Thursday, May 5, 2011

Heaven and Hell: My 1st Ultra Marathon, frontRUNNER's Coast to Coast Labor Day Ultra 65k "Only the Strong"

I am the Captain of my Ship, the Master of my Soul. I have always been drawn to life's challenges since I was a kid. I don't know if its just me but these challenges, mental for some but mostly physical have come to criss cross my path every now and then. The good thing about it, if it really something you call good is that I've always taken them head on, somewhat that might have cause some worries to those near to me. I apologize for that. So it was not a surprise that I took on the challenge of the marathon and without even blinking, the challenge of the ultra marathon. Perhaps it was something I need to unload in my bucket list. So there I was being the second one to register for the race while everyone else was running the Cebu Marathon. An early birdie, they gave me the free choice to choose my bib number. I chose the number 8. Luck would be on my side, so I wish at that time.

Team YYK Ultra @ Aleus Pension House, Toledo City. 10 hours before race time

The Preparation. I was a man with a mission. Nope there was no gargantuan task to speak of, just to finish the race. To finish the race..many would have called us crazy for running such distance. They even say that its takes a special kind of idiot to do it. That is why for all the thousand of runners out there, only 226 registered and that number is even the biggest number of participant for an event. This ultra marathon has been considered as the toughest route in the country rising to a staggering 3,500 feet above sea level!

The training has always been the harder part for me and I guess for everyone else. It just takes some so much of my time, the time for the family that sometimes I wonder if it is all worth it. This whole craziness, the running passion though a big part of me is not my entirely my life. I owe my wife and my kids big time for this. They have been very supportive but I know they have been quietly complaining already yet they let me be. I am humbled.

I have to admit I have never trained so hard than ever before. The preparation took me to new highs. It took 3 months of training to completely say I was ready and it was absolutely crazy! The preparation included among else runs (four of them) of over the marathon distance including a festive run in Hong Kong, a fat ass style, hamster mode run in cempark and a test run over the actual route in the mountains. My weekly mileage ramp up so high, it took me by surprise how my knees and my body could hold it up with more runs on the hills. I ate the hills week after week. I have become a mixed African overnight. By April and after the last test run, I was completely aware that I was mentally ready, but had lingering doubts with my physical strength.

TTB Glenn, Christian, Me and Boying at the Starting Line. Photo by Pam Apuhin

The Race Strategy. I plan everything. Its my cup of tea and would be again put to test on this race. "This race would be won by conserving your strength and delaying the fatigue on hamstrings and quads" I kept telling my other (crazy) staff running with me while huddled over for lunch in the office. We got 12 hours to run this one. We just did the last test run over the actual route and saw the elevation profile for the first time from my watch. There were two segments of the race. One is a 20k flat route followed by 40 kilometers of climbs and descent. We were already particularly aware that most of these climbs (20K) cannot be ran and if walked would decently put us around 13-14min./km. pace. We were also aware that there were a lot of downhills (20k) and learning to run them with ease and comfort would help. We were particularly aware too that these route would thrash our quads and hamstrings just like when we did the test run. To compound the problem would be the heat of summer which was absolutely a scorcher at noon time. So in the end, I have decided to do the following: 1. Ran the Galloway for the first 21k flat route and to run them at a turtle pace 1kilometer/1min. walk strategy. 2. Walk all inclines no matter how easy they may seem. 3. Learn to be a downhill specialist and run them fast. and lastly 4. Suck on nutrition and hydration every 30 mins. and salt caps every hour.

Elevation Profile

The Race. At exactly 4am on May 1, after some hard prayers and fellow introduction, 214 brave runners were released. The athletes and most readied runners took off smoking us and by the 2nd kilometer we were already almost at the back of the pack. We were not worried. "Stick to the plan, stick to the plan" I kept saying. Runner after runner passed us. We wanted to run with the Masters but they had the same plan as we did and were actually behind us. Doing the Galloway 1kilometer/1minute walk at 7:oo-7:30min. pace seems like too boring for most but it was actually more fun. We enjoyed the walk breaks every time the watch beeps! By the time we reach the foothills before the dreaded Cansomoroy climb, we were as fresh as ever. Here, there were lots of chika running with fellow TTB Ultradaddy Christian and Doc Benj. From there, we started to gain hold with some of the front runners. We allotted 3 hours for the first 21k and actually arrived ahead by 20 minutes.

My TTB Family (Angels in Heaven)@ C-Highway, Cansomoroy, Balamban

Heaven. Oh Cansomoroy, you art thou high. This is were we felt so helpless (lol). The 5 km climb is so steep that looking up you'll get stiff neck! Walking is even hard. This is where I met my wacky running family, the TTB! I was so happy to meet them and they look like angels in heaven. I thought were in heaven with all the mist and the clouds until reality strikes back (lol). I was still following my nutrition every 30 minutes, Nature Valley bars, boiled egg, biscuits and banana. I also didn't forget to hydrate every now and then. Since we knew the route ahead, we just kept on walking despite having intermittent flatter portions to conserved our fatigue levels. I was walking faster than usual and my staff swear they had a hard time catching me on my walks.

