As I was browsing on my past posts/stories in this blog yesterday, I came across with this “insight” which I have written on February 14, 2014 (Valentine’s Day) and never was able to publish it in this blog. I was wondering what could be the reason why I was not able to post this as this post answers the BIG “WHY” I have been to ultramarathon and thus, creating an iconic Ultramarathon Event in the country which is the “Bataan Death March 102K Ultramarathon Race”. And this is my insight as an ultra marathoner (road and trail) and a Race Director and Organizer of Ultra Running Events which up to now is still true and applicable up to the present.
It is almost SIX years when I started to float the idea of conducting an ultra marathon race in the country and in this year of 2014, it will be the 6th edition of the Bataan Death March 102K Ultra Marathon Race. On hindsight, I have been thinking why I organized this kind of road running event and slowly made it as something to be proud of among runners in the country.
It all started when I saw a website of a marathon event that is named after the Bataan Death March which is being held in the desert of White Sands, New Mexico, USA. I saw this website when I was still in the active service in 1999. After a year, I implemented the same concept of the race among the units of the Philippine Army and made it as a Team Competition to include the US Army & Marines contingent based in the country. Although the race covered only 25 kilometers of the Bataan Death March Route, it became a success even if we did not ask for any Registration Fees from the Team Participants. It was simply sponsored by the Philippine Army, through my Office as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training and Education, G-8. In simple terms, I was the Chief Trainor & Educator of the Philippine Army nationwide!
If I can still remember it right, I only gave Trophies to the Top Three Teams and there were NO Finisher’s Medals and Finisher’s T-Shirts. Our office and my staff gave packed lunch to all the participants and we parted ways as happy competitors and runners. In the same manner, our civilian guest runners were just treated with the said packed lunch at the finish area.
Sadly, when I got transferred to Mindanao for a Combat Commander position, my BDM efforts just died and forgotten.
Fast Forward. Retirement and the Freedom to Run in any place and time of the day gave me a more focused attention to the Ultra Races that I’ve organized in the past. Of course, my being a Retired Major General of the Armed Services had also helped me in my coordination with the AFP, PNP, and the Local Governments. And whenever any of my ultra races is being concluded with all the finishers enjoying their triumph and victory, I always get a heart-warming feedback of “Congratulations For a Successful Event!” from the other runners, friends from Facebook, and from the thousands of followers of my blog.
It is a very humbling feeling when I get such feedback and it is already enough “compensation” for the preparation, coordination, risk, sleepless and tiring moments just to be able to monitor the safety of the runners and the progress of the race.
Personally, success to me in every race, is NOT in the number of registered runners. I would be happier if I have lesser in the number of runners whom I personally know and who would stick to follow my Race’s Rules & Regulations. Furthermore, I would be happiest when I hear stories among my runners on how they help each other in order to finish the race. These ultra runners whom I usually call “the usual suspects” are aware that the registration fee that they have paid to join the event is NOT enough to pay for my “Talent Fee” for seeing to it that they are safe and secured during the event.
But, most of the reasons for a Successful Event is attributed to the Competing Runner himself/herself. In ultra races, a runner can not “fake’ his performance backed with lackluster training and preparation. It takes a lot of pounding on the ground, discipline, determination, positive attitude, and critical problem solving if an ultra runner wants a decent finish in a race without any injury or “issues”. So, if a runner registers a Course Record Time for the event, it becomes a motivation for the others to work harder in their next training & preparation. Success for a runner is being able to overcome one’s inner demons, pain , suffering, and other personal challenges!
Success does not mean profit or money that a Race Organizer would earn from each event. Since I am not being backed up or sponsored by any Corporate Entity, a runner’s registration fee would be spent for the Podium Finisher’s Trophies, Finisher’s Medals, Finisher’s Shirts, Certificates, Race Bibs, Tarpaulins, Payment For Marshals & Event’s Staff, Ambulance/Medical Team Services, Planning & Coordination, Timing Services, Food For Runners at the Finish Line, and Travel Expenses. Sad to say, I am not being paid for being the Race Director!
To tell you the truth, I am getting richer from my “tax-free” monthly pension and “tax-free” interests of my investments and rentals to my properties. Even without organizing or directing ultra races, I will be happy and contended sitting on my rocking chair while listening my music from my Bose Sound System and scrolling/reading your Facebook status on my MacBook Air and Apple iPhone!
Success, therefore, to me in races is developing friendships and maintaining those friendship so that in every race, a runner would learn something for him/her to be a better person. Better would mean stronger, healthier, more matured, more friendly, and have a better outlook in life.
The highest level of success is when ones experience as a Runner and Race Director/Organizer is being shared to others and such experience becomes an inspiration to emulate. And this blog has that main objective to share my experience to everybody.
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and have the motivation to challenge yourself to run and adhere the outdoors for the greater good of a healthy lifestyle. Please subscribe to this blog for more updates and stories. Thank you!
It was accidental when I saw a post on Facebook of a certain runner with a quotation from a person with the name “Stu Mittleman“ that intrigued and caught my attention while I was drinking my hot coffee in one of the mornings last week. I immediately “googled” the name of Stu Mittleman and I was shocked to find out his feats and accomplishments in the world of Ultrarunning or Ultra Marathon.
During his popularity in Ultra Marathon, he set world records in single stage and multi-day running events. He even set a Official Record in Running Across America during his days. But what got my focus and interest in him is his book which he had written and entitled: “Slow Burn: Burn Fat By Exercising Slower”. I immediately browsed on Amazon about the availability of the said book and after reading its Sample feature, I bought its Kindle Edition for $6.99 and read every chapter of the book.
Since last week, I have been applying his training principle and techniques in my Long Runs, Tempo Runs, and Recovery Runs. His training principle is anchored on ones Heart Rate as expressed in Beats Per Minute (bpm). His Upper Limit of Heart Rate is computed as 220-Age X 0.85 and the Lower Limit of Heart Rate is computed as 220-Age X 0.70. Your Easy/Recovery Runs should be below your Lower Limit of HR; Endurance Runs should be in between the Lower and Higher Limits; and Speed/Interval/Anaerobic Runs should be above your Upper Limit.
