Running Amongst The Ruins of The Rock: My Corregidor Marathon and Corregidor International Half-Marathon experience


On January 8, 2016 after disembarking from the new Sun Cruises Terminal at Esplanade Seaside near the SM Mall of Asia complex in Pasay City, I landed at Corregidor Island’s North Dock to attend the run events The 3rd Corregidor Marathon and the 6th Corregidor International Half Marathon happening on January 9 and 10, 2016 respectively. The tadpole shaped Corregidor Island also once known as Fort Mill whose head is pointing westward toward the West Philippine Sea, lies 41 kilometers from Manila. Although Corregidor is nearer to Bataan at approximately 10.5 kilometers, it belongs to the Province of Cavite under Sangley Point which lies about 21 kilometers away. Corregidor is the biggest of the group of 5 islands which include: Caballo (Fort Hughes), Carabao (Fort Frank), El Fraile (Fort Drum) and La Monja which is just a rock cropping out of the sea. Looking around the crowd while waiting for boarding the ferry I saw some familiar faces beginning with the couple of tri-athletes Julie and Nheng whom I met in the First Hungduan Marathon, K.C. whom I also met in Hungduan Marathon, Emerson and Flor of the Team Philippine Star, Rex who I often get to see in other run events, Kupa Ociones whom I met at the 3rd Cavinti Road and Trail Ultramarathon and the photographer Jack Morales. Some participants based on the shirt they were wearing had run in the same event I ran in before and therefore I may had probably brushed along them one way or the other one of them was Joni Castillo. Among the running groups or clubs competing for the King of the Rock Team Category were Team Soleus, Team Monumentum Milers, P.I.G.S., Team Cabalen Runners (which later arrived in Corregidor with Noel via pump boat coming from Mariveles, Bataan) and Team Philippine Star.

Upon arriving at around 1:45 pm the participants proceeded to the organizers’ area at South Bottomside near San Jose Church and Corregidor Hostel to claim race kits of those who have not claimed theirs in Manila. Those who were done with this procedure were given their respective accommodation assignments and keys and then departed to their respective accommodations located in different areas of the island. For those camping out, they took the tranvia for a shorter ride to the South Beach where the Finish Line area of the race was also situated, while those occupying the Corregidor Resort Cabana accommodation rode farther heading towards the beach resort complex located at southeastern and tail portion of the island. Still others, such as I, could just walk a shorter distance going to Corregidor Inn although by mistake I took the tranvia that travel all the way to the beach resort complex.  Before leaving the organizers’ area, the participants were told of the regular Corregidor Island Tour happening at 3:00 pm, which they could avail for P300.00.

It was more than 10 years ago for the purpose of doing a paper on Conservation Management of Corregidor Island for our Masters in Cultural Studies requirements when I along with 3 other faculty members stayed overnight in Corregidor. Aside from the regular island tour which culminated with the Malinta Tunnel Sight and Sound presentation, we also took the Sunset and Sunrise Tour Package, the Evening Lateral Tunnel Tour and some other side visits not anymore covered by any tour packages. In another visit to Corregidor when I was assigned along with another colleague by UST Center for Conservation of Cultural Properties and the Environment in the Tropic (UST-CCCPET) to accompany the visiting professor and author, William Stewart Logan to Corregidor, I was able to visit the El Fraile Island or Fort Drum, which is an island nearer Cavite that was made to look like a concrete battleship.

At around 7:00 pm the participants who had paid the extract P250 per meal had carbo-loading dinner at the Cabana Beach Resort area. Edward Kho, the Race Director of CM and CIHM welcomed everyone formally and gave last minute reminders regarding the race event the following morning.  Although the 42k race route which was said to look like the shape of “8” or infinity (of suffering the uphill?) and to be done twice to complete the 42 kilometers was discussed in the briefing done during the release of race kit in Manila nothing could really prepare one for the actual experience of the race route dubbed by one of the runner I spoken with as, “the marathon for the big boys”.   I tried looking for anyone having written anything about the 42k route of Corregidor Marathon to shed some light on what to expect. But I drew blank. Only the 21k had one as suggested by Mr. Kho himself as a pretty good read about the route but I suspect it does not come close to what the Race Director’s smirk was trying to communicate.

