Pitting With the Pavement of Pangasinan at the Prince’s Event

When the 1st Pangasinan 360 70K Ultramarathon event schedule was announced by Prince Multi Sports Event, Inc., I saw an opportunity to accomplish my desire to complete the list of provinces forming a continuous line north of Manila that I had already ran in. So far the list is composed of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, (Subic) Zambales and La Union. This is apart from the other provinces in the Cordillera that I also ran at composing of Baguio, Benguet, Ifugao. If successful, along with three other events I hope to join in September and November, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte would be added to the list. Maybe by then I can focus on completing the southern portion of Luzon.

Just like in Trans Cebu Ultramarathon when the 1st Pangasinan 360 70K Ultramarathon was held last August 8, 2015, most of my running friends were at the 21k Mt. Marami Silyang Bato FKT Trail Run held in Maragondon, Cavite. Seeing them having fun in spite of being soaked wet with rain and merrily sloshing along muddy trail, I almost felt quite left out and envious. To me this was another trail running event missed in favor of ultramarathon, which I hope will buy me a ticket to running my first 100k. In Pangasinan, I and a few of my running friends namely, Mignon Ygnacio, Delmo Sullano, Nancy Buenaventura, Tess Templado, and Sherman Manuel helped filled up the 60 plus runners who registered in the 1st Pangasinan 360 run event. Pangasinan was supposedly one of the more difficult place to hold run events at because being located in the great plain of northern portion of Luzon and lies near the sea, it is expected that the climate there to be quite hot and humid. But the schedule of the Pangasinan 360 run event coincided with the possibility of the southwest monsoon being enhanced by a passing typhoon north of the Philippines. Rain was expected to ease the usually hot temperature of Pangasinan. However, come the actual event, the rain came only at the latter hours of the run around the last 10 kilometers after the runners had already had their fair share of exposure to the sun’s warm welcome of the participants.

The race route, which began in front of the Manaoag Municipal Hall covered 8 municipalities whose route when traced formed a shape of a Bangus or milkfish which is staple in Dagupan. The Bangus also figured in the trophy design, although I felt the image of the Our Lady of Manaoag was a more appropriate to appear in the trophy. The municipalities covered were Manaoag, Urdaneta, Sta. Barbara, Calasiao, Dagupan, Mangaldan, San Fabian and San Jacinto. The route was predominantly leveled which make it easier for those who want to establish new PR or run the route in Milo International Marathon qualifier pace more likely to succeed. I on the other hand, after losing steam earlier in the race and fell behind most of the participants had given up any notion of establishing PR. I settled instead to run in a pace that would at least guarantee me of having a few other runners running behind me by the time I finished the race to at least give me the satisfaction to gloat about not being the last runner to cross the finish line.

The route was supposedly straightforward hitting all the mentioned municipalities as one reaches the main intersection of the highway where ideally marshals were expected to be present to further guide runners. But in reality there were forks on the road where marshals could not be sighted for directions. Since the race route was a 360 there were roads along intersections that run back to where we were previously came from. So, aside from the need to remember the instruction given during the race briefing about landmarks to seek out and where to turn to, runners really need to ask the locals around for directions. On the way to Urdaneta some of us made a wrong turn in one of the fork along the road and led us into one of the secondary road. A timely appearance of a motorcycle-riding marshal saved us from heading to either a shorter route or from totally wandering off the route. A couple of runners in front of us were no longer turned back and disappeared like phantom. Along Sta. Barbara I broke running solo and joined the company of fellow runners Sherman and Noel Carreon of Team Cabalen. We separated only when we reached San Fabian and I decided I wanted to catch up with some of the runners I saw ahead of me that seem to be straggling like wounded animals.

