Purgatory 30: A Hell Of A Run With A Heavenly Sight Of Benguet

Coming straight from the Victory Bus Liner Terminal, I found myself once again walking the cold streets of Baguio going towards Harrison Road. From there, I was to wait for the shuttle van that will take us to Japas, Bokod-Bisal, Benguet, about 65 kilometers from Baguio. At Harrison Road the night market that had occupied the street had just about to close shop in probably about an hour. I noticed a few of the vendors were Muslim traders who, as the boxes of wares states plied all the way from Quiapo, Manila to hawk their wares of vases, second hand clothing and what have you. Japas was the jump off point for the journey to Purgatory. Not Dante’s purgatory though – It’s Front Runner Magazine’s Purgatory 30. The air wasn’t biting cold yet in Baguio but if ever it does become too cold at the race course I was prepared for it from rain ponchos, thick jacket and wind breaker, I bought them all along with a first aid kit, headlamp, whistle, gloves, extra batteries and lots of Nestle Fitbars. The only thing I did not stuffed in my hydration pack was a camera. In spite of assigning my Fuji X10 as my official race camera companion, it won’t be accompanying me in this race for I disposed of it a couple of months ago. I brought along my cellular phone. However, I am not in the habit of shooting with it even in such an important run such as this. You see in spite of my being a photographer myself, I am not really smart with smart phone cameras. Besides, I was reserving its battery for emergency. Jonel C. Mendoza, the race organizer, did a great job of emphasizing self sustain, self sufficient, no frill all thrill run. I don’t want to be caught in the middle of a summit or bottom of a ravine with no other way to communicate my situation if a mishap happens. Being my maiden run for Jonel Mendoza’s mountain trail run franchise and Purgatory 30’s as well, a lot of caution had to be taken. This will somehow be my litmus test if I could in the future be able to try the other mountain trail run events that lined up Front Runner Magazine’s whole year schedule.

At 2:00 am other participants were already converging in front of Baguio Patriotic School. Soon 6 vans arrived and we participants quickly loaded ourselves up in each of the vans. Along the way, I tried to catch a sleep which I did not much had at the bus on the way to Baguio. At 4:00 am we arrived at the darkly lit roadside in Japas where a marker that signifies the jump off point stood and served as the race assembly area. There the race bibs and some trail snacks were distributed. I changed into my running outfit and readied my bulky hydration pack. The air was still not as cold as I feared it might have around this time of the year. I decided to leave my jacket and windbreaker behind with my traveling bag, which contains my changing clothes. Another good news was that in the briefing although it had rain the previous days, there were no bloodsucking limatics present at the mossy forest area. I remember those critters in Mt. Makiling when I was still a student and joined the UST Mountaineers in their initiation climb. But nothing beat the leeches that dined on my feet and legs when I got lost in Balbalasan, Kalinga about 10 years ago.

When the gun start was finally given some 120 plus runners raced uphill heading for Mt. Mangakew which is about 1.8 kilometers away from the starting area and nestling at 1,764 MASL (meters above sea-level). Without trekking poles that encumbered me in the trail run to Mt. Ugo in Akyathlon earlier this year, I found myself at the current race moving a bit faster. However, my running short pants was kind of loose and was slipping down my waist. So, I had to strip it off and ran only in my tights. After reaching the summit of Mt. Mangekew the trail was a bit flatter and descending. At around the 6th kilometers we hit upon a junction with the uphill portion going to Mt. Pack. This was also the entrance to the mossy forest. I noticed the trail was basically overly trotted upon and muddy. Inside the mossy forest the air turned colder. Although I was running wearing my body glove and without shirt over it I welcomed the cold weather better than how I remember it was at Salomon X-trail Run in Pico de Loro where the heat was energy sapping. By this time I was running a bit slower, walking mostly. A lot of other runners had passed me by. I felt I was already, as I had in other races, at the tail end of the queue of runners. Mt. Pack’s summit was at the 8th kilometer and at 2,313 MASL which turned out much higher than Mt. Ugo which has an elevation of 2,150 MASL and probably looming somewhere nearby as with Mt. Pulag and Mt. Timbac the highest burial cave containing Benguet mummies. Mt. Pack according to one of the blog I read was named after Governor Pack. Formerly Mt. Pack was called Mt. Bandila or Banshilla because during the World War II to prevent this area from being bombed a flag was hoisted on top of the summit. As in Mt. Ugo before, I had no camera to preserve the momentous event of me having reached the summit with a picture of me standing beside the marker. According to Mr. Mendoza the first 8 kilometers was the hardest portion of the race. I guess then that it would be smooth sailing from here on. I also predicted wrongly that I would finish the race in 4 or 5 hours. The altitude must be wreaking havoc to my mind when I was thinking about this.

