Sunday, March 2, 2014

Clark-Miyamit Falls Trail Ultra 50 Miles (CM50) - Nov 2013

The CM50 was my fourth race in Philippines in 2013!  But I was fearful.  Preparation to the lead-up of the race was difficult as I had to complete the 守夜 for my dad's wake from Monday early morning till the cremation on Wednesday morning.  During this time, I slept about 6 hours from the time I woke up for 屏东 Marathon on Sunday (5am) to when I finally got to rest after the cremation and sea burial ceremony on Wednesday (3pm).  Luckily, I was quite efficient in preparing my gears for races.  I arrived in Clark in the wee hours of Saturday morning and slept through till noon!  After lunch, I went to prepare my drop-bags before I napped again till dinner time, where I met Alex and Simon.  Both of them shared with me the details of the course as they had completed the race last year.  In fact, they came in top 3 in their respective categories - Alex was third in the 60km race while Simon was second in the 50 miles race!  The information was extremely useful as we would be starting the race in the dark.  After dinner, they sent me back to the hotel and arranged to pick me up at midnight since the race for the 50 miles would be starting at 1am, Sunday.

Holiday Inn - Nearest Hotel to Start Line; Carbo Loading Lunch (Bottom L) & Dinner at Cafe Mesa (R)!

Just past midnight, Alex and Simon drove up to the Holiday Inn driveway.  I hopped into their car with my drop bags and off we went to the start line about 2km away (by car).  :p  The runners were streaming into the race start one by one.  I quickly handed in my 2 drop bags.  Then I saw another runner from Singapore - Lay Peng who would be attempting the 60km race.  I also met up with Cheryl and Rose, both of them attempting the 50 miles race like me.  Soon, the RD commenced his race briefing and flagged off the race  promptly at 1am.

Start of Clark-Miyamit Falls Trail Ultra!

The CM50 Course Map - Courtesy from the Official CM50 Website!

There was a very detailed course description given on the event website.  Unfortunately, I was not a word-person and I got lost while trying to read the various directions and visualise how the different places looked like when we supposed to turn here or there.  Starting the race in the dark didn't help since there was only so much I can see using my headlamp.  Hence, whatever Alex and Simon shared with me earlier was extremely useful.  Also, the runners would be running almost together at the start of the race.  I felt that I shouldn't get lost.  :)  Even if I was lost, there should be other runners around that I could follow.

Start to AS1 (Segment: 7km / Total: 7km)
This section at the start was the easiest as it comprised of approximately 3km on road, 2km on trail, and 2km on the river bed.  The course was exactly what Alex and Simon had described to me.  As it was very early in the race, I was in good company.  Crossing the river bed proved to be a little more difficult as there was slight current.  But with the experience from Mt Pinatubo, I reached AS1 with a little difficulty.  :)

AS1 to AS2 (Segment: 9km / Total: 16km)
This section was tougher with more ascent and descent.  The good thing about running in the dark was that you couldn't really see how much further you need to climb up or down.  By then, I already forgotten most of what Alex and Simon told me but I still recall the right turn towards a flight of steps.  After that, the terrain was mostly rolling hills till I needed the use of ropes to climb down!  (More on the ropes for the return trip later on).

AS2 to AS3 (Segment: 7km / Total: 23km)
By the time I left AS2, the runners were pretty much spread out.  But I managed to hang on with a small group of runners.  I was near the front runners when we all stopped as we are unable to see any blinking lights or reflective markers.  We retreated and tried to look around but to no avail.  I decided to use common sense since there was a path on the left where I could run.  At the end of the path, about 150~200m from where we got "lost", I saw a reflective marker and shouted at the group.  From that point, the group of us ran pretty much together till we reached AS3, where the volunteers retrieved my drop bag.  There, I left my super duper Black Diamond headlamp, re-stocked my milo, gel and pushed on.

AS3 to AS4 (Segment: 7km / Total: 30km)
The route to AS4 was straight forward as there was only one way.  However, more effort was required as it comprised of a number of climbs, though on easier terrain.  I managed to catch a few runners on my way up.  Soon, day broke and I could enjoy myself looking at the scenery.  But reaching AS4 proved to be tougher than I thought although I enjoyed myself jogging and hiking up the hills.  At one point, I thought I reached the AS4 but it was a false alarm as there some hikers were resting around the area with their pick-up, who cheered me on.  Luckily, I was really near and eventually reached at AS4 at 6:41am - 5hrs 41mins for 30km!  Slow as snail!  Just as I left AS4 for the peak, I met Alex emerging from the waterfall!  :)

Aid Station 4 - the Aid Station where Runners Left for the Peak or the Waterfall!

AS4 to Peak / Waterfall / AS4 (Segment Total: 20km / Total: 50km)
I passed Cheryl before I reached AS4, but she overtook me after she did a superb replenishment for her stuff and was very quick out of AS4 to the peak.  I reckoned that the distance to and from the peak should be around 20km, which meant that one-way to the peak should be 10km.  With the cut-off at the peak set at 11am, I thought I had plenty of time to make it.  Nevertheless, I pushed myself during the runnable section and jogged or hiked during the rocky segment of the race.  Then I saw the leaders ran past me back down to AS4, including Simon in 4th position!  I slowly worked my way, met Jonel and Cheryl on their way down and eventually reached the peak at 8:54am!  2hrs 13mins for 10km!