Since the first time I heard of Corregidor International Half Marathon 6 years ago I always wanted to experience running its pavements. But most of the times when I get to learn about CIHM, the registration to the event was either fully filled up or I have registered already at another run event coinciding with CIHM. When Corregidor Marathon, which happens a day before CIHM was inaugurated 3 years ago the reason I was not able to get on board on this event either because once again deluge of running enthusiasts registered to this event and the slots at the 42k got once again filled up quickly. Of course I am also partly to blame for dillydally with my decision to register when there was probably still slots available. Then last year I was able to finally registered at the CIHM and was all geared up to run the Rock but the visit of Pope Francis which coincided with CM and CIHM prevented my taking on the challenge because of the no sailing along the Manila Bay policy imposed by the government. The organizers were forced to reschedule CM and CIHM to March. The new date of the event did not worked out with my schedule so, I had no other recourse but to asked the organizers to instead have my registration be considered as an early registration for the 2016 CIHM, to which the organizers obliged even though it was not in their policy to do so. This year upon opening of the registration for the Corregidor Marathon I quickly wasted no time registering online for this event, never minding that I still have to confirm if the organizers were willing to honor my request regarding my previous registration. So, ho and behold when they did confirmed my last year’s CIHM registration for this year, I all of a sudden have two chances to run amongst the ruins of Corregidor Island and it is just a matter now of my surviving both runs.

At 4:00 am the breakfast buffet table was opened at Corregidor Inn. It was really a first for me to experience having heavy breakfast before an actual marathon run. In truth in spite of the belly-busting carbo dinner the previous evening I was really famished that morning. So, I figured I should indulge and put my cares away about eating so much that morning. The dreaded uphill I kept on hearing about would probably take care of the food I will be lugging along my tummy. The starting lane located near the Statue of General Douglas MacArthur at Lorcha Dock and the Corregidor Foundation, Inc. Office along the North Dock slowly began filling up with runners at 5:00 am although the sky was still blanketed with darkness. However, daylight quickly came and at 6:04 am the gun start was given. After a couple of meters running along the picturesque snaking coast line heading towards the island’s northeastern portion of the tadpole’s tail side, we finally saw the 800 meter long steep and winding incline that everyone calls “killer uphill”. We struggled climbing it.  The tail portion of Corregidor has a height of 100 to 400 feet above sea level. When the Japanese coming from Mariveles came to invade Corregidor in May 5, 1942 they beach head in this side of the island along Infantry Point and Calvary Point. Lumbering after overcoming the killer uphill and now in a more leveled ground, I followed the queue of other runners making towards the Filipino Heroes Memorial Garden where an Aid Station awaits. This was probably the 2nd kilometer of the race.  From this aid station runners proceeded towards the direction of Kindley Airfield. This portion of the road was more or less flat to slightly inclining upward.  Trees covered the left side of the road and made me I think some monkeys were residing this forested area for when I passed by a portion of it there was a kind of movement and noise among the trees. Soon we I spotted the airfield.

