Coming off from my triumphant King of the Mountain 100KM race one week later, I was running with the swagger of a battle-worn warrior along Timberland’s snaking muddy trails. Welcome to the Merrell Adventure 21KM race, I told my myself under a labored breath. It had rained the day before (June 3) and though some of the trails in KOTM were wet and slippery, the effort to keep moving without slipping or sliding was just too much to maintain that the minutes kept ticking without me covering that much kilometer.
I started 3 minutes late so the goal to outrun the tail enders was obstacle enough along a thin, sinewy trail already mashed and molested by the lead packers. The trick is to run on the sidelines (provided they are still flat and not too inclined) where most of the vegetation had only been slightly trampled. After a few minutes of trying to dodge the muddy, watery trails, one eventually gives up and embraces the earth in all its form (packed, loose, watery or sticky).
How many times I slipped and slid and planted my behind on mother earth or outmaneuvered a fall by tilting my right arm was beyond me (suddenly, I missed my trekking pole). Suffice to say that my butt and right arm/shoulder were sore days after. Most difficult was when I had to ascend a slippery slope that I had to move on all fours, grappling on whatever the trail has to offer – a sliver of cogon, a loose bamboo trunk or a jutting rock. Yep, I was that bad. Well, so were the others. I even found some 10KMers on my 2nd loop.
Perhaps, the real highlight of this race was the circuit of river trails one has to move through, jumping and skipping from one boulder to the next and moving into waterfalls and shallow fords. Some brave runners finally succumbed to the river’s allure and dove right in and traced the waters going back into the trail. This was the part I enjoyed the most since the rushing waters cooled my already fatigued & dehydrated body and cleansed my caked shoes (Lady Gaga would have loved it) so they can still grasp on the muddy earth. And start accumulating new mud again until I’m 4 inches taller.
On the way to the finish line, one still needs to pass through what one would easily mistake for a pig pen. You go through a lake of brown water, contorting your tired body through concrete tunnels and low-roped obstacles your face can easily end up swimming on the muddy pool. Of course, I enjoyed that part because by this time I was taking in the whole muddy, murky experience, just the way we did it when I was a kid, 40 years later.
For the 21KM runners, one had to go through the same loop again (slippery trails, giant boulders, more mud and rains, anyone?) before finally crossing into the finish. The 2nd time around, given a more fatigued runner, mushier/muddier trails and (surprise!) fresh rains from above, was nothing short of moving along a sea of molasses, resembling some Tarantino movie scene done in slo-mo. At this time you just want to end the whole spectacle and wash off/shower/clean yourself but there were more uphills to conquer.
4:26 later, I finally crossed the finish line – grimy and dripping and smiling, proudly displaying my battle scars of the day. Now, this was one great fun adventure I’ve ever had in recent years. Perhaps, I’ve forgotten how to be a kid again and the feeling of freedom and calm and awe came surging in like some electric current after a power outtage.
2 hours later, I was scrubbed cleaned and smelling sweet, garbed in my clinic gown and treating a patient. Back to reality, Toto, I say. Suddenly, I was longing for mud…and all the fun the goes with it.
Photos are courtesy of Ms. Cheryl Bihag (she who had scaled Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina), Mr. Thumbie Remigio (race organizer) & Ms. Ella Dator Perez