The Scenic Section of the Route to the Peak!

The weather at the peak was nice and cool.  There were mist all over and I felt as though I was in Genting Highlands.  The volunteers asked me what I needed.  I took a gel and requested them to help me disposed of the wrapper.  I didn't stay long as I was not sure if I could finish the race within the cut-off.  On my way down from the peak, I decided to put on my water-proof jacket as it was getting chilly.  But after a short while, I was all heated up from the running.  Halfway down, I felt a blister forming in my foot so I stopped to adjust my socks.  To my horror, I saw a serious blister forming on my left big toe.  :(  As I didn't bring along my needle and foot powder, I was unable to prick and dry the blister.  I put my socks back on, put on another layer of spare socks that I brought and continued running.  I managed to pass a couple of runners before I reached AS4.

On My Way to the Peak!!!

I did not stop at AS4 as the distance to and from the waterfall was about 2km.  Half-way after I made my way down to the waterfall, I met Rose who was on her way back to AS4.  Nearer to the waterfall, the terrain became more difficult.  The sound of the waterfall was also very deceiving - sound so near but yet so far!  I eventually reached the waterfall at 11:21am - 2hrs 27mins for a 11km jaunt!  This was way too slow!  But I decided to spend some time there and enjoy the waterfall.  I also had a chat with Cheryl.  After a 5min break, I decided to press on.  The return back to AS4 was much easier as it was going up.  And I reached AS4 at about 11:45am.  I replenished my milo and gel.  Just before I left, a fellow runner gave me a packet of rice and a packet of meat!  I decided not to consume the meat as it had quite a lot of fatty stuff which I didn't like.

The Waterfall!

AS4 to AS3 (Segment: 7km / Total: 57km)
I left for AS3 with the packet of rice.  It was a full serving of rice.  So I decided to eat and take it easy till I felt okie to run.  The rice tasted very good even though it was just plain rice!  After every mouthful, I would walk for about 5mins before I consumed another mouthful.  This went on for about 30mins.  I felt energised and full of energy!  I managed to pick up my pace and ran as hard as I could.  I caught up with Rose.  She didn't look good and she was walking in her sandals (or barefoot).  :(  I told her to take things easy before I continued bombing down the trails since the return leg was mostly downhill.  When I reached AS3, a few runners had just refueled and getting ready to leave.  I took out a fresh pair of socks from my drop bag, changed and left.

 The Scenery From AS4 to AS3!  Noticed the Fog!

AS3 to AS2 (Segment: 7km / Total: 64km)
I had company for this stretch of the "trail" - which was mainly made of cement pavement.  I slowed down as the heat was getting unbearable.  The other runners went further and further ahead.  Luckily the stretch after the 2 underpasses was a big open area so I could still see the rest from a distance.  I tried to close the gap but they were on a good pace and too fast for me.   :(  I had no recollection of what the route looks like earlier because we covered that segment during the night previously!  Eventually, I lost sight of the runners.  But then, I suddenly recalled the stretch where I was standing - that was the stretch when we got lost earlier in the night when I decided to move forward to check out the trail.  I knew I was very close to AS2, which I reached eventually at 2:26pm.  I saw a few runners resting there but they were not the same runners whom I lost tracked of earlier.  I had a quick refuel and left.

AS2 Aid Station!

AS2 to AS1 (Segment: 9km / Total: 73km)
The 3 guys caught up with me as soon as I left AS2.  :(  And they passed me for good after that although I managed to stay on the heel of one of them (I think).  The terrain was difficult which I couldn't recall at all.  I tried my best to keep him in sight and I followed him throughout till I reached AS1.  However, I did recall the very steep slope which I had to use the rope provided to make my way down.  What I couldn't believe was it was that steep!  I climbed halfway and was so tired that I had to rest.  I turned back to see how high I was which was a bad mistake.  I then turned up to see how far I had to climb which was an equally lousy idea.  :(  Luckily, I didn't have to see how steep this was earlier.  Otherwise, I would waste a lot of time trying to see which was the best way to descend.  Eventually, I managed to pull myself up to the top and continue.  The next prominent place was the flight of steps which I had to descend.  Then it was all the way straight to AS1.  Before reaching AS1, we passed 3 runners.

  The Terrain From AS2 to AS1 Which I Couldn't Recall!

 The Other Scenery from AS2 to AS1!

