Salomon Summoned Sweet Revenge

I was not quite sure what to expect with my 3rd attempt to conquer Salomon X Trail Run. Although the venue had been changed to Anvaya Cove in Morong, Bataan, I did not expect the organizer would give up spicing up this event with features that made the previous venue in Hamilo, Batangas quite unforgettable and unforgiving. That’s why as early as I was queuing for the shuttle service, I was already assuaging myself that in the event I once again failed in this attempt I should at least feel glad that I managed to visit Anvaya Cove, which I only get to see its advertisement splashed along the road on the way to Subic Bay area from Bagac in Bataan.

At the shuttle terminal I ran with Ricky Francisco and Ricky Gregorio. Like I did the previous week, both also ran at the 1st Bulacan 60k Ultramarathon. Riding high with the latter’s accomplishment of having finished that run event, Ricky Francisco and I were not just doing Salomon X trail as a sort of recovery from the run but also a recovery of pride from our failure to finished in the 1st Sagada Circuit Marathon about two weeks prior to this current event.

At 5:30 a.m. after passing through a mandatory checking of required gear of whistle, hydration pack and headlamp we were given our gun start. Even before we left the starting chute the sky had given way to daylight so the first to get shelve was my headlamp. About close to 300 24 k category participants ran along the initially concrete paved road along SBMA-Morong Road which after a short while ended with our entering the trail portion of the route. Last year the trail immediately introduced the runners to an uphill run that became clogged because a runner at the early juncture of the race got injured at the very spot runners were to climb up. Today however, the trail was like those I had experienced at Nuvali, Sta. Rosa through Soleus Valley Trail Challenge, mainly flat dirt and grassy path in an open area. The trail led through the former Vietnamese settlement where some houses had fallen into disrepair. This portion lies at the 5.5 kilometers of the race. Later the route carried us to river crossings including one later on with calve deep and slippery rocks underneath the river. Eventually we reached concrete road again that soon began to run steeply inclined uphill. Then we’re back to off-road again followed by another steep climb where the crest led to more trail. The sea could be seen farther along the left side. The heat of the sun had gotten so intense that it was innervating. My knees soon were buckling. A few more moments my foot had gotten caught on a root and found myself falling face flat like a log on the ground. The impact of my fall had my eyeglasses’ lens falling loose from its nylon frame while the nose clip torn off. My left calf seem to have over-stretched and became was painful to move. Other runners rushed to aid me by lifting me off my feet so I could stand on my two legs. I thanked them profusely and told them I was all right. They probably thought I collapse due to the heat because as they left me one advised me to drink up. I was actually trying to shake myself out from the initial shock I felt from hitting the ground. I surveyed my body for any other injuries aside from my bruised and bloodied knees. The pain I initially felt in my calves relented. While resting and waiting to get my senses fully restored, I tried to put back my eyeglasses together but it was clear without the nose clip, I could not be able to wear it again. So, for the rest of the leg of the run I was without eyeglasses. Everything on the ground seemed to shine brightly that I couldn’t very well distinguish the contour of the ground I was threading on. Unlike in the initial stage of this run I was now moving a bit slower borne by exhaustion and some impinging pain I was feeling here and there. It did not help a bit that I was well aware of the 5-hour cut-off time I was trying to beat. I began to worry that for the third time not making it at the cut-off time was becoming even more apparent.

I reached Aid Station 3 at 15.5 kilometer. Although each AS had ample supply of cold Gatorade and iced filled water jug, the Aid Station had no cup to spare and those manning the Aid Station did not want to lend to the runners the cap of the water containers to be use for drinking. I was desperately in want of a cold drink although I still have a full hydration bladder but the water in it was not cold. I was pleading to be lent with any container I could drink from but those people manning the AS had no intention of giving in nor seemed damn concern about how I felt. It was heaven sent that a runner lend me his hydration bottle so I could drink from it. After drinking myself until I felt bloated with liquid, I left the Aid Station and climbed the stone stairs leading a tower then into the trail. There was a race marshal manning this area and he told me that the current route was heading to the coast. There were just about 8 kilometers to go before the finish line. Upon reaching the boulder-strewn coastline there was a portion that I had to waded through the water to reach another portion of the beach. I got a scared of my life when a jellyfish was swimming or floating towards me and almost caught up with me. Running over rocky landscape along a coast resembled last year’s Salomon X-trail Run’s last leg of the race at Hamilo Coast. I however, never got to reach that point last year because I got lost along the route. The stretch of the beach which runners had to negotiate was about 6 kilometers long peppered with jellyfishes marooning the beachhead. There were portions where the beach was sandy and soft to run at. Because of it, it became quite a struggle running, to think time was fast winding down. By this time after struggling the last 10 kilometers and being over taken by runners behind me, I soon found out I gained some distance and caught up with those who had earlier over taken me. As a result my confidence that I will finish this race bolstered up.

