I run…therefore I am

Leave a comment

Our Old Spanish Trail 54 Kilometer Journey

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

2014 SOLEUS VALLLEY TRAIL CHALLENGE: Your intro into the world of ultra trail running


Nagsawa na ba kayo sa paulit-ulit na tinatakbuhan ninyo dito sa Metro Manila at kung saan-saan pa? Batung-bato na ba kayo sa tigas ng sementong kalsada? Dibat panahon na para subukan ninyo ang ibang klaseng kalsada, ruta at mga bagong tanawin?


For those who have done the marathon, don’t you think it’s time to test your feet for an ultra marathon? And for those who simply love the outdoors, a 15- and 30-kilometer category awaits you.

And for all those who had their trail or ultra marathon baptism of fire in the same event last year, you are all once again cordially invited by frontRUNNER Magazine, Ang Pambansang Babasahin ng Mananakbong Pilipino, to the 2014 Soleus Valley Trail Challenge that will be held on June 29, 2014 at Nuvali, Sta Rosa, Laguna.

The route is generally runner-friendly, having a rolling but mostly flat terrain (single and double track dirt roads), and only around 5% will consist of concrete roads. This route offers reprieve from constant pounding on hard surfaces. It is an out and back course with the start and finish lines situated in the vicinity of The Fields Clubhouse. The course will bring runners to the peripheries of the NUVALI complex which will offer participants majestic views that only nature and NUVALI can offer.

And in the true tradition of trail and ultra running, this race will be a no frills, all thrills event where runners, despite the presence of aid stations, are strongly advised to be self-contained and sufficient, meaning, runners are strongly advised to carry their own headlamps/flashlights, hydration kits and nutrition supplies.

Additionally, it is also recommended that they bring their own first aid kit (cotton balls, antiseptic solution, band aid strips and anti-biotic ointment).

Experience the peace and serenity of your run without the distractions of the usual pre- and post-race noise and fanfare.

We hope to see you share the trails with us.

Bring your cameras too! RAIN or SHINE.Race Bibs


(Part of registration fees will go the HERO FOUNDATION).

LIMITED SLOTS  (Updates will be given as to availability of slots)

15k (300 slots) – 750.00 pesos- Swag: Event shirt, Sling bag and Finisher’s Medal, Post-race meal and drinks

30k (400 slots) – 1000.00 pesos- Swag: Event shirt, Sling bag and Finisher’s Medal, Post-race meal and drinks

50k (300 slots) – 1500.00 pesos-Swag: Event shirt, Sling bag and Finisher’s Medal, Post-race meal and drinks

SOLEUS Shirt Size ChartSoleus VTC2014_singlet

Registration starts on April 16 and ends June 1, 2014. Limited slots only. Registration may end earlier if all slots are filled up.

This means there will be NO onsite registration/extension. Please do not call the Race Director to request for an extension.

15k Start: 5:00 AM, Cutoff time THREE hours, 3:00:00 (RFID Timing)

30k Start: 4:30 AM, Cut-off time SIX hours, 6:00:00 (RFID Timing)

50k Start: 4:00 AM, Cut-off time TEN hours, 10:00:00 (25-Kilometer Cutoff, 5:00:00 Hours. Runners not able to meet this deadline will be declared as DNF and be brought back to the finish line.) (RFID Timing)  


  1. Bank Deposit: HARDCORE PUBLISHING HOUSE, INC. BPI 2371 0034 71
  2. Print your name, shirt size and distance on the deposit slip together with your signed and duly accomplished registration form and waiver (see form below)
  3. Scan and email to soleus You will receive an acknowledgement thereafter. Please do NOT post on facebook.
  4. Incomplete details on deposit slip will not be honored.
  5. For inquiries;


