Batanes Winter Marathon: A Dream Marathon Come Into Being

A year ago I played with a thought of having a marathon staged in Batanes after noticing that a round trip around most of the tourist destination spots in Basco would total in a distance of a full marathon. Then ho and behold, Batanes Winter Marathon was all of a sudden was being heralded in Facebook.  I was among the first to register and eventually among the few to actually make it to the event, which happened on February 21, 2016. The event organized by Runs and Raves and headed by Heidi Guevara was probably one of the most anticipated events since last August of 2015. It even earned intrigue and ire from among the impatient registrants and those who were trying to be part of the event due to almost nil information and update long after registration fees were deposited to the organizer’s account.  People began to doubt whether the whole event was just an elaborate scam or hoax to cough up cash from gullible or eager runners. Having booked a two-way flight to Basco at PAL quite earlier I couldn’t afford to lose faith to the organizer who I knew was a close friend of the Team Malaya gang whom mostly are God fearing people. And so when finally instructions and information such as race route and Skyjet Airline booking procedure began coming out again in FB, I knew there was nothing could anymore keep this dream marathon from finally becoming a reality.


The event had 3 race categories namely: 10k, 21k and 42k. From the list of participants I saw that the event was a sort of reunion of runners who had run in Team Malaya’s 1st Cordillera series. This only goes to show that Heidi has warm bodies willing to take her words on faith that BWM will take place. The other participants hailed from Japan, Korea, a participant from Surigao and an Ivatan that is currently staying in Singapore.  Most of the participants availed the Skyjet promo fare for the event and arrived 2 days earlier of the event, which the participants use for the tour of Batan and Sabtang islands of Batanes. I arrived the following day and headed straight to a fully airconditioned room fitted with hot bath, cabled LED TV and WIFI carrying Midtown Inn where I shared accommodation with Lyndon, Victor and Alberto whom upon my arrival were touring Sabtang Island.


The race started at 6:05 am at kilometer 0 located at Rizal Park. The morning was pretty much as the event was described, which was very cold. According to Francisco Datar through the NCCA website, Batanes has three season namely: Rayun or summer which lasted from March to May, Amian or winter which lasts from November to February and Kachachimuyen or the rainy months which was usually the rest of the remaining months of the year. There are brief spell of warm weather (dekey a rayum) in the two weeks between September and October.  But since everyone was excited and raring to go to intimately get to know Batanes, in the wise words of Elsa, the cold did not bothered anyone anyway. We took off and proceeded along the National Road passing by my last year’s accommodation Shanedel’s Inn on the direction southward. I was hoping the race would also have us doing u-turn at Naidi Lighthouse but that would entail additional distance to the already 45 kilometers distance. Lyndon bargained a 11 hours cut off time from the original 9 hours to allow the non-Ivatan participants enough time to do “selfies” along the scenic spots along the way, which was literally the whole route. Heidi was generous enough to concede to the request so Lyndon, Victor, Alberto, Albert (who just a week ago shadowed me on his bike at Batangas to Quezon Ultramarathon) and I were pacing to about 10 minutes to a kilometer, which obviously put us to what we thought to be the last place. It turned out there was another runner behind us, Miguel Paolo who caught up with us.


The first town along our race route, Mahatao lies 6 kilometers away. To get there we encountered uphill with a command view at our right side of the rough sea crashing at the jagged coastline and the view of the Basco Port farther right behind. From the onset we know the day would be a bit cloudy and felt sorry for the group of elders we had breakfast with that their trip to Sabtang Island might not push through.  Midway the uphill we encountered K.C., Roselyn and another runner. We did a usual “groupie” photographs with them. Then they took off and we never caught up with them again. Downhill before entering Mahatao one get to see the Mahatao Boat Shelter Port below the National Road. Entering the Town of Mahatao the 21k runners who also started with the 42k runners made their detour going in land by turning left. The 42k continued following the National Road passing by the Municipal Building and San Carlos Boromeo Church. Another runner Jun joined us who mistakenly followed the 21k when they turned left.  About 8 kilometers from Mahatao is Ivana but before getting there we passed by Mandangeb Beach around this area we saw again the group of elders we had breakfast with this morning and indeed their trip to Sabtang had been cancelled due to rough sea. They cheered us as we passed by them.  Boats heading off to Sabtang Island were launched in Radiwan Port in Ivana.  At around the 18th kilometer or 4 kilometers from Ivana lies Uyugan the farthest place I got from my previous year’s visit. The coast here was even lovelier with water so clear. From my vantage point it seems the water was not even knee high until you got farther away were the water smashes among the rocks acting like sentries.  An Aid Station welcomed us and upon passing by the town we had “groupie” shot with the local police.