Finally after leaving the coast for the last time, I was told that just a little less than 2 kilometers left from my finally taking home my first Salomon X Trail finisher medal. But even as I began to hear the blast of the sound system blaring from the event venue, the surrounding environment does not bear exactly where the finish line was situated. All around were tree line and again vast flat dirt landscape that seems to go on and on. Even as the marker stated that just a kilometer was left, instead of having hope that the toil was finally over, there was no way one could feel the toil was ending. Then I turned leftward leading to a gate. The ground changed into gravel then the most wonderful sight revealed itself. I saw the concrete road and inclining rightward lay the finisher arch. An untapped source of energy fired me to run even though I was actually running low on juice and was experiencing cramping at my calves. I could not allow this chance to blow off simply because I didn’t make it to the finish line on time because I came in a few minutes pass the cut off time which happened with me at Akyathlon when I missed the summit cut off time by 10 minutes. I already saw some photographers taking snap shots of my arrival at the finisher arch. Unlike last year I will have a photo-souvenir of my tour at Salomon X Trail 2015. As I crossed the finish line I saw the event announcer was sitting under the arch, I could not help myself from shouting, “Revenge run finally completed” while the finisher medal was being hung around my neck and feeling the weight of accomplishment. The event announcer heard my cry and echoed my sentiment that for many runners, this event was a fulfillment of their desire to revenge for last year’s dismal display. I finished with a time of 4:50:01 10 minutes before the supposed cut off time. Later I found out that even those who made it beyond the 5 hours cut of time of the 24k category had gotten their finisher medals as well. My road to capture what I failed last year had truly began for the following day barely I had rested, along with some of the Salomon X-Trail 2015 finishers, I ran at the 42k category of the National Geographic Earth Day Run 2015 Manila Leg and also finished it. Taking home my first 42k finisher medal for this event after DNF-ing last year at the 34th kilometers because of my painful foot that was still suffering from Plantar Fasciitis. My next target is to finally capture my first finisher medal at the 50k category of the TNF100 happening in June. Who knows maybe if I keep up with all the positive vibes I might even finish a 100km before this year ends.


That Thing Called Sagada And The Humbling Circuit Marathon

With the Salomon X Trail Run 2015 and TNF100 fast approaching I need to have some trail running infused into my distance running. I usually get this trail running training from joining PIMCO’s Nature Trail Discovery Run Series. But this franchise, I heard had ceased to operate due to some issues, so I have to look for other alternatives. Unfortunately I missed out Team Malaya’s Sagada Marathon, the first of the Cordillera Series now on its second season, which happened last February 18, 2015. I thought like their previous Cordillera Series legs Team Malaya’s Sagada Marathon might offer some trail running in it. Later I will learn that it was predominantly a road race like the Pine Tree Marathon. The next best thing was to sign up to Jonel C. Mendoza’s Sagada Circuit Marathon scheduled April 12, 2015. Although at the back of my mind I know Front Runner Magazine’s run events were usually tough. However, having experience running in two of its events I was banking on the experiences I got which provided me some kind of confidence I can manage to accomplish whatever this new event would dish out.