  1. Please read and understand all details thoroughly.
  2. Start/Finish Line: FIELDS Clubhouse, NUVALI.
  3. Please be on time. Latecomers will NOT be allowed be allowed to officially join the race anymore. However, they are still entitled to post-race items except the Official Finisher’s medal.
  4. Assembly Time: 3:00 AM (for 50k) and 4:00 AM(for 30k/15k) / RAIN or SHINE.
  5. Claiming of  race kits will be held on the following dates; June 6, 7 and 8, 2014 from 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM at 100 Miles Cafe, BGC, Taguig City. BRING YOUR DEPOSIT SLIPS when claiming your race kits. NO DEPOSIT SLIPS, NO RACE KITS.
  6. Race briefing will be held on the following dates; 6:00 PM June 6, 2014 and 2:00 PM June 7 and 8, 2014 at 100 Miles Cafe, BGC, Taguig City. Please note that the venue can only hold a limited number of participants at a time so please come early if you wish to attend. For those not able to attend the said schedules,  briefing/updates will be held onsite on June 29, 2014 before the start.
  8. All runners must wear their race numbers in front, pinned on the shirt or shorts.
  9. Runners will make a turnaround at their respective turning points and make their way back to the finish line.
  10. There will be aid stations located at approximately five kilometers apart where all runners are free to refill and eat.
  11. Littering is absolutely prohibited. Violation of such will merit outright disqualification. Garbage bags are available in all aid stations.
  12. Race route will be marked by ribbons and/or directional tarpaulins, painted rocks/trees/ground.
  13. Runners who decide not to continue the race must contact the Race Director or inform the nearest aid station marshals for proper accounting.
  14. No time credits will be given for runners who get lost therefore all runners are encouraged to pay attention to race markers/signs.
  15. NO shuttle service to and from NUVALI is provided.
  16. FREE parking is available at the parking lot adjacent to the FIELDS CLUBHOUSE. While security will be provided, runners will be solely responsible for securing their belongings. Race organizers and management will not be held liable for any damage or loss to personal items.
  17. Baggage deposit counter/toilet and bathroom will be available at the same site.
  18. The Race Director may, at any time, make revisions on the course and race details/rules for the benefit of all runners and reserves all the rights to use pictures and videos taken by any participant for publication in any form of media without any consideration, monetary or otherwise. Owners of published photos/videos will be duly recognized.
  20. Enjoy, have fun and absolutely NO WHINING.
  21. Race Director’s decision is final.





Leave a comment

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


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  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!


Leave a comment

Frontrunner Article #4: The Great Disconnect

to run or to treat...?

to run or to treat…?

‘Doc, was that you we saw running the other day?’ queried my patient.  It’s been a question I get a lot since doing my training runs on weekdays.  Whence before I dreaded being sighted on the road dripping in sweat in very skimpy outfits by patients and friends, today I wear my running badge with pride and some confidence.  If before I led a double life of runner and dentist, today, I eagerly share my ultra trail and road adventures with gusto and gratification.

The last 23 years I’ve been in the practice of dentistry, friends and patients have always pictured me as the mild mannered guy whose idea of fun involved prying out tooth fragments and draining pus on swollen faces in the comforts of my sterile clinical existence.  It was a cocooned existence where the action was confined inside the hallowed caverns of the oral cavity, the valleys of the periodontal pockets, the uphill cusps of molars and darkened tunnels of root canals.  It was a safe, predictable, staid and boring lifestyle which little by little took a toll on the shoulders and back.

welcome to my cubicle!

welcome to my cubicle!

While I never looked better then, replete with well formed arms and chest (I was a gym buff), I had zero cardio-vascular workout and was easily fatigued and burnt out.  Plus the blood pressure went out of control.   Time for a game change…

i miss my rippling triceps...but then.

i miss my rippling triceps…but then.

Back in 2003, I loved posing, ala-Gardo Versoza.  This one was taken by Taal lake...

Back in 2003, I loved posing, ala-Gardo Versoza. This one was taken by Taal lake…

4 years ago when I stumbled into the world of running, I started donning the skimpiest of apparels and exposing myself into the ever-changing elements of extreme heat, rain and all sort of flotsam in the choking  world of Metro Manila roads.  So imagine one moment I’m pounding the pavement under the sweltering heat, dripping in sweat and all sort of bountiful slime and dirt.  And an hour later, I’m in the safety of my operatory attending to patients’ needs as peppermint oil wafts across Sitti’s cooing voice.

Back to my simple controlled life...

Back to my simple controlled life…

The great disparity was simply jarring that the first impulse was to conceal it from my patients.  The thought of them seeing me oozing with sweat and grime was just too much to take.  So this is my double life – one is controlled, organized and serene while the other is unpredictable, chaotic and full of surprises.  While I hardly break a sweat inside the clinic, the other is about dirt, sweat and I just love it.

We want our dentists well groomed, smelling sweet and uttering the wittiest statements & dishing out the most helpful of tips, don’t we?  And not cursing the wind and the race director (where the hell is the finish of this %$@* race?).  Now who would want to see his dentist slugging it out in muddy trails and treacherous mountain tracks?  I can just read their thought bubbles:  “Now isn’t that going to weaken his dexterity and clinical skill in handling my dental cases?” or “So how can he still take care of me when he’s always up there in the mountains, caked in mud and being feasted upon by jiggling leeches (eeew…)?

having a blast in the real world...

having a blast in the real world…

Now, let me run through all these misimpressions.  Oh yes, I am exposed to all sort of inconveniences (torture, if you may) in an environment teeming with dirt and grime an ordinary sheltered individual won’t be able to stomach.  But after each adventure, I’d bathe and scrub myself clean to the bone and I’d like to believe we observe aseptic techniques in our practice once ensconced in our four-walled, environmentally controlled clinic.  And yes, after years of hitting the road and trail, I can still take out an impacted molar or negotiate some shrunken root canals.

life is a series of movements whether it's macro or just learn to adjust to the situation.

life is a series of movements whether it’s macro or micro…you just learn to adjust to the situation.

