Tell me a place within Metro Manila where you have a dirt path/road where you can do some trail running. I guess, there is none. That is the problem when our urban planners do not value the need of a place within the city where we can enjoy the environment of the outdoors. I know of some golf courses in the city but you can rarely see trails inside these golf courses and most of them are restricted from pedestrians.
There are places within reach in Metro Manila for about 30-minute drive from the main populated areas but you can not still escape the dirty surroundings of garbage and poor quality of air due to industrial plants’ and vehicles’ fumes. One has to travel at least 1-2 hours away from Metro Manila in order to reach the mountains of Tanay, Tagaytay, Laguna and Cavite. If you have determined a specific trail/s on these places, you can enjoy the outdoors and have a pure experience on trail running away from the populace and the traffic of vehicles.
For the past 10 months, I have permanently shifted to trail running and I had been in the mountains of Fort Magsaysay, Subic, Bataan and Pampanga. These are the following reasons why I love trail running:
1. The Best Air Quality For The Body-–One has to breath a lot of air/oxygen when you are in the trail, whether you are hiking or running. But there is no need to worry as the air you are breathing are pure and unadulterated. The plants and trees all around you will be happy to have your carbon dioxide that you breath out from your lungs! Sometimes, cold winds from the mountains and the sea would hit your body and the feeling is something that is invigorating! Our lungs would be happy to have fresh air to our body. Being away from the populated areas and busy highways/streets, you have a bigger chances of breathing better quality of air. The more you run in the mountains, you have better air to breath. And once you reach the forest, the air is cooler and you have the best air quality in the area. Sometimes, there are places where it is hot and humid but simply hydrating oneself regularly would solve the problem. There are also creeks and streams where you one can douse cold water to your hot body.
2. Strengthens Joints Up To The Smallest Muscles, Cartilages, and Tendons—Due to the varied condition of the ground, our feet would land to the ground in different and varied positions and this condition would have a “domino effect” on how our muscles, joints, tendons and cartilages would react on how we run. Instead of being “on the zone” when you are in a road running event, your body is always on alert on the varied conditions of the terrain where you are running. I have observed that my feet and the muscles of my legs had become stronger and I no longer experience any cramps on my calves. Surprisingly, my problem with my right achilles tendonitis just disappeared. As for my knees, I would be able to manage the pain better if I run on the trails because of the softer feeling as my feet would strike the ground.
3. Exercise For The Brain For Quick Decisions—Trail Running makes you aware on what to expect on the 3-10 meters in front of you. Due to the variation of elevation and contour of the trail, whether it is ascending or descending, your thinking process is very active. You have to make quick decisions on how you manage the uphills and downhills depending on your capability. If there are rocks or debris (branches; twigs; and leaves on the ground), one should be quick to decide if you have to jump over or just simply step on them. In crossing rivers, creeks, and streams, one has to quickly see and determine the exposed rocks where one could land ones feet in order to keep ones shoes from being wet. I’ve seen a lot of runners who slipped on muddy trails or tripped on dry trails due to poor or lack of decision.
4. Commune With Nature—If you are running the whole trail course, this reason is a flimsy one as you don’t have the time to appreciate your environment. You don’t have time to look around as your concentration and focus will be the trail in front of you. However, it is suggested that you should rest and sit for awhile on a vantage position where one can observe the surroundings. A camera from ones phone would be appropriate to record and journalize the things that you want to capture as a remembrance on the trail that you have been. Appreciate the surrounding mountains, hills, trees, grasses, and the birds in the area. Take time to breath the air as one would rest within the trail route. One should avoid picking edible fruits along the way; picking some flowers; or bringing home some orchids or ornamental plants from the mountains. It’s enough that one should clean the trails from grasses; thorny vines; and branches of plants. At all costs, we have to preserve the environment if we really dedicated to commune with nature.
