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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