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.

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