It was just around 6:00 p.m. of April 30, 2016 but up there at the trails of Camp John Hay darkness had already engulfed us and the only sources of light illuminating our path came from our individual headlamps. Raindrops continue to trickle down but you could sense any moment it will cease without being notice. I had difficulty seeing beyond few steps ahead of me as my sport goggle became fogged from heat emitting from my body and interacted with the cold forest temperature around us. As we hiked along wet trail and knotted roots I saw myself falling behind my companions. I kept calling out to ask for their position but RDF’s voice was becoming less and less audible by the seconds that passed by until finally I couldn’t hear any of it if ever he managed to call out back. I am just 3 kilometers away from accomplishing my come back run in The North Face 100 2016 50 kilometers category, which happened in Baguio City where two years ago I failed to finish it. I regretted it so hard for several months. My last year’s finish of the 50 kilometers of TNF100 held at Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna was almost enough to assuage my feeling but I felt I had to conquer Baguio if I want to find my peace. With the finish line so near I should not worry anymore but finding myself all alone with vision impaired inside a forest played back the fear I had before deciding to quit at 32 kilometer at Mt. Cabuyao 2 year ago. I was worried then that if I continue I might find myself blanketed with darkness with headlamp suddenly failing and shoes not suited well for mountain trail running I might fall into a ravine. Earlier while I was at the first 3 kilometers of this race with darkness still bathing the surrounding at a little half an hour away from our 4:00 am gun start, I tripped on an exposed rock and hurt both my knees. I was luckier because another runner actually fell in one of the chasm and was brought to the hospital due to injuries sustained during the fall.
Having difficulty keeping track of the route marker I was having trouble of moving ahead since I had to test every direction to see if there were path leading to the next marker. Then all of a sudden from behind me 2 foreign runners running the 100k passed by. Their headlamps served as a beacon beckoning me to follow until their lights flickered out. Soon some of the reflectorized markers buzzed to life as they capture light from my headlamp. There were occasion that it took a kind of leap of faith to just keep on going because distance among these reflectorized markers were far in between the next. On the occasion that there were no reflectorized markers the TNF flag-lets tacked on the bark of a tree could be discerned. I must be coming close to the end of the trail for soon a cordon of TNF flag-lets lined up the path and slowly the sound emitting from the event ground was becoming louder. I was taken aback when out of my periphery vision appeared a marshal pointing me to my next direction. I emerged at last from the trail beside Le Monet Hotel and landed on the road. At a nearby restaurant people cheered and clapped as I passed by. When I first joined TNF under 22k in 2013 I watched as runners from the 100km and 50 Km ran towards the finish line. People were cheering them like they were heroes coming from a battle. I said then I wanted to experience this. Last year as I was making my way to the finish line at 9:30 pm there were no more bystanders to cheer for me so I had to make noise for the organizers and marshals to be alerted of an incoming finisher. It was silence and sleepy announcer that greeted me when I made it to the finish line then. This year, I finally felt like the hero I imagined the runners were two years ago as they make their way to the finish line. Bolstered by confidence, I waved at the incoming traffic to keep them to my right. Hero passing, I though to myself. Soon I saw the TNF starting Arch. More cheers and clapping welcomed me. As I was turning left of the road and into the dirt leading to the finish arch I ran carefully lest I find myself tripping once again this time to my embarrassment. But as soon as both of my feet were convinced the ground was solid enough I accelerated and dashed shouting something I could not remember what, may be “revenge” as I did in Salomon last year. I had to be told to freeze for a while for the photo op before the medal was hung around my neck. The photo op at the finish arch, this is another thing I wanted so much because last year my photograph at the finish line did not materialized at any album concerning last year’s TNF100 event.
I came to Baguio with RDF who was doing 50k of TNF 100 for the first time. He ran in the 22k the previous year. He was supposed to run along with me but just before the gun start he drifted towards his running acquaintances, which almost felt like everyone. For my part I approached a few of mine like Arel who was running TNF100 for the second time. He first joined in the 100k category of TNF100 2014 and DNF when he was at Ampucao after not making it within the cut off time at the Aid Station. I met him in Team Malaya’s Gold Rush Mountain Marathon where the route took us to Ampucao. After photo op at the famous Gungal Rock at Mount Ulap on the way back he DNF again. This year was his third attempt to surmount a race that featured Ampucao. Unfortunately in the end he didn’t succeeded once again. I also saw Adrian whom I met at Sagada Circuit Marathon and who along with RDF had DNF with. He would find himself having knee issue and would slowly find his way to the finish line before he clocked out finishing third to the last. Finally to Jun who was the last runner to finish the Batanes Winter Marathon. He finished fourth to the last.
