“The 160 Km Journey” By Candy Balaba

The 160 Km Journey

by Candy Pastor- Balaba on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 3:53pm
Last Saturday, the first 100-mile Trail Run in the country dubbed as TAKLANG DAMULAG 100mile ENDURANCE RUN, was staged. Taklang Damulag is a landmark inside the army division in Fort Magsaysay, Palayan City, Nueva Ecija.  In recent years, it was used as an impact area for live fire training for canons/artillery guns, and currently being used as a training ground for the Special Forces Regiment.

Race Director, Gen Jovie Narcise (Ret) a.k.a. The Bald Runner is the brains behind the Taklang Damulag 100mile Endurance Event. We learned that this would be the 1st 100mile Ultra Trail Run Event in Southeast Asia. Being a retired soldier, he is familiar with the place and thought that this would be a challenging route for ultra runners who seek for the toughest course. The route has a total ascent of 17,000 feet and a total descent of 18,000 feet. The course will take them to climb Taklang Damulag 4 times which would total 52kms, and twice on a 54 kms outer loop, hence given a total distance of 160kms

Even when the event was only on its planning stage early this year, hubby was already telling me that he wanted to try out this race. He has signed up for the 2012 BDM160 which will be on January, and thought that Taklang Damulag race will be a good training for his BDM 160 (Bataan Death March).  I didn’t think he would be too serious about it, because he has never been too keen on Trail runs.

Fast forward to Dec 17, my son JB and I found ourselves in Ft Magsaysay doing what is most expected from us… to be his support crew.


Ultra runs are usually the “no- frills” races. There are no grand pre and post race activities. No prizes, no loot bags.  Its usually just a small group of happy and fun hard core ultra runners that gather on this races. For this event, only 19 brave warriors signed up.  Two foreigners, a German and Malaysian guy who came all the way from Hongkong and China, respectively. The rest in the pack were Filipinos from all walks of life, a doctor, 2 lawyers, a grandson of an ex-president, a writer, entrepreneurs, professors and 2 military officers.  It’s a nice mix of interesting people who share the same passion for ultra running.


The race briefing and carbo loading Friday night was time for runners to get to know more of each other. Everyone was happy, excited and maybe jittery too on the challenge that was coming their way, especially when The Bald Runner started to brief them on the route (it was not disclosed until Friday night). However, for some unknown reason, one runner backed off immediately after the briefing.  So 1 down, 18 to go.


As I was unable to leave work that Friday, and Benedict needing to attend the course briefing and carbo loading that day, he had to go ahead without us. I packed all the necessary stuff he would need, gave him clear instructions on all that has been loaded, and promised that I would be there Saturday before noon.


I called up Benedict an hour before gun start. He said he was all geared up and just ready to go. I gently reminded him to take it slow and to just enjoy the race.

53 KMS

Arrived Fort Magsaysay with my older son JB just before noon, my father-in-law with my daughter Icee – who was on their way to Baguio, drove us there.   Shortly after arriving at Fernandez Hill where an aid station was set up, the first 2 runners – Andre Bloomberg and Jones Mortega arrived. Both had their lunch of noodles, boiled sweet potato, boiled eggs and some crackers. They also took time to reload their hydration packs. After more or less 35 mins of doing all these tasks, the runners were back on the trail to proceed with 2 loops in Taklang Damulag.

Benedict together with 4 other runners came 15 min after Andre and Jones left. He told us how he got lost with Malaysian guy – Seow Kung Ng in kilometer 9, which meant an added 6 kilometers to find their way back to the route. Benedict had his lunch, we reloaded his hydration packs, rested for a few minutes and then left again with the 4 runners.

The rest of the runners started arriving 30min after. They all took time to rest, eat, change clothes, tape their feet, prick those blisters (ouuuuch!!), someone even decided to take a short nap.  Everyone seemed to be holding on strong except for 1 runner who looked very wasted, he couldn’t even eat and just took sips from the recovery drinks offered to him.  After a short nap, he got up removed his race bib and raised the white flag.


The Taklang Damulag loop has an elevation of 409 meters. To quote Bald Runner, “it is a short course and a very low mountain, but if you think of going up to this mountain for 4 times in a single event, then you have a very high mountain”.  The runners thought of it as an easy trek, and clearly no one expected that it would take them 3 hours to complete 1 loop which was only 13kms. It must have been a tough climb because after Andre’s first loop, I overheard him confirming from Bald Runner if they needed to do another loop and that he hoped he heard it wrong during the briefing to do 2 loops.


The 83km- SOCOM AREA is also the Starting and Finish marks.  An aid station was set up so runners can have their dinner, reload their hydration packs, change clothes etc.

Jones came in a few minutes ahead of Andre, but he decided to quit after a bad fall that left him with a sprained ankle. As for Andre, he seemed to be holding on strong.  He left immediately after a quick dinner and after reloading his hydration packs.

Benedict came in 45min after Andre left, he said he got lost again on the 81km mark when he missed a turn which eventually led him to a longer route back to SOCOM area.

After having dinner, a quick wardrobe change (his rubber shoes was soaked, torn and beaten up), he was off to cover the next 83kms. It was already 8:30pm, dark, cold and drizzly. I began to worry now about how he would be able to get through the next 83kms alone. A pacer is already allowed for every runner from this point, unfortunately no one can pace him, I am not prepared to run an 80km distance, neither can our son JB. So, there was no other choice but for him to go alone and run in the DARK, COLD, DRIZZLY, CREEPY TRAIL.

The cut off time for the first loop (83kms) was 15hours. Only 7 runners were able to make it before the cut off. Bald Runner decided to allow those who didn’t make it to cutoff to continue if they still wanted to.


