Summing Up My Summit Run of Mt. Ugo

 

“It’s just another trail run”, so I thought. Without reading the details about the race except for the part about how much to pay for registering at “Pilipinas Akyathon 2014: The Sky Race” slated on February 8, 2014, I quickly filled out the event’s online registration, booked me a 3 day hotel accommodation at Baguio City and was off to the nearest bank to deposit the amount of P2,400.00 as payment. Only after reading a few more details later about the race because I was getting anxiously excited about my first trail run at Mt. Ugo did it slowly dawned to me that I might have made a big mistake at signing up. The Pilipinas Akyathon which was organized by Philippine Skyrunning Association (PSA), a non-stock organization that promotes the sport of high altitude mountain trail running or skyrunning has organized Pilipinas Akyathon 2014 as the first of the 3 leg Asian Mountain Race Circuit. The other two legs were to be held at Mt. Fuji, Japan and at Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia.

 

I checked the final list of participants and saw that there were only 159. There were foreign runners coming from Singapore, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Chile, France, Malaysia, Japan and Uruguay joining the fray. This mean this trail run event was not similar to the usual trail running event I was able to participate in the past. This event was actually for the more experienced mountain runners. The word “experience”, I meant, refers to those who can run steeply inclined slope and other stuffs that make a trail route highly technical for breakfast or before taking one.  Last year’s Akyathon was won by a French runner, Clement Dumont who is returning to defend the title, while the last year’s over-all Asian Championship was held by the Japanese runner, Dai Matsumoto.

 

Ever since reading about the other events featuring Mt. Ugo in the Front Runner Magazine, I was always curious about Mt. Ugo and long to take a crack at trail running at this mountain.   However, most of the previous events were mainly ultramarathon in nature and their gun starts were held at Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya where I am not so familiar with in terms of getting to the venue and looking for accommodation. That is why when a 36km run at Mt. Ugo and with a gun start at Itogon, Benguet about 30 minutes away from Baguio City, I thought joining this event was the best idea ever.

 

My fascination with Mt. Ugo has something to do with the Indiana Jones part in me. You see, Mt. Ugo is somewhere along an old Spanish route that was used by Spanish missionaries in crossing from eastern part of Luzon to the western part of Cordillera where Ilocos region lies, to shortened the trip that was used to be done by sea during the early colonization period. This area was known to be perilous because aside from the mountain locked terrain, it was held by several headhunting local indigenous communities collectively called Igorotes by the Spaniards. I was imagining there might still be old relics like “visitas” along the way. I was also lured by the idea of crossing hanging bridge that stood a hundred feet above the Agno River and seeing mountains lined up to welcome runners traversing more mountains on the way to the summit of Mt. Ugo, which nestles at 2,150 MASL.

 

I should have gotten an idea of what sort of event this was from a past experience with the organizer. It turned out that the Philippine Skyrunning Association was also the organizer of the 4th Camaya Coast Aquathlon along with the Triathletes Association of the Philippines (TRAP), which I also participated in the past. In the 10k trail run event I pitted with the more experience runners with some having run the 100k category of The North Face 100. That event was actually intended to gather triathletes locally and from abroad to compete in different categories just to keep these athletes in groove since there were not a lot of events for triathletes being held at that time. I held out just fine but I probably stood out a lot like a sore thumb for being the least likely to survive such event without a proper training. I was just glad then that I did not signed up to a category, which had aside from trail, mountain and beach running had a swim portion included.  Still, I was not feeling daunted about the Akyathon. The promise of respite from work and a weekend in Baguio was more than just the mere motivation for me to vanish my hibby jibby about the race.

 

