Run For the Hills

I came to Baguio last April 7, 2012 only to run for the first time in the “2012 Baguio 21K Just Run the Hill” event held last April 8, 2012 organised by Philip Pacle of Renderfarm – and did exactly that.

Since I began joining running event, I have always known myself to abhor those elevated portion of the Kalayaan Bridge connecting Makati to Taguig whenever I run at the Bonifacio Global City held running events. The thing is the Baguio Run promised 14 hills to conquer. So, am I thinking right when I signed up for this run?

I previously experienced running uphill in another running event, “Nathan Ridge Run 2011”, held at Tagaytay Highlands last November 20, 2011. This was to get away from being swamped over by mass of runners joining the “Takbo Para sa Ilog Pasig” held the same day  in Manila.

While the “Takbo” event in Manila challenged you to only dodge people packed like sardine road that could swept you to go with the flow and walk to the finish line as well for the sheer futility of trying to find space enough to establish a running pace, the Tagaytay Highland run almost slaughtered me. Standing in the way to the finish line in about the last 7 to 5 kilometer was a specially brutal obstacle to accomplish. For this was where all the most of the downward slope that hurled me in an unbelievable speed earlier in the race now haunts me as an uphill climb before finally cruising to the Finish line area. I clocked my finish time at 3:04:48. The hills took about 30 minutes of my usual 21 k finish averaging 2:30:00. The big question running in my mind while signing up in the Baguio Run was would this event be another bane for me?

The day before the actual race, to kill time while waiting to be checked in at the hotel I booked myself at, I took a long hike without realizing the path I was taking was the portion of the Baguio Run race route. My walk took me as far as Camp John Hay where Ayala Techno Hub is nestled. This is about 7 km away from Session Road. I noticed that from the start of the road to Camp John Hay or Loakan  Road was a downward slope. I imagined how it might be like going from the opposite end of this road going up. Of course, I wasn’t aware that time that in the 21 K category the return trip to the finish line would not take this road again but rather another route. I was already psyching myself up and telling myself that this running event was not to establish a new Personal Record for me but just to experience the thrill of running in Baguio.

Came the day of the race. At 4:30 a.m. in Burnham Park, I was already in my running attire. I was doing some routines to limber me up. I abandoned my jacket and contended to let my compression shirt provide the warmth I needed to stave off the cold temperature which my warming up exercises couldn’t kill.

At 5:15 a.m. race gun fired to launch us from Lake Drive where the Starting line was situated. We made a v-line towards Kisad Road, which was undergoing a concrete re-blocking and therefore, closed to vehicular traffic. A runner in a bird costume flew to pass me by. There were iron bars protruding from the under repaired road dangerously clawing on unsuspecting runners. Crossing under the overpass going towards  Kennon Road and into the Military Cut-Off Road vehicular traffic now began running intimately close with us runners. We ran now the risk of being side swiped by one of those vehicles especially that there were no marshals neither those orange cones road markers to keep vehicle a safe distance away from the runners. There were simply no enough spaces.

Reaching now the fork in the road that separates South Drive from Loakan Road we took the much steeper descending Loakan Road. I was told when I took my race kit the day before, to go easy on the downward slope. Enigmatic words. So very Zen like and mysterious. So, I figured there must be some wisdom behind it and did exactly as I was advised. Never mind the whole company of runners were already avalanching downwards and leaving their dust for me to feast upon. I remained with my pace, which I know was much slower than my usual 6:35 minutes per kilometer average on normal 21k run. I wanted to reserve my strength for those treacherous and torturous uphills.

The Baguio Run course was taking me for the first time to the parts of Baguio I never had been before. I was enjoying this. But thoughts were nagging at me that I might already be at the tail end of the 21 K runners for the runners from the 10 K were already overtaking me. The Kenyans who were also running in the 10K category were now running from the opposite direction and were on their return trip to the Start/Finish line. However, I remained unfazed and continued to cruise along like a pregnant lady promenading.

Finally, I reached the 21K turning point which is somewhere near the road going to the PMA school. I checked my watch and was surprised to find out I only so far consumed 57 minutes. I asked the race marshal at the turning point if this point was already the tenth kilometers. The lady marshal confirmed that I am now at the 10. 5 kilometers mark. I was jubilant. Not only that I wasn’t doing bad with my pace, I was thinking that my 10 kilometer Personal Record of 56 minutes, if this was indeed 10. 5 kilometers then I might have already shattered my 10 k PR.

As I circled back from the 21 turning point, I saw that I wasn’t actually at the tail part of the 21 k runners but probably still a little closer to the middle. The bird costume runner, thank God, was way behind me.

Enter now the road to Happy Hallow. Earlier in the race as I was beginning to catch up to some of the runner, I chanced upon a fellow runner who at the juncture of the race was now beginning to struggle to keep up with her other running buddies. I told her, one way to deal with her depleting stamina is to use the Jeff Galloway formula of 4-1. That is to run for 4 minutes continuously then walk for a minute for recovery. I adopted this method after the 21 K turning point when I thought that the return trip to the finish line would now herald that uphill portion of the race. The sooner however I stepped in the Happy Hallow phase of the race, I ate my words about the Galloway method and discarded it altogether. This portion of the race opened up with an uphill run or in my case walk to Mount Calvary. The slope was so steep that even if I tried to shorten my steps it was so tedious. But upon reaching the summit just a hundred meters or so away, an equally steep downward slope that run almost forever surprised me.

The end of this downward run fed to dirt roads and jackhammer pocked-marked road. At this juncture I caught up with some more runners. One who was from Subic Bay, Zambales told me that the previous uphill encounter was the last of the lung bursting run and from hereon it would just be rough to moderate slope road until Baguio Country Club. Something at the back of my mind could not reconcile the fact that most of the route we have so far taken to reach our current location, aside from the one uphill run, were mostly descents. Surely, if we were to return to where we came from we have to ascend again somehow. I could not shake away the 14 hills that we were supposed to conquer.  I had to take his word with a grain of salt so to speak.

Suddenly, it began to unfold right in front of us, the hills that will actually crucify us. Glaring at us as if mocking us. The slope was stiff and harkened back to the Nathan Tagaytay Ridge Run, in the last 7 or so kilometers a stiff climb had to be negotiated prior to the cruise to the finish line and consider the challenge completed in Tagaytay.  Now, the same challenge was facing me. I tried to walk with smaller and slower steps but still I got tired quickly. I saw someone earlier walking in zigzag or diagonal first to the left then to the right. The approach was a longer way to traverse the sharply inclined road but it kind of work, so, I adopted it as well. This went on and on and on until I could finally see the green structure on top of the mountain, I assumed to be Baguio Country Club began to grow bigger and more palpable.

After crossing the final ascending road it began to meet up with the main road South Drive. There are only about 4 kilometer left to accomplish. I am coming home. In fact except the part that I almost got lost at the last few meters before the finish line because Burnham Park was totally covered with people, parked vehicles and makeshift bazaars, with no marshals nor signage to direct runners to where the finish line was, the run to the finish line was uneventful. I felt actually less bit weathered out and probably had recovered already. By the time I reached the finish line I checked my watch. I clocked a finished of 2:40:51. The hills only took away about 11 minutes from my usual 21k finish. I conquered Baguio. I can’t wait to return to Tagaytay and prove once more I am not buckling down on the return bout.

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