5:33 AM 22 November 2008 @ Barangay Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac
Last Friday, I attended the Team Bald Runner’s Speed Training at ULTRA Oval Track for the first time since it started last Tuesday evening and I met the “student-runners”. Each runner was given a strip of paper which was prepared by Capt Espejo where their respective goal-times were listed for a particular distance from 400 meters up to 5-Km with the proper “personalized” instructions on how to follow the said list/schedules. After their stretching, warm-up and drills, I joined their speed runs around the oval and acted as one of the “timers” for each of their lap runs. I was happy that I was getting postive feedbacks from these runners aside from those who made favorable comments on this blog who joined the said training and those who posted their experience in their respective blogs. I’ll make a separate post on the feedbacks of these runners who are presently undergoing such “speed” training. I had to leave the Oval Track early at 8:30 PM while the runners were still doing their “lap-sets” in order to prepare my things for the forthcoming ultramarathon run the following day.
After three hours of sleep, I woke up, prepared my things, picked-up Capt Espejo and we were on our way to Sta Juliana, Capas, Tarlac from Manila. At 4:30 AM of Saturday, Captain Espejo and I arrived at the Barangay Hall of Sta Juliana and I could see the members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners busy preparing their things for the Run to Mt Pinatubo. Neville Manaois, the leader of the Pinoy Ultra Runners invited me and the “Hardcore Group”/guest runners to join their group in their first run up to the peak of Mt Pinatubo. Jonel aka Bugobugo85, George, Nico and Anne (girlfriend of Nico) were also at the vicinity of the Barangay Hall busy preparing their things and support requirement. Without the knowledge of the host, I contacted my brother who is the Commanding General of the Light Armor Division of the Philippine Army, at least one week before the event, whose Headquarters is located in Camp O’Donnell (few kilometers to Sta Juliana) to provide me and my runners with vehicle support and security along the way and within the area. I was surprised to see that my brother was at the starting area together with his senior officers and we had a brief conversation and briefing from him and his officers.
Nico, George, BR, General Samie (my brother), Jonel aka Bugobugo, & Col Mayor de la Cruz
Having identified our support vehicle, we started loading our food/water/logistics and getting the necessary instructions on the conduct of the run and information on safety from Neville and we were ready for the start of the 55-Km run (frm Sta Juliana to the peak of Mt Pinatubo and back). Our start was delayed for about 33 minutes but it was okey because it was still dark and the number of runners were minimal. To be exact, we were 32 runners. After departing the Barangay Hall by walking, we ended at the edge of the 1st of the so many river crossing along the route as most of us would not like to have our trail shoes to be soaked with water. The 1st, 2nd, & 3rd group of the Pinoy Ultra Runners were brough to the other side of the river by riding on the 4X4 jeeps and we had time to have our photo-ops while waiting for those jeeps to bring us also to the other side.
The members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners running ahead of our group at the start of the 55K Mt Pinatubo Run
After our group (BR, Bugobugo, George, Capt Espejo, and Nico) reached the other side of the river, we started our run with the Pinoy Ultra Runners having a lead distance of about 100-200 meters away. It was really a very slow run for us and I was the one controlling the pace at 6:30 to 7:30 mins/km for the group. I knew that we have to conserve our energy for us to be able to complete the ultra run without any problems with our body and legs. Without the knowledge of my group, I set a goal of finishing the run in less than 9 hours of actual running, not including those logistic stops, conversations with the officers and men of the Philippine Army, and a brief “picnic” and photo-ops at the peak of Mt Pinatubo. However, I told to the runners of my group that we should be able to be back at Sta Juliana on or before 4:00 PM so that we have more time to travel back to Manila and have a complete rest/sleep before joining the UNICEF 10K Run the following day.