Before leaving I saw other runners arrived at Mt. Packs summit. With them were the two assigned sweepers who were also champion runners themselves in various race events. This, I feared, confirmed my earlier thought that I must be at the tail end of the race already. However, when I asked one of the sweepers I was told that around 20 more other runners were still far behind and that currently I was at the middle portion of the line of runners. I left the peak with an attempt to quicken my pace but to no avail. I was tiring quickly. I was also kind of disoriented with the distance because I thought then that I had covered so much distance, maybe about halfway of the race already. But when I reached the summit of Mt. Purgatory it was just the 11th kilometer of the race only. Of course, I was not aware then. By that time, to battle my fatigue I was consuming my energy gel at a rate of 1 per 1.5 kilometers thinking the interval of my taking the energy gel was about 5 kilometers. On the other hand because of the cool temperature, I was not drinking much. At about the 13th kilometers I reached Naswak Junction. Mt. Bakian was not farther away the fourth peak in the six peaks to be wrestled with in this race. At 15.5 kilometer I was at the summit of Mt. Tangbaw, which rest at 2,195 MASL. I thought wrongly that there were just about less than 10 kilometers to the finish line but my hope was quickly doused when I was told by one of the sweepers that this was just the 15th kilometer. Even though there was a lovely sight of strings of mountains in front of me, I could not take it in because I could not fathomed how it was that the progress I made was completely opposite of how time quickly got consumed and that not only I might not be able to fulfill my finish time goal, the thought of not making it within the cut off time looms. I completely underestimated Purgatory 30’s 30 kilometers distance. I forgot that it took me 6 hours to get me on top of Mt. Ugo, which was about 16 kilometers from Itogon Municipal Hall.

With my heart fallen lower on my sleeves, I continued with my run. It was comforting to hear though that from henceforth there were no more stiff uphill runs along the way. This may not sound comforting at all when I later found myself running along the downhill portion of the race. Mt. Komkompol was at the 17th kilometer nestling at the elevation of 2,328 MASL. From here about 2-3 kilometers knee-breaking downhill run along lose stony path of Tinengan with a backdrop of lines of pine trees thriving the sloped landscape. I foolishly thought that the finish line was laying just somewhere at the foot of the mountain I was scaling down on for seemingly eternity. But when I reached the town below, Ekip I think it was, and passed over a small hanging bridge, I thought I was ending my travail soon. It turn out the bridge was not the one mentioned in the briefing that we will cross before the finish line. I also heard the marshal waiting there in correctly when he told me of the distance left to run. I thought I heard 10 or a hundred meters left of the race. I was again broken hearted when after passing the town without stopping by in any structure that resembled a municipal hall and again on a path heading to a landscape without houses and people nearby. Worst, due to exhaustion, I got my right foot twisted several times when I kept landing on it badly among loose rock along the way. It was a good thing that after walking it off I was again capable of running with it.

