It was like being in a bizarre dream where I found myself running in the middle of darkness and the only visible thing in sight was the shadow I cast upon the ground produced by the torchlight coming from the bicycle shadowing me for several kilometers. What was so bizarre about this whole thing was that it was similar to my dream where I was also running but this time I was heading for a podium finish. In the situation I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I was actually occupying the third place and would continue to do so for some time until about the 30th kilometer of the race were the other runners began to overtake me. But what was really so bizarre about the whole thing was that the latter situation and the above one had indeed happened to me for real at the run event Ibtur 2.
The run event, Ibtur 2, which translate as “I endure” was held last September 27, 2014 in San Juan La Union. I registered at the 60k category, my first 60k run. When I got my race bib at the race event’s venue at the beach resort F and M Final Option I found out that there were only 17 participants in the 60k with 3 women runners listed. The 120 km category got the bigger number of participants with 51. Ibtur 2, which was organized by IRunners promised a kind of race that will not be easy. This fact however, either escaped my attention or I did not really gave much a thought about when I quickly read the race detail and decided to join it. I was thinking this event was just a sister event of La Union Unity Marathon, a race event also organized by Irunner in which I ran in the 21k category. I wanted so much to see the Baluarte ruin in Luna. But the LUUM 21k race route did not touch it. I thought with Ibtur 60k there was no way the above ruin will not be seen along the race route. Well, originally the 60k route of Ibtur supposedly included this tourist spot but when the 88k category was scrapped due to low turn out of registrants, the route intended for the 88k was relegated to the 60k. Thus my intended objective was not fulfilled with the category I registered. However, I was still quite confident of conquering the 60k route thinking it was just a level similar to the route of LUUM’s 21k but with a return trip to the starting arch to make it 42k. But I was in for another disappointment. Upon close examination of the race route splashed across the tarpaulin at the race venue I noticed that LUUM’s former race route was located in San Fernando, La Union while the current race will figure in San Juan, La Union. I began to think that I might be in for a big surprise. True enough during the race briefing at 3:00 a.m. Randy Abasolo, race organizer, laid it out straight to us that the race was not going to be easy. He told us on the way to the first u-turn at Lipay Norte we will be encountering a lot of downhill slopes that will tax us on our way back after the u-turn. So, we must reserve for that. Then on our way to the second u-turn at the summit of Pulipul the route would be uphill with the final 2 kilometer approach a very steep uphill. Runners from the previous year, Abasolo described cried.
After that briefing all of the 15 (the other two were not yet accounted for at the start of the race. Maybe they were late and simply followed) participants were so scared that after we were released from the starting arch at the beachfront of F and M Final Resort at 3:40 a.m. none of us made a dash for it for a couple of hundred meters as if we all decided to walk all throughout of the race. However, as we approached the road to Santo Rosario, one of the runners began sprinting and established an early lead from the rest of us. I followed suit and was number 2 for a while. I was amazed no one was rushing ahead of me although I know the other runners were just a couple of meters behind me. Two of the runners I spoke with earlier were actually registered at the 88k category but got downgraded to 60k. They were actually preparing for 100k for next year’s TNF 100 after successfully sweeping off under the rug the 50k category of TNF and only missed the cut-off time in the finish line at Akyathlon 2014 by just a couple of minutes. I DNF-ed in both race events. The other five runners I spotted joining the 60k were wearing the finisher shirt of the race event Independence Day Freedom Run organized by Run Mania meaning they successfully finished the race before the cut-off time. I also ran in the same event and finished but after the cut-off time therefore I was not given the shirt they were sporting. I was thinking I was up against the biggest challenge of my running career, my first 60k, where the potential of me ending up last out of the 17 participants or not finishing the race at all looms.
Along the long dark stretched of Sto. Rosario, a runner passed me by to wrestle the second place. The runner occupying the first place put up quite a distance from the rest of us that he was no longer visible. He also had no shadow to light his route unlike us. We were in fact mistaken for as the lead runners. Soon the runner in the second place picked up speed and distance but still within my eyesight as a tiny blimp of light. I was still expecting other runners would be elbowing their way ahead of me anytime. In the Aid Station we even saw each other when we stopped by to take a sip of water, chomped on hard boil egg and bananas. But as soon as I had my fill to preserve my lead I quickly left the Aid Station while the others were still getting their refreshments. I reached San Gabriel proper. The biker who was shadowing me left me. Soon I was entering a poorly lit to zero lighted tree-line uphill winding road leading to Lipay. My P2,000 ++ worth Finex headlamp had chosen a better time to die on me. The second time it did when I needed it most. The first time was at Caliraya 360 run event while running the rainy uphill Lumban-Cavinti Road. Several time I almost stumbled that I soon had to reduce to walking along the way. I was trying to get a sense of the other two runners ahead of me hoping that amidst the darkness I would see a glimmer of light from either their shadow bikers or from their personal light gears. But I had no such luck. By the time I reached a higher elevation daylight was breaking already. I began to accept that maybe I was meant to take a podium finish for this race. I already thought of a title for the piece I will write about after this run – My 1st Podium Finish At My 1st 60K. No sooner I put a period on the title I thought of writing when runners began to appear behind me. At a Junction I stopped for hydration and jellyace. The four runners who came behind me were from the 120km category. But soon 3 more runners appeared. They were from the 60k who finally caught up with me. I am sure the others were not far behind. I learned from the 120 k runners that they ran in last year’s 88k category of Ibtur and our current route was their route. For 60k our route was a bit harsh. My apprehension grew. I learn that one of the runners from the 60k complaint of a fever about to break out. One of the runners from the 120k was in no better shape either that moment. I went ahead.