The race began at 6:00 am at the barangay hall of Tinongdan, Itogon, where the runners plunged into a knee breaking 1.7 kilometers steep downhill paved road run. While negotiating this portion of the race, I was already dreading the thought of me returning here and running the opposite direction uphill going to the finish line. Below after a few meters away awaiting the runners was a hanging bridge suspended a hundred feet above Agno River. Mentally I checked the box in my head of an accomplished expectation. Across the hanging bridge began the real “akyathon”. Even the kilometer marker here was set to 1. Most of the way from here was a series of uphill trail roads and ravine-ridden path traversing one hill to another. Seeing that in spite of having run already several kilometers the first kilometer marker we met states only 3km. This produced a disheartening effect on me. Even the length of each kilometers seem to stretched farther than the kilometers I am use to running on road and in some other trail run I had. At this early juncture of the race I already felt I was in the tail end of the race partly because I am still nursing a plantar fasciitis and so I tread very carefully and deliberately. The other reason I was taking my time was that I confidently calculated mentally that even with my slow pace, with a 5 hours cut-off time to reach the summit of Mt. Ugo, I could still make it there with even a less than an hour to spare.  But as the trail began to bare its true nature, gravity seemed to pull me down. I felt weighted and unable to push forward faster than I know I can.  At around the 7km marker or roughly 8.7km (including the 1.7 km length from the starting point) the locals from Barangay Lamot had sighted the Japanese runner Dai Matsumoto who was already heading back from the summit. At the nearby hydration station while I was eating sweet potato the Japanese made a brief stop over to take in hydration and soon was hitting the trail again with me eating his dust. He finished the race first with a time of 3:21:09. Another Japanese passed me by as I crossed a rice paddy. Yoshihito Kondo finished the race second with a time of 3:28:14. Last year’s champion Clement Dumont whom I didn’t noticed along the way finished third with a time of 4:00:14.  Farther up road I came across the former UST Mountaineer, Majo Liao a female runner who took the second place champion in the female category with time of 5:16:06. She actually went back to summit Mt. Ugo much later in February for a 100 kilometer run and bag the championship in that event.

 

The time I predicted I will summit Mt. Ugo suddenly seem to grow distance as time slowly dwindled away along with my strength. A female Malaysian who seemed to share my dissipating ability to go on after coming behind me and telling me she did not ever experienced anything like this in Malaysia in spite of there also having several mountains was soon racing ahead of me inch by inch, foot by foot until I can no longer see her in front of me. There were now other runners returning from the summit. Each time I passed one of them they were telling me the summit was near. But the more the path seemed farther and the path getting steeper.  At that point I no longer believed anyone’s word about the distance.  In the last few hundred meters before the summit the battle to reach the summit was fought inch by inch.  I was so spent that I actually decided early on to retire from the race.  I was just looking for a place to pee, rest and perhaps cry a bit. But the promise of a shaded area complete with some “amenities” waiting at the summit lured me to persevere further. By the time I got to the summit I was probably late by 5 to 10 minutes from the cut off time. The marshal in charge was quite insistent of the strict implementation of the cut off time. I did not anymore challenged or attempted to plea for consideration unlike the other runner ahead of me and got to the summit just a minute late from the cut off time. I thought, with me not anymore in the race to finish the return trip from the summit to the finish line before 3:00 o’ clock in the afternoon I could rest for an hour at the summit. But having me as the last runner to reach the summit, the marshals along with the medical staffs began packing up their things in preparation to descend and sweep the trail for other runners. I was told that I only have about 5 minutes to rest, go to the summit marker, savor the moment and have my photograph taken. Too wasted to move from the spot I chose to collapse, I declined to even take a peek of the peak’s marker. Saying I will do so the next time I’m back for a revenge climb. Although deep inside me I already made a promise not to return and repeat my defeat. I was then given a guide to accompany me (and maybe to make sure I go down whole and safely) on the way down of the mountain. I seriously asked the marshal before he went ahead if there were easier and an alternative way to go down the mountain and back to the finish line I can take since I’m no longer in the race. Unfortunately there was none. I had to endure the same hardship the other runners who were still in the race had to go through. So as soon as I recovered a little, the rest of the people on top of Mt. Ugo and I began our descent. As it turn out the way down was much easier. I also had the opportunity to finally enjoy the breathtaking view of the mountains, trees and terrain, which I was not able to notice while climbing up because most of the time I was staring at the ground and ravine. At the 14th kilometer marker or perhaps the real 21st kilometer of the race we rested to eat a much delayed lunch. Having no packed lunch for myself, I dug in on the race volunteers, marshals and medical personnel’s provision of smoked fish, rice and hardboiled egg. On the way down we chance upon three runners who did not even made it to the summit. One was suffering from cramps. He later told us on our way back to Baguio that he was carried piggyback by the town councilor himself and felt embarrassed about it since he is quite a large person to be carried by an elderly government official. The two others accompanied us until just before the hanging bridge maybe the 34th kilometer of the race when both runners disappeared on us. We learn later that they both took a motorcycle going back to the finish line. By the time I finally reached the finish line it was already past 7:00 pm. All of the other except the three runners we met on our way down had already left.   I was the last runner to cross the finish line. But in spite of being last I was still granted my finisher’s medal and I was glad for it.   I left the race venue not feeling defeated. I don’t even feel I need to go back to redeem myself. There are just mountains that one can’t scale or in this case race that can not be finished within the time allotted without the proper preparation for it. In April I will attempt to redeem myself again in Nasugbu, Batangas in the event Salomon Xtrail 2014 maybe if I do managed to redeem myself it won’t be far fetch it return to Mt. Ugo with some form of vengeance in mind.   

