Thursday, April 25, 2013

The North Face 100 Baguio 2013

proud to wear the visor
I’ve been running trails for two years now. It started with the 2nd Hungduan Climbathon in April 2011 and from then on I’ve always been on the look-out for trail runs in the country. I’ve never joined any road race. I love running trails because of the nice views, the fresh air and the warm and friendly trailrunners. I particularly like the trail runs organized by Thumbie Remigio and by the Philippine Skyrunning Association. I have also joined two trail runs here in Cebu since I moved here in 2012. All this time, I have been trying to solve the mystery of my cramps. These cramps had always held me back from joining an ultra trail marathon (a distance longer than 42.196km). Finally, during the 24-km Salomon Xtrail last March and after a lot of research and consultations with friends in the running and medical fields, I knew what to do! And I was ready for my first ultrarace—The North Face 100 (50K event)!

The Road to TNF100 50K

My first ultramarathon has just finished and I finished strong. But it sure was not an easy road! If you wanna finish an ultra trail marathon and you’re just an average guy like me, you gotta train! And that’s just what I did. I trained almost every weekend for four months running 22-km trails in the south of Cebu. I also joined the 24-km Salomon Xtrail a month before TNF100. In addition I worked out at the gym three times a week, spending an hour at the stairmaster each time. In between gym days, I attended yoga sessions three times a week too. Yoga toned and stretched my major leg muscles and improved my breathing.
Proper nutrition also plays an important role in your performance. I was more careful in choosing my food over the last four months. Out of popular belief, I avoided rice in order to lose some weight. I lost 5kg. I ate plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish but I still ate pork and chicken minimally.
Yep, I did all these for four months!

The Race

There were probably more than 300 excited and apprehensive runners at the gunstart at 4 am in Camp John Hay. I was in the middle of the pack. The plan was to take it slow during the first hour and be on my pace for the rest of the journey. The pack of 300+ runners was stretched to many more packs as the road narrowed into a single-man trail. I moved from pack to pack as I felt that the pace of one pack is below my normal pace. I overtook around a hundred runners in the first ten kilometres of the race. And in this time, I felt that my blood was not flowing normally around my pelvic area and my soleus. So at the 10-km marshal’s post, I took off my swimming trunks and my ankle supports. Then the downhill run got more pleasant. The early morning light made the views more enjoyable. Everything was mental from this point on. I kept communicating with nature, appreciating everything I saw. It felt good to be back in the Cordilleras! When I reached AS 09 at Camp 6 (the lowest point in the race), I grabbed two ‘nilagang saba’ and performed some yoga poses in preparation for the arduous continuous 8-km (1126m elevation gain) uphill trek to AS 08 in Mt Cabuyao. Yeah, I did look like a mystic weirdo to some passers-by. During this uphill trek I saw a lot of runners catching their breaths while sitting on the trails. And this is just the fun part of trail running. Everyone seems so genial and warm. One of my mountaineer friends even told me at the finish line ‘Sobrang mas okay tong trailrunning kesa sa roadrunning. Lahat ng nakakasabay mo sa trail instant friend mo kaagad. At lahat ramdam ang hirap kaya lahat nagpupush sa isa’t isa na maka-finish. Di gaya ng road races, walang kibuan.’ I overtook many runners and I started counting the elite runners coming back down. My objective was to be among the top 50 finishers. Only the top 50 finishers could get a visor and an instant medal at the finish line. At AS 08, it was like ‘fiesta’. The food cheered up the runners.  From AS 08 – AS 07 the trail went relatively flat and some parts were paved. This was an ordeal for my ankles. When I run on flat hard surface my ankles hurt. So I just did a power trek until I reached AS 07 at the saddle of Mt Sto Tomas. Then at the uphill climb up Mt Sto Tomas, I saw some runners prancing their way down and everyone cheered each of us with the hopeful line ‘Malapit na!’ So I hurried up and finally reached the U-Turn. I couldn’t help taking a picture here.

