I had run in different portions of La Union in various run events of Irunner headed by Randy Abasolo. Conquering the 65 kilometers category of Ibtur 2 in 2014 should have been the last of my La Union run. But in my race to finish my first 100k, I can’t help signed up in the 88 kilometers category of the 3rd Ibtur held September 9, 2016. This would turn out to be my farthest distance ran before tackling a 100k run. Failing to finish this would most probably kiss my quest to finish a 100k goodbye. Ibtur, which mean “to endure”, does not minced with what the name implies applied to the race route. If I barely made it in the 65k category of Ibtur in 2014, the resurgence of the 88k category in Ibtur after being absence in Ibtur 2 had once again pushed my limits to a new frontier.
Even the simple search for the starting area for Ibtur 3 was not easy. When I arrived at La Union’s Provincial Capitol Building located on top of a hill 2 hours earlier of the gun start there was no indication of an event about to happen: there were no banners announcing the event; people working in the tourism office had no inkling of their town hosting the gun start; even the organizer’s people that should be manning the area to distribute race bibs was nowhere to be found. It was as if the organizer had change the venue on short notice, after all, the16 participants of the 160k category of Ibtur had already began in the Municipality of Rosario at 4 am, which was a town after the last town of Pangasinan. As a result I left the Provincial Capitol Building and proceeded to another place mentioned by another runner, Rodel whom I met on the way to the Provincial Capitol. He mentioned something about Government Center as the possible venue for the starting area of the 88k category. So, I went there initially by walking and then by tricycle when I was told that it lies about 2 kilometers farther away from where I thought it might be. I should have stuck with the previous runner who did the best thing to sort out the matter: he called the Race Director.
When I came back to the Provincial Capitol it was 30 minutes before the gun start and all the runners where already there. All 12 of us: 3 runners from the 42k and 9 88k runners, which included RDF and his PAR (Pinoy Aspiring Runners) friends, Feel, Heaven and Pierre, the only female runner among us. I was originally wary about running this event and almost welcomed not finding the event venue. This was due to a lot of issues that emerged with this event. First the original schedule of this event was suppose to happen on July 8 in time of the Eid-al-Fitr but the organizer moved it to September 9 in time of Eid-ul-Adha. The change of schedule happened a week before the event thus turning off would be participants. He reminded me of another RD I know who had earned the ire of a lot of runners and now no longer run in his races. Other changes happened during the last week before the new schedule which included the changing of race route and cut-off time. Then suddenly requiring the participants to secure medical certificate. I don’t normally join race events that requires medical certificate since it cost me to secure one. Even the starting time for both the 42k and the 88k was moved to 1pm Friday. The race briefing happened on Thursday evening when participants coming from Manila would just be heading off to La Union. When the RD appeared 15 minutes before the gun start he quickly distributed our humongous race bib and seem to have forgotten about the medical certification requirement.
When we were launched from the designated gun start area we first went to the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Pagoda 150 meters away along Aguila Road. With the Provincial Capitol resting on top of a hill and near it the Pagoda, there was a great view of the city and the coast. We quickly went around the Pagoda and then proceeded to run downhill. We took Ortega Highway then Zandueta Street leading to Lubrin Height Road which was a steep uphill road leading to Jesus Christ The Redeemer Statue 1.3 kilometers from the Provincial Capitol. The hike sapped us of strength this early in the race. After the statue we raced downhill to Burgos Street and then to Quezon Avenue before turning right towards the Ma-cho Temple driveway 950 meters from the statue for another U-turn then back to the National Highway referred as Lingsat Road Resort heading out of San Fernando and towards San Juan. With the initial uphill run and the midday sun beaming upon us, RDF and I were reduced this early to walking.
