Even at the onset of the race my stamina seems so low that my progress was likewise turtle pace. Nearing noon I have yet to make it at AS6 the 21st kilometer of the race in spite of running for about 7 hours. Last year I at least made it to the 26th kilometer at noon time before bowing to DNF at the 34th kilometers around 3:00 pm. It seem that the possibility of another DNF is in the offing. God forbid, for I won’t be coming back to TNF100 ever again if I suffer another DNF.
With the venue of the 7th The North Face 100 moved to Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna this June 12-13, 2015, I thought my chance of revenge for my last year’s DNF became more possible. Having conquered Salomon X-trail 2015 a few months earlier, which also had its race route transferred to a much more forgiving route, I was speculating TNF100 2015 might follow the lead of Salomon. It was not far fetch, after all both events were organized by the same company, the Prime Group of Companies. And so I found myself shelling out P4,000.00 and spending more on gears just to be part of TNF100 2015. As days passed by I noticed that registration to this event lingered. Meaning slots were not filling up quickly. This might either be brought about by runners opting not to join because of the perceived “easier” race route or probably because there were those who got scarred with last year’s experience due to DNF or other issues with the organizer. Besides, there were other run events transpiring within close proximity of the date of the event such as Mankayan Mountain Marathon by Team Malaya, 1st Cavite 360 60k Ultramarathon by Prince Joseph Balthazar and Philippine Airline’s Manila Marathon. I don’t mind at all whether there were just 10 of us running in the 50K category. All I care about was to run in this event and get my servings of redemption. Not because I trained hard for this event – for there were less trail running event I have participated this year. Rather out of my belief that this year’s route may be less technical than its predecessor. The following factors also greatly influenced my belief: Nuvali area I thought was more or less flat terrain. I ran in two Valley Trail Challenge organized by Frontrunner Magazine and saw that even in that event’s 50k category the route was more or less flat as my singing voice. In the official TNF100 map the highest elevation the course had was pegged at 666 meters. Much like Pico de Loro’s, which I had ran at months earlier and survived it unscathed. Thinking of the Tagaytay portion of the event, I felt it would just be like those of Baguio’s Camp John Hay’s terrain. There won’t be any Mt. Cabuyao high elevation type segment to be encountered along the way that would give us a very steep uphill. I have also done several ultramarathon this year compared to last year which might may help in increasing my endurance. And finally, if in spite of suffering Plantar Fasciitis I reached last year’s 34th kilometer of the race, I probably could fare much now that I am in a much better condition. So, my verdict was that nothing could stop me from biting into that finisher medal come race event.
How could anyone be so stupid than someone who underestimates trail ultramarathon running especially organized by a brand that sells outdoor adventure gears and whose event was patterned after one of Europe’s most difficult trail event? Come race day due to excitement that led me to sleep for only about two hours and a half, I found myself at the race venue at 2:30 am. The 100k runners came in trickle and proceeded to undergo checking of mandatory gear. By the time the gun start was given to the 100k runners at 4:00 am, there where 230 runners getting their brush with the new TNF100 Philippine race route. There were some acquaintances of mine participating in this category after conquering 50k last year’s. Would I be doing the same next year once I conquered TNF100 2015 or moved on and never look back at TNF100 again?
The farthest distance the 100k runner’s route would take them was in Talisay, Batangas. The 50k would just be up to Tagaytay Highland which serves as Aid Station 7, where both the 100k and the 50k runners would have meals and rest just as in last year’s Mt. Cabuyao. On the return trip to Nuvali, Sta. Rosa before the finish line the 100k runners will cover some of the route taken by the 22k runners around Nuvali. Seem easy enough. But when I saw later at AS 7, 50k’s 30th kilometer and 100k’s 58.2 kilometers that only 8 of the 100k runners had so far made it, an hours before their supposed cut off time at 5:00 pm, I knew it was far from the easy I had in mind what the 100k runners had underwent at that moment. This became even more pronounced when seasoned trail runner and champion of many 100k events Majo Liao came in and in pretty much bad shape.
