Race Report: 1st King Of The Mountain (KOTM) Mt. Ugo Trail Marathon

#3 “Peak Bagging” @ Mt Ugo, Itogon, Benguet via Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya (2,150 MASL)

4:30 AM April 1, 2012/Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya

This mountain trail run was the very reason why I started my “peak bagging” feats. On my way to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya to recon the route of this marathon race, the road to the Mt Pulag National Park was there nearer from the Ambuklao Dam and the attraction of the said mountain due to its popularity was hard to resist. My trip to the peak of Mt Pulag gave me much confidence to reach the peak of Mt Ugo which is 800 meters lower. And my previous trek to the peak of Mt Natib, two days before race day, gave me a general impression on what to expect in climbing mountains.

If you are climbing to the peak of a mountain, expect a slightly ascending and winding path with so many switchbacks from the base of the mountain or from the trailhead until you reach the base of the peak. The trail is wide and well-maintained where one has to expect more ascending portions than descending ones. From the base of the peak, expect a single-track trail that is very steep on only one side of the peak. I usually call this as the “assault” trail to the peak/summit. Due to steep incline of every step of the trail and the thin oxygen in higher altitudes, one has to experience hardness of breathing and faster heart rate, thus, making one perspire some more. In a race, it is very hard to jog on the steep trail on the side of the peak of the mountain. Walking moderately would be a good option to adopt while on this final assault to the peak.

Depending on the kind or nature of the mountain, every trail is different. If a mountain is a volcano, dormant or active, expect some hardened lava and big rocks as part of the trail. If it is an ordinary mountain, expect a lot of changes on the vegetation or biodiversity of plants in every range of elevation and the trail ground can sometimes be pure earth without any rocks.

I arrived in Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya after lunch of Saturday, March 31 and my friend, Jonel was at the Municipal Hall & Plaza giving intructions to his staff and at the same time receiving runners who just arrived in the area. Since I gave him the notice weeks ago of my intention to join this event, he designated the only “home stay” facility in the town as my place of accommodation. Kayapa is a small town and there are no commercialized tourist facilities in the area. Just like in Kabayan, Benguet, they have also a “dormitory-type” transient house where the rate is very cheap—P 200.00 per night in double-decked beds. Some of the runners were accommodated in the transient facility of the different barangays of the town. However, there is a big space for campers if runners would decide to pitch their tents infront of the municipal church.

At 4:00 PM, Jonel as the RO/RD of the race event, conducted the race briefing at the Municipal Plaza, infront of the Municipal Hall. It was nice to meet the “usual suspects” in ultra races as well as the local runners from Baguio City and Region 1. I was happy to see runners who came all the way from the Ilocos Provinces, Central Luzon (Region 3) and Metro Manila.

After the briefing, some had their “carboloading” in the local eateries located in the Public Market of the town which is just across the road from the Municipal Hall. It was time to taste the local foods! The pork stew with the local’s native pig is always a winner! And there is also a bonus dish which is the “adobong inasinan na baboy” (preserved salted pork cooked with soy sauce & garlic). The eatery where I ate have also pancit (noodles)!

After dinner, I had a brief talk with some of the runners and everybody was in a relaxed mood. Nobody talked about the race and what to expect during the race. On my end, I told them about my experiences in my new passion of “peak bagging” where Mt Ugo will be my 3rd mountain peak to conquer!

At 9:30 PM, I was already sleeping. However, I was awaken by the movements of the other runners staying in the same place who started to have their shower as early as 1:30 AM. There is no point of forcing myself to sleep some more. I slowly prepared my things and took a shower.

At 4:00 AM, I was already with the rest of the runners at the Starting Line/Municipal Hall which is located across the road from the place I was staying. It was nice to greet more friends and everybody were all smiles. I didn’t see any tense looks or faces among the runners. We were there to enjoy the outdoors and have fun in experiencing the 1st Mountain Trail Marathon in the country.

In a simple ceremony, Jonel led the Invocation/Prayers and I was the one who led the singing of the National Anthem. After a simple welcome and reminders about the critical areas in the race from Jonel, we were ready to go. At the schedule start time, 4:30 AM, the race started with a simple countdown from the count of 10 to 1 & “GO!” from the Race Director.

The first 5 kilometers was an uphill/ascending route along the Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya. I did not run or jog on this part. I just simply brisked walked with the aid of my trekking poles. After 2 kilometers of this winding uphill road, I knew I was one of the last runners of the more than 150 runners who joined the half-marathon and the marathon distances. There was nothing to worry as I knew there will be more ascending portions as the race progresses.

As I reached the trailhead, I started to jog along the unpaved road leading to a narrower trail. It had been raining for the past days and I knew that most of the route will be slippery and muddy on portions with loose soil. I would run on flat and descending portions and then brisk walk on steep inclines. This ritual had been repeated through the race. I would be very careful on portions where there are slippery rocks and muddy portions of the trail. I was very confident on my footings due to the trekking poles I was using.

In less than 1 1/2 hours, I was able to reach the turn-around point of those who were participating in the half-marathon at Bundao and I was able to meet the lead runners who were under way to the finish line. I said to myself, the half-marathon distance did not offer much challenge and nice scenery for the runners. I just envy the runners that they are through with the day!

I could say that the trail from Kayapa side is well-maintained and I could see lots of vegetable farms on the sides of the mountains all around. Well, there are animals also that you could meet along the trail. I observed cows and wild/native pig on the sides of the trail.

