Monday, April 14

Salomon X-Trail Mountain Run 2014 - Short but Rock

Picture courtesy of Miss Jackie. 
This is one of the few races that I have that I did not think of what am I doing to myself while at the middle of a brutal course, I never question myself why do I have to go through another tough race, and most of all I do not have to drag myself to push to the finish line. I was just exploding with so much joy, my heart body and spirit was just having fun running from one peak to the other, traversing the unrelenting uphills and dealing the direct descends of trails covered with loose rocks, dry leaves, roots and vines, traversing the boulders and rocky dry river bed and the coastal line, and the sandy and pebbled shore while experiencing the excruciating summer heat of Hamilo Coastline. I was just glad I am back on the trail after more than a month of pounding the road. 

It was one tough race. Beautiful scenery with ridiculous hills.  It offers some serious trails that connects the several trail courses within this area of Batangas. Some parts are difficult and a bit technical. It's a  short distance race yet it has  lots of variety of terrain that a runner can ask for. From the rolling road of more than 5km inside the Pico de Loro development to the  surrounding hills down to the shoreline, it is an action packed race rolled into one. It also has a tight cut off time that sets the bar higher for runners to perform very well. It is one beautiful course that a trail lover will be very happy to run less the traffic of people though. 

So did I come prepared to make it to the finish line within cut off time? I am not sure if the answer is Yes. Thinking it now I can say it's a No. Coming from an 80km LSD the week before this race (Mayon360), though I did one recovery run and a tempo run on the weekday after Mayon, I can say I really did not come on fresh legs. Bringing my hydration pack with 2liter bladder, I only fill it with 1 liter of water thinking I will refill it along the way. I had few grams of mix nuts, 2 mini pack toblerone and 1 small piece of cloud nine (these are trail food that are left over from my previous races which I had been thinking while on the race I should have brought more) as my reserve food hoping that there will be some in the aid stations. I also had an empty water bottle that I think I should refill with Gatorade drink as I go along the race that will provide me some salt, mandatory gear of whistle, headlamp and sachet of sunblock and wet ones. I brought my camera and mobile phone this time. That's what I have in my hydration pack. As I wanted to run light and free again. This has become my slogan lately. 

Photo courtesy of Miss Abigail. 
So what helped? 

I am very much aware of the 7 hour cut off time for the 32km distance with a mid cut off time of 4hrs at km 18 but I have no idea at all how tough the trail will be. I miss running this race last year on the same trail. I take a look at the race elevation profile before leaving for the race but  I did not put much attention to it. I know it  is jagged, there will be several hills,  so I thought I will just push the best that I can while putting much attention to my physical condition as I go along the race. Again this is another run that I did not bring with me any wrist watch. I'll just play it by ear, if a marshal will pull me off the race course then so be it, was all I had in mind. My top most priority, to hydrate well, eat a little, run safe  and have fun. 

Traffic? That's part of the adventure.
We may not like it but it's all up to us how to go through it.
As I hit the road with the rest of almost 400 runners for 32km distance (they said 375, not sure of the exact figure though) I just run on my comfortable pace. Lots of friends running this distance so as I warm up on the road going to the Marina Bay turn around point, every now and then I can hear runners greeting or calling my name exchanging good mornings, good lucks and take cares. 

Before entering the trail to the Relay Tower and the start of the traverse of the several hills, I stop at the second aid station and thought of filling my bottle with Gatorade, but because the queue to the 2 Gatorade containers is quite long, I decided to just refill my bottle with water. This starts my being so conscious of my water intake though been thinking I do not have enough source of salt in whatever food I have at hand. 

First few kilometers of the trail is wide until it goes to a single track with rope.  This part starts the few sections of the trail that has a highway traffic of runners waiting for our turn to cross the rope section. It's a gully on both sides, so there is just to way for me to bushwhack on either side to make a slow progress.   I had no choice but to stay with the pack of runners and wait for my turn. Of the several sections that has rope as much as possible I did not use them but rather push on the uphill on my own, sometimes on the side of the trail to overtake other runners. 

Photo credit to Kuya Mar 
The entrance  to the Relay Station also starts my run free mode. The trail brought back great memories of my mountaineering days when we just had to push persistently on tough ascends and run with all our might on the way down even with heavy load of pack back then. The same goes on this very race. I push persistently on all the ascends and never stop at all and  run on the descents without minding the loose ground and just rely in the few tree trunks and branches that I can hold while jumping like a monkey. I remember my mountaineering buddies, Jepoy, Ayin, Aaron, Kuya Mar, Momoy, Ging, Chic, etc. The same exact feeling came all over my senses this time. That started my just run as far as I can mode as if I am not on a race this time.  It trudged several hills that I guess covers around 9 peaks, goes to several Powerline entrances,  to dry river beds with big boulders then pass by a cove and shoreline under the heat of the sun but with so much joy. I did not even think of how many kilometer distance I had covered.  

But few safety rules flashed back on my mind as I go along the course too. 

As it gets hotter and really humid, I need to hydrate as much as I can to avoid dehydration especially that I sweat too much in every ascend, it was just too hot and humid and there was no wind. I wish I brought with me my foldable fan. So in every opportunity that I can refill with water, I stop with calculated move, put much ice cubes on my hydration bladder before filling with water (that gives me 2 liters of water to make sure I have enough hydration as I do not know how far  the next aid station will be), fill my handy empty bottle with ice cold water too and insert it in between my shirt and hydration pack at the back and pour water to myself before leaving the station. That has become my routine for several stations. Thank goodness there was still enough water in each station every time I pass by. My heart goes to the runners who said there was no more water when they pass by the station. 

