Pushing Pass Pinatubo


Since my failure to conquer Tarayem Sasangasot 100 last September some of my earlier laid out plans didn’t fell through as expected. When typhoon Lando made a landfall in Aurora Province on the day we were suppose to run in the event, 5th Fort Magsaysay to Dingalan 65k Ultramarathon last October 18, 2015, typhoon signal number 4 was raised all over Nueva Ecija and Aurora provinces the very venue of our ultramarathon event. Wind was howling while rain on the time of the gun start was raging as if hell itself had broken out. Rarely done, Bald Runner, the Race Director had to cancel the event an hour after the supposedly gun start. The delay was due to the hope that by some miracle the typhoon would abate and make it possible for the event to push through. While I was eager to test my mettle with the new race route deep inside I fear we were facing the risked of being chased and eventually restrained by the very military personnel occupying the Fort itself we were to be launched to prevent us from becoming typhoon casualties which the province was trying to avoid. My other fear was being caught by media covering the typhoon and be seen by TV audience as bunch of running wackos and would only earn the ire of the people and authorities seeing us braving the typhoon instead of the admiration for the dedication to the sport. When I got home news of floods hitting the province of Nueva Ecija and other devastations in the nearby province of Aurora flashes the television screen. It sent shivers all over me similar with how I felt when I escaped falling over a ravine in one of my trail run after tripping over an exposed rock.


Following the aftermath of the typhoon, another race event in Nueva Ecija, the 1st Cabanatuan 360 Ultramarathon organized by Prince Multi Sport Event happening on November 22, 2015 faced uncertainty. When I inquired whether this event would still push through for I noticed the absence of promotion recently by the organizer, which to me was a sign that the event was facing a possible postponement. The organizer’s response was not reassuring when I finally received answer to my query. So, I opted to quickly register in another event happening in November 21, which was the Subic International Legacy Marathon. Thus ensuring that for this year I would not be seeing Nueva Ecija being added to my list of provinces I had ran in north of Luzon.


Another event I thought I would miss was the 6th Mt. Pinatubo 50k Trail Ultramarathon happening on November 8, 2015. The reason was that I had a nasty cough bugging me for about a week and I had not been doing practice runs on weekdays. However, I had no plan of sitting this one out and wondering if I could run again in Mt. Pinatubo without hitch later. This was in spite of the fact that this Mt. Pinatubo 50k Trail Ultramarathon was organized by Bald Runner, a sure guaranty that this event was no push over kind of event.


Returning to commuting in getting to the race event after having opted several times for paid shuttle services, I felt I was returning to my earlier running tradition of going to run events all by myself without any idea who I will meet and how I will fare in the event. Taking the Genesis Bus bound for Tarlac whose terminal in Recto Avenue is just a 10 minutes walk from my residence I arrived in Capas around 1:30 am. I breakfasted at Mc Donald’s and afterwards took one of the tricycle bound for Sta. Juliana about 24 kilometers away with a fare of P350.00. At around 2:00 am I was the first runner among the 34 participants (of which 2 had arrived later after we had left the starting arch) to get my race bib. After fixing my running gears I had a short shuteye. Later I heard the voice of a running acquaintance and saw another whom I recently met in the postponed run event 5th Fort Magsaysay to Dingalan 65k Ultramarathon. I had an arrangement with the latter to share gas fare for a ride back to Manila along with two other runners. At promptly 5:00 am the gun start was given. Darkness still cloaked most of our surrounding and with no map of the trail we were taking nor markers to be expected along the route, the runners tried to run closer to one another to avoid getting lost along the way. Bald Runner instructed the runners with the enigmatic, “keep heading south and stay on the left side”, and in case of doubt follow the river whose water originated from the crater of Mt. Pinatubo itself. Most of the runners ahead of me (and I think, those who sanely join BR’s run events) were seasoned runners with some having ran at least the Bataan Death March 102k and 160k series. A few had recently conquered West Coast 200K Ultramarathon. There were 3 foreign runners that I assumed was not in this event to simply sightsee the Mt. Pinatubo crater but to conquer the brutal challenge and compare it to what they have came across with in their respective origins. The runners ahead of me soon packed speed and distance until I could no longer see the flicker of their headlamps. Thankfully there was still someone in front of me close by to keep me on track. I was quite sure there were just a couple of us runners lagging behind everyone else.