After almost 17 kilometers, I met incoming runners who were telling me that I was on a wrong trail and I had to retrace myself to the nearest trail intersection. It was good, I was lost for only about 50 meters!

I memorized the word “Domolpos” as the place of the last Aid Station towards the peak of the mountain and it was my target to reach where I could take my first food through my power bars and gels and Gatorade mix. I was with a group of runners (Ed Yonzon, Chito Carreon, Vener Roldan and Gay Baniwas, a lady runner from Baguio who finished 1st Runner-Up in the Ladies Category) when I reached this place. Gay asked me to have a picture with her and later on,  I remained in the Aid Station as they left one by one. I took a pee, ate my energy bar, took a gel, and mixed my Gatorade powder. I guess, I spent almost 3-4 minutes in the process.

When I was back on the trail, I could no longer see the rest of the runners who were with me at the Aid Station. I kept on pushing myself until I saw the back of Gay and I was relieved. Gay became as my “guide’ towards the peak of the mountain. We would have another and more photo-ops along the steepest portions of the “assault” trail towards the peak. I passed her when she stopped to take some more snapshots of the scenery around the trail.

I kept on pushing and digging more of my trekking poles on the steepest parts of the peak and regularly looking for the bright light to appear in between the plants and bushes that cover the peak. If I could see a brighter light source in between the trees and plants ahead of me as I look up to the direction of the “assault” trail, it means that the peak is within my grasps!

After 4:25 hours, I reached the peak and I was able to meet again Chito, Vener, and Ed Yonzon who just happened to be having their photo-ops near the peak’s marker. I congratulated Koi Lapira for a nice route as he prepared to take a picture of me at the peak marker as a proof that I reached the turn-around point. My GF 305 registered a distance of 23.1 kilometers and an elevation of 2, 165 MASL. After my photo-ops with Koi Lapira, I joined the rest of the runners for another pose.

After my photo-ops with Koi Lapira (the evidence that I reached the turn-around point), I joined the rest of the runners for another picture pose. On our descent to the Domolpos Aid Station, I led the runners at a fast & decent pace.

At the Aid Station, I did the usual ritual—pee, eat, and mix my drinks while the rest of my companion started to resume their run. At the Domolpos Elementary School, I was able to catch up with their tail but I needed to slow down my pace as I approached a very steep trail as I left the school. As I reached the top of the trail, I could no longer see them on the flatter portions until I was able to pass one runner.

When I was about to approach the next Aid Station (Ansipsip), I saw 3 runners who just left the station. I saw Philippe Arenillo, a Pinoy runner, and the French guy whom I met the day before the race running in a single file. I stopped at the Aid Station and drank some Mountain Dew and asked from the Marshall what is my ranking/position among the runners who just passed. The marshal said that I was #30. I became excited as I have some “targets” to follow. However, I was still trying my best to catch up with the group of Chito, Vener and Ed.

Few meters from the Ansipsip Aid Station, I was able to pass the Pinoy runner and the French guy and ultimately joined Philippe. Philippe and I brisked walked and jog together on those descending portions of the route along Telecabcab Trail. I could not speed up on those steep descending trails because I was trying to protect my painful knees! My quads were already burning while the trail was very slippery. More fences to overcome until Philippe asked me for him to go ahead after having a conversation with him for about 2 kilometers.

Philippe became my “target” as I could see him infront of me. Switchback after switchback, I could still see him until I saw another runner who was walking and later overtaken by Philippe. At this moment, I was #28 runner! When I approached the runner, it was Ron Sulapas and I engaged a conversation with him and encouraged him to join me to catch up with Philippe. He joined me in my jog but later after a few minutes he slowed down and I continued my run. I could still see Philippe about 10 meters infront of me but he started to increase his pace until I lost him. I said to myself, #27 finisher would be a good accomplishment already!

As soon as I reached the last incline of the route/trail, I was back on the main road and the last 50 meters of the race was very fulfilling. I could here the banging of a gong, the ringing of cowbells, and the cheers of those who finished ahead of me from the finish line. I was all smile on those last 50 meters as I carried my trekking poles as if they are my batons! I crossed the finish line in 7:56:57 hours. Officially, I am ranked as #27 out of 69 finishers. Not bad for a 59-year (& 11 months) old runner.

The following were the data downloaded/recorded by my Garmin Forerunner 305:

Distance: 42.06K

Average Pace: 11:20 minutes per kilometer

Average Speed: 5.3 Km/hr

Maximum Speed: 12.5 Km/hr

Average HR: 150 bpm

Max HR: 171 bpm

Total Ascent: 2,751 meters

Total Descent: 2,794 meters

Highest Peak Elevation: 2,169 meters above sea level

Distance From Start to Peak: 23K

If you want to become an all-season trail runner, this is a Marathon Trail Race which you should not miss. I highly recommend this trail run. However, you should find time to make a reservation on your accommodation in the town of Kayapa weeks before the event and if possible, conduct a recon on the said mountain.

Congratulation to Jonel, his FrontRunner Magazine staff, and to all the Finishers for a job well done!

See you on May 26-27, 2012 for the 1st KOTM Mt Ugo Trail Ultra Marathon Race!

(Note: Pictures Courtesy of Jake Manzano, Gay Baniwas, Ed Jonson & Ismael Ilagan)


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