AS1 to Finish Line (Segment: 7km / Total: 80km)
I was totally tired when I reached AS1.  I knew I could make the cut-off but didn't fancy running back especially along the river bed.  So I decided to walk.  However, as I had left my Black Diamond headlamp inside my drop bag back in AS3 earlier that morning, I had to ensure I reached the road as I was only carrying a less powerful headlamp.  Although it was only about 2km plus, it took me forever to cover the river bed.  Then it was another 2km plus on the trail.  It was getting dark and I met some local on their way home.  This was much easier than the river bed and I was out of it faster than I thought.  Once I hit the road, I decided to walk the remaining distance as I the blister on my left foot was hurting.  Also, my stomach acid reflux had become bad.  Luckily, a fellow runner offer some pills to sooth things.  He encouraged me to run with him and his friend but I just didn't have the energy.  They left and I was all alone and a few more runners overtook me after that.  About 500m from the finishing, I managed to summon my strength and ran with another runner (Dennis Lopez) to cross the line in a time of 17hrs 36mins!

Afternote
CM50 is a tough race although most of the ascend and descend were manageable, except the extremely steep section between AS1 and AS2.  Luckily, there were ropes available for the runners to pull them up and down the slope.  Also, the segment on the river bed was very taxing for me.  This was one of the must do race in the Philippines and my personal favourite segment was from AS4 to the peak where I enjoyed the cool weather and rolling hills.  I also enjoyed running to the waterfall although the terrain near the waterfall was slippery.  For those who wish to take on the 60km, you would still get to see the waterfall but not the peak.  I was glad that I could check this event off my race list.  :)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

屏东 Marathon (Taiwan) 17 Nov 2013

This race will always remind me of my dad.  Initially, I signed up for the race because of the cute medal with little monkey swirling around the centre.  But when I touched down at the airport, I received a bad news from my brother that my dad could have passed away in his sleep and he was awaiting the police and authority's confirmation.  My heart sank.  :(  It was not nice to know something had happened to my dad but not exactly what was the current situation was and that I couldn't do anything.  Luckily, my brother gave me the blessings to continue the trip and run the marathon in memory of my dad.  Besides, I would be back the next day - as usual, short trip.  Nevertheless, a quick check on my mobile showed the cheapest flight would leave Taipei that night and cost S$400 plus while the earliest flight would leave Taipei that early afternoon and cost S$1,200.  I struggled with making the final call.  I decided to push on as 宝哥, a veteran of 300 marathons (I heard), had already made arrangement for everything.  Besides, I also needed to pay him for the race registration and accommodation, though I suspect he would understand my situation should I not show up.  宝哥 was always helpful to runners (especially overseas one) when it comes to registration for races and finding affordable accommodation.  He often stay up late to ensure everything was in order.  The last thing I wanted was add on to 宝哥's to-do list with a no-show, though he might be too busy to notice my no-show!

On the train ride to 屏东, my brother confirmed the bad news.  I whatsapped a good friend, Janet, who dropped by my mum's place and helped out, together with my aunt and uncle.  I was less worried now but still feeling upset that I wasn't able to do anything to help out during the difficult time.  I followed the instructions given to me and duly arrived in 屏东 that afternoon.  A fellow Taiwanese runner (家华) came over to the train station and brought me to the hotel where we would be staying.  He also passed me my race bib.  We then arranged to meet for dinner together with 瑜庭.  During dinner, I realised that both of them already gotten the return train ticket back to Taipei.  I didn't as I was told that 宝哥 would arrange everything.  Both 家华 and 瑜庭 told me not to worry as 宝哥 would settle everything.  After dinner, I called 宝哥 and he assured me that everything would be fine and he would meet me after the marathon the next day.  I then went back to my room, prepared my gear and went to sleep though I couldn't really sleep well.  I woke up early, ate my bun, and decided to write a special message for the marathon - "1930~2013, 11月16日. 安息吧,老爸! 我永远爱你!" which I would pin to the back of my running tee.

屏东 Marathon Race Bib; Dinner Time with 家华 and 瑜庭!

Sports Stadium where We Deposit Belongings (Left); At The Starting Line (Right)!

Special Message for Dad: 1930~2013, 11月16日. 安息吧,老爸! 我永远爱你!

The weather was nice in 屏东.  Cooling but not that cold.  After learning that my dad had passed on yesterday, my new found friends gave me their support and condolences.  At 6:30am, the race started!  Running in a city marathon was getting boring for me as I preferred looking at the nature.  For this race, besides the cute medal, I was told that there would be good food being served along the course as well as after the marathon where every runner would get a 饭盒.  I had no specific time target for completing the race as I usually treat running the marathon as one of my LSD for my up-coming ultras.  In this case, as I would be running the CM50 (Clark-Miyamit Falls 50 Miles) the following weekend, this would be like a taper run.  But I knew I had to reach the hotel by 12pm so that I could check-out by 1pm - a late check-out granted by the hotel.  At around the 4km mark, a guy ran past me and tapped on my shoulder.  I turned towards him to see a thumbs up from him.  I acknowledged him and continued running.  Then I thought about my dad, especially the last three years when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease.  From the time when he was still stronger than my mum and was able to chase after buses, to when he had to be supported (at times).  During these times, I saw him from being able to drink his favourite kopi, eat fish porridge or chicken rice, to eventually eating food that looked like baby food (due to the use of thickener as he was unable to swallow liquid stuff).  He loved to go Chinatown to meet up with old friends but had to stay home since his diagnosis.  I was glad he would no longer be suffering but sad that he didn't wait for me to see him one last time.  Then again, I shouldn't be so selfish.  It shouldn't be about me.  I should be glad that he lived a fulfilling life.  :)

My Dad - @ IMH

More Photos of My Dad!

