Tuesday, May 7

TNF100 PH 2013 - A Repeat with a Twist

I can't ask for more, God gave me the strength to finish the race despite my physical condition at that time. It may be a stubborn call for me to proceed knowing how tough the course ahead of me. But I made it and will always be thankful and grateful.  

A day before I left for HK100 this year, a friend from TNF informed me that the registration for this year's TNF100 has been open and they invited me to be part of the early registrants. Without hesitation I give it a go. Few months after,  I realized, what had I put myself into again. Being one of the  33% and  the last and 6th female finisher of the same course and the same race last year, I know exactly how difficult this race is going to be. But there is always this side of me that wanted to test myself again how far I can go. I got myself into it again, I might as well face it just like how I did it last year.

I did my usual routine, training runs several months prior to the race, but I know it was not as often as the preparation that I did last year. I even did not log longer mileage at this time. And weeks before the race, I had several nights of lesser sleep and more so on the night before the race. Our original plan of where we are going to stay turn out to be too far from the starting line which we decided to do a last minute search for a place where we can stay for the night. A very dear friend came to the rescue and offer his place, a 3 hour of not so good sleep is much better than no sleep at all.

An hour before the gun start,  we finally arrive at the starting/finish ground at Camp John Hay. Another gathering of runners who said yes to the challenge of running the 100km distance, majority are familiar faces whom I run with last year and few new faces aiming to finish this famous brutal route of TNF race. After I finally settle my things, my big bag to the baggage counter, gear check and race check in, final bladder unloading which is just at the dark side of the activity ground behind the bushes. Finally, I am ready at the starting line waiting for the final count down. Few picture taking with running friends, one interview by a TV Channel and few good luck wishes to friends running the same distance. 

I really cannot describe what I exactly feel at that moment.  More than the excitement, I am more anxious for the race to start so that I can get over with it soon and be over with the race a day after. A thought of finishing earlier than my time last year came to my mind, why not, I can go for an earlier finish this time. As soon as we are released, the usual, I just do my slow running pace on the familiar trail still on the wee hours of the night with the illumination of my headlamp as my only light to make a sure landing on the familiar trail inside John Hay. I started to enjoy as soon as I get my rhythm. The weather is perfect, the coolness of the place is just right for a start of the run.

After 40 minutes I pass by the very first Aid Station, still dark, I continue on. The first 8.4km is over and I am way ahead of my an hour and a half projected time on this part. Almost 10km to the next Aid Station,  though I reach the station much more earlier than last year, at this time I am just really very conscious that I should do it faster. And despite my faster pace as early as going to Aid Station 2, I can already feel the effort of pushing myself ahead than enjoying the beauty of the place. Running on my own, I sometimes catch up with other runners and sometimes other runners catch up after me. As I move to AS3, I can already feel my push on all the uphills and I feel like it's longer this time compared last year. I feel like the road goes on forever, I stop at the house for a cold soda just how other runners did. A minor stop from a rolling road is a good break on this unending road.

As I reach the most awaited Philex Ridge, the trail on my way to AS4, this part of the course really never fails me. Despite my push to move faster, one will never pass this part of the course without noticing the beauty of the place. It's just simply beautiful. And thank goodness, we are greeted by a cloudy morning, this part is an open and exposed ridge, the morning sun is hiding behind the clouds. The fog continuously move from one side of the ridge to the other making the view surreal. I continue with my steady pace but if last year I was just running like a child, this time I notice every kilometer of the distance, I vividly remember where will the next uphill slope be  even before going to the next covered part.

I am too conscious with my hydration and the hammer perpentum that my friend Amy left for my use, aside from my elete drink give me so much pleasure. I like the milky taste of it. So I am alternating the hammer perpentum as my main drink with my chia seeds with drops of elete electrolyte solution on one 500ml bottle and plain water on the other bottle. My food intake on the other hand though was not too often as noticed. It is just a  bite of cookie and chocolates in between stations. I reach AS 4 10:30am, exactly the same time as last year. I grab some food again (pan de coco is my favorite at this time), and thought of pushing further, eating while slowly trudging the unpaved road now slowly exposed to the sun. At this time, the sky cleared and the sun is already out. This is going to be a 12km mostly graveled  downhill road. I remember how I suffer on this part last year.

