After just about three months since the Rice Terraces Marathon held in Hungduan, Ifugao last June 8, 2014, I was back again in Banaue, Ifugao for the Banaue-Batad Marathon, the third leg of Team Malaya’s Cordillera series held in August 24, 2014. Just as in Hungduan, I signed up for the 42k category and was assigned the number 2 Bib number. Portentous. In Hungduan Marathon the runner with Bib number 1 was the last person to cross the finish line at around 5 p.m.
The gun start or rather the gong start for the race was banged at 5:00 a.m. The runners of the 42K, all 68 of us and those of the 21k runners all 87 of them rushed downhill along the Banaue-Mayoyao-Aguinaldo-Lista-Ramon Road. For most of the way in this early part of the race, the road was concrete and winding. From the onset of the run I was already taking snapshots of the scene. In the past, I never took pictures of my run myself, much more lug along a camera. But smarting from the Hungduan Marathon, which had a lot of wonderful sights along the race route, I decided maybe for this run I should make the effort to carry a camera along just in case I found myself amidst breathtaking view. I opted to assign my Fuji x10 camera as my running camera buddy.
One of the tourist destinations along the road is the Guihob Natural Pool, which runners passed by at the left side of the road at around the 3rd kilometer of the route. Guihob is a picnic area with crystal clear spring water coming from a small waterfall. The right side of the race route, which seems to be posing for photo ops were valleys and terraces. At Kinakin, around the 8th kilometer of the race where the 2nd Aids Station was located, the 42 k runners turned left heading for Cambulo, which lies 14 kilometers further ahead. The route at the first 3 kilometers going to Cambulo was an uphill concrete road. Then the rest of the route was rough trail and dirt road with elevation reaching to 1,400 meters. The 21 k runners followed the main road of Banaue-Dalican until reaching Junction. To the left was the Saddle Point Access Road now all paved in concrete unlike how it use to look when I last visited the place several years ago. To the right of the Junction was the Banaue-Mayoyao-Potia-Isabela Road. From the Aids Station they were supposed to run for another 5 kilometers before making their u-turn at Saddle Point and back to the Municipal Hall of Banaue, the Finish line of the race. I said supposedly because the distance I mentioned base on what was given me by people I asked around seems almost a very rough estimation. But by experience the distance felt quite longer. The brochure I found at my hotel wrote that Batad is about 16 kilometer away from Banaue. So, if Saddle Point was the U-turn then if we subtract about 4 kilometers as distance from Saddle Point to Batad ViewPoint, then at least the 21k runners ran about 24 kilometers. I wonder about the actual distance ran by the 42k runners?
For us 42k runners after we exhausted the concrete road from the Kinakin our route took us to at least 4 minor waterfalls lining up along the gradually descending elevation path that will eventually lead to a major waterfall, the Tappiyah Falls in Batad, which lies at about the 27th kilometers of the race. For most of the time I was running the trail, I could not really see much of the mountains and rice terraces looming at the background for I was busy eyeing the path cautiously in fear of getting injured from tripping over exposed rock and getting sprain or something thereby adding to my other current complaints with my feet. Upon reaching the village of Cambulo, as if reminiscence of a portion of North Face Run, we went through the village running in between the narrow spaces of closely built houses as if we were running in a maze. Once out of the village at what could be the lowest elevation of the route, we crossed lines of perilously narrow stone path that served as the walls of the rice terraces of Cambulo. I almost fell when I made a miss step. When I opted to step on the rice paddy, the deep mud sucked my foot in.
When I found myself back on the trail again the elevation was gradually increasing again. There were still about 5 kilometers to go before reaching Tappiya Falls. The tall grasses that lined up the side of the narrow trail hides ravines that I twice almost fell into when I digressed a little from the trail. I was too exhausted already that my coordination and footing were becoming erratic. On the opposite end of the route I chance upon tourists who were probably coming from Tappiya Falls and were probably heading for Cambulo. There might be vehicle there that will lead them back to Banaue. By the time I got out from the trail I found myself on top of a mountain and looking at its other side. Just as what literature wrote about Batad’s rice terraces, curved out of the mountain, I was standing at a portion of the 3,700 feet above sea level 2,000 years old ampitheater-like rice terraces of Batad and looking much further down is the town of Batad nestled at the vortex of the rice terraces. Breath-taking. The way to Tappiya Falls was through a very long steep descent on a narrow stone staircase, which I imagine might be slippery on rainy season. Then hike along the stonewall terraces toward a hill I mistakenly thought was the Aid Station of the race but instead a store that sells refreshments. Once you let yourself up into this hill you will immediately take yet another series of descents into still narrow steep steps reminiscence of Dante’s visit to Inferno.
