Monday, March 16, 2015

Davao 50km Ultramarathon 2015

It had been a while since I last raced in Philippines and I thought it was a good opportunity to run there over the CNY long weekend.  After some research, I found out that Blue was organising the Davao 50km Ultramarathon.  As the registration was closing soon, I quickly asked Cheryl if she wanted to do the same race when I came back from USA at the end of January.  Unfortunately Cheryl had a prior arrangement to pace a friend in another race and couldn't join me for this race.  Nonetheless, she assisted me to register for the race and to reserve a room at the Eagle Ridge Resort, which was where the race would start.

Pre-Race Activities
Traveling in Philippines was always a challenge to me.  So it was great when you know someone staying locally.  I chanced upon Hydee's reply in Davao 50 Facebook Page and asked her about transportation to Eagle Ridge Resort and where I could get supplies of water and food as I was told there was nothing in Eagle Ridge Resort.  Instead of giving me specific instructions, Hydee picked me up from the airport on Saturday morning, after she saw my message on Friday night!  She drove to Eagle Ridge Resort, waited for me to check-in, then drove to the SM Davao City Mall - a shopping complex where I could get my supplies.  As she had other race-related stuff to settle, Hydee left after I insisted on buying her a breakfast.  Before she left, I told her that she could come over to my room to stay for the night since there were 2 beds in the room.  She thanked me for the offer and said she would consider.  After she left, I went to buy my groceries from the supermarket.  Once done, I took a cab and went back to the Resort for a nap.

 Left: Arrival At Philippines' Most Beautiful City - Davao! Right: Breakfast With Hydee @ SM City Mall!

I slept for almost 3 hours till 5pm!  It was important as I had not had enough sleep taking the midnight flight.  When I stepped outside my room, I saw Blue and his merry men (2 of them) busy sorting the suppliers for the race.  Another runner stepped out of his room (next to mine) and Blue started sharing about tomorrow's race.  The race would be shorter than last year.  I.e. we won't need to run a further 2km to the top of the hill where the heli-pad was and back.  So we would be running 50km instead of last year's 54km.  From our conversation, I understood Blue's concern.  But he assured us we would be safe and he would provide a vehicle to track us.  This was due to the presence of the opposition (or was it rebel? - I couldn't recall) who were just a stone's throw away and carrying long arms (rifles).  I wasn't worry since I was an Asian and looked somewhat like a fellow Filipino.  :p  However, there were 3 Caucasians and one of them flew in from USA just for the race, while the other 2 were working locally in the Philippines.  Nevertheless, I was glad Blue had been meticulous in ensuring the safety of runners and that all should had a good race experience.

 At The Start Line: Eagles Ridge Resort With Race Director - Blue & His Volunteers!

After Blue had settled most of the things for the race, we went to Jolibee for dinner.  I didn't know why but I always loved Jolibee.  It was cheap (for me) and value-for-money.  I ordered 2 beef steaks (more like beef patties) with rice and a Coke.  It was yummy!  Once we are done with dinner, I tagged along with them to get ice for the race.  Then, it was back to the resort for an early night at 8pm  Before I slept, I managed to get my race bib from Blue!

 Dinner With RD Blue & His Volunteers!

Race Day
I woke up at about 11pm.  Took some water and went back to sleep again.  Suddenly, I heard someone knocking very loudly on the door!  It startled me for a while and I went out to open the door without wearing my glasses.  It was Hydee standing there and for a while, I thought the race was about to start!  But the time was 2:45am.  I thanked her for waking me up and went back to change even though I had set my alarm clock to ring at 3:00am.  I usually prepared my stuff the night before so it took me only 10mins to get ready.  I had my bread and went to the hall for a briefing session at 3:15am.  Blue covered the race in great details.  He informed us about the aid stations at the 10km, 20km, 30km mark.  Basically, they would only serve plain water at the 10km mark while the 20km and 30km mark had solid food (e.g. porridge) as well as sports drink, water. Once the briefing was over, runners were able to clarify any points pertaining to the race.  At 3:50am, we went to the start line and await the final countdown with rest of the runners!

 Briefing To All Runners Prior To The Race!