While the 1st Pangasinan 360 70k ultramarathon was going on with barely a couple of weeks after the death of the runner Marvic Reyes at Milo Marathon Manila Leg, in another part of the country, in Cebu, another runner loses his life. He was a Canadian runner whom I met in front of the Family Mart along Ayala-EDSA while waiting for a service shuttle that will take us to the event, Aguinaldo to Bonifacio Ultramarathon. He was Anthony Dean Borg, 52 years old. When I met him he says he had been running for about a year in the Philippines with 106 kilometer as his longest distance, which he completed last December 2014 in the event Bonifacio ultramarathon. After the AUB Ultramarathon he flew to Cebu and participated the Cebu 360 70k Ultramarathon. At the time he died he was running in another event, a 12 km fun run event dubbed, R399 Run where at 2km after being released from the starting lane he collapsed and died on the spot. On-line news account reported of Dean having hit his head on the gutter when he fell from his motorbike while waiting for the gun start. It is sad that in spite of the benefits runners tell they get out of running, the sport is still steep with danger and may be compared with crossing a highway, one could get killed by an incoming vehicle when one is not wary of the vehicle. This is primarily why every time I run, especially in ultramarathon whenever I feel something awry I try to reduce my pace and try to sense if I should proceed at all with the race. That’s why most of the time I lagged behind. On the other hand, accident is altogether another matter that even the most cautious runners could not avoid from occurring. In an accident unforeseen forces, some calls it fate, come into play. Thus, this is just another way where running becomes a metaphor for living. We could not predict when our time is up but while the road to the finish line is still there one should keep pursuing it for in finishing a race one could still appreciate the sweetness of finishing pain and all while in death even the honor bestowed upon you does not even blow the candle that lit your grave.

Nearing the last 13 kilometers I began passing other runners whom since they were not within my eyesight, I thought had already gone to establish vast distance that gravely hurt my ego. However, I kept the hope that they were just somewhere near but beyond my sight. When I pulled away from my companion, among those whom I saw ahead and soon overtook were the runners Mignon and Delmo who both ran 100k in TransCebu Ultramarathon. Accompanying them was another runner I did not caught the name and the 60 + year old Tatay Potania, who ran 100k at Ibtur. I was able to close gap with them when they were actually taking a rest somewhere between San Fabian and San Jacinto. But as soon as they were able to get back on the road they proved to have unlimited stored stamina that they easily wrestled the lead from me again. I came close running just barely behind them at San Vicente about 7 kilometers from Manaoag but I just couldn’t sustain the pace. I dropped behind them further and further until I could not spied anyone of them along the road. With only 2 to 3 kilometers left, I gained upon 3 more other runners namely Tess, Thezz and Allan. Tess and thezz decided to walk along Allan the remaining distance to the finish line because Allan was already disgruntled with the proceeding of the race had wanted to take a ride back to the finish line. Tess who was my classmate back in the Elementary school days swayed him to just walk his anger off. By the time we finally made it at the finish line I ranked 43rd out of the 53 runners who actually finished the race within the 16 hours cut-off.

1st Pangasinan is the 3rd 360 run events I participated under the Prince Multi Sports Event with Makiling and Bulacan as the two previous events.

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Conquering the Challenging Trans Cebu Ultramarathon 2015

After running the length of Marcos Highway going to Infanta, Quezon, I thought I had ran the run event with the most uphill and most meanest road race route ever. Two weeks later I was in for a rude awakening in another tough ultramarathon. While most of my running acquaintances were having a ball earning their respective 42k finisher medal at the Manila leg of the 39th Milo International Marathon, I was in Cebu. I registered at the 55km category of the TransCebu Ultramarathon 2015. There were 34 registrants in this category but later I saw in the race result that there were only 26 of us who finished within the cut off time of 12 hours. I was 14th with a time of 10:53:09. In the 105km category they had 100 registrants but only 91 were able to make it within the cut off time of 24 hours. 14 were women. 2 of these women registrant were acquainted with me.