I thought about the happy times or time spent with my dad.  It made the race easier.  Time passed by faster when I was happy.  I also noticed that although it was misty, it wasn't that cold.  The crowd was cheering us along the side of the road.  There were also children dancing and singing as well.  Some aid stations had volunteers spraying muscle rub onto the runners' tired muscles while some running groups even stopped for club photos!  They were serious in the run by pacing each other by running in a group but when it was time for photos, they would stop and pose.  The elderly were not to be out done by the youngsters by forming their own cheering group as well.  It was great to see these cheering at different part of the course.

Runners Running Past Temple and Under Highway (Top); Children Cheering & Dancing (Bottom)!

 Other Supporters - More Volunteers, Photographer, Elderly.  Even Statues Are Cheering!

I also noticed the different type of food that they served food here in Taiwan.  Food that you would otherwise not seen in other marathons in other part of the world but it was common in Taiwan.  Pork, red bean soup, dumplings, chocolate cakes, sng pao of different flavours, more pork, and even Starbuck Coffee!  Luckily I didn't fancy eating the pork with so much fats.  Otherwise, it would be like attending the traditional Chinese Wedding Banquet!

Pork (Top Left); Red Bean Soup (Bottom Left); Oranges & Chocolate Cakes (Top Right); Cold Sponge (Bottom Right)!

Dumplings (Top Left); Pork & Vege (Bottom Left); Starbuck Coffee (Top Right); More Pork (Bottom Right)!

瑜庭 passed me with just 1km to go.  She urged me to keep pace with her as we were both hoping to finish the race within 5 hours.  But I knew it was impossible as I left with only 2mins.  Perhaps if I had not taken so many photos, I would have completed another sub-5 marathon.  But I didn't want to push myself that hard.  Running the marathon was hard enough.  To run a marathon thinking about my dad was even harder.  I wanted to remember the good times and that I was able to get through my run despite what had happened.  I completed my 47th marathon with an official time of 5hrs 3mins 10secs.  I did get a lunch box (饭盒) after the race, went back to hotel washed up and checked out by 1pm and met up with 宝哥.  I paid 宝哥 for the race registration and accommodation (who else would do that?), who then drove me to 高雄 to take the rail to the High Speed Train station back to Taipei.  Then I was back at Taipei Airport for my flight back home.  Back to Singapore.  Back to my dad's home.  再见 Taiwan!  再见老爸!  :(

Friday, January 31, 2014

Mapawa Trail Marathon Oct 2013

The Mapawa Trail Marathon was held on the last week of Oct 2013, just 2 weeks after Mt Pinatubo 50km.  As with traveling to other trail races in Philippines like Baguio and Nuvali, etc, traveling to the start/finish line of Mapawa Trail Marathon was no easy task too.  Thankfully, with the help of Blue-b Tradioandsons and Van Chiu Yap, I was able to arrive Mapawa Nature Park on Saturday afternoon.  This was after breakfast at Jolibee, shopping at the Ayala Centrio Mall, picking up of the race pack from the mall, and lunch with their local friends.  The race site was really remote.  Once you were here, it was impossible to go elsewhere unless you had your own vehicle.  Blue-b and I went to explore the area.  It was very quiet.  There were some horses roaming in the area.  Workers were setting up the banners for the race start.  Van Chiu drove us back a few hundred meters to the accommodation block where we checked-in.  I went over to the ladies dorm, picked a bed and laid out my race gear.  Then I napped till dinner time where I joined Blue-b.  After dinner, I went back to bed.  I saw lightning flashed across the sky and hoped the weather would hold out.

 Arriving @ Jolibee for Breakfast; Collection of Race Bib @ Ayala Centrio; Meeting up with Friends; Carbo-loading Lunch!

At the Start of the Mapawa Trail Run!

The race was scheduled to start at 5:00am although the website stated a start time of 4:00am.  Even though Blue-b was not running, he went to the race start as Altra and Elete Electrolytes were one of the sponsors for the race.  At the start, I met Bimbo Uy and his wife.  He would be running the half marathon while his wife would wait for him.  I also saw Rose Buenconsejo whom I first met at the Cebu All Women's 50km run few years back.  She would be running in the full marathon like me.  At 5:00am, the runners were still standing around the start, waiting for the flagged off.  :(  Then at 5:10am, the announcement came - to gather us around the stage for one last briefing!