Soon we were again climbing uphill with wind blowing so strong towards us. I had to take off my cap to prevent it from being blown away. Along the way sitting at a makeshift viewing deck, we saw a female runner resting. I don’t know whether she was suffering from something or her stamina had been snuffed out after sprinting most of the way. When we passed by her we invited her to join us. Our band grew a little larger while our confidence even more for even though we were taking our sweet time we seem to be just a little behind the other runners. Later at the 20th kilometer was an Aid Station we heard that a couple of Navy participants all of a sudden dropped the race.  The view of mountains, which could be ideal for trail running and the coast at our right side that we were being confronted with were simply breath taking. One of the interesting sites was the bending road in Alapad with a huge rock that had been split to have the road passing through it. This rock according to Runs and Raves FB was called Taruyen Nu Manuk or Crown of a Rooster. This was the only area were the road was not yet paved with cement.  Next we proceeded toward the ruined town of Song Song, which was ravaged by Tsunami in the 1950’s. The former inhabitants of the town were given relocation site in Mindanao! This was the period in our history when the settling of Mindanao by various people from all over the country was encouraged. The next town we ran into was Itbud, which lies at the 23rd kilometers and soon we were again running uphill.  Seen from below the road was the town of Imnajbu which was the site of the first mass in held Batanes. From here we began to run towards the direction of inland. The kilometer marker was telling us how far the town of Mahatao from where we were running. I was computing in my mind that if Mahatao was just 8 kilometers and from Mahatao 6 kilometers to the finish line thinking we will return to the national road on our return trip, then we were just about 14 kilometers away. But that would leave us with 7 to 8 kilometers of distance that could not be accounted for.


Another place I did not got a chance to see last year was the Malboro Country now we were standing on it and having our photograph taken. I believe in my first visit to Batanes some 20 years ago I got to see this place and probably even some of the southern portion of Batan, which we ran by after Uyugan. But I could not anymore recall any impression of it nor could even make sense of it if I even managed to find the negatives of the shots I took of Batanes way back then. After Malboro country we could already see the white ball shape PAG-ASA Station and Tayid Lighthouse although from our vantage point PAG-ASA seem so far still while nestling on top of a hill. Once again lots of uphill confronted us along the way. Another feature we soon having our photograph taken were the Great Wall of China-like paved road called Paywa and all around were rolling hills of greenery fenced with shrubs to keep the cattle boxed in or out. This is called Hades Changkang.  Harmon the motorcycle-riding photographer of the event was keeping us companied along the way at this point and was firing lots of photograph shots of us. He would have accompanied us until we reached the finish line if it were not for Jun who was the last man walking. Harmon shadowed him instead and the tasked of sweeping the road was added to his responsibilities.  We got to PAG-ASA Station where Naomi’s husband who ran in the 21k was waiting for her. We were told that we will not be passing by Pacita Fundacion, which could have made a wonderful background for photographs. However, it was almost all downhill to the finish line from there. This we know was figuratively but not necessarily literally. I said not literally all downhill since we still yet to encounter one uphill that seemed to appear intimidating. When we were scanning our path we saw couple of moving figures on top of one of the hills. And that hill from our vantage point was seemingly up so high. My spirit almost broke because I thought the incline heading there was so steep and winding. This road leads to the Japanese Cave which was another tourist destination that I almost forgot as part of the race route. However, while negotiating the road that was taking us to that point it was like a dog with a lot of bark than bite. Albert and I both summit the road first and likewise the first to face the steep downhill that ensued it. The road soon gave way to a cross road where the road leading to the right was the route to Vulugan Beach where the 10k and 21k runners were directed to take earlier. The left road led to the town. I thought there were still about 5 kilometers left before finishing the race. I was a bit worried that I will pay dearly for forgetting to refill my hydration bottle at the PAG-ASA Aid Station. So, I was looking for a convenient store to buy me a bottle of Gatorade. But it became apparent to me that we were actually heading towards the Airport Area passing by Lizardo Street. I knew that it would just be about 2 kilometers left to go. Albert dashed away while I followed him unable to catch up and overtake him. I finished with a time of about 7 hours and 43 minutes which was still quite fast in spite that we were supposedly taking the race at leisure pace. I learned that all the champions of the 3 categories were kin with the runner in the 10k as the father of the two male siblings. Jun crossed the finish last but was the one seemingly had the best finished with everyone cheering for him as if he was finishing for a podium finish.


With one dream marathon finally done it may not be too much to hope for turning Batanes Winter Marathon into Batanes Internation Winter Marathon, which is held annually. However slots for this event should remain limited to a less than a hundred participants. This is to ensure to keep Batanes pristine and unspoiled by too much tourist activities going on. With the limited slots available participants had to figuratively fight to get in.  High registration fee would be charge so that a portion of it would go to the local such as those that would have to give up touring activities for the period of the event because tours would have to be limited during the marathon period. Collaterals included in the loot bag should be informative while the medal and finisher shirt should be of international standard. Perhaps trail running is another event to consider. With these thoughts maybe the handling of the event should also be done by partnering with another bigger and more experience group to ensure that many of the problems encountered by the current organizers be avoided. Overview of Weather: January to Feb- “Amian” or Winter Season, coolest months brought by the Siberian Wind March to June (April & May-hottest months but could extend to June) July-August- Rainy September-little summer October- prelude to “Amian” season November and December- Amian-cool months


Overview of Weather: January to Feb- “Amian” or Winter Season, coolest months brought by the Siberian Wind March to June (April & May-hottest months but could extend to June) July-August- Rainy September-little summer October- prelude to “Amian” season November and December- Amian-cool monthsOverview of Weather: January to Feb- “Amian” or Winter Season, coolest months brought by the Siberian Wind March to June (April & May-hottest months but could extend to June) July-August- Rainy September-little summer October- prelude to “Amian” season November and December- Amian-cool months