At my age of 68, my Upper Limit is 130 bpm and my Lower Limit is 107 bpm. However, I have adjusted my Lower Limit to 112 bpm and my Upper Limit to 125 bpm after I have been following this principle for the duration of one week. For a typical one hour running workout, I would jog for the first 20 minutes within my Lower Limit of bpm; next 20 minutes is done in between my Lower and Upper Limits of bpm; and the last 20 minutes will be within the Lower Limit of bpm. One can adjust the period of time for each phase of the workout by shortening the first and last 20 minutes to come up with a longer duration for the 2nd phase of workout.
As a result by following this training principle and technique, my recovery in between my daily workouts were faster and my runs were more relaxing and comfortable. My breathing is easier, most specially, if I am running outside my backyard using my Buff as my mask. I could also focus more on listening to my body and have the pleasure of looking around my environment most specially when I am running along the highway.
On the nutrition side, I would start my runs without any fluid and food intake in the mornings and could last up to 2-3 hours without food intake and with regular intake of water every 15-20 minutes during the run. The fats stored in my body would be the source of my energy throughout the workout. However, once I finish my workout, I would immediately have my food consisting of lesser carbohydrates but more on protein and fats. I think my waist size had reduced from Size 29 to Size 28 because of diligently following Stu’s training principle/technique!
I am highly recommending this book for those who love and passionate on ultramarathon races and timed/endurance events. This is also good for those who would like to start in walking, jogging, and running to improve one’s health and immune system.
Thank you for reading and please subscribe to this blog for more stories and updates!
After finishing the 2020 Borneo Ultra Trail Marathon (BUTM) 106K Race in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia on March 15, 2020, the Philippines was put on strict Lockdown due to Covid-19 upon my arrival in Manila in the early morning of March 17, 2020. From the Manila International Airport, I immediately went directly to my Playground, driving my personal vehicle, in the Province of Bataan which is 110 kilometers away northwest of Metro Manila. This is the place where I spent those “Lockdown” period/days as imposed by the Government due to the pandemic brought about by Covid-19.
Having surrounded with hills and mountains in my Playground and with a “Backyard Loop” once I step out of the door of the house, I maintained my daily training with the hope that the races where I registered would still be held as scheduled.
A new ultra trail race of KOTM (King of the Mountains) series in the Cordillera Region, Pulag 100K Ultra Trail Race, would be in its first edition on April 18-19, 2020, was supposed to be my next race for the year. But because of the prevailing situation in the country, the Race Director deemed it to be cancelled for safety reasons. Despite this situation, I did a “virtual run” on the date of the event in my Backyard Loop where I finished 50K in 11 hours and some minutes!
For the month of May, I was supposed to go to California, USA and join the 2020 Western States 100-Mile Memorial Day Training Runs for the said weekend. I made already my accommodation reservation and I was glad I was not charged for it. Also, I was glad that my travel reservations were not scheduled before the Lockdown was imposed.
By the end of this June, I was supposed to go to Europe as I was accepted in a lottery to join the 2020 Mont Blanc Du Marathon 42K Race in Chamonix, France but it was cancelled by the Race Organizer/s. I guess, I opted to have my registration on a “roll-over” for the 2021 edition.
Before the end of May, I was able to request for the refund of my registration fee for the Eiger Ultra Trail Race 51K as the Race Organizers announced on the earlier part of May that this event is also cancelled. It was supposed to be my second time to visit the Jungfrau-Interlaken-Grindelwald Region in Switzerland.
So far, those are the four Trail Races/Events which are cancelled due to the Covid-19 situation. I was fortunate that I did not plan ahead and spend some money in advance for my travel arrangements.
The following were the reasons why I joined this trail race: (1) This race is my first trail running event for the Season 2020 and my second trail running event after I renewed my subscription as a CTS athlete since the middle of November last year; (2) This is supposed to be a part of my training in preparation for my 2020 TransLantau 50K participation in Hong Kong as my last Long Run (whether I finish the race or not); and lastly, (3) To confirm and validate my training which was given as a part of my weekly workout—the use of weighted backpack for hiking for at least once a week.
Since the RD of the event is a friend of mine, I sent him a message of my intention of joining the race being the first edition of this event. He was glad that I would be attending this race. In the later days before the race, I asked him of the directions going to the venue as I am not familiar of the other side (eastern) of Itogon, Benguet. Two days before the event, I was able to trace the route going to venue, coming from Baguio City. With the help of a local living in Sitio Dalupirip and working as the Municipal Nurse of Itogon, Benguet, she guided me all the way to the end of the cemented road leading to the populated area of the Sitio. Having seen the overall location of the event, I knew already that the terrain will be challenging as well as the prevailing weather in the area. The place is surrounded with higher mountains and not so much of vegetations on the mountains we will be running, I expect that we will be fighting with the so-called “canyon heat” while we will be running under the heat of the sun.
From The Podium Hotel where I usually stay in Baguio City, it took me at least One Hour drive to Dalupirip, arriving at 2:30 AM of Sunday (Race Day). From the end of the paved road up to the Start/Finish venue (Covered Court), it is a good one-kilometer distance, crossing the river on a cable suspension bridge which is only good for motorcycles and pedestrians with a wide cemented footpath leading to the Covered Court surrounded with rice fields.
After I registered and checked-in with the RD and staff, I went back to my vehicle to prepare my things. At 3:30 AM, I was back at the Covered Court just in time for the start of the briefing by the RD.
Race Proper/First Loop
The race started at exactly 4:00 AM and it was still dark and my new Neo Headlamp was on. I positioned myself at the back of the pack, as usual, with the thought to just follow the runner in front of me. The plan was to enjoy the route/event; pass as many as runners along the route and finish within the prescribed cut-off time of 12 hours. On thefirst kilometer we passed by in-between houses within the Sitio of Dalupirip along a cemented pathway until we reached the road that leads to the Starting Area from the place where I parked my vehicle. We turned right into a paved path and the ascent started and the runners formed a “Conga Line”, a single-file formation going up to the mountain. I think I was able to pass 3 runners at this section and then suddenly the runners in front of me stopped, trying to look for ribbons/markers. The runners argued if we were in the right track or not and some of us “backtracked” to find the last ribbon along the route. At this point, we heard shouts from the Marshals below us and loud sounds from horns of motorcycles indicating that we were in a wrong directions. We were advised to return to the Start Line and follow the proper route on the first 1-2 kilometers as advised by the RD. As I passed the Starting Line (again!), the RD advised me and the other runners that the cut-off time will be 13 hours due to the delay we encountered. As I glanced my watch, almost40 minutes had elapsed already and I was confident that I could finish this race in less than the new cut-off time.