With Blue-b, Bimbo Uy and his Wife (L Top - Photo courtesy of Mapawa Run); Rose & Me (L Bottom); Race Brief (R Top); Race Start (R Bottom)

The RD reminded the runners where to run:  for runners running the 42km, first, we were required to do an out-and-back loop at the hut - see Point 1.  Then, we would keep to the right of the Y-Junction - see Point 2 and run towards the open area - see Point 3.  We would run back to the Y-Junction and cover the left portion of the route by running an out-and-back section towards a house at the hill top - see Point 4.  When we reached back at the Y-Junction, we would run towards the open area again for the 2nd out-and-back on this section - see Point 5 before returning to the start.  But wait!  That was not the end yet!  We had to cover the earlier out-and-back section to the hut - see Point 6 before completing the race - see Point S/E!  The race was eventually flagged of at 5:15am.

The 5km, 21km and 42km Running Route!

There were confusion right at the start even though we were told to make a right turn.  I made the correct turn but when someone shouted (not sure at those who went the wrong way or right way), I made the mistake of running back even though I was briefed beforehand to turn right immediately after the race start.  Well, I couldn't fault myself for being worried especially if most of the Filipino runners were running in a different direction.  :p  But once all runners were on the same route, I found myself dropping from the lead pack to the back.  It was rare that I was in the lead of a race!  :)  Although aid station were available every 3km, I wore my Ultimate Direction hydration bag.  The section to Point 1 was rolling hills which I enjoyed.  But after the turn-around point for the 5km runners, the trail got muddy due to the heavy rain the night before.  It was difficult to run with the mud sticking to your shoes.  Although it was a long descent down to the hut, I was having fun.  I wasn't afraid going down this time because it was not slippery at all.  Volunteers were giving out rubber band at the turn-around.  After I gotten mine, I went to the side to remove the mud from my shoes.

The U-Turn Point For The 5km Runners (Left); The 21km and 42km Runners Continued On Muddy Terrain!

 The Turn-Around For The 21km and 42km Runners!

I continued my run back to the junction where most runners made the wrong turn and turned right as instructed.  The fast runners for the 5km were already done with the race.  This stretch of the trail was mostly uphill, which although I enjoyed, wasn't able to put in any speed.  Before I reached the 21km turn-around point, I saw a few guys zooming towards me on their way back.  I knew I was on a tight timeline as I had to catch my plane at 4:30pm.  :(  So I didn't dare to take many photos.  At the 21km aid station, I requested to deposit my headlamp as it was getting heavy.  The volunteers obliged even though it was not within their responsibility to safeguard runner's stuff.  I thanked them and left.  A few kilometers after the turn-around point, where we reached higher ground and were able to see the surrounding mountains, I had to run slower or even stopped to take in the nice views!  That's why I enjoyed doing trail races - a chance to see beautiful scenery I would otherwise not be able to see if I were to run on road.  I passed a lady runner running the marathon.  Then she overtook me when I stopped to take photos, before I passed her for good.

 Aid Station Near The Start

Aid Station & Volunteers @ 21km Turn-Around Point!

Great Views Of The Surrounding Mountains After 21km Turn-around Point!

I pushed on and reached the Y-Junction (Point 2) not long after.  When you were enjoying yourself, time tends fly and I seemed to cover greater distance than I noticed.  Or maybe not exactly.  After a quick refill of water, I ran towards the open area at Point 3.  Not long after I saw a guy running towards my direction.  He could be one of the leaders of the men's race.  If he wasn't the leader, that only meant that the leader had already past the Y-Junction for the second time towards the house on the hill top (Point 4).  I was eager to see how far behind I was behind the ladies leading the race.  And it was only possible on such out-and-back course.  There wasn't any markers along the trail but it was impossible to get lost.  There was only one way to run!  Even though there were side tracks, they lead up to the same trail eventually.  :)  There were also a couple of volunteers on horseback.  I caught up with a runner.  Then another runner.  And another runner.  I struck up a conversation with one of them who was going for the CM50 in Nov.  CM50 - a 50 miles qualifying trail race for UTMB with a cut-off time of 18 hours.  As I would be running the CM50 this year, I tried to get some info from him, who completed last year's race within few minutes of the cut-off.

Y-Junction at Point 2 Where We Would Pass It 4 Times!

Volunteers on Horse Back (Top Left & Bottom Right); A Runner; En Route to Open Area Point 3/5

Then I saw a lady running towards me!  She should be the leader of the race!  I was very excited.  Soon after, I saw another lady ran past me.  And then a third lady.  I lost track of how many ladies were in front from me by the time I reached the turn-around open area (Point 3/5).  Could be 4 or 5 or 6.  But the most important thing was that I remembered who were the leaders.  After I took a rubber band from the volunteers, I made my way to the Y-Junction at Point 2.  The stretch just after the open area was extremely difficult to walk, let alone run.  The mud was almost dried so it stuck onto my running shoes.  I had to stop to dig out the mud using a branch as my shoe was getting very heavy with all those mud stuck beneath it.  After clearing the mud, I ran/walked to try to catch up to the lady.  I knew if I caught up with one, it would move me up a position, and I managed to do that just before the Y-Junction.  I didn't stop at the Y-Junction as I still had water.  This stretch to the house at the top of the hill was not that long.  I could see where the house was after making the turn from the Y-Junction but I could also see the uphill route!

