Falling Short at Tarayem Sasangasot

Like a bad tune playing over and over relentlessly inside my head or perhaps a nightmare that could not be dispelled by waking up, the thought of what I was gunning for could not be attain at this juncture. That by choosing to wake up and embrace the reality of what the dream or the tune was playing is to accept that capitulation was inevitable. That for this particular run event I have to DNF again.

I felt a tough quandary while I was roughly at the 87th kilometer of the 105 kilometers run under the event, Tarayem Sasangasot Kilometros, which started in Laoag, Ilocos Norte and its finish line at the Quirino Bridge, 11 kilometers away from the town of Bantay, Ilocos Sur held September 26-27, 2015. This was supposedly my debut to 100k run but for the pass 40 kilometers I have not been running at all. Instead I was reduced to walking – briskly though. At 1:30 pm, the sun had not relented since it began to peek at around 9:00 am, in order to give way to the cloudy sky and rain which I had hope would return just as it had visited the previous day at around the same time. Of course, I should not have been expecting Ilocos Region to have a pleasant clime for running ultramarathon, which was known to have harsh dry weather during summer season much more now with strong El Niño currently ravaging the country. But the passing typhoon Jenny far north in Taiwan was tugging in some rain clouds that were reaching Northern Luzon. These had provided me with so much hope that with rain dousing the route this, 100k run would turn out a resounding success for me.

I was at San Vicente, Ilocos Sur about 2 kilometers short of seeing the West Philippine Sea washing along the coast of Ilocos Sur. I had not seen it before even though I had visited the Region several times already. But instead of going farther to get a whiff of the coastal air, I finally called in the driver of the motorcycle shadowing me since I reached the junction leading to Vigan and Bantay. I announced the very words I loathed to speak but had been contemplating on since perhaps the 65th kilometers -“Surender na ako. I quit the race. DNF na ako. Ihatid mo na ako. (I surrender. I quit the race. I am DNF-ing. Take me to the finish area”).   The driver called the organizer on his cellular phone to report my decision. Mr. Kagaoan asked me to think about it for a couple more minutes before proceeding. But I thought of the remaining 18 kilometers distance to the finish line; the state my feet were ailing; with the sun’s beaming down on me menacingly perhaps for 3 more hours; with the time winding down to the 19 hours cut off; and the need for me to get back to Manila to be able to function on Monday’s Faculty Union election as member of our college’s COMELEC – I could not choose to persist on finishing the race even with the remote chance I could pull this off. So, with deep regret I hopped on at the back of the driver of the motorcycle and was wheeled off to the finish line. While traveling the road I failed to tread on, which was actually very long, I was still convincing myself that it was the better decision.

Maybe my whole preparation for this event was the culprit. Although I have already finished successfully an 85km, a 70 km and a couple more 50 km ultras months prior to this event, I have not been doing my routine weekdays runs and evening stretches two weeks before stepping at Ilocos. Plus I chose to scrimp on expenses by coming to Ilocos on the day of the race event itself instead of availing the opportunity to go to Ilocos a day earlier due to a holiday that fell on a Friday. Upon arriving without much to do the whole day, I wandered around Vigan and when I reached Laoag later in the day did more walking lugging around my backpack. By the time the gun start was given at 10:00 pm all that was going for me was just my confidence that I can pull the table runner under this event without disrupting the table setting on top of it. I honestly started out strong. I even thought I was ranking 11 out of the 22 participants of this event. But after hitting the portion of the national road at Batac, my body seem to have hit the wall early that all I could do was to do power walk. But even with power walk I usually manage to keep quite a distance from stragglers because somehow I do have faster walk in me borne from years of walking.

The skin of my lower back became inflamed with chaff, which I had gotten from having my skin rub my shirt that was being pressed by hydration pack. I had to endure the pain it is causing most of the way. But it could not top how my emotion finally sagged low when the blow came upon my arriving at Cabuyao, Ilocos Sur. I was told that I was third among the last runners and what I thought of as 65th kilometers was in actuality only the 55th. It turned out I was actually walking slow but was exerting so much effort and with the distance my legs and feet was acting up to the point I was not sure I could squeezed anything beyond what it had already been giving me. After downing 2 bowls of Lomi (egg noodle) I was told that I have 9 hours to finish the remaining 50 kilometers of the race. Normally this could be ample time for me. However even with the Electrolyte Fuel System energy drink I was taking in and the food I brought along with me, my stamina was still faltering. I was simply out of gas my tank had gone dry. With still 50 kilometers to go I felt I was just starting over again. It was just a few hours ago while running at the 10 kilometers that I almost went crazy thinking how far the remaining 90 kilometers. Now at the 54th, I am again trying to make sense of the distance I still need to cover.

In fairness the race route was not really difficult. The National Road heading to Manila, which served as the main race route was predominantly flat. Upon arriving at Bantay, Ilocos Sur runners were instructed to take a brief detour away from the National Road heading to San Vicente and then after a U-turn that featured the West Philippine Sea, runners will then take the road to Sta. Catalina for another U-turn. Upon returning to the National Road runners turns right going to Vigan and ran strait to Calle Crisologo for another U-turn and photo ops then return to the National Road in order to hit Bantay Bellfry lying at the left side of the road. After being photographed with the Bantay Bellfry, runners will head off to the National Road once again south bound to Banaoan and into the Quirino Bridge for the most coveted finish.

For a brief moment I enjoyed a renaissance of energy and will as I thought I was moving closer to Santo Domingo and I presume Bantay. I imagined my earlier flagging spirit and thought of quitting would make a wonderful piece foreshadowing my account of an almost defeat that turned into a feat of victory. With this resurgence of energy, I felt impervious to the sun or just forgotten about it for a moment that I did not bother to put back on my cap. However, as the name of town roll by ushered by the kilometer markers strewn along the way I realized the great gap from the finish line was being sewn together at a minute pace. The distance was again impinging on me the reality of the moment. I was again falling into that pit of impatient wonderings whether I really have it with me to finish the race. My body was again shutting down on me and maybe this time I have no way of coming back from this quagmire. It became apparent that the only reason I was still up was because my body was literally being sustained by the energy supplements I was taking which by now I have run out. My body was so depleted that stepping on even with just a tiny rock was enough to topple me over. Soon, I was trying to get to Santo Domingo no longer hopeful of actually finishing this race but rather was contemplating to quit the race at the first sight of Aid Station. But fate was seemingly playing a cruel game with me for at Santo Domingo I did not saw any marshal to whom I can throw the towel with. I think I was still being urged by someone up in the sky to endure the race and bring home the Bantay Bellfry design trophy and the plaque featuring the Quirino Bridge. By the time I finally hit Bantay I was pretty much sure I was all tapped out. I was just looking for the right moment to quit, which was what I did at San Vincente.

Somehow quitting this particular race did not felt as bad as it did when I quitted in 2014’s TNF100 50k. I was not really planning on taking 100k this soon. But the allure of running Ilocos and adding it to the places I have ran in had gotten the better of me. With my having run from Laoag to Bantay Road, I almost completed running the provinces at the western portion of Luzon with only Abra being missed out.   I also took my running at Ilocos as mileage building. Maybe on my next try of 100k and up I would be more certain of attaining it. After all the year is not yet over. There are at least three more run events with 100 kilometers lining up the running calendar beforet this years bid goodbye for good. I might be tempted to pull another attempt. I compared my first try at 100k like that of a climber of Mt. Everest does before the final assault to the peak – he does a series of acclimation climbs. I’m positive I will hit a totally different wall soon the wall that limits my distance below 100 kilometers and run pass it.