I arrived in Baguio City on Thursday afternoon and went directly to PMA/Fort del Pilar where the PMA Alumni House: Nakar Hall is located. This place had been my official place to stay whenever I am in Baguio City in preparation and training for the 2013 TNF 100. It is a special privilege to be always booked in Room #1 of the said Hall.
On Friday morning, I was able to prepare for my drop bag and the things I will be needing for the race. Everything was set and I was excited to attend my first TNF 100 Final Briefng and Carbo Loading Party at the Azelea Residences in Baguio City which starts at 3:00 PM of the said day.
Race Briefing & CLP
Five minutes before 3:00 PM, I was already inside the venue with lots of new faces and few of the ultra runners that I know of. I observed that TNF 100 is more of a mountaineering event because of the presence of more mountaineers. I have the impression that more mountaineers were inside the venue than the number of ultra runners that I know of based from their attendance of the ultra races that I organize and direct.
It came immediately into my mind that TNF does not screen their runners for the ultra distances (50K & 100K) as compared to my screening requirements before a newbie would run his/her first ultra marathon race which is the 50K. My events usually ask the runner if he/she finished an official Marathon Race (42K) and that a Medical Certificate is mandatory to be submitted to me before he/she can join an ultra marathon event. So, obviously, TNF does not care if you are a mountaineer and could only finish a half-marathon race and you are registered as one of the 50K or 100K runners. But in the West/USA, TNF Races are heavily attended by trail ultra runners.
I hate when the scheduled time of the event is not followed as announced. For me, joining races is about discipline and observation of good manners and right conduct (GMRC). If I announce that the time of the briefing is on this particular time, I usually start the briefing on the said time of the briefing with or without the participants. There should be no reason for a schedule to be delayed or for the participants/audience to be late for the said activity. Well, after 45 minutes from the scheduled time of start, the briefing started with the introduction of the people in front and seated on the stage.
The Regional Director of the Department of Tourism; a TNF Lady Ambassador; Baguio City Sports Representative; Neville Manaois (Technical Race Director); and Jundell Llagas were the people at the stage. Jundell acted as the Emcee and each of them delivered their piece—a Prayer/Invocation from The TNF Lady Ambassador; a Race Route Briefing was delivered by a guy whom I think does not know what he was talking about; and later Neville Manaois for the technical details of the race.
During the Open Forum, I was the first one to ask some concerns—clerical errors in the cellphone numbers on their Powerpoint Presentation; protocol on the use of trekking poles; how many drop bags are allowed; and what to expect once a Finisher crosses the Finish Line for the 50K & 100K races. I still had one more question to ask but I opted not to ask it. I really wanted to know if the “Big Boss” of the Primer Group was there to witness the event on Race Day and during the Awarding Ceremony.
Race Day (3:00 AM, April 20, 2013)
Together with my ultra friends, we arrived at the Assembly Area, 45 minutes before the Gun Start. There was Live Band on a stage; photographers; runners (100K & 50K); and spectators who happen to be family and friends of the runners. All runners were advised to register to the Marshals and have a check-up on the mandatory items to be brought by each runner during the race. In a few seconds, my things were checked and recorded to be complete.
I saw some of the active officers of the Philippine Army joining the race and I had some conversations with them. Other runners would ask for picture/pose with me and I accepted their request. More runners from the Visayas and Mindanao approached me for some pictures. They said that it was their first time to meet me in person and they wanted to have a picture with me.
Fifteen minutes before the start, I went to my usual position at the Starting Area—the rear portion of the pack! This is where I saw the “usual suspects” in ultra running in the country and we had some greetings and short conversation with each other. At least, we know each other’s capabilities and we respect each other. As for me, I just tell them verbally and through my body language that I was there not to compete with them but to compete with myself and the race course. I just hope that most of the “usual suspects” will still be running and competing in ultras with the same age as mine today—-next month i will be 61 years old!
After a simple countdown from 10 to “Go”, the race started at exactly 3:00 AM and I started to walk to cross the starting line from the rear. Everything was asphalt for the first 4-5 kilometers where runners ran towards the Gate at the Baguio Country Club and then taking those roads on residential areas that lead to South Drive. From South Drive, the runners would enter the Old Gate 1 of Camp John Hay which is now called the Pinagbenga Park. After a few meters, runners would veer off right from the asphalted road towards the trail. I was power walking for the first 5 kilometers and I was happy that I registered one hour for the effort. With simple math, I expect to reach AS3 in Ampucao in 6 hours, my target for the race for the distance of 30 kilometers.
