Tales of Two Trail Runs and a Race at the Rice Terraces

Reeling from the failed attempt to conquer, Pilipinas Akyathon 2014, Salomon Xtrail 2014 and TNF 100 2014, I bounced back at the two other trail running events, the Brook Run Happy 3 and Nature Trail Discovery Run III Leg 1 and 1 full mary at Ifugao Province.

Brooks Run Happy 3 Cross Country Challenge was held last May 11, 2014 with its gun start held at Sierra Madre Hotel and Resort, Tanay, Rizal. I signed up in the 24k category of the event. After the runners were released from the starting chute the runners hit the pavement for only a few meters of concrete road along Marcos Highway then runners entered the trail portion of the race beginning with 6 kilometers downhill run. Along the way about 10 rivers, which with the current dry spell seem to have reduced the river to mere puddles spread about the flat terrain the runners crossed. Otherwise, the rivers might have been filled with rushing cool water, which I had in previous trail run events experienced in other parts of Tanay in another time of the year. Barangay Laiban town proper lies at the end of the river crossings. Then from there the runners were launched into yet another series of flat terrain that eventually led to a waterfall whose refreshing water had also been reduced to trickle. This served as the first u-turn for the 24k runners. The second u-turn of the race was 4 kilometer farther. Runners then retraced the route including the last 5 kilometers uphill assault before finally entering the Sierra Madre Hotel and Resort were a series of obstacle courses that includes wall climb, rappelling down the side of a hill and another on a huge tarpaulin covered ground, then a steep concrete road uphill assault awaits runners prior to crossing the finish line. I finished the race at 4:29:59.

This year’s NTDR III leg 1 was held last May 25, 2014 at 4:00 am along the dimly lit road of Sta. Ines near Sitio Batangas, Barangay Cuyambay, Tanay, Rizal. After gun start and about a kilometer of concrete road, the runners entered the trail portion of the race illuminated only with the runners’ headlamps. When the sky finally slowly becoming brighter as day dawns the trail gave way to the breathtaking view of mountains and valley. Although the runners were able to reach about 749 meters elevation the climb was hardly discerned. For the assault was gradual and the runners were probably too preoccupied with shooting “selfies” and sceneries with their cellphone and Go Pro’s. Then after running for about 10 kilometers a series of downhill run ensued. Then just as when you thought that this leg 1 was a push over a steep assault on Bangkaan’s peak at 500 meters challenges runners. After passing this part of the race the runners entered Barangay San Andres, the venue where the very first NTDR event happened. I thought the end of the race was close at hand and so I was sighing with relief. But after brief respite for hydration another steep path obliged runners to cross. The other end of this trail led to the 21k U-turn which was located across a cool river. The race to the starting arch and finish line was characterized by long flat road that gave way to about 3 kilometer uphill concrete road that finally exited at Sta. Ines Road. I finished the 21k category at 5:54:57.

Last June 8, 2014 I ran a full marathon in the event Rice Terraces Marathon held at Hungduan, Ifugao organized by Team Malaya. Race Terraces Marathon is the second of the three series of events with the first one held in Sagada, Mountain Province and the third leg to be held in Banaue, Ifugao. The objective of the organizer in putting together the current event was to promote Hungduan, Ifugao as a tourist destination. Usually when people talk about the UNESCO inscribed World Heritage Site in the Philippines what quickly comes to mind are the rice terraces in Banaue, Ifugao. However, what the UNESCO actually recognized was the whole clusters of rice terraces, which are found also in Hungduan, Kiangan and Mayoyao. This event will showcase some of those rice terraces found in Hungduan, which can be enjoyed seeing along the route of the race. Thus my interest to participate in this event was pique and with almost three weeks left before the event I managed to register to the event.

Without anticipating the travel time and the condition of the road going to Hungduan, I booked an accommodation at Banaue Hotel online. I was thinking I could stay in Banaue and go to Hungduan to get the race kit upon arrival a day before the actual race then return to Banaue for the evening and again return to the race event the following day for the 6:00 am gun start. Hungduan is about 25 kilometers from Banaue but it took about 2 hours to get there due the condition of the road where some parts are still characterized as rough, cake mudded and landslide-ridden road. I came to find this out only after I availed the free shuttle of the organizers. It turned out that the public utility vehicles, which I was thinking of availing was not plying the road as frequently as I thought it would. Had I proceeded with my original plan either I will be stuck in Hunduan with a hotel in Banaue paid but unused for the evening and with my things still at the hotel or I won’t get in time for the race if I managed to get back in Banaue. In fact, two other runners in separate situations shelled out between P800 and P2,000 for a motorcycle and the other for a tricycle ride to the race venue when they opted to a similar plan I had. It was providential thing that I was informed earlier that due to my having registered in the 42k category I was able to qualify for a free accommodation in Hungduan. I simply had my original booking rescheduled to the following day after the race for an extra day stay in Banaue.

When I was still working at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) I used to commute to Ifugao via Autobus. But it seems it no longer operate within the area anymore. While the Florida Bus, which also travels to Banaue was still suspended following the accident that got Tado Jimenez killed. Ohayami Trans, which has a terminal at Fajardo St. near Lacson Boulevard became my primary option. The terminal was a walking distance from my home and when I came there weeks before I was able to have an advance booking. On that same day I learned that a Dangwa Trans bound for Banaue happened to use the Florida Bus terminal to take in passengers. I felt quite uncertain about its early booking procedure so, I settled for the much smaller and crammed Ohayami bus.