 Near Start of The Race Before Reaching The Mountains (Left) and Power-walking On The Mountain With No Shade (Right) - Photos by Runroo

Finally Reaching The Open Area @ Point 3/5!

I saw a runner passing me back for his 2nd loop towards the open area and another one coming down from the top of the hill.  I powered myself up and sat there to catch my breadth when I reached the top.  It was 9:30am and by now, the sun was blazingly hot.  I felt hungry and ate a gel - either I didn't eat enough for breakfast (I had a bun) or I had put in much effort to reach where I was.  After getting my third rubber band, I  headed downhill.  On my way down, I met the lady whom I overtook earlier.  I refilled my water at the Y-Junction and went back for my 2nd/last out-and-back loop at the open area (Point 3/5).  For this 2nd loop, I met Rose again.  I also saw other runners but by then, I was not sure if that was their first loop or second loop.  What I did know was when the first four ladies ran past me towards the finishing line direction.  It spurred me on as I sensed that I had closed the gap.  I felt that I had great chance to pass the last two ladies as they looked tired.  I pushed myself but not an all-out effort.  When I reached the turn-around point, I caught up with another lady, who decided to take a rest under the shade.

 On My Way To House On Hilltop!

 Reaching the Turn-Around at Open Area for the 2nd Time (Left); Aid Station Along Home Stretch!

I took the fourth rubber band and headed out immediately.  I seemed to be able to manoeuvre the muddy area better for the second time.  In my excitement, I went off-track.  Luckily, someone shouted at me and I managed to retrace my steps.  I thanked him before and I powered on.  Just before the Y-Junction I managed to caught up with two another ladies (or perhaps just one).  My next target was at the 21km turn-around aid station where I left my headlamp earlier in the day.  I also ate my remaining gel.  By now, I knew I was running in third place and I wanted to put in some distance between myself and the ladies whom I just passed earlier.  I was able to put in a good pace as it was mainly downhill.  I enjoyed running this stretch very much.

 Mapawa Trail Marathon - near Y-Junction (Point 2)!

Soon, I arrived at a junction with volunteers!  They were all very excited to see me.  One of them confirmed that I was indeed running in third position.  I thanked them and turned left to do my last out-and-back loop of 5km.  When I reached the aid station I saw after making the turn, I took off my hydration pack and left it on the ground.  After a half a cup of water, I picked up my pace.  By now, I was on fire.  I kept pushing and pushing as it was really nice running on rolling hills.  But somehow, I didn't see the two leaders.  I thought I should see them by now as they were quite a head of me.  But I didn't see them.  Even after I past the aid station (for the 5km turn-around), I still didn't see them.  I was very close to reaching the turn-around at the hut when I saw them just ahead of me running together down the long descent to the hut!  Wow!  I didn't know I was so close to them!  We passed each other on my way down while they were on the way up.

After I picked up my last rubber band, I power-walked up the ascent.  By the time I reached the top, I felt dizzy.  I knew I wasn't able to catch up with them.  I decided to take a short break and not push myself too hard, knowing my past experience of fainting.  Few minutes later, I started running after feeling much better.  On my way back, I met the next lady.  I had about a lead of 1km so I knew as long as I didn't walk, I should be home in third.  I also met a group of guys running the last loop.  Even though I had about a km to go, all of them congratulated me.  At the last aid station, I picked up my hydration bag, ran all the way back and completed the race in 8hrs 21mins, 7mins behind the eventual champion.  We had a simple award ceremony as by then, most runners were long gone.  The RD presented us our respective trophies and prizes.  I was extremely happy as it was not an easy race.  Perhaps I could even have been 2nd or 1st if I had not stopped for taking so many photos.  But end of the day, I was happy with the photos taken and my prize.  :)  I was glad to have come to Mapawa Nature Park to run the race and made more friends here in the Philippines.

My Prize: Drylite Micro Towel, A Trophy (for 3rd place), A Finisher Medal and Cash of 1,000 Peso

From Left: Claire Cadelina Paner (2nd); Flordemay Dagahusan (1st); Me (3rd)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mt. Pinatubo 50km Trail Challenge 2013

The Mt Pinatubo 50km was organised by Sir Jovie Narcise, who also organised other extreme races like the Bataan Death March 102km and 160km.  Joining this race was a very last minute decision as I knew traveling there involved taking buses and jeeps.  Also, it was just a week after Vietnam Mountain Marathon 70km run.  I was most certain not 100% recovered but I thought since the race would be starting at sea level before rising to a max of almost 900m, I should be alright with the cut-off time of 11 hours.  How wrong I was!  Although this was not an extreme race, it was still hard!

Elevation Profile of the Mt Pinatubo - It Isn't Really That Bad!

