15 October 2018

LAST HALF OF THE YEAR





I don't know about you but I have sort of figured out that there seems to be a cycle to ultrarunning here in the Philippines. At least, from my personal point of view. An observation if you will for the last 10 years or so.

Take for example the amount of races tucked in the first half of the year. Every friggin year. Since ultrarunning here went ballistic, almost all of the races are scheduled from January to June with months of January and February having the most number of races because of good weather, obviously. You can basically find trail races almost every week from short distance to hundos. So the slew of races to choose from seems to have increased through the years. But of course, some are only worth running as end-goal races and the rest as fillers or training runs if you can call them that.

And I tend to get swept likewise in this cycle and thus, run more races during this period than any other months of the year. This is all good as coming off from the Holiday season seems to bring with it the unwanted weight gain with the guilty feeling but I don't give a fuck about it. It is what it is. Eating more than your body needs and being lazy will amount to no good. So mortals like us look for races during the first half of the year lest you feel left out or "OP" (out of place) from the rest of the trail running community since you can see all your "friends" posting races through social media. Oh well, the social media like Facebook is a panacea to others and is concededly both a bane and boon but that is another story altogether. It sorts of adds pressure to you to get your getting-heavy, sorry ass up and running and in shape pronto.

But the title of this post is not about the first half of the year but rather the last half.

Personally, I can confirm how things slow down towards the end of the year mostly because of the onset of the rainy season and believe me where I am now on this side of the planet, the rainy weather here can be very muddy and slippery for trail running. It can be slow, dangerous and annoying. So in lieu of trail running out there on the mountain or your favorite hilly places is replaced by road running where the weather can be forgiving to your feet even with the rainfall or not. 

This period of being less active is equally important as well in conjunction to being active during the first half. Yin-yang if you may. No trail runner can sustain being active all the time throughout the year and expect himself to excel in all those races. There is also the perennial issue of burnout. I have seen many runners come and go like mushrooms. You see them now and after a while, they are no longer active in races and abandoned ultrarunning completely. Others have somewhat  adopted a different sports. More importantly, there are the questions of sustainability and health not to mention the expenses that come with joining races.

I can vouch for the health benefits of slowing down during the remaining half of the year. Obviously, there are downsides to it like, on the top of the list, gaining weight as there are less races and thus, being less active racewise. 

The upsides however are sustainability, less stress, cost-saving and above all, healing. Your body needs to heal up also after months of sustained trail running. 

For me, that has worked pretty well through the years. That my dear friends is the "secret" to longevity or sustainability in ultrarunning. Perhaps, that is one of the main reasons why I have avoided serious injuries and burnout after more than 10 years in the sport. I let my body and mind heal during the last half of the year. Every year.

Cheers,
Jon (on the other side of the fence for CM50)  







  

08 October 2018

2018 HARDROCK RACE REPORT




POST-RACE 

I might as well put in writing my experience before it gets swept into oblivion. I should have done this earlier but the mood was not just there. 

Besides, the year 2017 was not a good year for me and family. My mother passed away and there were some personal issues I had to deal with. I just thought I needed to venture out (runcation) there and breath in a different place for a while. A much-needed break.

Moreover, people are asking what happened during the race, so that is another motivation for me aside from the obvious, i.e., to share some notes here and there for other runners who have been dreaming of joining the WILD and TOUGH (literally!) Hardrock.

At any rate, I did a short run in the morning 9 days after Hardrock. My toes were still numb. The race must have pretty banged up my nerves down there what with the amount of pounding they received. On top of that, I was enjoying being at least 7 pounds lighter (which would not last for too long). The altitude, among others, during the race created digestive issues for me since I could not eat properly. Even 3 days after the race, my stomach was hurting and even the delicious food in New Orleans 3 days after the race did not help.  

