Wednesday, August 27

Exploring the Terraces on a Lighter Weight (Banaue Batad Mountain Marathon 2014)

Of my over a decade of mountain climbing and several years of mountain running, I have been to Banaue many many times and been to Batad via Cambulo a number of times with a heavy load of backpack on a multi day climb from Mt. Amuyao. Batad has always been a final destination and a great place of reward after 3 days of challenging  trek over several kilometers through the rice terraces. Since I started trekking,  passing through the rice terraces has always been my challenge, I just really find it so hard to get my balance on the narrow pathways  in between rice paddies with few meters high apart. Even with a trekking pole, having a load of almost 20kgs always gave me a hard time. I always cause a long queue  to hikers at my back every time we were at the terraces part. Few of my friends even tease me few years back, a Race Director should come up with a race on the terraces and they were quite sure it will slow me down.
A little of history (Photo by Wilnar Iglesia)
And around 3 years ago in one of our stop in Banaue with running friends, we saw a post of a full marathon in the area, this place could really be a nice venue to run,  to immerse once again to the Cordillera culture and be one with the famous rice terraces.

Until my race last weekend, I already forgot my fear of walking through the terraces nor my desire to run such race when I saw the marathon post few years back. The very first event along the terraces, the race really got me so excited that I did not recall any of what I thought and felt in the past. This could be a good break from the busy life in the city and to spend the long weekend with good friends will also be great to be done on a race again. Besides, I haven't been to the mountain for quite sometime now.

The Race, The Place, The People
Running with friends (Photo by Kian Vicera)
Banaue Batad Mountain Marathon is Team Malaya's 3rd Leg of the Cordillera Series, the Golden Harvest,  with route passing through the rice terraces along Banaue, Batad and Bangaan via  Cambulo. I miss the two earlier races hence this is my very first race with this group but I am very much familiar with most part of the race course.

I was with the company of my great friends Rollie, Mommy Del, Ati Myla, Shelly and Wilnar, we travel together from Manila Friday evening via Ohayami Transport for 9hours. Upon reaching Banaue, the organizing team (Team Malaya) was already at the Municipal Tourism Center (just few meters from Oyahami Banaue Bus Terminal) welcoming every race participants. After checking in, we settled in our lodge, Spring Village. Banaue is one of the 11 municipalities of Ifugao, a landlock province of the Philippines Cordillera Administrative Region in Luzon. This is  a small town of over 20,000 population and a home of  Unesco's World Heritage Sites, the Batad and Bangaan Rice Terraces, a 2000 year old terraces carved into the mountain, the main tourist attraction of the place.

From the town of Banaue, the race route will pass by Cambulo and Batad. Since the place has been visited by tourist all year out, there are Inns available within the town proper and  restaurants overlooking the view of the terraces. A good meal after our long bus ride was a very good start of our adventure with the first glimpse of the terraces over breakfast. It's harvest season though so most of the paddies are yellow colored ready for harvest or others has been empty for it has been harvested few days ago. 

A bright sunny day in the morning and a heavy down pour of rain in the afternoon has been the weather of the town lately. But the rain did not stop us, we claim our race kit, went to View Point to get a good sight of the Banaue Rice Terraces then went back for the race briefing and carbo loading of overflowing supply of brown rice, sinigang na chicken, steamed vegetable and fresh banana. It was a good way to see again the runners whom we will be sharing the course with the following day, most of them I know. 

Race Proper
At the starting line (Photo by Kian Vicera)

Indeed this is going to be  very different from my several visit of the terraces. Bringing my lightest hydration pack without trekking pole we went to the starting line 30 minutes before gun start, 5:00am will not be too dark for a start so I left my headlamp at the lodge. So happy to be towing the line with lots of friends, running friends, climb buddies and skyrunning friends.

There is no cut off time for both 42km and 21km distance. For a race over beautiful scenery, some runners goal is really to take it easy and enjoy nature's beauty. I thought the same as well, as this part of the region is home to  some of the best road and trail runners in the country, I never thought of pushing hard and getting a good ranking on my category.
View at the early part of the race (Photo by Fredz Decena)