Traveling to Race Start
Traveling to any part of Philippines (less to cities like Manila and Cebu) was difficult.  Alex, a runner I first met in TNF Philippines in 2011, picked me up from the airport.  We went for lunch before he drove me to the bus station.  From there I would take the bus to Tarlac City before changing to a jeep to go to the homestay next to the race start.  The bus ride took about 3 hours plus so it was dark when I reached Tarlac City.  Jeeps were abound in the area.  I looked around and wondered if I should get something to eat at McDonald or continue my journey.  The McDonald was crowded so I signaled to a guy who rode his jeep over.  I handed over a piece of paper containing the details of my destination to him.  He nodded and I jumped into the jeep which was just big enough to put my luggage.  The journey took more than an hour, through winding roads with areas that looked to be flooded.  By the time I reached the homestay, it was past 9pm!  My host showed me to my room and apologised that they had no water and electricity due to a typhoon that happened yesterday.  (Only on my way back while traveling in the daylight the next day, did I see the devastation that the typhoon did to the village.  Tress were uprooted, electrical posts were blown down with the wire strewn across the road.  :(  )  I quickly laid out my gear and set my alarm at 4am before going to sleep.

I woke up at 4am, ate the salad box I bought at Changi Airport yesterday, changed to my running gear and headed out to the race start, which was about 500m away.  The street was dark, brightened only by my headlamp and by other headlamps belonging to other runners (presumably staying in other homestay around the area).  I saw a dim light.  Looked like someone was putting up the race start banner.  I walked into the building next to it.  There were a few people at the table with lighted up candles.  Bibs were laid out nicely on the table.  Runners began to report to the volunteers.  After signing in, we were given our bibs.  Then we stayed around to wait for the race start at 5am.  I didn't think there were any overseas runner except me as most were talking in their own language.  Then I heard someone saying that the race would be delayed to 5:30am so that the sky would be brighter.  After the brief, we took a group photo at the race start before the RD flagged us off at around 5:30am.

Salad Breakfast (L Top); Race Registration Point @ Barangay Hall; The RD - Sir Jovie (R Bottom)

My Bib - 151 (L Top); Race Briefing; Race Start (R Bottom)

 At The Start Of The Race Briefing - Photo by Sir Jovie!

Race
There were a total of 3 aid stations at 8km, 17km and 25km (mid-way).  With the out-and-back course, I told myself I should reach the half-way mark of the 50km race at 11am (5:30hrs from start of race).  The first 800m of the race was on concrete road as we had to run towards the river.  Then it got interesting.  We had to cross this huge river!  It was was difficult not that it was huge as the water level was only ankle to knee deep.  It was difficult because of the current!  We had to hold each other and crossed the river together.  But it was fun.  Very fun for me.  Also, there were no trail markers for the race.  We just had to follow the direction of the river in order to reach the crater, the turn-around point.  Then I realised I was actually either running along the river, cutting across the river or on the river bed itself!

 Running Across River, Next to the River and on the River Bed!

 Group Photo After The Epic River Crossing - Photo by Doodsie S. Mallari!

En Route to Mt Pinatubo Crater

I was enjoying myself running along the course.  Actually it was more like jogging than running, especially with so many crossings of the same river.  Luckily, not all crossings had knee deep water.  But what they had were lots of sand.  Or perhaps they were the volcano ashes?  I was not sure.  Initially, after a few crossings, I would take off my shoes to remove them.  But it was futile as there were many more crossings to make.  So I just ran and ran and ran, until I felt my shoes were too heavy before I stopped to remove them.  Once done, I continued.  Since I was running along, next to or on the river, there was no shade.  Lucky, there was no sun (or perhaps it was still too early for the sun to come out).  At around 6:30am I saw something small in a distance and its only 17mins later that I reached the truck containing the water and food!  It was incredible that I took 1hr 47mins to cover just 8km.

Mobile Aid Staton @ the 8km Mark!

Scenery to Next Mobile Aid Station!

More River Crossings - Photos by Benj Termulo (top) and Micmic Michael T Flores!

I took a gel with plain water and pushed on without topping up my bottle since it was a cool day and the next water point was about 10km away.  The journey from this point onwards was more or less the same as the previous segment.  Lots of crossings and running over small rocks.  The locals also came out by then.  Most, if not all, were walking barefooted, including the kids!  In fact, all of them were even walking faster than I was jogging!  :(  By then, I was getting tired of crossing the river as I felt a lot of energy was needed just to thread across the river due to the current.  After almost 3 hours of threading across the river and river bed, I still couldn't see any truck with water supply.  It was impossible not to have reached the 17km mark - I told myself.  But there was nothing I could do except to continue.  Otherwise, precious time would be wasted.  Soon, I came cross this area where a big signage at the "entrance" forbid people shouting within the "enclosure" as doing so would have an effect on erosion - or something like that.

 Climbing Down From The River Bank And Into The River - Photos by Benj Termulo!

While The Terrain Looked Smooth, The Small Rocks & Pebbles Got Into The Shoes Easily!

 Some of the Terrain Was Uneven and Rough!

