Opining The Pine Tree Marathon

Afternoon after participating at Pine Tree Marathon held in Baguio last January 25, 2015, I was taking coffee at Starbucks Session Road and reading Caleb Daniloff’s Running Ransom Road. Maybe I was just still feeling too tired and recovering from the run that when Daniloff told a particular incident that happened during the 113th Boston Marathon in 2009, that story almost brought me close to bursting in tears. The story featured Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon Race Director and Katie Lynch a 26 inches girl with a unique form of dwarfism who wanted to run in the Boston Marathon. McGillivray allowed Katie to run but under a separate category which has an equivalent distance of 26.2 feet. Katie trained for this for months. On race day before the actual Boston Marathon gun start Katie clutching a miniature walker ran and crossed the finish line making her the first to finish in that year’s Boston Marathon. Amidst thunderous cheers of bystanders, McGillivray who was waiting at the other end of the finish line awarded Katie a laurel wreath and a medal. After the race McGillivray make it a point to sweep the race route by running the whole route himself. By the time he reached the finish line which was already passed 8:00 p.m. Katie was waiting for him at the other end of the Finish arch. Katie awarded McGillivray her laurel wreath and medal telling him, “Ha, I beat ya”. McGillivray shown the tiny girl Katie how big his heart is by granting Katie her heart felt wish. In return Katie stood tall when she patiently waited for McGillivray to her gesture of appreciation and gratitude in her own little way.

I can’t help thinking about how running like in marathon events bring something out from those participating in it. It doesn’t have to be something big and ennobling. In Pine Tree Marathon, the final leg of the Cordillera Series organized by Team Malaya, I am once again one of the two stragglers among the 14 42k participants. The other one was Arel whom in the previous Benguet Gold Rush Marathon, I shared the last spot with at the 42k U-turn in Philex Ridge. After resting and taking “selfies” at the precariously tilted cliff called, The Rock, on our trip back I left him behind struggling to negotiate the trail with Marvin a race marshal accompanying him. Arel never made it at the finish line. He quit the race at the town in Apucao. On the other hand, I managed to catch up with three other 42 k runners and the four of us crossed the finish line with darkness enveloping Crosby Park. I felt bad for leaving Arel behind but I wanted to finish the race then. So, I made the difficult decision of letting the race marshal assist him. At Pine Tree Marathon I was again reunited with Arel. He promised both the organizers and the same marshal who accompanied him down the 42k U-turn at Benguet that he will finish this one. I intended to help him fulfilled that promise, not that I was the stronger runner between us two when in fact, I was really having a hard time running the whole route which was mostly uphill while early on the race, Arel was ahead of me. In spite that in the earlier legs of the Cordillera Series there were mountain trails and rough road squeezed in the route making the race difficult, the Pine Tree Marathon, which was primarily an all road race was not a push over. Baguio nestled at 1,5++ MASL was actually much higher than Apucao.

The race began at Panagbenga Park located between South Drive and Loakan Road with the gun start banging at 5:00 am. Amidst the cold early morning, runners raced on south bound along Loakan Road. There was another race event happening simultaneous with Pine Tree Marathon that also utilized a portion of the Pine Tree Marathon route. As a result there were other runners running along with us until the portion where they turned left going towards PMA while ours went straight ahead to Kennon Road where the Lion’s Head served as the 1st U-turn of the race. On my way down along the darkly lit Kennon Road the Kenyan runners from the other race where coming towards me having come from our U-Turn at the Lion’s Head. They were participants of the other race. Definitely this was a welcome development for those who were competing for the top places in that other race. On my way up from the U-turn I was quite sure I was the only 42k runner left from among the 14 participants in this category. Of course I was not aware how many 42 k runners at that time but I was sure I was the last one. Even Arel was ahead of me. But I painstakingly jog along the stiff uphill of Kennon. At Loakan Road I already got a glimpse of the first 42k runners who have completed the first loop and was already on his way up the road to make his second loop of the race before finishing.