There were some 21k runners who elected to digress from their actual route and took additional 4 kilometers just to take a peep of the Tappiyah Falls. Some of them where just coming up the stairs I was descending at. At the landing of the descent there were sheds with refreshments being sold. More tourists were sighted some along the way coming up while there were also those who were taking a rest and were admiring the race participants as the latter past the former by. There were still about two more series of stairs before finally touching the rocky ground that leads to the actual sight of the Tappiyah Falls. There were other runners who came in earlier and now busy either taking photographs of the scene or diving into the cold refreshing water. Unlike what I did in Hapao Cold Spring, I chose not to take a dip in the Tappiyah water even though it might help ease my feet which had not bothered me so far all through out of the route. With all the people around including foreigners, I became all of a sudden bashful of displaying myself half naked and basking at the cold water. Instead, I was contemplating of getting back on the road fast so I can make up much time I lost from walking slowly because exhaustion had settled in. Rain began to pelt while I was admiring the view but it came just for a short while. I decided to eat my provisions of mix nut, dark chocolate and oatmeal cookies. I was famished and it was already around past lunchtime. I realized also that my hydration pack was almost depleted. There was not an Aid Station around to replenish my supply until I reach Saddle Point which maybe about 4 kilometers away. This was my first time to experience real problem with hydration since that 9th Animo Run where the organizer did not put any hydration in almost the whole part of the 21k route. I decided not to linger around longer. Imagine my consternation at thinking of going back all the way up the stairs I took getting to this part of the race when anyone could just skip going to Tappiyah Falls since there wasn’t any marshals that records or provided a ribbon verifying that runners passed by this route.
Surprisingly though, the way up was a whole lot quicker than I thought. Maybe I was forced to speed up my pace because I was conscious of being escorted by an elderly female local volunteer marshal who was doing the stairs like she was walking on flat surface. I made an initial stop in one of the sheds selling refreshments to buy me a small bottle of Coke for P50.00. I thought I needed sugar for energy. Soon, I was again negotiating the narrow stonewall path of the rice terraces scaling it until I reached the middle portion of the ampi-theater for another hydration break. I bought Gatorade for P60.00. After, a brief rest I went on to scale again the stonewall terraces heading for the direction of Batad Viewpoint. I was thinking of having pizza but I took a wrong turn and ended up taking a much longer route going to the viewpoint. When I arrived other runners where taking lunch and as I spied what they were having I saw huge viands of local rice being prepared for each runners. I was too exhausted to even think of eating. I decided instead to purchase a bottled water and drunk it down quickly. After a few more moment of rest and felt that my strength had returned, I ventured to proceed to Saddle Point. I was thinking that at Saddle Point which also the race’s Aid Station there will be chances to refill my hydration pack with water, help myself to Gatorade and perhaps have some of those sweet potatoes. I was famished and in need of fuel to burn. I was running along with a female companion and to while away the time told her the story about how I got lost in Balbalasan, Kalinga about 10 years ago.
From the trail we emerged into a cemented road. It kind of felt that I was again lost because I could not anymore distinguish the road to Saddle Point from how I remember it was before. Progress had surely made its headway to Ifugao. Pretty soon Batad View deck will be accessible by road making Saddle Point irrelevant pit stop and will make adventurous trek to Batad a thing of a past. Then before reaching the actual Saddle Point I noticed at the side of the road the former steep stair heading towards Saddle Point whose steps numbered about 400 hang like an old framed photograph that no longer hold any sway except as a reminder of an older time. With the final push uphill we reached Saddle Point. But there wasn’t an Aid Station with overflowing Coke, Gatorade and water. Instead, a lone marshal was tidying up the supposedly Aid Station with a remaining gallon with a trickle of water left inside. He prompted us to make do with it. From here it was about 10 kilometer run to the finish line.
The road was downhill and winding. I suspected that with the construction of the cemented road, the way to the Junction had grown longer than it used to cutting through wider area of the mountain so that vehicles could maneuver easier while traveling faster. When we finally reached the Junction we took the right direction going to Banaue. Rain again pelted. The problem with the concrete road was that it made the road slippery for my Salomon Shoes. This slowed me down. At this point the number of runners I was running along with had grown. We were now a small band of about six runners with two from the 21k category. The record for the late finish of the 2nd Cordillera leg established by the runner with bib # 1 was about to be broken by us with me carrying the bib # 2. We were running for about 11 hours now. Then slowly we inch our way closer to the finish line as more houses began to line up the road indicating the main town is close by. I could not contain my excitement of finally getting this race over with especially as we pass by the Immaculate Concepcion School compound and was on the last stretch of the race, which was an uphill. There were still some other runners in front of us that I wanted to overtake but I was pacing along a companion. Running along the rigorous route and completing the race was something akin to a heroic feat, which was timed perfectly for the National Heroes Day being observed the same day the marathon event kicked off. I felt like a hero, especially at the time I and a companion was approaching the final 200 meters stretch of the race heading for the finish line located at Banaue’s Municipal Hall. People who saw us were clapping and cheering as if we were heading for a podium finish when in fact we were the 6th and 7th runners to the last runners to cross the finish line for the 42k at way past 6 p.m. As we approached the finish arch I noticed that there were only few people left to watch the proceedings mostly from the organizers’. But the welcome awaiting us was still resounding. There was a gong being played and as runners crossed the Finish arch and photographs were taken. With the photo-op that took place at the Finish arch, I felt we trumped the earlier finishers for there was no short supply of photograph was spared. We savored the moment like champions or heroes we were. We conquered Banaue-Batad through our feet and determinations.
Prior to this race the farthest I reached in Banaue was Batad Viewpoint. In the past the Village of Batad and Tappiya Falls had somehow always eluded me. With this race my travel to Banaue is finally complete. Not only I reached Batad, but I came from the other side of the mountain and proceeded to complete the circle with the route of passing Viewpoint and Saddle Point. As Banaue continuously transforming maybe a lot other places in Banaue will be exposed for tourists to venture in. By then I will be ready to embrace Banaue again but as for now I have to move on to the next destination and next excursion exploration marathon.