“The 160 Km Journey” By Candy Balaba

The 160 Km Journey

by Candy Pastor- Balaba on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 3:53pm
Last Saturday, the first 100-mile Trail Run in the country dubbed as TAKLANG DAMULAG 100mile ENDURANCE RUN, was staged. Taklang Damulag is a landmark inside the army division in Fort Magsaysay, Palayan City, Nueva Ecija.  In recent years, it was used as an impact area for live fire training for canons/artillery guns, and currently being used as a training ground for the Special Forces Regiment.

Race Director, Gen Jovie Narcise (Ret) a.k.a. The Bald Runner is the brains behind the Taklang Damulag 100mile Endurance Event. We learned that this would be the 1st 100mile Ultra Trail Run Event in Southeast Asia. Being a retired soldier, he is familiar with the place and thought that this would be a challenging route for ultra runners who seek for the toughest course. The route has a total ascent of 17,000 feet and a total descent of 18,000 feet. The course will take them to climb Taklang Damulag 4 times which would total 52kms, and twice on a 54 kms outer loop, hence given a total distance of 160kms

Even when the event was only on its planning stage early this year, hubby was already telling me that he wanted to try out this race. He has signed up for the 2012 BDM160 which will be on January, and thought that Taklang Damulag race will be a good training for his BDM 160 (Bataan Death March).  I didn’t think he would be too serious about it, because he has never been too keen on Trail runs.

Fast forward to Dec 17, my son JB and I found ourselves in Ft Magsaysay doing what is most expected from us… to be his support crew.


Ultra runs are usually the “no- frills” races. There are no grand pre and post race activities. No prizes, no loot bags.  Its usually just a small group of happy and fun hard core ultra runners that gather on this races. For this event, only 19 brave warriors signed up.  Two foreigners, a German and Malaysian guy who came all the way from Hongkong and China, respectively. The rest in the pack were Filipinos from all walks of life, a doctor, 2 lawyers, a grandson of an ex-president, a writer, entrepreneurs, professors and 2 military officers.  It’s a nice mix of interesting people who share the same passion for ultra running.


The race briefing and carbo loading Friday night was time for runners to get to know more of each other. Everyone was happy, excited and maybe jittery too on the challenge that was coming their way, especially when The Bald Runner started to brief them on the route (it was not disclosed until Friday night). However, for some unknown reason, one runner backed off immediately after the briefing.  So 1 down, 18 to go.


As I was unable to leave work that Friday, and Benedict needing to attend the course briefing and carbo loading that day, he had to go ahead without us. I packed all the necessary stuff he would need, gave him clear instructions on all that has been loaded, and promised that I would be there Saturday before noon.


I called up Benedict an hour before gun start. He said he was all geared up and just ready to go. I gently reminded him to take it slow and to just enjoy the race.

53 KMS

Arrived Fort Magsaysay with my older son JB just before noon, my father-in-law with my daughter Icee – who was on their way to Baguio, drove us there.   Shortly after arriving at Fernandez Hill where an aid station was set up, the first 2 runners – Andre Bloomberg and Jones Mortega arrived. Both had their lunch of noodles, boiled sweet potato, boiled eggs and some crackers. They also took time to reload their hydration packs. After more or less 35 mins of doing all these tasks, the runners were back on the trail to proceed with 2 loops in Taklang Damulag.

Benedict together with 4 other runners came 15 min after Andre and Jones left. He told us how he got lost with Malaysian guy – Seow Kung Ng in kilometer 9, which meant an added 6 kilometers to find their way back to the route. Benedict had his lunch, we reloaded his hydration packs, rested for a few minutes and then left again with the 4 runners.

The rest of the runners started arriving 30min after. They all took time to rest, eat, change clothes, tape their feet, prick those blisters (ouuuuch!!), someone even decided to take a short nap.  Everyone seemed to be holding on strong except for 1 runner who looked very wasted, he couldn’t even eat and just took sips from the recovery drinks offered to him.  After a short nap, he got up removed his race bib and raised the white flag.