The event started for the 105k runners at 9:00 pm, right in front of the Municipal Hall of Naga, Cebu about 23 kilometers from Cebu City while for us 55k runners we had ours at 5:30 am in front of the Municipal Hall of Balamban about 44 km from Cebu City. This was the 50th km of the 105k runners. While we were on our way to Balamban on a service shuttle, along the road there were already some 105k runners embarking on the 2nd half of their journey to the finish line. They had been running for about 7 to 8 hours on a predominantly flat road prior to Balamban and now negotiating the Transcentral Highway (TCH) a predominantly rolling road. To describe Trans Central Highway as one of the most challenging mostly steep rolling and bending road with an element of off road thrown in for good measure just seemed to be too sterile to fully give justice to what the participants of TransCebu Ultramarathon 2015 had actually experienced along the route. TCU 2015 for me was R2L2Q shortened (for 55k at least) but on steroid.

The weather was also an added factor. At first, it was a pleasantly cool shaded morning that led to a sunny but still pretty much cool morning. Then clouds began to accumulate to fulfill the weather bureau forecast of an isolated monsoon happening in the afternoon. Then it eventually dissipated and ushered the oppressing hot afternoon sun.

Originally the gun start for the 55k was slated at 6:00 am but as soon as most of the 55k runners had arrived, gathered and collected themselves from being dazed at the feat of the 105k runners taking a brief rest and recovery at the Municipal Hall of Balamban, the gun start was sounded at 5:30 am. Before the gun start Blu, the Race Director’s reminded runners to keep it slow and enjoy the route. However, upon release from the starting area a foreign runner simply propelled ahead of everyone else. I wanted to make my finish time faster as if I am running at a 9-10 hours cut off 50k race. So, when a clump of runners composing of runners from Team Cabalen began to separate I tried to catch up with them until about 2 kilometers where Gaisano Town Center is located. But as soon as the rolling hills began to make its presence felt the distance between the lead runners and I gaped wide open until I could no longer see them in front of me. Another foreign runner picked up speed from behind me and took off as if possessed by the spirit of a formula 1 vehicle or something.

At a certain portion where the road was still pretty much flat the surrounding view of mountains and hills kind of reminded me of Sierra Madre-Tanay Route then as soon as we hit the uphill I felt I was running the uphill of both Sumulong Highway going to Antipolo and the Kenon Road going to Baguio. Before reaching the Aid Station somewhere at the steep snaking uphill road going to the 9th kilometers the view of the sea along with the massive Balamban Shipyard served as the backdrop of the route. At the 12th kilometer runners took left of an intersection leading to the Barangay Magsaysay, which was in the premises of Tabunan. A couple of meters ahead, a station with porridge or lugaw was waiting for us. Although it was not the North Face 100 variety which I ate at Tagaytay Highland, the good old fashion porridge with only salt to taste brought back memories of my childhood when I used to eat this meal whenever I was sick. This off road route led to the 1,003 meters high Mt. Manunggal, the highest peak in Cebu. The special interest of this portion of the race was to have the runners visit the site were Former President Ramon Magsaysay met his end when his presidential plane, Pinatubo crashed on March 17, 1957. To commemorate this fateful event a monument composing of the replica of the cylinder block of the main engine was installed in the site. The same replica of the cylinder block of the main engine of Pinatubo was used as design of both the finisher medal and trophy of this event. Mix dirt road and cemented pavement going steep uphill and downhill pretty much make up of the route going to the above site in Sunog, which served as the u-turn. According to my father the crash may have been triggered by a bomb explosion whose device was smuggled inside one of the baskets of mangoes given to the former president. However, I did not get to see the Magsaysay and the cylinder block engine monument for upon reaching the government structure at Sunog we were advised to take u-turn already there and return to the road that took us there. According to Blu this was a much longer route than taking the original route of taking the stairs going to the two monuments.