When I got back at Panagbenga Park there were already 21k runners making their way to the finished line. I was surprised to see some of those runners I had earlier thought were from the 42k runners. I figured that since the route required having runners to pass by the starting area four times (one heading off to the first u-turn, second in order to get to South Drive, third to complete the first loop and forth for the final loop) to complete the 42k, many opted to run under 21k instead. There were no marshals to point me to the South Drive but since I walked pass by this road many times before I was able to find my way. The South Drive was long and was slightly inclining uphill. But the real test of resolve for uphill run came on the way to Happy Hallow. First there was this series of downhill from the road behind the Baguio Country Club. I once ran this path in Philip Pacle’s Baguio 21K. I was coming from the opposite direction and therefore was actually running uphill the brutally steep road before finally exiting behind Baguio Country Club and into the South Drive. Now, I never thought that running the downhill would be equally brutal. It was here that I met up with Arel. Together we accomplished this route almost walking most of the way. On our second loop just beyond Panagbenga another 42k runner passed us by quickly. It was the young runner Eleazar. This kind of raised our hope that maybe there were still other 42 k runners behind us and therefore we were not necessarily the sort of losers we thought we were at that time. But bike riding race marshal at Happy Hollow brought us the news that we were indeed the last of the 42k runners.

At the beginning of the race, I was initially doing quite fine. I was among the early runners off the starting point that was hurling down the Loakan Road. But at around the area the road branches away towards PMA and Kennon Road, I slowed down. I began to feel that having ran 42k two weeks earlier at Cebu City Marathon, it turned out, I was still not fully recovered enough. Maybe the altitude also of Baguio was taking its toll in me. Imagine, if it were only possible for me to run 21k the week earlier have the Corregidor International Half Marathon pushed through, I might have performed even worst at Pine Tree Marathon. Just beyond noon we finally crossed the finished line. Most of the runners in all of the race categories had already packed away and left the race venue. The race organizers were also in the process of packing away their supplies. Only a couple of runners were left milling about. Two of the runners left were Portia and Eleazar. Both I had ran with in the other legs of the Cordillera Series. The other runner left was Julius Lucea, a much older runner whom I also ran with at the Benguet Gold Rush. In Benguet Gold Rush he finished ahead of me and the three other runners (KC, Dwight and Kristine) I caught up with after I left Arel. For the most part of Benguet Gold Rush, Julius was running along Arel and I, until he built a large separation between us after the u-turn at Philex Ridge. Worried after seeing us struggle at Apucao, when he reached the finish line he waited for us to finish as well in spite that it was getting dark. This time in Baguio, he was also at the finish line and happy to see us finish the Pine Tree Marathon. The three other runners I finished along with at Benguet Gold Rush did not participated the Pine Tree Marathon. So, it was only Julius, Arel and I had our photographs taken together which was as good as Benguet Gold Rush Strugglers’ reunion and revenge run could get.

To be able to witness a fellow runner overcome a great obstacle or experience acts of kindness by other runners towards you during the moment of trying to accomplished the difficult task of finishing the race was probably what makes running seem extraordinary. It was what made me a bit teary when I read the story about Katie. In ordinary life we seldom express or experience same thing above since most of us run our lives as if we are all solo runners up against everyone else for the podium. In marathon or ultra everyone runs along with each other toward similar goal. Everyone understood very vividly what others are experiencing and therefore, easily comes to aid whenever it’s possible, whether just by giving hydration, liniments or by simply hanging out to talk away during those monotonous moments along the road. Race organizers are also part of the extraordinary experience one encounters in marathon and ultramarathon. Organizers themselves not just wants a runner to have a good run on the race route but also root for him to achieve his goal even if it takes so much time and effort. I had experienced on races that had the organizers leaving when there were still runners on the race route. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth as if the organizers were simply quite after the bottom line. McGillivray could just simply said no to Katie’s request citing safety and tradition reason but he wanted to make running in Boston Marathon a sort of metaphor for Katie on what she could achieve in spite of her condition. I look back on my own experiences and I felt specially grateful for those people I came across with along the race route whose presence had enabled me to push my self a little more until I crossed the finish arch and earn my own laurel. I am also grateful to the event organizers that without the opportunity to run in their events, I would have to find some other way to see how wonderful the race human is racing in.