Rewind 2008, Kevin Jauod was just an avid reader of my blog lagataw.com. I met him when he joined me in a trek on Mt Arayat. Then during the Salomon X-trail 2011, I introduced him to my friend Koi Grey who organized him and his friends into Team Mountain Stride!
March, 2017, two months before the event day, the race director Kevin Jauod summoned all his courage to launch the first mountain race in Antique—Tracing Iraynon-Bukidnon Trails (TIBT). It was too late, in my opinion. I was thinking ‘lalangawin lang ang event mo Tito Kev!’ It was obviously a tremendous resolve for the race director.
I had my share of tough decisions to make. I was pondering whether to quit my job and relocate to Visayas again or stay and see my projects in Benguet prosper. Monday (May 22nd) I booked my ticket to Caticlan and an exit ticket to Cebu. I had finally decided to leave Benguet which had become my second hometown.
May 26th Koi and Kevin picked me up at the terminal in San Jose, Antique. It was a reunion of sorts. Y’see our unorthodox ways of living make it difficult for us to be in one place at the same time. And now we were all going to be part of the first ever mountain race in the whole province of Antique, home to three of the toughest mountains in the country—Kevin had requested that I take charge of the race briefing. In the evening when we got to the race venue, I was surprised by the preparation that the local community had done. The stage was elaborately designed; the local dancers were doing their final rehearsals; the program included a list of names of notable government officials and organizations. What I had previously considered as another ordinary low-profile race was going to be a big event in the province of Antique. I was utterly impressed by the effort and involvement of the local officials particularly the Punong Barangay of Barrio Maria in Laua-an, Mr Dongdong Alonsagay. He treated TIBT as his own. He put a lot of heart into it. And this dedication was evidently contagious among his constituents.
May 27th (Day 0) 0400 hours, I reconnoitered the whole 21-km route covering the towns of Laua-an and Bugasong together with the very dedicated course setter Jonathan Sulit and another volunteer. Jonathan remained at Aid Station 2 to conduct a final meeting with the marshals and local volunteers. I returned to the start line 2 hours before the race briefing—all panicky and pissed. Taking the perspective of a novice, I decided that the course was too tough. I strongly recommended the omission of the vertical ascent section but Koi opposed it pointing out the traffic that would result from an out-and-back route. Tito Val, who had been in Antique for two months to support Tito Kevin in his first big project, quickly took the role of an umpire saying ‘Madali lang yan Tito Adonis! Tatabasin namin mamaya yang mga talahib na yan at tatadtarin namin ng trail markings yung sinasabi mong nakakaligaw na part!’ The pabebe perspective had made me forget that I was with the Titos, who are made of heart, passion and grit. My mind and body cooled down after a quick shower. We had decided to keep the original course. It was time for my very first race briefing.
May 28th (Race Day) 0400 hours. It was my 36th sleepless hour (probably 48th for Kevin and his girlfriend Kara). The 21km runners left the start line at 0430hrs, the 11km runners at 0500hrs. While Kara and Kevin felt a bit relieved when all the runners had left the start line, this day proved to be very stressful for me and Tito Ed who were left at the registration table. I could see the very tired Kap Dodong carelessly sprawling on the couch in the barangay hall. Hans, the very energetic master of ceremonies during the pre-race activities went off to document the event on the field. Tito Val and Tito Jonathan were on the aid stations with most of the volunteer marshals from the Organization of Simsiman Mountaineers most of whom came from Iloilo. Tito Reyn and Tito Koi were running the 21km distance. Tito Ed and I had no choice but to take charge of the finish line activities. Tito Ed took care of the timing system which Tito Reyn (of Grit Multisport) prepared while I was on the radio with the MDRRMC of Laua-an monitoring the runners for the two distances. Tito Ed and I both handle people in our respective professions so we were not very open to each other’s opinion and suggestions. It was not very easy for the two of us to collaborate in an emergency assignment. But we found a way to pull it off in the name of the achievement and success another tito.
As one runner crossed the finish line after another, I was overwhelmed by the positive remarks I would get from them. I was expecting they’d comment about the heat and the toughness of the course but all I got were ‘nami’ and ‘namit’. It turned, out none of the fifty-six runners were pabebe. Except for three racers who decided to opt out of the race due to physical discomfort, all of them crossed the finish line within the set cut-off time. And much to our satisfaction, no one strayed off course. The podium finishers were shockers. A 54- year-old local farmer crossed the finish line in his boxer shorts just 4 minutes behind the champion of the 11km category (who was the champion of the Salomon X-trail 32km race in 2016). The champion of the 21-km category crossed the finish line ahead of the 3rd finisher for the 11km category! He was also the champion of the Salomon Xtrail 24km distance. Koi settled for 3rd in the 21km distance. Among the six female podium finishers, four were first timers on the trail. Two of them (from the Boracay dragonboat rowing team) were just persuaded to register on site. I cannot not mention one notable runner who refused to receive the finisher’s medal. He maintained that he was able to finish a tough vertical race this year but the 11km course of the TIBT proved tougher for him. He resolved to come back for the second edition and rightfully earn the medal. When the last runner crossed the finish line Kevin, Kara and I gave each other a tight hug, signaling that it was the end of all the stress!
Looking back, TIBT was an overwhelming success in spite of it being a perfect candidate for a disaster. Kevin isn’t your ideal race director. He hates the microphone and he sucks at organizing. However, apart from his efforts to knock on doors of the many benevolent sponsors on very short notice, Kevin exceled at surrounding himself with the most dynamic and proactive of people. Whatever incompetence he has at organization is buffered by Kara’s OCD. While there was so much lack of preparation, Kap Dongdong and Hans came to the rescue. And thanks to the exemplary efforts of the MDRRMC (Laua-an) and the different mountaineering groups that comprise the Organization of Simsiman Mountaineers, and the unwavering support of the Titos, the runners were kept safe and all went home with a painfully sweet experience and a strong resolve to come back for another TIBT!
The overall satisfaction of the guests and participants was enough to compensate for the sacrifices, the exhaustion and the financial loss that the local officials and the rest of the organizers and volunteers had made.
The success of the TIBT can serve as an inspiration to everyone that despite all the odds, you can still succeed if you just put your heart, passion and grit to whatever you want to achieve!
We all deserved to celebrate the success of the event on the remote and very beautiful Seco Island.