"What motivated me to do and finish that run?" A question lingers on my mind a day after I did the KOTM 100 kilometer race.
Having done an 80 kilometer road run a week before that, I have been thinking if I will really push for the race. I know it is not healthy jumping from one ultra race to the other with such short time interval, but the picture of the mountain trail keeps on popping my mind and the faces of my friends whom I know are joining the race too. More than my sore legs, I am more worried of my wounds that is about to heal from the chafe, rashes and blisters from the previous run. But I decided to give it a go anyway.
Upon arrival at the relax, quite and peaceful town of Kayapa, we are greeted by a warm welcome of the race organizer, few local officials and fellow runners. We settled on our hostel and proceed back to the municipal hall for the race briefing. It is an intimate one, attended by the runners of the 100 and 60 kilometer distance, by some local officials, the lead marshals and some support crew of the different stations. Upon seeing the list of runners, this is going to be a long run of just few attendees, 26 doing the 100k and 26 for the 60 kilometer distance. Detailed instructions, important reminders has been discussed during the race briefing for everybody's safety on the duration of the race.
Given the number of participants, I know very well this is going to be a run with a very big possibility of being alone on the trail most of the time. But of course I am hopeful to find a partner especially on the evening part.
As soon as we are released for the start of the race just few hours before the day breaks, I just take my time adjusting to the thinning air as I deal the first 5 kilometer uphill road that leads to the trail head. Most of my friends are already ahead of me. As I continue on, it has become a run on my own, sometimes passing by other runners and sometimes other runners pass by me. Even on the early part of the race, that has already been the pattern during the day time as I pass by one aid station to the next. The weather is great, the trail is perfect, the view is magnificent, the beautiful mountain range with the sea of clouds is visible. It is a perfect day for a race. Early part of the race, since I am running alone most of the time, I have to be very careful not to get lost, always mindful about trail signs and being on the right trail. But there are instances that a trail on the right, left and middle do not have any trail sign at all, probably the locals just find it too attractive that they get it. It's where intuition comes in, I have to take the chances and keep moving, and thank goodness on the four times that I encounter such situation, I am always led to the right trail.
I keep track of my pace and my time by consciously checking the distance versus the time based on my personal notes. Most often than not I arrive most of the time ahead by around 30 minutes or less on each aid station which is a good sign. Upon arrival at the 3rd station, at Kapaya Proper, most of my friends and roommates are there, resting and eating. I am glad I finally catch up with them. But they are ready to leave just before I even sit down and rest my legs and just after I ordered one glass of halo halo, a perfect refreshment after that long exposed trail. I decided to have it transferred to a disposable cup, I want to bring it with me while walking. My friends are fast and nowhere to be seen few minutes after they leave. As the race course changed from a paved road to a trail, I decided to leave my unfinished halo halo and concentrate on my business. Just before crossing the bridge I can now see some of them, unto the uphill portion, I continue on my uphill trek until I catch up with them. I just want to continue on until I reach the next station, the 56th kilometer mark of the course, with a cut off of 16 hours, I arrive few minutes beyond my target time but still happy I made it. I forced myself eat something, thanks to the variety of food available at the aid stations, I tried a little of everything even the hot noodles, for I can now feel I do not have that much appetite to eat anything. Before I leave to continue on the next station, I replenish supply, make sure I have with me some cold gear incase it gets cold in the night, bring out my headlamp, bring extra chocolates and change socks. Two of my friends arrive and I ask permission to go ahead, on my own.
It's getting late and I want to maximize what ever day light is left but when the dark of the evening strikes, I already instill to myself that there is a big possibility that I will be trudging this trail all by myself. The fast eight runners are already way ahead of me, and I am not too sure how long my friends whom I left at AS4 be able to catch up with me. I just have to do this by myself rather than wait for the next runner to arrive.
I reach the station of Dayap Elementary School alone and already dark but I am still within my target time. At this point, I know I am not taking enough food to replenish what is burned on my body, I forced myself to eat something and hope that I will have enough energy to sustain me. Then I left for the next station, the Ambasa/Banao Station. The community that I pass by always has one parting statement to me, that it is very far and it's going to be a long run/walk for me. True enough I spend most of my night at AS6 to AS7 the most awaited Ambasa/Banao turn around point and back to AS6. My projection of doing this part in just two hours takes me almost 3. I decided to proceed despite my being alone, you read it right, I have to be brave and deal with the present situation, to be mentally tough and physically alert with what possible condition I might encounter on the unfamiliar terrain alone in the dark. Early evening, the second runner of this race from Baguio is already on his way back, and he advised me to just be determined and persistent, sooner or later I will reach the most awaited next station. Later on I realized he was right, this part of the course is just really very very very long. What exactly was in my mind at that very moment? I was hoping not to be lost, so my mind is occupied of making sure that I am on the right trail, trail signs at some point has far intervals which I just have to rely on my intuition if I have to move forward hoping for a trail sign to be visible.
On my being alone in the dark, I come to realize I can overcome my fear of being attack by herd of cows with calves, and group of buffalos too. I saw one wild boar and some hugs. And most especially the dogs. I have no other way but to find ways how to overcome the several numbers of barking dogs when I pass by houses. The eyes of the cows are obviously bright when in the total darkness of the night. On those open areas, I just appreciate the beauty of the bright stars, the galaxy is so beautiful and it simply reminds me that I am just a minute part of this vast universe. The light of the quarter moon has become my companion all through out the evening. There are fireflies too and some bushes that glow every time the light of my headlamp hits the leaves and branches. It's beautiful to look at. But as I go further, I've been longing to reach the aid station of Isko, it seems like this place is just really taking forever. At some point I thought, "Oh Isko, where are you? How far will this be to where you are?" Oh well, I just have to be persistent, making sure that I am on the right trail, keeping myself busy looking for the next trail sign. When alone and dark, the trail sign is my only companion and assurance that I am on the right track.
