Sunday, March 3

Hardcore100 (H1) 2013 - How Hard Can It Get

February 27, 2013, exactly three days after my second attempt for a hundred mile race, I received this very comforting message from a trail runner friend from Baguio, Alexander Canilao Cenzon:

You did a good job on your H1 Che - No Shame!!!
 - many more mountains to climb
- i wish you well

and not only the comforting message but an inspiring quote too. So sweet of him to take time to think of me. Honestly, reading this post really gave me a teary eye that day. I was too quite in facebook and on my blog after the race, I was occupied with lots of things, I had to make sure my runner friends from Malaysia and Singapore were well taken cared off, able to go back to their respective countries safe though I cannot offer the best of accommodation for them on their very short stay in Metro Manila. And aside from that I had to insert two main events at work leaving my lady runner friend to my sisters while I was at work. Two days after Amy left, another dear friend from Malaysia  also arrived for another race the coming weekend. That really kept me so busy that I did not have the chance to write my race report nor post the very few pictures that I had until Sir Jonel texted me to please post some pictures taken on the race.

But honestly, I really do not know what to write and how to start my race report.  I ended my year 2012 with a DNF on a hundred mile trail run covering 134km as my longest. And here I am on my second attempt to finish the same distance yet seems like finishing such course is just really too difficult to attain. I encounter a different concern at this time compared to my TD race last December.

Pre Race
I know the race course will be tough, it will not be given 4 points as a qualifying race for UTMB for nothing.  The additional 60km from that of what I did on last year's KOTM race I know will be a big challenge, the hundred kilometer alone last year was already tough. How else can I prepare to that, run as long as I can. As much as I wanted to join the recon scheduled few days after christmas, I just cannot, had to choose between going home or spend the christmas in the city.

So months prior to the race, I had been running like hell, run on all the times that I can, on roads, rough roads, trails,  technical trails, short distance, long distance. I do not follow any specific training calendar in preparation  to all my races, I just run and do the distance that I feel like running.

Travel to Kayapa
Though we left Manila Wednesday evening really hot and humid, the weather forecast on the days to come on the mountain slope of the Cordilleras has been wet and rainy. Our travel of 8 hours by private car has been smooth with few stops in between, Alen needs to take a rest from driving. Thanks to him for his tenacity to drive back and forth despite the agonizing race that we all go through. Early morning of February 21, few kilometers before reaching the quiet town of  Kayapa, it already started to drizzle. We settled on our lodge that Ate Tess happily opened her house to us, it's just few steps away from the starting line (which is the Municipality Hall of Kapaya) and her home cooking really makes us all so at home.

Race Briefing
At around 10:00am few hours after we settled at our lodge the briefing started. All familiar faces, same ultra runners gathered from different parts of the country with few foreign runner friends,  with one goal in mind, to finish the race. Distribution of race bib numbers and freebies followed by the Race Director's instructions especially that of the trail signs and markers while the fried sweet potato has been passed around with a cup of local coffee, kapeng barako. An early carbo loading for all of us.  The race is going to be wet and rainy, uttered the RD. In fact it has been discussed the possibility of not being able to go to the summit of Mt. Pulag and just go through the Grassland area due to below freezing temperature. Oh no, am I really prepared for the cold weather, but as what my dear friend told me through his sms message to me "it's going to be cold, but surely this will be better than hot race'. All I thought as well.

After we prepared our drop bags, it was a time to relax, take more sleep and rest, few hours later it started to rain, and the wind is blowing. Indeed this is going to be a wet and cold race.

Race Proper
An hour before the start of the race, we already checked in. It was cold and few more minutes it started to drizzle. I am caught between bringing out my jacket but the coolness was still bearable. I thought this will just be at the start for once we will be released  the first few meters of uphill will already warm up my body.

Standing at the starting line with the rest of the 42 brave runners was a mix emotions, I am really excited to be running again on this familiar playground yet I am anxious how things will go especially on this cold and wet weather. Hoping for the best yet preparing for the worst, I run side by side with my friends as soon as we were released at exactly 12:00 midnight of February 21.

Indeed as I move further my body started to warm up and feel the heat despite the coolness of the place. The drizzle that started more than an hour ago did not stop but rather it continue its slow down pour. With my headlamp on, it is evident that it has been raining the past days. Some parts of the trail were really wet and muddy. But I was just running with a heart like a child. I reached the first check point with an hour to spare but I noticed I was already wet from the rain and the sweat. After I replenish my water and food, I decided to bring out my red TNF gortex jacket. I do not know if it was such a good idea not putting on my jacket early on but what I know at that point I need to put it on.