I was joined by a runner who knows the route and we were together for the first two kilometers until I went ahead of him. Since it was still dark, I hiked slowly in between rice fields until I reached a trail that ascends towards the first mountain of the course. The trail was very steep that I was forced to use my trekking poles. I just contented myself to just follow the lights in front of me and at the middle of the steep trail to the peak of the mountain, I started to pass more runners who went ahead of me. Through consistency and patience in steady hiking with the aid of my trekking poles, I was able to reach the peak of the mountain and it was already early in the morning as the sun rises in the east. I was amazed by the beauty of the mountains around and the river that flows at the feet of the mountains. It was a relief to hike and run on the flatter portions of the mountain until I reached the first Aid Station. I refilled my water bottles and ate a bite of sandwich and I was joined by two runners, Elle Alvarez and a guy, in the said Aid Station. Loiue Ganayan told me that I am ranked #30 runner to reach the said Aid Station. I left the Aid Station ahead of the two runners and I observed that the trail follows a water canal until I descended in the said mountain. However, in one of steep descents, Elle Alvarez was behind me calling me “General” and asked if she can pass me so that she can have some time to pee at the bottom of the mountain. It was the last time I saw her. In about one hour from the Ambasa Aid Station (Km 10), I was already on my way back to the starting area to complete the first loop/mountain which is called Mt Marikit.
I think I was ahead of more than one hour with the prescribed cut-off time at this point. At the Dalupirip AS/Start/Finish area (Km 17), I refilled my hydration bottles and immediately left the area. I started to hike and run as the first 2 kilometers was flat until I reached a long hanging cable bridge. I brought out my sunglasses from my pack as I could feel that the sunlight was getting brighter and the air was becoming warmer. My friend Bong Bernadez was at the cable bridge as he was taking pictures to all the runners crossing the said bridge.
The road was still concrete as I followed the path in between rice fields and some populated areas along the route. As I left the populated area and the rice fields, I just followed a concrete road until I reached another end of a long cable bridge on the side of Dalupirip which looks very new and more modern and I was at the Tabu Aid Station. I refilled my hydration bottles, drank a glass of Coke,and ate two slices of rice cake before leaving the place. After crossing the cable bridge, the route became a wide dirt road which have slight ups and downs and at this point I was following a lady runner who was steadily hiking with her trekking poles. After two kilometers, the ascent was continuous and started to feel the heat in the said place. It was good there were small pipes and strips of bamboo connected to the side of the mountain where potable water was flowing. I took some time to douse my head with the cold water but after a few meters of hike and run, I would feel again the heat on my body.
Finally, I reached the Tivang Water Station (Km 28). I stopped, refilled my bottles with water, and ordered some Coke, Eggs,and Boiled Banana from the local peddlers thereat. I guess, I took a lot of time for the first time to rest and eat at this point. I took some time to rest andhave stayed here for almost 25 minutes. With enough water, I left Tivang and slowly passed some runners ahead of me. It was a relentless 3-kilometer distance of climbing from Tivang to the Peak of Mt Pigingan (Km 31). My trekking poles were helpful at this point. The Peak of Mt Pigingan looks like an “arrowhead” that it took me 10 minutes to reach it from the its base which has only a distance of 10-15 meters.
To give justice for all the hardship, pain and heat to reach the Peak of Mt Pigingan, I asked the Marshal to take a picture of me with the marker as the background. I had a chance also to have a picture of Bob/Robert, a British trail runner, who arrived ahead of me in the said peak. I did not take a few more minutes to stay in the place and slowly made my way down to the base of the peak. As I moved going down from the mountain, I met a lot of runners who were asking me how far was the peak. I have to answer them through some estimates which was nearer in distance than the real thing. I really did not want them to be frustratedif I told them the truth.
Finally, I reached Tivang Water Station (Km 34) and I ordered the same food that I have eaten before I went out towards the peak of Mt Pigingan. I stayed here for another almost 25 minutes and brought with two pieces of Ice Candy. I thought we were going to follow the route for the 32K runners from Tivang but only to find out that we have another mountain peak to reach which is Bantic (Km 37). It is another relentless uphill climb for 3 kilometers under the heat of the sun. The Ice Candies I had with me were very comforting but with the steepness of the climb, it gave more toll to my tired knees and legs. But through patience and lots of 10-seconds rests along the exposed route, I was able to reach the peak and hoped to have a faster downhill trek towards the next Aid Station.
I guess, I was wrong! The winding single track downhill route was so tricky and steep that I could not increase my speed at this point. Some portions were covered with dried leaves and some have loose tiny rocks which would cause my trail shoes to slide even if they have aggressive studs on their soles. The descent is another 3-kilometer distance which most of the sections are very steep. At this point, I was thinking that I could no longer reach the Tabu Bridge Aid Station within the cut-off time of 12 hours. As I reached the base of the mountain at the Langag Water Station (Km 40), I refilled my hydration bottles and immediately left the said AS. I finally crossed the bridge and reached Tabu Aid Station (Km 42) with barely 2 minutes before the cut-off time.
At the Tabu Aid Station, I entertained the idea of eating a glass of Halo-Halo (concoction of sweet fruits, milk, sugar, and crushed ice) but after eating it, I started to have an “acid reflux” (aka throwing up the fluids and foods I have ingested in the said Aid Station). The marshals and some of the runners offered help by giving me some medications and ginger tea to ease my stomach problem. I was asked by the Marshal if I would declare myself as DNF at the said AS since I have only 35 minutes to spare before the cut-off time of 13 hours but I replied that I would try my luck to just run and hike up to the Finish Line.
Five kilometers in 35 minutes? In the end, I was able to cover a distance of 4 kilometers only when my watch registered a time of 13 hours. After this, I just simply hiked until I reached the Finish Line. I found out later at the Finish Line from the RD that there were more than 20 runners behind me who were declared as DNF at the Tabu Aid Station.
