Twice already I have walked all the way to Antipolo from my residence in Sta. Cruz, Manila. From the yellow road kilometer marker at the foot of the hill at the end of Ortigas Extension leading to Antipolo, it says I have traveled 20 kilometers. Along the way I passed by Welcome Rotunda, the boundary of Manila and Quezon City, Greenhills in San Juan, Robinson’s Galleria in Mandaluyong City, Tiendesitas in Pasig, Pure Gold Cainta, Rizal and another smaller store in Taytay, Rizal. At least 5 municipalities of Metro Manila and 2 of Rizal Province covered by the hike. Which kind of made it difficult for me to imagine how a marathon could possibly be held in Antipolo without resorting to doing endless loops that would create a havoc traffic problem within Antipolo City’s thoroughfare. The former thought revealed how little I know about how big Antipolo City really is. The Antipolo Marathon held in May 31, 2015 organized by Team Malaya went to great length to showcase that there is so much to see in Antipolo City apart from the Watering Hole along the stretch of Sumulong Highway and the Pilgrimage church at the other end of the road.
The Antipolo Marathon was my second in the row of full marathon in the span of two weeks that their organizers mentioned as being, “the first”. The first one was the 1st Laguna Marathon organized by Run Mania Promotion Philippines’ expansion group, which organizes races that build up the next breed of ultramarathoners by providing run events with sub-ultramarathon distance categories. Happily, I survived the searing heat of the last 10 kilometers to conquer 1st Laguna Marathon, which was held at Sta. Cruz, Laguna and looped around the towns of Nagcarlan, Liliw, Magdalena and Pagsanjan before going back to Sta. Cruz.
Antipolo Marathon also boast of being the first marathon held in Antipolo although like the 1st Laguna Marathon was not necessarily “the” first run events that took place in both places. The Starting area for the Antipolo Marathon was at Hinulugang Taktak National Park, located several flights of stairs below the Daang Bakal Road and about 300 meters from my accommodation at Altaroca Mountain Resort. The resuscitated Hinulugang Taktak served as the backdrop of the starting area. I remember the last time I saw the falls was more than a decade ago. The water trickling from it was literally like being “taktak”, which the closest I could describe it in English is, “to scratch the bottom of the barrel for scrapes”. Moreover, the forgotten and forsaken natural falls was littered with litter whereas before prose and poetry. Now, the water cascading at the falls looks more refreshing. I was told maybe in two year time people could once again swim and enjoy the water up close, thereby giving life to the once song being sung about visiting Antipolo and its majestic Hinulugang Taktak Falls.
The race for the 56 42k runners started at 3:00am. From the crowd I could only spot a couple of runners I knew from previous run events. The others whom I frequently see in other run events, I guessed were still recovering from the previous day’s 25k Taal 360 Trail Run. At the gun start, runners walked the long stamina draining upward flights of stairs leading to Daang Bakal Road. From there runners took the right direction and ran for about 1.5 kilometers along the unlit concrete road. The sound of crickets and frogs that thrived the forested area vied for the cacophony of videoke singing blaring from the line of resorts situated at the other side of the river found at the right side of the road. After a U-turn, runners retraced the path previously taken. It had now turned into slightly sloped uphill. We passed by once again the Hinulugang Taktak National Park and heads out for about 400 meters more until we meet up with Sumulong Highway. We took the left direction leading downhill to Masinag, Marikina. The route was basically rolling with mostly downhill. We ran at the left side of the road facing the incoming vehicular traffic. The air was thick with smoke belching from vehicles. The air was pretty much humid in spite of the elevation. Overlooking at the side of the road was the spectacle of lights of the whole Metro Manila like individual stars seen within a galaxy. There were moments I couldn’t resist giving in to the pull of the gravity and so, my pace shot up as I hurled downwards. The U-turn was at the 13th kilometer in front of the Pan De Manila. At the Aid Station I took the opportunity to eat rice cake and stowed away a hardboiled egg in lieu of a supposedly ribbon. I intended it to be a proof of having passed by this stage of the race in case questioned in the next Aid Station for the absence of ribbon that was not issued to us. The uphill of the return trip was wholly up hell. It surely wiped off the smile brought about by the thrill of speeding downhill. Team Malaya was more identified with their Cordillera Series and soon the mountain runs. With the uphill component on this marathon it was now no longer out of Team Malaya’s elements and more in their domain. In fact, the uphill assault of Sumulong Highway kind of reminded me of the return trip from the Lion’s Head along Kennon Road to the Panagbenga Park at Pine Tree Marathon. A consoling thought though was that unlike in the Pine Tree Marathon, I was not walking alone the uphill route and neither was the last runner. There were others who were close by who were also struggling to run the uphill. I got to over take a couple of them. However, at a portion nearing the end of the uphill, the route gradually sloped downhill and soon leveled those in front of me gained their distances as they were able to run ahead. As soon as I reached the leveled area too, I also established a separation with those at my rear.
