Saturday, May 4

Ultra Trail Mt. Guguan UTMG 2019

Fun Taiwan, Run Guguan. Trails of Taiwan led me to the beautiful mountain peaks of Guguan. Steep climbs and endless downhills, a little of rock scrambling, rappelling and river crossing in between switched back trails and rugged mountain ridges, farm lands and local communities. Managed to reach 4 mountain peaks and covered almost 50km distance in a little over 5,000M elevation gain. Such a wonderful weekend adventure in Taiwan!

It’s been a while since I last visited this country, the past two trips were all for a multi day climbs in Mt. Shueshan also in Taichung County but always on a winter season almost a decade ago, mountain slopes up to the summit were on thick snow for those expeditions served as our acclimatization climbs before heading to another big alpine expeditions. So last weekend’s 3rd visit was my first summer trip and its trails and mountain peaks were green and clear from snow.

I signify my interest when I learned about this race as I really want to do some trail running in this country. And when asked what distance I will run, without hesitation and studying the elevation profile I thought of running the longest distance 106km with 10430M elevation gain. Ultra Trail Mt. Guguan Super G8 with cut off time of 40hours, looks generous cut off and doable distance to finish. As I prepared my travel documents for immigration including details of this race as part of my attachment immigration papers, I learned that there are only around 33runners for the Super G8 category, list of mandatory gears are quite long from a usual 100km distance race and learned closely the number of mountain peaks we are going to climb with its corresponding elevation of each peak.

Looks like there will be lots of mountain trekking that will happen to me on this event then. Posts from the FB event page, Taiwan Ultra Runners FB group page and email communications that runners received as the race was approaching provided details of this race including detailed information of transportation to the race venue. Mr. Bill Ku, the Race Director has been very helpful too and patiently answered my questions regarding the race. I left Manila with almost all mandatory gears prepared except for the very first on the list, phone with gpx file of the map of the course on the category that I am in. I thought I will do that when I arrive at the race venue and will ask for help from someone who knows how to download it in my phone, honestly I really haven't used such on my years of running. It was only then I realized the many numbers of check points, on mountain peaks and refreshment areas (aid stations), though it is at aid stations that has the hard cut offs. I become a bit insecure and I feel so unprepared with my gpx map knowledge.

The race starts and finish at Kulaos Village, among the Songhe Tribe at Guguan, Taichung, Taiwan. A room near the race venue has been my home few days before and after the race, the place is surrounded by tall beautiful mountain peaks left and right separated by river and the main road which I am going to face come race day. Runners local and from foreign lands were welcomed with hospitality beyond compare by the race organizer and its team, Taiwan Ultra Runners. After passing through the mandatory gear, check in and giving my drop bag, I am all set and excited to explore another unknown territory with a game plan of running one mountain peak at a time. Minutes before the race, Hope Annie, the host has been repeatedly announcing to be extra careful on the trail as it rained heavily 3 hours prior to the race, the trail must be slippery. They will patiently wait for our return at the finish line.


Starting Line to Refreshment 1 (Check Point 3) - 18.18km distance
Check Point 1 - 1) Dong Mao Peak - 1690masl
Check Point 2 - 2). Wuwowei Peak - 1796masl
Time: 12:00Midnight to 7:30am Cut Off Time

Hoping for the best, I toed the starting line with other 30 brave Super G8 runners. At exactly midnight on the 27th of April, my adventure at the unknown trails of Taiwan started. From the downhill road up to the bridge that leads the main highway, across is a road that gradually leads to the trail of the very first mountain peak. From the road, runners enter a narrow trail, from the very start I was already at the tail of the pack, not the last runner though.

Dark, I can see the blinker lights from runners ahead of me. Trying to get a comfortable pace as I adjust myself to the rolling terrain, one by one the blinker lights in front of me were getting smaller until its nowhere to be seen, early on I was running on my own on this dark trail. From time to time I can see the lights from the local communities and streets down below and I can see the light of the crescent moon too. I know there are still few runners behind me. It’s an established trail, I just have to be mindful of trail signs on junctions, my wish as early as now while running most of the time on my own is my safety, extra careful not to fall on some parts that has raven and wish there will be no snakes or other wild animals that might harm me. That was one thing I forget to ask from the organizer before the race started, thank God there was none. Early on there were already climbs, few parts aided with ropes and some I had to go through rugged and slippery boulders and rocks. As I was trying to conserve my battery on my watch and phone, I did not put on any gps to keep track the distance I covered, though I carry power bank but running for 40hours that may not even be enough. So I really do not know how many meters of elevation I had climbed nor how many kilometer distance I had covered. I am just thankful on the long uphill I catch up runners infront until I reach the very first peak, Dong Mao Peak - 1690masl. One peak DONE.