And I still haven’t thrown my clinic sked into chaos in favor of the outdoors.  I can’t keep hiking if I don’t have the funds to sustain it so the most I’d take out in my work week is 1-2 days.  Basically, I still have 5 full days to see patients – yes, even if I’m a bit burned and limping.  Fact is, I look forward to be back to my air-conditioned environment after days to being exposed to inclement weather.  It balances things out without feeling burned out on either side of my polarized universe.

Without a doubt, running, besides stabilizing my fluctuating blood pressure and lulling me to long peaceful slumbers (didn’t know that Sleepasil has been routine to some colleagues), had strengthened me, physically and skillfully.  I can take hours of continuous dental procedures without complaining and feeling wasted – always keeping in mind that the finish line is coming round the bend.  Or during those toxic stressful clinic moments where I’ve learned to handle the situation the way I’ve battled injuries and submission during a race.

i run. i treat. i am rundmd.

i run. i treat. i am rundmd.

But eventually, like some illicit love affair, one tries to inevitably merge both lives.  I soon realized that running would play a greater part for the rest of my earthly life so I might as well wear it like a proud badge.  Soon enough, I was opening up to my patients on my exploits on the road and trail.  And what do you know, they were piqued curious (perhaps, by that BDM trophy resting at the reception area) and fascinated by my ‘secret life’.  I was no longer the guy who was buffed, clean and whole some, I had become the gaunt dark warrior – looking burnt and hardened but brimming with eagerness and perseverance and ready to take on any challenge, whether at the dental operatory or the road…

Leave a comment

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…

Leave a comment

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.


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.


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.


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, & Frontrunner


Frontrunner Article 2: (Trying to) Look young beyond 40

I’m not so sure if I am the proper authority on this but my critical and detailed observations among people of varied ages and status through the years could help many of us – runners, especially those over 40 or even just approaching it.  I mean, many of us serious runners, plunged into this lifestyle basically to look and feel younger than many of our contemporaries.  Beyond the rising blood pressure and fluctuating dial on the scales, the yearning to bring back those lost years is what primarily drives us to wake up at dawn just to hit the pavement like there’s no tomorrow.

enjoying my beer (not my choice, really) after playing pacer during the BDM 160...

enjoying my beer (not my choice, really) after playing pacer during the recent BDM 160…

Basically, runners have already the edge over his less active buddy whose idea of physical activities would be surfing (the net) and throwing rocks at angry birds. We have flatter abs (though, not necessarily), a better posture and a certain air of confidence (esp. if one has finished an ultrarace, though this can go overboard).  A lot of other people may not be physically fit but how come they still stand out among the crowd?  Don’t worry, this isn’t an advertorial from Belo or Obagi.  Many runners already have the guns so it’s just a matter of harnessing them sans surgery or drugs.
a.  Think young, look young.  You don’t have to sport the latest Justin Bieber hairstyle (considering, if you still some hair up there) to blend in with the younger generation.  You don’t even have to know the latest apps or single by Jason Mraz.  Having a greater zest for life and an adventurous attitude would help (not much of a stretch for many of us).  Avoid acting like a father/uncle if one of them starts taking alcoholic drinks but assert some authority when things go a little beyond control.
In short, try to go with the flow and be more open minded with younger generation’s mind set.  Yes, they also have their pluses which our generation failed to imbibe.

during my recent NY jaunt:   the gift of wonder & discovery

during my recent NY jaunt: the gift of wonder & discovery

b.  Details, details. A sprouting nose hair, a chipped tooth, a gag-inducing breath or an overlong eyebrow strand – think how this could ruin someone who looks and smells good then you get the picture.  Beyond being kikay, it’s about having proper hygiene and being clean.
c. Less is more.  During our time, the term minimalist was unheard of (though this did flourish in mid-century homes).  Now it’s everywhere – in architecture, furnitures, running shoes and clothes.  So those who think that their neon shirt and pastel pants would still do, think again.  Time to update your wardrobe.  The simpler, the better.  Let go of your flamboyant, over the top 80s attitude.  We’re in the more practical, streamlined 2010s.