I proceed with my run to the next check point, I arrived with 30 minutes to spare, ate whatever food available and drink any hot drink the marshal can offer. I was already drenched in the rain, cold and wet all over.  I saw the rice and chicken soup which was suppose to be the food of the marshals, I ate it and bringing a hot choco as I proceed to the next station already wet all over including my shoes. Anything inside of me is already wet.

As the day breaks on this cold rainy foggy Friday, one can still see  the beautiful terrain, the pine trees that carved on the mountain slopes on the area are just really magnificent, the mountain range on the horizon as far as my eyes can see are just awesome. I already have my share of being lost even before the day breaks and almost another one even on a broad day light, after an uphill intersection where trail sign was put few steps before reaching the intersection, wishing for a follow up trail sign I tried to trace both direction and decided to proceed to the left with the hope that my instinct will serve me right again  this time. Thank God it did. Until I reach on the water irrigation, I was with other runners at first until I was all alone following the trail on the irrigation. At a junction, a spray paint was marked on the rock up above the junction followed by a yellow ribbon few more steps further hanged on a bush at the middle of the trail. I proceed straight on the trail. Trekking further, it's just impossible to run on a a soft trail beside the water irrigation, I am  too afraid to fall in the water. Until as I went farther, I met Doc Toto and Pat, they said its a wrong trail. We traced backwards, until we met other runners as well. Until there were more than 10 runners all wet and cold met at the same place,  on the water irrigation junction not knowing where to proceed. Other runners arrived from the direction where we come from, they said they reached up to the water falls and it was dead end, no more trail further. Since there was no mobile signal, the group decided that others will trace the trail  backwards and hoping that they can get assistance from the locals while others trace the trail down that some runners already did earlier. So us left were like wet chicks waiting at the junction helpless. I know for sure my estimate time of 3 hours to the next check point is already put into vain.

Until the other runners who traced the trail backwards finally came back with local kids that will lead us the way. It was the trail down that was the right one. We rushed with speed with the hope of catching the time that has been lost. I arrived the next station with so many time lost but still hopeful that I will be able to catch up. Soaked from rain, I just grab noodles, egg, boiled banana, pee and proceed to the uphill part to the summit of Mt. Pulag. The trail is an uphill terrain, first part is an open  trail,  I just take my slow yet steady pace of going up, until I reach the mossy forest area. The terrain looks familiar, the same as  how it looks like on the other side of the mountain. This part is just a very gradual and slow ascend around the mountain side. Hoping to see the Telecommunications Tower that has been mentioned on the map after several hours of running inside the forest, that did not happen at all. All I thought is probably because the weather is just too bad, the rain and wind get stronger and the fog just engulf the scenery that I know could have been beautiful on a nice weather condition. Starting to shiver as I am already running on small freezing pond of water on the trail, I just hope to see the grassland area. I know that will be a sign of hope for us but that did not happen too soon. I was with the Baguio runner Jojo which will be his first time on this mountain.

True enough when we reach the open grassland, it was just too cold, the wind was still blowing though the rain is just a steady slow drops. All the more I encountered small ponds of water on the trail on freezing cold temperature. I started to chill and shiver which I guess is an early on set of hypothermia. One thing I know I just have to keep moving to Ranger Station to have something hot and warm and my dry clothes are there too and the shelter for sure will give me so much comfort.

Having been to this mountain for more than 5 times, I know exactly how the trail down goes. It will be a more relaxed and easy downhill terrain but honestly not a short one too. It has been evident that this part of the course has no trail sign for the race anymore. It has been discussed by the RD on the race briefing that in order to lessen and not to add up to the garbage of the place, he decided not to put any trail sign anymore, the trail is established anyway. Which was really a good intention.

As I traversed down, Doc Toto and Pat catch up with me again, we run down together. We reached the next checkpoint 3 hours behind my target time but with almost 2 hours to spare to the official cut of time. I was cold and I was chilling like no other. Thanks to the help of the marshals on this area, they guide us to the open fire with boiling chicken soup and hot rice, they prepared big plastic bags for us as an addition to our insulation to keep us warm. After taking off almost everything on me that was wet, including socks but not my shoes though, replenishing everything, at exactly 6:00pm we left the station to the next with 12km distance to traverse. Pat, Doc Toto, and one more runner target to reach this place in an hour and a half.  Even if they said this part will all be down hill terrain still my estimate is a conservative of 3 hours. I know I just cannot run that fast. A lot of runners already DNF somewhere and others did not make it to the cut off at the grassland and some even at the Ranger Station.  I was the 3rd and the last female who left and continue on this race.