 

 

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42 At 44 in Subic And An Unfortunate 70 + at 100th

Running at the Subic International Marathon last January 26, 2014 enabled me to completely cover the whole area of Subic Freeport on foot. The first time I ran at Subic was in November 2013 during the Subic Victory Night Run when joined the 16 km category. The route featured in that event composed of the east portion of SBMA from the Boardwalk area until just over the Subic Bay Yacht Club along Rizal Highway. The recent run at Subic under the 42 K category had me running as far as Ocean Adventure and the Morong Gate. Conquering Subic had been a happy occasion, however, it was punctured with the news from a teacher colleague and which was eventually confirmed by the event organizers the news that one of our fellow marathon runners was unfortunate enough not to celebrate crossing the finish line. He died somewhere between the 34th and 36th kilometer of the run.

 

It wouldn’t be fair to say I attract death whenever I join a run event but this recent demise of a runner while in a run event was the third in the three run event I have participated. The first death was by the runner Remus Fuentes, 37 years old. He was said to be within a kilometer away form the finish line when he died while running in the 21k category at the 34th Milo International Marathon in July 4, 2010. I was running my first Milo International Marathon then under the 10k category. He died of multiple organ failure from heat stroke. Hydration was said to be lacking in this event.

 

The second reported death while in a run event was Sigue Corre Runners’ President Romel Defeo, 35 years old. He was running in the 21k category of the PSE Bull Run last January 13, 2013. He died of hypokalemia. This is when potassium in the blood serum went below the normal level. I was also running in the 21k category of this race.

 

The most recent one haven’t hit the news yet. The runner, Dr. Ed Yruma 73 years old a member of the Greenhills Tri Team was running his 100th marathon when he died. I might have seen him at the 42k turn around at Ocean Adventure. He was already in bad shape judging from the grimacing expression of his face. But maybe so was I if you have seen me in the last 8 kilometers of the race. The sun was already streaking high. My left foot was aching from plantar fasciitis. The whole race route itself wasn’t necessarily forgiving in the first place.    

 