I don’t know if these series of unfortunate events forebode things will not really go well for me on this run event. First, the GL Liner bus originally destined to Bontoc but changed to Sagada route that I had almost taken had an accident. When we passed by it, I saw that the bus had hit the opposite side of the road with its front almost sunk deep on the piled dirt that the driver used to cushion the impact or stop the rampaging vehicle which brakes might suddenly ceased to work. What prevented me from getting on that bus was due to my meeting two running acquaintances at the bus ticket queue and when the bus conductor was calling out for passenger, I could not leave behind my two acquaintances until they themselves were able to get on at the other bus they were scheduled to take while I on the one following it later. Another sign that bode ill for me was my not able to find accommodation immediately upon arriving at Sagada. It took me almost the rest of the afternoon before I could find one, which was actually the bedroom of the inn’s owner’s children who thankfully were out of town and had not arrived as expected. The owner took pity on me and had me boarding the room while a pair of other tourist who was also looking for accommodation acquired the original room I could have gotten. But since they were couple I happily gave it up for them. Then while I was getting my stuff out of my backpack, I realized I hadn’t brought along my hydration pack and bladder. How could I run on a 42 kilometers road-trail without hydration pack? This dilemma also happened to me at the run event, Tagaytay to Nasugbu whose organizer was actually a close friend of Jonel Mendoza.

My string of misfortunes did not actually started at this event. Weeks earlier, I was suppose to run in Ilocos when upon getting my race kit, I realized that the race event I actually signed on was a triathlon event, which I could not participate because, aside from not having a bicycle, I could not swim. Feeling a bit superstitious, I was worried that these strings of debacles will continue on until I repeat what happened with me last 2014 when after failing to finish at Akyathlon 2014 run event I eventually DNF’s at Salomon X Trail Run 2014, TNF100 2014 and Nat Geo Run 2014, which incidentally were all the next run events I will be running in the next couple of weeks.

Earlier I noticed that the road from Baguio to Sagada was already paved with cement and was now capable of taking two-way traffic. I remember years back when I was still working at the government office, NCCA and was visiting Sagada often, only one vehicle at a time could ply certain portion of the rough dirt road that was once known as abortion road. Before also one could feel while traveling to Sagada the peril of falling over the ravine, because the ravine were way too close to the road’s edges that you could hear the chasm beckoning you to visit it permanently.

After finishing settling down, I took a walk going towards the town with a plan to purchase myself a Sagada weaved back pack I intended to use as my hydration bag that will contain a 2 liters of bottled water, first aid kit, wind breaker, some trail food and energy gels. I was also thinking of having an early dinner so I can turn in early. I was coming from the direction where Sumaging Cave lies just about 2 kilometers away while Sagada Weaving lies perhaps a kilometers and a half the opposite way heading towards the entrance to Sagada. I reminisced again the time when the concrete road was only confined from Sagada Weaving to perhaps just a little beyond the Municipal Tourism office. I was not familiar with the current food houses such as Salt and Pepper, Yougurt House, Sagada Lemon Pie House and Sagada Brew. Or maybe, I was just not eating there before because it was expensive to eat in places like these in those days. Before Sagada was basically a foreigners’ haven for they make up the bulk of tourists visiting the place, which was not much. Now, Filipino tourists had came in throve and had brought some negative results such as increase in air pollution brought about by increase in vehicular traffic and piling up of garbage in this once pristine and quiet place. At Sagada Weaving I could not have the back pack I was looking for so, I went to the other shop in front of it and settled for what they had for a back pack which I hope could live up to the expectation that Sagada weaved bags were sturdy even if you get it from any other shop in Sagada. On my return trip from Sagada Weaving to look for meal, I found out at 4:00 p.m. food establishments were still close in order to prepare meals that would be served from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sagada Brew however, was already accepting people to dine in. At 7:00 p.m. I slept wearing my running attire as if I would be running in my dreams.