Kindley Airfield in contemporary history of Corregidor was where Jabidah Massacre happened involving the killing of some 180 Tausug and Sama Muslim soldiers after Operation Merdeka, a plan to destabilized Sabah in the 1967 petered out because of the mutiny of the soldiers who only learn on December 1967 after several months of preparation that they will be killing their fellow Muslim brothers in Sabah. Therefore the need to eliminate the soldiers became necessary and was put to action by mowing down with machine guns in groups of 12 these soldiers. Only 1 managed to survive this incident by the name Jibin Arula.  The news of this incident what finally united the warring Muslim groups in Mindanao into Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Runners ran both ends of the 800 meters grassy former landing strip before exiting the airfield to head back towards the Filipino Heroes Memorial Garden. Not far from the Airfield the Mindanao for Peace marker which probably was placed to commemorate the Jabidah Massacre. Still not farther away from this was the next Aid Station marking the 4th kilometers. From here we ran towards the Filipino Heroes Memorial Garden and turned left heading to the Japanese Memorial Garden, which was heralded by a huge Jibo-Kannon Stone Buddha. This portion was downhill that led to the Beach Resort Complex. Upon hitting the end of the downhill runners turned left until the start of the beachfront. Runners were treated to the breathtaking view of the South Channel kissing the rocky edges of the island. Runners then passed by some of the cottages that accommodated some of the participants and climbed the stairs that spilled runners back on the road. We turned left for the U-turn located in front of the Cabana clubhouse where we had the previous evening’s carbo-dinner and then proceeded to the uphill leading back to the Japanese Memorial Garden. This was probably the 6th or 7th kilometers of the race. From here we ran westward of the Island or towards the South Bottomside on a initially gradual then turning to a little more steeper downhill towards the east entrance to The Malinta Tunnel marking the end of the first loop of this portion of the island. The 925 feet length Malinta Tunnel served as shelter of the inhabitants of Corregidor including General Douglas MacArthur and President Manuel L. Quezon during the time the Japanese invaders were bombarding Corregidor beginning in December 29, 1941. Now it showcases dioramas simulating actual events in the Island. Seeing daylight at the other end of the tunnel photographers waited for the emerging runners and another Aid Station was located. From here runners were directed to proceed towards the North Dock where the Starting Line was located and from this point to turn left and then right again towards the direction of the Engineering Dock. Runners then veered left passing at the right side a ruined building, which ushered runners into a long trail. The whole scenario no longer recalls of World War II scenario but rather seemingly a more Indiana Jones or Laracroft adventure feel into it. Runners now found themselves running towards the Northwestern portion of the island and about to hit the portion called Topside, which jutted up the North Channel at 628 feet above sea level.  The trail has the view of the sea at the right side although foliage obstructed the view in some portion. The path leads to Battery Point and Morrison Point. The Topside served as the nerve center of Corregidor which held army post headquarters, barracks, officer’s headquarters, underground ordnance shops, the traditional parade grounds, hospitals, schools and etc. Currently this zone is part of the Memorial Arc Zone whose entrance runs along the steep uphill Ramsey Ravine where the second loop for this portion of the race will pass through later. I don’t know where exactly we exited but somehow we ended up on a road that soon led to where at the right side of the road the eerie ruins of the Middleside Barracks stood seemingly taunting us to imagine seeing ghosts of the soldiers walking about or peeping through the ruins.  From here runners soon entered a trail which featured the ruins of a hospital building that cannot fail to send shivers even to the bravest of us runners once you tread this path alone.

Upon emerging from this area runners wound up making way towards Battery Way which is one of the two (the other one being Battery Geary) principal defense of Corregidor during the War. This battery used to contain four 12 inch mortar10 ton that could fire upon Bataan. It was said that this placement was the last to be silence during the Japanese invasion of the Island. An Aid Station awaits here which probably marked the 12th kilometer of the race. Runners then made way to the 2 10-inch mortar totting Battery Grubb for a U-turn and then to run around the Battery Hearn, which is a 12 inch mortar facing Bataan before forging ahead to Battery Geary which has 8 12 inch mortar facing Cavite and Battery Crocket which has two 10 inch mortars also facing Cavite. After the batteries runners emerged on a road that featured the ruins of the Mile Long Barracks at the left side of the road while the Parade Ground at the right side. An aid station probably marking the 14th kilometer stood along this area. Upon turning right runners next encountered the ruins of Cine Corregidor, Pacific Memorial and the Freedom Torch before entering another trail that passes by the Spanish Lighthouse. Upon exiting the trail runners encountered about 3 kilometers of downhill along Ramsey Ravine which led back to the Bottomside towards the Starting Area at the North Dock to begin all over again of climbing the killer uphill going to the northeastern portion of the island for the second loop. Upon completion of the run at the Tail side of the island, runners proceeded again towards the Memorial Arc Zone where runners previously encountered the Battery Placements and Ruined structures only this time taking on the uphill along Ramsey Ravine for the 2nd loop of this portion of the island. Once the second loop completed runners headed back downhill along Ramsey Ravine passing by the North Dock, which leads to the 3rd and final run with the killer uphill. Once done with this portion only about 700 meters of downhill towards the Malinta Tunnel and about a hundred meters more going towards South Beach separates runners from the humongous medal waiting at the Finish Line.

