skirt the Hudson river track and even ran the Westborough bridge but it’s mostly a run/walk around Manhattan with shopping bags in tow.Final_CM50_Logo

So when I arrived in Manila 9 days before the race, I knew I had no recourse but to double my effort & mileage while still battling jetlag and acclimatization.  So for 5 weekdays, I joined the Voltes Team for our regular 13-km walk/run around the nearby villages.  On the last day before the race, I even joined the Aquatic group exercise with my Milo Apex group.  So as you can see, I had no real expectations with CM50 when I ventured into Clark, Pampanga that night.  I had even considered backing out but balked when I realized I had coughed up P1800 for this.  Now would you blame if I left my CM50 fate to the Dark Knight?  Indeed, ‘Bahala na si Batman’.

And then we were off…

with our ever supportive Team Boring family...

with our ever supportive Team Boring family…

it's the deep breathe before the plunge...

it’s the deep breathe before the plunge…

this is it....

this is it, pancit….

At 1 am, the Clark Parade ground was dark and desolate as 59 runners armed with headlamps and a lot of guts started out for the unexpected adventure ahead (yep, even for those who had done the Recon runs).  The terrain was sloping but slowly ascends until it enters a village shrouded by ginormous mango trees.  It soon enters a trail going down into the dark beyond.  My pace was quite brisk as I’m pulled along by a sea of lead packers.  I see Jael’s exposed upper torso glistening in the night.

Soon we were trudging through a bleak desert land.  I feel water and sand enter my newly minted Asics trail shoes but I keep going, following the parade of lights moving across the lahar wasteland (Sacobia River area).  Finally, I came upon the Team Boring caravan of Bong, CJ & Kokoy.  Bong & CJ had done the Recons so I set my compass off and just go where the tide takes me.  Just how they can find their way in the dark is beyond me.  There were some blinkers on one crucial area but for the most part of the race, you let instinct and feel guide you through, avoiding major barriers or traps which could easily lead one to unwanted accidents.  Or you could just follow the bobbing light hundreds of meters in front of you and pray he’s not as lost as you.  It was a short stop to Aid Station 1 (KM 7) as we took in whatever solid food they had to offer – sandwiches, triangular cheeses, choco drinks, etc.dennis wufei cumal

Near the end of our lahar excursion, any trace of the lead packers disappears and we find ourselves searching for that red neon paint to lead us through.  Around 12 of us were covering a wide area of the expansive desert hunting for the elusive marker.  When we finally found it, we took a left turn, entered a soil and lahar trail and soon traversed a sugarcane plantation.  We got lost once but managed to return on track after a few minutes.  Soon it was the concrete stairs going up into more trails which featured some mean descents which required rapelling ropes.  Another river to conquer and more snaking trails going up and down.  And then we were on Aid Station 2 (KM 14).  The Achilles heel area was already chaffing so I put band aid strips on both feet before taking off.

Enduring the chaffing & bleeding up to KM14...

Enduring the chaffing & bleeding up to KM14…

Running in the Dark

entering the tunnel of no return...

entering the tunnel of no return…

The way was still dark but we can already make out the topography ahead.  Slight uphills which eased out when the river crossing came.  The current of the Pasig-Potrero river was ragingly strong so a rope was installed to keep us on our feet while slowly moving across.  So far the slopes were gentle, passing through cogon trails and two tunnels traversing the elevated SCTEX highway above.  Suddenly, it was one continuous plunge before going punishingly way up.  I’m imagining how we will be doing this on the way back.  Bong & Kokoy were paces ahead while CJ & I followed – the tandems would interchange every now and then but we still managed to regroup while resting and recovering.  We finally found our oasis in Aid Station 3 (KM 23) but with the endless uphills ahead, we knew it was going be difficult.  It was around 7:15 am (or 6:15 since we started) when we replenished and got our wits together.  Our initial aim of making it to the peak in 7 hours was definitely out of reach.  In here, we took a longer break and found what I knew would save me on this race – new socks which covered the Achilles heel area.  The bleeding wound easily took in the soft cushioning of my Under Armour black socks.

and up we go...

here we go, guys…

If you noticed I have not complained of any tiredness or fatigue at this point.  It’s because any adjective before KM23 would just be superseded by the torture that lies ahead of us.  The sun had already blazed out early so we saw the endless ascents we were getting into.  By ascent, I mean 45 degrees and beyond.  Take a look at Simon Sandoval’s graph for better appreciation.

Simon Sandoval

do you see what I see?