55th runner to reach the U-Turn
And from this point on, I added the competitive spirit in my pace. The marshal up there told me I was the 55th runner to reach the summit. This meant I had to overtake at least 5 runners on my way down to achieve my goal. From the summit back to AS 08, I went past two runners. And I know I could overtake more runners on my way down because downhill run is my favourite. I did overtake two more which meant I was on the 51st spot now. The girl on the 50th spot was the toughest challenge for me in my quest for the visor. She was running downhill with amazing dexterity and speed. She told me she had run a full marathon before but never on the trail. And she wasn’t a mountain climber either. That’s why I was really amazed by the way she negotiated with the tricky trail. I was always behind her until she went the wrong way at one hut on the trail I called her back when I saw a TNF flaglet. But she chose to take a rest at the hut with some of the runners still on their way up. Finally I’m in! But I still had a lot of momentum so I continued running downhill fast until I reached the runner from Mindanao. He was already a bit exhausted and he was telling me that he was reserving his energy for the uphill trek from AS 09 to AS 10. We were walking together for like 10 minutes until my legs told me to run. He was polite enough to give way. My point was, if I kept walking in the heat of the sun, I might get exhausted soon and there’s greater chance for cramps. Might as well run and hurry to the shady AS 10 – LP section. Then I saw some of the runners who were bouncing down from the summit earlier who were a bit exhausted and drained now.  One of them was my friend from the Primer team. He was suffering from the blister on his right foot and the heat of the sun. But I could see he still had a lot of strength in him. Everyone was slowed down by the sun. I saw a Caucasian runner just sitting on the trail. But it was not new to me. It just reminded me of Mt Batulao plus the cool wind. And that was when it hit me: I had not worn the cap that my friend gave me. I took that orange cap out which neatly matched my golden yellow jersey. I only had about 12km to go before the finish line and it was around 12nn. The sun was directly above us. I started to slow down. I was already a bit tired. But I was already confident I could get a visor! I kept going and at the 11km marshal’s post, I had a little chat with the marshal who happened to be my wall climbing coach back in 2011 at PowerUP. After that little chat, I felt revitalized.  By this time I was already alone on the trail. There was no one in sight ahead or behind me.  Then one guy came from behind. He was still strong but was a bit irked. ‘Ang tagal ko dun sa ligaw, walang marshal bwisit!’ was all he left me with before he disappeared ahead of me! I already ran out of my Pocari Sweat so I had a sip of my emergency drink—Cobra (green). Then another runner came from behind. I was surprised because I saw her coming down from Mt Sto Tomas but I never overtook her. ‘Naligaw ka no?‘Mejo, 20 minutes ata’ ‘Wala bang marshals?’ ‘Actually may arrow dun…pagod lang yata talaga ako kaya hindi na maayos yung decision-making ko’. Then after a little talk about my stomach cramps, she just sped ahead of me. At the last aid station (in Loakan airfield) I caught up with one more runner who became my last pace buddy. When we entered camp John Hay, he gathered all his strength and he ran ahead of me. 
Finally, at a little past 2pm, after ten hours and ten minutes I reached the finish line! I was number 36 on the unofficial list! Mission Accomplished!
official results for 50K

My Crew
Muscle cramps had always been my problem in running. And I think this is also true for most runners. My cardio is good and my strength and endurance have been tried and tested during my mountain-climbing years. I can last more than 15 hours of continuous trek with a heavy backpack. I usually get cramps before my body gets tired. The only time I got really exhausted in a race was during that notorious last uphill segment in this year’s Salomon Xtrail. After my 50km run last Saturday, I still had the energy to wash my clothes at our transient house before having my late lunch. But when cramps hit a runner, there’s nothing much he can do. As I said I’m just an average guy. There could have been a hundred more runners in the race who could have finished with better times if we were running with the same provisions. I was able to finish without cramps and with a good time thanks to my crew.

