Running North

261 kilometer north of Manila is San Fernando City, La Union. With its hilly contours that could be capitalized to offer challenging race routes, proximity to beaches and surfing area and not to mention it being the gateway to Ilocos Region and Benguet province, La Union has a potential to become an annual running event hub north of the Philippines.

From last year until just last month of this year, I have already experience running in La Union when I participated in four running events organized there. What could, however, dampen the reception from Manila runners of that potential bid previously aforementioned is probably the lack of able and effective organizers for these annual run events. This opinion came from my personal experience and seems to be supported by feedbacks coming from the previous Manila participants in the last run events organized there.

Just to mention again, last year I had a chance to run in the 1st Ku Ikaika Run which earlier I already wrote a little piece about. This year, the organizer of that event, Irunner headed by Randy Abasolo teamed up with the United Architect of the Philippines to give us the 1st UAP-LU Explore Run held January 19, 2013. The venue of the event was Wallace Air Station. Yes, La Union airport. That was the beauty of this run an interesting venue, new angle. I ran in the 16 k category of this race. The race route took the runners from running end to end of the runway to The Cliff Golf and Beach Resort to Thunderbird Resort, Philippine Navy compound then circle around Poro Point Light house then back to the airport.

This event did not have much negative hitch in it except that the invitation was poorly received in Manila. The much belated 711 Run 800 was finally pushing through the day after the Explore Run and many had already long signed up for the 711 run. Thus there were only a handful of runners coming from Manila.  I think another worth considering also in relation to this run and reception it could have gotten with, was the distance of the race. I think 21K to 42K would be more attractive to runners hailing from Manila. Normally, “certified running addicts” were the ones who would go to great distance to run on attractive and challenging distance.

The next run event in La Union I found myself participating was the 2nd Ku Ikaika Run held February 23, 2013. This time the event was handled by Renderfarm Graphics headed by Philip Pacle who organized last year’s Baguio 21K. Unfortunately, it seems that Philip Pacle was probably quite busy with his organizing the 2013 version of Baguio 21K run scheduled to be held about three weeks after this event. With this and the fact there was lacking of communication about the race details coming from Mr. Pacle, it was quite obvious Ku Ikaika 2013 was just an unavoidable task entrusted upon him. It now became apparent that the actual event of Ku Ikaika was even more lackluster compare to its maiden run.  For one thing, there wasn’t much difference with the last year’s race route with the current one except that the gun start was done at 4:00 a.m. with so many parts of the road were still bathed in darkness. To think the road were pockmarked, uneven and cow dung littered.  With this event you would expect FB Fan Page to be put up by the organizers to answer queries from the participants about important details of the race. But this was not the case in this race. As a result of the “if- you-build-it- they-will-come” attitude of the organizer, compared to last year’s two busloads of contingents of runners from Manila alone who attended the event, for this year in the 42K category there were only about 30 runners while in the 21k category had only about 73.  Both aforementioned categories participants count already included the local participants. Last year time keeping was done with RFID, this year’s was manually done. But the positive note though, was that the race result came out earlier with a little sleuthing done to figure out where it would be posted. For this race I finished 2:34:43 a little better than the last year’s 2:45:22 official time posted.

The last La Union run event I joined was the La Union Unity Marathon 2 dubbed as “Super Marathon” held March 16, 2013. The organizer of this event was Irunner. What attracted me to participate in this run event was that, since I was not able to run up to Bacsil Ridge in Ku Ikaika for the route was not included in the 21k category of the latter race, and was now the main u-turn of the 21k category of LUUM2, I thought, I might as well signed up for this race just to see what was there to see in this much promoted ridge by the Ku Ikaika organizers. Bacsil Ridge is one of the most famous site in La Union which commemorate the heroic deeds of the Ilocanos against the Japanese in World War II.

But as it turned out, in LUUM2 Bacsil Ridge was not even the most challenging part of the race. It was Barangay Puspus or Agpuspusipus a Danum and the road going to Barangay Baraoas which were reserved exclusively for the 42k and 50k runners.  Both routes promised to be the most challenging uphill run that can rival a certain part of Tagaytay Ridge which was featured in Nathan Ridge Run and Salomon Xtrail Run 2013 which I thought was the toughest I have tried so far in terms of uphill road run. This detail was able to pique the interest of the challenge hungry run addicts of Manila and Southern Luzon.  In spite of the Unilab Run United 2013 Leg 1 happening the day after LUUM2, two buses where quickly filled by Manila runners and more caught up later before the midnight gun start.

The LUUM2 had almost had a great start with more runners from Manila still expressing desire to join the events long after the registration period was over. But then I started reading in the fan page about additional fees to cover for finisher shirt for the 21k runners, also raised in the fan page was issue about the finisher medals may not be enough and race briefing that doubled as carbo-loading party but the food was not going to be free.  then at the bus station in Manila the buses departed late again. The during the briefing the organizers was not quite certain how to distinguished those registrant that should be charged extra for medals and finisher shirts. The aforementioned issues were boding bad vibes about the race.

