History of the Race
Last January of this year, I was invited by the Zamboanga Runners Club (ZRC) to conduct a Running Lecture and Clinic to its members in Zamboanga City During my stay in the city, Derick Rhodz, one of the ultra runners in this Club, invited me for a short run in his “playground” which is basically on the mountain range just north of the City Proper (Pasonanca Park and beyond). It was an “out and back” route with a distance of 7 kilometers but I was impressed with the scenery of the City Proper, the Santa Cruz Islands, the sea and the rest of the mountain once I reached the first peak of the route. For the said short distance, my GPS watch registered a total elevation gain of 1,600+ feet and I was impressed. I suggested to Derick and the rest of the ZRC members that they should conduct an ultra running event in those mountain range that will showcase the City as an ultra running destination. I gave them the challenge and after seven months, the race event became a reality. And I prepared myself to join this race.
The Race Briefing was conducted with a Dinner the day before the race at the Starting Area—-Palmeras De Zamboanga Hotel. It was attended by runners coming from Metro Manila/Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao with a total of 63 registered runners. As presented in the Race Briefing, the route is an “out and back” with a mixed concrete and wide “dirt and rocky” road that goes up to the mountain and its ridges. There are directional signs in key intersections and turning points and there is no way that any runner would be lost along the way as most of these points are manned by Marshals. There are five (5) Aid Stations where four (4) them would be used or passed by the runners on their way back to the Finish Line. In a span of 50 kilometers, one will be “serviced” or supported by a total of nine (9) Aid Stations. These Aid Stations will be manned by some of the members of the ZRC and their friends who served as volunteers for the event. The Finish Area is the same as the Start Area and it was a big comfort for the runners who came from other provinces who stayed in the said hotel. If a runner is not a local in the place, there was no problem with regards to accommodation, transport to the start/finish area, and other amenities that a runner needs before and after the race.
As announced, the Assembly Time was at 4:00 AM and the parking area of the hotel was already full of runners and vehicles of the volunteers. It was only at 4:30 AM when I came out of my room to proceed to the Starting Area. There was already excitement among the runners and more photo-ops were taken by the Running Photographers who came all the way from Manila to render pictorial coverage of the whole event and to all the runners. Running Photographers had been posting all their pictures for FREE at their Facebook Page.
After a Prayer for the event and singing of the National Anthem, the President of the ZRC made the countdown from 10 to GO! and we were off at exactly 5:00 AM of Sunday, September 20, 2015. As soon as the runners left the Starting Line, I started to walk briskly and then after about 15 meters, I started to jog and made my warm-up run. I had a chance to jog with Evan Lu aka “Smiley Foods” of Cotabato City but he decided to stop and walked briskly. I finally caught up with a group of five lady runners and I was able to run with them for the next kilometer. It was a paved and flat road on the first 1.5 kilometers and we had an easy pace. It was still dark but the street lights were able to illuminate the road and there was no problem of being tripped on the road.
On the start of the ascent (after 1.5 kilometers), only one lady runner out of the five remained to be running with me, pacing with me on my brisk walking, power hiking and jogging on the winding ascending road towards the first peak of the route. The lady runner happens to be a PNP Lady Officer and she was very consistent in her pace. After one hour and ten minutes, we were able to reach Aid Station #1 (AS 1) which is located in front of the Dulian Elementary School in Barangay Dulian, Zamboanga City. When I checked on my GPS Watch, the distance had already registered a total elevation gain of 1,600+ feet. I was impressed on the drinks and foods available at the Aid Station, as it is well-stocked and full of crushed ice and local rice delicacies (suman & biko). I drank one 12-oz bottle of ice cold water and ate one piece of biko and immediately left the Aid Station.
From the AS 1, it was a brief descent for about 200 meters and then it was another start of an ascending part of the route which has a distance of 3 kilometers of mixed paved road and dirt road until I reached the 2nd Aid Station in Sitio Carlos. The Aid Station is also well-stocked with food and cold drinks. Again, I asked from the volunteers one bottle of ice cold water and immediately left the Aid Station. After coming out of the Aid Station, it was the start of a single-track trail which has some mud and flowing stream of water. Although it was a short distance I made sure I would be deliberate in my footing as I was using my Hoka One One Huaka which has a sole without lugs. The descending road led us to the bottom side of one hill which has a stream of water and the next part would be a long ascending trail where the peak is manned by a combined forces of PNP and Philippine Marines. From the position of the military personnel, it was again a descending road but it was a brief one as we were faced again with steep ascending road full of rocks. My footing again would be deliberate as one could be easily tripped by the protruding rocks. As I got higher in elevation, I was able to meet the first two runners (lead pack) who just came from AS 4. Even if the trail was full of rocks, the trail was covered with tall trees and we were all running inside a forest. This is the coolest part of the route as one could feel the fresh air around.