'Gliding' during the Condura Skyway Run 2013

‘Gliding’ during the Condura Skyway Run 2013

That indigo high waist jeans you’ve had for the last 20 years only belies your age.  Young people nowadays sport tighter jeans with low waists one can glimpse of eternity.  Get a good tailor who could adjust your loose shirts and pants.  I did when I lost a bulk of my arms and chest from running.  I’m not suggesting to sport that skinny jeans + v-neck shirt + Chuck Taylors ensemble but try to take it halfway without looking too fashionista- we’re talking about looking fresh but still respectable.  Lastly, if you want to look more senior, tuck in your loose shirt underneath your giant buckle, yes, even if it’s the Western State silver buckle. Subtlety – now that’s something you can introduce to your system.IMG_0073
d.  Take care of your biggest organ.  The skin that is.  Runners are most prone to all forms of skin discolorations/burns/dryness.  If you’re going for that gruff, rugged look, go ahead if you think it’s cool.  You could also stop shaving for 3 days if you want.  Just don’t complain if they won’t let you in the hotel lobby. Time to let go of your fantasies of looking like Barry Gibb or Kris Christofferson.  It’s about looking clean and decent – minimal body hair, most especially those gorilla chest hairs.  Most Southeast Asians are at an advantage here for very few have ear hairs you’d want to secretly pluck out.

nobody gets too much hair anymore...

nobody gets too much hair anymore…

The opposite of the spectrum would be those super clean and mega-white bleached look from our north Asian brothers.  If you’re longing for that kind of ‘ghostly’ face, go ahead and spike the sales of sunblocks, glutathione and papaya soaps.  We are runners so accept the fact that we will never bring back our fairer look (unless you’re a Jael/Jonel) or you can take a hiatus and hibernate in the caves of Huyuphuyupan.  So love that bronze god look which could only be achieved from all that heat training.  Lastly, moisturize, moisturize – if Rob Lowe does it, so should you.  I know that supplemental spraying of sunblock will hardly stick on you 12 kms after so better make up for it when you’re already off the road.

forever young...I want live

forever young…I want to live

e.  Accept your Age.  There are certain things we have to learn to accept whether it’s a fading vision, a thinning hairline (a bald pate is way cooler than brushing your last few strands towards your glinting forehead), a weaker stamina, or greying hair.  A high school classmate who’s a cosmetic surgeon once suggested that I should get ‘botoxed’ to hide my crow’s feet which appear upon smiling.  I told him I might lose my signature acting style ‘coz I’ll look expressionless on the big screen.

that's me during the 25th year reunion of our UERM Batch '88 last month...

that’s me during the 25th year reunion of our UERM Batch ’88 last month…

Seriously now, we can only just do so much in reversing the hands of time.  Relish your wisdom and experience that can only come with advancing years. Besides what we lack in physical perseverance, we more than make up in mental toughness in an ultramarathon.  Ever seen an old runner emotionally break down at the BDM 160 finish line?  In short, learn to love what you’ve become – a better and faster human being who’s capable of outrunning and outwitting individuals half your age.  And enjoying his second wind in midlife.  Whenever I see someone young, eager and strong on the road, I wish him/her to remain spritely and ‘still at it’ when he/she gets to my age.  Because in the end, it’s about longevity and sustenance.  And finishing strong in this race called life.
First Photo is courtesy of Paulo Navarette


Toto Tackles Tacloban

San Juanico Bridge between Samar & Leyte

Coming into the Tacloban 50KM Ultrarun (I Shall Return), I was hobbled by 2 handicaps that would weigh me down into its final kilometers.

a)  3 weeks before, I contracted dengue fever coupled with pneumonia which brought me down for 2 weeks.  The platelet count hardly dipped so it was the lungs that were treated for 4 days at the Marikina Valley Hospital and 1 week at home.

b)  I hardly had any training runs prior to Tacloban (I was recuperating, remember?) – maybe, just enough to bring back my leg/running strength back but not enough.

Now that’s just a hint of things to come in the next paragraphs.

The 4 days I was confined at the Marikina Valley Hospital were some of my most trying times, not just from the gallons of oil-based antibiotics they infused on me but the notion of having missed my 3rd Milo marathon where I’ve trained/conditioned quite considerably was pure torture.  And just like that, I was back to square one of my running regimen.

