Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Valley Trail Challenge 50km (Philippines)

This was a race that I planned for just about a month before the actual race.  I was lucky that I knew the Race Director, Jonel Mendoza, personally.  He was also the Front Runner Magazine's editor (I think).  Also, I was able to call on another Filipino runner-friend, Blas, to help me arrange for the journey from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila to Santa Rosa in Laguna, the accommodation, as well as the journey back to the Airport after the race.  As I inserted the race in the last minute, it was a hit-and-run kind of race.  I also decided to ask a friend, Sharon, if she was interested to do the race as well, since the Standard Chartered KL Marathon which she signed up earlier on the same weekend was postponed due to the haze issue.  Sharon decided to join me at the very last minute - on Friday evening - after she successfully booked her return air flight!  It was great to have company for any overseas race.  So on Saturday early morning, we went to airport to board our flight to Manila.  :)

The 3rd Valley Trail Challenge 30km/50km by Jonel Mendoza!

Upon arrival in Manila, Blas was surprised to see Sharon as he didn't know a friend was joining me for the trip.  And luckily, the car was just nice to take all four of us - Blas' friend who drove the car, Blas, Sharon and me.  The drive to Santa Rosa was smooth.  We went for breakfast, at Bags of Beans in Tagaytay City.  It was a nice and cool morning.  Apparently, a grade 2 typhoon just went past Manila the night before!  But the race would go on.  Breakfast was good and we took our time to enjoy it since check-in time would be in the afternoon.  After breakfast, we went to a place where they sell coconut pie and bought a box of it - for lunch!  Then we drove to the Paseo Premier Hotel, which was a short drive to the race start/finish area.  Luckily for us, they allowed us an early check-in as there was room available.  Sharon and I were tired.  And we decided to take a nap before dinner.

 Breakfast time @ Tagaytay City!

Yummy Breakfast!

Late in the evening, I woke up and went for dinner with Blas as Sharon was still recovering from her shift work on Friday and the Saturday's traveling had taken a toll on her.  It was raining lightly.  Not a good sign.  So we borrowed an umbrella from the hotel before going to the mall to pick up some supplies of water, and food for breakfast.  After we bought our stuff, we went to Jolibee for dinner.  I had pasta.  While the food was so so, it was still value for money.  Besides, I always loved Jolibee.  :)  When we reached back the room, Sharon was still sleeping and it was still raining.  I left her Ko Ko Crunch and milk on the table and went to pack my race gear for the next morning.  Once done, I went to sleep immediately since we had to wake up at 2am the next day.  Before I fell asleep, I got a message from Alex, whom I met in TNF Philippines some years back.  He was also running the race and asked if I needed a lift.  Since Blas' friend was not running and Blas was only running the 30km, we arranged to meet Alex at about 2am at the hotel lobby.

Both Sharon and I woke up at 1am plus.  I told her that Alex was going to pick us up at 2am.  It was still raining.  We met Alex at the lobby as arranged.  It was great to see him after I last met him before and during the Canadian Death Race in 2011.  Then we took the short ride, about 5mins to the race start/finish area.  The ground was a little muddy due to the rain all evening/night.  All runners took shelter from the rain at the concrete structure - not a house but a proper 1-level building with storeroom and toilets facilities.  There, I paid up the race registration fees in exchange for our running bibs.  :)  I also saw Jonel.  It was quite a while since I let met him.  In fact, I couldn't recall when was the last time we met!  But luckily, we remained as Facebook friend and I was glad he allowed Sharon's late entry for the race.  Just before the race official flag-off time at 3am, Jonel gave a briefing to all before sending us off into the darkness!

 Alex (left) and Sharon (top right)!

At The Start of the Race Briefing!

The 50km Nuvali Valley Trail Challenge was an out-and-back course.  But with the run starting at 3am in the darkness, you couldn't really see what was the critical junctions.  This was what I always worried running in the trail, that you missed the trail markers and went off course.  As a slow runner, this would eat up valuable time or even made you DNF.  Due to the rain and extremely muddy terrain, especially in the beginning of the race, it was possible for me to follow other runners.  Luckily, the rain had subsided by then.  At one point, all of us were walking on top of some solid ground on both side of the trail.  But with all good things, it came to an end and all of us had to dip into the ankle deep mud.  It was simply impossible to run.  Just to walk fast required great effort.  I was not sure how long it was but it was past an hour when I reached the first water point, which was available at every 5km distance.  I refilled my water and continued.  By then, the runners were pretty spread out but I was still with a small group of other runners.  Though the pace was slow, I felt pretty sure I should complete it within the cut-off time of 10 hours.