The route had steep uphill and steep down hills especially on the finally approach to the u-turn at Lipay Norte. I caught up with first placer runner who was on his way up returning from Lipay Norte. He was telling me about reserving some strength then like a phantom he disappeared. Number 2 runner also later appeared but I forgot what we bandied about. Maybe we just nodded at each other or something. At the U-turn I rested for a moment and ate some of my provisions. Soon a deluge of 60k runners came crashing down spoiling my party. I stood up and dashed to get away fast at the u-turn. But it was all uphill and soon I was panting and walking. I don’t know whether my thinking of the difficult uphill return trip from Lipay Norte had inured my body to the expected labor but somehow I didn’t felt the return run as difficult as how I was imagining it to be. I finished the strings of uphills with minimal strain. Along the way I encountered a support biker of the three 60k runners whom were in several time I got to meet along the way. His being close by means the three were just lurking close by. True enough like ninja they appeared and overtook me. But upon reaching a downhill portion of the route I took advantage of the pull of the gravity and gathered speed to overtake them and created some substantial distance between us. Nearing the 30th kilometer a PUV carrying race marshal coming behind me stopped me to offer me a Styrofoam packed meal. It was about 10:30 a.m. I was told that the other runners were already taking their meal. I was still determined to keep running so that I can keep my place but the specter of Pulipul made me think about stocking up enough fuel. I took the offered meal and found a place beside the road side with a small waterfall cascading to eat. I took off my shoes and socks so I can have my feet refreshed at the cool water. Soon the other runners began to pass by. I asked if they have taken their meal. The one that took over the third place said he did not met anyone from the organizer therefore no meal was given him. The three runners with a bike support had theirs, I think, for I saw one of them running with a Styrofoam container in hand. Another runner sprinted along. I resumed my run but after a while feeling stuffed and still very much exhausted, I eventually took to walking most of the way going to the town of San Gabriel.
At San Gabriel I caught up with some of the 60k runners. Some 32k runners returning from Pulipul were also converging at San Gabriel and having their photographs taken. I envy them for their travails were close to being over. It was a scorching hot midday and the heat was zapping out my energy. I sat in one of the stool in one of the convenient store and drank cold Coca-cola. After dallying for sometime I returned to the road to continue with the second half of the 60k run. Along the way Randy Abasolo drove by and handed me a bottle of Gatorade. Soon I came across a fork in the road. There were no marshals to tell us which way to take. However, I scanned the road and noticed a painted yellow arrow inscribed on the ground. I followed the arrow pointing left. I asked a local how far Pulipul was and I got an answer that it was still too far. I thought maybe I would not make it before the cut off time. Not only that it’s probably about 7 kilometer of uphill, I was pretty much feeling spent already. I was thinking the only way I can regain my third place position was if the four runners who went ahead of me at San Gabriel had somehow mistakenly missed seeing the yellow arrow on the ground and went straight ahead to God knows where. Along the way I crossed a dam and stopped at the other end to take a nap. But I had too much adrenalin churning inside me to allow me to sleep. I went on with the race. I once again met up with runner # 1. He advised me to carry a walking staff that would be helpful in taking the final uphill assault to Pulipul. He also confirmed to me that there were other runners ahead of me. I might be the sixth or seventh after him. Thus shattering all my hope of salvaging my podium finish attempt.
When I came across runner #2 I was on the brink of giving up and was considering seriously of DNF-ing. But he told me that I was just about 3 kilometers away to the peak. Runner # 3 was somewhere midway the final steep uphill to Pulipul. He told me about taking a bucket challenge upon reaching the top. What he meant was that I can bathe with a bucket full of water to relieve the heat as what the 3 other runners I met at the Pulipul U-turn just did before leaving me behind. I quickly stripped off some of my running attire and gear and quickly doused myself with a bucketful of water right in front of the locals and marshals. After a brief rest and snacks I felt my strength had returned and was again ready to push to finish the race. I rushed downhill. Along the way there were about seven runners who were being discouraged by the race marshals to continue pursuing the uphill to Pulipul since the cut off time was pretty much at hand. But they were arguing against it. I also gave a piece of my thought about the matter. I said how could the cut off time of 12 hours be imposed when it was utterly impossible to accomplish the race this difficult with the given time. Besides, I already was coming from Pulipul, I could be just a little of over an hour away to finishing the race already. So, I pushed on and left the runners and marshals sort this matter out. I caught up again with the three runners with a biker support. They told me I could take the fourth place if I want to for they were not interested in racing against me for the spot. They just wanted me to run along with them until the finish line. Maybe they felt it was pretty lonesome on my part to run alone. If we run together there was more chance of us to complete the race. I too was done with running against anyone for position so I welcome the offer. Besides, I don’t think I could really run competitively. At San Gabriel we saw a tricycle passed by us with a female runner on it. A little bit later, an ambulance with another runner inside. We were pretty much sure we were the only runners left from the 60k who were racing to finish the race. On the other hand, we got the news from one of the marshals in one of the aid stations that the cut-off time had been waived by the organizer and that the runners whom I met while going down Pulipul were allowed to continue. At about 6:18 pm we reached the final stretch of the race, which was a few meters beachfront run to the finish arch. I ended up 7th after having run for 14 hours and 47 minutes I might have been the fifth actually but since four of us crossed the finished arch at almost the same time and there was no electronic timing chips to record properly our crossing the arch except the manual taking of the strip attached to the bib, the arrangement of the finishers rank may have been compromised. At around 8:30 pm 5 other runners from the 60k finally closed the 60k category race when they crossed the finish line. My dream of a podium finish did not happened that day but the feat of finishing my first ever 60 km (67km) had been accomplished. Making my quest for running a 100km closer.