Last July 12, 2015, after crossing the finish line at the 87th kilometer, which served as entrance to the covered basketball court beside the Municipal Hall of Infanta, Quezon, with a time of 17:30:40, I broke my 67 kilometer barrier. Rizal to Laguna to Quezon 85K Ultramarathon by Run Mania Promotion Philippines is currently the longest distance I have ever traveled on foot in a single take. With this accomplished the road to my first 100 kilometer run had been laid closer to its fulfillment.
At the time 200 plus runners took off from the town plaza of Pililia, Rizal at 10:05 pm another ultramarathon was also kicking off in Quezon City, the UP to UP 80k Ultramarathon by Prince Multi Sport which will have their participants running from UP Diliman in Quezon City to UP Los Banos in Laguna. I would have registered in this event if not for the conflict in schedule with R2L2Q. I however, preferred to join the latter since this had route that will have me touching down in Quezon which I have not set foot on foot at all.
From the town plaza we soon found ourselves running northward of Tanay-Pililia Road. I was a bit wary of the rain and cold air that might be brought in by the South West Monsoon or Habagat that was being intensified by a passing typhoon along the northern most tip of the Philippine Area of Responsibility or PAR. So, I wore long sleeves for protection against strong wind and cold evening. But the evening air turned out to be a bit warm and humid. At about 5 kilometers later we hit Tanay-Sampaloc Road. Prior to this day, I made a mistake of expecting that only the first 10 to 20 kilometers of the route were uphill. But in the briefing earlier, Race Director Eng. Pat Maranan bluntly told us that the route would be mostly uphill -or at least the first 50 kilometers. However, it was not just the uphill that we have to prepare ourselves of. Rather the path itself, which would be mostly dimly lit to not being lighted at all during the whole evening trek. This became apparent as soon as we found ourselves along Sampaloc Road. In the past I knew I had passed by along this route riding service shuttle and sometime public utility vehicle shuffling to and from the various trail run event I attended in Tanay. That evening somehow I felt lost and melancholic along the way. Burst of sound of some singing of videoke coming from some resorts nearby did not help lessen the feeling. After the 1st Aids Station at the 11th kilometer rain began to pelt. I brought out my waterproof poncho and put it on. But wearing it was a bit uncomfortable because it was too warm in it. A runner in raincoat and with an umbrella breezed pass by me.
I reached Marcos Highway and as soon as the rain stopped I disrobed my poncho and never again wore it all throughout the race even with the rain coming in again later. A few months earlier Run Mania had the Rizal to Laguna 50k Ultramarathon. I thought this was only a portion of the R2L2Q. I also thought that R2L2Q would pass by Mabitac, Siniloan and Famy, Laguna which would be an excellent opportunity to finally reach those portion of Laguna I haven’t had chance to reach through running before. But it turned out I made a mistake. R2L2Q would utilized a different route altogether. It would actually use some of the portion of the route called Marilaque which is actually about 120 kilometers beginning from Marikina near Katipunan Avenue then to Antipolo, Sumulong Highway, Masinag, Sierra Madre, Tanay, Sta. Maria, Laguna then finally to Infanta. The Marilaque is actually considered as one of the most picturesque highway in Luzon along with Halsema Highway in the Cordillera and Pan-Philippine Highway in Southern Luzon. Another race franchise, the Team Malaya was also organizing an ultramarathon covering the entire length of Marilaque come September or October this year. Of course R2L2Q would only use about 66 kilometers of Marcos with Pililia and Tanay route filling in for the 20 kilometers.