Same gun start for both distance, once released, I just run my own relax pace. From the starting line at Banaue Poblasyon goes a downhill road which was a good start. I made sure that I run side by side with others as there were parts that has stray dogs got awakened by us on this cold early morning. The route follow the main road passing by communities overlooking the vast mountain ranges with terraces on the side, the road goes uphill and downhill, a good warm up on this hilly race. The scenery of the breaking dawn as the sun creep out of the mountain slopes where we were facing was just really beautiful sight to witness.  Just my ideal way of doing my morning run. Lots of runners already pass by me, male female, just not sure what distance they were running. At the 4km mark was the first aid station but I found that too early to refill anything so I kept on running until I reach the second aid station with a direction of turning left for us 42km runners. Running almost 8km now we were still on the paved road, then a turn left to Cambulo via the Kinakin Trail of 10km distance ahead. Mostly uphill paved road that switched back on the mountain slope until it finally goes to a rough road, muddy but I prefer running this than the paved one. I was running on my own. I pass by another aid station which I made sure to replenish my Gatorade drink and get fresh local orange fruit (dalandan). I have been running over 3 hours now, I need to make sure my hydration and nutrition should be well managed. Along the trail I pass by  mini falls, until finally it lead to a downhill trail to the village of Cambulo. I have been to this place in the past and I never realize we will pass by this place on the same trail this time.
View of the terraces early part of the race. (Photo by Ferdz Decena) 

From Cambulo, I am very much familiar with the trail already. Who will not? I have been to this place several times. Exactly the same trail we used in hiking on the right side the race course followed the great river to Batad. OMG. Passing by the narrow pathways of the terraces brings back my fear of walking through it. I was on my own, no runner infront nor at the back. Early on the terraces, as I was trying to maintain my balance until my left foot slipped, I have to put my weight on the right as the left side will be a deep fall. I fell on the muddy rice paddy with my left leg on the mud knee deep. That was a good consolation than falling on the other side of few meters down. What a good way to start my terraces adventure. With muddy left leg I continue my traverse, passing by trails above the terraces. Mostly uphill now on single track trail, I know exactly where the view deck of the bigger wider Batad Rice Terraces is. After several kilometers I finally reach it then it goes down following the stairs of uneven steps beside the terraces, overlooking the community of Batad. The trail leads to the main falls,  Tappiya Falls. This part is really a steep stairs going down with some parts slippery especially from the rain. I now meet lots of runners, majority are my friends. Too many to mention. Until I catch up with Rash and Benj. Only to find out there is no marshal at the Falls, the supposedly turn around point. A push back up to the trail from the water falls was a struggle. It was just too hot and I was catching my breath with thighs really tightened now. My legs are both now complaining. Upon reaching the saddle of this part of the trail, lots of runners already resting at the Nipa Hut. I wish there is an aid station somewhere that serve cold drinks but what was available was a mini store with drinks for sale, smallest bottle of cold water for 50.00 or Gatorade drink and coke for 75.00. Well, one cannot blame the locals, drinks deserve to be priced high for they have to haul it for several kilometers over mountain slopes and the terraces by foot.
At Batad Rice Terraces (Photo by Ati Myla Go)

Only then at that Nipa Hut I learned going down to Tappiya Falls was OPTIONAL and not part of the race course. WHAT???!!!! How come I did not know that? I miss one vital instruction again. Honestly, I lost much morale there. But I had no choice but to go back to the trail going to Batad Village and push a little faster despite my disappointment. To the terraces again then finally leads to the trail above with the view of the terraces below. I really wish an aid station will be sooner but to no avail. Until I met ALEN ALBAN. What? How on earth did you come ahead of me, I did not see you on the trail. He did not go down the falls. Oh well...that falls. Never mind. I continue on leaving Alen behind, it's just too hot now. I wish an aid station at the community but only to realize that will be at the saddle yet. There were few sari sari stores and one store that sells ice candy (I can still recall getting one few years back when I was there) but I opted to just continue with my journey leaving the community, I now enter the few more kilometers of trail from covered shaded part to the more exposed to the heat of the sun until it gets nearer to the saddle. I have been on the race for almost 6 hours now covering almost 30km already. All I am thinking now is just to get this over with for I am already hungry for some real food. The saddle is a sweet relief, I had my AMCI Packer friends waiting for me. Such a sweet surprise. After eating 1 piece of sweet potato, replenish my hydration bladder and pour water to myself, I run down.

Batad Rice Terraces
The downhill road was a little easier now but not friendly to my precious knees. This  will be a little over 12kms of paved road all the way to the finish line. It's sunny and hot and I can feel I need to pee. Until at one curve I saw Bitoy. Wohooo, another friend.  I asked him to look after me as I really need to pee. That was a very big relief. All the way I run until I pass by  the aid station at the junction, a sip of coke, brinnging with me small bottle of Gatorade and sweet potato, I am now counting the kilometer mark. From 8km it goes down to six until slowly getting shorter and closer. Just before mid noon a heavy down pour of rain came, earlier today than yesterday. Such a big relief running cooler now.  Upon reaching the community I know I am almost there. This is an out and back race so going to the finish line will now be an uphill push. 7 hours 45 minutes not bad for a suppose to be walk in the park mode race on a total of over 45km distance, not 42km(as per the GPS of Ati Myla). It was a good race after all. Nice view, nice trail over good friends with a bonus of ranking 7th on the female category.