Up & Up we go…

So there we were – climbing up one treacherously high slope then easing out a bit before taking on a more steep one.  The cycle kept repeating like some crazy spinning 45 vinyl record one is wont to take minor stops in between.  I would have stayed on a little longer but my convoy was already moving even before the breathing had normalized.  The matter with a continuous ascending road is that it slowly but continuously zaps one’s energy and quadriceps muscles that by the time you reached the highest peak, you don’t know if you’ll have the energy to go down.  Unless, you decide to free fall…

just like one endless nightmare...

just like one endless nightmare…

still 52 kms. to go but it was feat worth a picture...

still 52 kms. to go but there’s always time to preen & grin…

Well, it’s still not the peak yet at Aid Station 4 (KM 30) but one feels like he’s climb a mountain too many already.  We took in more solids and liquids the station has to offer before going down the Miyamit Falls, a colossal monument of solid rock from which fresh water rushed down to feed the cool pool below.  Before I could take off my belt bag, I had plunged right in to feel my weary body refreshed and strengthened.  It was a soothing feeling before realizing I had taken my celphone along for a swim.

sweet and short swim with bad Bong...

sweet and short swim with bad Bong…

good bye paradise...hello uphills

good bye paradise…hello uphells

A brief rest and cool bath were all it took to bring us back to life.  We knew the ascent would be our final ordeal to the peak but surprisingly I felt renewed strength and vigor.  Plus the climb wasn’t as insane after KM23 since they only reveal themselves little by little without overwhelming the weary runner.  And the cushioning feel of soft trail on my feet kept Kokoy and us assaulting the last few kilometers into the peak.  And the views kept getting better as the elevation rose – giant fern canopies, banana plantations, old growth trees and unusual floras only found in the higher areas.  The weather was a bit cool already but it just got better with the soft trickle of rain caressing our sunworn faces.  Until the fog came.

this is how high we've gone...so far.

this is how high we’ve gone…so far.

By this time, the trail had narrowed down though not treacherously, and one has awesome views of the verdant high mountains and lahar landscape on both sides.  The fog was slowly enveloping us and the cold was starting to creep in but I kept telling me self that I had gone through this in Connecticut so I was going to enjoy this.  I felt I was scaling the walls of some Irish coastline cliff.  It was that spectacular.  We finally reached the PEAK with Boringer MarkFer & Isko Lapira welcoming us like returning heroes.  We took in whatever supplement they can offer and let the feat sink in our minds for a few minutes.  Until we realized we have only 8 hours 50 minutes to reach the finish line.aldean p

The mad dash down…

At the start of this race, I’ve drilled in my little mind that the time going up should be shorter than the time descending since I would already be fatigued going down.  So at this time, thoughts of not making it to the finish within the 18-hour cut off time had swirled and swayed in my head.

“We’ll never make it….”  Remember that pessimistic lilliput Glum in the Gulliver’s Travel cartoon…”we’re doomed”

But my partner Kokoy had no time for my BS (though I never articulated it to him).  So we kept descending like there’s no tomorrow.  Behind us, Bong (making alalay with his knees) and CJ trying to catch up.  Fortunately, Koy was a master of the downhill run (a skill I’ve first loved since hitting the trails while also making alalay with the knees) and I was just happy to tag along.  Yes, there were the uphills still but with enough power walking we were able to burn the miles.  At certain points, I had to tell Koy to make alalay while I recovered but encouraged him to dash when the power had returned.  We had to get to the mother ship and leave Earth before the asteroid hits us to smithereens.

After reaching AS4, I somehow felt we were out of the rabbit hole.  Even with still some minor ascents, the way to the next aid station was simply a breeze (that is if you compare them to what we had gone through).  When torture is repeated for a certain period, the pain becomes negligible.  That’s the only explanation that comes to mind.  Since everything had become a blur of concrete, earth, rocks, pebbles and grass.  And Kokoy’s unstained calves as we made the final descent.

Tick, tock, tick, tock…

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what the *@%^#, RD Jon!

running atom

brutal beauty (as inspired by Daphne Codilla’s account)

By the time we reached AS3, we had lost CJ with only Bong diligently following us from the back.   Soon he recovered nicely and it was a trio conquering lahar plains, river crossings and steep cliffs.  It’s when sunlight unveils the true extent and breadth of the course that you curse the RD (Thank you, Atty. Jon Lacanlale) for leading you through one of the most mind boggling and difficult route in your life.  The line, “Did we really take on this efffing route?” was uttered more than twice.  And you thank the heavens that finally it’s the homestretch.

