RUNNING is a mental sport. A diversion & a perfect alibi to eliminate vices and delay ageing. It is freedom and most of all it is enjoyable. So much that I need it so hard that I started to run 4 km on weekdays and 10-20 km on weekends here abroad several years back. Little did I know that my muscles’ yearning for some more strains and all the while wishing to have an official personal recognition (believe you me) that I googled and found that yes there is a community of runners on trails.
BORN & BORED in a city where we were raised and an expat raring to have a vacation I knew where I should be with. So I prepared, trained and registered for the big leap and up we went to a landlocked town called Sagada.
FIRST TIME I stepped in and like any bagong-salta to a raw-organic-feel of the town, you can’t help but look around as your head jerks left to right. Across the panoramic mountains’ painted surreal by the bluish skies you breathe in the cool breeze, familiarizing, drinking it all in. Time slows down. Everything is still, yet full of life. You start to slowly hear earth’s music: birds chirping, wind blowing and just when you think you are starting to get comfortable, this moment of complete bliss is soon interrupted by the hustle and bustle of the future. In droves tourists flocks thru the streets strewn with locale entrepreneurs as SUVs, buses and jeepneys breaks off the melodies and the harsh tailpipe’s engine smoke pulls you out of your nirvana and into present day. Disruption slowly fade away when the conversation between your senses and the soft pillow that you’re holding on to sweetly cradles you to a good night’s dream.
DAWN COMES and the fun starts. From the Sagada Town Hall starting line going to AS1(5Km) we were welcomed by the clouds along the mountain trail and it was a sight to behold. Top that with the sharp crispness of the air flavored with the scent of boreal pine forests that permeated along the hills as we raced thru the deep gorge of the valleys of Lake Daenum.
AT KILOMETER 10 with the treacherous rice paddies situated in a lush green valley right before the Bomod-ok Falls we met 4 runners, the lead pack which were on their ascend as Runnin’ Photographer’s Mit M, BF Philip, Jose R & I were headway to where those 4 runners came from which is the famous falls.
WELL-MAINTAINED concrete and carefully-arranged boulder paddies are tricky if you lose your balance you will absolutely ruining not only your PR (if you are aware) but also the rice grown along side-by-side all over the trails so that you might try to run-jog-run pace which is much to be desirable. Amidst to that you may want to take time to enjoy the view whether you’re on top of the hills or from below, seize-up the hills, the heights of the lush green forests, terrains of the majestic mountain so your mental strength won’t be surprised what’s coming up for you. Don’t forget to drink-in the environs’ scents that engulf you as you traverse your run of a lifetime. As for me I did all that then videoed and uploaded it on Youtube so you can have some glimpse of the action.
AT THE ASCENT we were trotting-in at the paddies when I saw at a distance some local tourist huddled with the guide informing his group meekly calling out “runners !”. Wow ! Am I ? Haha I was talking to meself. Then another group looms forward in our path this time with some runners ahead of me I could never forget what that guy called-out as we met up across the bend along the paddies, thus said: “Mga PODIUMERS !!! Give way ! Giverrrawayyy !” As I greet them thank you and offered a snap salute right then I knew I won’t be needing a camelback.
AS2 AT 16km my body becomes acclimatized and every bit of it all becomes functional. Everything becomes normal as you pace 8-10 kph save for the mental preparation and concrete-road training that kicks in & puts me on my toes. Hydration backpack still untouched. I was liberating my soul.
AT AS3 (22KM) increased elevation & approaching Kiltepan View Deck I knew I smelt bonfire’s woods burning on the grounds where some time ago there was these two lovers spent their night right here right under the stars. Shades of that movie “Tadhana”, yeah. I shook my head but I thought I saw “Mace & Anthony” those lovers are racing with me now. Standing on the ledge with majestic Cordillera’s greens & rice terraces I thought I heard Mace screamin’ “Ayoko Na !” .. “Ayoko Na !” “Pagod na Pagod na ‘Ko !” .. tears welled in her eyes as I shivers and almost forgot the race I have still gotten into. Aaargh that film ! Now I began to feel strain-sore creeping in but opted to ignore.
AT THE 25 KM – 29 km marked AS4 Payag-ew I feel the churning of my gut, cramps on my quads & pain in my shins. Ascending & descending is taking its toll so I swigged-in salt-stick & 2 boiled saba, washed it down with gato that was picked-up along the way .
GAINING ELEVATION and pressing on for the continuous assault I see some flashes at Marlboro Country’s horizon along the vast trails that I maybe am hallucinating but I thought I saw horses and it might be from the “Westeros” with “Mysha The Dragon Queen” saddled on it encircled & protected by the “Unsullied”. Whew ! Salt stick kicking-in or this lactic acid threshold was now compromised ? So now my hydration backpack emptied as well as the GU, chocs and flakes.