The Taklang Damulag loop has an elevation of 409 meters. To quote Bald Runner, “it is a short course and a very low mountain, but if you think of going up to this mountain for 4 times in a single event, then you have a very high mountain”.  The runners thought of it as an easy trek, and clearly no one expected that it would take them 3 hours to complete 1 loop which was only 13kms. It must have been a tough climb because after Andre’s first loop, I overheard him confirming from Bald Runner if they needed to do another loop and that he hoped he heard it wrong during the briefing to do 2 loops.


The 83km- SOCOM AREA is also the Starting and Finish marks.  An aid station was set up so runners can have their dinner, reload their hydration packs, change clothes etc.

Jones came in a few minutes ahead of Andre, but he decided to quit after a bad fall that left him with a sprained ankle. As for Andre, he seemed to be holding on strong.  He left immediately after a quick dinner and after reloading his hydration packs.

Benedict came in 45min after Andre left, he said he got lost again on the 81km mark when he missed a turn which eventually led him to a longer route back to SOCOM area.

After having dinner, a quick wardrobe change (his rubber shoes was soaked, torn and beaten up), he was off to cover the next 83kms. It was already 8:30pm, dark, cold and drizzly. I began to worry now about how he would be able to get through the next 83kms alone. A pacer is already allowed for every runner from this point, unfortunately no one can pace him, I am not prepared to run an 80km distance, neither can our son JB. So, there was no other choice but for him to go alone and run in the DARK, COLD, DRIZZLY, CREEPY TRAIL.

The cut off time for the first loop (83kms) was 15hours. Only 7 runners were able to make it before the cut off. Bald Runner decided to allow those who didn’t make it to cutoff to continue if they still wanted to.


As runners started to arrive at the 83 km mark, the DNF list also started to rise. A swollen knee, sprained ankle, bouts of chills and dizziness, or just totally wasted to continue, were the reasons that 6 runners decided to seal the nail in their DNF coffin.

So from the 83km mark, where the second loop will start, only 7 runners have decided to continue.

110 KMS

Our son JB was supposed to pace his Dad from this point, unfortunately Benedict wasn’t able to spot the car which was parked on the side of the road, so he decided to run and continue to go alone.  We also eventually left the place after staying there for 3 hours, we decided to move to the next aid station which was the Fernandez Hill.

A few kilometers before reaching Fernandez Hill, we finally spot him running in that long dark road. He was glad to see us as he was running out with energy drinks.  JB was all geared up and ready to go, so after reloading their hydration packs, the boys were off to cover the last 45kms.


I arrived Fernandez Hill around 5:40am after I got back from the early morning mass that I attended in the nearby church. I was surprised to see JB resting on a makeshift hammock. He told me that Benedict did not allow him anymore to trek Taklang Damulag as it was still too early and the path was dark.  Benedict left for his first loop to Taklang Damulag at 4:30AM. I got a bit worried, because it was raining and the trail was pitch- dark, wet and slippery.

After a few minutes, Andre arrived.  I was surprised he came in after Benedict. He told us that he got lost on his way to Fernandez hill, and wasted 2 hours finding his way back to the route. He didn’t look good. I could read disappointment in his face.  He didn’t talk much and just sat quite in one corner. After 30 minutes, I saw them pack their bags and asked me if I could give them a lift back to SOCOM. He has decided to quit too.  Paper, her girlfriend, and I tried to persuade him to continue. There was still enough time for him to cover the 2 loops.. He said that after getting lost on his way back to Fernandez Hill, and a bad fall that caused him much pain, he is now unable to think clearly and feels too wasted to continue.

I felt so bad that he had to quit after already covering 130kms. He was really a good and strong runner. Although, he said that this is his first 100 miler, he has also done quite a number of TNF ultra runs around the globe. I wonder what went wrong for him to decide to DNF.

Eventually, I learned that 4 more runners have DNF’ed on the 110km mark, including Malaysian guy- Seow Kung. Seow Kung  is an equally seasoned ULTRA RUNNER, having  done Les Sable in Africa, Amazon Ultra Run, Comrades Marathon. 