Walk the Hills. Sub Hangak!

By the time we reached the top towards the first downhill portions, we shifted to high gear occasionally bumping up our pace to 5:30min/kilometer. Thanks to the downhill lessons we've learned from elite runner and a good friend of mine Joel Cuyos (7th placer) and Master Edward tan Ting, I was actually enjoying the downhill portions. I was constantly checking my not to over stride and kept my feet low without bouncing them. This enabled me to actually "glide" these portions at ease.

Walking ra Ghapon!

Purgatory. KM39. By the time we reached the junction of barangay Cantipla and Sudlon, we were still at it. I allocated 6 1/2 hours to reach this portion and felt happy to have cut if off by an hour. I was already recalculating our finish time to 10 hours. Here I met idol Rodney Cabahug who was suffering ITBS on both knees. The warrior he is he prodded on. There were lots of talk too with fellow runner from TG Ryan Gonzaga. Master Jacob Ong soon caught us up and went ahead. The sun was beginning to be a scorcher at this time. At km45 going down from Leyson Peak and taking advantage of a cloudy portion, I took off and caught up with Jacob and did some pacing until we reached Ayala Heights. Like they all say that when you reach that portion, the race is on the bag. Big smile was on my face. This was the last checkpoint of the race and met race director Jonel Mendoza who gave us the thumbs up.

Rajahni, Me and Rodney at KM 41

Going Down towards Ayala Heights with Master Jacob Ong. Photo by Lorebelle Joy.

Hell. By the time I took off again on downhills, I lost Master Jacob. The heat has become tolerable to unbearable. It was noon time and they must be kidding us, the hottest day of the year so far! So far two of my staff was still with me, the rest fell off behind. Our two support crew vehicle also lost us and if not for the timely Ungo stations, we could have bonked out! This is where angels came to hell to save us. Team Waypaks supported us, as did Ungo. Richard Manila came several times to cool my body. There was unending support for all runners not just us! After finally making the last climb in Buak where I paced fellow TTB Boying Milan, it was all downhills from here. My left ITBS acted up a bit when I started to run again but didn't manifest when I ran faster so this is what I did for the next 8 km, ran the downhills fast!. I again met my fellow TTB but had to begged off to stop because of the injury.

Inita Oy!

The Ninja Turtle and Larry Aying towards JY. Photo by Jun Alicante

Heaven Once Again. When we reached JY, a sigh of relief was all over my face. I was 3km from finishing my first ultramarathon! I caught up with my idol Lolek Montalbo who was braved enough to run the course with an injury and was limping. I ask him if I could pace him and he asked back if its ok with me if we run-walk. I obliged. It was like a mutual respect for two brave, battered but unbroken warriors. We walked the last km to finish line and hugged each other after crossing the line.This day was ours. I was ranked no. 71 out of 191 finishers with an aggregate time of 9:25:22! I was happy with my time and wasn't expecting it. Just like in Hong Kong, this one will go to my books as one of the best run ever!

Walk of Fame. 100m to finish line

Mr mountain and Mr. Sun connived with each other to break our spirits, yet we never wavered till the end. This is a race I would never forget. I just sank me a now writing this that I did conquer the toughest ultra marathon route in the country!. Woot! Woot!

Proud finisher. 71st of 191 finishers. 9:25:22
Thank You. There are so many people to thank for, most of them nameless, strangers that I didn't know personally but like me shared a bond for the passion. I thank them with all my heart. Thank you Harold, my brother and Arnel for being our support crew. I would still loved to eat the lechon you ate while we were struggling at KM51 (lol). Thank you team Waypacks, Team Abbylicious for the unending support you gave us. Thank you Richard Manila who help me cool off and lend his support despite pulling out from the race. The biggest thanks to UNGO! Without you guys, I don't know. I don't want to know. You proved to me ever before that your the best group in town! Cheers! Thank you Mommy, Pia and Noah for bearing again what daddy loves to do. I don't know how to make it up with you guys but I will, I promise.

The Future. Would I ran an ultra again? Your guess is good as mine. Somehow I have been very "laagan" in the last 5 months. 2 international marathons and an ultra marathon, I couldn't ask for more. For now, its time to rest and indulge in everything I miss. I'll see you guys in the next race.

Tiger Look!

Before I go, I want to share something I read from a sign by the Aboitiz Group along the Transcentral Highway at KM37. This one sums it all. It says "Those who succeed are those who think they can."

Shoot and Run

Rumblings of a Cebuano on a pair of running shoes and a Nikon on one hand.

About Me

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Photography is my hobby, a long distance runner and an avid blogger, I consider traveling a dream and my family as my number one inspiration.