MEANWHILE, that nagging thought “ayoko na pagod na pagod na ‘ko” resonates as I passed-by Sumaguing Cave (33Km) people were all over now as I saw them coming in and out of the gates of the cave with the deluge of SUVs effectively affecting their presence inside of me. Huffing & puffing now due to the black and gray smokes and with cramps all-over my bod I power-walked, hiked & jog and run alternately knowing that AS5 (35Km) will be in a short curve distance. Then I saw the race director prepping-up the station with the team. As we were exchanging pleasantries and just as I gulped down gato sir RD Jonel whipped-up a container of ice-water over my head & splashed it all over ala ice-bucket challenge afterwards informing na, “Up there will be you’re final assault which is 7Km. You came in here 17th” “, looking at me, “while you”, Running Photographer’s BF Philip, “will be the 16th.” I was humbled due to the RD’s gestures of taking care of his flocks personally like us and subsequently ecstatic upon hearing my check-in number that I thought I saw us in the center field of a huge jampacked stadium with the spectators standing, yelling with arms raised performing waves that travels through the crowds immediately stretching to full height continously around the arena. Oleee !
AFTER KODAKAN moment, empty camelback are now refilled with biscuit flakes & bladder re-fueled, refreshed while still catching our breath, Philip animatedly pointing at the last peak of the race stated that “that final assault’s my probs due to this cramps.” As if on-cue I pulled 2 salt stick and offered 1 & accepted. Down the road runners loomed & are now about to check-in at the station so I bid bye & started to power-walk & jog & run humming some rock and roll.
NOW AT MT, AMPUCAO (38KM) i’ll never forget where I was blown’ away. As I stepped-in pacing slow at 6-8 kph now headway at the clearing there in all its glory the expansive majestic view of the mountain. I felt like I stumbled on the one of the last quiet places. Such that that I lose the perception of where I was and who I am. I’ve never felt the connection, the clarity on the connection on the world I knew. On the surface I am having a spiritual moment. So much like a meditation I power hiked, walk and jog and stop for a minute then again walk & jog and stop alternately meandering. As I was gaining elevation I smelt the balmy air zest of an orange that soothes my soul & enjoy the encompassing perfect scenic boondocks like there was no tomorrow.
AS I SAVOR the panoramic environs yellow ribbons were nowhere to be seen. 100 meters. 250. 500. Ugggh ! The group I was with was nowhere on-sight too. 700 meters. 800 meters ! Not even co-runners ! Darn I was bewitched and missed out the tracks. So I gingerly tracked-back. After almost an hour I finally retraced back then saw 3 yellows laced in line as the other 2 ribbons below at the other barbs forming an arrow and in all splendor was there smiling and waving at me. PR gone but gladly surprised I overshot and been at Besao.
IF THERE IS an Olympics for bad hair day I might have made it. The last Old Spanish Lake 50 I kind of thought of giving up 16 kms away from the finish I got the groin-pull back there which is still partying and affects my gait so now thinking of giving up again. No you won’t I said. Lingering still and uphill now I began squirming. Cramped quads & shins brutally aching as well as the groin-pull shadows my finishers medal. Checked my gps that says: 40Km elapsed ! 2 KM to go. Uphill unlimited now I began to lose control as the cramps took-over my bod and gave-in. Then I heard the sound of a lullaby. Then the soft-dried leaves and bushes of the trails’ dirt’s inviting and begin to look like my bed and hell I couldn’t care less but to give-in as I heard the hushes of bushes harked streams into my ears. 2 minutes passed. 5 minutes. 10 minutes.
16 MINUTES GONE I was jolted and opened my eye. In a silhouette I saw up ahead there was this wood planked in-between at a narrow creek. Ahead of that there’s another one but upon crossing it will need you to slide down against the boulder. As I was seizing it up planning on how to wage war (read: cross) I was lookin’ in an “ants eye-view” position. Gasping for air I staunchly forced meself to get vertical when 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 runners passed me by. Upon seeing me agonizing & in a tormented position one gallant runner from the group hands me over 2 tablets and advised: “Sir yun isa jn para sa fatigue at yun isa pampatulog.” Did did did I heard him right ? I was stuttering and never had the chance to ask if I must have to take both ‘coz when I reckoned they were nowhere along the trail as I shook my whole-being and I thought I saw my soul leaving me too when another 5 runners dashed me through.
TWO KILOMETERS TO GO and here I am alone in the mossy forests with the trees and the flowers and the bees. Right there I was staring at the two wooden planks as it stares back at me taunting “you will never ever cross me”. Those 16 minutes of rest gives me ample time to recover. Or so I thought. Coz now I can’t move my left lower limb but then I took time again & snucked salt stick and chased it down with GU from my camelback. So now I tried to refocus my mind into something that will trick my agony. Come on boy think of the reward you will have like ravishing a whole horse in Masferre or a dozen pinikpikan then drown it with 2 liter country-side granola yogurt and some slices of lemon pie. Oh and your favorite glenfiddich malt scotch is waiting to be emptied too as you reminisce this dire situation you’re in like right now together with your chilled red horse as pambanlaw to cap your day. Awesome it’s like a password ! It’s magic ‘coz suddenly my bod springs into life.