Benedict was back in Fernandez Hill after 3 hours of trekking Taklang Damulag . He looked fine and was not complaining of anything other than hunger. He was surprised to know that Andre has already quit the race. As of 9AM, we had confirmation that only 5 runners continue to be on the race, with Benedict leading the pack.

Cut off time is 32hours. It was 9AM and Benedict had 4 more hours to cover the last 18kms.   A whole loop to Taklang Damulag is 13kms plus 5 kms to the Finish Line. I was completely in awe with his grit and sheer determination to move on and continue. Everyone was telling him that he could be the only one to finish the race within the cut off time. With all that being said to him, he was all the more determined to GO FOR THE WIN!!!

Benedict also finally allowed JB to pace him on his last loop to Taklang Damulag.  JB acted like a giddy 7 year old who immediately jump up to join his Dad again.


I was back at SOCOM- Finish Line to wait for the 2 boys. I was surprised to see that the runners who DNF’ed were eagerly waiting for any finisher to make it before cut off time. It was almost 12noon, cut off was just an hour away.   The waiting seemed endless, I was getting so worried. Will the boys make it?

Then at about 12:05, 2 guys were seen moving towards the finish line. Everyone started jumping, screaming, clapping and cheering. Finally someone is going to make it before the cut off time.  It was raining outside yet everyone got up, forgot about all the pain in their legs, ran outside and started to cheer on Benedict and JB who was coming towards the finish line. Everyone was asking who he was running along with, I proudly told them, he was our 15yr old son. That gave them even more reason to cheer. My heart melted and tears welled up in my eyes at the sight of our son- JB pacing his Dad onto his glorious triumph. THIS IS ONE MEMORABLE MOMENT THAT WILL FOREVER BE IMPRINTED ON MY MIND’S EYE AND ETCHED ON MY MIND’S HEART. 


Benedict raised his tired arms like a “V”.  JB slowed down a bit to let his Papa  cross the finish line alone. But even before Benedict could cross the finish line, he was swarmed by the other runners, gave him high fives, shook his hand and embraced him. IT WAS SUCH AN AWESOME SIGHT!! I WAS ALL BEAMING AND FILLED WITH SO MUCH PRIDE!!!

After 31 hours 11 minutes and 26 seconds …HE MADE IT!!!

As of this writing, Dick and I continue to share stories about last weekend. He is overwhelmed and humbled by all the congratulatory messages he receives everyday, and all the nice words being posted on his FB.

The very daunting feat has earned him blisters, sore muscles, chafed seams, 10 dead toenails, that will last for days, but it has also tattoed his pride with a memory of a great finish that will last him forever.


PS:  Benedict was the lone finisher who made it before cut off, making him the only one to earn the Silver Buckle for the 1st 100miler Endurance Event in the country. 4 other runners were able to cross the finish line  with a time of 41hrs. The Taklang Damulag 100-Mile Trail Endurance Run was organized by the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners and was participated in by local and international ultrarunners and is officially considered as the first and only 100-Mile Trail Endurance Run in Southeast Asia.

8-Hour Run @ TD 100 Route

On the last week of July, I went to Fort Magsaysay and make a recon on the trail route surrounding the Taklang Damulag Mountain. I mentioned in one of my previous posts about my trek towards the peak of the said mountain where I timed 52:37 minutes to reach its peak from Fernandez Hill, a distance of 2.7 kilometers. The trek to the peak was only a part of the 25-kilometer distance that I run & walked/hiked during that day and the trail loop towards the mountain peak from Fernandez Hill and around as it covers a distance of 13 kilometers. It took us 5+ hours to cover the distance (25K) as most of were hiking and brisk walking. If we tried to jog and run the flat portions of the route, we could have made it in 3+ hours. This part of the Taklang Damulag 100-mile run consists of the “inner loop” of the course.

The following were the pictures taken during my recon run at the “inner loop” on the last week of July:

Descending From The Peak Of Mt Taklang Damulag
Lots of Single-Track Trail Around Mt Taklang Damulag
Muddy & Slippery Trail
Lots of Stream Crossings!
More Muddy Trail
....and Wider Streams To Cross!!

