Given a very limited time because I’m a full-time husband with a full-time job, I hope to squeeze in more quality because I can never have the quantity of time and kilometers that most training plans suggest. It’s of great help and I will forever be grateful that some veteran runners are actually posting blogs about how they prepare for trail ultramarathon races and write race reports afterwards. I sort of learn from them and use their experiences to educate me in training. To mention a few, I would like thank these Filipino trail runners/bloggers, whom I never knew or met in person yet, for their inspiring write-ups — The Bald Runner, Atty. Jonnifer Lacanlale and Atty. Aldean Philip Lim. And, of course, my love for the trails will never be enhanced without my Cebu Trail Runners family, founded by “The Master” Meyux. These guys are unselfish in sharing everything, from training guides, training tips, actual race experiences, routes, gears, and most of all, friendship.
Below is the summary of the first 30 days of my self-prepared 80-day training program, as monitored from my Garmin fenix3 and FR405 watches. I hope I can execute everything and stand a chance of finishing a difficult 50-mile trail event in 18 hours or less.
For the past three (3) months, I’ve been running and mountain biking almost exclusively on trails and hills in Consolacion and Liloan. I even participated in my first ever duathlon event via the 2nd Ilaya Duathlon Race Challenge last May 17, finishing the 5km run-25km bike-5km run off-road course in 2hrs50mins19secs. I also tried improving my overall core strength to the point of enrolling in a nearby gym to seek assistance from trainers. Although my training took a long halt during the start of June because of a viral disease, I really felt some betterment in my body. This is actually in preparation for a second attempt of finishing a trail ultramarathon within cut-off time later this year.
When Prince Multisport and Team Lingam Events announced that they will host a new race called Cebu City 360° 72K Ultramarathon, which will pass through the mountain barangays of the city and having a total elevation gain of 4,400 feet, I figured this could be a venue to test if what I perceived as improvement in my overall fitness would translate into improvement in performance. The last time I participated in a road ultramarathon was the CUC 100K Ultramarathon Leg 3 some two (2) years ago, where my knees and calves were completely thrashed.
Before the race started at 12:00 midnight of July 19 2015, my very supportive wife Espie texted me to beat my personal best because she will prepare food for me at the finish line, which stirred motivation inside of me. I comfortably ran the relatively flat first 21km of the route, pacing myself at 7:17/km. I see to it that I drink fluids every mile & take some calories every hour, stopping by the aid station of Kevin Hacey Camacho and the Talisay City Runners Club (TCRC).
It helped that I have my Free Runner-mates Romy, Joseph & Carl as vehicle support crew. This was actually my first time to have a vehicle support crew, but our arrangement was that they will only support me up to km21. Then I would just carry all my food and water in my vest from thereon. But after experiencing the excitement and camaraderie amongst the runner participants, the aid stations and the other supporters, they told me that they changed their mind and wanted to tag along until the finish line. That’s good news for me!
I tackled the very dark road and continuous ascent from Lagtang to Manipis, reaching the junction at km32 in 4hrs24mins. It was on this stretch that I felt my training was really paying off, especially on the roads without concrete. It’s like I’m running on hard-packed rocky trails, one of my favorites.
After eating watermelon from the Toledo Adik og Dagan (TAD) aid station, I proceeded running. In my mind, I’ll target to reach the Sudlon II exit to the Transcentral Highway (TCH) at 6:30am. I was running the downhill portion of km36 (5hrs4mins) quite fast when suddenly I came crashing down really hard! Boom! I looked around and there was no one in sight. I sat down, assessed myself for any injuries and examined the area where the accident happened. Unfortunately, I tripped on an unpainted road hump resulting into a lacerated left big toe as I’m using my newly-rehabilitated 800km-old Kai Maka Running Sandals which lacked upper foot protection. I also got several wounds on my feet, knees, hands and elbows. I never saw the hump because my headlamp is fading. I remembered I haven’t changed batteries for my headlamp since it was purchased last December. Lesson learned… the hard way.