The weather was just right for running even on the first mountain peak. At some point I had to pull down my arms sleeves and was just on my t-shirt and long tights. From the peak, the trail passes through rocky parts, I had to look for my own spot on where I feel safe to step until the trail enters the forest again on some steep descend. The distance to the next peak is not that far but I was still running it on the dark mostly on my own. I am real slow going down as I wanted to put much caution on my knee but I also welcome the uphill parts as I always pass through runners infront of me. I reach Wuwowei Peak with 1796masl, the Second Peak, still dark. The way going down seems to be endless, light from my headlamp getting weaker, but instead of stopping to change battery with an hour before day break, thank God this country is like the Philippines that has early sunrise, decided to push harder going down. Some runners whom I pass through on the uphill passed me going down but I just focus on my own pace. At some point I was running on my own again, trail signs of several colors of ribbons, white, red, orange (which I remember orange is that of the race) sometimes with captions written on chinese characters which I don’t understand what it means. As it seems like its taking forever this downhill part, few times I had to pull my phone and check the gpx map if I am on the right track. Getting lost in a foreign land with dialect I cannot speak is the very least that I want to happen. I continue moving forward on this downhill part on my own and still no sign of Refreshment Area and I can feel I am still on higher elevation. No wonder Race Organizer requires runners to carry at east 1.5L of water and enough food as it really takes forever to reach to the next refilling station. It was really endless trail passing though different terrain, some vertical descend aided with ropes. I finally reach the aid station a little less than an hour before cut off time. There are still few runners ahead of me loading with water and food. First Refreshment did not fail me, lots of food to choose from and lots of drinks too. Conscious with my time I load up with food what ever I can take, water and lots of ice cubes and off I was determined to face the 3rd peak.

Refreshment 1 to Refreshment 2 - 15km distance
Check Point 4 3). Bojinjia Peak - 1772masl
1:30pm Cut Off Time

On broad day light now, this section has 15km distance total to the next Second Refreshment Station. The route starts on an almost 3km road until it turns left to a trail beside the post office of the town (which the spray marker on the road I missed for few meters), it’s a park with an established route with few hikers already on the trail. We now got company! This is going to be around 7km out and back trail. Early part from the park are mostly steps of different kinds and sizes, natural, of cement and steel and of wood, I take my time to adjust and enjoy the ascend, some trails switching back on the mountain slopes, some parts with big rocks with ropes on both sides until runners had to climb with an aid of some ropes. It is on this mountain slope that I had a close encounter of a big blue bird with white spot on the tail and red spot on the head. Too bad I was too lazy to bring out my phone to get a photo of it. Reaching the top has the most spectacular view, I cant help but ask the marshals for some photo despite me on a hurry. After few shots I rush going down. Those that I catched up on the ascend pass by me going down and one runner even noticed my knee concern going down.

DONE with the 3rd Peak. Back at the main entrance I can see other runners across the Family Mart refilling supplies and got few cold refreshments, and ice cream maybe? I did not. I carried 2 liters of water anyway and still loaded with cliff bars and my mix of tailwind. I proceed to the remaining 5kms of road. Such decision I regret few kms after as it took me forever to tackle this part on my own under the scorching heat of the sun. One time confused which road to take when there are 3 to choose from and my gpx map says its just there, thanks to the roving volunteers they reach just in time when I was looking for the right road. I had to go through the tunnel with moving vehicles. All through out the 5km distance I only encounter 1 runner already done with the 4th peak and on his way to the 4th Refreshment Station, back to the starting line. Whahhhh!!!!! So fast. The gradual ascend road turned right steeper now, with few houses along the way with few barking dogs. Thank God they are inside the fence. But no more stores where I can buy any cold drinks. I can see one runner infront of me, also struggling just like me. I keep a steady pace in order not to lost him in sight. With mercury now going up, this part really seems like forever. I reached the 2nd/3rd Refreshment Station around 12:40PM with no water anymore. Few runners were still there including Terence from Singapore who is about to leave. I did not see Puzi from Malaysia so I assume he went ahead. The main business is to replenish food, THERE WERE A LOT, its a buffet of food, noodles, soup, roasted chicken, and other meat, shrimps, watermelon and other fruits, sandwiches, dried fruits and nuts, etc. and lots of options of cold drinks too. I ate whatever I can but hesitate on asking for some ice cubes. Volunteers persisted there was none, at some point I asked if somebody can go down and get some ice cubes at the village below as there are vehicles available, until they bring out the supply they have. I thank them for that, refilled big blocks to my hydration vest, went to the toilet and just before I thought of leaving Puzi arrived. He got lost at the park before going out to the main highway at the Bojinjia Peak.

2nd Refreshment to 3rd Refreshment (same area)- 14.4km distance
Check Point 6 - 4th Peak - Malun Peak - 2305masl
6:30pm Cut Off Time

I left 2nd Refreshment Station around 1:05pm with few runners already decided to DNF on this part. I was determined to push in whatever way I can on this second to the highest peak of the race. There was one Chinese runner with one trekking pole ahead of me, I kept a steady pace in the all uphill road, inbetween farm lands and houses with few barking dogs, again. As I pushed a little harder going up, I met few fast runners on their way down back to the 2nd/3rd Refreshment Station. They are real fast. At some point I pass the one Chinese runner with one trekking pole infront of me, and there were less runners coming down including Fanny the first Female runner. The trail goes around the mountain with some parts with wooden stairs. Most parts I was on my own, sometimes I met hikers with big backpacks going down, some of them asked me something in Chinese which I replied I can only speak English, sometimes I asked them if they saw runners like me up on the trail, most of them don't understand me so I act like running and point my bib number which they said yes. It always gives me an assurance that I am on the right trail. Some of them were kind enough to offer candies and others asked why going up the mountain this late. I had to reply 'because it took me forever to go up on the previous 3 mountain peaks'.