Last Thursday afternoon, together with one of my elite athletes, Jack Espana, I went to Fort Magsaysay and slept overnight in one of the transient facilities. We were already in bed at 9:30 PM and woke up at 4:30 AM of Friday. At 5:30 AM, we started our run from the Starting Area of the Race by hiking the first 2 kilometers as our warm-up. The purpose of the run is to recon the first 40K distance of the route which is considered as the “outer loop” of the TD 100 route. The trail route is located outside the cantonment area of Fort Magsaysay passing through Barangays Pag-asa, Dona Josefa, Bacao, Langka 1 & 2, Palale, Cattle Stock Farm, and Nazareth.

@ Km #6 in Barangay Dona Josefa
First of So Many Spillways To Cross
Am I Floating Above the Water?
Detailed "Looks" of the Trail Route
One of the Paths Towards The Peak of a Mountain
One of The River Crossings
Jack Was Infront Of Me Trying To Look For A Trail
Nice REMINDER Along The Route!
Typical Condition of the Route @ Cattle Stock Farm (Km #30)
Another Nice Reminder Along The Cattle Stock Farm
Watchout For This AlongThe Route!!! It's The Real "Taklang Damulag"!!!

Practically, we left on the northern side of the camp and run through the trails on the eastern side of the camp and then re-entered the camp from the south direction. The route traverses through rolling hills and mountains with maximum elevation of 375 meters with lots of stream crossings through spillways and river crossings. What made the run very relaxing was the scenery, clean air, overcast sky, rain & showers on mid-day, and some conversations with the residents along the route.

We had two “pit stops” along the route. These “pit stops” are sari-sari stores that sell anything from assorted bread & chips to drinks. We took some time to eat solid foods on these stores and were able to talk to the owners. The people were surprised as they always asked us where are our bicycles as we tell them where we came from. Bicycles? What bicycles are they talking about? They told us that a group of cyclists on mountain bikes would usually pass along the said route. Well, we told them that we were running, jogging and walking along the said route. It appeared that we were the first ones whom they see (as outsiders/visitors) to be running & hiking the said route.

Our "Pit Stop" @ Barangay Palale. Km #26
The People Does Not Know "Mami", They Call It "Noodles"
Our "Brunch" For The Day To Include Bread/Pandesal

We finished our recon run before 3:00 PM as we reached our Starting Area. After a quick shower, we were out of Fort Magsaysay as we headed towards Eva’s Restaurant near the boundary of Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija and La Paz, Tarlac where the best and very hot Bulalo is being served.

Getting back from the result of our recon run on the TD 100 route. So far, I have run through a distance of 65 kilometers from the 80K-loop of the trail route with an aggregate total time of 13+ hours. And since the remaining 15K route is on an easy rolling and flat terrain, it could be covered in another 2.5 hours. Adding these times would total to 15-16 hours to cover one loop of the course! However, my recon runs had averaged a pace of 12-15 minutes per kilometer which was basically a “hiking” pace! So, from these data, an average ultra runner could finish one loop in less than 15 hours.

The actual measurement of the course is done! The next thing to do is to finalize the administrative and operational needs for the race!

Guys, I only need 25 “brave and hardcore” runners for this another historic FIRST 100-mile trail endurance running event in the country. Let us help one another in putting our country in the world’s map of ultra trail running.

Record Time: 52:37 Minutes

This was the elapsed time it took me to reach the peak of Mt Taklang Damulag as I started from the Fernandez Hill of the Special Forces Regiment’s Camp and Training Area inside Fort Magsaysay. The place is also popularly known as “Molave Complex”.

The plan was to recon and hike a segment of the 100-mile endurance run route that includes the Fernandez Hill-Taklang Damulag- Cordero Dam-Special Forces Training Area and back to Fernandez Hill. This a trail loop which has a distance of 13 kilometers. However, at the back of my mind, I was thinking of coming up with a first attempt with a record time for a trek to the famous Mt Taklang Damulag’s peak with the Fernandez Hill as the starting area.