The run through the next water point at 10km was just as exciting.  Light rain had fallen again.  At a point, I was alone and kind of lost.  About 3 runners behind me shouted to me and I turned around and followed them to cross the road over to the other side of the trail.  Apparently, in the rain, I had mistaken the wet surface of the road to be a river (due to reflection of the water) and was trying to find a way to cross the "river"!  I felt like an idiot after that.  Further up in the trail, we overtook some front runners as they had went the wrong way.  The trail was runnable by then although occasionally we would have to wade through some ankle deep section.  Just slightly less than an hour (as compared to the earlier 5km segment), I reached the 10km water point at almost 5am.

After the second water point, I went ahead only to find myself standing at a junction with no trail markers.  I decided to wait for the runners whom I saw earlier at the water point.  Luckily, they came soon after and said we should be going straight.  I followed them and prayed hard that they were right.  As it was still dark and raining, I couldn't really see where I was going.  Then, just as I ran through a section with trees on both side of the trail, I heard someone said something which almost made me ran for my life!  The volunteer had apparently wore a dark rain jacket with no lights on her and she didn't make any movement till I was very close to her (like within an arm's length).  Luckily, I didn't understand a word of what she said.  After that encounter, I quickened my pace until I was out in some open grass patch.  Day was beginning to break.  I enjoyed this section to the third water point as it was some nice rolling hills.  Nothing too steep or too long before the course changed its direction to go the other way down.

It was around 5:40am when I reached the third water point and while it was still dark, I could run without my headlamp.  I enjoyed this section the best as I could see the surrounding of where I was running and also the runners in front of me as they were still using their headlamps.  I also enjoyed the rolling hills.  Soon, I could see the cows roaming the fields.  Some were running.  I tried not to run along side them or near the calves, especially when I was alone.  But whenever I had company, I would stick near them since i reckoned the cows won't be attacking a group of runners.  :p  Unfortunately, there was no time for photos as it was still too dark for taking pictures.  So my aim was to reach the turnaround point at 25km and only took photos on the way back to the finish line.  The fourth water point was just after a short road segment where I reached around 6:25am.

The sky was getting brighter by then and I could clearly see the surrounding areas where I was running.  After coming out from the trail, I wasn't sure of where to go as there was no trail markers.  One of the 2 runners who were just behind me said that we were on the right track as he had running it last year.  I thanked him and we ran together.  At the end of the road at a T-Junction, a volunteer pointed us to the trail behind the tree.  There, I slowed down and the 2 runners overtook me.  This was a uphill segment - nothing intense but good to take a breather nonetheless.  Just before I hit the end of the trail, I saw a runner on his return trip!  At the "end" of the trail, we made a right turn and noticed another group of runners were coming from the left!  Seemed that these were faster runners who were lost and took a longer route.  It was great to have more company though it was only for a short period of time before they were out of sight again.  I also saw Alex on his way back though no sign of Sharon yet.  At the end of the trail, I came to a bridge where I had to turn right.  That's where I saw Sharon, on her way back.  Further up, was the final water point but that was not the turnaround point.  :(  According to Jonel during the briefing, we had to go to the turnaround point to find something, and report what you saw to the last water point.  If you got it right, you could go on.  Since I was not sure what to report, I took a photo of the area, where there was a u-turn red-color sign sprayed on a lamp post before turning back!

 The Turnaround Point U-Turn Sign!!!

The 5th and Last Water Point!