It was cold and the wind just continue to blow now even stronger. So even with our big blue plastic bag that is way below my knee, I can still feel that it is cold. The strategy of the group, to run fast on the downhill road with lots of gravels and stones to warm up our body. Doing this in the dark is a challenge with very cautious of looking for the trail signs on the side of the road as well. At some point the group has to back track to the junction where we almost started for we did not see any trail sign anymore and ask the only house near the road if we are indeed on the right trail to the next station, Balete. Indeed it was the right trail, there was just no trail sign to be seen. As soon as the direction got confirmed my 3 friends just rush their way down leaving me and Jojo on the trail. I just take my sweet time, I cannot run any faster on this downhill uneven terrain. It was a long way down, an hour passed until another hour did until almost another hour passed again, Balete Station is still nowhere to be seen. Until we see lights coming to our direction, our 3 friends looking for the station too. All the while I thought they just zoom to the next station, here they are just like us still at the middle of nowhere looking for the station. We entered a community with houses but since it's already past 8:00 in the evening, locals are already on their deep sleep. Few trail signs are visible but not followed by few more which leaving us to where we will go next. Until one house opened for us and the station we are looking for has to be 10 more minutes from where we are. We rushed to that direction until finally we found the place. My estimate time was just right, 3 hours from the last station. Two more foreign runners from Singapore DNF on this station. Forcing to eat something for few minutes despite a noticeable minor acidity again on my stomach, we left to the next station, at this time back to Banao. We already go as a group with one goal in mind, to reach the next station on the fastest possible pace. With Pat leading the group, we  just run. But alas even on the first few steps after we left the station, our group got divided, 3 went up the mountain slope, while Jojo and myself went down with the same goal,  look for the trail sign that leads to the next station. I went further down first but for almost half a kilometer I still cannot see any trail sign at all. The same thing goes with our friends who are up on the mountain slopes now above us. We decided to go up again while 3 of our friends decided to go down. Until we agreed, we will take our chances of tracing the trail that I first tried to look for trail sign. True enough after more than half a kilometer of running,  we finally see the trail sign.

Pat decided to go ahead of the group, there are 4 of us left. The three of the guys just run to their fasted stride. I am the last on the pack, I told them to just go ahead and I will follow them. This is not an easy one, running on my full stride on a total darkness wet, cold, windy with my headlamp as my only light. The downhill part is fun the uphill terrain I had to push hard while mindful where the rest of the group are now leading. The three runners ahead of me are the ones looking for the trail signs making sure that we are on the right track. We crossed several  treacherous hanging bridges that is wet following the direction of crossing it one at a time, until we seemed to be lost and cannot figure out where will the next trail be. Another hour passed until another hour passed until we come across with another runner George sleeping all alone on the waiting shed with wet clothes on with out any dry cover from the freezing cold environment and slowly eaten by the small blood sucking leeches. We tried to convince him to join us but he said he is done for the day and decided to stop. In my case,  I am still hopeful that we will have enough time to reach the next station. As I always mentioned to them, for as long as we have the time, we will proceed and not give up.

It seems like we are going round and round on this two mountain slopes for several hours now without having the chance to reach the next station. The one that leading us is no where to be seen while Jojo tried to move ahead and hope to see the right trail while I was left with Doc Toto. We did not stop the search for trail signs, the spray paints when wet and foggy and dark and the visibility is almost down to zero is just not too visible. The combination of 3 trail signs, yellow, blue and reflectorized gray becomes confusing when already at the middle of nowhere. With no mobile signal, we tried to trace back wards, forward, cross again the bridges with the hope that we will be out of this place but to no avail. Until almost 6:00am when we were just too tired, Doc Toto and myself just decided to sit down at a small clear area in the middle of the small rice terraces, exposed to the strong cold winds, the continues droplets of rain and the many blood sucking leeches, the ground is wet and muddy. Been on the trail for almost 30 hours now, we were just too tired to move further and just decided to take a power nap. We know too well that the cut off time to the two more station is by 6:00am. And I just have to surrender and give up the thought of finishing the race and accept the fact that this is another 100 mile DNF for me. But at least I know that I did a good fight. It took us another 5 more hours to reach back the race headquarters after trekking further to Banao, take more than an hour of motorcycle ride on a slippery muddy road and finally fetched by the organizing car back to the basecamp. It was one big race and I learned a lot from it.