Back in my mind, I was busy calculating what time I must reach back at the Resort, so that I had sufficient time to wash-up, take a taxi to the airport for my flight check-in at 14:00pm.  (The flight leaving Davao was timed at 16:00pm).  The distance between the end point and start point at Eagles Ridge Resort was about 22km.  So the drive back would take about 30mins (depending on traffic).  Plus another 30mins for me to wash-up and pack, and another hour for the taxi ride to the airport, it meant I needed to complete the run at 12:00pm but preferably the earlier, the better.  This worked out to about 8 hours to complete the 50km road race which I thought was highly possible.  Nevertheless, I told myself to check my progress at every 10km, then at the turnaround point at 36km, and finally at the last water station about 8km to the finishing line.  At 4:00am (3:58am by my watch), Blue did the countdown and flagged us off.

 At The Start Line - All Ready!!! (Photo courtesy of Davao 50 Facebook Page.)

Elevation Chart For Davao 50km! (Photo courtesy of Davao 50 Facebook Page.)

Start Of Race
As I was standing in front at the start, I had a clear view of how many runners ran past me.  First, a bunch of fast guys blasted away!  Then, the first lady ran past me before I even reached the gate to the resort.  After I ran out onto the main road, another lady ran past me.  About 30mins more or so, a group of 3 ladies ran past me, wearing the same attire.  And then another one or two, and I lost count.  But not Hydee.  As the road was lighted up by the street lamps, I did not use my handheld lights.  Running in the night meant I could concentrate on my breathing and running instead of worrying about speed.  It wasn't cold nor was it humid, which was a little surprised.  There was also little traffic on the road.  I slowly got into my grove and didn't feel I was running uphill at all.  At approximately 5:13am, I reached the first aid station at the 10km mark.  I was surprised as this worked out to be about a 8km/hr speed (or 7:30mins/km pace).  As briefed by Blue, they only had water there.  So I took the opportunity to have a gel and wash it down with water.  I also filled up my handheld bottle with some water before I thanked the volunteers and moved on.

For the next 10km, I told myself to stay relax and maintain my effort, knowing that the first 20km was as flat as it could be.  Then I came towards 2 short segments of the road where there were no street lights on either side of the road.  I was glad that I had my handheld lamp with me.  I might have passed a lady as she passed me with her pacer.  I recognised her from the attire she wore.  She was running strong and steadily pulled away from me but I managed to catch up with her when she stopped with her pacer at the support bike to get some refuel.  I overtook her but not for long as she managed to pass me again when she was done.  I reminded myself to maintain my cadence and never push too hard.  Soon, the sky was getting brighter as the day broke.  And I could see another lady further up front.  Both of us past her soon after.  I was feeling great.  I noticed the traffic was getting heavier.  The 20km mark should be closed by as the water station was in the middle of the town.  I saw 2 men waving at us to make a left turn.  I made my move to past the lady.  Before long, I saw the 20km aid station and stopped to have a gel and water, took some sports drink and left.

A quick time-check confirmed that I was even faster than my first 10km: 6:22am!  I was pleased with my effort but knew that the hard part was coming.  After I left the water station, a right turn led runners up a gradual uphill.  I could also see runners further up - most walking.  Some runners were keen to put in the extra effort to past runners whenever they saw runners slightly ahead.  I preferred to run my own race.  Besides, I knew that running (or power walking) uphill was my specialty so I just had to bid my time.  Slowly, I past a fellow lady runner.  Then a couple of guys.  I learned from running in Comrades, that no matter how steep or how long the uphill was, one should never walk all the way up to the top.  So for gentler uphill, I would run a longer distance before I reward myself a walking break.  I managed to reel in a few more runners who were content to walk.  I approached a junction and saw the volunteers waving at me to turn left.  I also saw some runners taking a break at a road-side stall while I continued running and walking.  Before I reached the 30km water station, a guy flying past me on the other side of the road!  Traffic was lighter.  Then a car drove by slowly.  Blue popped his head out and shouted to me that I was the 3rd woman!