As runners started to arrive at the 83 km mark, the DNF list also started to rise. A swollen knee, sprained ankle, bouts of chills and dizziness, or just totally wasted to continue, were the reasons that 6 runners decided to seal the nail in their DNF coffin.

So from the 83km mark, where the second loop will start, only 7 runners have decided to continue.

110 KMS

Our son JB was supposed to pace his Dad from this point, unfortunately Benedict wasn’t able to spot the car which was parked on the side of the road, so he decided to run and continue to go alone.  We also eventually left the place after staying there for 3 hours, we decided to move to the next aid station which was the Fernandez Hill.

A few kilometers before reaching Fernandez Hill, we finally spot him running in that long dark road. He was glad to see us as he was running out with energy drinks.  JB was all geared up and ready to go, so after reloading their hydration packs, the boys were off to cover the last 45kms.


I arrived Fernandez Hill around 5:40am after I got back from the early morning mass that I attended in the nearby church. I was surprised to see JB resting on a makeshift hammock. He told me that Benedict did not allow him anymore to trek Taklang Damulag as it was still too early and the path was dark.  Benedict left for his first loop to Taklang Damulag at 4:30AM. I got a bit worried, because it was raining and the trail was pitch- dark, wet and slippery.

After a few minutes, Andre arrived.  I was surprised he came in after Benedict. He told us that he got lost on his way to Fernandez hill, and wasted 2 hours finding his way back to the route. He didn’t look good. I could read disappointment in his face.  He didn’t talk much and just sat quite in one corner. After 30 minutes, I saw them pack their bags and asked me if I could give them a lift back to SOCOM. He has decided to quit too.  Paper, her girlfriend, and I tried to persuade him to continue. There was still enough time for him to cover the 2 loops.. He said that after getting lost on his way back to Fernandez Hill, and a bad fall that caused him much pain, he is now unable to think clearly and feels too wasted to continue.

I felt so bad that he had to quit after already covering 130kms. He was really a good and strong runner. Although, he said that this is his first 100 miler, he has also done quite a number of TNF ultra runs around the globe. I wonder what went wrong for him to decide to DNF.

Eventually, I learned that 4 more runners have DNF’ed on the 110km mark, including Malaysian guy- Seow Kung. Seow Kung  is an equally seasoned ULTRA RUNNER, having  done Les Sable in Africa, Amazon Ultra Run, Comrades Marathon. 


Benedict was back in Fernandez Hill after 3 hours of trekking Taklang Damulag . He looked fine and was not complaining of anything other than hunger. He was surprised to know that Andre has already quit the race. As of 9AM, we had confirmation that only 5 runners continue to be on the race, with Benedict leading the pack.

Cut off time is 32hours. It was 9AM and Benedict had 4 more hours to cover the last 18kms.   A whole loop to Taklang Damulag is 13kms plus 5 kms to the Finish Line. I was completely in awe with his grit and sheer determination to move on and continue. Everyone was telling him that he could be the only one to finish the race within the cut off time. With all that being said to him, he was all the more determined to GO FOR THE WIN!!!

Benedict also finally allowed JB to pace him on his last loop to Taklang Damulag.  JB acted like a giddy 7 year old who immediately jump up to join his Dad again.


I was back at SOCOM- Finish Line to wait for the 2 boys. I was surprised to see that the runners who DNF’ed were eagerly waiting for any finisher to make it before cut off time. It was almost 12noon, cut off was just an hour away.   The waiting seemed endless, I was getting so worried. Will the boys make it?

Then at about 12:05, 2 guys were seen moving towards the finish line. Everyone started jumping, screaming, clapping and cheering. Finally someone is going to make it before the cut off time.  It was raining outside yet everyone got up, forgot about all the pain in their legs, ran outside and started to cheer on Benedict and JB who was coming towards the finish line. Everyone was asking who he was running along with, I proudly told them, he was our 15yr old son. That gave them even more reason to cheer. My heart melted and tears welled up in my eyes at the sight of our son- JB pacing his Dad onto his glorious triumph. THIS IS ONE MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT WILL FOREVER BE IMPRINTED ON MY MIND’S EYE AND ETCHED ON MY MIND’S HEART. 


Benedict raised his tired arms like a “V”.  JB slowed down a bit to let his Papa  cross the finish line alone. But even before Benedict could cross the finish line, he was swarmed by the other runners, gave him high fives, shook his hand and embraced him. IT WAS SUCH AN AWESOME SIGHT!! I WAS ALL BEAMING AND FILLED WITH SO MUCH PRIDE!!!

After 31 hours 11 minutes and 26 seconds …HE MADE IT!!!

As of this writing, Dick and I continue to share stories about last weekend. He is overwhelmed and humbled by all the congratulatory messages he receives everyday, and all the nice words being posted on his FB.

The very daunting feat has earned him blisters, sore muscles, chafed seams, 10 dead toenails, that will last for days, but it has also tattoed his pride with a memory of a great finish that will last him forever.


PS:  Benedict was the lone finisher who made it before cut off, making him the only one to earn the Silver Buckle for the 1st 100miler Endurance Event in the country. 4 other runners were able to cross the finish line  with a time of 41hrs. The Taklang Damulag 100-Mile Trail Endurance Run was organized by the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners and was participated in by local and international ultrarunners and is officially considered as the first and only 100-Mile Trail Endurance Run in Southeast Asia.


7 thoughts on ““The 160 Km Journey” By Candy Balaba

  1. Pingback: Dreaming of Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc « The Runt Runner

  2. Pingback: Kung di palang sala, ang mag-Takla!? | Ang kwaderno ni boypra..;))

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