If there was one welcome development arose from Prince Multi Sports Event, Inc.’ penchant to change events schedule on short notice, that was that I finally got a chance to participate at the 3rd Taal Volcano Island 360 25k Trail Challenge after missing it for 2 years. This was at the expense of giving away my slot at GNC Run though and perhaps to the dismay of some PMSEI patrons who backed out from joining the run due to other conflicts with schedules the change had wrought. Smarting from the previous year’s experience of having 16 DNF from its 128 participants, PMSEI change the event’s schedule from its original May 1, 2016 to its current schedule of July 3, 2016 in consideration that the extreme hot temperature of May might prove to be too much for the participants to take. It turn out this decision was sound since this year only 2 from the 72 participants had DNF. As a result of the former, Rolly who DNF last year, was able to exact vengeance with his conquering the trail. While there were like Jake on his third year and Yuri on his second returned to contend with a much more benign temperature Taal Volcano island in their love to run around the trail of the country’s smallest and 2nd most active volcano.
From the wharf fronting the public market of Talisay, Batangas, we were ferried to the volcano island via a 25 minutes boat ride on an outrigger. We docked in front of the Tourism Office and waited for the 7:00 am gun start. Among the participants who were familiar with me joining the event were Omeng, Jake, Joni and Jay. Another worth mentioning participant was the one-legged Renson running on crutches whom I saw action at the 2nd Conquer Jagged Peak. Upon gun start runners headed off towards Taal volcano or Mt. Taboro’s famous crater located 2.5 kilometers from the Starting area via the Daang Kastila. Upon hitting the uphill I felt a sting of pain impinging in my chest area. I had to resort to walking while pondering whether this was already a sign that I am heading off to an early retirement from running. Renson the one legged runner passed me by as I confront the uphill perspiring from the effort. I was pretty sure I would end up the last person to finish the race. Aside from seeing occasional spurt of sulphuric mist emerging from the fissure along the path, the route to the crater of Mt. Tabaro had been planted with Stations of the Cross. This was probably to further increase tourist influx by adding another reason for visiting Mt. Tabaro other than viewing its crater by turning the place as a possible religious destination for devotees especially on Lenten season. Currently, tourists on horseback were given additional treat by witnessing runners assaulting to and from the viewing deck. While their presence was an added obstacle for runners to deal with since the path trod by runners was not wide enough to allow for two-way traffic to occur.
Upon reaching the view deck I had myself posing in front of a photographer whom I thought was part of the organizer’s staff. The crater at the time I was photographed was covered with mist and therefore the view of 2 kilometers wide sulphur high lake and the island called Vulcan Point was obscured from the view. From the literatures I read online the whole island has about 47 different overlapping cones and craters. But the crater of Mt. Tabaro, which tourist visit is the active one having had 33 historically recorded explosions. Mt. Tabaro is also considered one of the lowest volcanoes in the world. On my way down, I saw I was not after all the last runner. There were still at least around 8 more I could see trailing behind me. At this point the pain that initially slowed me down had dissipated and I was able to run the downhill as I try to chase to runners ahead of me. I never got to come close the two I was chasing. The first Aid Station was at the 5th kilometers, which was also a junction directing runners to turn left towards the town occupying the fringes of the 23 square kilometer island. Prince instructed the runners not to veer beyond 100 meters away from the sight of the sea at the right side to avoid being led back to the crater. Some children met me along the way wit high five. The path was a mixture of cemented portion and then dirt road. To avoid getting lost I followed one of the crew of ABS-CBN News on horseback who was trying to meet up with the cameraman who went ahead at the Aid Station at the 7.5 kilometers. Although I initially had my pace upped eventually I resorted to brisk walking since I was still able to catch up with the other runners on this pace. Soon a couple of runners coming from behind me paced along with me. They were coming from a wrong turn taken and doubled back. We reached the 7.5th kilometer where the ABS-CBN camera was shooting the scene. There were around ten of us converging at this AS. This further galvanized my idea that I don’t have to exhaust so much effort in running. From the AS instead of running along the base of Binintiang Malaki, the foliage covered volcano people see jutting up the island from Talisay, we were directed towards a wooded trail to get to the other side of the island. Initially, we encountered along the trail a fork that had us guessing which path to take. After walking back to the AS I asked the marshal which road to take and I was told to take the left one. The other trail probably led to the summit of the extinct Binintiang Malaki, which last erupted in 1715. The path we took soon brought us up to an elevated area, which was worrying us whether we did indeed took the proper route. Our apprehension finally was doused when we caught sight of the sea again. After descending runners once again were running along the beach. At this point we thinned out as the other runners sprinted ahead while I was left tagging along a pair of runners whom I first saw at the shuttle service pick up area in Makati.