Before I reached the AS1, the lead runners of the 50K race were already behind me and overtaking me with a very fast pace. After about 10 runners of the 50K had passed me, I observed that these runners don’t have the simple manners of warning the runner in front of them before they pass such runner. So, I shouted that if they should pass a runner in front of them, they should say, “On Your Left” or “On your Right”. These runners should be taught first on trail running manners/protocol before they could run such trail running events. It would be embarassing for a Pinoy ultra trail runner if he competes in international trail races without him/her knowing these basics!
Finally, I reached AS1 and I observed the runners in front of me to have stopped to eat their food. I just took a small bottle with water and drank the remaining water in the bottle and resumed my run & walk. Ed Escalante, an ultra runner in my races, was behind me and told me that he will be on my back on the whole stretch of the race. So, I had somebody to talk to during the early part of the race until we reached AS2. Both of us would run if I started to run and walk if I started to walk. I told him that we should eat while walking and just refill our bottles in the Aid Stations and leave the place immediately. Ed was a good companion along the course.
After I made my refill at AS2, one of the volunteers approached me and asked about my age! I told him I was 61. At this point, I suspected already that I am the oldest participant in the said event! At this point, I registered as Runner #181 out of the 240 runners that started the race. So far, so good. I could still manage an average speed of 5 kilometers per hour and my target of 6 hours to reach Ampucao was still on schedule.
When I entered the gate of Sangilo Mines, Ed Escalante is nowhere on my back. He just completely disappeared from my sight and the other runners in front of me for about hundreds of meters were within my sight and about to overtake them.
While I was power walking on the incline portions inside the said mining area, I saw the ABS-CBN Sports Unlimited staff trying to take a photo/film coverage of me and as I passed their position, one of the cameramen, approached me and conducted an interview while walking. It was a brief one but it would be great if it will be shown in the said program one of these days!
As we started for more incline trails, I was able to pass more runners but on the downhill parts, I would be overtaken by these younger kids whom I think were so serious in the race. They don’t bother to look at you, greet you, smile at you, or simply say something that they notice you. Except for those ultra runners that I know, others were too serious during the race. Maybe, they are mad at me or maybe their ego were affected when they saw me overtaking them on the incline portions of the route. They could not accept that an old man was there easily overtaking them on the trails.
One thing that I was proud of doing in this race from start up to the time I declared myself as DNF was to greet and say “Thank You For Being Here” to each of the Volunteers and Marshals that I saw and passed along the route, to include those who were stationed in the Aid Stations. I would even start a conversation by asking “What is your appetizer with alcoholic drinks (“pulutan”) for the day/tonight?” Most of the volunteers/marshals would start to smile and laugh and answer my question. Those interactions with the marshals and their smiles made me stronger during the race.
On my way down towards a populated area before AS2, I saw an international runner who happens to be from Indonesia who was “crawling”/using his hands to hold the ground as he descended from a higher ground along the trail. I asked him if he has any problem with his sight/vision or his headlight why he was “crawling”. He said he was okey and he allowed us (with Ed Escalante) to pass him. I told him that he should not be shy to tell us if he has any problems as we can easily contact the marshals/volunteers along the way.
At this point, I was very religious with my nutrition strategy to ingest solid foods every two hours and I did not feel any tiredness or weakness on my body. My hydration strategy was maintained and I took some sips of Gatorade. I knew I could reach the AS3/Ampucao within 6 hours!
When I saw the concrete road on top of the last peak/mountain from Ampucao, I already knew that I was only 3 kilometers away from AS3. I reached AS3 in 9:15+ hours! I was registered as Runner #178 to arrive at AS3. I was slowly improving my ranking.
AS3 To AS4
After a 15-minute “pit stop” at AS3 where I drank Coke, ate a ripe banana and a cup full of hot noodles with soup, and ate some of the dried fruits from my stashed food in my pack, I resumed my run & walk with Bong Alindada. It was impossible to run & jog on those three (3) successive peaks before reaching the Philex Ridge and the entrance to the “mossy forest”. It was more impossible to run after these three peaks as the trail was too narrow and full of rocks and most of them were on steep downhill portions of the mountain.
I started to walk and hike slower when I reached the rocky portions of the Philex Ridge. Bong Alindada would ultimately became my unofficial pacer as he positioned himself behind me and I considered him as my “phantom” chaser on my back which worked for me. As soon as I saw his figure on my back, I would make my pace faster but such effort made me perspire some more and I was starting to consume the two bottles that I filled up at AS3.
I did not realize that the next AS4 would be as far as almost 12 kilometers, where the next water station is located. I tried to minimize the intake of water and made sure that the two bottles will be enough for me up to AS4.
Before we entered the “mossy forest”, Bong told me that we have to reach AS4 by 1:00 PM and my watch flashed that it was already 11:45 AM. We had to cover a distance of 7 kilometers inside the “mossy forest” in 1:15 hours which was a tall order to accomplish with two rope rapelling areas to pass through and loose and slippery/tricky trails inside the forest. I knew, it would take us 1:30 hours to travel along the forest and get out from it.