The gun start in front of the Sagada Municipal Hall for the 69+ 42k runners was rung at 5:00 am. The route took the runners uphill along the road that leads to Besao. I was not familiar with the Sagada I was running at now. It might as well be another place for me for I could not place the place I was passing by in spite that I had visited the usual tourist spots around Sagada before. At 3.4 km, the first remarkable spot of the race was the Lake Danum, which boast of being the best site to view the sunset. While the other runners who were ahead of us were heading off beyond Lake Danum to check for race marshals that will record runners passing this path, I was having my photograph taken with Ricky Francisco, Cecile and Emily. From Lake Danum we retraced our steps and headed off into an area were the road ends and trail begins. We entered Mt. Sisipitan area. Fog was still hugging the place while slowly the trail marker were slowly dissipating as if it too were fog that slowly thinned out as daylight penetrate the forest. We suspected that some of the runners got lost along the way or we were actually the ones who had gotten lost. Aside from the motor cyclist, Thes two other runners Herman and Laxmi joined our informal band. We exited the trail and was again kicking concrete pavement. After taking some refreshments at Aid Station 2 we once again ventured along the paved concrete road then entered a community of closely knit houses that led to a series of descending steps. We were heading off to Aguid Rice Terraces. Soon we were actually traipsing its stonewalls that served as narrow path around the terraces. This was pretty much a reminiscence of Hungduan Marathon and Banaue-Batad Marathon. Our destination was another remarkable site, the Bomod-ok Falls, which lies at the 14th kilometer of the route. After this turn around we went back to the rice terraces and proceeded to ascend a long stony stairs now filled with descending tourists. We had to stop and give way and in the process take as much rest we could to conquer the stairs. At the end of the ascent was the previous Aid Station 2. The sun was already streaking hot. We learned that the seven of us were actually the last runners from the 42k and a sweeper was tailing us to make sure no one fall behind and get lost. The road took us to Kitepan View Deck famous for viewing the sunrise. This was the 21st kilometer. The next aid station was at a kilometer away near the Petron Gas Station, which is located before the entrance to Sagada. We then entered an off road that soon opened up to a wide expanse of tree less and stony land. With the feature, I remember Philex Ridge at Ampucao, Benguet. We were entering Alab popularly known as Malboro Country. Again we faced the problem of getting lost because the ribbon markers could not be distinguished as they seem to blend with the background they were tied at. I also noticed later that one tourist was holding a walking stick with a piece of our ribbon marker tied around it. Herman and Laxmi disappeared and were never seen by us again until later when they joined up with Cecile and the sweeper after getting lost for most of the way after they got separated from us. The trail took us to an area with spike looking rocks sprouting out of the ground like those crystals found on Superman’s nemesis Doomsday. Then we came across an area with a mount covered with white-colored dirt that looks like icecaps of the Alps. Then after this strange setting we crossed an area, which had just recently been burned to give way for planting. As a result the ground was still smoking and belching heat. We eventually exited at a concrete road with an Aid Station. This was Payag-ews and the 29th kilometer. At this point it was becoming quite apparent that we would be caught by the cut–off time of 2:00p.m at Mt. Ampacao Saddle. This mean we would not be able to continue to finish the race. We already left behind Cecile and the sweeper, Ricky was also struggling to keep up with the pace and had fallen farther back of us. Emily and Thes were quite determined to see the race through marches on ahead of me. While I was already contemplating on quitting the race once we come close to were I was staying the previous evening, which was just beyond Sumaging Cave at the 35km. We caught up with another runner Adrian Aquino. Then passing by Sumaging Cave at 33km we saw a Caucasian runner cramping. I thought to myself that I wasn’t actually doing bad alone. There were a lot of us. But the race ended for us upon arriving at the Aid Station at Gaia Café at the 34th kilometer. The race marshal stopped us from continuing onwards to Mt. Ampacao Saddles, which lies still a long 4 kilometers of uphill and would require us, probably, more than an hour to summit. From the Saddle another 4 kilometers to the finish line at Sagada Cellar Door. Jonel Mendoza came personally to explain to us why we were not being allowed anymore to proceed in spite of Thes insistence she could still make it before 3:00 p.m. finishline cut off. I had no problem accepting defeat that moment. I know that we took too much of our sweet time enjoying the view and the route, which was not a luxury for Jonel Mendoza organized run event. The following day as I rode home with Ricky and Adrian we resolve to come back and finish what we have started at Sagada. Although, I still feel that this loss might domino with me not finishing again at Salomon X Trail Run and TNF100, it still kind of feel good that I experienced yet another thrilling trail run in Sagada. What doesn’t kill you will make you strong. And so, I feel the time will come when I could sign up with other Front Runner magazine event and fear nothing about not finishing it because I have already build enough stock to conquer any trail.

PS. I did conquered Salomon X Trail Run 2015 but that’s another story.