Two weeks before the race, the Race Director and friend of mine, Bong Delos Angeles, sent me a message telling me that I am invited to join the 2nd edition of this race which he is organizing. I told him that I will try my best to join the race if I have the time to return to Manila after my 1st Mt Tapulao Trail Run which is held the day before this race.
One week before the Mt Tapulao Trail Run, I decided to shorten the course from 46K to 36K so that I can have the time to return to Manila, coming from Barangay Barangay Dampay Salaza, Palauig, Zambales and spend the night in Manila before proceeding to the Starting Area which is located in Barangay Malaya, Pililla, Rizal.
The plan was not to race in this race because I had a 20K easy run to the peak of Mt Tapulao the day before the race. I was following a training plan that called for a “back-to-back” Long Runs on the said weekend and it was a good reason to join this race to comply with the training program.
I arrived in Manila on the night of Friday coming from Zambales and I knew that I will have a limited time to sleep as it was my first time to go to Pililla, Rizal and look for the starting area. I found out that the way to Pililla, Rizal is the same way that goes to the starting area of my Tanay 50K Run. I missed the turn that goes to the town of Pililla and I had to go back after finding out that I got lost. It was a bad sign!
As soon as I arrived at the Starting Area in the Multi-Purpose Covered Court of Barangay Malaya, I could see the runners ready for the start of the race. The race has two distance categories: 15K and 30K. The 15K distance category is for those “newbies” in trail running and other local running “celebrities”. I opted to join the longer course and expected to be “fried” under the heat of the sun!
The 30K distance started ahead of the 15K runners and I was positioned at the back of the pack as one of the last runners. The route was simply going on easterly direction from the Barangay Hall and it was a paved road going to the trailhead which is a straight assault trail to the peak of the mountain which is ultimately the Mt Sembrano. From the trailhead, it was a single-track trail ascending at a very steep grade. I just simply hiked on this trail, trying to follow the runner in front of me. Just when I was halfway to the first peak of the mountain, the leading runner of the 15K distance category were already on my back trying to pass me along the trail. I was impressed with the 15K runners as they were able to maintain their pace despite the steepness of the trail. I had to give way for them and some of them are my friends and runner-finishers in my previous races.
I decided to use hand-held water bottles on each of my hands instead of using my hydration vest with bottle pockets on both sides of my chest. It was my first time to use my TNF Handheld bottles in a trail running race which I bought sometime in 2009. I had no problem using them as I was using my cycling gloves which provided lightness on the way I was gripping them. I could still use my fingers and palms/hands in holding the rocks on those very steep portions of the trail.
I did not join the race to compete but to have a “back-to-back” long runs for the weekend. My goal was to finish the distance of 30 kilometers within the cut-off time; try & test my apparel/shoes; and find out if I can withstand using two hand-held bottles for the distance.
Once I reached the first peak, I had to refill my water bottles in an Aid Station and I could see a beautiful scenery all around me. The mountain is covered with cogon grass with the Laguna De Bay on the West; the Windmills of Bugarin on the North; the Mt Sembrano Peak on the East; and more cogon grasses on the South. I could see already runners coming from the peak as well as the runners in front of me going to the peak. It’s time to move and reach the peak.
Looking at the elevation profile of the whole course, the peak is about 700+ meters above sea level with a cumulative distance of 7 kilometers. It looks like my “Brown Mountain” playground but with a shorter distance to the peak of the mountain. From the peak, the course is descending with few hills and runnable ascents. But it is the heat of the sun that will definitely slow down the runners.
It took me a few seconds to stay at the peak of the mountain just to appreciate what is all around the area and I was on my way to the first peak. As I went down, I was surprised to see more runners along the way and I suspect that they could be the 15K runners. I was in the company of newly-promoted Lt Colonel Ron Yllana since the time we ascended the first peak of the mountain. He was always behind me trying to keep his pace with mine. At least, I have somebody to talk to along the course. As we went down to a lower portion of the mountain, we were able to be in touch with the other runners until we reached a junction where a tent and two marshals are located.
The marshals said that the 30K runners had to take the trail on the right while the 15K runners had to take the trail on the left as they are going back to the starting area. Ron and I took the trail on the right and we started to go down along the trail. After about one kilometer, we started to meet some runners asking us for directions and we answered, “just follow the yellow marker”. More runners were going up the trail while we were going down and we suspect that something was wrong. Not until we saw the Race Director telling us that we missed a turn so that we should be proceeding to Barangay Bugarin which is a cluster oh houses in the middle of some hills and trees with the windmills from a distance of about 7-8 kilometers.