Even before reaching the most downhill part of this route I can already feel the heat of the sun. As soon as  I arrive the house that I ate solid meal a year ago, I asked for ice cubes, of course they do not have one, I forgot this part of Benguet do not have electricity yet.   I settled of pouring cold water on my head from the free flowing water in the faucet and drink very small amount of coke just to quench my thirst and craving of it though I know I should not take any of it. I did not take the offer of  eating solid food at this time. Few more minutes I proceed with my run walk pace.

And I come to the downhill part of the open road of Ligay. It's hot, as expected the road is uneven, steep, downhill, compact with gravel and stones. I just maintain my steady pace with so much care, I cannot run any faster, I have to be extra careful, I always aim to be injured free. Lots of thoughts going through my mind. I have to deal with the terrain for I am already here. And when I saw a runner in front of me bringing out his umbrella, I thought I should have brought my own, it could have helped with the situation. Until I reach the paved part, it's a mixed emotions, I know I am finally near the mid point of the course but the scorching heat of the sun is really killing me. The heat that comes from all directions, above, from the ground and the reflection from the bushes and the trees, just how it was a year ago.

I finally reach Kenon Camp 1 a little over 2pm, a little faster than my time a year ago, I am burned, hungry, thirsty and tired. As  I approach the aid station, I can see Des waiting for me. I can't wait to sit down and have something cold to drink. He said our things are at the right most part of the area. At the tent where most of the runners ahead of me are resting including my friend Allen and my dear friend  Merlita. I wanted to stay with them but even before reaching that part I already see an ice cold water and ice blocks at the water station, I refill my water bottle, asked for ice cubes and pour ice cold water on my body. It was really too hot. I asked for halo-halo, and it is available, I've been wanting to have one few hours before this time. As I reach the area where my midway drop bag is, I compose myself, refill my electrolyte drink, change my rain jacket, brought bonnet and gloves, and add more food to prepare me for the next half of the race, all of this while eating my halo halo alternating with pan de coco. It just really feel so good eating something very very cold. What I did not foresee is that I did not have anything solid yet since the very last aid station almost 4 hours ago.

 The pan de coco just cannot sustain me that long. After my toilet break which finally feels relief after doing number two, Des and Shai forced me to take rice and chicken. As I do not have the appetite anymore, I force myself to take some bites of the chicken but not even a spoon of rice. After few more minutes I left. That was not even 15 minutes of break.

At almost 3pm I proceed. This is going to be a long slow uphill exposed trail still under the scorching heat of the sun to AS6. I just take my own slow pace pushing uphill. The ice cubes that I brought with me that I put on my buff at my nape helps cool me down while exposed to the heat of the sun. An in-between sub station is situated with readily available flowing water is a big relief as well. Few meters upon entry on the road is another sub station with medics waiting for the runners, I asked for another set of ice cubes for what I carried already all melted away. Now on the road a little past 4 in the afternoon, a bit cooler than earlier. I just make a slow pace run. This is still going to be few kilometers on the rolling road. Upon reaching AS6, I grab another block of ice while refilling my water bottle and grabbing some bites of fresh banana. After few minutes I proceed. Now almost all on an uphill road.

The unending uphill road starts my uphell journey. Already tired, I can feel my energy starting to get low. I tried to boost it with some chocolate bites but to no avail. This will be my 5th time on this trail, I know exactly where it will led into, the turns, the ups and downs, the forest and the hills, the switch back on the mountain slopes and the several wooden gates that I have to cross over. I met  Ate Josaw early on and she nicely asked what I need she offered chocolates which I refused, egg and boiled camote which I grab the egg and slowly eat while trudging the unending uphill road. As it gets dark, so is my energy really getting lower and lower. I traversed the first uphill part inside the forest, all by myself. I accepted to myself that on this race I have to be ready to face the trail in the dark ALONE. True enough I did. Despite the darkness, I prayed I will not encounter any snakes on the trail. I do not know what to do if I will encounter one. I was literally alone with the sight of the blinker that serve as my guide, and the reflectorized ribbons ahead of me keep me company. Still the usual event flaglets that serve as the main trail signs are a big help. I did not see any light from a headlamp infront nor behind me. It just simply means I am on my own.