AMIDST ALL of the stupid-self ramblings I felt the tightening of hamstrings of sore quads, blistered toes & sensed tingling on my now black & bruised nails. As we all knew apparently when you are in the 5 thousand feet altitude or higher air becomes thinner while your body adjusts and definitely saturation of oxyhemoglobin begins to plummet. In my case I can endure and well-passed that but not my foot. It’s just that I got the right trail shoes but the size cannot compensate the pressures of the limbs especially going downhill unlimited.
AMBLING THRU I approached the wood planks and easy does it I made it through. Darn power is back and as if on cue my foot got hold of the groove and mightily started pounding the trails again and in wild abandon. Off-grid for 9 hours I hear churning of truck engines amidst the quiet tweedling of the scale-feathered malkoha and some other birds singing halleluiahs. I must be in heaven. Concretes gleams at the end of the trails I was trotting with and again it’s now downhill. Houses lined across the paved road and the surroundings’ beginning to get familiar with ‘coz hours back the road that we started in at the break of dawn is now the road that we have to take up on right back thru the alluring sweet finish line. Following the arrow signs and approaching Cellar Door situated way atop the boondocks dares my last energy to climb crawl or run and give my all.
BEAMING WITH PRIDE raising my arms I stepped up on my last assault. Upon crossing-in wild euphoria broke loose in my mind as I heard co-runners’ cheers and applauses with the voice of Mit M. asking “You got lost noh !?” I smiled and happily shout back yes. Along the journey I got lost, wandered and collected myself again. As the medal was settling-in I knew that back there at the vast trails I somehow found back the fire inside of me which was sometimes it’s just that we don’t know or forgot where and when to start burning it up. It was a gift and like as if our life depends on it we need to use it up and persevere because there are still more of who we are, because it made us more of who we are.
Moving on, CM50 and P1 and H1 see you soon.
Excited to go back at my homestay right after finishing the race I reluctantly queried on where is the way to get back at the town proper. One of the event staff replied, “you may try that way which will take you 20-30 minutes while there,” pointing at the cozy al fresco situated almost 400 meters from where we were fixated behind it next to the forest pines and around it there’s a seeming like precipice, she continues, “it will take you only 5 crass minutes!” Grabbing my gears with some loot I waved thanks and bid-bye, dashed off gingerly as I approached the trails but was taken aback upon seeing it ‘coz it is really a cliff with dense bushes, thick damped moss with nothing to clutch on to like trees when you are descending and a once-upon-a-time-there’s-a-rut-on-it in an approximately 240 meters dizzying steep ridge that requires bushwhack (hey ! why do I love that word?) I turn around and tried to get someone’s attention to confirm if this is the one that the staff pointed to me. But they were all busy and from where I was standing they won’t be seeing any bit of me because of the distance add that up with the obscuring pines crowding & towering you. So I weighed in whether to take the long route instead of this one in front which is more of like a suicide.
Hell can’t you see you’ve got a medal and that confirms that YOU are a mountain trail runner ? I was talking to the stupid self. My bad ! Standing there sanctimonious but sheepishly now I ford headway and wade on the bushes. Tipping my toes bending my knees carefully slides my butt with lots of ninja moves creating my own zigzag trails I unknowingly launched and utilized the experience I just got live. Voila, kingkong got home in 5 minutes with several tiny cuts around my shanks but make no mistake, aside from the prestigious medal it is that last dare that confounded that we can be more of a trail warrior. Because any which way, like in any uncharted trails we ran we explore come rain or shine or back to the moon we soldier on.
Did any of you experience this ?
12 Hours after your trail run you are limping and on your way back home along the road you saw a puddle and in your mind you know you really want to run dash your foot through it and splash with gusto on it ? The bench, stairwells and the sand dunes beside the streets you happen-by you were like antsy but restraining yourself not to jump over it ? You were walking at the pedestrians while in front of you were people minding their own when suddenly you brisk-walk & jog past them and swerve and yell “on your right !” albeit snatching a mineral water from the hapless vendor and run like hell ?
Guys that might be the PTDS or post trail deficiency syndrome so when joining and in post trail-runs make sure that you will always be accompanied with your bffs or your love one so that someone will restrain or take care of you otherwise it will happen to you. Just like what happened to me but thank God those things only stays at the back of mind. Or maybe it did happen to me. idk.
As I’ve said running is a mental sport.
the author, Yobs V. Cabrera would like to THANK YOU. CREDIT also goes to the prolific and the original badass RD Jonel Mendoza with the magnificent support group, the marshals, volunteers, frontRunner Magazine, sponsors & race participants, the peoples of the Cordilleras and Planet Earth.
BELOW are the pictures and some links of the video yours truly made.