Daylight finally trickled in and ushered a vista that was quite bleak yet breath taking at the same time. The huge expanse of land we were running at was mainly covered with Lahar sand, which originated from the bowels of Mt. Pinatubo, which it spewed in 1991. There were shallow tributaries of the river flowing from the Mt. Pinatubo crater heading towards the direction where we came from. Some portions of my footpath were either too sandy that my feet sank while there were portions where the ground was soft because it was wet. Our bearing was always to head straight where the tiny dot of a runner way ahead was last seen. Other than that just keep heading where soon the 4×4 vehicles taking tourists were making a v-line.


The first Aid Station was at the 9th kilometer. I re-hydrate and took in some solid food. A couple running behind me took this chance to take the lead from me. They were occasionally looking behind them and beyond me. They were probably looking for their other companions. Other than that I expected that I was the last runner. I was struggling to run faster. From this AS the path to Mt. Pinatubo seemed to open up even wider. Soon I was crossing path with some of the 4×4 vehicles and saw the tourists boarding them were eyeing me like I was Bear Gryll, Cod Landin or Ed Stafford from the Discovery Channel Survival series. There were occasions the best path to take were those farther away from the tracks of the 4×4 vehicles were taking since they sometime took a more roundabout route than the route I chose which was simply to tread straight ahead. There was this occasion I thought I was nearing the area were the farthest the transportations can bring tourists was located. But it turned out their vehicle stopped because some of the passengers were simply taking photographs of the environment and was soon wheeling off again disappeared among the many snaking bends. I tried to keep up this time walking against a much bigger flowing river.


Way back in 1998 I went on a Mt. Pinatubo trek trip organized by the Department of Tourism. Back then the 4×4 vehicles park much farther away than it does now. We had to trek for about 2 hours going to the crater and another 2 back. Now it only takes about 30 to 45 minutes for tourists to reach the crater from the area the 4×4 vehicles were parked to wait for the tourist.


Since I had no idea of the track taken by the other runners ahead of me I sometime took the ones where it was much more precarious. I ended up traipsing along areas with a lot of huge boulders, sometimes soft and crevices pocked grounds near a river and elevated portions of the ground that completely hid the 4×4 vehicle passing by the opposite side of the path I was taking. The situation were much different on the way back were I could follow the shoe tracks of the runners ahead of me which led me to the other path they did passed by earlier. One of my apprehensions about Mt. Pinatubo was the temperature. Thankfully, in spite of the sun shining high the taller ridges cast shadows that kept me in shade in most of my travel.


The next Aid Station was at the 19th kilometers. As I was leaving this station the first runner returning from the U-turn came to view. I noticed he was not wearing anything that could contain hydration and other stuff that would hamper his run. The time was just little over 9:30 am – a lot of time still before the 11:30 am cut-off at the crater. But I felt I need to run faster because the 5 to 6 kilometers to the U-turn might take me even longer time since this was supposedly the uphill portion of the race. At this junction, I was already trekking along with other tourists who had arrived earlier with their 4×4 vehicles and were now hiking along with their hired guides. I still had no idea if the trail that I was taking were the correct ones I just make up my path as I go along the way whenever there were no tourists trekkers to show the way. More of the runners ahead me were now coming back from the U-turn. The path to the crater proved to be easier than what I had experience in Batad and Sagada trail runs. I soon reached the tourist view deck overlooking the crater below but this was not yet the U-turn. I was directed to go down the crater via series of staircases reminiscence of the ones in Batad and Sagada. Upon reaching the lake I had my photo taken with the lake and the inside portion of the rim of the crater at the background. One of the runners was having a good bath at the water of Mt. Pinatubo, which I had hoped I would indulge myself in also just as I did in the cold spring in Hungduan. But aware that I was slow to run the course I decided not to linger longer along the lake and hit the long staircase leading up again.   I thank again my stars for not making the staircase as challenging as those of Batad and Sagada’s. I reached the camp along the rim of the crater and rested for a moment to gather myself.


