03 November 2011

Musing AFTER 50K Run to the Clouds Race

When I first came to know Jonel's 50K Run to the Clouds in Baguio City, for some strange reason I wanted to run (not race) it in preparation hopefully for TD100. At first, I did not know why (aside from the obvious long run) and it was only after the race I finally came to realize the reason. It was the allure of getting to see the spectacular view of the Benguet Province which is a little similar to UTMB (and to certain extent GNW100) in terms of terrain and cold weather.

Running from Ambuklao Dam to Sto. Tomas Radar Station (2256 MASL) was challenging because of the elevation gain. Not hard for experienced ultrarunners but there is an amount of challenge to it. I think this will be a difficult race for newbie runners as the course will tax both the quads and calves due to grade and elevation.

The view, however, from the start point up to Baguio City was breathtaking and spectacular. I could not help but be reminded of UTMB and GNW100 trail races. The finish line atop Mt. Sto. Tomas was even more fascinating at it rained a bit and cold temperature set in (14'C I was told). The piping-hot pinikpikan was an added bonus and heavenly after being drenched in the rain. Good race I must admit.

Actually the race had put me in a musing mood. For one, how I wished the route was trail and not an open road (not that I am complaining). That would have been perfect. Trail would perfectly blend in with the surroundings. I have always thought that the natural mountainous terrain of the Benguet Province lends itself as the best trail ultrarunning venue. The weather and natural landscape of the province are a perfect combination to host the most competitive ultra trail race in the Philippines that can rival some of the best in Asia or even the world. TNF100 Philippines perhaps has come close to bring us that trail race but it is not an all-original Filipino ultra. Besides, TNF100 is too close to the city to give runners that unique feeling of being alone with Nature - which is the essence of trail running.

radar station atop Mt. Sto Tomas

For instance, concerned running groups and/or tourism office of the Benguet can map a trail hiking route in and around Benguet province. That is how it can start. Did you know that the courses for UTMB and GNW 100 are basically hiking route? Yes that is true. If we want to train our Filipino ultrarunners to be more competitive in international scene, they must have a good yet challenging playground and it starts with their nearest surroundings. Come to think of it. Some of the best ultrarunners in the world were born and have lived in places where there is an easy access to trail or mountain. Kilian Jornet grew up in the Catalonia, Spain, Anton Kupricka and Geoff Roes live in Colorado - the venue of Hardrock (one of the toughest ultras in USA much like UTMB), Sebastian C. lives near Chamonix I think and others.

There are, in my opinion, four (4) important factors that will contribute to the success of ultra trail event: (1) challenging natural terrain (2) good cold climate (3) dedicated race organization with vision and love for the sports and (4) this is the least understood and which I think is equally important, community involvement and support (which translates to security as well). The local folks must feel that they have a stake or interest (whether economic, personal, social, etc.) in the event and thus, will treat it as a significant part of their social lives. This is best exemplified (and which I have personally witnessed) in ultra races like UTMB and GNW100. I have read the same thing in some other ultras in USA and South Africa (Comrades).

It is just ironic that given the Philippines' scenic natural landscape, we have yet to establish a trail loop covering a distance of 160k or more to host our very own Filipino ultra trail race which will attract both local and foreign runners and to put us on the world map. That is now the challenge to local race organizers Che Alberto, Jonel and ultrarunners like Joel Bengtay, Marcelo Bautista, James Telias, Mark Villafuerte and other top finishers of Run to the Clouds and the provincial government of Benguet.

Jon (still musing)    


  1. good read atty, i share the musing about having a playground for all of us. being a landscape architect; i've been longing (for the longest time) for a National Park System for our country. not that we don't have one. but as established as the US midwest and northwest; unfortunately we come short. but I guess it will boil down to policy making and those stuff. but then again, proliferating this challenging and fun sport will require the authorities to pull their sleeves up to invite more and more people into our beautiful country minus the capitalist and environment 'demolition' team a.k.a resorts, hotels who brand themselves 'sustainable'.
    not realizing how beautiful our country is (let alone the trails) i guess, everyone is missing the point.


  2. Carlo - I distinctly remember during UTMB and GNW100 where it was quite normal to meet hikers along the same course. Sometimes, they travel with their family or in group. So I completely agree with your observation on the need to establish a park system. Imagine the tourism and economic benefits this will bring.

    I was told that there is already a hiking/trekking path in and around Benguet but this is only known to locals and avid mountaineers. It'll be indeed a playground.

    Perhaps, we should lobby for a policy to establish our own park system :) Thanks for posting. Cheers.