Sagada Marathon Redux

While most of my running friends were busy with their last minute preparation for their probably most challenging ultramarathon, The Bataan Death March 102, slated on January 30, 2016, I was heading up to Sagada for the event, Sagada Marathon. Almost year ago I ran (and eventually wrote about it) 42k in Sagada at Front Runners Magazine’s event, Sagada Circuit Marathon. Unfortunately after running for about 9 hours I along with 6 other runners had reached only the 34th kilometers of the race a little over 2:00pm. It was not however, enough to beat the cut-off time for runners to be in this area. As a result we were no longer allowed to continue with the race whose last remaining 8 kilometers still entailed runners to run towards the 1937 MASL Mt. Ampacao Saddle before heading off to the finish line. Vowing redemption, I could not anymore wait for Front Runner Magazine’s event which may or may not happen this year, so I did the next best thing, I booked a slot at Team Malaya’s 3rd Sagada Marathon now leveled up to mountain trail run. The 2 previous incarnations of Sagada Marathon, which was predominantly a road run was part of the Cordillera Series that was running for 3 years now. Usually the Sagada Marathon was the kick off event to the string of marathon events under the Cordillera Series. I was part of the first batch but I missed running the Sagada leg. I could not run in the following year’s Sagada Marathon due to conflict in schedule. It was as if it was really my destiny to run in Sagada since Front Runner Magazine came out with its own event there.

 

Initially I was not fazed with the change Sagada Marathon underwent this year after all I had ran in at least three full marathons of the Cordillera series that featured mountain trails and came out a victor in each. However, after talking with some of the current participants and staff of the race who happened to be acquainted with the Meldwyn Bauding, who prepared the route for this year’s Sagada Marathon, I began to entertain thoughts that I might just be coming home again with another DNF wound. The last Kibungan Marathon’s route that was designed by Melwyn was so challenging that even the most seasoned trail runners that had ran Team Malaya’s offering struggled to conquer the race. Would Sagada Marathon turn out to be another experimental laboratory in the art of trail running torture? With an aim of getting back to Manila in time for my Monday morning teaching class, I booked a shuttle service that would leave Sagada Sunday afternoon at 5:00pm. So, if ever I find myself still in the neck of the woods at around 2pm I would not think twice in declaring myself DNF just so I could get back to the Starting area in time to change clothing, rest until we set off for Manila. This arrangement worked quite well with my co-passengers for the shuttle service all of them were registered in the 21k category and would have been done with their run way before my self imposed cut-off time.   In this race I picked up new friends who were my co-passenger at the shuttle. They were Ria, Sandy, Jester, Jake, Beverly and Teejay whom I am already acquainted with through Facebook. Most of them were quite new to running much more trail running.

 

At 4:00 am runners were already gathered at Minnie Degawah Compound, Mabbay Poblacion near Mount Carmel Church about 300 meters from the Municipal Hall for the race briefing and breakfast. I noticed that there seem to be quite a number of turned out of participants this year than the previous legs that I had participated in. about 156 joined the 21k while 56 in the 42k category. At 5:00 am with still darkness hanging about the gun start was given. Runners headed out along a concrete paved road that soon led to an uphill dirt road. The first destination was Kiltepan where amidst crowd of tourists waiting for the sea of clouds to be visible a U-turn awaited runners. I heard that even at this early juncture of the race there were already runners who failed to locate the u-turn and got lost at the view deck. I suspected they just wanted to get a glimpse of the now famous site where Angelica Panganiban and JM De Guzman shouted out their angst in the movie, “That Thing Called Tadhana”.   In Front Runners Magazine’s event this was the 21st kilometers of the race. From Kiltepan runners ran downhill towards Petron Gas Station where near it was a road that ushered runners to the dirt path going to Malboro Country whose highest point reach 1,684 masl. On the way I got my foot landing badly and had sprained my right foot. I however, managed to shake it off and was soon running again. The other runner who earlier got also sprained continued to limp as I passed by him. In the previous Sagada Circuit Marathon in about this area my companions and I got lost in this trailed covered with fog. Soon we reach Marlboro Country area. As in Kiltepan, the area where sea of cloud also could be viewed many selfie taking and camera totting people both tourists and runners were amassing. Light was slowing making its appearance. I forego any opportunity to do “selfie” since I don’t want to use up the few remaining bars of my cellphone’s batteries and I was more determined to make it as far as I could before I could call in another DNF, so I just plodded along the path and into the next portion of the race route. When we ran in this area in Sagada Circuit Marathon it was close to midday and the sun was baring down on us with fury. Soon I was entering a wooded area that led to the place called Blue Soil. According to Teejay the blue hue of the rock was due to chemical reaction like copper sulfate, which becomes more pronounce after rain. From here more woods and trail until we got out into a concrete road which in Front Runners magazine’s event the area was Payag-ew the 29th kilometers while in the current race the 14th kilometers.