The whole loop going to and from Mt. Manunggal was about 10 kilometers. There were runners coming from behind did not took this loop as a result they gained on those who did. When I returned to the Trans Central Highway, which was uphill as usual, the sun was pretty much heating up the road at around 10:30 am. I had already traveled about 22nd kilometers. The name of places like Tap Tap and Ayala Height were lost to me and I only learned of these places along the route after I googled for it. But it made no difference for the common feature that left deep impressions among runners were the unli-uphells although out the race. Midway to the Aid Station at the 32nd kilometers, probably around the perimeter of Ayala Heights, a volunteer group giving out refreshments and meal waited on runners. I took the opportunity to grab a pandan-leaf wrapped sticky rice and sumptuous adobo then downed it with a couple of cup of cold soda. After a photo op I went on my way. As I was negotiating the uphill rain started to pelt. I saw that in some area situated up in the mountains fog had already gathered. I assumed that we will be heading there for I spied concrete road going there. I reached the Aid Station in front of a sari-sari store at around the 32nd kilometers. The rain was starting to exhaust itself though the fog continued to linger. As I moved on I noticed a lot of trees around. This could be Kan-Irag Nature Park.

By the time I reached Babag the rain had completely stopped and the sun began to show itself. I rested for awhile at the foot of yet another monumental uphill to gather some strength. After assaulting this portion of the race and I reached the 40th kilometer of the race which lies along a fork. The marshal at the Aid Station instructed me and another runner to take the road to Bonbon-Sudlon 2 Barangay Road and run until the 1.5th kilometers where a supposedly marker will serve as u-turn. But we been running there for some time and yet there was no sign of any signage indicating a u-turn. A returning foreign runner echoed the same observation of the absence of hint of any to tell which portion was the u-turn. So, relying on my companion’s GPS we stopped at was approximately 1.5th kilometer and turned back towards the Aids Station. From the Aid Station we returned to the Transcentral Highway (TCH), which now seem to go downhill a lot. My companion told me that about two more major uphill and then we’re done with the uphill. The first of the two, which was the steepest of the two, was near the Malubog National High School beyond it I saw a billboard announcing an outdoor adventure camp and zip-line around. Then the last one was along Busay with its summit at Busay Mountain View Nature’s Park. This was the 50th kilometer of the race. At the Aid Station Race Organizer, Joseph Prince Balthazar who was also in Cebu due to his previous week’s Cebu 360 a 72k Ultramarathon event he helped organized along with Team Lingam and was also preparing for his participation at Cobra’s Ironman 70.3 was waiting for us. He was also well acquainted with the runner I was running along with. From this Aid Station there were only 5 kilometers of mostly downhill awaits us. From the maximum elevation of 976 meters which was at Sunog U-turn we had been descending to about 2,347 meters. The sky had already turned to somber and soon the sun will take a dip. The remaining few kilometers was seemingly more torturous as anticipation to reach the finish line at Cebu Hilltop Hotel heightens and I was getting impatient. I was booked at Cebu Hilltop Hotel, which was about 500 meters uphill from the town proper of Lahug via Cebu Veterans Drive, which is connected with Trans Central Highway. Twice I walked uphill going to my hotel coming from the city and once going down to the city, now I will see the Cebu Hilltop Hotel coming from the other end. Every time I see the mountainous area farther away from my hotel when I was hiking up I cringed on the thought that the route might actually take us beyond those mountain. Then I brushed away the thought thinking perhaps there were flatter road below those mountains. Now I know. The Finish Line was at the pool side of the hotel so upon arriving runners will have to go through the runners-infested lobby of the hotel and into the poolside. Since, most of the participants were still around the awarding of finisher medal, trophy and shirt became a warm and cozy occasion.

I was just simply glad I got through the race and was swearing I would not again find myself stepping back on any portion of Cebu Transcentral Highway and its conjoint twin the Cebu Veteran’s Drive. Well, at least that was my sentiment during the run but upon having rested and recovered a few days later, I was setting my eyes on marking with a pen the Naga-Uling Road, Toledo-Tabunok Road and Toledo-Tabuelan-San Remigio Rd as having my feet stepped on during a run event.