With Jonel aka Bugobugo85 while waiting for the 4 X 4 Jeeps to ferry us across the river
The run at the lahar covered ground was very challenging as our feet would land on loose, hard and sometimes wet lahar. At first, it was a very comfortable run with those lahar filled route and the route we took was the existing jeeps’ route that passes through a vast area covered with lahar up to the “Baseline”—the limit of the vehicles’ route. We ran almost 15 kilometers up to the Baseline for almost two hours. We had to reach a shaded portion of the route before 8:00 AM in order to escape from the intense heat of the sun. At first, it took my group to cross those numerous rivers as we tried to select a narrow portions of the river where we could easily jump over the flow of water. Some of my runners, started to remove their running shoes to save them from being wet and it took so much of our time and delayed us to reach the baseline. Later, we were amazed to experience of wading through the waters and rivers with our shoes on and it gave some frefreshing feeling to our tired feet and legs because the water was a little colder. From here, we dared to cross the rivers and step on submerged rocks and fight the strong currents of the flowing water while we were running/jogging.
Capt Espejo and the Hardcore Group before reaching the Baseline
These rocks were all around us as we followed the river towards the Baseline and peak of Mt Pinatubo.
After two hours of running, we reached the Baseline and we had our Aid Station from the support vehicle which went ahead of us. I brought boiled sweet potatoes (camote), boiled eggs, and boiled bananas as our initial support food. We ate a lot of these solid foods and drank our sports drinks. Boy, we were really hungry and we need to re-charge ourselves for the next 20 kilometers which I expected to be an uphill climb to the crater of the volcano. After almost 45 minutes of eating, drinking and talking to the support personnel and our local hosts for the event, we started to resume our run towards the peak of the volcano.
This is one of the markers that points us to our route along the rocky banks of the river. Take note of the rocks along the way which makes jogging/running more challenging.
From lahar sand, the ground changed into small rocks mixed with lahar and later with big rocks along the way and there were no more road for the jeeps to be followed by the runners. As we moved towards the volcano, we had to walk and jog along the river and banks of the river with big rocks. We had to see and look for “markers” to indicate the way/hiking route towards the mountain. The jogging became brisk walking and later the brisk walking became simply walking along and in between the rocks along the way. As we got nearer, we started to see and meet the members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners going down from the crater of the volcano and they gave us encouraging words and warning us that the crater/peak was already near. Even if our trail shoes were already wet and filled with lahar sands which caused them to be heavier as we jogged and walked, we concentrated and focused to keep one step at a time as we started to walk along a rocky steep trail. It was a relief when we saw a concrete stairs and it was a sign that we were already near our destination. Finally, we saw the crater-lake on the peak of Mt Pinatubo. It was really a breath-taking view which could be an exact copy of the views/scenes seen in movies like “The Lord of the Rings” and resemblance of pictures I’ve seen on the scenery of New Zealand’s mountains ranges. Not contented of just the sight, we went down to the edge of the lake and washed our socks and shoes. Some of the runners with my group experienced a brief plunge on the sulphuric water of the lake. We rested and ate some more food which were brought and carried by Captain Espejo in his backpack. Capt Espejo requested us to finish everything as she wanted his pack to be light on our way back to the Baseline. Washing and soaking my tired feet into the water of Mount Pinatubo was already enough for me and I could feel that I haven’t shaved my head and face for the past days. I thought my hair miraculously grew after soaking some parts of my body to the lake at Mount Pinatubo. That’s a joke!
If you think you are surrounded with mountains as you go up to the peak, yes, these are mountains made of lahar from Mt Pinatubo.
At the edge of the crater-lake at the peak of Mt Pinatubo
While eating and resting at the edge of the lake, I was entertained by the stories of Capt Espejo, Jonel aka Bugobugo, George, Nico, and Anne. These guys are really “kalog”, funny, “cowboy”, witty & smart, strong, dependable, “risk-takers”…in short, these guys are really “hardcore and warrior” runners. We talked a lot of things, about our blogs, about our PR best times, training and running. But we never talked about the other half our of run back to where we started which was another 27-28K run. We talked about our plan to reach the finish line at 4:00PM and immediately go back to Manila for a good night rest and have to see each other again the following day for the UNICEF 10K run. I know already from these plans that I was in a right group—a group of “crazy runners”.