I finished the race with a time of 6:33:13 with a rank of 72nd place out of 148 runners. One of my acquaintance seem to have DNF the race while the three other runners to whom I had dinner with, whom I thought I had more experienced in running, finished stronger ahead of me.  The four of us were discussing over dinner about proper spacing of time between run events to participate in. Their finish was a more convincing proof that it was more beneficial to have ample time between each run events to allow the body full recovery which obviously I do not follow. At around 2:45 pm most of the 42k runners boarded the Sun Cruises Ferry bound for Manila. I remained for yet another take at the Rock the next day at the Corregidor International Half Marathon under the 21k category. Although it was not quite hard to believe that there were those who run the CM and CIHM year after year like PinoyFitness’ Franc Ramon who had done the CIHM four times already, while my friend Emerson did CM twice, it was not unlikely there were also others who like me were taking CM and CIHM back to back. One of whom I know doing it was Rey, a runner I met at the 2015 TNF100 and another Flor of Team Philippine Star. The real question was whether I would find the route boring now that I had ran in it already and having encountered numerous uphill along the path would I still have the stamina to make another run of the Island. It turned out that getting bored was the least of the problem I got to deal with.

Some runners from the 21k category arrived at Corrigedor at 5:45 pm and just as what happened the day before, they proceeded to the organizers’ area for their kits and accommodation assignments. The rest of the 21k and 10k runners arrived at 6:45 am the next day. I half expected that there would still be more running acquaintance of mine that would be coming but unfortunately this was not so. For there were several other run events coinciding with CIHM that Sunday January 10 that got my other running companions registered. There’s Cebu City Marathon, PSE Bull Run 2016 happening in Bonifacio Global City, Maharlika Half-Marathon at CCP Complex, Fat-Ass Run 2016 in Clark Parade Ground, Pampanga and the Tarak Ridge 25k Trail Race which happens just across the North Channel in Mariveles, Bataan and by the time I probably reached halfway of the CIHM route I expected some of my friends were already be on top of the ridge and could actually espied upon Corregidor Island.

I did not expect some of the tweaks in the 21k route could actually make the CIHM run a bit more interesting after having run the CM already. But somehow it did. Upon gun start at 8:00 am runners hit the uphill road that led to the west entrance of the Malinta Tunnel first. This made the first time Corregidor runner think this was already the dreaded uphill mentioned to them as “surprise”. Upon exiting Malinta Tunnel it was still an uphill surge for runners. In truth during this portion of the race I couldn’t revved up. It seems the previous day’s exertion was going to haunt me although out the run until I could not anymore finish the race.   Another difference in the route was upon hitting the Filipino Heroes Memorial Garden runners immediately were directed towards the Japanese Memorial Garden and into the Beach Resort Complex. Only upon returning from both that runners headed to the Kindley Airfield. At this point I had already gained my strength and was pacing much better than the first 2 kilometers. Far from getting bored the familiarity with the route enabled me to anticipate distance of the next Aid Station and landmarks which gave me an idea on how to pace myself better.  After accomplishing route at the Tail side of Corregidor and was now about to cross to the other side of the Island.  The 21k route did not anymore utilize the long trail along the Battery Point and Morrison Point instead followed the 42k second loop route of going to Topside via the uphill along Ramsey Ravine. Only at the last 2 kilometers did the runners of the 21k finally get to meet the “surprise” killer uphill before heading for the finish line. I ended up finishing the race with a time of 3:08:42 with a rank of 129th out of 286 participants. I felt I made another milestone in conquering yet another run event that is known to be challenging and which had eluded me for so long. The whole Corregidor run experience coincided with the Black Nazarene Procession and because of it I can’t help point out the similarity of experience. For those who were looking from the outside at the participants, the whole exercise seems to be painfully difficult experience to undergo and even to comprehend. It is not a big surprise therefore that others question the motives of the participants. But to the devotees emerging from the melee comes out feeling blessed and justified. To them is all what really matters regardless of other people’s opinion about it. I believe this was also mirrored in the Corregidor run that was why some runners come back for another take of the Rock. The difficult journey around the island promises some form of redemption. It would even be more meaningful if the lessons that Corregidor Island holds from his multifaceted history could also be absorbed by the participants so that those who had crossed the finish line would have gain more than a weighty medal but a weightier knowledge of the country’s rich history and heritage.