Fernandez Hill Marker Serves As My Starting Line/Area
Mt Taklang Damulag On The Background

I was accompanied by Lt Col Dennis Pacis, the Chief Operations Officer of the 7th Infantry Division who is a triathlete and an ultrarunner; Captain Jason Que who is the Chief of the Training Department of the Special Forces School; Jack, a member of the Elite Team Bald Runner; two NCOs of the Special Forces who are both runners in the PA Battalion Run Team where I was the Commander; and nine (9) soldiers who are presently on training to become members of the Special Forces Regiment. I personally named this group as the “Ultra Recon Team Six” (based from the famous and popular US Navy Seal’s Team Six).

We started at 10:45 AM with overcast sky from the Fernandez Hill in line formation with at least 6 soldiers in front of me. As I was strictly following my HR training to include this trek, I maintained an HR of 135 about 100 meters from the start with LtCol Pacis and Capt Que behind me. However, our hiking started to increase its pace as we started to climb the mountain.

The trail leading to the peak of the mountain was a combination of crossing at least 3 streams where our feet/shoes have to thread on the water current; sticky, slippery and muddy soil; rocks; and single-track trail covered with grasses. My TNF trail shoes were no match to the combat boots of the soldiers in crossing the streams and walking along sticky and slippery mud along the route. My advantage to these soldiers was that my shoes were lighter than their combat boots.

As we started to climb the mountain, I started to think of coming up with a record time for a Military General, retired at that, to ever climb and reach the peak of the said mountain. Although I am not sure if the past Commanders of the Special Forces and Special Operations Command had undergone this record timing process, I thought that I might as well start coming up with a “trivia” as to who and what is the fastest time for a General (retired or active) to reach the peak of Mt Taklang Damulag.

In less than 400 meters from the start line, my HR started to spike to 145 bpm from my training max of 135 as a result of my excitement to reach the peak with a record time. And my HR steadily increased as I got higher towards the peak of the mountain.

I was wearing my GF 305 on my left wrist (to measure the distance and elevation) and my TIMEX HR Watch on my right wrist. From time to time as I moved upwards, I had to glance of these two watches for the distance covered and my prevailing HR.

From 145 bpm, my HR spiked to 165 and later to a maximum of 183 bpm when I reached the 2.4K mark on the uphill climb to the mountain. I decided to take a rest/breather for about 2 minutes just to be able to adjust to my breathing and to be able to look around on the lower plains of Nueva Ecija. I felt like I was going on a “blackout” or pass out as I started to feel dazed and exhausted but the scenery and the beauty below made me happy and satisfied. A lot of “deep breathing” repetitions made me recover and kept on glancing my HR watch as my bpm was decreasing. As soon as my HR watch reached and indicated 155 bpm, I continued my hike on the last 400 meters to the peak of the said mountain.

I simply tapped the white cross at the peak of the mountain with my right palm to signify that I reached and conquered the very peak of the mountain. My time was 52:37 minutes and I asked Capt Que to make a record/journal of it as part of the trivia of the Special Forces Regiment.

BR With the Special Forces' "Ultra Recon Team Six" On Top of Mt Taklang Damulag

The two Special Forces NCOs were surprised and gave me two “thumbs-up” for being the fastest hiker (whether in my age category or being a General of the Philippine Army, retired or active) to reach the peak. I just smiled to them while I was gasping for air! I wanted to tell them that I was not yet running and it was all hiking. In due time, I will try to run it and improve my time on my next trek to the mountain.

Resting and Looking Around the Scenery On Top of Mt Taklang Damulag

As per gathered by my GF 305, the highest peak has an elevation of 409 meters with a route distance of 2.7 kilometers from Fernandez Hill. It is a short course and a very low mountain but if you think of going up to this mountain for four times in a single event, then you have a very high mountain!

Now, I am thinking of a short trail running event which is dubbed as “Mt Taklang Damulag 5.4K Challenge” !