The return trip was supposedly much easier because by this time I could follow the path taken by other runners and also I felt much more energized than when I was still at the earlier stage of the race. But this time the sun was much higher and I could no longer hide behind the shadows of the ridges. I quickly consumed much of my hydration and that the AS became important stops for me. The AS 5 kilometers from the crater provided me with the much needed refilled of hydration and solid food. For me the most difficult moment I encountered in this race was the last 20 kilometers. Left on my own I resumed my trek by getting in the middle of the wide expanse of land always heading straight following the river. Wading along the shallow water, my shoes kept on filling up with sands so I had to remove the sand several times. Walking along the water was kind of soothing to my feet though that was why I kept it up for a while. The wind had also picked up and there were areas where whirlwind forming. I arrived in an area I thought was already the 40th kilometer. Two soldiers were manning the area. There were no hydration refill and instead I was asked if I still wanted to go on with the race. I said I wanted to for I have already pass way ahead of time the cut off time at 11:30 am at the crater. I thought I only had 10 more kilometers to go on with still 3 hours to spare. After passing this area I kind of got disoriented. Maybe the sun was getting on me. Perhaps probably my disappointment of not having a cold drink of matter or electrolyte drink, what simply occur was that I could not anymore recognized where I was, where I am heading. Nothing seems familiar. The temperature was pretty much high and then all of a sudden I heard loud explosions behind me. Somebody was bombing something. I was far from where the explosion was coming from therefore I did not worry that I might be hit with something. But it was surreal that I was in the middle of nowhere and there were explosions going on. I was hoping that the path I was taking would led up towards the finish line by this time if my assumption was correct that the last manned station I came from was the 40th kilometer. Instead I ended up nowhere near getting close to possible exit from the wasteland. Then I saw two tricycles speeding from the opposite direction. I tried to flag one but it just passed me by. The second one slowed down. I ask if I were still heading towards Sta. Juliana. I was told affirmatively. Soon I saw a vehicle parked along the bend. To my further disappointment this was just the 39th kilometer. I refilled my hydration bottle. A 4×4 vehicle stopped by carrying some of the race marshals. I learned that there were still three more runners behind me. I checked my watch and it says time was already winding down. I moved on this time I saw familiar portion of the race. But I felt I was already spent. This last 10 kilometers of the race was equally hard because after I came out of the familiar track I was again lost. I couldn’t see any tracks of the other runners. I don’t know where to head to without it. I was just relying on the tracks of the 4×4 vehicles but I was not sure if it was the same path that would take me to the finish area. I could not see where I will get off the Lahar dune. I remember that BR mentioned about new building of the military and tower, which I was seeing in front of me but I can’t see where to get off the Lahar area and into the solid land were people and normal vehicle ply. I followed the 4×4 vehicle track it led me to the national road but I was told this was not the right way so I went back to the trail. I walked until I saw another bend that led back to the town. With almost nearing the cut off time, upon reaching the first sari-sari store along the road I tried to buy me a soda but no one was manning the store. I went back to the road. Farther ahead I saw the school where our vehicle was parked and the finish arch above the road. I ran towards it even if I had so little to give. I ran until I was hearing the clanging of bell announcing or maybe welcoming my arrival. Before I knew it I was already standing under the finish arch being congratulated by BR himself. I finished with a time of 11 hours and 19 minutes ranking 31st from 34 runners. One more runner made it to the finish line before the cut off time. I could not properly thank the people who welcomed and waited for me at the finish arch. I was so overwhelmed with the experience. But I know that this was not yet my last bout of BR’s race for the week after I was again in one of his event which was equally challenging.





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