One can also appreciate the small markers along the wide landscape of rocks, lahar and water even from a distance.  And so we used it to guide us through the barren wasteland which surely looked more unattainable and challenging than it was in the darkness.  But you put your mind to it – and take on the same challenges you’ve prevailed upon on the way up – the shifting lahar sands, the randomly strew stones, the raging river and the steep hills.  There were times when we had to slow down to look for the markers for some hundred meters and wonder if we ever took on this or that route.  But it soon came to view and our apprehensions dissipated.  To get lost at the final leg with the clock ticking fast is just what we didn’t need at this time of the race.  We reached AS1 (manned by Team Ungas) with barely 1:45 to expend but we didn’t want to take our chances, with the waning daylight upon us.

entering Sapang Uwak (KM 7)...

entering Sapang Uwak (KM 7)…

run

the final push along lahar country…

Heaven is closer…

joseph Patrich Bonaobra

oh marker, oh marker, where art thou?

It was one crucial decision we took at this point since the last 7 kilometers wasn’t that close after all.  It was in fact a long arduous way passing through the endless laharland.  I then realized that this was the same entry way we had used when I did my Pinatubo 50km trail run in 2010.  At this time it was four of us again but with Chips Dayrit for the final push.  We were praying for CJ to be just a few leagues away for he was the guy who trained hardest for this race (in fact, he was just a few minutes away after answering nature’s call).  Dusk had set in when we finally found the exit from the lahar channel.  We were imagining and hoping that the runners behind us won’t have the difficulty of finding the markers in total darkness.

darkness falls across the land...

darkness falls across the land…

At this time, we knew we had nailed this little devil.  We went up some trails into the asphalt road by the village and entered the Clark complex.  We were already wondering what we would be doing the next day – perhaps, pamper ourselves and take the much needed rest.  Me – I was just longing for my Vanilla ice cream topped with fresh strawberries I’ve been imagining throughout this battle.  After what felt like eternity (again, “Did we really pass this way?”), the few lights of the parade grounds came into view and we were rushing like marauding pirates into the finish line.  I’ve been twirling my trekking pole for some time now so I had mastered it while checking in at 17:12:49, no. 16 out of 32 finishers from a group which started at 59.

17 hours & 12 seconds after...

Define exuberance…

too wasted for the medal presentation...

too wasted for the medal presentation…

finishers all:  mar, bong, chips, toto, kokoy & mccoy (60km 2nd placer) with RD Jon...

finishers all: mar, bong, chips, toto, kokoy & mccoy (60km 2nd placer) with RD Jon…

Now lemme have that Vanilla ice cream, please.

The memorable and awe inspiring photographs are courtesy of RD/Atty. Jon Lacanlale, Simon Sandoval, Joseph Patrich Bonaobra, Glairold Racella, Dennis Wufei Cumal, city watch Phl, Carmeli Ortega, Team Ungas, Managan Ta Bai, Aldean Philip Lim, Running Atom, CJ Paras & the Voltes Team.


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Seeking Siquijor & Dumaguete


This happened during the first week of June but a lot happened after.  So before this gets buried among the run entries, I’m posting this.  So last June, along with dental buddies for more than a decade, we set out to visit an area we haven’t explore before.  Arrangements mostly via the internet were done beforehand so it was basically a smooth sailing journey.

Strolling along Siliman University with Cel & Randy…

The humongous posts guarding the university…

And it should be.  It’s the first time that our friend, Dr. Badette gets to travel with us beyond Tagaytay with his family in tow (Uffe and the budding Ida Larsson).   We stayed for 3 days at Dumaguete where we explored its quiet, idyllic slow city life while we enjoyed Siquijor island (just an hour away by boat) for 2 days – taking in its endless white sand beaches, waterfalls and warm people.  Welcome to our adventure…

Exploring Dumaguete: here by the plaza & church area…

Siliman Uni’s sprawling grounds…

the city’s expansive coastline park, sans the Sputnik lights of Manila Bay…

Dumaguete by night…

Sugar overload with Anton at Sans Rival…

a sweet piece of heaven…

the old world interiors of Sans Rival resto…

seafood delights at Lab-as resto, Dumaguete

the inviting waters of our resort in Siquijor island…

By the entrance of the Coco Grove resort…

a dark encounter with Badette infront of their cavana..

hellboy in paradise…

with Ida going down the 3-tiered falls…

Cambugahay Waterfalls – 3rd level

a closer shot with Ida, Badette, Cel & Randy…

church shot…

a view from down here: ant’s eyeview shot by the town plaza…

jumpshot 101!

precious moments in paradise: starting the 2nd GOT book (A Clash of Kings) by the beach…

dinner by the beach…incomparable!

starfishes, seastars and other aquatic creatures.

by the century old mystical Balete tree…

paradise found…

delectable dishes by our seaside tent…

one happy moment!

Other lovely pictures are courtesy of Drs. Badette, Cel & Anton…