Farther ahead I got glimpsed of two runners. But I made no effort to chase them. Instead, when I saw a label of a soda lying on the road I wanted to go back to the town and drink a cold soda. But I had no money with me. Again I thought maybe the finish line might just be around the corner of the snaking path and that at a little over 6 hours I might finish the race. But I had no idea that this was just probably the 24th kilometer of the race. A passing local told me that the Bokod Municipal Hall was still 6 kilometers away and half way there I will pass by a river with a hanging bridge. I trod on feeling spent and frustrated. I had consumed all my Fitbars and was feeling the pang of hunger. When my feet touched the cold water of the river though, all the weight and weariness was lifted away. From the other side of the bank there were still about 3 kilometers away before I finally putting this race behind me. But this last 3 kilometers as if by special law of relativity or that the event horizon of a Black Hole was resting nearby the distance just kept stretching farther and farther away from me. But this ala Big Bang expansion seem to had reached its threshold or I just simply like Cooper in the movie, “Interstellar” just simply woke up after his episode inside the Black Hole, I eventually saw the finish line and ran to it until I saw myself crossing the finish arch and having photo op with the race organizer himself who handed me my finisher goodies. I finished the race with a time of 8:23:38 97th out of 123 pioneer runners.

Earlier this year I swore never to return to Mt. Ugo again but the experience at Purgatory 30 reawakened my desire for a revenge climb at Akyathlon and probably in the future Mt. Ugo via Kayapa in Front Runner Magazine’s 50k trail run version. I survived Purgatory maybe I can survive other hells as well.

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Back in Caliraya for a Back to Back

For two consecutive weekends I ran around the lake Caliraya, Laguna in two run events: Caliraya Marathon organized by Gerard Palacol of AX Fitness held on September 7, 2014; and the Caliraya 360 organized by Run Mania Promotion Philippines which was held September 14, 2014 where I ran in the 34k. Although the Caliraya Marathon was the farthest distance I ran between the two with my entry in the full mary category, I felt Caliraya Marathon was just a preview for the Caliraya 360. Caliraya Marathon gave us a taste of how to run along the road that connects Lumban, Caliraya and Cavinti which featured not just the view of the Caliraya lake but roads that were rolling with uphill and downhill.

Caliraya Marathon’s route started at the resort Aquatico Feliciano along Lumban-Caliraya-Cavinti Road at 4:00 am. The 46 full marathon runners ran downhill the darkly lit road until the 7th kilometers where we made u-turn and ran uphill. By the time we passed by Aquatico Feliciano again it was already daylight. We pushed on further ahead on what now predominantly flatter road meeting up with the iconic Caliraya dam and the Japanese Garden. Along the way were the recreational resorts lining up the road. At the 20th kilometers runners turned left to Caliraya Spring Golf and Marina Resort, a plush village in the making. About 10 kilometers was covered inside and since my distance with anyone running in front of me and at my rear it was almost a very lonely run if it weren’t for the bicycle riding marshall shadowing me. The open space of grasses and lots with yet to be filled with architectures kind of remind me of Fairview in Novaliches before the development like SM Fairview set in. Upon exiting this place we turned left to the main road and continued running. The sun was blazing hot all throughout of the run. I had to make some stops for rest and soda. Ambulances were busy whizzing by telling me that the heat might have been piling up its claim of runners. But I later learned that my fear was for naught. The U-turn was at the 3rd kilometers after the golf resort we runners had gotten out but in reality the distance seemed longer. I was almost enervated but it was timely that the U-turn with aid station finally popped up at the other end of the curved road and soon I had my energy revived again with the refreshments.

The return trip was an unexciting and downright boring 9 kilometers of retracing the route along the main road that seemed to have stretched longer than the last time we treaded on it. I met along the way Richard “Doer of Word” whom I ran along with until the last 2 kilometers where I raced ahead to improved my finish time. Before we parted ways being part of the Run Mania Promotion Philippines family, he told me of the up-coming Tagaytay to Nuvali to Sta. Rosa 50k run which will be held in November 2014. I was of course excited to join this event although I already signed up for the Sierra Madre 45k run and I was also contemplating of joining the Siege of Baler Marathon organized by Team Malaya. I finished Caliraya Marathon 38th with a time of 7:12:29. I can’t wait for the following week to see more of Caliraya.