As soon as the bulk of the 100k participants finished with their checking of mandatory gear, I took my queue with the marshal to have my gear checked. This mandatory gear got me panicking earlier in the evening. In the briefing held at 7:00 pm at Evo-living, it was mentioned that blinkers or reflectors were part of mandatory gear. Whereas I read in the website that they were just “ highly recommended” gears. When I went back to my hotel close to 9:00 am to check on my blinker, I found out it had chosen an appropriate time to conk out on me. So, I had to wander about Sta. Rosa hiking some length of the highway to look for cr2032 type battery for my blinker or purchase any form of reflectorized material I could present during checking of gears or be disqualified from running. I ended up purchasing the neon bottled Mountain Dew as my last option. Disappointedly, at the checking of the mandatory gear it was not even asked if I had one. In short, my efforts were wasted on nothing when I could have been resting then. By the time the 50k runners were release at 5:00 am, daylight was breaking in. So, even the headlamp did not matter in this stage of the race.
161 runners participating in the 50k category shot out of the starting chute. Two of my acquaintances KC and Roselyn who finished with me close to the last place at Hungduan Rice Terraces Marathon were among the participants. The race started out on the road then on flat grassy terrain probably frequented by bike. The grassy portion petered and was replaced by more technical trail. We soon encountered a river crossing. One runner slipped and fell into the water after a marshal tried to stabilize a loose stone used as path. Later when he ran along with us after the 22nd kilometer, I saw that he ended up with a gash that was patched with bandage as the result of his falling over the stone and into the water. For my part when I saw I could slip too, I skipped the stones and went to the water to wade through it. In the photograph I saw later taken by RDF, sacks packed with earth replaced the stones for the 500 22k runners to walk on.
We hit the concrete road and run on it for a couple of kilometers before hitting the trail again. The trail led to a settlement area. Along the way a couple from Manila had volunteered to set up their own Aid Station, which was quite appropriate since the next official Aid Station was seemingly taking so long to get to considering it was supposedly at roughly 10km mark of the race. This only goes to show that I was progressing very slowly and distance in trail seem to stretch much farther than on road. After about 3 hours I finally reached the Aid Station 1 at Balabag. After all the effort, it turned out this was just the 10.7 kilometers. I was already tired and have had several stops for rest. At the 13th kilometer after climbing a series of steep uphill, at about 400 meters elevation stood a tower. Then this was followed with steep downhill that sometimes utilized rope to prevent us from slipping the degraded footholds of the path. The next Aid Station AS 2 was at the 15.7 kilometer mark of the race at a place called Calaboso Arc already in the Tagaytay Midland. The next portion of the race was another uphill that peaked to 500 meters then a downhill that dropped to about a 100 meters. The next highlight of the route was an exhausting and quite treacherous walk among rocks of various sizes that littered the whole length of the river that gradually goes downhill. I remember something similar with Salomon Xtrail 2014 that had hurt runners – one in the head when she slipped and fell. I was weary and beaten by the previous series of uphill but I welcomed this long threading on rocks as a sort of relief that allowed my other muscle group in my leg to work and rest the others. Still, it was sapping out the rest of our energy that the sun hadn’t yet siphoned out. I realized how much I had underestimated TNF100 2015 and the thought of not being able to finish lurk as real and as close as the runners I ran along with. Having seen the movie Jurassic World, I could only imagine an Indominus Rex or a pack of raptors will come out of the foliage around us and beat the terrain in demolishing me. This ending would at least prevent me from facing the world with twice DNF at TNF. At last, at hour and half passed noontime, I reached AS6 the 22nd km of the race. Several runners were converging on sari-sari stores that sell ice cold drinks and meals. I refilled my 2 liter hydration pack that had