1.       Vinyasa Yoga
Throughout the race my calves threatened me with cramps from time to time. Whenever this happened, I did some simple stretches I learned in yoga. I bent over with my palms touching the ground while feeling the full stretch of my gastrocnemius and hamstrings, maintained this position for a minute or five deep breaths and repeated it three times.
Chaturanga-Upward Dog-Downward Dog Set
I took my time performing three sets of this at AS 09 to prep my body for the 8-km uphill trek to AS 08. This stretches my major leg muscles, stabilizes my oxygen supply and relaxes my spine. At the end of the three sets I felt reenergized and it felt like I had not started running yet.

2.     Pocari Sweat (powder) A friend gave me a box of Pocari Sweat (powder) packs. There were five in it. I used up two packs during my trainings and I shared one to my friend who ran 100K in the TNF100. I brought along two packs in the race. The ideal mix is 1 pack is to 1 liter of water. I wanted to optimize my electrolyte intake so I used only 500ml for each pack. I consumed one pack on my way up and another on the way back. When you sweat you lose electrolytes (mainly sodium and potassium). Electrolyte imbalance can cause muscle cramps and side stitches. I regularly sipped from my hydration bladder for electrolytes even when I wasn’t thirsty.

3.     Katinko For a 50-km distance, it is almost impossible to avoid pain even with those stretches and electrolytes. And you need something to ease this pain if you want to continue running. In my ROX Adventure Trail Run last year in Cebu, a girl offered me some liniment while I was sitting on the trail dealing with cramps.  I felt better after applying liniment on the affected area. During the 2013 Salomon Xtrail, at the final assault, my left leg was in pain and it gave a hint of cramps. Luckily my newfound friend, a Primer runner, shared his liniment with me. It was because of that liniment that I was able to drag myself up to the tower and run really fast back down to the finish line.
So I promised myself to carry some liniment during the TNF100 50k race. I chose from the three I had at home—Omega, Katinko and Red Flower. Katinko proved to be the most soothing so I took it with me. I used it during the second half of the race. It was during this time when I started feeling some slight pain in my left ankle and my right knee. In the last six kilometers of the race I also had stomach cramps which I worried could be a symptom of appendicitis.  Katinko relieved all these pains and helped me keep going. 

4.     My Gear
Columbia Mobex Sprint This is the hydration pack that Josiah used in his races. I gave it to him last year after my Columbia Eco trail run in Cebu. It’s very light and snugly hugs my back that I don’t even feel that I’m carrying something on my back. The waist belt, however, impeded the smooth flow of my blood around my torso which probably caused my stomach cramps. I undid it and with the help of Katinko the cramps went away.
This was the cause of my anxiety the night before the race. Josiah was gonna hand it to me on Friday during the race briefing but he came from a kingdom far far away and his carriage broke down on his way to Baguio. He had not arrived by 10pm and I couldn’t wait for him so I just went to bed. Fortunately, he was there at Camp John Hay patiently waiting for me an hour before the gunstart.
me in my full battle gear with JP the Primer runner and his blistered right foot. He crossed the finish line a few minutes behind me  
Salomon Speedcross
Forget the tights, prioritize the shoes! Shoes connect your body to the ground. A bad pair of shoes can compromise your speed and comfort. The Salomon Speedcross has always been my favourite trail running shoes. The lugs are designed to establish maximum traction with different surfaces. They are also light and comfortable. The night before the race my friend said ‘Welcome to ultramarathon! Bibilangin ko bukas mga blisters mo!’ I jokingly said ‘Sorry tol! Mabibigo ka lang. Mahal ang shoes ko.’ I finished the race without blisters or any injuries.

5.   Nutrition I did not eat a lot during the race. An hour before the race, I ate a piece of hopia (mongo) while Josiah was giving me a briefing. He had taken the same course the year before and he warned me of a precarious terrain. During the race, I snatched one or two ‘nilagang saba’ at every aid station. I never touched the mandatory trail food in my hydration pack. The aid stations had more than enough supply of food for the struggling runners. At the Mt Cabuyao aid station, there was sopas and cup noodles in addition to the nilagang kamote and nilagang saba.

