Saturday, July 7

Valley Trail Challenge 2012 (57 Kilometer Trail Run)

I have been to the flat lands of Nuvali few years back as a crew to a race, all that I remember is the scorching heat of the sun while waiting for all the runners to be done and cross the finish line. One thing that a crew should endure, no matter what the situation is, one should not leave on his/er post until everybody is accounted at the finish line. Since then I wonder how the trail is beyond the post where we were assigned.

So when I hear about this race,  I really want to join despite my concern about transportation. The venue is few hours drive from the city and I haven't heard any of my running friends joining this race. I did not see it as a much concern though for I know come race day I will be able to find a ride. True enough I did, and able to bring along with me two more running friends. The original plan of sleeping overnight turns out to just be an early ride out of the city.

Upon reaching the venue, there are already lots of runners. After last minute preparation, I rush to get my bib number and  sign in. It is then the organizer announced that there will be a bonus of additional 7km on the course with an hour addition of the cut off time. Additional kilometer for mileage and fun, all I can think off at that time. After few more minutes I proceed to the starting line. Lots of familiar ultra runner faces. There are more runners at this time compared to the other trail runs that I attended in the past organized by the same group. The 50km runners will be released first then followed by the 25km runners 15 minutes after.

It has been raining the past days, the ground is wet. But this very day, despite the darkness of the night that will be illuminated soon by daylight, there is no sign of rain at all. But I am pretty sure there will be parts of the trail that will be muddy and wet. As soon as our group has been released, I just take my own time with my headlamp on. I feel having my torch on helps me choose a less muddy part of the trail. I do not want my shoes to get wet as early as this on the race. Some runners just go on running despite the darkness and they are still fine. After several minutes, the day breaks, the green bushes of the flat lands of Nuvali is now visible as far as my eyes can see. The magnificent view of the mountain range of Mt. Makiling gets visible as we run further. The view is just stunningly beautiful.

As the first ray of the sun comes out so as the  sign of a hot day ahead of us. Though temperature is still cool, I know this is going to be a hot run on the open trails of this place. There are just too little covered areas to cool us down. But I just enjoy the trail. The route is well marked, I manage to follow the trail and never been lost. There are few runners who got lost including some of my friends.

My very goal on this race is to test myself how fast I will perform on a shorter ultra distance. I am thinking of joining an ultra race in the next few months with an almost the same terrain with equally the same humidity with almost the same cut off time. This race could be my test how far I will perform. Having to reach the finish line within 9 hours covering 57 kilometers is my goal, having to achieve that goal I guess I will perform fine on a race with 10 hours cut off for a 60 kilometer distance.

As the race progresses, I covered longer distance, the weather temperature gets higher, the sun shines brighter and the horizon is just visible at its fullest. I just enjoy the trail, I pick up my pace as I go a longer distance, some runners catch up with me while I catch up with few runners too. It's a great feeling hearing other runners greeting me and even others calling by my first name.  And there  are more women pass by after me, to my count more than 10 of them. I just let it be. I am not on the race against any other competitors especially women  but rather I am up for my own time, up against my time on my last 50 kilometer trail run. I should at least be able to improve at this time.

It's undeniable that it's really getting hotter. The brightness of the sun that reflects on the bushes makes it more humid and hot. There isn't even any breeze that will somehow at least give some coolness on the air. But who am I  to complain, I just thought this is just another mileage to my heat training, whatever  that race be someday. On those parts of the trail that has stagnant water due to the rain the past days, I can't help but think how I wish I can cool myself on that very limited water but the color is just not appealing, it's dark brown. But no matter what the situation of the trail is nor the condition of the weather will be, I always find joy running on the trail running like a child.

I find refuge on the limited shaded areas with the tall trees that the trail passes by, and most especially on the aid stations that the event organizer set up. An option of cold water, pocari sweat or soda is such a sweet relief, with variety of food like  peanuts, muffins or variety of bread with a peanut butter filling. I really love it. They know exactly what runners need especially on longer distance races. The ice tubes is just the best. Because it was so hot, I fill my hydration bladder with ice tubes so that I will be drinking an ice cold water.  That was such a big help. Happiness.

I finish the first loop of 31 kilometers in a little over 4 hours, I still have the second smaller loop of 26 kilometers to get over with. After grabbing some food at the aid station near the finish line, I just proceed to the second loop. The thought that I have to go through that same trail on a hotter temperature under the heat of the sun is not so appealing anymore but I just have to go through with it.

There is one pebble that gets inside my right shoes even before I finish the first loop. With a hope that it will move towards the front part of my shoes in between my toes, I did not bother to remove it. But unfortunately it did not move at all but rather it just stayed on my heel. One mistake that I did I continue running, until towards the first aid station on the second loop, I can feel my heel  started to get hurt. Despite my thought that I should only refill water and ice tubes and grab some food, I really need to stop and fix my shoes. What a relief when the pebble was finally out. And I just continue on.

Towards the last 5 kilometers, with only finishing the race is all that I can think of, one of the marshal offered me an electrolyte drink and told me I am on the top 3 on the women's category on the distance that I am running but I need to push further for the next female is just too close behind me. With that in mind, I take the challenge of pushing further, taking one last sachet of power gel I just run. Despite the heat all I think is push further but with extra care not to injure myself. At that very moment I do not want to fail those who know my ranking, but it was such a big pressure to myself. As I run further, I can now hear the lady is right behind me. She was with a male pacer. With that I lost hope already, I know I cannot run faster anymore. But surprisingly she did not run ahead of me but instead she cheered for me to just hang on, continue a little further for we are almost on the finish line. And what made it more sweet, her pacer offered his last few liters of water to cool us both by pouring water on our heads, mine and the lady's. I am so grateful to both of them.

As we are on the final stretch on the cemented road towards the finish line, the two of them are just behind me and keeps on pushing me to just go. God, I sprinted and cross the finish line at 8 hours 24 minutes and 55 seconds. I rank second on the female category. And the lady is just five seconds behind me rank 3rd. I am glad she is still part of the top three for I owe it to her and to her pacer my being able to finish second.  That was a different rush. I was never that eager to finish the race on any of my other races.  I cross the finish line burned, I can feel the redness of my skin but really happy and grateful for the strength of being able to endure the race.

This race does not give out cash prices on the winners, but rather give out goods and stuffs. At this time I receive a pair of socks as a replacement to the one that I wore on the race that has a hole now, a headwear, a cap, and most of all a heaplamp that I have been longing of buying for sometime now. With the amount that I paid on the registration for this race, I am very much happy with what I receive, with all the food and the hydration at the aid station, plus the lunch at the finish line, the finisher shirt and medal and my goodies from bugging second on the women's category plus the friends that I have fun running with and the new running friends that I gain, I can say I am so happy with the worth that I paid for. It was a run full of fun and adventure again.

Another trail conquered, another mileage added. Up next will already be India run. 

Picture credit to Gey Enriquez and Katrina Constatino

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