gone dry. Then I proceeded to slump on a covered ground to rest while fixing my hydration bag and its content. I relied on taking Saltstick and Enervon Activ capsules for additional stamina but I realized I lost my packets of both along the way. Still I have GU though but I was reserving it for later portion of the race. I was thinking that my chance of finishing this race was going thin just as the hope of the Golden State Warrior’s chances on bagging their championship after 40 years against the hungrier Cavs powered by Lebron James. Auspiciously, in the background playing was a slightly delayed telecast of game 5 between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the television set. When I asked a runner who was watching the game of whose winning, he said it was Warriors with 21 points and with just a few seconds left on the game. Something lighted up (actually someone had his picture taken) and I translated this to bode well for me. I ordered meal and mingled with the other 50k runners. I learned that most of them were doing 50k trail running for the first time. I brought out a sun block lotion and put some on my face. I know it was a bit late for that in the race but I gave it out to others just the same. Then I told them it was already my second time and that I DNF the first time. I also told them about my experience last year before I decided to DNF. That I was so exhausted, much like how we felt that moment and was actually deciding to quit already. However, after consuming the rice porridge being given out to runners at the Aid Station at Mt. Cabuyao, it had restored much of my strength, confidence and desire to finish the race that I opted to continue to proceed to Santo Tomas U-turn about 4 kilometers away. Another 4 kilometers later when I returned to the same Aid Station at Mt. Cabuyao I found out there were no more rice porridge to spare for the 50k runners. This broke the camel’s back. My energy sagged so I decided to DNF. I told them they have to have that porridge twice to finish the race. They laugh at my story.
Before I bade goodbye to them so that I could proceed with the race, one of the runners was already deciding on DNF-ing. I don’t know how many of them would continue to finish the race. At that time about 120 of us had already reached 22 kilometers. From AS6 all by myself I negotiated the route that initially was an open field bathe by scorching sun whose temperature had peaked to 39 degrees heat index. Along the way I caught up with Luis and Grace whom I will be running with most of the way until we got separated at the last 5 to 6 kilometers of the race. There were a couple of 100k runners that passed us by. Then the runner I saw earlier that fell in the river caught up with us. He brought a grim news that for us 50k runners our cut off was at Belle View Hotel at 5:00 pm. This news got us panicking and made us dash until we couldn’t anymore. Our dash advanced us actually just about a kilometer or more and we’re back to walking again. We rationalized that Belle View which was what we saw nestling above the hills was 8 kilometers away from AS6. Since, we probably ran about 3 kilometers from AS6, we could probably make it to Belle View 2 hours before the cut off time. Going to the 26th kilometers there was a sub-Aid Station that provided runners with little hydration. In this area I rested for a short while after gaining a little speed and distance ahead of my companions. While resting I learned that the 50k runner who was comfortably resting on a recliner close to were I sat had actually decided to DNF and was just waiting for a shuttle that will bring him out of the course. Afraid of being afflicted with the same desire to DNF, I continued on my way until I reached uphill again. I stopped and waited for the others before moving on. I wanted to lie down and sleep but the thought that I might not be able to wake up or be taken for dead prevented me from collapsing in the thicket. The gain in elevation at this portion was about 100 meters. This placed us at 350 meters high. Then we hit downhill with elevation lost of about 100 meters. We soon found ourselves walking on concrete road of a posh village Tagaytay Midland. In a nearby manicured lawn near a security guarded gate we rested laying our heads on the lawn. Another runner Michael joined our group. He had several experience with ultra trail marathon in the past but currently he was suffering cramps on his legs. I lend him my BMI liniment to help ease the discomfort.