I arrived at Tacloban a full day before the run (meaning I hardly had any sleep the night before) – I found Jonel Mendoza, the race director (along with Team Intensity led by brothers Nap & Kharl Ocampo) plopped by our hotel lobby complaining of the sweltering heat after a short run around the downtown area.  So this is how it will be come race day.  Or not.  I’d probably finish within 6 hours, factoring in the almost flat terrain.  Mr. Optimist.

downtime with Team Kulit…

Team Kuliters Chinky, Shiela and Reylynne arrived later in the morning and we met up at the quaint Ayo Cafe in the city outskirts before settling into their better appointed room at the Leyte Park Hotel (still with traces of the once Imeldific grandeur).  By 5:30 PM, along with nearly 200 runners/supporters, we assembled by the Tacloban amphitheater nestled by the picturesque shoreline.  Jonel and Nap briefed us on the tricky race route and fed us enough carbohydrate requirements for the next day’s adventure.

Tacloban Beauties: Rey, Chinx & Sheila

the view by the hotel…

and it all ends here…

More than 200 runners showed up at the Coliseum where the race was to commence at 4 AM.  Some faces were familiar but with a greater chunk representing the Cebu and Mindanao runners.  The scene felt different.  And yet there were the strangely familiar characters – the Vicky Rases of the South (sexy and feisty female runners), Tarahumarra sandal-wearing runners and even the brave barefoot contenders.  I’m surmising it could have been the considerable top 3 prize money both for male and female runners which brought the many elite runners in this southern city.  This was going to be one highly competitive race.

Team Kulit with Jonel & Jessie…

RD Jonel gives the final words before the start…

A few more words and goodwill wishes from the RD and we were off.  I tried to position myself with the mid-packers for a kilometer or so, trying to keep up with Rey’s blistering pace.  The plan was to tackle the first 25KMs in my best effort while the sun hasn’t come out yet.  But after a few minutes, I was back to my walking pace.  This was to be the scenario for the rest of this run, with the proportion growing worse as the sun and temperature rise.  Suddenly, I was missing my almost continuous trot over a month ago at the Nuvali Trail Run.   Something about trails which make me take flight…

smile (you’re on candid camera)…

A few shafts of the sun had showed up when I reached Water Station 2 (around KM 20).  Iced water abounds but my container was still filled so I kept moving along one of Leyte’s main highway.  The people around were the cheerful lot and the public jeepneys and buses kept a respectable distance from us, visitor runners.  At KM 28, Water Station 3 finally materializes and boy, was it laden with all sort of runner’s delights – ice cold water, soda drinks, puto, bananas and generous slices of watermelon and pineapple.   For a minute, I just wanted to stay there and linger.

with Vanz…

Samar here we come!

But the majestic San Juanico bridge, this race’s main magnet, beckoned.  The 2KM massive structure gracefully traverses the chlorophyllic waters separating Leyte from Samar – t’was indeed the run’s highlight.  We took the sloping climb before descending towards the other side then back again to the Leyte side.

the bridge of I Shall Return ultrarun…

this way to Samar…

crossing the country’s longest bridge…

Even with the evergreen waters swirling lazily on either side of the bridge – one thing can’t be denied – it was agonizingly hot already, no matter the amount of blocking off/deflection/music conditioning techniques I was employing.  I had underestimated this run, big time.  I had left my funny-looking (but highly protective) Kathmandu hat so my nape and scalp were exposed to the scorching sun rays.  Many times, I was seeing white spots all around due to the blinding sun.  Fortunately, Madame Rowena (Sir Jovie’s supportive partner) lent me her pair of pinkish shades.  It was not the most manly apparel but it did its job.  I don’t think I would have survived it without them.  Literally, I was seeing the world in rose-colored glasses.

with ultra idol Chito Carreon at the start of the crossing…

After the bridge ordeal, a good 7KMs was traversed entering the Tacloban golf course where one slowly ascends a small hill and goes down.  Many complained it was the most difficult part of the route but for Timberland veterans like us (Team Kulit), it was no big a deal.  We even enjoyed our favorite downhills, albeit separately.  With Rey, I’m imagining her sprinting up and down the area with ease and gusto.

I replenished by Water Station 3 before taking on the final 13 kilometers, fatigued and practically forcing my legs to keep moving (walking with a little jog here and there).  I was half expecting to self-combust from the stiffling heat – like zombies swallowed by daylight.  To break the monotony, I was imagining myself as Edward Cullen – running from the sun where there are no trees then walking when the shade appears.

almost there…

I usually put on my MP3 player only when various forces (fatigue, heat, dehydration, etc.) were already weighing me down.  If it’s any indication of this race’s difficulty, 75% of it, I had my music on.  During various times in the run, I was a) down/discouraged b) ready to thrown the towel or c) desparate already to be picked up by the roving ambulance.

Here’s more:  a)  Two of my toenails were slowly dying at every step.  b)  my exposed neck was painfully toasted while the back/neck muscles were feeling heavy upon movement that I was suspecting a case of hypertension.