Without realizing it I soon passed by Camp Capinpin where Former President Erap Estrada was detained. Then not far after was the Regina Rosarii Institute for Contemplation in Asia where a giant size image of the Virgin Mother stands. But of course with all the darkness around I couldn’t catch a glimpse of it. The 2nd Aids Station lies at the 22nd kilometers around the boundary between Tanay and Laguna. At the Aid Station I inquired about my current ranking. I was told that I was probably at the 170th. From the Aid Station the road dipped downhill and when we reached the end of the downhill we were entering a road surrounded with forest. The sound of animals and insects cries filled the void aside from occasional blinking light coming from some runners ahead. It was almost painful to see when those blinking light slowly shrink away until it was just your headlamp shining the path. Although we still passed through populated areas now soundly asleep almost after each of these barangays the road was plunged again in a depressingly dark surrounding. Then as if conspiring to sabotage my attempt to conquer my first 85k ultra my feet began to impinge pain. In an attempt to add cushion to my Saucony Guide 7 shoes I stuffed it with an additional rubber sole. But it resulted in squeezing my toes too tightly at the shoes’ heads and now I was uncomfortably trying to endure it. I was also feeling sleepy that I tried stopping over to catch a few snooze but sleep eluded me when I gave it a try. Then a kind of anxiety that I did not encounter before in my other ultra run started clouding my concentration. Anxiety brought about by my question what to think about to pass up the time. Without anyone to talk with or anything to entertain my senses, I couldn’t help myself thinking of how far the journey still lies ahead of me. My mind keeps on coming back to the present bombarding me with the thought of the distance that doesn’t seem to dissipate. To me this was even more painful than the physical pain I was feeling at my feet. I think this is what actually breaks runners in long distance run. At a certain point I put out my headlamp because by then I was already in the area where fog was descending along the road and the light of my headlamp was simply illuminating only a few inches away. I just followed the broken white strips of paint lying at the middle of road and let my eyes trace the outline of the surrounding to make sure I was still running along the road and not straight into a ravine.
I don’t know how daylight came exactly. All I know was all of a sudden I could recognize my environment and ahead of me there was someone familiar that I was slowly about to catch up with. It turned out he was FB call sign Word Doer, a pastor by profession and a runner by passion. This broke my solitary journey. Together we reached the 3rd Aid Station at the 33rd kilometer which was somewhere near Pacific Highland. If you are to rely on the yellow stone kilometer marker whose reference for its 0 kilometer is Luneta in Manila, we were already somewhere at the 84th kilometers. Soon we were passing by Heaven’s Valley Café which was still part of Sta. Maria, Laguna. The road was still cloaked with fog. It kind of look like we’re somewhere in the Cordillera during the cold season and true enough the barangay we were soon entering is named Little Baguio part of Magsaysay, Quezon. I was hoping that at the Aid Station at the 44th kilometer there would be the shuttle carrying our belongings and serve as drop bag point as mentioned in the briefing. I wanted to lessen my load and change my running tights to a more comfortable pair of short pants. My running tight was brushing with my private part and the friction was causing so much discomfort. Unfortunately when we reached the 4th Aid Station there was no drop bag station waiting. Either we arrived late or our shuttle van did not consider itself part of the vehicle that should stop by the 44th kilometer for runner’s baggage. So, I have no option but to endure the discomfort, which during the course of the run somehow abated without me realizing it.
The portion of the route we were running is quite popular among motorcyclists who stop by to eat bone marrow stew or bulalo and rest. We saw a couple of runners trying out one at Jariel’s Peak. I wanted to try one too but Word Doer told me we could choose to proceed until the 55th kilometer Aid Station where his brother was a volunteer marshal assigned to that station. Word Doer had stowed there instant cup noodles, which we could eat upon arriving. I acceded since I wasn’t really hungry but was just curious about stew. When I caught up with Word Doer earlier there were quite a lot of other runners behind him considering he was just walking most of the way and I usually see him before trailing behind other runners. This means he was really opting to finish this race. It turned out this was his second take of R2L2Q. On his previous take of R2L2Q he was unable to finish and was picked up by sweeper. Initially I thought I might not actually be able to finish this race but with Word Doer now accompanying me who seem quite determined to conquer this race, I gained a certain confidence I could make it until the 85th kilometers. The only problem was whether we could do it within the cut off time of 19 hours.
We passed by a DENR check point whose notice inform us that we were already leaving Sta. Maria, Laguna and entering the Infanta under the province of Quezon. From afar at our right side, I could see interlocking of mountains and beyond it the Pacific Ocean according to Word Doer. Only around 40 kilometers more to go and we’re finally done with this race. Ugh!