Photo credit to Miss Jackie. 
This gives me so much worry. As I exerted so much effort going up, I consume so much energy, I cannot live on hydration alone. My little mistake, hoping that there will be solid food provided in the station I only brought so little trail food. After passing by several stations with none and trudging several peaks already, I know I need to eat if I want to survive on this kind of terrain. I decided to bring out my trail mix of nuts and dried fruits. I live with two more toblerone and 1 cloud nine chocolate bars until the finish line. Thank goodness I survive with very minimal food. 

Safety on the trail
Most of the ascends and descents are on a single track trail, others  on rocks and boulders on the dry river bed and seashore, some parts are with ropes. Safety first comes to my mind. On the ascends I just push continuously without rests (at all, I realized I never take a rest at all on this race, I never sit down even every after hard push in every ascend), slowly but surely is my rule. As traffic develops I go a little off trail, slowly overtaking others on areas that I can. I never wait until the trail clears with runners infront of me for that will eat up my time. The same goes on my descends, as much as possible I run but on calculated risk especially on the part with loose rocks and soil. Jumping from one tree trunk to the other or slide a little I overtake runners in front if possible. That I think gives me a little edge of pushing a little faster. Just my tip, in going down one has to be very sure of your footings, look ahead and make a decision of where you land your foot next. This is one thing that I learn in mountaineering that I know can  be learned in trail running as well. 

On the rocks at the dry river bed and shore line
I treat this part with super extra care. I am always very cautious on boulders for it might be too slippery or I might land on not stable rock so I put much care, I sit down using my butt if I need too. I don't want to jeopardize my safety especially on this remote area with less immediate access to medics. It was a big relief when I went out that section safe and hope that there will be no more on such kind of terrain. 

The Sand and the Heat 
I am thankful I always use my trail gaiters in all my trail runs. It helped me save time clearing my shoes from sand and pebbles. At some point I wish I used my full desert gaiter though but I realized half gaiter worked fine. How I approached the sand? I just push a little,  gliding each foot forward as I land the sand. The desert sand is much more challenging than this one, all I thought. The heat is given so I just hydrate hydrate and hydrate. And probably my heat experience in Mayon 360 helped me a lot this time. 

Running through the coast line hearing the voice of the program that is going on at the finish line is a mental challenge. I thought I will already cross the finish line. But not. We have to traverse the coast line going to the last part of the course, the last uphill which I call it the bonus part of the course. It was already hot and humid. Without any idea what time exactly it is and what distance I covered, I just run the shore with myself splashing on the sea water. I was just too lazy to bring out my mobile phone to know the time. I know I am almost there. And I welcome another uphill with fun, I have no other choice but to go through it. I was tired but I am having fun and surprisingly I can still run on the downhill and the flats and back to the sand. Another kilometer on the rough road and the road as we go around towards the finish line, yet again, I still have the little strength to do it on a jogging pace and not walk. Clueless of the time, I cross the finish line in 6 hours and 42 minutes. I did it within cut off time. 

So what really helped?

I am lucky I run 32km, I thank Barry for his generosity. I feel 24km with 5 hour cut off time is really tight. This is what I thought about making it to the cut off time. This is just my opinion for I feel this is what works with me during the race. 

It is not enough that a runner can run fast. I saw lots of runners who can run faster than I do in so many road races that did not make it to the cut off time on this race. One has to manage several aspects while on the race: speed, hydration, nutrition, the heat, the varied terrain. On the ascend one can be very slow but push continuously, take advantage of the descend with extra care. Move ahead from the runner  infront if there is a chance rather than wait for the trail to clear. Ropes are there to assist in going up and down but if one can manage to go without it, it will always be faster to move. Anticipate to bring more than enough hydration for one will never know when is the next aid station. Just like in a mountain trek, better have more than run out of water while on the trail ,  there will be no stores available that you can refill not unless there is a stream along the trail. 

The heat. Heat training is the key but while at the race, just hydrate, hydrate and hydrate. More importantly, listen to your body. If one feel like you cannot push any further then stop and rest and resume if you still have time. Eat. Replenish your nutrition. The kind of terrain on this race needs much more energy than traversing a flat trail. Going up and down eats so much energy that one needs to eat little food while on the trail. Traversing all the uphill reminds me of Lambingan trail doing the Makiling Circuit, the flats always reminds me of my UP Payasso2200.

Running is like life. We can always learn things as we go along, take note of what works and learn from those that did not and move on. 

Call it luck, or my training paid off, I am glad I joined this race, it brought back so many good trail memories with a bonus of finishing within cut off time. No blisters, no dead to nails, no chaffing.   No acid reflux, no dehydration, no stomach cramps, no bladder concerns, no peeing of blood. Thank you and thank God. 

My Arsenal:
Salomon cap and sun glasses
Gregory hydration pack with 2 liter water bladder
500ml empty water bottle that I refill along the way
Nike tank top
Pink Champion technical shirt (thank you Carmel Lim)
TNF 3/4 compression tights
Pair of Trail Gaiter (thank you Amy Wong)
Feetures pair of socks (Thank you SingPhil)
Altra Lone Peak Running shoes (Thank you SingPhil)
Glide (Thank you Andy)

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