As I got higher and nearer to the AS 4, I would meet the faster runners which just had their turn-around thereat. At this point, I started to count the number of runners that I would meet before reaching AS 4 to find out what is my ranking in the race on the first 20K. Those rocks on the trail slowed me down on the descending parts of the trail as I did not want to take the risk of being tripped and hurt which may cause some delay or stops along the way. As I got a few meters nearer to AS 4, I was able to count 30 runners with one runner in front of me. I calculated that I could be the #32 runner to have arrived at AS 4.
The AS 4 is located in Zambales Elementary School in Sito Zambales and again, it was well-stocked with foods to include fresh fruits. I asked for some bites of ice cold watermelon and fresh bananas. I made a refill of Gatorade to my Simple Hydration Bottle after consuming my first bottle of fluid on the first 20K. I ate one biko (rice cake) before leaving the Aid Station. I was given a bracelet by the Marshal to indicate that I reached the first turn-around point.
From the Km #20 turn-around, I was simply retracing the road that I’ve taken in going to AS 4. Lots of long ascending and descending parts of the route but my Race Strategy would be simple and repetitive——power hike on the steep ascents; try to jog on gradual inclines; run along the flat and descending portions; and be consistent on my cadence while running or hiking. As I reached the peak where the soldiers are located, one of the Philippine Marines offered a fresh coconut water and I signaled him that I would like to drink from the fruit. I took a few sips of the coconut water and it was sweet, cold and refreshing. After descent and ascent along a single track trail, I was already getting nearer to AS 3. At AS 3, I asked for a bottle of ice cold water and one boiled banana. I talked to the Volunteer of the Aid Station who happens to be Dra. Maya Lim who was the Past President of the ZRC. After ingesting the boiled banana, I immediately left the Aid Station as I was hoping I could finish the race in 7 hours.
After about 500 meters from AS 3/Km #27, the Lady Runner who was pacing and slightly ahead of me suddenly stopped and told me that she is starting to have muscle cramps on her legs. I told her to do some stretching exercises on the affected area; drink some water; and keep on moving with slower pace. I passed her and maintained my pace. After running for about 2 kilometers, I was able to pass two runners before I entered the route going to what the locals call as the “Gulod De Medyo”. I was met by two marshals who were manning an intersection and they mentioned to me that I should turn left even if could still see the tarpaulin marker that has a green arrow pointing towards the left direction. The marshals were smiling at me as if they were trying to send me a message of what to expect on that road.
Unknowingly, this intersection was the start of the “Gulod De Medyo”, a 2.5- Kilometer distance which is purely an “assault”/very steep winding road towards another peak of a hill/mountain. At this point, I started to feel some cramps on my inner parts of my upper legs and groin area which caused my power hike speed to be slower. I alternately mixed walking forward and walking backwards towards the higher part of the road. This technique caused my cramping to disappear but the heat of the sun would force me to breath harder as I went up to the peak. This is the most brutal part of the course and I am sure that all the runners had to be forced to walk on this portion. A member of the Running Photographers suddenly came out of the bushes on the side of the road as I was on the steepest part of the hill and started to aim his camera on me. Instead of showing pain and heat exhaustion on my face, I tried very hard to smile for the camera!
Finally, I was able to reach AS 2 and the volunteers were very kind and helpful to give me what I needed. I ate a piece of fresh banana and refilled my bottle with water after I drank one 12-oz bottle of ice cold water. Somebody went after me after I left the Aid Station just to give me the “bracelet” to show that I dropped by/passed the said Aid Station. I had to turn right to an intersection and I was wondering where the road would lead me. It was a slight descending road towards the last turn-around point which is located to a lower elevation. I was already wondering on how will be running at this portion of the route in going to the Finish Line as it was about noontime already while the road was uphill. The heat of the sun was showing its fiercest glow to all the runners as most of the roads are not covered with tall trees anymore. I would continue to hydrate myself as I ran towards the turn-around point. One of the runners that I met along the way who happens to be one of the Officers of the Philippine Army’s unit assigned in the area offered a 1/2 bottle of Gatorade Drinks and I gladly received it from him. This is the beauty of ultra marathon where each of the runners would take each other to finish the race in view of the challenges the course would offer.