I rested for a while, contemplating if I can handle the pain and continue, or just call it quits. I prayed and asked for God’s guidance on what to decide. A marshal riding a motorcycle passed by me and offered me a ride back to the nearest aid station so that I can be treated. I told him, instead, to look for and inform my support vehicle about my mishap. I was carrying a first aid kit in my vest, which is inside the car. I gathered myself and slowly walked until I came to a house where the owner is already awake. You see, it’s still 5:20am and almost all residents in the area are still asleep, I assume. I knocked and told him about my circumstance, and asked if I can have some soap and water to clean up by wounds. I’m very thankful that he obliged. As I washed my lesions, my support vehicle arrived and gave me my first aid kit. I also asked for a nail cutter from another resident so that I can cut the torn skin in my left big toe. The experience was bloody, but somehow and I managed to sanitize my wounds. Surely the Lord sends angels whenever we call to Him for help!
My support crew was hesitant to leave me but I told them I can manage. I walked the next 3km, passing by the TCRC support vehicle, who offered me breakfast. It’s a welcome sight as I needed something to relax my mind after what happened, and almost always, food relaxes me ahahaha!
I ran and walked and stopped twice to adjust the bandage in my left big toe, until I reached km47, the start of the TCH portion, after 7hrs12mins, way off my original target time of 6 1/2 hrs. I arrived at the next aid station, which is km50, after 7hrs42mins. At this point, I can feel fatigue is taking its toll on me, plus a nagging pain in my right hip as a result of utilizing my right leg more than my left leg to propel me forward, favoring my left big toe wound, which keeps on dripping blood. I gulped at least two (2) jiggers of Intra Juice to cope up with tiredness. I wore my vest and parted ways with my support vehicle, letting them wait for me at the Family Park in Talamban, the event’s start/finish line.
From thereon it was mostly downhill with only two (2) more major climbs, approaching Ayala Heights and approaching Tops. Initially, I thought it would be easier, but with my left big toe wound, it’s much harder – the more downhill, the more pounding, the more pain, the more blood it gushed. I had to stop by km57 again to re-dress the wound, 9hrs4mins into the race.
Heat was also becoming a factor as the sun shone bright during the day. I slowly jogged the downhills, favoring my left foot, and power hiked the 2 uphills mentioned above. I stopped shortly for some eggs and Coke at the Ungo/G6 Runners aid station at km62.
Upon reaching Budlaan km66, fellow Free Runner Regz, supposedly also a member of my support crew, greeted me with his mountain bike. He said he will accompany me up to the finish line. As I was slowing down, getting exhausted and experiencing some lower abdomen cramps, Regz kept encouraging me to go for a strong sub-12hrs finish. I drank the rest of the Intra Juice I brought, gave Regz my vest to lighten up my load and ran with every strength that’s left of me on the last 3km, reaching the end line officially in 11hrs51mins10secs. I ranked 65th overall out of 191 starters. It was a delight to see Espie waiting for me at the finish line, together with my Free Runner-mates Yangyang and Xhian, as well as my support crew. My GPS watch recorded 73km and I did beat my previous fastest time of 13hrs for the same distance. To God be the glory!
At the end of the race, I came to realize that:
1. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 10:17. When I crashed on the road, it also crushed my game plan, my target time, my ego. Little did I know that He allowed that to happen to remind me that my success is not because of myself, but because of Him who gave me the ability to succeed.
2. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” – Proverbs 19:21. I thought I had the perfect road map for the race, but when things got awry, I mulled over discontinuing the race. In every journey of our life, God allows detours to bring out the best in us. He brought out my innermost determination, perseverance and will to finish, making my journey not just memorable, but a meaningful one.
3. “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33. For whatever trouble we will face, we are comforted that we will never face it alone. If God is with, who can be against us?
Eleven (11) days after my up-and-down struggle, I can still feel its effects, especially my left big toe. I’m worried about this Sunday’s Ironman 70.3 Triathlon (Mixed Relay category) because I tried running the other day and the toe still hurts. For now I’m resting and praying my feet will be ready come race day. God bless everyone!
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.