5. Gain More Information—With the aid of my Garmin Watch, I would be able to pinpoint and establish prominent features in order to establish kilometer markers along the way. By talking to persons I meet along the trail, I would be able to know the name of the place; what direction the trail would lead me or find out where I can get water resupply from the creeks and streams within the area. It is automatic for me to greet the persons I meet along the trail and tell them what I am doing in the area and where I came from. Don’t let the people within the area come up with some suspicion about your intention in the area, it is much better if you talk to them and hear your purpose in the area. If you drop by a hut/house in the area for your water resupply, find time to talk to the owner or anybody staying in the place. There is a big chance that you will be dropping by that place again in the future.
6. Immersion With The Mountain People-–For many instances, I have requested the mountain people/Aetas to act as guide/s in my trail running adventures. I have known how they live in the mountains and how they earn a living. These Aetas were resettled in the area as a result of the eruption of Mt Pinatubo and most of them came from Zambales. Through my immersion with them for those long hours that I would hike on the mountain trails, I was able to find out how they clean some patches of forested areas in the mountains where they can plant bananas, root crops and vegetables. They cut trees and make them as charcoal in the deep forested areas and carry them in sacks for them to be delivered in their respective resettlement areas where merchants would buy and bring these sacks of charcoal on trucks or vehicles. They would also hunt for wild pigs, monkeys, big lizards (bayawak), wild chicken, and bats for their meat. And during summer, they would look for beehives and gather raw honey from them. And worse, they are free to cut any trees in the forest (without any permit from the local DENR) in the guise that the said lumber will be used to construct or repair of their huts/house in the resettlement areas. How I wish the local government would have the time to immerse themselves with these mountain people for them to know what is happening to the environment and our natural resources. I doubt if these mountain people have any activity to reforest or bring back the vegetation in the mountains. (Note: It had been my habit to bring packs of cigarettes and/or cans of sardines to be given to my friends in the mountains during my regular training runs)
7. Explore The Unknown-–Since I don’t carry any compass, GPS, or map, I just try to look at the horizon and ask my training partner to reach a certain feature on the ground or follow a trailhead and see for ourselves where the trail would lead us. If we are running in our usual trail loop/route and if we see an intersection, we had to explore where the new trail would lead us. This is where we would be surprised to see a more unique and better environment and sights to be seen as offered by the natural resources in the mountains. This is how we discovered our water resupply points and places where we could spend some rest and take our lunch. What surprised me most is the presence of gates and fences in the mountains. It means that somebody has already acquired such area bounded by the fences as a personal property. I wonder how could that be when these mountains are considered as Natural/National Parks.
8. Share One’s Experience To Others—Definitely, the end purpose of these trail running is to come up with a trail running course/route for a trail running event for everybody to experience. It would be best that my trail running events will not be sponsored by corporate brands and I want my events to be exclusively for those who trained and prepared for the event. I really don’t care if I have only four or three runner-participants in these events. The lesser number of participants, the better for the trails and the mountains. I would envision also that the populace within the route would also earn a living out of these events as they provide fresh produce from their orchard to the runners or act as guides/marshals in key intersections in the trail route. If I am training for a particular ultra trail event, I usually share my experiences and the sights I’ve been into in this blog or through Facebook through pictures and stories.
9. Faster Recovery-–This is the most kept secret among trail runners! Whether it is a 2-hour trail run or 12-hour trail hike, I could recover easily after a day or 24 hours! All I need is to stretch properly after the run; hydrate and replenish the fluids that I lost during the workout; take a shower; eat my dinner, and then sleep at least 8 hours. Sometimes, a massage before going to bed contributes to a faster recover but I seldom have that for the past two months of my training. With my age, if I do a 2-hour run on the road, it would take me another 48 hours to recover before I could run again.
10. Specificity Of Training—Obviously, if one is preparing for a trail running event, he/she has to spend more time running in the trails. If you are preparing for a trail ultra, you have to do your training on the trail that has almost the same elevation profile with the race you are going to participate (and have registered). Since I’ve shifted my running races to ultra trail running, I had chosen to spend most of my training in the mountain trails.