The 6-kilometer distance is mostly downhill that I had to maintain my momentum in running until I reached AS 5 at Barangay Tumanday (in front of the Chapel). The Aid Station is another well-stocked “pit stop” with lots of ice cold drinks and food. The volunteers offered me a hotdog sandwich which I accepted and ingested as fast as I could with some Gatorade drinks. In about 2-3 minutes, I was already back on the road and asked the remaining runners at the Aid Station to run with me. Two runners were immediately on their feet behind me and for the next kilometers, we were practically pacing each other from a distance. We had to alternately power hike and jog for the next 6 kilometers and stopping by a mini-Aid Station for some cold water to douse our heads and bodies.
As soon as we reached the highest peak before the finish line, it was all downhill for the next 7 kilometers towards the finish line. It seemed to be easy running with the gravity of the body but the steepness of the road gave more stress to my quadriceps, knees, and feet due a heavier of pounding on the paved road. The pain on my legs plus the heat of the sun had made most of the runners to basically “crawl” towards the Finish Line. It was on the last 7 kilometers that one have to test his/her mental toughness to be able to finish the race. The heat that was felt by my body was coming from the sun above and the hot paved road. It was time to hydrate more at the last Aid Station and refill my bottles with the hope that my fluids will last up to the Finish Line.
At about 4 kilometers from the Finish Line, I saw a runner in front of me who was sitting on the road and asked him if he is alright or if he needs any help. The runner replied that he is okey and he was seen trying to change his shoes to a pair of sandals with straps. The runner behind me who is also from Manila asked also the runner if he needs any help but the runner simply said that he is ok and about to continue his run. This is another experience that promotes the beauty and the essence of ultra running where every runner looks for the welfare and condition of each runner who are sitting or lying on the side of the road.
Finally, I was on the last 200 meters before the entrance gate of the Hotel and I was hoping that the runner behind me would pass or get nearer to me for us to finish together. I guess, the runner behind me gave me the “courtesy” to finish and cross the finish line alone.
There were cheers and shouts of surprise when I entered the gate of the Hotel. The people at the Finish Line were informed that I was still on the last 4 kilometers of the route and they did not expect me to reach the Finish Line that fast. So, I was ranked as Finisher #17 out of the 62 Finishers with a time of 8:34:10 hours. I could be the oldest runner in this event but I showed to the younger runners that a Senior Citizen could outrun and outpace them.
Derick Rhodz and Oliver Tan, President of ZRC immediately awarded me my Finisher’s Medal and Shirt. The famous “Knickerbocker” of the Hotel was given to me as the best award for a tired ultra runner. I stayed for about one hour cheering for the incoming runners and talking to the lead pack about our experiences in the race before I finally went to my room for the much-needed shower and sleep.
Awarding of Trophies to the Podium Finishers were done after the last runner crossed the Finish Line with a Buffet Dinner served with Crispy Lechon Zamboanga Style and Ice Cold Beer!
Assessment of the Race
This is the most organized race where all the runners are well-supported in terms of logistics during the race and hospitality of the ZRC members before and after the race. The excellence in conducting the event is a reflection of the cooperation and unity among the Officers and members of the ZRC. Even if this event is dedicated to an advocacy, I would sense and feel that financial profit is far from the minds of the Race Organizer as the primary goal/objective of this event. This is an event that is a showcase of how peaceful Zamboanga City is. This is how an “old school” ultra running event should be organized and implemented. I have the impression that this race will continue through the years.
Congratulations to the Officers, Members of the Zamboanga Runners Club and Volunteers/Marshals of the Race for an excellent conduct of the race. For sure, I will be back for the next edition of this race whether it will a 100K or 50K distance.
My personal salute to all of you and the “Pioneers” of this Ultra Running Event!
(Note: Pictures Courtesy Of Running Photographers)