It was still dark and cold when the race started at 4:15am in Brgy. Taptap Gym, the starting line of the 2nd Cebu50 Trail Ultramarathon 2015, the brainchild of organizer Blue Tradio. From the final list of participants, 54 runners will try to negotiate the 18km route, 33 of which are crazy enough to repeat it 2 more times afterwards (called the aspirant category) bringing the total distance to 54km overall with a cut-off time of 14 hours.
One loop has three (3) major climbs with a total elevation gain of +/- 1,067 meters (according to Garmin), so multiplied by 3 and you get a whooping total elevation gain of +/- 3,201 meters! The first major climb leads to Kampar Peak, the highest point of the route at +/- 717 mASL. When I had the chance to recon the route, I was just amazed by the beautiful green mountain scenery. For a while, it felt like I’m in the Garden of Eden for “…out of the ground the LORD GOD caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight…”. That’s why I prefer the trail nowadays because I get to see HIS natural creation!
The first 4km was on concrete/asphalt descent to Brgy. Tagbao. I kept a relaxed running pace on this part. Actually, that’s my plan for this event – to be relaxed, hydrate well, eat at least 100 calories of food per hour, rest and drink two (2) jiggers of Intra Juice every loop. Oh wait, where’s my Intra?!? Oh no!!! I left my energy-boosting drink at home!!! Waaahhh!!!
Realizing I forgot a piece of me, I tried to be calm and composed and move forward. Besides, I’m optimistic! The first (which peaks at Km 6.5, Kampar Peak) and second (peak at Km 11, on the way up to CREMDEC) climbs went well, but the third climb (peak at Km 17.5, on the way up to Brgy. Taptap Gym) was somewhat difficult. Indeed, what last year’s Cebu50 3rd placer Boying Milan said that “the real race will start on the third climb” was true!
When I reached Brgy. Taptap Gym, the organizer told me I’m in the Top 10. I clocked in 3hrs36mins for the first loop. Wait. 3hrs36mins?!? From my estimates, relax would have meant at least 4+ hours per loop! That means I have been running a little faster and spent more energy than I originally would have wanted! And I have no Intra Juice!
Instead of getting excited, I got a little bit worried. As I ate the yummy egg sandwich that my wife Espie prepared for me, I figured I will spend more time resting to regain back some energy. I parked myself for 15 minutes before embarking on the second loop.
The clouds started to darken at around 8:30am and I’m anticipating it will rain up there. At the same time, I’m a bit worried because I haven’t trained for slippery and muddy conditions. The rain started pouring just when I’m dealing with the steep uphill to Kampar Peak. My treads started to slip so I also used my hands to get to the top. It was a relief when I reached the apex. Then I realized the downhill was steeper and muddier. Oh well, hands and feet again. Good thing, only Vee Abellana was there to witness my transformation to a four-legged creature!
At this point, I was surprised to see eventual women’s champion Jade Abellana still on top of Kampar Peak. Later on she would passed by me and she told me they got lost. Moments later, it was my turn to get lost. After crossing the second creek, instead of turning left, I went the other way. I think I ran about 500 meters already when I became conscious that the place is not familiar. So I turned around and was thankful for some residents who pointed me back to the road to CREMDEC.
It was on the third climb that fatigue and hunger started to creep in. My stomach just wanted to be filled because it’s about lunchtime already. It took me 1.5 hours to walk back up to the starting line, which includes getting lost on the trail again and 3 instances of sitting down on the grassland to rest.
I completed the second loop in 5hrs11mins, a far cry from my first one. My total time is now 9hrs2mins, but I really don’t care much at this point, I just wanted to devour the lumpia, pansit, longaniza, egg and rice that the organizer prepared for lunch! I’m starving!
Third and Final Loop
After eating lunch and resting for about 20 minutes, I started my final journey. Doing some calculations, I figured I can finish the race within the cut-off time of 14 hours. My pace has slowed down considerably, even on the downhills. I also took some time to rest on every aid station and after every major climb. Whereas the second loop was at raining and windy conditions, the third loop was the opposite – the sun shone bright, the trails have somehow dried up, and it’s getting hotter now! But it’s alright with me, this is what I trained for. I’m just taking my time, relaxed and confident to finish this on time.
At the aid station before the climb to CREMDEC, I caught up with Vee again. Then, a marshall came and informed us that we will not be trudging the third major climb anymore for safety reasons. He said that it’s getting dark already on that valley and it’s not safe anymore for us who are still on the course. Instead, we were instructed to proceed directly to the finish line after the second climb. That means we’ll be cutting the distance from 54km to 48+km. Frankly, I’m disappointed by the order because it would signify that we never really finished the whole course. Besides, there’s still time. At that point, there’s about 2.5 hours left before the cutoff. But we have to abide by the organizer. I believe it’s for our own good and it’s a good call. Vee and I ran together on that last stretch and finished the shortened course in 12hrs22mins6secs.
The Extra 5+ Kilometers
As soon as we got the disappointing (well, at least for me) news from the marshall, Vee was more than determined to finish the distance because this was his first ultramarathon race. He convinced me to run the extra 5+ kilometers in another route so that we can complete the 54km. It sounded crazy but a good idea to me! And so we ran from Brgy. Taptap Gym to the Transcentral Highway Km23 marker (which became our unofficial highest peak at +/- 814 mASL) and back, and accomplished our objective unofficially at 13hrs20mins25secs.
The organizer was kind enough to hand us the finisher’s medal and include all those who were diverted to the shortened route in the official list of finishers. But for me, I consider this as an unfinished business. I’m grateful for the opportunity and for the humbling experience. And my utmost admiration to the 5 runners who completely journeyed all 3 loops.
Two important things I’ve learned. First is that being optimistic is also being realistic. This was shared by one of my colleagues at work, citing the example why cars, although brand new and in superb condition, will always have a spare tire with it. In every endeavor, a Plan B and Plan C should always come in handy just in case Plan A doesn’t work out.
Second and more significant for me is that in situations when everything we planned doesn’t seem to fall into its rightful places, we can never be completely discouraged. Instead, we will put our hope and lean more to our CREATOR who promised that “…those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint“. As early as now, I would love to give Cebu50 another shot next year. Hopefully, I’ll be better prepared and finish the whole course when that time comes. Until then, I’ll continue enjoying the beauty of the hills, the mountains and the trails.
(Holy Bible verse references: Genesis 2:9, Isaiah 40:31)