It took me quite a while before I returned to Oriental Mindoro. The first time was when I attended and monitored a historical conference organized by ADHIKA, Inc. in Calapan when I was still working at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), which coincidentally was held in November 28-30, 1999. Then a couple of years back as faculty member of UST College of Fine Arts and Design we had a team building and field trip at Puerto Galera. Last November 29, I had my feet wet again on Puerto Galera’s ground as I participated in Prince Multisport Event’s 1st Puerto Galera Heart of Asia 50k and 25k Run. I registered in the 25k category. I joined the lesser distance category for the following week I was slated to run 50k in Baldrunner’s 8th Tagaytay to Nasugbu Ultra.
Upon docking of the boat at Sabang Beach, Joseph Prince, the race organizer was there to welcome the participants, which turned out there were maybe around 4 other participants apart from me on board. Many of the participants I saw at the Batangas Pier and who left earlier were billeted at White Beach while others who arrived on board other vessels were at the events major sponsor’s Atlantis Resort in Sabang. I booked my accommodation at Seashores Hotel. In both of my earlier time I came to Mindoro I was not really aware which pier I docked after crossing the sea from Batangas Pier on board the bigger Roll On Roll Off (RORO) boat unlike the motorized boat I boarded in my current trip to Puerto Galera. That was why I couldn’t careless whether I was to be booked at White Beach side or Sabang side of Puerto Galera so long as it’s nearer the race starting and finish venue. It just turned out that the cheaper hotels was in Sabang and the latter was much closer to the race event venue, which lies 10 kilometers away. However, I soon found out that the portion of Sabang I stayed at had no resort beach to swim at since the Sabang area was more of a diving resort than for beach combing. Pretty much like Anilao. The bottom of the water was a bit stony and quickly dips deeper with corals. Being more of a diving resort, Sabang had a lot of foreign expats milling around – Caucasians and Koreans mostly. Establishments like hotels and restaurants were built elbow to elbow closer to each other and a bit closer to the beachfront. A small pathway along the beachfront led to the main thoroughfare, which started at the pier. This main street featured more establishments such as pizzeria, grocery store, money changers, hotels, etc. but as soon as the ground started to incline uphill, which was abruptly, the commercial district thinned out as the road led out of Sabang and into the snaking main road going to Puerto Galera proper.
There were 46 runners in the 25 k category although by the time of the race there were only 41 who actually ran. In the 50K there were 50 runners who actually ran but I heard there were supposedly around 60 registrants. Aside from Master Vic Ting a 70-year old veteran runner another senior runner who participated in the 50 k was Vic Esta age 66 whom I previously met and ran a couple of kilometers with at Freedom Run whose course ran from Kawit to Kaybian Tunnel in Ternate. The gun start for the 50 k runners was given at 2:00 am. By the time the 25k runners were given our gun start at 4:50 am, three runners from the 50k had already completed 20k, which took them to the White Beach portion of the island. They returned to the starting venue so that they could take a pee and maybe piss us for not choosing the 50k category to run at and missed a wonderful portion of the race route. We at the 25k will not only met up with the 50k along the Puerto Galera-Calapan Road route but will also share the same U-turn at Tamaraw Falls, which lies 14 kilometers from the starting point at Municipal Hall of Puerto Galera before returning to Puerto Galera town proper at Plaza Iluminada for the Finish Line. At 4:50 am the route was still basically swat in darkness. The Route was a gradual rolling uphill and kind of reminded me of the Tanauan to Laurel, Batangas route of Sungay 60k run, which also had the sea at the left side. In this run as soon as I felt the road inclined upward instead of doing my usual walking the uphill I pushed myself to run the uphill. I was surprised that I wasn’t having difficulty in doing so. From small strides I added a bit of speed and soon I was overtaking couple of other runners. I was actually enjoying the uphill far better than the downhill. The strain I felt in my quads were seem more welcoming than those I felt with my knees on downhill. Aside from the dark road, I needed to be cautious on the downhill since my Adidas Kanadia 4, which was already on its last tour of duty was literally about to tear itself apart along its seams.
As the early morning light finally began dispersing the darkness, it seemed to have coincided with lots of stiffer uphill run along the racecourse. Still pretty much inspired with how easily I was taking the uphill, I soon began racing with another runner wearing a singlet from the Pinoyfitness’ 21K Challenge Run who seem to be determined to show his ware. After a couple of lead exchanges he careened until I can’t see a glimmer of this person leaving me with only his dust to wallow in. At around probably the 10th kilometers I met Master Vic coming from the opposite side of the road pacing a female runner. In spite of him having awarded me my finisher medal at Sungay 60 he seemed to have not recognized me with my unshaven look. He shouted at me whether I was a Malaysian. I was tempted to say in Tagalog no I am a Korean. Finally I reached the Tamaraw Fall U-turn. There I had my photograph taken by Flat Iron Man then had my coconut juice break. Soon I was back on the road. The initial portion of the return trip to Puerto Galera and the finish line had about one more uphill before it finally gave way to mostly downhill as if I was again back in Cavinti and negotiating the Cavinti-Pagsanjan road of the Caliraya 360 Run Event. It began to rain as the manifestation of a Low Pressure Area (LPA) that was passing the Visayas heading out west which probably the main reason many of the participants did not arrived. They were probably afraid of the rough sea crossing. The rain however, was a welcome development for it greatly cools my body. But my stamina seemed to have been depleted with the running I put into those uphill portion of the race. I began to do walk run. My left foot was also ailing once again although not that bothersome.
I was initially hoping I could land within top ten finishers for the 25k category for when we began I was certain I had overtaken quite a lot of runners. However before I crossed the U-Turn at Tamaraw Falls I counted those 25k runners returning from the U-turn and they already exceeded 10 runners. The 25k distance according to Prince was actually around 27-28 kilometers. In the last couple of kilometers before the Finish Line I passed by the runner wearing the Pinoyfitness’ 21k Challenge Run singlet. He spoke to me of his running out of steam. While on the other hand I pushed on until finally a marshal told be to turn right at the first corner I see. The road led to the sight of the sea. Upon stepping out of the road I saw the finish line farther ahead with the huts and pavilions. I finished the race with a time of 3 hours and 46 minutes and rank 12. I remember the last time I ran in Puerta Galera was during the Amazing Race activity we had at our Team Building with my CFAD co-faculty members. We were running towards another falls. I was initially ahead of my colleague except for one non-teaching personnel who was far fitter than me because he does martial arts while I was not yet into running then. When we reached a waterfalls it turned out it was not yet the one we were supposed to go. So, we quickly scampered and headed up towards the other much bigger falls. But by the time I got there others had already reached it. I failed to get a podium finish and recognition I wanted to impress upon my colleague. Now, even though I did not claim a podium finish nor ended up within the top ten I was happy I had the opportunity to be back in Puerto Galera and ran at its road. Each time I make it to the finish line I feel I achieve more than what I bargain for a finisher medal or trophy – I experienced the place, met people and conquered myself. I grew as a runner and as a person in the process.