When we continued with the race while walking along the road we thought any moment we will be hitting Belle View especially after we were directed to turn right towards Tagaytay Highland’s Madre De Dios Chapel, which I believed I previously reached when I ran at the event, Nathan Ridge Run. But this only led us into another trail that tend to go uphill. From the looks of it, it was pretty much steep. Our spirit crumbled again. The rise and fall of our spirit seemed to coincide with the gain and loss of elevation depicted in the race map. It also illustrated how our spirit lifted whenever we were made to believe on something favorable such as the distance left to cover from one point to the next, only to find out that what we were told was a bit inaccurate and our spirit plummets. Luis, Grace and I went ahead to tackle about 350 meters gain in elevation. I felt that I had so much uphill climb for this race that it had already surpassed last year’s degree of technicality. In a later comment I read from runners who complained about the difficulty of TNF100 2015, one runner criticized the organizer for gauging success of this event in terms of the number of runners who won’t make it to the finish line. It seemed that the organizers wanted to brag that the franchise of TNF100 in the Philippines is one bad ass momma. Then someone uploaded a Vimeo video of Berkley 100. This documentary was about one of the most difficult ultra trail race that covered 100 miles. It was so difficult that out of 1000 that had tried to accomplish this 60 hours run since it began in 1986 only 14 had made it. I remembered last year’s Salomon Xtrail Run and say I could relate to the sentiments of these runners.
Finally, we broke foliage and again ushered into another manicured lawn on top of the hill. Above was the Belle View Hotel which looks like a structure from the distant future. But because of how out of place it seemed above the mountain and after so much jungle, I felt it was a laboratory from the movie World War Z whose developing cure for the rampaging zombie disease that had outbreak around the world. Then as we surveyed our surrounding, we gorged at the wonderful backdrop of Taal Lake, the smaller Taal Volcano and Mt. Maculot. Both Luis and Grace had experience running and assaulting the summit of both Taal Volcano and Mt. Maculot respectively. We took the opportunity for photo-ops. However, we were not out of the woods yet. We still have to climb the steep concrete waterway then climb the inclined manicured lawn aided with a rope in order to make it to the official Aid Station 7 that was set up at the parking lot of Montana. This was the 31st kilometer for the 50k runners resting at 666 MASL. This was the Mt. Cabuyao Aid Station of last year that fed runners with rice porridge I was telling fellow runners about.
The Aid Station 7 seemed like the emergency station that was set up for the survivors of the great series of earthquakes that was faulted to San Andreas Fault in the last scene of the movie San Andreas. There were tents attended by personnel some massaging 100k runners, some feeding other runners while at the adjacent lot neatly arranged in rows were drop off bags of the 100k runners that were covered by garbage bag which to me looks more like body bags. With only an hour left before the 100k cut off time at AS 8 we thought about the repercussions. There were so few had made it, mostly seasoned trail runners and still they don’t look they had a walk in the park. How much more for those who were first time takers? Then we were told that their cut-off was extended to 7:00pm. Although it was not told of us we were assuming 50k’s finish cut-off might also be extended. So, we took our time resting and feasting on rice porridge, fruits and liquid. I was actually worried about the last remaining 19 kilometers of the race. I couldn’t take it anymore if we doubled back to the river crossings again. But then we were told that it was all roads all the way back to the finish area. A rush of good feeling filled us up that we decided to cut short of our vacation at the AS 7 so that we could take the road and finish it in say 3-4 hours about two hours ahead of the cut of time. A female 100k bolted out of the Aid Station 7 just as Luis, Grace and I were about to leave. Michael and the other guy who arrived a bit later after we did decided to stay for a while. Along the way about a couple of hundred meters from AS 7 another 50k runner was walking back towards the aid station after attempting to continue her journey to the Finish Line. It turned out she had decided to drop the race. We were encouraging her since we thought that the last remaining leg of the race was easier. But she might know something we didn’t that was why in spite our prodding she stuck with her decision. Just as we were getting comfortable with the road we were again directed to enter a trail. Another example it seem of the inaccuracies told to us. But this trip to a trail was short and we’re back where our soles were kissing the concrete road again. The road took us to a