The Damage

I bought the Jan-Feb issue of Total Fitness magazine so I got 30% off the registration. I paid only P2450 instead of P3500. In return I got an authentic TNF race shirt which cost around P1000. But I was the third registrant in Cebu for the ultra distances so I got an Enduro belt (P2490) and a free roundtrip Manila-Baguio bus ride (P900). Basically I earned P1940 and I got to run in the TNF100 (50K).
what I got after the race
But the trade-off is, I lost my Garmin GPSMap 60CSx and I broke the screen of my Xperia Go. When I put my trunks and my ankle supports at the 10-km marshal’s post, my GPS must have fallen out of my hydration pack. On my way down around 1:30pm, the two marshals were no longer there.
Interestingly, I was never upset by this loss. I was and am still overwhelmed by my good finish time that it never sank in that I had lost my GPS! Everything happens for a reason, so they say. I’ve always believed in ‘alay’. My alays used to be just tent pegs and spoons or forks. My GPS was the biggest alay I’ve made. It was meant to happen. Part of me was telling me to leave the GPS at home because I had already familiarized myself with the race route map. But for some reason, I still carried it. That GPS will make its next bearer happy. After all, it contains all my tracks including the secret track in Mt Makiling. And this thought makes me happy! It’s time to buy a GPSMAP 62st!
my last memory of my Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


this pebbly shore of Alegria broke my itinerary

I travel alone because I wanna own my time.

I am a terrible companion. I am whimsical and impatient at times.
I don’t want to be pressured by fixed itineraries. I have a good job that allows me to spend as much time as having fun requires. I don’t wanna be woken up by my alarm. I don’t want the assembly time to drag me out of bed and I don’t wanna waste time waiting for latecomers at the terminal. I wanna go to the bus station at whatever time I want. I wanna board whatever bus I want. I don’t care where it’s going as long as I can leave the city. I can find fun in any place. I wanna wait for two hours for an air-conditioned bus without anyone telling me ‘Ang arte mo naman!’ And I wanna go home when I can say ‘Let’s call it a weekend!’ Yes fun travelling is selfish. And it should be because each of us has a different taste and a different mood at different times.

the sunset that made the trees in the Alegria shores turn as red as maple
I wanna decide for myself.
If I wanna stop, no one will pressure me to keep going. If I wanna go, I won’t have to wait for any slowpokes. If my instincts tell me to pursue a certain trail at a fork, no skeptic is gonna tell me ‘Sigurado ka ba jan?’ and put the responsibility of the team’s safety on me. If I wanna sleep outdoors, I don’t have to worry about a companion who can’t live without a grand toilet! If I wanna commune with the locals no one will grumble over the unfulfilled photo ops of the sunset at the campsite.

It is in owning my time and my decision where I get to fully enjoy the place!

Two weeks ago, during my solo trip to Alegria, the plan was to leave some stuff at a local’s house and camp at Windows campsite, then run early in the morning on Sunday. When I got to Alegria at around 12nn, it was really hot. I found the beach inviting so I took a dip. When I got to the locals’ house I suddenly felt interested in their stories and I thought that sleeping in one of the ‘kamaligs’ was a bright idea. So I dropped the planned itinerary. I ran 4km on the nearby hills and late in the afternoon, I went to the town center and just observed how people lived their lives. I spent the night at the ‘kamalig’ of one family in spite of the woman’s insistence that I sleep indoors. I love sleeping in open shelters. The following morning, I traversed Mt Lanaya completing a whole loop from Tumandok at 7am to the summit then to Minag-a then through the highway and back to Tumandok at 10.