Post Race Assessment
I am still happy that I was able to finish the race even if my time was longer than the prescribed cut-off time of 13 hours. My training using my “weighted backpack” gave me confidence to hike relentlessly on steep uphill climbs. The heat experience I got from this race was just part of my training for my future races but I need more of these type of races for me to adjust to hotter environment. I need to fix my problem on the occurrence of “acid reflux” during my ultra races and better learn how my body would prevent this from happening. I stayed and spent so much time at the Tivang Aid Stations (going to the peak and back) and at the Tabu Aid Station on my way to the Finish Line. Lastly, in KOTM races, expect the published distance to have an additional bonus distance of either 1-2 kilometers.
Overall, I am happy with my performance in this race.
This is the most sensitive part of my story about Thomas participation in the 2020 Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge. Most of the Local Runners who are joining International Running Events never post or mention how much they have spent to join a particular event. To give justice to what Thomas had accomplished in this year’s HK4TUC event, it is proper for the Team to be transparent with our finances with the following reasons: (1) to provide future participants the information on the financial aspect of the said event for planning and preparation purposes; (2) to account for everything that the Team had spent before, during , and after the event; (3) to give the impression to my readers that the Team was NOT sponsored by any individual, corporate brand, or the government, and as such, the whole Team did its share to contribute on this matter with the money coming from our pockets. We did not ask for funds from the other runners or conducted any fund raising activities in relation to Thomas attendance or participation in this event.
Amount Of Pocket Money:
At the exchange rate of P 7.00 per HK$ 1.00, I bought the equivalent of P 50,000.00 as the Support Team’s “baon” for the duration of our stay in Hong Kong. However, I still have an amount of 1,000.00 US Dollars as a “reserve” cash to be converted to HK Dollars just in case we will be lacking with our financial resources. My LANBANK Debit Cards will be our “Last Line Of Defense” for any Contingency.
Coming from Thomas’ pocket, on the other hand, he bought HK Dollars at the Airport’s Exchange Facility amounting to P 50,000.00.
Cathay Pacific Fares:
Thomas paid his own RT Fare amounting to P 9,500.00 which included the usual Travel Tax. I paid my RT Fare with two others who composed the Team as members of Thomas Support Team. It costs me P 28,500.00 (Travel Tax included) for three passengers. Our Taxi Fares and Expenses for our Early Breakfast at the Terminal 3, NAIA can be estimated to about P 2,000, of which I paid for it. An additional cost of “Pasalubong” of about P 1,500 was paid in one of the Souvenir Shops at Terminal 3 as our gift to the RD’s wife, being a close friend since I started blogging. This brings to a total of P 41,500.00 for the Team Thomas expenses before leaving Manila.
Upon Arrival @ Hong Kong Airport
Thomas bought a Local Sim Card for almost HK$ 200 and loaded HK$ 300 into his Octopus Card. The money he used came from his personal fund. I bought a Local SIM Card on my own for the same price (HK$ 200) with that of Thomas, and loaded HK$200 into my Octopus Card and loaded HK$100 to each of the two members of the Support Team.
Total Expenses Upon Arrival:
Chari Sevilla, a Filipino working in Hong Kong, offered her Apartment for the Team Thomas as a place to stay during the duration of the Event. This was a big savings for the Team, instead, of paying for our accommodation in the hotel where we usually stay during our visits in Hongkong. (Note: A “savings” for us estimated to be the equivalent to P 20,000.00)
Estimated Expenses For Our Two-Day Recon Runs (Transportation Fares Were Deducted From Our Octopus Cards):
The following estimated expenses for our Food and Drinks along the Trails (MacLehose & Wilson) and in Sai Kung Town.
Initial Groceries/Food For The Team Expenses (To include Logistics for the Event): HK$2,000.00
Additional Expenses For Groceries/Food To Be Cooked During The Duration Of Our Stay In Hongkong: HK$2,000.00
Additional Expenses For Food Spent In Restaurants: HK$1,000.00
Additional Loads To Our Octopus Cards: HK$ 500.00
Total Transportation Expenses During The Event: TAXI Fares To Ferry Thomas From One Trail To Another & TAXI Fares In Going Home To Chari’s Apartment:
Team Thomas was treated to a Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner & CarboLoading Party for Thomas the night before the event by the sister and nephew of Thomas who came all the way from Canada to cheer for Thomas.
Before we left to the Hong Kong Airport on our way back to Manila, Team Thomas was treated to a lunch by the Family of Jurg, Irene, and Ida Montemayor as a celebration for Thomas “finish” in the 2020 HK4TUC.
The amount of P 50,000.00 that I exchanged for HK$ currency was all gone except for the remaining HK currency in the picture. To include our RT Tickets and other miscellaneous expenses spent in Manila and Hong Kong, I spent a total of P 100,000.00
I am not privy to what happened to the P 50,000.00 that Thomas had exchanged to HK Dollars at the NAIA before leaving Manila but I would guess/estimate that he was able to spend 2/3 of the said amount for his expenses in connection with his participation in the said event.
With this detailed accounting of our expenses, we will be able to plan and prepare for the next year’s event. Thanks to Chari for her hospitality in allowing us to stay in her Apartment with the hope that she will offer again her place for the Team in next year’s edition and for those emergency financial needs in support to Thomas success in this event. Thanks also to Team PAU for cooking the food for Thomas; preparing and packing the logistics/needs for each Leg of the event and for washing the dirty clothes of Thomas.
My personal thanks go to Jurg, Irene and Ida Montemayor, the Original Team Thomas Support, for their unwavering support and concern to Thomas’ welfare throughout the event. Jurg’s presence in Lantau to cheer and wait for the finish of Thomas means a lot to the Team. Thank you also to the sister of Thomas, Marina and nephew John for being with Thomas during the event.
Let me also take this opportunity to thank Tha Na and Josephine Austria for their company and support (food & drinks) at the Stanley Gap Road as we waited for the arrival of Thomas at the end of the Wilson Trail. Thank you also to Christian Viloria, an OFW in Hong Kong and a fast/strong trail runner, who prepared a lot of Filipino Food at the Shek O Road Bus Stop and for his support to Team Thomas.
There are still untold stories about our experience in terms of finances and logistics in supporting Thomas’ finish in this year’s Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge. The other half of the story is with Thomas. In due time, if time permits, I will be able to have more time talking to Thomas and relate his personal story in this blog.
The running kit of Thomas in last year’s (2019) HK4TUC did not change in this year’s edition except for his Hydration Vest and Shoes. Even for his nutrition and hydration, they had been the same but there are some things that we need to add.