As I was finally out of the forest and face the switchback trail on the mountain slope under the big pine trees, I really felt sooooooo sleepy, very sleepy. I tried to push myself but to no avail, until at the flat area that is a very good place to rest, I decided to stop. One group of runners catch up with me, they are Ariel's group. They advised to me to take gels, any gel that I have. I tried to swallow the entire one sachet, it helped. It's a struggle, I have to make sure the slimy substance sinks into my stomach otherwise I will vomit it. Ariel gave me a menthol candy which is a big help of putting another flavor to the taste of the gel. Few more minutes they have to advance, it is just too cold for them to stay. As much as I wanted to stay, I move slowly with them, being the last runner on the group. Until few more kilometers, I pass by the group of Sir Jonel, taking a rest on the grass beside the sub-station with marshals on tent. I forced myself to swallow few more gels, and decided to lie down with them. It was cold, but the sky is bright with the glittering of the starts. Few more minutes they move. I decided to move with them.

Then we noticed the group of Ariel came back, they thought they were on a wrong trail. Two groups of almost 10 runners on the trail. As usual I am on the tail end until the group of Sir Jonel move ahead. I am left with Ariel. On our way down to the trail towards the road to Sto Tomas peak, Ariel is just too  sleepy as well. I welcome his request for a rest, I needed more minutes of nap. We did, take something solid first then a nap for 5 minutes. It seems like it was just too short. But I have to move on with him. A slow ascend on the rough road, until I reach the last intersection before it enters the road to the peak. It is getting cold. I decided to put on my jacket, and while the others decided to move Ariel and myself decided to take another nap, 10 minutes. Another sub station is set up and is watching on us. Even if I still want to stay longer, I cannot, it's getting colder on the open and I won't have no one with me on the trail. One of the marshal give us a cookie which I accepted. I slowly eat the cookie while trudging the uphill part on my slowest pace. I am just really very tired and sleepy.

This part towards AS7 is going to be a slow ascend and in my case a very slow ascend. I am way ahead the cut off time, Ariel is nowhere to be seen and I catch up with one runner who paced with me. Upon reaching the water station of AS7, I vomit again, all water. The marshal got alarmed, he wants to assist me to the medic area, but I told them I will be ok, I just have to let it out. True enough I feel better after I vomit. I drink water and proceed down. Major Ron catch up with me, he said we are going to take a nap at AS8 and zoom ahead. This will just be a 2.9km to AS8 but on a downhill rough road with gravel and stones. One doctor assists me which I insisted no need for him to do that for I will be fine. He needs to assist other runners as well at AS8 which he really has to go down. I proceed ahead of him, until he stopped where his 4x4 car is parked. I told him I wish to take a ride with him but of course I cannot do that for I am still on the race. He went ahead, on his car while I continue on with my snail pace walk.  Until Alen catch up with me on the road. At first we were together, until he went ahead again on the last kilometer. I was already on my auto pilot mode, eyes closed with trekking pole served as my guide while moving forward. Several times I noticed I am already at the side of the road, but one instance that scared me the most was when I was already only a meter to the cliff of the road. Oh shoot, this is not going to be a safe thing for me. I forced myself to keep awake, and move until finally I reach the most awaited AS8. Lots of runners, lots of volunteers, lots of medics and most of all variety of food to choose from. A line of chairs were set up for runners to rest while taking break and eating. The chicken sothanghon soup was a very big relief but I did not take any other solid food. I decided to bring with me boiled banana.

I thought I should trek down with Alen, the next 8km part is the most treacherous of all. I cannot afford to be alone on this trail on this ungodly hour of the night, if I have a choice and I choose not to,   I decided to join him even if I feel like I have not really rested well yet. We are way earlier than my last year's schedule. And we proceed. The terrain did not change, it is still the same, the steepest descend. This will just be a 7.9km distance but on a long unending steep descend all the way down to AS9. Last year we did this almost 5 hours. We move faster at this time. I don't want to be left behind but since Alen also does not want to injure himself, we both agree we will just take it really slowly. Until few more runners over take us, really they are just hopping going down. It becomes monotonous and boring after a little over 2 hours of unending going down. After a little over 3 hours we finally reach the next aid station, AS9. I try taking some solid food again, I know how high the push is to the next and last aid station. But even before I can swallow the boiled banana, I throw it up again. Alen witness it, I am really struggling putting anything into my stomach, tried coco bread, but feel the same.