On the day of my trip to Banaue it turned out that the bus was almost completely occupied by the race participants from Manila. There were some runners whom I already had an acquaintance with in other previous run events. While others I don’t recognized but upon overhearing them talked about some race events they joined in, I was quite certain I might had ran into them somehow for I also registered in those race event. Soon we were all cozying up with each other like we were soldiers who fought previously on similar battles, exchanging war stories and currently about to be sent into yet another war.

After 9 hours of travel we arrived at Banaue at around 7:00 am and after taking our breakfast separately was lining up at the tourism office for registration and payment of tourist fee. At around 8:00 am we departed for Hungduan and by 10:00 am I was assigned in one of the traditional Ifugao houses sprawling the Heritage Village in front of the municipal hall of Hungduan. The Ifugao house I settled in aside for having an indoor fire cooking area and a non-working light switch was bare of any proper sleeping accessories like mat and beddings. Since, I was not informed of the condition of the accommodation I came unprepared to sleep under the aforementioned condition. As a result, I and another runner assigned with me at the hut slept on an uncovered wooden planks floor without at least a blanket to fight off the chilly mountain and evening air seeping in our hut unchecked through the slits of the flooring and gaping doorway. So, after a dinner of “pinikpikang manok” (a local cuisine where native chicken are cooked directly on fire and then placed in broth), broth, sliced vegetable, a large viand of locally grown rice and a dessert of cassava cake, I immediately prepared for sleep at 7:00 pm.

At 6:00 am we at the 42k category were given the gong start. We were just 28 runners while those under the 21k category were 66. The initial route we took from the starting arch was composed of about 600 meters of steep downhill run until the road meets the Tinoc-Hinduan-Banaue Road. The main road going to the right is headed for Banaue while the left side going to Tinoc. The 42k runners took the road going to Tinoc. At the early part of the race it was already clear I was going to be again in the last part of the short line of runners rushing ahead. I caught up with another runner who had already done Bataan Death March under the 102km category. He told me his current pace enabled him to weather through the long distance run of BDM until the finish line. This pace was fine with me so, I ran along with him until I couldn’t catch up because of my injury and I need to stop every once in awhile. We passed by along a road that was still covered with debris from a recent landslide. The Abatan Rice Terraces loomed at the left side of the road. Reading from the organizer’s post at their website, I thought the race route was basically concrete road that is why I brought in my regular road running shoes. However, as I slowly begin to figure it out the road was almost akin to the road we took in coming to Hungduan which was basically dirt, puddle and other parts of the road in various stage of construction. Our first U-turn was at the 11th kilometer where Kinga Rice Terraces dominate the background. In spite of arriving at the tail end of the other runners there were still an ample supply of Gatorade, Coke and water for hydration while 2 types of banana (lakatan and saba) and sweet potatoes for meal can be had unlimited. I learned that behind me there were still four other runners including the guy with the bib number 001 whom later I learned traveled all the way from Manila via Baguio and then Banaue. He then commuted to Hungduan and went straight to run in the 42k.

About 3 kilometer from the U-turn was a detour going to Balentimol Falls. The way was uphill with loose and degraded path, slippery boulders and wet rocks. I was hanging to my dear old life in fear that my traction-less Saucony Kinvara might slip from its hold on the precarious ground and goes straight to the rushing cold spring gushing at the left side of the trail. But once you managed to reach Balentimol Falls, the cold water flowing from above was enough to dissipate the weariness and tiredness brought about by running for 3 hours. From this U-turn the runners retraced their steps until the detour and the main road again. The runners take the direction of the main road that was heading back to Hungduan. By the time I crossed the 22nd kilometers I was encountering the other runners from the 21k category who were returning to the start/finish area. Their journey was ending soon while they know mine going to where they came from was just beginning. They smiled and gave words of encouragements at me. At around 9:45 am the sun was streaking and no amount of Hungduan’s being in Cordillera could keep away the blazing sun’s heat which I sought to escape in Manila. Dakitan Rice Terraces known for its being like spider web (along with Hapao) terraces was dotting the right side of the road. At the 30th kilometer was an aid station and a detour going to Hapao Rice Terraces. I caught up with three other runners and together we run on top of the cemented rice terraces wall. The third U-turn was at Bogyah Hot and Cold Spring. We plunged ourselves at the cold spring. My aching feet suddenly felt relieved and my tiredness dissipated as well. Another runner caught up with us but opted not to dip into the water and took the road as quickly as he came in. With a bit of regret the four of us, left the cold spring to retrace our way back to the aid station and the main road. At the aid station while taking refreshments rain began to pelt. We took it as a cue for us to return and finish the remaining 8 kilometers of the race. At 2:00 pm I crossed the finish line with a time of 8:04:10 as the 22nd runner to finish the 42k. with this done I felt ready for the following week ultramarathon whose gun start begins in Kawit, Cavite and the finish line located beyond the Kaybiang Tunnel in Ternate, Cavite.