At pass midnight the 50 k runners had their gun start. This was followed an hour later by the 42 K runners.  The 21K runners were given their gun start at 4:00 a.m. there were only few of us in the 21K maybe about 30 the most. Some of the route like the uphill road towards Bacsil Ridge, in spite of a us having a later gun start, were still too dark. I can’t just imagine how it was in the 50K and 42K categories. Soon we heard from them that the route was pitched black even with their head lamp on.  With no marshal to assist them along the way there were runners who either got lost along the route or had chosen to take short cuts.

By the time runners began crossing the finish line another setback occurred. The finish times of the runners were not recorded because a power failure occurred. It did not dawn to the organizers to do the recording manually when it came to the point that they could not rely on the power coming back. They just allowed things to happen as it was. There were a lot of staff with pretty much noting else to do except to wander around like headless chicken who could not even answer a simplest query where to proceed after the race for the loot bag – The loot bag that contained only air and the finisher shirt I paid for.

By the time I was traveling back to Manila I posted at my facebook account via SMS that I have seen my last run in La Union. But then, as I read the post of the runners who participated in LUUM2, they have expressed some form of disappointment but at the same time also expressed desire to run again on LUUM3. This only goes to show that La Union had already made its mark on runners. It won’t be quite unthinkable that the tales that these participants weave through their blogs and brag would even attract other runners to take another crack at La Union. I myself is likewise contemplating if I could possibly give it a try one of the longer distance run in the future.

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Travail Tale of a Trail Runner

I have been in 9 trail running events in different venues that had featured combination of the following: bike trail, slippery muddy terrain, stiff uphill climb, river crossings and breathtaking views of mountains and sea. I thought, the 24 km run of Salomon Xtrail Run 2013 held at Hamilo, Nasugbu, Batangas would just be another trail run and venue to enjoy running at without much drama. But having glossed over the “highly technical” part of the description of the race really made me pay dearly during the actual run. It did not help warn me about the impending travails, the photographs posted by the organizers of the race with an earlier selected group of runners having experienced the trail routes first. In the photographs they were all smiles without a hint of having suffered even at least a broken toe while the backdrop of the West Philippine Sea and other picturesque sites of the cove luring us unsuspecting victims like flies to dash into the Venus fly trap plant’s warm guts. Hamilo Resort is after all a “club members” only resort who wouldn’t want to take the plunge into going there given any opportunity.

Minutes before the actual gun start I was still reminiscing the two weeks run events I previously joined with which were held one in Baguio and the other in La Union. Both featured uphill and downhill road run, which to my mind, could serve as a good preparation for this current run event. I was also banking on, as additional preparation, the afternoon forced walk I had taken from U.N. Avenue Taft, Manila to Makati City due to heavy traffic jam that resulted after the short isolated thunderstorm that happened an hour earlier that day.

At 5:15 am gun start officially ushered the runners into the race route. From the starting chute on the way out of the activity area we already experienced the first of the many uphill runs. At about 1.5 kilometer, just beyond the first hydration area we entered off a road dirt trail and into the designated bike trail of the resort. For several weeks now I am experiencing stabbing pain at my left heel bone although it was bearable enough for me to run with it in two earlier run events. I thought, a week without running before the Salomon Xtrail run, would help it dissipate the pain. But it didn’t. Worst, I made the wrong choice of shoes and opted to wear a Merrell foot glove.  The trail was paved with stones some of it were having sharp edges and since the day hadn’t still shed its light I blindly stumbled upon these stones crushing my heels on the hellish path which the thin soles of the shoes failed to cushioned.

After doubling back and exiting again at the road we set out towards the Marina Road. Along the way an elite runner coming from the direction I was heading had probably heard from the marshal wrongly that it was all-road running from then on. So that he wasn’t happy shouting about it as we passed each other by.  I secretly welcomed this development and thought that this event might just be like the Corregidor Half Marathon Run that I never yet tried before. In spite of the slow pace I was taking, the constant pounding of my beleaguered left heel on the concrete ground continues to aggravate the pain.

We passed by the Marina. Lots of runners were having their photographs taken. After the U-turn I was settling at the idea that this event was just simply a promotional gimmick to show off Hamilo Beach and Hotel Resort.

At 11 km we hit back the main road that was previously the long downhill stretch going to the Bike Trail. Now it began to haunt us as uphill going back to the race activity area. It’s walking time for me. Then upon entering the activity area we were directed towards the beach. More rocks welcomed me. My left heel was taking more beating again. The sand on the beachfront was too soft for one to run faster without feet sinking on the sand. But it at least relieved me form the rocks. We were running southward of the beach, the end of it leads to the steep mountain trail going upward. One of the runner ahead of me slipped and almost fell into the ravine. This is the Eco Trail. The highest portion of the Eco trail is about 150 meters. At this juncture the sun was high but manages to penetrate the foliage beat on us. I was feeling exhaustion brought about the climb, heat and the bothersome throbbing pain I continuously suffered at my left heel. The U-turn of this part of the race is the 15th kilometer and it commanded a majestic view of the cove.  From there we still were hitting some uphill trails until we finally came back to the part of the trail leading to the beach again. After hydrating ourselves we were ushered to run toward the north side of the beach crossing some young mangroves thrusting upward the soft sandy beach.  We now entered the 360 Trail with a highest elevation of just over 150 meters.  At the18 km I must have been running for 4 hours already. But with still 6 kilometers left in the race, at the back of my mind there is a silent prodding that our travails is far from being over.  The sounds of the activity area was audible from where I was, telling me that the finish area was just so near and therefore I should plough on.