Thomas decided not to use the Salomon S-Lab Sense 5-Liter Hydration Vest that he used in last year’s HK4TUC because it was already loose for him and wanted to use the one he always used in his trail and road ultras in the past which is the Mountain Hardwear Fuel 3-Liter Hydration Vest/Pack. If I remember right, I bought the same Hydration Vest three years ago at the Columbia Store in SM Megamall and it is still with me except that the zippers in the pockets are stuck and non-operational already. As I googled this item while writing this post, this particular model is no longer in the market and the brand had already stopped making them.
As compared to the Hydration Vests and Packs that the other runners used in this event, Thomas hydration pack/vest was very small in capacity but I was surprised that it was able to accommodate the Salomon Waterproof Jacket, his food, cellphone, a Windbreaker Jacket, Hydration bottles, handy water filtration unit, Headlights, and other miscellaneous things that Thomas needed in every trail leg. It is surprising to see the big back pocket with zipper could expand to accommodate everything. Since the hydration pack/vest has two mid-rib belts which are not stretchable, Thomas can tighten them to be always snugged on his body. Thomas did not use those Race Belts with pockets which is very popular among trail runners nowadays.
Thomas shirts during the event are our PAU Shirts By Bluprint (Imported Brand) but the Logo is printed locally. He used 3 PAU shirts (white, dark gray, & black) during the event and a shirt from Kalenji/Decathlon. He did not change his NIKE Running Shorts with PAU Logo Patch and RP Flag Patch throughout the event but he always change his underwear with the Decathlon’s Kalenji’s Under Shorts every time he starts a new trail leg. Throughout the event, he was consistently using the Injinji Socks and changed them every time he starts a new trail leg.
The day before the event, Rowell Campos brought us to Cam2Sports Store in Mongkok to buy a new pair of running shoes for Thomas. He was looking for an ALTRA Lone Peak 3.0 which he intends to use for the event. Thomas was lucky to find the remaining one pair of ALTRA Lone Peak 3.0 shoesavailable in the store which was ON SALE at 50% discount. This is the shoes that Thomas used for the 2 Trail Legs of the event (MacLehose & Wilson Trails). It was only in the Hong Kong and Lantau Trails that he used his old ALTRA Lone Peak 3.0 shoes. It was at the Hong Kong and Lantau Trails that Thomas started using his Compressport Compression Calf Sleeves. He did not use any shoe gaiters along the course.
As for his headlamp, Thomas was using a LedLenser Headlamp and another extra one which I could guess to be a regular Black Diamond Headlamp. He used his headlamp at the MacLehose, Wilson, and Hong Kong Trails. In his Lantau Trail, I gave him my Lupine Headlamp which he wore from the start until he reached the lighted portion of Mui Wo Road, near the Finish Line. The rechargeable battery was drained when Thomas gave it back to me. He could have used its High Beam which is 700 Lumens throughout his run/hike along the Lantau Trail. Thomas did not have any negative feedback on the use of his headlamps during those nights that he was on the trails.
As for his hydration needs, Thomas did not have any problem where to replenish his hydration needs, in terms of water or sports/cola drinks. He used his portable filtration unit in places where he can get water in streams in the mountains and in Public Comfort Rooms/Toilets’ faucets. He uses also his Octopus Card to get or buy what he wanted in those Vending Machines available in the vicinity of the Comfort Rooms in each Country Park Facility that he passes. There are also Free Source of Drinking Water which he observed as new additional structure within the vicinity of each Comfort Rooms/Toilets along the trail. And there are commercial establishments in the villages along the trail that Thomas can stop and order some hot food. Thomas can also stop to buy or order some solid foods in commercial establishments in the MTR Stations. There is always a 7-11 Store or Convenience Store in these MTR Stations. It is necessary that a runner in this race has some some Cash and Octopus Card with him during the event.
His food in his pack consisted of “Tikoy” (Rice Cake) from Bicol which we personally ordered for him, “Rice Cakes” (Chinese) from the 7-11 Store, Sky Flakes, Snickers, Yakult, Springs Gels, and Apples. All of these were packed inside the Hydration Pack of Thomas!
Thomas had been alternately using a Visor Cap (during day time) and a Running Cap (during nighttime) to cover his head. However, I have never seen him use any Buff/Neck Gaiter in all his runs in the past and in this event, to include last year’s HK4TUC.
Before he started the Lantau Trail, I gave him my GIRO Cycling Gloves which I know will give him warmth for his palms/fingers during the night and as he approaches the freezing winds of the Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak.
After the event, Thomas and I discussed the things that we should improve on and the things we should learn from his experience this year. He told me that he slowed down significantly at the Hong Kong Trail due drowsiness that brought him “hallucination” moments and the cold/freezing winds during the night. The strong, cold and freezing winds at the Lantau Trail had also slowed him down that he had to stop and take a nap, only to be awaken that he was already lying on the floor in one of the Pagodas/Rest Huts along the trail.
After a thorough discussion, I recommended him some solutions for his problems and we will use them in next year’s Thomas participation in the 10th edition of the HK4TUC.
Thomas Combisen: The First Local Pinoy To “Survive” @ 2020 Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC)
Thomas Combisen, the top ultrarunner of the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) finished as a “Survivor” in the 9th Edition of the Hongkong Four Trails Ultra Challenge, simply known as HK4TUC, with a time of 68:50 hours. This is his second time to join this race event where he declared himself as “retired” after running 228 kilometers on the third day in last year’s event. He missed his target time to board the Ferry Boat ride to Lantau Island for him to have the chance to finish the course in 72 hours for the last 70 kilometers of the event.
Hongkong Four Trails Ultra Challenge was created by Andre Blumberg, an accomplished ultrarunner who works as an Executive in one of the key Corporate Offices in Hongkong; a US Grand Slam of Ultrarunning “Eagle” Awardee; and a 2-time finisher of the famous and prestigious Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Race in the US. The rule of the event is to be able to finish the total distance of 298 kilometers covering the famous Four Trails of Hongkong starting with MacLehose Trail (100 Kilometers); Wilson Trail (78 Kilometers); Hong Kong Trail (50 Kilometers); and Lantau Trail (70 Kilometers) in the said order but with each trail to be ran on the reverse course. To make it more challenging, each runner is “self-support” while on the trail and the only time that he can be supported is when he finishes a trail or before he starts the next trail. Each runner can be supported and transported by their respective Support Team while they are in transit from one trail to another. There are no Marshals, No Medical Responders, No Aid Stations, and No Whining in this event. There is No Registration Fees for the Runners and No Awards for the Survivors and Finishers. A Runner is declared as a “Finisher” if he finishes the event within the cut-off time of 60 hours. However, if a runner finishes the course within the cut-off time of 72 hours, he is declared as “Survivor”. All of them are required to kiss the Mui Wo (Green) Mail Post in Lantau to declare that they have finished the event. And for those who could not make it, they are declared as “Retired”.