Retracing back to the right trail for more than one kilometer of ascent with the heat of the sun on top of our heads is very frustrating. But the race (or LSD) must go no matter what or whether I will be last in this race. There was no need to complain or “whine” as the Race Director was so apologetic when he showed to us the correct way. It was our first time to see the trunks of trees that were placed across the trail to indicate that we have to veer right to a steep descending trail with yellow ribbons on it. I hope there should be more signs leading to this point and within this sharp turn. Ron & I and the rest of the runners behind us were puzzled why we were led to trail that goes to the Finish Line. At this point, my Garmin Watch registered a distance of 8 miles (12 kilometers) to include our “lost moments” of about 2.5 kilometers!
It was time to be back in business. Once we reached the wide dirt road that leads to Bugarin, I took a 10-second rest under a tree, took one of my GU Gels, drank my water, and took some deep breaths while looking at the far distant Bugarin. I said to myself, this will be a mental game! I have to give a “trick” to my brain and finish this race! Think Positive!!!
It’s time to count my steps and strides and power walk on the ascending portions while trying to hydrate myself. It was a boring and repetitive mental game but I would gain distance. I just let my Inov8 Trailroc Trail Shoes and my legs work on their own. Drink water alternately from my water bottles and try to maintain my pace. Ron and I would joined by another runner, Xcel Halog who is also a runner from Subic and who happens to know my playground. The three of us would be together as we got nearer to the next Aid Station.
As soon as we reached the Aid Station, I removed my cap and my buff and placed them inside an ice chest filled with ice water. Ate some ice-cold packed fresh fruits and hydrated myself with water and bottled sweet drinks. A lady volunteer at the Aid Station asked me if I am the Bald Runner and I said, Yes! She told me that almost all the runners that passed on the said Aid Station were asking if I passed already at the said point. The lady could not answer them as she would reply to the runners that she does not know the Bald Runner. I just smiled at her as these runners were on a “panic mode” if I will be passing them or will be on their backs trying to catch them.
We left the Aid Station refreshed and we were still in a fighting mode! We finally reached the turn-around point in Bugarin and I ate some food and fruits. After refilling our bottles, we were back on the course and I mentally programmed myself not to stop for a long time in my rest breaks. I just hope my two other running companions will be able to cope up with my pace. We did not mind the hot and humid conditions of the day as the trail was exposed to the heat of the sun. We were focused to finish the race and try to do the best we can!
It was unnecessary to force my body to a faster pace as this race was treated as a long run. My strides are very short but quick which I am accustomed to in my daily training runs in my playground. I have to take care of my body and made sure that I did not have any encounter with any injury along the way. I always think to relax my body while running and let my gluteus muscles do their work in the ascending parts of the route.
My nutrition played a key role on this part of the route despite the high temperature of the day. I mixed two GU Gel Packs in my water-filled hand-held bottle and filled my other bottle with water. I would drink my hydration from these two bottles, alternately and I was able to maintain my pace all the way to the finish line. The ice-cold fresh fruit packs served at the last Aid Station have also contributed in my nutrition needs to include my Stinger Waffle which I carried in my UD Pocket Belt.
As I got nearer to the Finish Line, along a descending paved road which is named as “Road Less Traveled”, I could sense that I was already running alone. Since I don’t have the habit of looking who is behind me, I kept on focusing on the road ahead and continuously being aware of what is happening to my body ( breathing, swinging of arms, lifting of my feet, correct body posture/running form, and relaxed pacing) making sure that there is no pain on my legs and my body.
The SMART people gave me a cold water to douse my head and a runner ahead of me offered a cold cola drinks from a convenience store along the road which I declined. I stopped when I saw a water coming out from a pipe and I slowed down thereafter to allow the said runner (from the store) to pass me on the last kilometer of the race. The runner even asked me to have a “selfie” with him as I allowed him to do so. From there, I told him to finish the race ahead of me.
I finished the race in 6:54+ hours with a smiling face!
Congratulations to Dabobong Delos Angeles and his MGM Team for organizing this event. Definitely, I will be back next year to improve my time in this event.