Two other local runners RDF and I soon joined us: Ivan who is 16 year old and first time ultramarathon runner; and Erick who originally hail from Manila but lives now in La Union. The only female 88k participant, Pierre was ahead of us within sight like a wounded prey being stalked by us. It was like we were allowing her the privilege to be ahead so that when we are ready we could pounce upon her and overtake easily. However, this would not be so since RDF had already expressed that his plantar fascitiis was acting up and at the same time was having acid reflux, he said could not exert any further effort beyond what we were already doing. Thus at tis early in the race we were already assured that we will end up being the last runners of the 88k if we will be able to endure until the end. Along the way in the ditch left open due to road widening project we saw the rank 2 runner of the 160 kilometers category name Marcelo. We speculated he had injured himself and probably out of the race after running 9 hours. But to our surprise at the finish area we saw him crossed the finish line still holding on to the rank with the next runner hours behind him. When I asked him what was he doing at the ditch he told me he was answering the call of nature. By the time we passed by the road leading to my hotel accommodation at Costa Villa Resort along the Mac Arthur Highway at the Urbiztondo, San Juan, about 6.9 kilometers had been covered. We turned right along San Juan-San Gabriel Road, which was the same road I took in my Ibtur 2 run. It was a long flat road now undergoing repair. From afar over the mountain we saw dark cloud amassing and could only predict that by the time we get there we will be facing up thunderstorm, which was forecasted weather in the nearby Cordillera provinces including Baguio City. The sky had all of sudden began to turn overcast and the air cooler. Our two companions began to pick up speed and soon left RDF and I. Even Pierre dissipated from our front. When we finally got to the main town of San Gabriel, we saw a directional signage indicating the route to Lippay Road but from the marshal manning the Aid Station located nearby we were told our next destination was Tangadan Falls. The runners from the 160k category were the ones who were to go directly to Lippay and at that time only one runner had so far reached that point. The road to Tangadan Falls was initially almost leveled passing by the same route I did in Ibtur 2. A fork on the road where an Aid Station awaits runners points the way to Guerrero Avenue whose left side was the snaking Baroro River. Then we hit the uphill that doesn’t seem to end. It was almost identical with the ones I encountered in Ibtur 2 only in Ibtur 2 the road was not being constantly used by PUV unlike this one were taking. After the Aid Station where a photographer took photos of us we soon encountered downhill portions of the road where some were quite steep and on other occasion quite slippery. I was actually gaining a certain degree of strength conquering the uphill however, I couldn’t speed away since RDF was struggling and was thinking of not finishing the run. We already encountered along the way the 88k leader and the couple of 42k runners. By the time we got to the portion where we were to take a trail going to Tangadan Falls it was already dark. Taking this portion of the race was quite exasperating for me since I was trying to avoid slipping from the rocks that strewn the path. My running goggles had fogged out while my headlamp was flattening the path making difficult for me to distinguish the contour of the ground. Like what I had experience in Batad and Sagada Marathon we crossed rice paddies and steep stone staircase leading down to the featured falls. On the way down the staircases we met the other 88k runners who were coming from below after the u-turn at the Falls. I don’t know if I was just exhausted but when I saw our companions I thought I saw two female runners among them. I even read in the Bib of the other suppose female the name, Ericka written on it. However, later at the finish line I learned that there was just one female and that was, Pierre and Ericka was none other than Erick.
When RDF and I got to Tangadan Falls there was no one there to welcome us. Those who got there earlier were photographed with the Falls behind them. We doubled back and resumed to return to San Gabriel. By the time we got out of the trail it was around 7:30 pm. RDF was thinking of finding a place to eat and possibly to sleep upon reaching San Gabriel before resuming our run. On my part being quite familiar with the habit of those residing in the province thought that finding a place to eat that was still open was most likely slim. People in the province tend to go home early. I on the other hand was feeling quite restored with the brief rest we had after the trail was quite determined to hike the whole evening away. The trip back to san Gabriel was quite uneventful except for the constant dogs barking threatening to wake up the people within the houses we passed by, insect feasting on my legs and ants that had camped on my crown. At the town we met with Team Apay Madey who were support crew of the 160k runner, 56 year old Ocho Runner who was still coming from the direction of San Juan. They were also waiting for four other runners whom they were not quite sure if they were still in the race. We were looking for a place to eat but it was quite evident that I was correct in my projection that establishments were already close especially when there was a curfew being observed. We saw a balut vendor and contended ourselves with its fast diminishing products. We learned that the two support crews were originally joining this event but with the sudden change they backed out. Both had ran in LUUM where I also ran in and might have spoken to one of them in that event on our way to the finish line according to one of them. Our returning to San Gabriel marked just the 36th kilometers of the race. The original cut of time here was 8 hours. We went pass that time by maybe two hours. We bade goodbye the Apay Madey Team and proceeded to enter Lippay Road. I already encountered a portion of this Lippay Road while heading for Pulipol, which was a U-turn in Ibtur 2. I remember then that I was 3rd in rank then while pursuing this path. This path was characterized by long and winding uphill but its uphill was less steep than those we encountered on the way to Tangadan Falls. However, RDF was really not feeling well. I promised him that upon reaching the waiting shed I saw in Ibtur 2 being use as Aid Station we will stop and take a snooze there. 1.5 kilometers before that place Team Apay Madey had already caught up with us and with them was Ocho Runner. They soon went ahead. By the time we got to the waiting shed it was already nearing midnight. Team Apay Madey headed off while RDF took his nap.