And we proceed to the very last stretch of the race, still dark. Alen and Chin An patiently join my pace, me being the last among the three. Alen patiently waited for my snail pace while Chin Ann slowly move forward until as the day breaks no matter how I push myself faster, I just cannot. I realize this will be Alen's second and revenge race, he cannot afford not to reach the finish line just because of me. Being familiar with the terrain and on our second day break on this race, I ask Alen  to go ahead as I will continue on my snail pace. I have enough time ahead of me to finish the race but with my condition I am not too sure how far my legs can carry my weight, honestly, I just really feel so weak. What I have in mind is for as long as I can move forward, I will force it until I will reach the finish line. But such thought and push is not an easy ordeal at all. With nothing on my stomach for several hours already, I feel just too weak but I have to continue on. 

The last 11km seems like forever especially that part of the Loakan Airport, I still have so much time left but with my condition I really do not know how far my feet can be on the ground thus how much further I can go. Upon entering John Hay, the shorter distance runners has been released and I will be sharing the same route with them on a counter flow direction. With an hour left to do the remaining 4km distance to the finish line I am hopeful I will make it. But at some point I have to assert myself with other runners whom I share the single track trail on a counter flow direction to please let me pass first as I am dying to move forward and be at the finish line still standing. I know how the trail exactly goes on this part, the remaining uphills and downhills, the bends and the turns, on  my mind I just have to endure a little longer I now know without any doubt I can cross the finish line still within the cut off time. My God, it was never easy to reach the most awaited part, that feeling when one can already hear the voice of the event announcer, the cheer of the crowd, I know too well I am just few steps away from the finish line. Tired, drained, wasted, burned, sleepless yet all of the pain are gone seeing that I still manage to drag myself within cut off time with a bonus for finishing 7th on the Female category and number 100 among the 108 finishers.

It was tough, I did not imagine myself to be at my worst condition on this race but it happened. I know I have lots of lessons to learn but I am still thankful to God for giving me the strength and will power to endure despite my condition. He gave me the strength again at this time but I know I need to work on how to improve on it for my future races. I thank the marshals and support at the aid stations, they have been a great help, I thank the fellow runners for giving me the inspiration to push forward, for enduring with me and for keeping me company, I also would like to acknowledge those runners who followed my blog and recognized and said words of encouragements along the trail, you all are an inspiration. It is such a heart warming feeling to know that in little way my past experience inspire and help others to do the same feat that I am doing. See you again all on the trail and/or on the road. 

This year's TNF, I discover another favorite food that would be tasteful even on the longer hours of running, Pan De Coco. No boiled ripe banana and sweet potato at this time. As always, I would like to commend the organizer of this race. The free bus ride left on time, though we are still 30 minute late to the race briefing. But nonetheless, we still arrive on the race briefing venue with the last part of the briefing and enjoy the free flowing carbo loading party (CLP) after. The starting/finish ground is now much bigger giving the runners and organizers alike enough space to move around. The stations are well stocked with food, drinks and cold drinks (with ice cubes on accessible areas by vehicle), the mini sub stations in between are very big help in the evening where I was alone most of the time and on daytime when the heat of the sun was just unbearable. The trail signs are endless, infact the first half is even over kill, the assistance of marshals on the critical points are very helpful, the blinkers and reflectorized ribbons and tapes are a big help. The food at the finish line help me to have something even on a very slow intake. 

All in all, I got the price I paid for this race, infact I gained more in return. Aside from the addition of points gained to qualify me to international ultra races, another running lessons learned and more friends gained, honestly I have got more than what I paid for. Bus free ride back and forth to Baguio from Manila, a free hydration belt, a technical running tee that fits well on me now, a carbo loading meal, a gift certificate worth 2,000.00, and a medal with 7th place on Women's category engraved at the back on it. Indeed, God is so great.

I'd like to thank the people who believe in me, my sponsor brands who never gets tired of supporting on my ultra races: Sing - Phil Sports Inc (PH) and Sing Phil Enterprises (SH), Elete Electrolytes, Altra Shoes, and SLS3 Compression. To all my friends and family who never gets tired of supporting and praying for my safe race and most of all to God for all the strength. To God be the glory. Til my next adventure.  

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