Upon hitting the concrete road at the end of the 360 Trail, I began to hope again that maybe the last kilometers will be decided with mostly road run. Then we began to meet some of the lead runners coming from the opposite direction with dire warning to us to conserve our liquids for the assault at the Tower Trail. “What? There’s more?” I thought for myself. They were like the doom prophets and their telling us that no hydration stations up there where coming to us other runner like the news that the end of the world is nigh. You can tell from their facial expression that they did not have a very pleasant experience with this final leg of the race. These are runners who take on running 50 kilometers for a brisk walking.  I refilled my hydration bottle with Gatorade from the last hydration station of the race. I thought the content will sufficed the climb towards the summit of the Tower trail. With the trail’s inclination at almost 45 degrees and an elevation of its peak at 320 meters, I soon drank up the content of my hydration bottle with hardly reaching halfway to the summit yet. Along the way, I had to stop several times to pick up my breath and rest. I was climbing this dreaded mountain stooping and might be a bad portent of the state of my physical strength.  I contemplated on not anymore continuing with the assault especially when we heard the sound of the horn from the activity area signaling the cut off time. I was terribly exhausted and thirsting for liquids that as soon as an acquaintance passed me by, I asked him for some of his hydration.  Still this did not suffice. The climb to the peak was literally done inch by inch. At the peak was the 21kilometer U-turn. It felt bleak up there for the race marshal assigned there could not even give us a race bracelet signifying we reached this pit stop for it allegedly ran out already much more asked him if he has stashed somewhere precious liquids he could spare us.  He opted to take our bib number instead. I sorrowfully went straight to the trail heading back to the foot of the mountain.

The descent could have been much faster even without hurling ourselves to roll down the trail falling rocks and die. But with the knowledge that the cut off time had already gone there was no sense of urgency for me to get to the finish line. My priority was set instead on the acquisition of hydration. There were still many runners coming up the mountain.  I was tempted to be like the caterpillar who became a butterfly in the story “Hope for the Flower” and tell them there is nothing up there. Only butterfly can see what is up there.  Two of my other acquaintances were among them and they were slumped with exhaustion. When I finally reached the concrete road I was half going crazy looking for the hydration station, which I thought had already packed up. It turn out that the station was actually further situated along the crossroad. From there it’s just about a kilometer away from the finish chute. I walked until the last 500 meters and I tried to postured myself as a strong finisher to make my entrance to the finish line more dramatic. With now hydrated some sort my desire that a finisher medal could still be awarded to us revived.  However, upon crossing the finish line and my RFID torn away from my race bib no medal was slung over my neck. The medal that was supposed to prove that I conquered the most difficult trail I so far encountered was not considered. When allegedly there were some runners who took short cuts or no longer allowed to proceed to the Tower Trail were given medals when they reached the finish line earlier.

As of the moment after reading some of the other runners reaction about the race, I felt a certain assuage from not getting a medal from the words of those runners who applauded our efforts to finish the race. It was indeed a sort of oversight on my part to appreciate the importance of what I have gone through and make it as the sort of reward appropriate for the occasion that no amount of lead laden metallic pendant that I hardly wear nor see could impress upon. I am not a strong runner in fact I am just among those recreational runners who don’t spent so much time on training. Why whine for recognition for something done not as much as those who truly deserved the credit. With this thought I turn my eyes on other events. There will always be medals that matches my level and I will harvest them.

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Running from Running out of Running Blogs

If there’s one thing I find more difficult to do than running, it is probably maintaining a running blog. May last blog entry was dated November 7, 2012. It was about the first time I ran a full marathon. Since then I have already ran in 26 events including another full marathon. There has to be a lot more things to say about these events but I simply found myself mum about it.

As part of my difficulty of maintaining the blog is that I am not technically savvy about running. So, definitely I can’t impart running basics and valuable tip to improve on someone else’s running. In fact I am just now realizing that I been doing this running thing as the way I do, let say, going to mall. I do it without any thought as how to go about it. I just simply board a ride and alight. Running to me is just a way for me to get to elsewhere. Although the trip is short and I always go back to where I started, but being in a run event transport me beyond the present and into an imaginary place inside my head where of course in that place I am one of those elite runners. The course in my head are filled with much difficult challenges and that my finishing the race would spell defeating the overlord that had shackles the place I am representing in that imaginary adventure run. Thus, the actual real time race’s degree of difficulty pale compare to that of imaginary race I was in at the same time I was running the real race. It is just later on that it dawns to me that certain experience in the actual run event is also worth noting about and tends to write about later. But somehow I never got around writing it again

With vacation time again from teaching, I could probably spent some time again trying to jot down those notes and hopefully find ways to make those snippets quite worth taking time off to read.