But for this year, Thomas has transformed to a stronger, faster, and smarter participant of this event. Determined to join again and improve his performance last year, he applied last July 2019 but he was placed in the Waiting List until he was finally accepted in October of the same year. Thomas focused on his training as he visited Hong Kong for a Recon Run in Lantau Island last August 2019 for two days. Due to his limited time to stay longer in Hong Kong because of his work in the Philippines and family to attend to, he decided to arrive earlier on the week of the event to review the places where he experienced “lost moments” that cost him a lot of hours of delay, most specially in the MacLehose and Wilson Trails.
Having an experience from his previous year’s participation, doing some “recon runs”, and correcting his past mistakes with his race strategy and nutrition, Thomas was determined to finish the event, whether he could be a “Finisher” or a “Survivor”. What is important is for him to finish the event within 72 hours.
Thirty-three (33) participants selected by the RD/RO coming from different countries throughout the world started the race at 9:00 AM January 25, 2020, the Lunar Chinese New Year’s Day, for the 9th edition of the event at the starting area for the MacLehose Trail. Two other Filipino runners were also with Thomas in this event as they applied and qualified to join this race. Thomas started the race at the back of the pack and we, his Support Team to include his close family members from the Philippines and Canada, cheered him and later, monitored his movement through his Tracker on Racemap Application on the Internet. At Kilometer 50, Thomas was among the Top 3 on the trail and maintained his steady pace of 7 kilometers per hour. It was still too early for us to be happy that Thomas will target the sub-60 hour finish. However, he was in the right track for him to finish the MacLehose Trail in 15 Hours as planned. He slowed down on the last 15 kilometers as it was already nighttime plus the fact that it started to rain and he reported some tightness in his quads. Despite his situation, he was expected to finish this leg much faster than the time he registered last year with almost 2.5 hours. Finally, Thomas arrived at the Sai Kung Country Park as the 5th Runner with a time of 15:04 hours! It was a huge improvement from his time of 17:40 hours last year!
In 10 minutes of eating and changing his clothes at the Park, we were on our way aboard a Taxi to the start of the Wilson Trail which is a good 45-minute ride but the Taxi driver had to refill some gasoline which added, at least 5 minutes of the travel time. However, Thomas had a good sleep, which he badly needed, during our trip to the start of the next leg. Once we arrived at the Waiting Shed near the Nam Chung Public Toilet, we set-up our “pit stop” assistance to Thomas——food, water, clothes, and running accessories were packed and placed in Thomas Hydration Vest while Thomas was eating. In a short time, Thomas started his run on the Wilson Trail with much encouragement for him to keep on moving, eat & hydrate when he can, and bring out & wear his reserve “wind-breaker” inside his water-proof jacket to make him warm as it was raining hard and colder temperature awaited him in the mountain peaks of the 78-kilometer long Wilson Trail. He started his run at 1:25 AM of the second day, January 26 which is again another improvement from his time last year. At this time, we were confident that he will not get lost and spend so much time when he will cross the Victoria Bay from the MTR Lam Tin Station to the MTR Tai Koo Station in Hongkong Island.
At the start of the Wilson Trail, looking at the Racemap App, the two other Filipino runners (Rolando Espina is a two-time finisher of the SpartathlonRace in Greece and Ronnel Valero had just finished the 2019 UTMB 166K in Chamonix, France), had been declared as “Retired” which simply means that they declared themselves as “DNF” (Did Not Finish). Five other runners were also “Retired”, making it a total of seven (7) “retired” runners at the end of the first day. We did not try to find out the real reason/s why these runners “retired” on the first day. However, in a news report from the article of the South China Morning Post, they said that they could not stand and endure running on the “stairs” and on the concrete/cemented trails of Hong Kong. Some of the runners told to the reporter/s that the rain had brought them cold and freezing temperature which their body was not prepared to take.
On the second day, we were glad that Thomas was on the track without any “lost moments” and be able to finish the Wilson Trail on the said day. Our Support Team was at the Finish Line of the Wilson Trail at 5:00 PM January 26, 2020 with the hope that Thomas would finish within one hour. However, we waited for almost 3 hours for Thomas to arrive still smiling, happy and strong as he was ranked as the 9th runner at this point. Thomas arrived at 8:06 PM on the second day of the event. He finished the Wilson Trail in 18:30 hours.
Thomas arrival at the end of Wilson Trail (@ Stanley Gap Road) was very remarkable and surprising as he improved his time by 13+ hours as compared to last year. We immediately boarded a waiting Taxi for the 20-minute ride to the Bus Station on Shek O Road as the starting line of the 50-kilometer Hong Kong Trail. We “forced” Thomas again to sleep during the duration of our Taxi ride which he did. At the Shek O Road, we were met by Paper, the wife of Andre; Andre; Tomokazu Ihara; and Christian Viloria, a Pinoy OFW in Hongkong. We immediately set-up our “pit stop” for Thomas for him to re-charge his nutrition/hydration; rest; and change his running attire for more layering to fight the coldness in the mountains. At this point, the NHK TV Reporter and crew took a video of Thomas while he was eating and resting. The TV reporter was interested on the food prepared by his support team. Christian’s fried “tuyo” (dried sardines) and our Pork Adobo and Sinigang Na Ulo Ng Salmon were the “center of attraction” on Thomas’ food in the video and interview. Finally, Thomas left the Shek O Road at 9:05 PM after much encouragement and motivation from us and Tomokazu as he was his “classmate” in last year’s edition.
