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