But I kept moving until Water Station 2 appeared and I knew I was only 5KMs away (though in my conditon, that was going to feel more like 10).  We entered the downtown area where fortunately, I had tried to memorize the route.  At this time, I was running longer and more frequently until I finally found the Amphitheater, skirting its border and the shoreline before entering the center stage like some returning Gladiator to the thundering applause of the adoring masses and other finishers.  I kneel before the emperor who lays the wreath of laurel on my sweaty head and gives me a bear hug.  This part, I think, I was already delusional so don’t trust most of what you read.

Survived it baby.  And the feeling of fulfillment/triumph was more than worth everything I had gone through.  I’m back in the (ultrarunning) game, methinks.  Or maybe I need to train more…

while we were resting after the gruelling race…

Van & Ronnel during Baldrunner’s Mile Beer Run…(missed out on this)

lunch by Rafael’s farm…

Stayed for 2 more days in Tacloban after the race.  The first day, while still enjoying the comfort and suppleness of my hotel bed, I was dragged by a non-barefoot contessa to have an organic lunch at Rafael’s farm followed by an Imeldific tour at the Sto. Nino shrine and the Oriental Hotel.  It was indeed a travel like no other…

by McArthur’s landing monument…

Oriental Hotel…

The Marcos/Romualdez museum/residence

The wonderful pics are by Reynan, Picx Picardal, Sheila Compendio, Team Intensity, Vanns Cammanong & Dr. Mary Ann De Ere


The KOTM 100KM: One Heavenly Hellish Experience

Where the bloodshed happens…

A little over a month after my lingering DNF at this year’s TNF100, I was back in the mountains (actually just a few ranges away) to tackle another 100KM trail/mountain race, The King of the Mountain, 1st edition.  This time I was determined to finish an ‘easier/simpler’ race to ease and erase the TNF wounds – or so I thought…

the few who braved it…

elevation gains/losses during the first 36 kms.

Last May 25, I was on my way to Benguet via Baguio in the company of runners/mountaineers.  The only guys I knew were Ronnel Go (ang Poon), Wilnar Iglesias (ang Idol) & Meljohn Tezon (Boy Praning) but soon enough I warmed up to Jones, Xerxis, Maj. Ron, Bryan, Che & Alen.  I had no idea what their aliases were (one was known as ‘Peacock’) but I was soon pondering what I’m going to be called with all this trail running.  By 2 pm, we finally reached the bucolic town of Kayapa, Benguet (11 hours after).  We dropped our bags to our designated lodging and proceeded to the town stage where the KOTM orientation was being conducted by RD Jonel Mendoza.  25 runners will be doing the 60KM (Spanish Trail) while 26 of us will take on the 100KM (Four Lakes) challenge – how many will survive and who will surrender?  Read on…

so who will make it?

Food, particularly fresh veggies was cheap and aplenty so before we retired, we had an accidental Carbo-Loading Party when some of us underestimated the quantity of the dishes they ordered.  There we were feasting on greens, chicken and beef dishes like it’s 1999.  We retired early, feeling bloated and fearful of not waking up (from acute pancreatitis/bangungot).  But the weather was just comforting that we were able to doze off for 6 relaxing hours – quite a record prior to an ultrarun, at least for me.

the deep breath before the plunge…

The KOTM Batch 2012!

By 3 am, we assembled in front of the Kayapa townhall where the race was to start and finish.  After the singing of the national anthem and a fervent prayer, we shoot out in the dark – a good 5-km concrete road going up and out of the town.  Aided by our headlights, we entered an ascending trail head in Pangawan.  The lead pack consisted of 5 runners which included Wilnar.  Less than a kilometer away were Jones & Xerxis whom I joined along with Boypra & Ronnel.

learning to self-shoot

Good morning, Pangawan!

The elevation continued to rise on our way to the Mossy Forest, populated by giant ferns and age old tress – one can easily expect a Rivendell elf to leap out of the woodworks instead of the dreaded ‘Limatik’ (the local leech).  None of that happened but one wondrous foggy scenery after another.

Day starts to dawn…

clouds, fog and precious moments….

A few kilometers after the Indupit junction was our first water station – Bundao (KM 12.5).  It’s still a bit dark when I filled up my half-filled water bladder and kept moving – a combination of power walking and hiking in the uphills.  Soon the landscape revealed itself as the first streaks of light welcomed the glorious new day.  By my side the horizon was a sliver of gold and a splash of blue amidst a sea of clouds hugging the slopes.  We were winding along the face of the mountain into the next, moving with ease on grassy paths much like the terrain in Mt. Pulag.

capturing a moment…

on cloud 9!

KOTM100: Maj. Ron & Philippe during one of the many breaks. More trees most definitely.