Based from Thomas performance last year, we estimated that he could finish the Hong Kong Trail in less than 9 hours and that we will be able to catch-up and ride the 7:00 AM Ferry Boat ride from the Central Pier to Lantau Island. But by looking on his Tracker, we estimated that he would arrive at the end of the Hong Kong Trail at 8:00 AM on the third day. We arrived at the Victoria Peak at 7:30 AM and the place was windy and cold. It seems that we were experiencing a freezing temperature being exposed outside the building and standing in the open/exposed park/space at The Peak. I decided to jog the last one or two kilometers before the Finish Line to meet Thomas and at the same time warn the members of his Support Team that he was arriving in a few minutes. At 1.6 kilometers from the Finish Line, Thomas was approaching, hiking and looked very cold but still in good spirits to finish the race. He had his fingers on both hands locked with one another with his palms pressed against his chest. He was trying to keep his body warm even if he was wearing his Salomon Waterproof Jacket. I jogged ahead of him by 50 meters and finally led him to the waiting Taxi with our Support Team. Finally, Thomas reached the Finish Line of the Hong Kong Trail at 8:42 AM on the third day, January 27. Thomas finished the Hong Kong Trail (50K) in 11:30+hours which is 3 hours slower than his time last year. He told me that the freezing wind temperature, sleep deprivation, the darkness along the trail and a bout of “acid reflux” had slowed him. He even had experience of “hallucination moments” with the rocks along the trail as talking tortoises only to realize that he was talking to the rocks around.
Within the short 15-minute Taxi ride From Victoria Peak to the Central Pier, Thomas was able to eat “Lugaw” (Rice Porridge With Chicken) and Drink Hot Coffee and then took a nap. Five minutes before the Ferry Boat would depart for Lantau, we were running to board the boat and was able to ride in it. As the boat started leaving the Pier, Thomas was already sleeping for the 50-minute ride to the last leg of the event, the Lantau 70K Trail. We took the 9:00 AM Ferry Boat ride which was the slow one but the longer trip gave much time for Thomas to sleep. The fare was half the price of the faster craft but we did not complain as we estimated that Thomas would not be able to finish the event within the cut-off time of 60 hours.
After the slow Ferry Boat ride, we established our “pit stop” under a tree near the McDonalds which is surrounded with steel seats. We bought Hamburger and Coffee which Thomas requested to eat and drink before starting the Lantau Trail. We refilled his hydration pack with water and food and he changed his attire and loaded some extra windbreaker and shirt in his pack. When he was ready, I accompanied him to the trailhead which is about 300 meters away from the Pier. Photo Guava, one of the Official Photographers of the Event, was also there to take pictures of Thomas and wished him “Good Luck”. Thomas started the Lantau Trail Leg at 10:25 AM of January 27, on the third day of the event. We estimated that he could finish the Lantau Trail at 1:00 AM on the fourth day, January 28,which is about 15 hours of elapsed time. We returned to Hongkong where we were staying and monitored the movement of Thomas through the RaceMap App.
We returned to Lantau Island aboard the last Ferry Boat trip at 10:20 PM to wait for the arrival of Thomas as a “Survivor” of the event. We boarded the Fast Ferry Boat and we arrived at 11:00 PM and tried to stay at the Silver Mine Bay Pier in Mui Wo to protect us from the freezing wind coming from the sea and the mountains. We looked for seats in the area and tried to get inside the telephone booths for a warmer air. Sometimes, we would go to the Public Rest Room for a warmer air and later went inside the 7-11 Store for food and drinks and we were allowed to stay at the 2nd floor of the store. Lastly, we were invited to stay at the heated Lantau Basecamp Sports Store where we monitored the movement of Thomas through the Racemap App. Jurg, the husband of Irene Montemayor, tried to join us at the finish line at the Hongkong Trail as he was our Main Support during Thomas first attempt last year but he was not able to catch-up with us at the Victoria Peak. He told us that he will be joining us in our Ferry Ride back to Lantau and cheer for the arrival of Thomas. At 1:00 AM, we were confident that Thomas will be arriving as the 9th Runner and the 2nd “Survivor” to arrive at the Finish Line.
After cresting the highest peak of the trail, Lantau Peak, on the last 15 kilometers, Thomas was passed by Lady Runner Virginie while he was sleeping in one of the Pagodas/Rest Areas. Virginie tried to help Thomas by giving him her “space blanket” to wrap his head and she even called the RD about the situation of Thomas. Thomas was freezing due to the strong cold winds at the Lantau Peak and after the peak, he took a brief nap while he was sitting with his back leaned on one of the posts of the Pagoda but he was surprised to wake up lying on the floor when he heard the voice of Virginie calling the RD on the phone. Virginie and Thomas had been running together before the Lantau Peak but Thomas went ahead of her until he was seen as sleeping on the floor of the Pagoda. Jurg and I tried to locate Thomas by boarding a Taxi to check on him on the said Pagoda after we received the recorded voice call of Virginie from the RD. However, when we saw that Thomas had moved on the Racemap App, we turned around and went back to the Finish Line. In a few minutes, Virginie reached the Finish Line at 5:30 AM on the fourth day and we were confident that Thomas would be the next runner to finish.
RD Andre, Tomo, and I were waiting for Thomas at the roundabout as we could see him going down the road on his last 100 meters to the Finish Line. After a few minutes of conversation, Andre and Tomo walked on the uphill road to locate Thomas and Tomo was shouting his name! After few minutes, RD Andre and Tomo shouted to us that Thomas was coming. Thomas reached the Green Mail Post at Mui Wo at 5:50 AM on the fourth day, January 28 as the 10th runner overall and the 3rd “Survivor” of the Event. Thomas finished the Lantau Trail in 17:25 hours. In total, Thomas finished the 9th Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge in 68:50 hours and declared as a “Survivor”.
In summary, Thomas finished the following Hong Kong Trails with these times:
MacLehose Trail (100K)—15:04 Hours (Cut-Off Time of 18 Hours)
Wilson Trail (78K)—18:30 Hours
Hong Kong Trail (50 Kilometers)—11:30+Hours
Lantau Trail (70 Kilometers)—17:25 Hours
Almost 9 hours were spent in his transitions from one trail to another and his rests along the trails.
Out of the 33 Participants, 7 were declared as Finishers, 5 were declared as Survivors and 21 were declared as Retirees. Thomas is now one of the 49 Finishers & Survivors of this event since its birth nine years ago.
