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.

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