After an hour, I already meet runners coming back from the station of Isko. It was the pair of BoyP and X first, which they said it took them 45 minutes walking pace to reach the station from where we are, then two remaining pairs of male runners followed with almost an hour interval. I wish the same too, having a partner especially on this part of the trail but that is something that I really cannot have. I just walk further and further until finally I can hear the barking of the dogs, I know now that I am on a community again, some steady light makes it a sign that probably somewhere on that dark place will be the next aid station that I have long been hoping to reach. True enough few more meters, I finally arrive where Isko is stationed. Being a first female, tackling this part of the trail alone is a surprise to them, but I might as well deal with it than wait for the next runner. I am almost an hour late from my target time. Isko is kind enough to offer whatever food is available at his station: hot soup, hot chocolate drink, oatmeal, rice, canned tuna. In as much as want to take everything, my body can just take so much. I settle on drinking the soup while he gave me rice with tuna. He is kind enough to offer me a seat and a chair where I can bring up and relax my legs, he even offer to take off my shoes which I did not do anymore. Hiya naman ako. The fleece blanket that he give me keeps me warm while I am replenishing my food intake. I stayed longer hoping that some runner behind me will be able to catch up, at this point I already prefer to be trudging that trail back with someone else. I am already 20 minutes on the station but still no one arrived. I decided to leave on my own.
Knowing the trail ahead of me as this is just tracing back the trail I go through for almost 3 hours earlier up to the last aid station before this, I am a bit confident I can do it on my own. But still the same, I just have to be very extra careful on the treacherous part of the trail and be alert on the trail signs. Even if it's just reversing the process I did earlier, still I need to be alert so as not to get lost. As I move on, I still did not notice light of a headlamp coming, no sign yet of any runners coming.
As I continue on, one major challenge pop up, I started to get sleepy as I deal the darkness of the night as it gets deeper. Oh my, this isn't good at all. Taking a nap at any part of the trail is not an option at all. I have to fight for it. First strategy is washing my face with cold water. It works but only for a very short time. I bring out my roasted spicy peanut. It works well, I become alert again but because I really do not have that much appetite I also cannot take that much. I decided to bring out my chewing gum, my very last option of fighting this challenge. And it gives the energy boost that I needed and keep me awake and alert again. At some point I met my friends still going to the last station that I've been to. It's getting late and I am running late on my guide target time. Upon reaching the road, I just enjoy my time being alone until I am back at the station. I haven't been eating almost anything, even energy gels. I despise whatever I put to my mouth even water. I tried but my stomach just cannot take it. I forced myself to slowly have something for I know I needed it to finish the race.
And I continue on, as I come back to the last station, I use the rest room, replenish food, bring some sandwiches with me then leave. It will be another 3 kilometers road run before reaching the next station. My light is now blur, I do not have with me any spare battery. I pass by two more 100K male runners, they are taking their time as well, so I go ahead of them. What is also difficult being alone is no one can encourage me to move faster. I just take my own sweet time, it take me sometime before I reach the last station. Finally the very last one before the finish line. My 3rd drop bag is here, the marshals offered me some food but because my throat cannot swallow anything anymore, I am confused what to eat. I still have one piece of pear on my drop bag, I eat it, surprisingly my stomach is ok, my throat accepts the food, I can swallow it. But this does not have much sugar nor carbo so I know sooner or later I will feel hungry again. I bring with me sandwiches as reserve.
Before I leave for the final 14 kilometer of the race, the two runners arrived, I asked them if I can join them at this time, but they said they will not proceed anymore but rather ask for a vehicle that they can ride back to the finish line. That made me sad but I do not want any negative thoughts at this time. Quitting at this time is not an option for me at all. This means I will have to tackle the last 14 kilometer of this race alone. It's still dark. I asked one marshal to lead me to the trail head to make sure I will not be lost. This is the first part of the trail where we run early morning yesterday. With my legs now sore, body tired and not eating so much food nor drinking enough water to sustain me, the last part is just really difficult. At some point I have to call the organizer to make sure if I am on the right trail for I am not seeing any trail sign anymore. The surrounding is full of fog and it's cold. I continue on until the day breaks. I am now on the trail for more than 26 hours. Upon reaching the rough road, trail sign becomes less that at some point I did a wrong turn, so ironic I get lost on the day time. I just continue a super slow run on the long and winding rough road. Despite my slow pace I know I have enough time to finish the race within cut off time. I did not mind anymore on what possible overall position I will be on this race. At some point I get scared I might collapse due to dehydration. All I am hoping is being able to cross the finish line and be able to represent a female finisher on this race.
Upon reaching the paved road I now know I am almost there, when I can vividly hear the sound of the running vehicles, the sound of the gong, I know I will make it on the finish line with both feet still on the ground. The 11th finisher, the only female to finish this race in 27 hours and 58 minutes. I am happy to see the smiling faces of the people at the finish line, that of the organizers', my fellow runners and that of the supporters. That has been a long run alone, but despite that I am grateful I finish it. It was tough, at some point a question of what am I doing to myself cross my mind but it is funny how the mind can easily forget all of it when able to conquer all the difficulties and gloriously cross the finish line with a smile.
This is one great race, the course is brutal yet the aid stations are strategic enough that one can recover after a difficult course. There are lots of variety of food to choose from, flowing supply of water and energy drinks, support crew are attentive to our needs. I salute all the winners for a strong finish, I congratulate all the runners who brave themselves to even be at the starting line and join this race. I thank the marshals and the organizer for all their help and encouragements. It is a successful event, a well organized one.
Another ultra race conquered.