Santol was about 17 kilometers from San Gabriel. The road had its share of uphill but most of the route was downhill. From one Aid Station to the next we kept on catching up with Team Apay Madey who were either forced to cut short their rest because we were constantly knocking on their heel.
One thing I find commendable about the way this event was organized was the active support given by the LGU by having Barangay officials who, even at the dead of evening, were manning Aid Station dotting the race route and serving coffee, rice meal and company. Even Police forces were visible the whole time sometimes gamely took “selfies” with the runners. During the whole evening I was expecting downpour but not a trickle had came down to douse us. When we reached the 52 kilometers, which was the Municipal Hall of Santol it was already around 4:30 in the morning. It was quite clear that we once again went beyond the cut-off time in this Aid Station, which was supposedly 12 hours. I was quite sure that these cut-off would not be enforced because if it were so, we should have long ago had been prevented from proceeding any further into the race. Yet, we still heard from the RD a remark about our crossing the cut off time beyond the cut off time. It was a good thing I did not offered any rebuttal or attempt to argue our way out because it was like tempting a tiger to take a bite of a piece of me. Instead listened to the RD tell me in a manner like being granted clemency for our sin that he was allowing RDF and I to continue with the race. If the RD was present I was probably expected to kiss his ringed finger. After the marshal had been informed that we were given a green light to proceed the race marshal told us to stay a bit while and sleep until we recovered enough to proceed. I noticed then that there were compartments specially prepared for runners to stay in. there were in fact some runners who were resting at the moment including Ocho Runner. We stayed for 30 minutes and after which we proceeded to Bulaoan which lies about 10 kilometers ahead of us. As we were taking the road to Bulaoan a couple of 160 k runner one was the only female runner of the 160k overtook us. They were still heading to Sudipen, which was right turn from the National Road while the 88k runners’ way was leftward of the same road heading for Bacnotan about 15 kilometers away. From the various Aid Stations we passed by we heard all sorts of unconfirmed reports that a certain number of runners from the 160 k had already dropped out of the race and that RDF and I and probably just a couple of 160 k runners were the only one left on the road. As ambulances whizzed by we felt these were runners being ferret out of wherever they came from and heading for the finish line area. I was still not aware that I just probably imagined the second 88k female runner that was why I kept on asking around about her fate. From Bacnotan the finish line, which was at Final Option Beach Resort in San Juan was still a good 12 kilometers but the sight of the coast at our right side was making us dizzy with anticipation that any moment we would be closing this chapter of our lives successfully. By 11:30 am we crossed the finished arch with a time of 22:54 hours not too bad to think the cut off time was at 22 hours. When we arrived at the finish line only one 160 k had so far finished the race with a time of 27 hours. Marcelo who was 2nd placer when we last saw him still held on to that rank appeared not too long after our arrival finishing with a time of 33 hours. 11 runners from the 160k finished while runners who DNF from the 160 k, which started with Levi and Girlie increased to 4. Ocho Runner finished 6th place. Boy Lipad who whom I saw a lot in Run Mania’s event and who usually provided victory dance after each ultramarathon run finished 160k with a time of 41 hours. The only female from the 160k which we saw earlier finished 8th with a time of 29 hours while Pierre the only female runner from the 88k finished 7th with a time of 21 hours. I finally found out that there was no Ericka from the 88k.