This is the sight one can see at the end of the rocky trail at the crater of Mt Pinatubo. There are still 125 steps of a crude concrete stair from this place to the edge of the lake.
We left the crater-lake at 12 Noon and Bugobugo volunteered to count the number of steps of the stair that leads to the start of the trail from the edge of the lake. He was able to count 125 steps and we were breathing heavily once we reached the top. As we left the crater, we met the last two members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners who just arrived at the area. As we hiked slowly down the rocky trail, we met more trekkers and tourists approaching the peak and almost all of them were asking us how far is the end of the trail in order to reach the crater. We answer them in terms of the number of minutes of walking or the number of meters from the crater and they were glad to hear that they were almost at the crater.
After passing those rocky trail where nobody would dare to jog/run, I started to speed up my pace. Later, I did not notice that I was already jogging and then later running down the rocky slopes of the volcano. It was like doing some “pylometrics” or “speed drills” running on the rocks and rivers while going down to the Baseline. Capt Espejo ran on my side while Bugobugo, George, Nico and Anne were left behind and agreed to wait each other at the Baseline and make it as our last “pit stop”. Capt Espejo and I became faster during our run as we were already familiar where to find the trail and had the courage to cross the river even with the strong current. Due to our fast pace, we were able to pass some members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners. In one hour and half, we were already at the Baseline where our support vehicle was waiting. Being our last “aid station”, we ate our late lunch—rice porridge with chicken (chicken lugaw) and sauteed ampalaya with tofu (guinisang ampalaya with tofu) and lots of Gatorade and Propel drinks.
This picture was taken by Capt Espejo as we approached our 40-Km mark and back to Sta Juliana. We passed in between the mountains on the background as we reached our final destination to the peak of Mt Pinatubo.
After our late lunch with the rest of my group, we started our last leg of our run and we were able to have run or cover a distance of 32 kilometers already. It started to shower and later rain were already falling when we started our run and it was refreshing. The weather was very cooperative as the sky became cloudy before 12Noon and it started to rain early in the afternoon. We ran faster along the jeeps’ tracks and crossed the rivers without any reservations and kept maintaining our pace. At this point, we passed more members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners along the way. When we reached the 44K-45K-mark as registered on my GF 305, I started to slow down while Bugobugo and George kept their constant pace and went ahead of me and Capt Espejo. At Km 47, we had to stop to eat a sandwich and drink water from a support vehicle and started to walk. While doing brisk walking, our support vehicle came at our side and Nico, who rode the vehicle from the Baseline, joined us for our remaining kilometers of the run. Our last “pit stop” gave us the much-needed strength up to the finish line and we continued our run after Nico joined us. The first river we passed was a sight to behold as we knew we were already less than 2 kilometers away from the Barangay Hall. There was no need for our support vehicle to bring us to the other side of the river as our shoes had been wet and dried while running along the route. As we reached the Barangay Hall, the faster members of the Pinoy Ultra Runners were seen fresh as they had their shower/bath and wearing clean clothes already. These runners approached and congratulated us for finishing the run. It was really nice of them to be telling us encouraging words and statements about what we had accomplished. Thanks, guys!
My GF 305 registered a distance of 52.14 kilometers but Neville explained to Bugobugo and Capt Espejo that the readings on the GPS did not consider the actual land distance on the rocky trail along the steep slopes of the volcano. So, basing from the actual land distance measured by the Pinoy Ultra Runners, the course covered a distance of 55 kilometers. Our actual running time was 8:14 + hours and we finished in less than the mandatory 9-hour cut-off time for a 50K Ultra Trail Race.
In behalf of my running group, I would like to extend my thanks to Neville Manaois, the Pinoy Ultra Runners, and to the Officers and Men of the Light Armor Division of the Philippine Army for an adventurous and memorable Mt Pinatubo run. It was my first visit to the place and my second ultramarathon run in my running career. Our thanks also go to the sponsors, support staff, The North Face personnel, Pocari Sweat, and to our hosts from Tarlac and Pampanga.
And now, the “Hardcore Group” is already asking…”Neville, when will be the next ultra run?”