Journal Of “Team Thomas” @ 2020 HK4TUC (Third & Last Day)
There is a big difference between Thomas performance last year and this year’s HK4TUC. Last year, Thomas started the Hongkong Trail at about 9:30 AM on the third day of the event. This year, Thomas started Hongkong Trail at 9:05 PM on the second day, a big 12-hour difference earlier than last year.
After Thomas left Shek O Road, we went back to the place we are staying to monitor his movement through the Racemap App. After one hour, Thomas called us to confirm if he was following the correct track along the Hongkong Trail and we confirmed that he is in the right track. As compared from last year, Thomas did not have any problems in locating or seeing the Trail Markers because it was daylight. Compounded with the colder temperature and darkness along the trail, Thomas took time to confirm the location of the said Markers. After midnight, we went to bed as we were confident that Thomas will finish the Hongkong Trail and be able to catch up the 7:00 AM Ferry ride to Lantau Island the following day.
We expected Thomas to be approaching the end of Hongkong Trail at 5:00 AM and set our alarm clock at 4:00 AM. Before leaving our place at 5:00 AM, we called Thomas to confirm his position and we found out that he had “acid reflux” and he had to rest and take some sleep for his stomach to settle. He slowed down due his stomach condition and the cold temperature during the night and early morning. We estimated that he could not make it on the 5:00 AM Ferry trip and adjusted our schedule to leave our place. We expected that an early arrival at Victoria Peak/Finish Line of the Hongkong Trail will expose us to the cold wind in the early morning. We estimated that Thomas could not make it in the 5:00 AM Ferry trip and delayed our ride towards the Finish Line of the Hongkong Trail.
We finally left our place at 8:00 AM to the Victoria Peak. The wind was cold when we arrived at the said place and they were few people around as the business establishments were still closed. We entered a small enclosed space at an entrance in one of the buildings in the area to prevents us from the cold winds. I decided to jog and walk along the Hongkong Trail to meet Thomas along the way. After running for 1.6 kilometers, I saw Thomas walking. I called him, took a picture and turned around, jogged ahead of Thomas of about 20-meter distance towards the Finish Line. I immediately called my companion to warn them that Thomas has only 1.5 kilometers to the Finish Line. In a few minutes, Thomas crossed the Finish Line at the end of the Hongkong Trail at 8:42 AM, almost 48 hours after the Start of the Event. We immediately boarded Thomas to our waiting Taxi for our short trip to the Central Pier to catch our 9:00 AM Ferry trip to Lantau Island. During our 13-minute ride in the Taxi, Thomas was able to eat the Rice Porridge with Chicken we prepared and drink some Hot Ginger Tea.
After a lot of Red Light Stops along the way, we were able to board the Ferry at 8:55 AM, barely 5 minutes before the departure time. Once we settled and locate some seats for a space to let Thomas sleep and lie on his back, the Ferry Boat left the Pier. Thomas went immediately to sleep even with the loud noise of the boat’s engine and the loud conversation of a group of Filipino Ladies seated near us.
After 50 minutes of Ferry Boat ride, we arrived at the Lantau Island’s Silvermine Beach Ferry Pier in Moi Wu. We established our “pit stop” under a tree near the McDonalds and immediately prepared to resupply him and change his attire. He again ate a Hamburger from McDonalds and drink a hot coffee before leaving the place.
Thomas was able to recover immediately from his brief sleep during the Ferry Boat ride and the food/drink he ingested during his “pit stop”. Some of the local runners and volunteers approached Thomas offering him a Hot Bath and some Massage at the Lantau Base CampStore but he declined such offers as he was decided to leave the place immediately. Photo Guava of Hongkong, one of the Official Photographers of the Event, took a lot of pictures of Thomas en route to the Start of the Lantau Trail. He even asked me to take a picture of Thomas and him during the short hike to the Trail. At 10:25 AM Monday, January 27, 2020, Thomas started his run at the Lantau Trail Marker #139.
Thomas finished the Hongkong Trail in 11:36 hours which is too slow as compared to his Finish Time last year of 8:30 hours which was considered as the 2nd fastest time to finish the said leg. If not for the “acid reflux”, darkness along the route, and the extreme cold temperature during the night, Thomas could have finished a faster time or equaled his time last year.
During the day, more runners were declared as “Retired” or in simple runner’s term as “DNF” (Did Not Finish). After a total of 15 runners who were “retired” on the 1st and 2nd day, another 5 runners “retired” on the third day. At present, a total of 20 runners were declared as “Retired” in the afternoon of the Third Day and only 13 runners remain along the Lantau Trail with the hope that some of them will be declared as “Finishers” and the others as “Survivors”.
As we left our place to ride the Ferry Boat to Lantau, 7 runners have already finished as “Finishers”, with a time of sub-60 hours. It is just a waiting game on what time will Thomas reach and kiss the Mui Wo Mail Post and be declared as “Survivor”.
We met Jurg, our original member of Team Thomas and husband of Irene from the Philippines whose family resides in Hongkong, at the Central Pier and joined us for the final push, support and cheer to Thomas. We arrived at Mui Wo’s Silvermine Beach Ferry Pier in Lantau at 11:00 PM with the expectation that Thomas would arrive at 1:00 AM on the fourth day, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. We initially stayed at the Pier and within the vicinity of the Mui Wo Green Mail Post due to the cold winds. We finally settled at China Bear Resto/Pub near the Pier where we comfortably waited as the place was heated. After the establishment closed at 1:00 AM, we transferred to the 7-11 Store where we were accommodated by the Cashier who is a Senior Citizen. We bought food and drinks while waiting for Thomas. Wealso stayed at the Base Camp Sports Store to monitor the progress through the Racemap Application of Thomas’ movement towards the Finish Line.
Our waiting time was too fast that in a few hours, Thomas was already on his last 2.5 kilometers to the Finish Line. Finally at 5:50 AM on the 4th day, January 28, 2020, Tuesday, Thomas kissed the Mui Wo Mail Post at 68:50 hours and he was declared as the “3rd Survivor” for this year’s edition of the HK4TUC. Andre Blumberg, the RD/RO of the event, congratulated Thomas and he was impressed on the transformation on the performance of Thomas as compared last year. After the traditional Champagne shower on Thomas, and as a parting statement, Andre Blumberg announced his personal invitation for Thomas to join the 10th Edition of the HK4TUC next year which Thomas immediately accepted.
Training for Thomas for the 2021 HK4TUC will start next week!