By gun start at 4:00 am I was all by myself, which was fine with me since I usually start slow as I tried to acclimate my body with the activity. RDF probably dashed off with his other companions, which included Jorge, whom I met in Bulacan 360 ultramarathon. He shortened his formerly long lock and shaved his beard otherwise he would end up looking like his two other running companions and be mistaken as triplets. I tripped and bruised both my knees at the first 3 kilometers but I simply brushed it off. From the height of 1,612 meters above sea level the path had a sustained downhill thrust leading to AS1, located at Kadaklan Road at some 4.49 kilometers from the Starting area. From this location runners run the trail that continued to descent going through a settled area where stairs and concreted path lined up the route. AS2 was located somewhere at 9 kilometers away from AS1 at Gumatdang, Itogon at 728 meters above sea level. I dressed with bandages the bruised knees I earlier incurred after someone pointed out they were bleeding. From here runners then took a short hike through concrete road then turned left toward a gravel-covered terrain heading towards another town. A hanging bridge then dirt road awaited runners before heading off towards the entrance of a trail leading runners to an almost endless series of uphill until the concrete road at Ampucao heralded by the transmission tower somewhere at 1,612 meters above sea level. About 6 50k runners had already come down from where I was going. I thought either the u-turn was nearer than I thought or this was something like what happened with me at Akyathlon where barely making it to the 15 kilometer when two Japanese coming from the opposite side of the path had passed me by. I ended up DNF also in this race for failing to make it to the cut off time by mere 10 minutes. I also caught up with Adrian who was struggling to hike the uphill I really thought that he won’t make it on time for the cut off time. However, this year the medal count is much higher than the participants and it seemed that even if you didn’t make it on time to the finish line you will still receive a finisher medal unlike in the past events. This what kept Adrian going. Some portion of the trail was familiar with me as it was the same route used in the Gold Rush Mountain Marathon. With the banning of too much tourists activity at Mt. Cabuyao, this year TNF100 was not given the permission to include the former as part of the route. As a result the formerly 100k route that took them to Ampucao became the 50k U-turn area while the 100k’s route became more breath taking with the inclusion of Philex Ridge and other feature. AS 3 lies at the 29,05 kilometers at the Barangay Hall of Ampucao the base camp and where those hiking up to Mt. Ulap usually registers. I finally caught up with RDF and his company at the Barangay Hall, while quite earlier I passed by the sleeping Jorge in one of the trail before hitting Ampucao. I was looking forward for the rice porridge, which initially I thought had already gone out so I had to buy a rice noodle. But soon the rice porridge, which was being saved for the 100k runners were brought out once again since probably marshals saw that there were lesser 50k runners left to stop by at AS 3. I place a special mention to this rice porridge because of how it rejuvenated me in 2014 at Mt. Cabuyao and like wise at Tagaytay Highlands last year. I joined RDF for a while on the way back from AS 3 but I lost them along the trail only to catch up with them once again somewhere after the AS 2 after the series of stairs, which RDF mentioned had exhausted him. I got separated with them once again after AS 1.
Later while trying to warm myself with cup of instant noodle and rice meal, I heard that the 100k runners who were at the 66 kilometers of the race and where caught up with the rain where eventually succumbed to DNF since the path became quite difficult to hike through and the again darkness had swept the area. Out of 250 plus runners who left the starting arch only 90 runners were able to finish the race for the 100k. For the 50k runners it seems every one made it to the finish line. I clocked my finished time at 15 hours and 23 minutes ranking 215th. RDF was consoling both our friend Daryll and Luis who both ran in the 100k but DNF telling them that next year he will take the 100k with them. I on my part having seen that the runners from the 22k category had gotten quite a very decent medal was thinking of probably running in the 22k.