With Caliraya 360 the promised of scenic tour of the Caliraya was basically fulfilled. Caliraya 360 on its 3rd year packed some 622 warm bodies of runners in the 34k category. This was in spite of the fact that it was raining brought about by monsoon or the typhoon Louise having passed by the Country. Pinoy Aspiring Runners or PAR was the most ostentatiously represented running team in the crowd with its huge contingent. At 4:30 am the runners were finally let go from the covered plaza fronting the Lumban Church and into Rizal Street. This was a reminiscence of last year’s Cavinti Adventure Marathon start where we were packed inside the covered plaza because it was raining. I remember gazing at the darkness and seeing the silhouette of the old Church of Cavinti looming beyond the shadows. Upon gun start we also spilled in along Rizal Street.

The Caliraya 360 participants proceeded to run along the national highway going to General Taino Street towards Pagsanjan where there was a junction to the right another Rizal Street while straight up the Pagsanjan-Cavinti Road. The runners took the Pagsanjan-Cavinti Road which was all uphill. Unlike last week I tried this time to run the uphill using smaller strides. I noticed I was moving much easier without strain on my feet than when I walked the uphill. I was also gaining on other runners one was a Rene Arroyo who told me this route was part of the Ana Kalang 60k Run also organized by Run Mania but this was still nothing compare with the other uphill portion of the Ana Kalang. Then he raced up and I never caught up with him again. I reached the Bumbungan Eco Park where the last year’s Prince Baltazar’s organized Cavinti Adventure Marathon had its finish line near the dam. After crossing the bridge near the Eco park another series of uphill along Lumban-Caliraya-Cavinti Road. To the right of the road was Lumot Mahipon Lake. This road met up with the 33rd kilometers u-turn of the previous week’s Caliraya Marathon. From here was a retracing of the Caliraya Marathon route going back to Aquatico Feliciano Resort. Along the way I spied on the route utilized by the year two Cavinti Adventure Marathon going to the trail portion of the race which was held the previous day, where a colleague of mine, Kathlyn also was a participant in the 42 k category and now running back to back in Caliraya 360 under the 34k category. She just recently took up running the full marathon (I think her third) after just being recently bitten by the running bug. After passing by Aquatico Feliciano Resort, it was still a very long way to go before the finish line. We ran downhill again for perhaps 9 or 10 kilometers until we reached the national highway. From the National Highway we ran towards Lumban Public Market and back to the Municipal Hall. I finished with a time of 5:17:42 with a rank of 401 out of 620.

Tagaytay To and Fro: 2 Weekends of Ultramarathon

A little of 3 weeks after Ibtur2 my previous 60k run, I am again sporting the Bib number 10 (at Ibtur2 I ran with Bib no. 10) and running my second 60k at 2nd Sungay 60k Challenge held at October 19, 2014. I wasn’t really sure I could finish this Joseph Prince Baltazar’s organized run event for I was still a bit under the weather which began the previous week and the reason I had to skip what I heard the most challenging mountain trail run event of PIMCO Sporting Event so far, the Nature Trail Discovery Run III leg 2. However, there I was taking the event’s shuttle from Ayala EDSA Shell Station heading for the Municipal Office of Tanauan, Batangas the staging area of the Sungay Run. It was drizzling and wind was blowing when we arrived at a little pass 1:30 am. Initially, I spied on just a few runners about. But by the gun start at 2:00 pm there were 55 brave souls running in the event.

The race route the runners took led to President Laurel Highway going to Mabini Avenue. For this particular race I was not to run alone. Thea, a runner training to run the 160 km category of the Bataan Death March organized by Bald Runner on March accompanied me in the lonely path to the finish line. If I probably doing the Sungay Challenge alone I may be prone to more rest and walking than actual running. Initially the road was simply flat and almost unexciting. There were areas where there was little light on the road. That was why we suspect a runner from Tacloban joined our little party because we had headlamps. But as soon as his friend caught up with him they careened off and were almost not seen again unless they were coming from the opposite end returning from a u-turn. But we did still managed to catch up with them at the steep uphill going to Sungay West and again near the final stretch going to the finish line. We also kept on encountering the Team Milers which composed of 3 more seasoned runners who runs on uphills, 3 more senior members and about 8 young runners one of which was a female. The 5 of the young runners just kept on appearing behind us out of nowhere in spite in several occasions we passed them by and left them resting.