Indeed the it took me forever to cover 7km going up, I met the second Lady Runner, (I was the 3rd), few runners on their way down but still no other runner overtaking me. The trail getting steeper, some parts switching back on the mountain, some parts direct ascend, one hiker said at the peak is a hut where the two marshals are waiting for runners to arrive, that will serve as our turn around point. She even answered it will take me still like an hour to reach that part. I just patiently push myself forward, until I saw one familiar face behind me, THE SWEEPER. He cannot speak English but really is a fast strong runner. I asked him where are the rest, he made me listen to his phone saying, 'everybody abandoned the game.' That in a way made me sad, that means I am the last runner now but thankful that I am with the Sweeper as there were parts that the trail is suppose to go around the mountain rather than taking a direct ascend. Towards the peak finally I saw Terence, on his way down. Finally I got company. He asked to go down first before I go up as the stairs can only accommodate one runner/hiker at a time, as Terence can speak Chinese, the Sweeper asked him to ask me if I will continue up to Refreshment 4, which I said yes. I reached the peak 4:22pm. Right after marshal tag me, without wasting time I turned around and determined to go down now on a faster pace.

I did not mind my aching knee anymore and was just focused on getting faster down. I know I can reach the Refreshment area way before the cut off time. As I run and run and run surprisingly I saw Terence still on his descend. I know he can run so much faster than me downhill as I saw him running down from Bojinjia Peak. I move a little faster in order shorten my distance with him, it always feels good to have company, though not far behind from me is Mr. Sweeper. Upon reaching the road, I slowed down a bit as saw dogs barking and asked Terence to run side by side with him. And there he said he will stop at the 3rd Refreshment Station. That made me sad as I am determined to continue to the next Refreshment Station. We reached the 3rd Refreshment Station 6:22pm, 8 minutes to spare from the 6:30pm cut off. I had to sit down, take any food and drinks I can take and THINK. It's going to be another more than 10km mostly on a downhill road, no peak to climb on this section but with a part that will pass though a river of how deep I have no idea. I have 3hours and 30minutes (10:00pm cut off time) to tackle this part or even longer given that its already dark or maybe shorter.

But after sometime of thinking just when Terence agreed to walk with me, with another big race coming in 3 weeks time I decided to stop at KM48.8 at 18hours and 22 minutes. With standby vehicles ready, the marshals brought me, Terence and the Sweeper back to the start/finish line.

Was it really a right decision to stop at that part and not proceed to where ever I will be cut off? I may had time left, I had a little over 50km more to cover with more than 20hours left of me on the remaining 4 mountain peaks, 5. Basian Peak - 2366masl, 6. Aleng Peak - 1540masl, 7. Baimao Peak - 1522masl, 8. Tangmadan Peak - 978masl but they said its the second half that is more difficult and yes with the highest peak to climb. As I recon my experience on the first half, I strongly believe at that time that this is a doable race to finish, for as long as one will train hard for it, with no knee problem and making this an A race without any other coming race at a short span of time.

As I stayed at the start/finish line the following day watching each runner come back from the race, some G8 runners who run so much faster than me surprisingly was cut off somewhere and DNF from the race as well just like Norman from Singapore and many more. Among the G8 31starters, there were only 9 finishers with 1 female. The very first finisher is a 55year old veteran adventure sports athlete with a sub 3hours marathon time finished the race in 31hours, the only female finisher finished in almost 38hours, Fanny Wu from Hongkong who is one of HK4Trail finisher. Wow!!!!! This indeed is a real tough but beautiful race to do.

I salute every one, all the brave runners who take the challenge, I congratulate all the 9 strong and fast finishers, but most of all I salute and congratulate the race organizer for putting such a very well organized tough beautiful race. Thank you so much for having me in your race, thank you for your hospitality, and thank you so much for being so understanding despite my not speaking any Chinese at all, Thank you, Shi-Shi 谢谢.

Your hospitality is beyond compare, the overflowing buffet of food at the finish line from the time I arrived after I decided to stop until the very last runner arrived until the race event closed, food was just overwhelming and anybody can just get as much as they want. And same goes your aid stations with marshals and medics on standby ready to help when ever its needed.

I come with a strong and determined mind, I am always grateful that I covered that much distance and climbed more peaks safe and without any injury. That's all that I can handle at that time. I will come back stronger and aim to cover more mountain peaks next time.

This is one beautiful tough race that any strong fast runners must do!

Thank you Taiwan! Thank you Taiwan Ultra Runners! Thank you!

Photo credit to all the photographers and runners whom I grab the photo from.

Video Links:

Mandatory Gear:

Longer Video:

Another video of the race:

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