It has been months now since I ran Hardrock 100 miles in Silverton, Colorado, USA. To find out more about it, here is the website. For 2018, the race happened to celebrate its 25th year, a silver anniversary. In my case, I waited for almost 6 years just to get in the lottery, which was initially No. 3 in the waiting list until I moved up.  I even emailed RD Dale about my chances of getting in with almost 2 months to go before race day. I told him I needed to book my flight, accommodation and all. He replied 2 days after with a delightful news that my chances were statistically high and with that I started making my preparations.

SUPPORT

Before going further, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to this wonderful couple, Rose Betonio Adams and Michael “Mike” Adams. Rose is from the Philippines and Mike is based in Lakewood, Colorado. Both excellent runners in their own right. They have adopted me even if I was a total stranger to them. They made me feel at home and took care of me especially during my lowest of lows. Thank you so much guys! I cannot say enough words really.





(As of this posting, Rose has finished her first 100-mile trail race – Run Rabbit Run. Of course, she was supported and paced by her hubby, Mike. Awesome!)

TRAINING

If one is planning to race Hardrock, train as if you are in the start list already even if your name is still in the waiting list. You’d be surprised how the names of runners in the waiting list move up. For 2018, I did just that. I joined races locally like Pulag 100K, Rizal Mountain Run and abroad. If I knew though that I’d be picked up for Hardrock, I would have probably skipped Tarawera Ultramarathon 




in New Zealand simply because of added expenses. So, the first quarter of 2018 was quite busy race wise for me leading up to HR100 or Hardrock.

For the race, I trained with trekking poles since almost all of the runners were carrying a pair. They proved very useful given the intimidating elevation profile of the race. I ran mostly on trails during my long runs on weekends and during weekdays, on the road close to work in Clark. In hindsight, I envied those runners based in Colorado since they could train specifically for the race and given my experience now, that is the best recipe for success. The terrain and altitude are keys to this race.

The week before I left (which was 2 weeks before the race), my peak training week reached a total distance 110 kilometers. So aside from my races prior to that, I knew I was fit. Besides, it has been a while since I have reached that total distance and frankly, it is only 100 miles races that can force me to do that following the adage known to all long-distance runners, “Respect the distance.”

GEAR



Before I left, I was in dire need of a pair of trail shoes and rain jacket. Unfortunately, runners here have this constant problem of finding good brands given the scarcity of stores carrying ideal gear or products. Even the shop purportedly the biggest outdoor store in Manila pales in comparison with others. Besides carrying few brands, their items are relatively expensive.

And one of those good stores is REI which we had to chance to visit several times in Denver, Colorado. Geez, it is huge! They are carrying plenty of good gear and products You could imagine my elation when I got there as if I was a kid lost in a toy store 😊 So I bought a pair of Hokas, Mammut Wenaha Gore Tex jacket, headlamp x2, several of Injinji socks and wool socks as well, cap, Patagonia shorts and other essential items. There is story behind the Mammut jacket, which I felt it was meant for me. Actually, there were several items on display of the same type and brand but one item was on sale while the rest were on their original prices. Even Mike said it was a good buy. Obviously, I took the one on sale. However, the store clerk said there was a mistake on the pricing so that it should carry the regular price just like the other jackets of the same model. Given, however, it was their mistake, they would honor the reduced price just to show customer satisfaction value. Well, that was just excellent. Thank you REI!



   

During the race and given some water crossings, the combination of good anti-diaper rash cream all over the foot with Hoka Torrent shoes, double pair of socks of Injinji and Smartwool socks was awesome! (Thank you Mike for the tip on wool socks.) No blisters whatsoever. The Mammut jacket proved to be excellent as well especially during the freak thunderstorm (we will go to that later).

PRE-RACE

After almost daily coordination through FB with Mike and Rose, I finally made it to Colorado 10 days prior to race day. The Adams couple picked me up at the Denver airport and we ate dinner in Lakewood where the couple lives. I found out that Mike likes IPA beer as well so for the next few days, we had been enjoying some plus the burgers! Elk burger in particular. A must try.