That was a complete surprise although I knew I had passed a few ladies.  It motivated me a bit.  Another 3~4 guys past me on their way back to the finish before I eventually reached the 30km aid station, including one who ran barefoot!  I had wanted to try the food provided at the aid station but it didn't look too appetizing.  So I opted to take another gel with plenty of water.  It was 8:00am and 4 hours of running.  I also asked if they had Gartorade.  A volunteer passed me a grape-flavoured Gartorade.  I thanked them and left, determined to catch the lady in front.  With 6km to go before turnaround, I jogged more and power-walked less.  There was another guy just ahead and we were trading passes every time one of us power-walked.  There was a support car waiting for their runner and asked if I needed anything.  I was grateful they had Coke with ice, which was refreshing after drinking Gartorade and water for the past 4 hours.  A guy on the opposite side then told me the turnaround was 2km away!  This was great news!  Then, I saw the leading lady running with grace while bombing down the descend!  I re-focused on my aim of catching the lady in front and extending my lead over the lady behind.  I saw the 2nd lady making her way back before I reached the turnaround.

It was around 9:00am at the turnaround.  I took some Coke before I made my way back.  It was a slight uphill before the actual descend.  By then, I was running and running fast in full flow!  The hill didn't feel as though it was all that steep when I was running and power walking up earlier!  I also knew that I would certainly finish the race well before my target of 12:00pm even though I still had 14km to go.  Instead of focusing to shorten the gap between myself and the lady in front, I thought a better option maybe to maintain or widen my lead over the lady behind.  I knew if I could run fast, she could certainly run fast after the turnaround as well.  I kept a look out for her while trying to run as fast as the gravity allowed me to run fast without having to push myself too hard.  The kms really flew past on my way down.  About 12mins after the turnaround, I saw the lady powering up the hill.  I kept running as though I was being chased by an invisible predator and I covered the 6km downhill in about 40mins.  I arrived at the 30km aid station (now 42km) at around 9:40am.  I saw the two guys helping Blue the previous night.  They told me the finishing was about 8km away.  :)

 Left: Along The Race Route; Right: At The Eagles Centre - The Finishing Point! (Photo courtesy of Davao 50 Facebook Page.)

I thanked them and continued running.  I noticed road markers at every km so I could estimate the remaining kilometers left.  The downhill also sort of level up.  A group of volunteers waved me to turn right at the junction and I was about 3km to the finishing.  I was running on the right side of the road and I wondered if I should cross.  Traffic was heavy so I decided to stay on the right.  I slowed down a little.  There was no runner in front nor behind.  I took out my iPhone and tried checking how far I was from the Eagle Centre, which was the finishing point.  Signal was bad and the map didn't load.  So I kept my iPhone and ran/walked.  I was feeling exhausted.  Few minutes later, the guys on the jeep wave frantically at me to cross over the other side of the road.  I waited for the traffic to clear before running across.  They left once I had crossed safely.  I knew I was near and continued running until I saw a volunteer standing at an entrance.  He signalled me to turn left into the road, which eventually led me to some uneven road.  There were cars on both side of the road before I eventually reached a barrier.  I crossed the barrier and followed a foot-path right to the finishing point!  Blue was there to greet and congratulate me and in fact, all the runners!  I was very happy to clock a 6:39:04 50km timing and this fear of not making the flight had earned me a rewarding 3rd place finish!  :)  After the race, runners were given a lunch box.  Unfortunately, my mind was thinking about getting back to Eagle Ridge than refueling for recovery.  Luckily, a Davao runner who would be driving past Eagle Ridge to get home, gave another runner and I a lift back to the Resort.  A superb and happy ending to an otherwise tiring trip indeed!

 Finishing The Davao 50km Ultramarathon In 6hrs 39mins 04secs! (Photo courtesy of Davao 50 Facebook Page.)

 Top Three Of The Women's Category!!!

Verdict: 8/10
Overall, the race was very well organised with enough water and sports drinks provided.  However, it would be great if the RD could put some of these information earlier on the event website.  Also, for overseas runners, it would be nice if we could have our own drop bag(s) to put the food that we normally eat.  Safety wise, I had not been thorough for this race as I didn't know that there was a mandatory gear list.  Hence, I didn't have the mandatory reflective vest or blinking lights.  It would be good if the RD could do a simple gear check prior to the race so that the runners could start the race with the required gear.  Luckily, traffic was light in most sections of the road except those that cut-through the main town and towards to late morning.  Also, the drivers were attentive when driving.  Last but not least, the effort by the RD to give out age-group winners no matter the size of participants, was an excellent way to encourage newcomers and promote ultra running to the wider running community.  With a race fee of only PhP1,550.00 (about S$48), it was certainly value-for-money and for those who have never visited Davao, go for it!

* Check-point timings yet to be rectified by RD.

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