After about 30 minutes delay at 4:30 a.m. due to clearing of the road brought about by a car accident somewhere at Rizal Highway, the race took off from inside the tracks of Remy Field. The runners made way towards Burgos St. exit of the oval and turned right towards Rizal Highway until Argonaut Highway where runners again turned right. Prior to this run, the farthest I reached from my meandering inside Subic the previous day was the Adidas Outlet along Argonaut Highway. The Petron Gas station within this area served as a pit stop for travelers and formal entrance to Subic for those coming from Manila via SCTEX. The 5th kilometer mark of the race was located along United Auctioneers Building.  From here we soon entered a road that was pitch dark. This might be the CUBI Point. At our left side lines of trees sprawling. We were told at the starting lane that monkeys might be wandering along the way and would be best for us not to agitate or feed them. At the right side was the view of the harbor. While below our elevated path was the Subic International Airport which I was not aware of until we passed by it again on our way back to the finish line. Once we got out of this portion on the race it was predominantly uphill from then on. The 10th kilometer marker of the race was at Pacific Ace along Corregidor Rd. By the time we I crossed SBMA’s second gate the sky was beginning to brighten up the trees lined, winding snaked, uphill road. At the 15th kilometer in Wartsila I took my first Salt Stick capsule. I was basically walking along these uphill roads. Reaching a crossroad the runners turned right towards Ilanin Rd., a long slightly up and downward slope road. I was aware that I am at the tail end part of the lines of runners making v-line towards the end of this road. I could only see quite a few runners behind me while at the opposite side of the road runners returning from the turn around were aplenty. I saw two acquaintances of mine, one a former classmate in high school and another from the other previous run events, passed me by. Finally I reached Ocean Adventure Resort, the 42K category’s turn around and kidding-ly shouted, “finish”. A female race marshal said of course, that it was not yet, and I still had to return all the way back to Remy Field for the finish line. Laughing about this stunt brought back some vigor in me. On my way back that’s when I started counting runners behind me. I counted roughly 14. I saw another acquaintance whom also happened to be a former classmate of mine in elementary and was once a performing artist from her childhood. She was struggling due to her previous knee injury which she gotten after running at Singapore International Marathon last December 2013. It was also around this point when I saw who I believe to be Dr. Yruma.  I can sense he was also laboring hard to cross the turn around point. At this junction of the race, I began to notice the bothersome pain at both feet of mine. Not so much because of the Plantar Fasciitis for it was kind of behaving a bit less boisterously all throughout of the race so far, but it was actually because of my shoes. My kinvara Saucony was somewhat loose. Only after I adjusted the shoelaces according to the style of tying I was taught by the salesperson whom sold me my New Balance shoes that got me into trouble at the Cavite to Laguna Run, that my shoes seemed to fit well and enabled me to run a bit comfortable. But the strain that was earlier caused by my haphazard wearing of shoes had already strained my feet to the point I was not capable of making longer strides without feeling some pain. I exited Ilanin Rd. and at about less than 500 meters made a right turn towards Morong Gate another turn around. From this point a lot of downhill awaited us. There were fewer runners I could see ahead of me. Somewhere near what I think was the 30th kilometer of the race the earlier acquaintance of mine who was struggling to get to Ocean Adventure passed by while riding at the back of a motorcycle. She decided to retire from the race instead of risking aggravating her condition. A wise decision I think, for there are still a lot of run events beyond SIM 2014 that is worth preparing for than dying this race for. At around the last 8 kilometers of the race, just before hitting the Subic International Airport, I caught up with four other runners. I spoke with one whose age was 52 years old and who happened to have a Plantar Fasciitis also. He said he might be running his last 42k and would prefer returning to running 21k races instead. He said he has nothing to prove anymore to anyone including himself.  Soon we hit Argonaut highway. More runners were showing up ahead of us. Little by little we gain on them and even overtook a few. Other joined our little band of runners including one from the Greenhills Tri Team. We were actually feeling worried about the cut off time to the point that every time an event organizer’s vehicle or an ambulance came to view coming towards us we thought we were about to be picked up. So we hurried our pace a little until we were once again tired which was just after a couple of steps. Maybe some time at this point was when Dr. Yruma collapsed.  At the last 3 kilometer of the race the Petron Gas Station came to view like a beacon telling us that our toils were about to end soon. I felt a certain vigor once again that it enabled me to stepped up my pace. I left the band of runners determined to reach the cut off time at 10:30 a.m. or at a time of 6 hours annd 30 minutes. At the last kilometer of the race I was even attempting to overtake another runner who was also picking up his speed fired perhaps by the promise of finally ending this race. Once I entered the Remy Field for the final few meter dash to the finish line, other runners were clapping and cheering for us. I struggled to keep my running pace up with the little stamina left in me otherwise it would be quite a sight if I suddenly drop speed and walk toward the arch because I finally loss my wind. But instead I was opting for a dramatic ending which is a strong finish. The race/event emcee was describing my all-smiling face over the microphone. I was actually preparing for a photo opportunity as I approach the finish line. Alas, at a time of 6:25:15 I crossed the finish line. I’m the 331th out of 360 that crossed the finish line. 14 others did not finished the race including the dead runner or perhaps he did it while his physical body was left behind under the care of those who tried to revive him and ambulanced him to the nearest hospital.

 

After congratulating a fellow runner, I made another dash – although, I was actually limping – for a photo-finish.  Only this time towards my hotel accommodation which happened to be just a few meters away from the race venue.  I was supposed to check out in about an hour. Another run event done in another place I used to be not so familiar with. Notwithstanding that death stalks in every run event, I don’t think I will easily be cowered into quitting running pretty soon. With runners like Dr. Yruma and Victor Ting, I am even more inspired to continue running even when I am all white and seemingly withered as long as my feet can carry me along the paved roads of both run events and life.