I left the u-turn point at 7:13am, which meant I took 4hrs 13mins to cover the 25km route!  To request the hotel for a late check-out, I would need to maintain the same effort!  So I ran whenever I could since I had to take photos during the daylight hours.  I made a quick pit-stop at the 5th water point and showed them the photos taken using my camera and was given the green light to proceed!  On my way to the 4th water point, I was directed to turn left instead of going straight!  Since I saw some of the runners turning left, I followed and tried to catch up with them.  In the meantime, I also saw some slower runners running towards me to the u-turn point.  This meant that we were on the wrong route earlier!  It was too late to do anything so I just continued running.  I was slowly catching up the 2 runners in front when I started to notice the familiar surrounding.  We were supposed to turn left into a trail leading to the 4th water point but they kept running straight.  I felt something was not right so I caught up with the 2 runners to confirm if we were on the right track.  "Yes we were on the right track" but I still felt wrong as we were running on tarmac road for far too long.  I managed to run past them eventually, and tried to look for any left turning into the rolling hills.  But I was unsuccessful.  Eventually, we arrived at the 4th water point at 8:25am, which appeared on our left instead on our right had we been running on the right track.  :(

 The 4th Water Point after The U-Turn Point!

Nevertheless, the 2 runners checked with the volunteers manning the water station if we could proceed since we couldn't locate the trail markers leading back to the trail, which resulted in us going the wrong way.  They allowed us to continue probably because they were also not sure where the trail markers were.  Besides we probably took the longer route.  We thanked them and continued.  This part of the route back into the trail was somewhat familiar.  There were more cows out in the field grazing the grasses.  The rolling hills were a joy to run, at least for me, especially in the cool morning.  We reached the 3rd water station at around 9:05am.  The 2 runners decided to stay longer there while I decided to push on, and that was the last I saw of them.

The Cows Were Out Grazing the Grass and The Rolling Hills!

The Volunteers at the 3rd Water Point and The 2 Runners whom I Met!

The terrain changed from rolling hills in the open grass patches, to tropical forest with tress on both side of the trails.  The ground felt muddy but nothing too difficult to handle.  I enjoyed running this alone but not for long.  I caught up with another runner soon after.  He had a very even pace which I just about managed to keep up with.  We didn't talk much except for one photo taking request.  After that photo, I decided to overtake him.  I eventually caught up with 3 more guys further up.  They were running together but let me passed them.  As we were about the same pace, they were always a few steps behind me and we arrived at the 2nd water point in this exact sequence at around 9:43am.

On The Way to the 2nd Water Point!

Arriving and Leaving the 2nd Water Point!

The area before and after the 2nd water point was as bad as it was in the early morning, except I could see exactly how muddy it was.  Really, there was no way to avoid the muddy terrain except to walk through it.  This slowed me down a fair bit and the 3 guys powered ahead!  Luckily, although it was muddy, the mud didn't stick onto the soles of my shoes probably because there was too much water.  Otherwise, I would be even slower!  By the time I reached the drier part of the route, the 3 guys were gone!  :(  The next stretch of terrain was relatively easy with frequent changes of scenery.  It really took your mind off running and I was able to enjoy myself looking around and snapping photos.  The terrain was also less muddy so I could run through it with ease.  I came out from the trail onto the road and somewhat recognised it as the road that I had mistaken it as a "river" earlier that morning.  There was a marshaller on a bike and he led me through the short road segment and back into trail.  I eventually reached the 1st (and last) water point at 10:32am, and ready for the final 5km!

The Frequent Changes in Scenery!

The Super Friendly Volunteers at the 1st Water Point!  :)

I knew I would make the cut-off time of 10 hours and eased off.  The aim was to enjoy the scenery since I wasn't able to do so earlier when we were running in the dark.  It was also getting hot but bearable.  Soon the trail became muddier and muddier until my whole feet was soaked inside the water.  I saw the embankment and decided to walk on it instead.  I saw another runner who powered through the water and decided to follow him.  But I was no match since I spent my energy trying to balance myself walking on the embankment.  :p

The Last 5km Back To The Finishing!

The Last Stretch - The Muddy Terrain Before The Finishing!

Eventually, I came out from the muddy trail, made a right turn onto the tarmac road and could see the solid building structure about 200m ahead.  Now on dry, solid ground, I put in my last effort to complete the race in approximately 8hrs 45mins.  After I got my finisher medal from Jonel, I found out that Sharon came in 2nd Runners-up!  Not a bad reward for signing up a last minute 50km race!  :)  All in all, I enjoyed the experience and hope more Singaporeans would come visit this place and take on this trail challenge.  :)

 With the Race Director - Jonel!

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