In my road runs, I find it more relaxing and comforting when running alone enjoying the scenery of the things that I could see along the road. I would concentrate on my running form and let my legs and feet land on the ground as if they are well-oiled machine pumping until I need to slow down my pace or just simply have my walking breaks. In the comfort of road running, everything is automatic and I could cruise along with my comfortable pace.
In my trail runs, I always have the company of one or two of my athletes/”trainees” as my safety runners or pacers. I don’t run along the mountain trails alone and it is my number one rule in trail running. You may never know when shit happens!
Some of my friends started to ask about my “playground” in trail running when I started posting my pictures on Facebook and they showed some interest in trying to find out about the place and experience what it is like to run in such place. Anybody can go to this place as it is open to the public but one needs to inform the barangay or the village that you are there to run or hike.
It took me some time to figure out and discover a trail loop that ends up to a distance of 18 miles or 28+kilometers which could be extended up to 50 kilometers. But the 18-mile loop is already a very challenging route that would take me 6 to 6 1/2 hours of pure trail running. How I wish I could get the correct cumulative ascent descent in meters/feet on this course.
I really do not invite runners or my running friends to this place. I let my friends do the initiative to personally contact me through Facebook (Personal/Private Message) or simply send me a SMS if they are interested to join me in my weekend trail runs in this place.
Last Saturday, one of the “usual suspects” in my Ultra Races decided to have his Birthday Run in the company of his friends and some of my ultra friends also contacted me that they would like to join me in my weekend runs. So, on that day, our group consisted of seven runners with one pacer and one sweeper, nine runners in all.
We started the run after breakfast at around 7:00 AM. The first 200 meters of the course is an uphill where nobody would dare to run and I usually use this uphill climb as my warm-up hike. After the first kilometer, everybody would cross a river and all our shoes would be soaked and wet. After crossing the river and with a heavier shoes, the group would start to jog and run for a slight uphill within a single-track trail covered with grass.
The trail is a semi-technical trail where you need to keep your sight on the ground and decide quickly where you would want your feet to land. There are streams to cross and muddy portions where you must avoid or let your shoes be buried in deep mud. There are some dogs and there are some herd of cows and carabaos. The cows, even if they are tied with a rope, would run after us during our runs. The carabaos are more calm when their bodies are completely soaked in some mud pools along the route. Just don’t mind the smell when you pass these mud pools!
We usually reach our first stop after 1:10-1:15 hours of running in a nipa shed/hut with benches around it and the registered distance in our GPS watch is 6.2 kilometers. An antenna (weather or radio signal purpose) is located near the hut. We usually have our first picture taking in this place and spend at least 5 minutes of stay in this place.
From this 1st antenna, we go downhill towards another river and after crossing the said river, it is all uphill again. Once we reach a wider trail road, our next goal to reach is the other antenna which is located 7 kilometers away from the first one which is located in a higher elevation. Hence, I call this trail loop as “Two-Antenna” Trail Loop.
After the uphills, downhills and some flat areas, we would cross two big streams until we reach the farm of one of the locals, Mang Mario. This is where we refill our bottles with water; have a taste of fresh coconut juice direct from the tree; hydrate & eat some snack food we carried and another chance to take pictures. I usually talk to Mang Mario and his wife and later give him some packs of “Pentagon” Cigarettes, his favorite brand, and some cash to pay for our coconut fruits before we leave his farm. Well, for the past 2 months that I’ve been dropping by in his farm in my runs, Mang Mario and I became friends and he knows what runners would need when we stop in his place. He would offer his benches for us to sit and order his son to pick some coconuts immediately. This is a result of my “sardines approach” in winning some of my friends in the mountains.
After one kilometer of uphill climb from Mang Mario’s place, we would reach the 2nd antenna and the scenery of the place where we came from (1st antenna) is just amazing! It calls for another group picture with the antenna and the grassland/mountains around as background!
The next two kilometers will be steeper climbs until we reach the highest point of the course which is registered at 550 meters above sea level. I consider this place as the halfway/turn-around point of the course. The scenery is getting better as we go higher in elevation and it calls for another group picture! This is where we eat the remainder of our trail foods with some “ice drops” which we call “Joy-Joy”. They give joy for the tongue and mouth because of its sweet and cold taste. They are “life savers” when the heat of the sun is almost under our heads!
After 10 minutes of rest, it’s time to go down to a “roller coaster” elevation of hills until we reach the 1st antenna but the place all around are grassland where there are no trees to provide us with cover from the heat of the sun. The distance is 7 kilometers from the turn-around point to the 1st antenna. This is where we fight it out with the heat of the sun, from the hot air and from the heat of the ground with what remains in our water/hydration bottles. This is also a stretch of the course where the runners would race with one another to reach the 1st antenna. Well, I usually position myself at the back of the pack with the “sweeper” behind me all the way to the first river/stream that we crossed! This would prevent the new ones to this course not to get lost when one could not see the runner in front of him.
It is good that the house of one of the “cowboys” or cattle caretakers, which is also a friend that I came to develop and know since I started running in this area, is located near the 1st antenna. This is where we can have our re-supply of water which is enough to bring us to where we started.
From the 1st antenna, everything will be relatively downhill and the distance to the first river is 6 kilometers. Reaching the first river is a relief for everybody. We would check our watches and we could not believe that we spent 6 1/2 hours along the course. We thought that we just spent 3-4 hours of having fun in the mountains! It is in this river that we start cleaning our shoes from the mud; cleaning our feet and legs; and simply soaking our tired legs with cold and refreshing flowing water while waiting for the last runner and “sweeper” to arrive.
Ice-cold Coca Cola drinks would be our initial “prize” for finishing the run and followed with a recovery meal which would also serve as another “carbo-loading” feast for the next day’s long run!
What I like with my running friends when they are with me in my “playground” is that I could not hear any words of complaint from them even when there is an intense heat from the sun in the middle of the day or when the trails are slippery during inclement weather/rainy days where some would fall on their knees or butts.
These runners are “hardcore” and “monsters” on the trails!
If you are interested to experience what these runners went through, there will be a scheduled trail running 101 training camp for a day which is strictly limited to only 10 runners. Further announcements on this event will be made through Facebook.
Keep on running!