When we reached the 10th kilometer of the route where another Aid Station was situated there were other runners resting and taking refreshments. I took this opportunity to establish some distance from the other runners. I soon entered a path that led me away from the sight of the beach and into a bit of interior of the island. It did not dawn to me the taller mountain I saw somewhere in front of me was probably the crater of the 311 meters high Mt. Taboro from another side. Once again I was worried that I might have taken the wrong turn since I was just simply following established pathway and sometime relied on the people I asked where the other runners ahead had passed. The path soon led me back along the beach and into the next Aid Station, which was the 12.5th kilometer of the route. At this Aid Station I learned that the one legged Renson was ahead of me. Although, I didn’t see anyone behind me, I was expecting there were other runners close by at my tail. In fact, I thought I had seen the couple I was tagging along earlier before I got to the current AS. The instruction given me was to follow the yellow ribbons tied on grasses and trees marking the path. The yellow ribbons initially were easily seen, but pretty soon I was being led to a sandy path that even with gaiters sands still found its way inside my shoes. The sun was already beaming angrily but not as ferocious as I imagine it might had been for those who braved the first two leg of this event. I came to a portion where the landscape seemed to resemble that of the surface of Mars minus the reddish colored environment. I regretted that I did not brought with me a camera to capture the scene, which was pretty much outlandish. Like the impression left by Neil Armstrong at the surface of the moon, I saw the shoe impressions left by other runners ahead of me. I took to following these on occasions I can’t find the yellow ribbons. Then I got to a portion whose ground was more flat and solid punctured by sparse growth of taller grasses, I imagined it the savanna that the Homo-Erectus had to cross to look for meal. The promised yellow ribbons were even harder to find and more distant from one another. I soon reached another wooded area. It was even harder to find the yellow ribbons, which had blended with the foliage. I had to rely on impressions of the soles of shoes against the ground to lead me to the right path. I eventually reached the 15th kilometer where another Aid Station was located. This time I was instructed to climb the uphill but veered towards the right. When I tried to follow as instructed I kept heading towards the direction where no visible trail could be found. Instead end up among the bushes with the long thorns of Aroma plants prickling the sole of my shoes. The previous year there were a lot of runners that got lost in this area because there were no markers along the way. They ended up reaching the other side of Mt. Tabaro. I almost given up and was about to climb down to ask the marshal at the previous AS for directions when I noticed a waving flag behind the bushes. This led to another flag and before long I was being led toward downhill following the fine black sand that I assumed to be previous lava flow that was part of the 1965 eruption.
At the end of this trail was the shoreline again. Running along this portion kind of remind me the beach run at Salomon’s Anvaya Cove leg and last 3 kilometers of the Ku Ika Ika Run in La Union. The sand was soft and difficult to run on so I tried to run along the portion closer to the water where I thought the sand was more compact. It worked in some portion. I notice among the impressions left by other runners ahead of me were barefoot marks. I remember one of the runners was running the whole route barefooted. Further at the bent perhaps 2 kilometers ahead I saw an almost silhouette of another runner which I guessed was Omeng. He soon disappeared around the bend. Along the coast I noticed a boat with Coast Guard probably watching over the runners. I soon entered a barangay and in one of the shed I chance upon three runners resting. Gaudelia the female runner among the three asked me if I had seen Renson along the way. Apparently, I passed him by without me seeing him. The other runner whose name I did not caught bolted out while the remaining three of us rested. Soon another runner Jay whom I saw running at the event 2nd Puerto Galera Ultramarathon a week ago, caught up with us. He told us that he was initially at the front probably 13th until he got lost along the way. It was only after more than an hour when he finally found his way back to the path that led to the peopled area of San Nicholas. The four of us ran together seeking the AS at the 17.5 kilometer. When we found it we were rewarded with soda and some ice. The next AS which was supposedly the 20th kilometers turned out to be our longest 2.5 kilometers interval. With the distance we thought we had already covered we thought that probably there was no more AS and that the finish line would be the next stop that we would find. But whenever we asked the people how much further to the finish area we were told that we hadn’t gone halfway yet. When we reached the AS at what the tarpaulin says the 20th kilometers we got cold water waiting for us. We felt quite a bit disappointed that in spite of the perceived length we covered this was just the 20th kilometers. At this point Jay went ahead leaving Sidney, Gaudelia and I behind. Once again we felt the distance to the next AS quite distant. When we reached the 22.5 kilometers we were told by the marshal manning the post that the finish area was just about 20 minutes trek. By the time we saw the wharf in front of the Tourism Office many of the participants were already boarding the outriggers and where leaving the island. I finished the race 44th from the 72 participants with a time of 5 hours and 43 minutes. 28 runners were behind me in spite of my walking most of the way. Renson came 53rd. Omeng was just ahead of me by a couple of minutes. The couple I ran along for a while whom I thought was following me close by were the two participants who DNF the race. But the video they took along the way superbly described the journey each of the finishers took. Taal Volcano was my second crater to run on a trail event. The first one was Mt. Pinatubo.