We’re running in roads with a lot or “U” along the path meaning we were going around mountain while going uphill. We were still bracing for that penultimate uphill that would take us at the highest point of the road and from there unli-downhill. At the 55th kilometer instead of cup noodle we were treated instead with an adobo meal. Delicious! Soon Day Walker and company also arrived at the Aid Station. Day Walker was another runner doing a revenge run on this race. I met him in couple of run events but it was only in ran the run event Aguinaldo to Bonifacio 50k Ultramarathon that I had a chance to run along him. To establish some sort of pride in us by not allowing any more other runners passing us by, Word Doer and I decided to push ahead of the inclined road where we were resting. Along the road I almost stepped on a tiny snake crossing the road. By the time we reached the highest portion of the road we did not realized it that we were actually there. What was actually waiting for us at that portion aside from some other runners resting along the road was downhill galore. As if cued, suddenly a down pour coupled with strong winds came and welcomed us. I told Word Doer that we could take this portion running which will increase our chances of finishing this race within cut off time. But he relented. With still plenty of time left that even if we walk all the way to the finish line we could make it at the cutoff time maybe 30 minutes ahead. He however understood I wanted to establish a good finish time and in order to do that I had to run the remaining distance beginning with the downhill staring at us. He bid me to go ahead. I felt bad leaving him but didn’t think twice to consider my desire. I had to make sure I will finish this race within the cut off time. So, amidst the spray of rain and gush of wind threatening to dislodge me from the ground, I ran faster as my feet could allow me. I was literally hurling myself. I was afraid I might slip at the wet pavement or stumble upon some rocks but the momentum seemed to be sweeping all the odds away to favor me. I ran and ran until I was passing by – or in local jargon, “tuhog” other runners. The rain was short live but the downhill couldn’t be outlived. The sun suddenly peeked out of the cover of the cloud and shone greedily. More runners were overtaken by me including the 55 year old Tatay Crispin who looks much older than his actual age is. I actually caught up with him earlier in the race. He was with me when I tried to catch some sleep in one of the stores along the road that was closed that moment. He was wrestling with some stomach issues but when he bolted out from the shelter he went ahead of me and I never saw him again until that moment I was passing by him. I was afraid of running along side of him earlier because hearing his breathing which was a kind of suffering sound, I thought that I he might collapse along the road any moment. But other than that he was fit. But not as fit as Virgilio Fule a much older runner at 70 but younger looking than Tatay Crispin. As in my past experience with Tatay Virgilio, he simply cruised by me coming from behind earlier in the race and was never seen by me again finishing strongly way ahead of me while Tatay Crispin finished among the last runners.
The downhill seemed to go on and on but the kilometer marker along the road seemed to indicate I only managed to shave off about 5 to 6 kilometers. Nearing Aid Station 6 at the 66th kilometers I caught up with the very young Die Harder Runner who had already done R2L2Q the previous year and was doing it again this year just to improve is PR. He was however, suffering from acid influx and was burning out. After this Aid Station I soon lost my steam and began to struggle along the road. Pain from my thigh area and feet was making me want to stop and rest frequently. A couple of runners were also doing the same thing as I. One of them a runner whom I passed by at the downhill managed to get his second wind and went on to finish the race earlier than I. The other one ran along with me until later I left him about 3 kilometers before the finish line. The rolling route continued. With all the running I did I felt sure I was nearing the completion of another 10 kilometers but instead the kilometer in the kilometer markers didn’t budge. The remaining 20 + kilometers seem to be stretching farther as if the distance was being pulled inside the event horizon of a black hole and experiencing what scientists says might happen when being pulled at the event horizon, spagettization. At the Aid Station 7 at what might be the 78th kilometer we were told that about 7.5 kilometers remain before tucking this race behind my belt. The Welcome marker that carries the lion statue that served as our trophy design stood at the foot of the last downhill stretch. I soon found myself running along Siniloan-Famy-Real-Infanta Road. The road was all flat from here on. Vehicular traffic began to burgeon along with increase of number of establishments lining up the road. The last 4 kilometers was long straight road that seem to be taunting and testing the runners’ patient for you know the finish line is just somewhere at the end of the stretch but the road doesn’t want to end. I think I have gone crazy a bit for I was shouting and cursing. I could relate with the runner who posted a video of himself at the last stretch of his UP to UP ultramarathon quest. He posed a question if there is some truth in runners getting crazy running long distance. He says since he was talking with himself there might be some truth in it. The road finally croaked and gave in. A right turned at 20 De Julio then left turn to Plaridel Street before entering the covered basketball entrance for the Finish Line marked the end of a long journey I never thought I could accomplish long ago. Only 15 kilometers separate me from achieving 100k. But I know I won’t just yet be going to barge into this 100k club that soon. All the 100k plus run events scheduled until the end of this year had other run events running alongside of it that I am already signed up for. I wanted that when I do run in a hundred kilometer run event I will be able to finish it. That is why I had to keep on earning mileage and get my body used to long distances. Right now the feeling is akin with me running nearing the crest. I know I could make it there and I will make it there.