I stayed at their apartment in Lakewood and went out for a run or two. One of the highlights of my stay here is when we climbed my first ever 14er (at least 14,000 feet mountain for the uninitiated). Man, I felt like a drunk going up to the peak. Dizzy and all. Now, that was some altitude I had to contend with especially during the race. It did cross my mind whether coming 10 days before the race was enough to acclimatize. 












RACE WEEK

I concurred with the plan of Mike and Rose that we should go to Silverton a week before the race day. (If one is running Hardrock, better get an accommodation way in advance. Good places are scarce). Not only to acclimatize but Mike needed to volunteer for trail work at Hardrock for those points he needed. It appears that Mike has been trying his luck in the lottery to run the race itself for the last 6 or so years! He sometimes complained about it with dry sense of humor and of course, with occasional shake of his head to express his disappointment and his unlucky streak with the lottery. Tell me who would not? I feel he’ll get lucky next year! That is of course if he decides to run given our race experience during Hardrock.

As part of acclimatization, we climbed a 13er, Kendall Peak sitting at 13,451 feet just near Silverton. As always, beautiful yet arduous trip. I did not feel the dizziness like the first time we climbed a 14er but it was a slow climb after 11,000 feet for me and this is the predicament that would haunt me during the race.



















RUNNERS CHECK IN

We took the earliest schedule, Wednesday before the race to avoid the cue. Nice to see some running gear on sale like UD, Black Diamond (at 50% off!) and other local products. Race gave out nice loots like blue Smartwool 25th year anniversary shirt, etc. I bought the official Hardrock UD vest, which I absolutely adore to the point I even used it during race proper setting aside my old vest.

As part of the process, they took my weight and level of acclimatization. The lady said “You are 91% acclimated. Perhaps, it might be 95% by Friday.” I thought it was good enough but on the contrary. We went home afterwards and took the next few days easy.






MANDATORY BRIEFING

The next day, Thursday was the mandatory race briefing. You could sense right away the charged energy in the air. Come to think of it, I was surrounded by some of the best and/or strongest ultrarunners in the world! Now, I realized that indeed you have to be an experienced ultrarunner to be able to handle Hardrock.

The highlight for me during the briefing is asking the runners to stand as they were called based on the number of years they have run Hardrock. It started with its first-year edition until 24th year. You’d be surprised that one runner has run the race for 21 or 22 straight years!

Of course, RD Dale Garland introduced the founder of Hardrock 100, Gordon Hardman, who shared how the race started and what was his main goal. He said it was to bring additional income to the folks of Silvertown who was then in dire need of additional income or economic infusion due to closure of mining companies. The rest was history. There were also testimonials from those local scholars being supported by the race. In other words, the organizing committee is paying it forward.

Since the race is a “post-graduate” course, there was no list of mandatory gear. It is entirely up to the runners to adjust their gear accordingly during race day. Now, that is maturity.

The briefing was capped off with the kiddie race for 2 to 12 years old. Overall, the briefing was simple and straightforward.






RACE DAY

The race started at 6AM, Friday. My usual meal before a big race like this is composed of eggs, banana and coffee and some sweet to go with it. I prepared some food stuff in my drop bags but they proved to be unnecessary. As expected, the aid stations were well-stocked. Instead, I packed more of the gear like extra socks, extra batteries, shirts, anti-chafing cream, etc. I carried the trekking poles, baselayer, light poncho and jacket  with me all throughout the race. These items are very important and I was glad I did because there was a thunderstorm during the race. The extra weight of your vest becomes irrelevant when confronted with freak weather conditions during the race. It can be a matter of life and death whether you have the necessary gear or not.

People came out to cheer us on as we started our journey. 100 miles is a long way to go through mountains. The trip could at least take you a day (if you are an elite runner) or longer. Anything can happen especially in the rugged and remote place like the San Juan mountains.

The first few miles were uneventful. I was in the mid pack and enjoying the company of some runners. I noticed that there were more middle-aged runners (that includes me) than young. Since the race started in the morning, the full glory of San Juan mountains showed itself and I could not help it but be truly amazed at its rugged beauty. Now, I know what some runners before me were saying. You have to witness it by yourself to fully appreciate the landscape. Rugged, raw, remote and unpretentious.