Since I was running with a companion I was really forced to keep pace with my companion. The pace we were running probably about 6 minutes and a half to seven per kilometer. If we keep up with this pace the 42k of this race can be attained at 5 hours and half a minutes. We then reached the Talisay-Tanauan Road passing by Apolinario Mabini Shrine. Soon as the day was beginning to come we were running with Taal Volcano and Taal Lake at our left side. This route serves as a preview to yet another run event Joseph Prince was cooking up – The 100km Taal 360. When we look up we saw buildings on top of the mountain. That was Tagaytay, which we will be going to but at that time seems so far away. The first U-turn of the race, which roughly the 26th kilometer of the race, was somewhere near the entrance of the town of Laurel. Another 9 kilometer run returning to Tagaytay-Talisay Road and into Ligaya Drive for about 10 kilometer steep uphill run going to Sungay West. I was struggling going up this route. It was a good thing we had established a good pace and time that we could actually afford to walk uphill and we could still make it before the 14 hours cut-off time. Midway this steep uphill was roughly the 40th kilometer where the coconut drinks were stationed. The remaining 5 kilometers to Sungay West was actually a display of great view of the Taal Lake and rest houses of the affluent members of the society which even if I work like the way I was laboring to finish this steep portion of the race, I will not earn enough to build me one of these architectures. At last we reached Tagaytay but we cannot still breath a sigh of relief. For we still had to run all the way to People’s Park the formerly Palace in the Sky and back from it which was roughly 12 kilometers before heading for the direction of Sky Ranch for about 6 more kilometers. The finish line located at Tagaytay Oval was somewhere right side of the road going to the Sky Ranch. Nearing the finish line, Thea and I had already caught up with a lot of other runners except for the pesky ninjas 10 milers. Since there were only about four female participants in this race, it was seemingly assured that Thea would be get the third place podium finish. So we kept checking our backs for the appearance of the 10 Milers whose female companion could wrestle the podium finish from my companion. But until we crossed the finished line they were not seen again. They came actually a little bit later. I finished as the 30th runner with a time of 12 hours and 19 minutes. Master Vic Ting, the 70 year-old ultramarathon runner who drinks 2 bottles of Red Horse Beer before a race, awarded me my finisher medal, trophy and a can of warm Red Horse Beer. I felt I did much better this second 60k than I did the first time in La Union. Already I was looking forward to the next week’s 50k run T2N2S.

A week later, October 25, I was again stepping foot at Tagaytay’s People’s Park to run in Run Mania’s T2N2S or Tagaytay to Nuvali to Sta.Rosa 50k Ultramarathon. At 9:00 pm, it was not the scorching hot People’s Park I had the weekend earlier. Instead, it was a chilly, foggy and windy evening. Instead of the 55 runners there were about 400 + runners converging the entrance to the People’s Park waiting for the 11:00 pm gun start. I saw again Thea with her Pacer Day Walker. I also saw some of other runners whom I ran along with one time another like Bernie of Team Foot-Ah whom I ran with at Kawit to Kaybiang Tunnel, Ternate 50k run, Independence Day Freedom Run by Run Mania. There was also Rene Arroyo who I had brushed along in several run events. The runner with FB profile name “Doer of Word” who is a pastor and related to the race organizer was also there. But what struck me most fascinating was my two shuttle mates who were already in their late Sixties or seventies who ran 120 km at Sungay Challenge. In fact they were the last runners to finish the race after starting Friday night at 8:00 pm and crossing the finish line at 5:00 pm Sunday – a good 45 hours run. To prepare for this run I didn’t do any running in order to recover from the previous 60k run. Then on race day at 5:00 pm I order myself a Charlie Chan Pasta and Calzone at Yellow Cab for carbo-loading. I finished off the remaining Calzone an hour before the gun start. But still I felt I might not have recovered enough and was again worrying I might not be able to finish this race.

