Trail and Tribulation: My first 42 K Trail Run

Bonifacio Day usually passed me by without fanfare, primarily because there’s not much effort going on by the government to commemorate the birth of this otherwise important member of the pantheon of Philippine Revolutionary heroes. This year however, was rather different for me. A heroic struggle for a cause took center stage for me this November 30, 2013 when I joined the 1st Cavinti Adventure and Trail Marathon, my first 42-kilometer run with a trail run component. Clumped together like the cake of mud clinging our shoes that I encountered along the way, the run event had about 25 kilometers of muddy trail, 17 kilometers of mostly tree-lined road, passing by a breath-taking view of Lumot Lake, crossing towns, spillways, waterfalls and an eco-park.


But what makes this run most formidable like the travails of Andres Bonifacio was that I ran with my left foot suffering from Plantar Fasciitis, an ailment that commonly besets runners. It is characterized by micro-tearing and inflammation of plantar fascia, a broad band of fibrous tissue which runs along the bottom surface of the foot attached to the bottom of the heel bone and extending to the fore foot. I think even before I started joining run events a lot, I already had bouts of painful Achilles during and after badminton games. But I just shrugged off the pain and after a day or two I don’t feel any of the pain again until months later after again a series of badminton games. Then I got involved in running in 2010. Early this year, I ran 42k in the Condura Skyway Marathon where I was encumbered by my painful left foot arch from the 24th kilometer and onwards. Again after about 2 days none of the pain remained. It resurfaced during my attempt to run 42 kilometer at the Run United Philippine Marathon last October 2013. I only held up until the 21st kilometer and settled not to continue with the rest of the race for fear of aggravating the injury. The pain recurred this November and from then on it stayed pretty much like a shadow. This is when I accepted the fact that this is indeed Plantar Fasciitis. According to a runner I spoke with, the treatment would require a long moratorium in running for this injury is notoriously slow in healing. I could not comply with the suggestion of sabbatical leave from running since I have already registered to various running events until the end of January 2014, which included a 50k ultra-marathon and a 42 k run in Subic. Thus my struggle to reach the finish line during this trail run was akin to the hardship but heroic efforts of the ill-armed Katipuneros fighting the well armed Spanish forces for independence whose only might they could muster were the inspired words and vision of Andres Bonifacio of a free country.


The starting point of the race was at the covered town plaza fronting the municipal hall of Cavinti, Laguna. Looming in the background was the old Transfiguration of Our Lord Church of Cavinti which was first constructed in the 17th century but was destroyed during the Chinese uprising. It was rebuilt in the mid 19th century but was twice destroyed by earthquakes the first time in late 19th century and again in the 1930’s. Unfortunately with the rain pelting at 4:00 p.m. that had us scampering inside the covered plaza and a power outage that plunged the race event venue in darkness, the church was barely discernible to us runners. At 5:30 a.m. gun start, we did not any more had a chance to see the church in its full glory for it lies at our back when facing the starting arch. The race route began at Rizal Street then to the Lumban-Caliraya-Cavinti Highway passing by the bridge where at the right side of it lies Bagumbung Eco-Park. The road part of this race is basically composed of a combination of flat, uphill, downhill slope in a constantly snake-winding road. Upon reaching the 5th kilometer, the 21k category runners, which started along with the 42k runners, turned right and entered their off-road portion of the race. While the 42k runners pushed ahead of the road. All of a sudden, I noticed the number of runners thinned out until I couldn’t see anyone ahead or at the back of me. I began to worry as what the race organizer, Joseph Prince Balthazar mentioned to me during the race kit claiming at the 100 Miles Restaurant in BGC that he hit his “wall” at the 21 kilometer portion of this run which means this run event was not for the faint hearted in degree of challenge it pose. This made me think I committed a big mistake at registering for the 42k category considering my injury.


I reached the portion for the 42k runners’ entrance to the trail path. Along the way many runners from the 21k, many of them familiar with me were coming from the opposite end of the path passed me by with some staring at me as if I must be one crazy dude to choose to go on a 42k trail run, while some seemed impressed. On my part I keep thinking that I must have made a wrong turn or something for there were no race marshals or directional signage to tell me which direction to take. This went on for some time. Another thought occupied my mind.  Maybe there might just be about 20-30 of us in the 42k category. With most of them being elite runners and does this kind of running like taking Starbucks coffee to while away the time, all ahead of me. I must be the last runner in the category.  


From the onset of the race after gun start I chose to lag behind the pack running about 8-9 minutes per kilometers or slower. I don’t want to push myself early on the race and risk hitting my wall early or get my left foot acting out on me again. So far, the strategy worked and the combined effort of ankle support and kinesiology tape kept my left foot quiet for a while. This run was suppose to be my gauge whether I can keep on running after the last of the run event I signed up scheduled January 29, 2014 or I will call it quits until my left foot heals.


To be honest about it, the trail which this event present was a whole lot easier to run on than I had previously experienced in the trails at Merrell Adventure Run held at Timberland and another one in another part of San Mateo, Rizal; the trails of the Nature’s Trail Discovery Run series in Tanay, Rizal; and the trail in Salomon’s X-trail Run held at Nasugbu, Batangas.  The soft mud hole that swallowed up my left calf and a one time slip that had my butt kissing the muddy ground with a splat was nothing like the stiff uphill climb with the ground perilously slippery wet with mud; wading through black rice field paddy; negotiating sharp-stone ridden path that not only hard for both my heel bones every time I land on them but along an elevated portion at Nature’s Trail Discovery Run Leg 3 2012, I tripped on one such stone and had me almost thrown off into a ravine with no one there to see me if I happen to actually fall off; or running in an environment with one moment the air is humid and then later the searing heat of the sun beaming along the trail. These were just the quick preview I had to contend with in the other previous trail run events. My Adidas Kanadia TR 4, an Adidas training and trail running shoes that came out about 2 years ago, weathered the Cavinti trail. In spite of its featured “mud release sole” dark orange colored mud clung for dear old life to keep me pestered all through out the trail but otherwise, I managed through with the soft mud acting as a kind of cushion that lessen the impact of ground to my left heel.