 

Due to landslide and road repair, the portion going to the Pongas Falls was no longer taken by runners instead took the concrete road that led to Sumaguing Cave entrance. This is unfortunate because this portion of the race may be another stunning place to see. Actually I thought this was the same falls we saw in Sagada Circuit Marathon but upon checking the one in Sagada Circuit Marathon was Bomod-ok Falls whose access was via crossing Aguid Rice Terraces. Farther at my left nestled in the mountain I could see the communication tower the next important landmark in the 42k race route, which seem to be so high and still so far away. Soon I saw once again the 34th kilometers of Front Runner Magazine’s Sagada Circuit Marathon located at Gaia Restaurant where we were declared DNF last year. This time I was moving pass it in order to reach the road that would take me to Mt. Ampacao Saddle or Tower Peak the one stop I never got to see close in Sagada Circuit Marathon. On the steep and quite exhausting uphill trail that ushered us towards the road to Tower Peak I was dogging the 58 year old, trekking pole bearing Roberto Ramos who no matter what I do to get pass by him I always end up behind him. Close by was another runner Allan Palomares who was also running abreast with Roberto. I momentarily lose the two runners in favor of another male runner who suddenly overtook me after a much faster female runner made a dash out of nowhere passing by me on the way into another wooded area. The race ribbons that we were following began to thin out and could not be located easier since the distance in between gapped wider. I heard the male runner ahead of me speaking with another runner on his cellphone. Apparently, the runner on the other line was originally ahead of us but now found lost along the trail. Soon Ramos and Palomares were again overtaking me. I initially thought that upon reaching the summit we would turn back to retrace our path until we got down to the concrete road again. But I was wrong. We did not actually reach the Tower but turned to the ridge opposite of the path leading to the Tower. The Tower completely faded away from our path and I was afraid that we might have taken a wrong turn or something. But we were relentless in following the red ribbon route markers which although at a certain time seem to have completely disappeared suddenly reveal itself at the most opportune moment. As soon as I caught up with Ramos we stopped to rest and admire the breathtaking view of other mountains and Sagada Town below. Other runners began to appear out of the woods and likewise stopped. One of the runners mentioned that we were just at the 21st kilometers, which I could not believe after all the effort I had done. There might be something wrong with the watch or something, I thought to myself. Although taking 4 hours to get to the first half of the marathon was not too far fetch and finishing the 2nd half in another 4 hours was still pretty much decent for me, I just can’t imagine how another 21 kilometers could fit in with the remainder of the route indicated in the race map. It became apparent that we were actually traversing another ridge that soon led downhill until finally I saw we were already at Lake Danum area and soon having refreshments at the Aid Station 3. I heard later from Arel another runner who ran in the 21k that there were those who got lost at Lake Danum area because there were no ribbons to indicate which direction to take. I and my two other companions were much luckier because I already had gotten to this area in Sagada Circuit Marathon and therefore I know the way out to the road where the Aid Station awaits. The next destination was the Langsayan Peak that lies at 1,950 masl. I figured this would probably be 4 kilometers hike to the summit. But somehow it didn’t seem to have taken that long to reach the summit and from there the marshal told us that we were just down to 10 kilometers before completing the whole course. I couldn’t believe it that I was going to get my redemption after all with a finish time that beat my other Cordillera Series. In fact we reached Aid Station 4 at Bangaan quite quicker again, that when we were told that we were at the last 2 kilometers of the race, Palomares could not agree because in his watch we were just at around 28 kilometers. The last portion of the route after the AS4 was not at all 2 kilometers but rather 6 kilometers. But even with this remaining kilometers left for us to accomplish this would just be only 34 kilometers total. It turned out due to the change in the race route the 42k distance was actually reduced by several kilometers. Therefore even though I came through the Finish line with a time of 7 hours and 36 minutes it was still not 42 kilometers. Of course I could argue that the missing 6 kilometers would easily be conquered within less than 2 hours (in Sagada circuit marathon it took me 9 hours to get to the 34th kilometers) still I felt the celebration was not complete. So, in spite of completing the 42k series of Cordillera Series I was still feeling short of the kind of redemption I sought. I however, was now hesitant if I will be back if Front Runner Magazine undertake another shot at Sagada Circuit Marathon.

 

Perhaps, not all race are meant to be completed in a manner like how it was done the first time. It’s the experience going through the process of getting that redemption should matter. The very reason one fell short the first time must not again be repeated and improve upon instead. If ever again one fell short the second time count the initial success garnered not the failure. Sometimes it is much better to continue falling short of finishing a coveted race than complete one and retire the whole sport after attaining that coveted race. Failure sometimes gives reason to keep on going while victor sometimes become a good reason for others to stop from going. I have another race event that I initially failed to finish but somehow successfully conquered the second time because the event was done in another venue. Now it is again returning to the venue where I failed. I want to come back and try again. TNF100 2016 Baguio-Benguet see you soon.

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