At the 21st kilometer an Aid Station await runners. The Aid Station led to Assumption Road, situated at Purok Angela. Then right turn to Buliran Road and then left to Maguey Road. It was easy to think I was lost because I couldn’t see any runners ahead of me. This was coupled with the directional markers’ appearance becoming few and farther apart with each other – About the same length when your hope of finding one had reached rock bottom. My spirit lifted up when Harmon the event’s photographer was standing along the road and took my photograph. Then a couple of hundred meters away another Aid Station stood and confirmed I was still at the right track. The road once again took me to where I was groping my way alone, passing by subdivisions and rolling hills without any indication I was still following the race route. Then upon hitting Lawis Extension a fork on the road presented itself. A race marshal sprang up out of nowhere and directed me to which direction to take.
The entrance to Town and Country Height was the 24th kilometers of the race. I entered the gate that led to a steep downhill. Farther downhill I saw some runners taking refreshment at the Aid Station. The Aid Station like the few watering hole in the open land in African savanna where animals converge, gave me a chance to interact with some of the runners I constantly bumped into in this race. These runners would eventually finish in close proximity of time with my finish. The place we were in seemed to be either a very large village or actually composed of several villages with a portion of it still being developed. That’s why grassy area, dirt road and a hill that is being quarry dotted the place. As I approached the intersection, which was Puting Bato Road, I spied some runners heading the left side of the road. Incoming vehicles such as trucks provided dust and smoke to further spiced up the adventure feel of the run. Sitting along the intersection was another Aid Station. This was the 26th kilometer of the race. The route taken by the runners I saw led to a U-turn near the Marcos Highway. The Aid Station served coconut juice which did not agreed well with the taste buds of some of the runners because the sweetener added to the water that was mixed with the coconut juice was the brown unrefined sugar type that leaves an after taste. The Aid Station marked the 28th kilometer of the marathon. From this Aid Station runners retraced their step back to the Aid Station at the formerly 26th kilometers now the 31st. Runners then run to the opposite side of the road going to the Mystical Cave, which lies at the 32.5 kilometer of the race. One runner went directly to the direction of the Mystical Cave without heading first to the left side of the Puting Bato Road. As a result, about 2 kilometers was uselessly spent by this runner in going back to make his run right. Such was the strength of this runner that in spite of his mistake he still managed to pass me by without breaking a sweat and finished the race later ahead of me. Mystical Cave u-turn of the race lies above several steps of stairs. An iron grill gate serves as the entrance to a network of natural limestone tunnels that could take several hours to explore. Luckily runners need only to pose outside the gate while Anthony Evan or Red Knight takes the runner’s photo as requisite for conquering this leg of the race.
The next portion of the race took runners along the rest of the winding Puting Bato Road. The road passes by Solid Cement Factory and exits along Circumferential Road. Runners took the uphill direction. I rested for a short period of time at the side of the road where there were several bicycle riders taking rest and taking in the breathtaking view of the rest of Rizal Province below. I was soon joined by four other runners, whom I had already encountered in some of the stages of the race. There were only about 6 kilometers separating us from the Finished Line. But we decided not to hurry up since we were heading uphill. However, by the time we reached the Rotunda one runner our group caught up with earlier broke out of our pack and ran. I followed his lead and ran toward the direction of Shopwise Department Store and right to Quezon Street all the way to Sumulong Park and Antipolo Church. I overtook the runner who sprinted away from us. But I was not sure what to do next. I was directed by a traffic enforcer to ran straight and turn left at the end of the road I was taking. The road would take me to Daang Bakal Road. On the way to Daang Bakal Road I made a mistake and went farther along Sumulong Highway going downhill again toward Masinag. But I made second thought and turned around only to see a traffic enforcer waving at me. I went towards him. He directed me at a smaller Rotunda and had me taking Daang Bakal Road. Finally, I was running towards Hinulugang Taktak National Park thinking my toil will be over soon. People were lining down the stair to go to the belly of the park. I squeezed pass them while skirting those who were coming from below going up. The Finished area was already peopled with runners who had accomplished the race and tourists taking photos of the waterfalls. At the last few steps of the stairs, I was then handed with a water drop shaped finisher medal by one of the marshal but from the wrong category, which I only noticed a bit later after Harmon had me posing for photographs. I did not anymore had a Finisher photograph with the Hinulugang Taktak behind me and a Finisher Banner held for me because the portion of the park was already crowded with tourist. RDF one of those I regularly run along with in many of the run event was there to congratulate me. Not only did he ran 25k at the scorching heat bathe Taal Volcano he also wetted his feet at Antipolo Marathon under the 21k Category. I learned from him that there were others who did the same. I notice a lot of my friends run in the 21k category after running the other day from various run events. A growing community of strong runners, which I think is good in order to support run events with lofty causes while also being able to enjoy other run events with great venues in tow that were happening whose dates were in close proximity with each other. As I walk to my accommodation, I was thinking whether my taking one long distance run after another almost every week would be suffice for my bid to get a revenge at the upcoming TNF100 which will be happening within two weeks. How much could I pour in or in vernacular, “taktak” just so I could see the light of the day I would be cradling that 50k finisher medal, my first ultra trail marathon. Along Daang Bakal while I was walking one of the runners arriving the National Hinulugang Taktak Park was a runner I knew who was much stronger than I am. I think I stood a better chance now.