TNF 100 with Maj. Ron, Kian, Rashel & Jules. Less Trees, more grass

We soon entered a pine woodland whose angle and terrain resembled so much like the TNF100’s and with Maj. Ron by my side, everything was just one long dejavu.  Fortunately, the ascents weren’t as continuous and punishing.  At KM19, we found our 2nd aid station at Domolpos to replenish our provisions on our way to the Mt. Ugo summit.  We had our pictures taken for the summit shot and for the race recorders.  It was a lot easier going down where we retraced Domolpos then taking a different track leading into the KM26, the 3rd aid station.

perilously stunning…

summits of my life…

After a short break, we entered the Spanish Trail, a winding downhill path along steep pine forests one can hardly see the snaking valley below.  Some of the descents were quite technical by my standard that it took me some time to navigate the boulders and narrow waterways.  Suddenly, from behind, 60KM runner Philippe who was taking a break came surging down.  Some alpha male goat started charging on him and he was running for dear life.  We went down the hill like marauding pirates, only we were the target.

views to soothe the weary soul…

Seriously, wish you were here!

Once the terrain flattened, our horned nemesis disappeared.  Our destination was still hundreds of meters below but we missed out on many of the ribbons that Philippe and I had to try different routes and just shout out when we had found a ribbon (and the designated path).  All that shouting soon brought us to another group of runners who were also finding their way around searching for that elusive ribbon.  Ronnel & Maj. Ron were there taking a break and waiting for their ‘lead’ runner to notify them of the right way.  Soon we were trotting together towards KM 36.5, my favorite of all the stops.

simply priceless!

It was at the Kayapa Proper East Market and Rey Jimenez was there to welcome us with refreshments to quench our worn-out bodies and soul.  I should mention of their halo-halo made from hand shaved ice that had me longing and dreaming hours after.  I had to catch up with our group since I was left behind finishing off my cool dessert.

we were down there less than an hour ago…

let’s wait awhile…with Ronnel & Ron

We passed by a river and one of the many hanging bridges and 2 kms later we were way up a hill where one is afforded an imposing view of the neighboring peaks and river system.  Just glorious and punishing.  We kept going up like there was no tomorrow.  Rey had warned us of this, so somehow the endless climbs felt less traumatic but still the knees can only take so much.  Good thing, Mr. Kampuger (Ronnel) and Maj. Ron were experiencing early signs of their personal monster – cramping.  We were forced to take our regular breaks while the 2 recovered.

mountain crab…

Maj. Ron takes a rest…

and so does Kampuger…

Thoughts of going faster and leaving Ronnel & Ron behind did swirl and sway in my competitive head.  Fortunately, they remained just that – thoughts.  In the latter part of this story, I realized that we had conserved intelligently and prepared our bodies for the battle ahead.

bushed & beaten…

Later the downhills were just ideal for my favorite speed descents that I had to do it – running down along one line while swaying the hips sideways.  It looked cartoonish but I was waaaay down there in no time with Ronnel by my tail.

A few meters of uphills along the main road and KM56 beckoned.  It was 4 pm or 1 hour faster than my TNF time for the KM56 cut off point.  We stayed for 30 minutes to refresh, revive and rethink.  Ronnel was considering adding 4 kms. into his mileage to jump down to the KM60 category which I promptly shoot down.  I told him we were gonna finish this little adventure together.  I also requested him, in the face of all our breaks/rests, to take me to a Top 10 finish.  He knows this is my little revenge run and I’d like to savor its sweetness to the very end.

verdant views at every turn…

by Lake Buaca…

It was almost 5 pm and near dark when we hiked up into another endless climb along grassy trails and vegetable gardens until we ended up in the first lake, Lake Buaca with its mist covered brown waters.  It was eerie and mysterious.  The sun was on its final leg.  We passed along generally rolling meadow paths with giant cows lazing around until the path started rising again.  Soon we found ourselves on top of a hill overlooking a valley with the twin Nayao lakes below.  It was getting darker as we descended on some steep non-existent trail.  I think I slipped and slid not a few times but we made it down in one piece.

down, down, down….

the view from the valley….

dusk shot by the lettuce plantations…

We went up a wooden gate and found a fork with no visible ribbon to guide us.  After 3 frantic calls (signal was weak in the area), we took the path going up by the felled pine trees.  Later, the group following us led Maj. Ron and Alen took the other trail and ended back at the finish line in Kayapa.  The path was in total darkness now as we kept plodding up with Ronnel leading the way.  With the sun out of the picture, the guy has got his mojo back and I had to keep up with his continuous pace until we reached Dayap Primary school, the KM64 pitstop.  We took our rest & meal and prepared for the road ahead.  We knew it was to be a bumpy one but not as we had imagined.