After those two rope rapelling stations, I was already in need of water but I tried my best to maintain the pace as I lead at least 4 runners along the trail inside the forest. At least, we reached the house where Bong told me where a water hose was located but only to find out that the water is contaminated with dirt and debris. With my frustration, Bong assured me that it will take us only 500 meters more before we reach the AS4.
I was already dehydrated while brisk walking on the last 500 meters and I thought the actual distance was becoming more than a kilometer. I tried to control my anger for not bringing more water and underestimated the distance from AS3 to AS4. At this point, I forgot everything about my nutrition strategy as I didn’t have enough water to flush the food in my mouth through my throat. Relentless forward and patience did the trick until a final clearing was seen at the end of the forest.
@ AS4/Barangay Alang, Tuba, Benguet
Finally, we were approaching AS4 in Barangay Alang. I took one big bottle of water and drank as much water as I could and made some refill in my two bottles. I think I was able to ingest three pieces of Pan De Coco (Coconut Bread) which was the only food offered in the said station. I forgot to take out my stashed solid foods in my pack for the added nutrition as I glanced my watch with a time of 1:15 PM. Bong said that we were late by 15 minutes to reach the said AS4 but he was very positive that we can regain our lost time if we start to jog all the way to AS5. I forced myself to smile but I knew from the stories of past runners that this stretch is the longest and hardest part of the course and I was wondering what could had been the reason of difficulty for this part of the route.
At this point, I could be Runner #172 to arrive at AS4 based from the runners that I counted from the Philex Ridge to the “mossy forest”. I was happy that I was still passing other runners along the route.
As Bong and I jogged and walked along the rocky trail, I realized that the incline of the road was very steep where the legs would put some “braking” pressure and put more tension to my knees and quads. After walking for about 30 minutes, I started to run/jog/walk on this portion but the heat of the sun at 1:30 to 2:30 PM was so intense that I started to perspire profusely. I think I ran continuously for about 3 kilometers and then power walk for the rest of the way. I panicked when I saw in my watch that it was already 3:00 PM, my target arrival at AS5. Looking at the horizon, I could see my eye level to be within the level of the mountain in front of me and I knew I was still far from my destination.
I started to slow down because of the heat of the sun and tried to dip my Patagonia Cap into a flowing water along the road but I was surprised to find out that the cap is made of water-proof material. Instead of making the cap to be wet and give coldness to my head, It scooped some water to be poured to my head! The heat of the sun, heat of the paved road, and steep downhill incline of the road sapped the strength on my quads, legs and knees!
Not following my nutrition strategy to eat every two hours; the heat around me; and the steep downhill construction of the road contributed my body to get weaker and weaker as I reached AS5. It was too late when I brought down my pack, took a brief rest on the side of the road, and ate dried fruits and some bite foods at least 2 kilometers from AS5. Finally, I reached AS5 at 4:20 PM, more than 1 hour & 20 minutes from my target time of arrival. I covered the downhill route with a distance of almost 12.5 kilometers in 2 hours and 5 minutes! I was back as Runner #178 to reach AS5!
My entire body was hot and I was exhausted! I just wanted to drink an ice cold Coke and completely forget everything on how to deal with a hot body in a race. Why is it that I was NOT able to recall what I did when Gilbert Gray instructed me to place an ice-soaked towel on my nape,head and face during the last 3 kilometers of the Bandit 50K Trail Run? I could have rubbed the same ice-soaked towel to my aching quads and knees and wait for the pain to subside even for a few minutes.
I was not prepared for the heat on that day! The PAGASA weather forecast predicted some moderate and slight rains in the late morning up to the early afternoon on Race Day and because of this forecast, I prepared for the rain to come!
I could still withstand the pain on my right knee where I had my abrasions/wounds due to my double tripping incident but I felt the weakness in my body after 20 minutes when I crossed the hanging bridge at the Bridal Veil Falls with the hope to reach AS8 (Cabuyao) in 8 hours. I knew that my legs were already wasted at this point that I have to make the final decision to call my staff to return to AS6 and end the race with a DNF.
I did not want myself to be limping with my right leg as useless and inutile for the next weeks to come. I have more adventure runs to finish and experience in the next weeks to come. There will be some other day or days to accomplish and finish the TNF 100 Phil and if that time will come, I guess, it will still have the same honor and privilege to be the ONLY OLDEST ULTRA RUNNER (which means the ONLY SENIOR CITIZEN) to have finished the said event. And for sure, it will take a lot of more years before such accomplishment would be broken!
Part 3: Lessons Learned; Suggestions; Things To Be Improved.
(Note: Pictures To Be Inserted Soon!)