fork were there were another smaller aid station and some support crew waiting for runners. The fork led to a much smaller winding road that goes downhill. We hurled ourselves into this road taking us down to as much as 100 meters from the previous 600 meters. Then roughly at the 35th kilometer we were again climbing uphill trail that led to the previous tower we passed by near the 15th kilometer. At this point Michael was able to catch up. From here a series of downhill that took us to maybe 100 meters elevation. At Aid Station 1 there were other runners milling around taking refreshments. Soon we were all on our way passing by the couple from Manila who had set up an aid station still giving out whatever aid they could afford to provide. At this juncture darkness was beginning to engulf us. We put on our headlamps and racing along settlement area where dogs were cajoling us to move on. Other 50k runners came and ran passed us. We reached a portion were we crossed a river and then into concrete road. We earlier thought we could finish the race ahead of the cut off time at 10:00 pm if the route would be mostly road. But it turned out not. Now time was really running against us. That was why we were trying to put on some steam. Luis and Grace began to lag behind. By the time we reached the Rotunda inside Nuvali which was roughly the 47th kilometers of the race only Michael was running along with me. Then after we left the Aid Station at the Rotunda I gained distance over Michael that soon I was the only one left running another portion of the route that went through off road. The route was enveloped in darkness with no marshal and marker to be discerned along the way. The only instruction I received before I entered it was that a marshal will be waiting at the other end of it. I was all alone until a 100k runner passed me by and disappeared for good. If before hitting this trail, the road I was threading on was seem to be nearing the finish area, this trail that I was directed to take was seemingly taking me farther away from it. It got me worried and thinking whether I made a mistake of taking the 100k route when I made a hurried turn to get to the parallel road after following a marker with an arrow and sign “TNF100”. I saw that if I had not followed the arrow, at the other end of my previous track was another marker with arrow. What if that was the route for the 50k? The marshal who directed me to the trail might not have noticed that I am from the 50k category and mistaken me for 100k runner. What a letdown would it be after conquering the difficult route of the previous hours only to fail to finish because I got lost at 3 kilometers away from the finish line after taking the 100k route that would have me circling Nuvali for 10 to 20 kilometers more. Then I saw blinkers at the end of the trail and a marshal waiting. He told me that I took the right track. I exited the trail and into the concrete road once more. Another marshal directed me to circle another Rotonda. She further told me I still have 30 minutes to make it to the finish line. The road took me to E Nature Avenue which was initially swath in darkness then slowly I emerged into a lighted portion of the road. I felt my motion was in slow motion and my approached to the awaiting traffic enforcers stretches on. But I managed to reach them who then directed me to take the right turn to Nuvali Boulevard. The end of it would be the finish line. I could have collapse when I heard that but I tried to psyche myself up to keep up the impression I was still running a very long distance. I have heard stories about runners collapsing within a few hundred meters before the finish line simply because their bodies stopped upon knowing the race was almost done. I couldn’t believe it I was actually finishing this race which had severely depressed me last year when I failed to accomplished the task. As I approach the event area I noticed that there were less people in the area meaning, less people to witness my victory much like how I first witness this remarkable moment about two years ago. Two years ago I was registered to run the 22k category whose gun start was at 5:00 am. But I was already in the area quite earlier. I saw how some of the 100k runners crossed the finish line in trickle. Some of those who came were either limping or were just walking due to exhaustion. The event area which was quiet would suddenly come alive with every runner’s approach towards the finish line. I dreamed then that I would also experience this kind of moment. My reverie was broken as I hear the announcer spoke of my arrival. Then I found myself crossing the finisher arch to hold the banner and receive my finisher medal. Photo ops ensued and then after being given Gatorade I just kind of found a spot to sit down. I waited for Michael, Luis and Grace to cross the finish arch. Out of the 161 50k participants only 121 did actually finished. I’m at the 109th place with time of 16:37:19. Roselyn was the last runner to be considered finisher. From the 230 participants in the 100k only 49 finished.