MILE ZERO (Start) to OURAY (Mile 43.9)

Things started good until I started hitting altitude of more than 10,000 feet. To put things in perspective, the highest point in Luzon where I have done some races is Mt. Pulag seats at merely 2,922 meters or 9,600 feet. Now in Colorado that is basically the average elevation. During the race, the highest elevation is more than 14,000 feet (Handies peak) and average elevation of the race runs close to 11,000 feet and where I come from is nothing compared to what I have seen and felt.

Here is the elevation profile for 2018



I remember what the lady told me at the medical station that I was 91% acclimated and perhaps 95% so during race day echoed in my mind as soon as I reached an elevation of at least 11,000 feet. My breathing was labored and after 4 or 5 slow agonizing steps going up, I had to stop to rest for a few seconds or minutes. The higher the altitude, the worse it was for me. That was very frustrating. To think, I have done some hundos (100 miles) before but this one is entirely a different beast.

After the agonizing climbs over Putnam, Grant Swamp, Oscar and Virginia passes going to Ouray, I had seriously considered withdrawing from the race. If this would be the scenario for the last half of the race, all I’d be doing is to catch the cut-off times at every station.

I was told that some 25 runners quit already between these points due to altitude issues.

OURAY (mile 43.9)

This was another aid station where Rose and Mike met me aside from Telluride. I confided to them that I was withdrawing from the race and boy, you should have seen the look on their faces! It is like hearing a seriously unacceptable or disgusting news. I relayed to them that I had been having difficulty climbing. Gasping for air, resting and stopping unnecessarily even if I was not even tired or injured. It was the altitude obviously. While I was consistently managing to come in at the aid stations 2 hours before the cut-off, there was doubt I could keep up the pace especially on the latter part of the race when fatigue had already set in.

Rose and Mike would not have any of it. They said there is plenty of time and the running community back home is waiting … watching. In fine, we decided to proceed but Mike would now be pacing me onwards instead of the original plan from Grouse Gulch or around mile 60. Ate and napped for 15 mins and off we went as soon as the time was up. My stomach had started acting up. I could not eat as well as I did earlier. This was the first night of my race.

Again, I was just mesmerized with the San Juan mountains. Fantastic views!

OURAY (Mile 43.9) to HANDIES PEAK (Mile 65)

The company of Mike was certainly a welcome change. We were moving well except those climbs where, it seemed, I was getting slower even more. Depending on the grade, I was moving between a mile or 1.5 miles per hour! Even so, I was keeping a positive view. What time we lost going up, we tried to make up on the downhills on a decent pace.




At this point of the race, I had learned to move well on the scree portions where initially I even used my butt and all on fours to manage until I saw most runners just gliding over. I learned from them just by watching and with a little recklessness, I finally could do it comfortably. Also, some parts of the trails were riddled with loose rocks or what I call “tiles”. Very common when one is traversing the side of a mountain. These tiles on top of the other tiles cover the trail and so they provide a sliding effect on your shoes as you step on them. If one is not careful or should I say moving well on those downhills, it could be a tricky situation. In fact, there are some of these trails that are too narrow and one wrong step could send you several feet down off a cliff. That is however one of the inherent challenges of our sport. It is not for everyone. Otherwise, anyone can do it.

Reaching the highest point of the race, Handies Peak was again slow, cold and yet awesome. It was good to be in the company of Mike.

HANDIES PEAK to CUNNINGHAM (Mile 90++)

We were both tired now. I was worried about Mike since and he and Rose had a race the next weekend. So, for Mike to be running with me this long and hard a week before their race was not ideal.

This is the part where we got in a thunderstorm. That was my first time to be up so close with it at 12,000 feet. Lightnings striking one after the other in concert and then the rain started pouring down. It was nighttime. From afar, the thunder looks white or bluish until you are up close. Once it unleashes, the streak looks pink at least that is how I saw it.