At around 13 km as I was checking my Soleus watch’s GPS for I scheduled to take a capsule of Salt Stick at 15km, I finally caught up with some 42k runners, two female runners one was from the Caliraya Runners club known as Runaholic. It was not long after that two more 42 runners, a couple and member of the Team Ok Ok running club also came up from the view. From being silent and alone for most of the earlier part of the run, the voices and conversation with fellow runners was a welcome relief much like the constant pouring of rain that kept the run less exhaustive. The guy offered me chocolate and told me that they both had already run 50k but this was the first time they tried trail running that’s why his wife was struggling a bit. They then move along ahead of me while I settled for walking with my left foot aflame of pain. Nearing the 21k mark, other 42k runners coming from the u-turn came by trickle at first then they began to pour in. I must not be that far behind the pack after all, I told myself. I crossed the u-turn, which I assumed was the 21st km with a time of 3 hours and 38 minutes. In my previous 21k trail run finish my average finish time fall between 4 hours 30 minutes and 5 hours 45 minutes. So, I thought I was doing fine. At my rate even if the cut-off time was 8 hours I can still make it for if I double my current time it will just be a little over 7 hours. But in trail running as in life it is not that simple. With my left foot already pounding in pain and the 21 kilometers left between me and the finish line was like a lifetime away, I can only find comfort at the fact that I was not yet the last person in the pack. In fact way behind me I saw an older guy, Mang Vic about 68 with two not so old ladies I thought he was accompanying. Maybe, even if I walk all the way to the finish I will still finish with dignity.


After taking a Gru energy gel and snack size Snickers, I moved on. Wonder of all wonder at about 25 kilometer, Mang Vic came and passed me by like a rushing train with a stamina as if he had forgotten his age at home and went to party like a teenager, brushing aside the muddy path that I had to walk slowly at to avoid sinking in. My confidence sunk. I later found out that Mang Vic was indeed a strong runner often called by other runners as Master Vic.   I never again saw a glimpse of his shadow, even though I tried to run to catch up with him. He disappeared like a wind while I struggled to establish distance from those others behind me.   There were still no marshal nor signage to guide runners. In cases there were fork in the road, I tried to read the ground for the direction where the shoes marks were heading and follow it. I followed the shoe marks to the letter that in a very slippery portion of the path I probably fell off my feet at the exact portion where the other runners ahead me slipped.


At around the 30th kilometer came the end of the trail part of the run. I doused myself into the refreshing cool gushing water from the Caliraya spillway. At first I was a bit shy to sprawl at the water to get rid of the mud that hitchhiked until that moment. But after much egging from one of the event photographers, I gave in and proceeded to wash away my running tights, shoes and hydration back pack. Also awaiting this stopover were bottles of 1 liter of Gatorade, hard boil eggs, bars of Cloud Nine chocolate. After taking a swig of Gatorade from one of the opened bottle and feasted on a hard boil egg, I popped into my mouth my final Salt Stick capsule. It was a little passed eleven o’clock in the morning and with just 12 kilometers left of the race I thought it would be an easier task running to the finish line.  I expected I can finish the race in about an hour and half the least thereby matching my two previous 42k finish time. But the concrete road of Barangay layug- Bukal Road presented another obstacle. The road was hard on my left heel and seems to exacerbate the pain I had been experiencing.  As I tread the road it became seemingly longer than it should be.  I began to lose patient with the distance. I heard from another older runner that usually this preoccupation on the distance leads runners to lose patient to the point of committing mistake like rushing too soon towards the finish line in hope of sustaining momentum but instead ends up hitting his wall.


Soon other runners began to overtake me including the couple of ladies whom earlier Mang Vic, “the Master” had previously accompanied passed me by. The running couple from the Team Ok Ok who earlier gave me chocolate appeared along side me. The three of us I entered the town of Cavinti together.  The old belfry of the church became visible and soon a renewed strength manifested in me. But then we passed the church and my hope that the finish line was moved to the covered town plaza disintegrated along with my strength. There are still roughly 1 to 2 kilometers from the finish line located at Bagumbung Eco-Park.  I have forgotten about my injury. What mattered then was to push myself and put an end on to this run. The van I came with along with other runners was already leaving for Manila when I came across it at the town plaza. We also met other runners who have long ago reached the finish line and have already tidied themselves up were also leaving the place. Then finally just like that, I entered the eco-park and was striding downhill towards the finish line. I think I finished the race at around seven hours and forty-five minutes, I could not tell because the official clock had already been turned off and my watch had conked out on me. As I crossed the finish arch, I was numb all over and could not fully appreciate the feat that I just had.  Partly because I was already thinking about accommodation for the evening and about my things that I left at the baggage counter at the town plaza. So, after the medal had been hung around my neck and photo op, I rushed back to the town plaza. Along the way about 8 more runners were finishing the race. I was not the last after all and probably this will not be my last run after all.