Indeed, it was another visit to the rice terraces on a faster pace and lighter weight for I did not strap my heavy pack this time but I am sure I gain a little weight from all the food from the bus up to the time we went home. I went home with lots of  fun memories with great friends around.

Banaue Batad Marathon is also my entry race to an international race that I intend to take part of on a virtual category, #i2PRun. Organized by Impossible 2 Possible (I2P), this is a race in celebration to trail running showcasing the beautiful trails of Gatineau Park in Quebec, Canada. The date of the race falls on the same date as I am running in Banaue race, though I was not able to register on the virtual category online, my heart and mind was with i2P Run hoping that I was with the group of talented athletes running 100km through the beautiful trails of Quebec. Hope I can join one of the group's race one day. I believe in the group's advocacy and hope to take part of its mission by either sponsoring a young outdoor enthusiast or supporting their work one day and hope in my little way can help spread the mission globally.
Link of the i2P Run:

Post Race

A simple hug at the finish line, thank you Mariel.
I crossed the finish line 45 minutes past 12:00 noon, I was hungry and been wanting to eat real food. I was just too glad Kian and Mariel were there, I got a good photo upon crossing the line but most of all I got a good hug from Mariel. Thank you so much Mariel, I already smell stinky and been very wet yet you were there to hug me. I  don't know why but I just love to get a good hug after a good race.

Done. Thank you for the photo Kian.
After the organizer handed me my finisher shirt and talk to James Telias, I left the finish line without asking my ranking or where to claim my trophy or buckle or medal. I just want to have a good meal. At the restaurant nearby the finish line where a buffet post race meal was served, I met the runners who finish hours earlier than me, Mommy Del, Roland, Iris, and a lot more. Until the organizer call our attention that awarding is about to begin. I ate slow so the rest went ahead, been thinking of going straight to change in our room but thought of just dropping by the ceremony. The awarding just started. Mommy Del told me, room key is at the reception  of the Inn. I decided to stay despite being tired and feeling cold.

The awarding took longer than I expected, been wanting to leave until the top 10 for female 42km distance was called. My good friend Rashel was called which Mommy Del excitedly talk to me that for sure I belong to the top 10. Little did I know I ranked 7th without me knowing upon crossing the finish line. Glad I decided to stay a bit longer.

My signature smile...Happiness ( Photo by Mommy Del)
My thoughts after the race?  I think I got my money's worth. A race event shirt, personalized race bib, a carbo loading meal, post run meal, a long sleeves finisher shirt, a finisher's certificate and a buckle plus a finisher's trophy. Race such as this that covers vast distance over varied terrain is not an easy one to organize and I salute the organizer for doing their best to give the best to their runners.  I would like to share my thoughts which I hope the organizer will take it in a positive way.

  • Red colored ribbons of wider and longer measurement were good visible colors. The placing and distance were strategic that it helps a lot for runners follow the right trail. Banner signages of THIS WAY were also a big help.
  • Marshals were placed strategically on the areas needed but additional marshal should have been placed at the turn around point before going to Tappiya Falls. And should have informed  runners that going down is OPTIONAL.
  • Aid stations - where it has been placed were already good but an additional should have been better, at the Cambulo area before the ascend or at the turn around point before Tappiya Falls.
  • At the finish line, even if awarding has been going on, a designated marshal to welcome the coming runners crossing the finish line should be there at all times. Each runner deserve to be welcome after a great effort.
  • It must have been great if all finishers trophy has been distributed at the finish line.
  • A better fit of the finisher shirt should have been an additional plus. A small size is still much bigger than I thought.
  • This is an event that passes through great historic view especially that of the terraces. Having a professional photographer on that part of the trail could have made the runners be happy to have good photo taken and for sure such photo will travel a long way which will also be a good advertisement of the race in the future.
  • I commend the organizer's fast reply despite my late notice that I will use a friend's bib for he cannot join the race. They accommodated our request. Thank you.

Overall I can say it was a successful race. A very unique race which Team Malaya was able to put together. Looking forward to the next one.

A  race powered by Altra Lone Peak and Feetures socks. Thank you Singphil Ltd.Inc. for all your support.

More photos can be viewed here: Banaue Batad Mountain Marathon 2014

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