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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.


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


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!