At any rate, Mike and I sensed the danger and rushed to the nearest cluster of trees but not too close. Good thing we were not above tree line when it all started. We hurriedly took out our jackets and, in my case, my flimsy poncho as well. Flimsy because the material was really thin (Rose and Mike bought it for me. Thanks!) and which was worn on top of the jacket.  It somehow provided extra protection against the wind but not enough. Too cold now just sitting on our butt while waiting for the storm to subside/pass. It seemed not happening soon.

Mike said we had to keep moving or risk hypothermia. I agreed. We lost at least 30 minutes here.  As soon as we sensed that the storm was veering away, we started moving. It was still raining and cold though. Exposing ourselves out in the open again while the thunders were streaking nearby was unnerving but we had no choice. Time was ticking. Notwithstanding this setback, we kept plodding on. We were now in the back of the pack and the thought of the same was disconcerting enough.

The rain eventually stopped.

CUNNINGHAM to DIVES – LITTLE GIANT (Mile 90++)

Dear Lord, what a climb to the peak! It was made worse since we had just left the last aid station and thus, carrying a full weight of supplies. Night had overtaken us again and we were moving with runners far older than us. The way to the Dives seemed endless. We were behind 3 older runners. They were moving well ahead of us with a sense of urgency. Slow but steady.  It seems this is the only way to get to the finish line. As usual, I had to stop every 4 or 5 steps to catch my breath and our trip here was made even slower when I had to answer the call of Nature. The way to the top was just agonizing and I was consoled only by the fact that this is the last climb to the finish line or so it seemed. Both Mike and I were very sleepy.

DIVES – LITTLE GIANT to FINISH LINE

Took a short break to top up at the top before taking the almost downhill to the Finish Line. We only had 3 hours, if I recall correctly, to reach the end of our journey. As soon as we were done, we hit the downhills … fast. That usual surge of adrenaline now coursing through my body was there when I sensed the need to push it really hard. Heightened senses. I have had this experience in WS100, Hardcore Hundred (1st edition) and GNW100. That grit, innate strength and determination to finish what I have started.

Mike and I spoke and he said I could make it but he said, if my recollection serves me right, I had to “run like you are qualifying for Olympics” (Mike if you are reading this, chime in 😊) So I bombed the downhill … fast even those sections that Mike considered dangerous. Mike was trailing behind. I must have been almost 10 or so minutes ahead of Mike when the batteries of my headlamp started to wane. F$&#! Not now. So I started calling out Mike but he could hardly hear me. I had to stop or risk injuring myself since I could hardly see the terrain ahead of me. So we swapped headlamp and off I went again … fast.

Mike was trailing behind me now. From the top, we could see the town of Silvertown slowly coming to full view. My heart was pumping hard now not only from exhaustion but from excitement and fear. Fear that I might not make it. Our time had diminished considerably and the remaining time was getting just too tight. On the way down, we reached a fork – left or right was the question. The marking on the gate showed us the way. This is where Mike let me go and he said I have to push it hard.

Several long minutes into the trail, I could not see any marking. It was unnerving at this point to get lost. “Why is it I am nowhere getting closer to the town?” was the recurring question in my head. So, I decided to go back just to make sure I did not miss any confidence marking. There was none. The last marking is the marking when Mike and I reached that fork. F$&# again! That was costly in terms of time. No matter how fast I went on again, there was just enough time. Then I discovered the  next marking was several kilometers away from the fork. Even if I did not go back, it was still a long way to go.

This is the part where I cried and agonized. Heart-wrenching. I lost it. I lost the chance to make history.

The feeling is indescribable. You must experience it to know it. Ironic thing is I was still feeling very strong. I could still run well at least on lower elevation. One of the two local runners who escorted me to the Finish line said something, “You can still run!”. Yes, I still could but fate would not me have it.