At about 11:40 pm we left the People’s Park. The roughly 6th kilometer of this race led runners to the Tagaytay-Sta. Rosa Road of mostly downhill and flat surface road.
The 10th km of this race was in Silang. The bad news for me was that I was feeling some throbbing pain on my left foot and a little pain also on my right as if it also had incurred Plantar Fasciitis. But I went on. Learning from my Sungay run I ran with a pace close to 6 minutes and 45 seconds to 7 minutes per kilometer. I was targeting to finish this 50k, if possible, at sub-8 hours in spite of the 10 hours cut-off time. But by the time I was at the 17th kilometer that was after AUP, I was walking most of the way. Upon reaching the aid station at the 20th kilometer in Nuvali my confidence had already sunk low. So was my stamina, which became like a cellphone battery gone awry – it was easily depleting in spite of having several rests and hydrations I took. To top it all, my feet were troubling me big time. I already saw several runners were passing me by like I were a road marker, to think I thought I was already at the last end of the 400 + runners.

I ran twice already inside Nuvali in the trail events 2nd and 4th Valley Trail Run organized by the Frontrunner Magazine Philippines, but basically along the off-road portion of Nuvali. I have no doubt that Nuvali was large. But I still find myself surprised that the whole 20 kilometers portion of the 50 km run could be done along the road inside Nuvali. This sense of largeness of the place with its many dimly lit areas and deafening quietness surrounding me had doubly shrunk my already diminishing confidence to finish this race. I was groping amidst the darkness for every ounce of strength and desire inside me to overcome the depression I had fallen into. I wanted to see daylight so bad so that it can lift the heaviness of the evening that seems to weigh down on me. I had been taking way too much water that I felt I was bloating but I still took in a cupful on every aids station for I wanted to drown the tiredness engulfing me. By the time I was maybe around the 33rd kilometer and was about to run back to the direction going out of Nuvali my disposition improved. At the point I thought I will DNF at the 30th kilometer, I rested once again and ponder my situation. I don’t know whether out of acceptance that there was no one that could bail me out of the situation except myself or out of my body adjusting or the sight of still so many runners behind me. All I know I just decided to move from the spot I slumped on. Since I am no push over kind of runner, I pushed myself to hang on. I tried to hasten my stride from walk to run. Soon, I was gaining some distance from those behind me while gaining on those on front of me. With the speed my depression slowly dissipated. From formerly running with my head stooping low, I was now looking straight ahead and enjoying again the feel of air in my face. I can still feel pain in my feet though and there was a need for them to be rested. Best of all daylight had arrived. I can see my surrounding and this kind of made me surefooted on the distance that lies ahead.

At the 41st kilometer I had ice cream, energy gel and Gatorade. The last leg of the race was a run along a long busy highway going to Sta. Rosa. I had previously walked along this route before when I was looking for an accommodation when I joined the 2nd Valley Trail Run. In this remaining leg of the race I ran along Maribel and two others. Thea and Day Walker passed us by at the 47th kilometer. The final 4 kilometers prove to be the longest. The road seemed to stretch on and on denying us to reach our destination. However, I saw the inevitability of us finishing this race and as if the curse had been lifted we saw the elevated plaza. Finally, with the time of 8:41:56 I crossed the finish line as the 377th runner out of 420 other runners who finished the race. I didn’t get my sub-8 finish but still I kind of gotten some kind of revenge from failing to finish before the cut off time at the Independence Day Freedom Run. I did not get the finisher shirt then as the visible proof of having overcome the Kawit to Ternate route. I got only the finisher trophy. My companion Maribel who also ran and missed the cut-off time by a whisker at the Freedom Run had gotten the trophy, the medal and shirt then after arguing that the late gun start and the extra 4 kilometers should be factored in considering the cut off time. Had the cut off time then been adjusted 30 more minutes I just might have made it to the cut-off time. But that was all under the Kaybiang Tunnel now. With my current accomplishment, the quest for my first 100 km finish draws near. I am setting my eyes on Mayon 360 with its 80km run. That is if the volcano would finally allow us by quieting down indefinitely and of course when my feet finally quiet down as well.