After Thoughts
I will have almost a year to train for this race, work on my speed and do more trail runs the coming months. I promised myself to do this race again, I will never get tired of running on the mountain slopes of this area and will always run with tenacity and  a heart like a child whenever I can with the following lessons in mind:

1. If the weather started to drizzle, I should never hesitate to put on a light jacket or a plastic trash bag so as not to be totally wet early part of the race.

2. Maximize the day light, run further and faster so that one can get out of the area where it is less populated and treacherous. The only way is to run faster.

3. Have one spare good trail running shoes at the first drop bag station. You might need it very badly when you arrive there.

4. Have one good spare headlamp too. When the weather gets too wet and the headlamp that you have been using for several hours gets wet and busted, it's  reassuring that you still have one good left to use.

5. Never hesitate to get a pacer. When the going gets tough having someone that will keep your sanity while finishing the remaining kilometers of the race is always comforting.

6. Practice and practice more.

My two cents of thoughts about the race:
On Trail Signs 
The trail itself is already tough, that is given and that is what runners are there for, to test it's limits beyond one can imagine. My not being able to finish this race the  first attempt does not mean that I will give up, I still try my luck again next time. I do not know if others will view my thoughts as  whining,  but I'd like to think I wish there could be more trail signs available on the route, a more clearer one, that which is strategically placed especially on the junctions, that which is more visible especially on the night when it rains and gets so foggy. I always believe that in trekking and/or trail running, a trail sign is the lifeline of a trekker/runner. When the going already gets so tough, seeing a trail sign is an assurance that I am on the right track. And why not put more, after a junction follow it up with few more trail signs. An arrow signage is also a good assurance that we are going on the right direction. When the trail is used twice (on going to and coming back) the direction is just too confusing where to go even
with trail signs tied on the bushes and hanged on the trunk of the trees.

Spray paints are useful but not visible anymore on nighttime when it rains and foggy and every thing is wet.  An x mark is very useful for runners not to proceed to the wrong direction, put more of this one.

For the benefit of the foreign runners, it is still best to put a trail sign on the trail from the grassland to the ranger station. For a runner like me who has been to the area several times, it is all fine but for first timers it is confusing for them where to go after seeing several minor trails that leads to different directions.

On Safety Measures
For a hundred mile race on a remote area where mobile signal is not accessible,  how else can one put safety measures on the race. As observed in the past few ultra races, this has not been a practice here but while I was trudging the mountain left with Doc Toto to rely my life on if something will happen to me, I thought to myself, what if George will suffer of hypothermia while deciding to stop from the race and just sleep on an area exposed to extreme cold, or what if something happens to me while crossing the slippery hanging bridge and I will fall to the river with big boulders, this might be too extreme but something like this is bound to happen be it sooner or later, be it on the this race or on another long race in the future. What measures has been set to address such.

A sub mini stations in between station could be a help probably, or a roving marshal in between station especially on the critical parts could be a help? Just a wild thought, an idea that come out.

Do I sound like I whine over a race that I did not finish? Or sound bitter for others were able to cross the finish line while I did not? Or sound frustrated over a race that is another DNF on my list?  - I don't want to think it that way. I just thought if there is something that can be improved on the thing that I love most doing, why not. I am just voicing my cents of opinion on what I thought is for the benefit of everyone. 

Overall, the organizer did a great and fantastic  job. The stations are well stocked with variety of food to choose from. Hot drinks and noodles are available, marshals on the stations know how to comfort the needs of the runners. The freebies are overflowing, the warm welcome is overwhelming. There are just few things needs to be improved and fine tuned on minor yet major parts of the race.

I congratulate all the finishers for being so tough and strong,  I salute all the starters for being so brave and  courageous  to start the race, I thank the organizer for doing their best and I am always grateful to all the station marshals for enduring the cold weather and sleepless nights just to be able to serve each one of us.

Til the next ultra adventure.

Facts about the race:
100 mile race (160kilometer)
30,000 feet elevation gain
6 degree Celsius temperature
2 days of non stop rain
46 hours race cut off time
43 starters/believers
4 lady runners started
 12 finishers/warriors
1 lady runner finished

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