After a short while, I realised why.  Soil on both sides of the cliff would detach and slide or fall suddenly downward, like avalanche but in this case, it was soil instead of snow.  And then I saw a runner running towards me!  Yes, he was running and hopping around rocks.  I powered on, determined to reach the crater but it was tough.  Small pebbles and rocks were moving inside my shoes and I could feel the skin rubbing uncomfortably against it.  Then I saw another runner and another runner and a lady runner.  They were all pretty agile despite the uneven terrain.  I trudged along slowly and come towards an opening!  There was a shed in a distance away.  I reckoned I should be near the crater as my watch showed 10:30am!  After I passed the shed, I came to a dead end.  I had to climb down this rather steep slope, which I successfully maneuvered down.  I then peered to the other side of the slope and saw that I could have just walked on the river bed instead!  With the time ticking closer to 11am, I tried my best to bash through the thick vegetation.  The rocks were slippery, making running impossible.  More runners went past me on their way back.  They encouraged me and said I was very close.  Sometimes, their close was based on their running ability to cover the distance between where you were and the destination, and not the actual time taken by you.  :(  I eventually managed to reach the turn-around point at the crater lake at 11am!

 The Last Stretch Before Reaching the Crater Lake!

Crater of Mt Pinatubo and the Crater Lake!

On My Way Back - Photo by Rommel Go!

There was no volunteers at the turn-around point.  So I was unable to refill my bottles, which were both half empty.  After a quick picture, and washing of the shoes and socks in the lake, I made my way back to the start line.  Besides trying to make the cut-off at 4:30pm, my other mission was to ensure I reached the Manila Airport that night before 11pm.  Otherwise, I might miss my flight home.  Since this was a out-and-back race, it was not difficult.  Also, it was impossible to get lost - I just had to follow the river.  On my way down, I met Sir Jovie.  He might be sweeping the route to ensure all runners were accounted for.  Not long after, two Filipino runners caught up with me and I tried to keep pace with them.  It was always nice to have someone to follow or run with.  I rest when they rest; I stopped to remove the pebbles / stones when they stopped to do so.  As I could be quite blind when I ran (or jogged), i.e. not noticing a better route in a vast river, it was great to know where the more experience runners would run on.  I managed to follow them until the part where the current of the river became stronger.

At some point, we heard helicopter flying above us.  I was told that the area was used by the US Marines and that they could be in the middle of an exercise!  I didn't keep watch of timing, choosing to follow the two Filipino runners.  But slowly, the distance between us grew further and further apart.  I was too weak to walk across the river fast enough without risking myself falling into it.  Soon one of the runner disappeared.  I managed to catch up with the other one when we stopped at the mobile aid station!  I poured some water over my head as it was getting hot.  After I refilled both my water bottles, we moved on.  We were told that we were about 4km away from the finishing!  It was a great motivator as I had not look at my watch at how long we had been out running.  My new found friend told me that we would need to go onto the trail at a gate marked "2".  So we kept walking and walking and walking till we heard people running on the trail next to the river covered by tall grasses!  We quickly cut across when the terrain allowed and saw three other runners running past us!  Sir Jovie was also not far behind!

By then, we were about 1.5~2km from the finishing and just past the 4:30pm cut-off time.  :(  While the time indicated that I could have covered 23km, I certainly didn't feel that way because I was walking most of the time.  I managed to run whenever I was on the trail but when I had to cross the river or river bed, I walked.  Then I saw villagers not far from the river and reckoned it should be the last crossing before the home stretch!  I was too excited and too eager to thread through the river and almost fell into it.  Luckily another runner extended his arm and I managed to steady myself.  After both of us got up from the river, I urged him to follow me but he was too tired to do so.  I ran very hard for the last 800m, caught up with another guy just before crossing the finishing line with a time of 11hrs 24mins!  Although some of us completed the race beyond the 11-hour cut-off time, Sir Jovie was still giving out the finishing award and tee-shirt.  It was a great gesture.  I sounded off to Sir Jovie to consider going back to the previous year's cut-off time of 12-hour so that back of the pack runner like myself could have some time to enjoy playing in the crater lake.  :)

Being Presented The Finisher Medal With The RD, Sir Jovie - Photo by Sir Jovie!

Afternote
Read after the race that due to the typhoon which swiped through the area the day before, some of the ground were either too soft or unstable.  This resulted in the 4x4 support vehicle not being able to reach at least two of the areas to replenish the runners.  This was most unfortunate.  But luckily, as most trail runners would attest, trail runners always prepared ourselves well for all races (unless we didn't have our check-in luggage).  We made do with what we had at that point.  In this case, I believed the volunteers tried their best to reach us whenever possible.  For me, it was a tough race with difficult terrain.  Not all trail races with flat or little elevation were easy as every race had its own unique challenges.  It is up to the runners to face up to the challenges and complete the race which makes it fulfilling.  The Mt Pinatubo 50km Trail Challenge should be on every trail runner's (at least those within Asia) list of trail race to complete as it was the most satisfying way to reach the crater of Mt Pinatubo!  But be sure to run fast in the first 25km so that you could spend more time in the lake.  Otherwise, you would end up like me, having a miserable 5mins.  :p