It is in travelling alone where I can peacefully enjoy simple foods and waste time watching people at a park

Thursday, April 11, 2013


taken by Jona last year at the labyrinthine Lanaya-saag

In my last post I started off with a haughty line from the Dhammapada—Travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone. In this three-part post I will give the reasons why I adhere to this maxim in most of my climbs.

The first reason is that SAFETY IS MY PRIMARY CONCERN when climbing. 

While it is a common belief that a buddy system is the ideal way to trek, I prefer to climb alone. I only get a buddy if he is my better or my equal.
the almost always misty Mt Lanaya
Last Saturday I climbed solo again at Mt Lanaya in Alegria, Cebu. That was my fourth time there. And I am aware of the risks that the mountain poses. And they’re the following:
     1.       Labyrinthine trails near the summit and on the northern side
     2.       Loose rocks and cliffs on the southern trails
     3.       No water source
     4.       Bees
     5.       Snakes

Consider all these risk factors and imagine climbing with an inept climb buddy.
When you reach the labyrinthine part, you, as the expedition leader, have to find the right trail. You wouldn’t want to exhaust your buddy so you tell him to stay put while you explore the area. Your first problem is to find your way back to your buddy as soon as you have found the right trail. It is difficult to establish a home base on a flat ground with barely a distinct landmark to set as base. But this problem is eliminated when you have a GPS device. The second challenge though is your buddy himself if you happened to climb with a BODY climber. A body climber listens to his body. If the body is thirsty he drinks as much water as his body says, oblivious of whether there is water source in the vicinity or in the next hour. A body climber will go to a shady area if his body feels hot even if you have told him not to go anywhere. When this happens you’ll find an empty home base! And you’ll be wasting time looking for that buddy! This hide-and-seek scenario poses danger to both you and your buddy!

my GPS and three ascents couldn't guarantee smooth passage in the labyrinthine Lanaya-saag last March
A clumsy buddy might not be able to negotiate well with loose rocks and precarious cliffy trails. Assisting him makes him rely on you. You’d have to be extra-skilled to take care of yourself and your buddy. If he falls off, that’s danger fulfilled… and another danger for you if you try to retrieve him. Accidents happen to anybody, whether solo or in a group. If you’re climbing alone and you slipped and fell to a hundred meters, you die. If you’re in a group and you fell a hundred meters down, you die too. A buddy cannot undo a mishap. I don’t bring buddies with me in a dangerous journey because I am not extra-skilled. I am only skilled enough to secure myself.
The tricky rocky trail of the south face of Mt Lanaya
With snakes and other poisonous and stinging animals, the more climbers the more chances of one of you getting bitten or stung. If you’re trekking alone, once you’re past the area where there is a snake basking in the sun, nobody behind you would get bitten. I don’t want to risk my friends’ lives. That’s why I don’t want to bring them to Mt Lanaya. Companions could be a liability in a dangerous expedition. Last Saturday, two separate snakes crossed my path. Last year, I came across a one-meter-long snake with a flower in its mouth in Mt Lanaya.

It was in this spot where I encountered the snake with a flower
And when there is scant or no water in the area, make sure your buddy knows water discipline. If not then your safety and comfort would be compromised.  ‘If I run out of water’ is just a conditional clause for me because I never run out of water. 

The hydration I carry with me is only enough for myself. I am not that tough to carry more for a buddy.
The buddy system is only advantageous to individuals who have to rely on others for survival. But for a self-sufficient and self-reliant trekker, there is really no need for a buddy. But for trekkers who lack skill, proper training or experience, CLIMBING SOLO IS NOT ADVISABLE. 

As a closing note, I would like to advise everybody not to overreact in case something bad happens to me or to most other solo climbers while doing a solo climb. Most solo climbers are prepared to die. You don’t need to mourn or put the blame on anyone because the adventurer died a happy death.

As I said in my old blog ‘There are only two things you can do with your body: you can either destroy it yourself or have it destroyed by something or someone else’.
I prefer to destroy it myself than have it destroyed by cancer.

YOU deserve a holiday!
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