Ronnel into our uphell adventure…

With our headlamps to light the way, we descended an irregular stony road, again with no end in sight.  I’m imagining on day time, it would appear as one endless highway to hell.  Bless the darkness as all paths look the same – flat, negotiable and safe – when in fact most of them were just strips of slippery earth with deep ravines just a few inches away.  Expectedly the road started to go up again with most of it hardly passable – either it was just darn steep or unstable but one learns to cope in the dark with a lot of perseverance and patience (and a lot of prayer & rest in between).

We were still circling the face of the mountain going up and down, passing through a series of obstacles – wooden fences, hanging (and swaying) metal bridges, shallow (slippery) brooks and basically eroded paths one had to jump across.  Factor in the cool breeze which one hardly notices but do stop for a moment and your body temperature plummets to shivering.  That’s what we felt during our food breaks at our chosen waiting sheds.

I really detest a route which one passes through and has to go back to on the way back – meaning downhills become uphills and vice-versa.  So there we were descending into the center of the earth – tumbling, sliding and falling on slippery mud tracks with the crash of the rushing river from below.  I was imagining – will we be able to climb this up on our return journey?  Then it came back to me – all those rest/breaks indeed prepared me for this night’s real ordeal.  I had underestimated this part of the race.

Soon we came upon the returning runners in pairs – BoyP & Xerxis, Wilnar with the guy from Hong Kong, Andre, andJones & Joe.  Che had gone on alone.  Imagine that and she’s the only surviving female in the pack.  Finally by 11:30 pm, we reached KM74 (Banao) where we took our long break as Isko Lapira, the Terminator pampered us with piping hot noodle soup, coffee and servicing us like returning knights.  Ronnel even got his 5-minute nap while I huddled in a thick blanket to relax my worn out feet.  Out there, the blackness revealed all the stars and planets in their brightest.  Heaven in my mind’s eye.

30 minutes later, we were back on the road paved with rocky intentions.  The break had done us good.  Our footsteps were more sure and determined as we went up and down the long and winding road.  We were travelling faster than I had imagined, and the anxiety had dissipated.  It’s like a new power had taken over us and we were stronger and unstoppable.

We still took our breaks with Ronnel leading the way as he showed off his downhill skills.  Around 4 am, we reached KM83 (Dayap Primary School) to log in and replenish.  Then we proceeded up then down on the road to KM86 (Pangawan).  I have little appetite by then as I had grown tired and sleepy but Ronnel shared with me some magic gel he got from Ambow (Allen Gaspar) and we were soon up and about.

Flushed with renewed energy, we took the continuous uphill trail with little difficulty.  The sun had started to peek out of the giant fern canopy when we entered the Mossy forest.  The run through even on spent legs never failed to stir some inner awe for the second time with the finish line a few breaths away.  From Indupit, it was a treacherous descent that even if enervated, we had to plod cautiously lest we find our face in contact with the rocky terrain.

Finally, we saw the Talecabcab waiting shed, our marker that the end is just 5 kilometers away.  By this time, the downhills had become manageable and the path ideal.  I left my buddy and glided down along the mountain path.  I waited for him in the flatlands but started moving again when I caught sight of him with Ariel in neon green.  How’d he catch up this fast is beyond me.  No time to ponder on it so I just kept gliding down, well, until he thundered past me – so there goes my top 10 dreams.  But suddenly, out of nowhere Che emerges (she got lost somewhere).  I mustered enough energy and overtook her while tailing Ariel in what to me was simply a neckbreaking pace.

I turned on my MP3 player for some push and drama while traversing the winding final kilometers.  A final 300 kms. uphill and then I’m running down a dream – a surging finish to my 100KM trail race.  I had done it, with flailing trekking pole to boot as I crossed the finished line.  27:49 qualified for a #10 finisher out of 14.  12 had either DNFed or leveled down to 60KM.

with Ariel & Kampuger at the finish line!

Fellowship of the Trekking Pole

P.S.  Upon checking my casualties of war, I was surprised to see that my feet were in perfect condition (no blister, chaffing despite being soaked in water for a long time) and the legs – just mild locking sounds on the right but that’s it.  I could walk/jog straight after the race (while most everyone was doing the ‘astronaut’ walk, reminiscent of my post BDM 160 ultrarun).  Now you know why I’m loving trails and mountain runs.

The whole gang before leaving Kayapa…

The eye-popping pictures were courtesy of Rocketbong Alindada, Jonel Mendoza, Meljohn Tezon & Cheryl Bihag.

Salamat, Kayapa!