A WEEK AFTER THE RACE …

Mike sent me this message. He, well both of us were a bit emotional (for lack of better term). Mike gave me permission to share it with you. For what it is worth, the runner and his pacer seem to form a unique bond, kinship or brotherhood in long races like 100 miles that transcends beyond the finish line. The pain and agony of going through those hard miles seem to weld them together and the pacer by experiencing those same emotions with his runners unwittingly understands the empathy that comes with it. This is not the first time for me. Remember the epic experience during WS100 in 2012 with Rick Gaston. The same experience which proves my philosophy in life that deep friendship is born not out of happiness, partying or good times but through pain, hardship and … time.    

JUL 25TH, 5:12AM


Hey Jonnifer! Hope your recovery is going well. I typed a message that I was going to post to Facebook, but I wanted to send it to you directly instead.

Thank you Jonnifer for giving me the opportunity to pace you. It was an honor and privilege to share the trail with you for 57 miles of the Hard Rock 100 course. I wish the results would have been better, finishing 28 minutes after the 48-hour cutoff was not what either of us wanted. I was inspired many times throughout the race by your strength and determination. I witnessed you struggle many times because of the elevation and sleep deprivation, but you just kept pushing through. That mountain course will humble the strongest of trail runners. I found myself questioning whether I ever wanted to run the course again. The sheer drop-offs as we crossed over washouts, the 2 different lightning storms, one of which was the worst I have ever encountered while on the mountain and steep descents that were not for the faint of heart. In the end we didn’t get the result we hoped for, but the bond formed will last a lifetime. I’m proud to have shared the miles with you and proud to call you my friend.

JUL 25TH, 6:40AM

Hey Mike! I am getting there but my stomach is not okay yet. Thank you thank you so much for your and Rose's support!

During the race, I would have understood you could have quit or simply made up some reason not to pace me or discontinue to do so but you did not. That says alot about your heart ... kind and persistent. I was a stranger after all. Perhaps, the result is meant to be that in exchange for that 30 or so minutes respite from the thunderstorm meant saving our lives rather than a finish. I totally agree that HR100 gave us the bond between us that will last a lifetime. Our team finished the race and nobody can take that away from us despite the huge odds and handicap against me. I mighty proud to call you my friend as well. I told you so. Take care now and please do keep in touch.


HINDSIGHT & ADVISE

1. I am just glad that I was not injured or worse. There are some realization and gratitude that come with this experience and even a reason to celebrate. The gift of endurance. Yes. If my more than 10 years of ultrarunning is any indication, that fact I cannot deny. 

2. On HR100 terrain. The trail course is raw and unpretentious. Unspoiled. To think, the race almost got cancelled or at the very least re-routed because of wildfire before the race. Among all the trail races I have joined, this race is on the top of my list in terms of elevation, terrain, rugged beauty and remoteness. The race description, “Wild and Tough” is apt! So it is true after all with all the stories I have read before how beautiful the race course is.

3.  There is more to it than your finish time in 100 miles.

4.  Get early to the elevation or race course. I’d say minimum 3 weeks before the race day. The longer the better. You might as well train and run there during your peak weeks. Time being away for an extended period is a commodity I cannot afford now. So whether I am going back for a “redemption” seems remote now.

5. Bring enough budget to cover unexpected expenses.

6. Train with trekking poles. Not mandatory but they will help immensely.

7. Do more 100 miles before attempting this. Now, I know why HR100 is called “post-graduate” race.


LIGHT MOMENTS & THANK YOU NOTES

When you are Silverton, try the Elk burger with IPA. Awesome!, Trail running in US is on a different level. Imagine elite runners as volunteers taking care of the needs of runners. I met on the trail as aid station crew the likes of Anna Frost, Joe Grant, and others. Wonderful folks.





Thank you again to Mike and Rose as I have said, not enough words to thank them both. Also to my fellow RDs Jonel Mendoza, Atty. Aldean Lim for the complimentary races at Pulag 100k and RMR, respectively, Andrea Blumberg and Greg Hartman  for the tips, my colleagues for the support, the trail community for their well wishes, prayers and the nerve-wracking waiting that some of you did :) My apologies. My friends as well.

So 'till the next adventure!

Cheers,
Jon (no races abroad for me for a while until I win a lotto:)