“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” (Kahlil Gibran)
The race just took place a few days ago specifically 22-23 February 2013. It started at 12:01AM or thereabouts with a time-barrier of 46 hours. I suspect the cut-off served more to factor in the elevation gain of 10,000 meters but frankly, after crossing the finish line, Simon and I were certain that it could be higher. Same observation from other runners. The RD should be able to give a definite answer to this question.
With similar elevation as that of UTMB (9700m in 2011), there is only one kind of training for this, i.e. mountain running. So I frequented the route of CM50 (see logo on the right side) and Mt. Arayat. These were the staple. Also, I grabbed the chance to train on some parts of the course prior to the race specifically Mt. Pulag and Kayapa to Napo and Babadak Ranger Station in a span of 2 days (it was fun except the leech part). Strange that the same nasty conditions - wind, rain and cold up in Mt. Pulag would be present during the race. More on this later. Included in the preparation was the PSA Akyathlon. Hmm, I've also wondered to myself why I have not joined any of the full marathons prior to H1. I don't know but since last year, I have lost appetite for road races with the exception of perhaps, Badwater and Spartathlon :) As they say, we do things to be happy.
GEAR and SUPPLIES
Shirt - from kms0-62, WS100 2012 official shirt (very nice skin-feel to it - smooth) and from km63 to finish line is Mountain Hardwear.
Short - TNF Flight series
Hat - Oxfam Trailwalker official hat
Jacket - Mountain Hardwear and TNF100 windbreaker (lighter for the last part)
Shoes - up to km62 was Altra Superior and Inov8 Roclite 245 until the finish line.
Face - Balaclava
Socks - Icebreaker circa UTMB 2011 against cold, water and incessant rain then Injinji
Backpack - modified Nathan to carry more essentials
Headlamp - Fenix and crappy ones I borrowed (lol! see below)
Gloves - SealSkinz (highly recommended)
Food - home-made Paleo energy bars/cookies/cupcakes
Headlamp - Fenix and crappy ones I borrowed (lol! see below)
Gloves - SealSkinz (highly recommended)
Food - home-made Paleo energy bars/cookies/cupcakes
H1 is no exception. There seems to be a pattern to my premium races. It was also preceded by extraordinary stressful days primarily because of work . You can't believe how these sap one's inner energy. I mean physically one can recover faster but the internal stress that really get to you. They linger and tend to spill over into the race.
Simon came all the way from Thailand on 20 February 2013 and had to drop by in Makati City to pick up his car. He then drove all the way to Clark to rendezvous with us. I specifically hired a driver and a helper for this purpose. Can you imagine driving for 6 hours or more after a gruelling 100 mile mountain race? Dangerous. So we left Clark a little past 12 midnight and got to Kayapa around 6am. Sleeping in the car while travelling always sucks for me. Nothing beats the comfort of a bed. So I vowed to sleep more once we got to Kayapa which I did. The choice of inn this time was more comfortable and it is just a stone's throw away from the Start/Finish line. The landlady, Manang Tessie was very accommodating. Highly recommended. Imagine a buffet meal for Php100 (US$2.50)! Geez. Tasted good too.
RD Jonel discussed basically what is posted in the race website and included some pointers on the way the course was marked. I think this was the most important topic given the length of the race and the remoteness of the course. Getting lost during the race is not fun and most often than not bordering on demoralizing. We did get lost 3x despite being in the company of Koi Grey (No. 3 overall), an experienced mountaineer and Jowaks from Baguio for the first 62K. Ok more on this later. So we received our race packet with goodies to boot. Simon also attended the pre-race briefing. I made sure I availed of the 3 drop bags and fill them up with the essentials I would be needing during the race.
HOURS BEFORE THE RACE
Dang rain, rain and more rain! We were told that it was raining up in Mt. Pulag which was not a good sign of things to come. I was prepared for this but you know at the back of your mind, you wished it were not so. I made sure I grabbed some more sleep but it was always not enough. Last meal was around 7PM for the 12:01AM start to allow for proper digestion and absorption. I made sure also to prep my stuff.
Inspired by the movie Gladiator, I grabbed a few soil (was supposed to be handful but I could not find enough) while half kneeling and muttered a short prayer befitting the gargantuan task ahead. So this was a minute or so before the start. There is something magical about this act (goose bumps now while writing this) given how things could unfold in a race as long and hard as H1. I felt like a soldier about to enter a battle in which the outcome is always uncertain. Only the wise, humble and more experienced can vouch for this. The fools, on the other hand, are always cocky, self-assured and have no idea what lies ahead. Before the start, I approached some Pinoy runners like James, Wilnar, Aldeen and Ronald and told them let us honor the Philippine flag as a way of encouraging them to land in the top 3. Personally, it did not matter to me who would be among us.
And off we went. We started in a comfortable pace. James shot ahead and I knew better not to chase him. I settled in for the 6th position or something and was with the company of Mia, Cherryl, Ron, Wilnar, Aldeen, Koi and Jowaks. We changed places and eventually I pulled off after I settled in for a nice groove. One important note to myself was to NEVER GO REDLINE at this early stage in the race. This is something I learned from Speedgoat Karl. So I always checked my effort especially going uphills.
As I pulled off, 2 runners clung with me pace by pace. It was funny because I never bothered to look at them who they were. We were all quiet. At such early morning, all I could I hear was the sound of wind, leaves, nocturnal animals and the breathing of the runners I was with. It was only after 30 mins or so that I realized they were Koi Grey (No. 3 overall) and Jowaks (finisher also). I made a mental note that they must be fit and thus, not to be underestimated which is basically my rule in any of my goal races - respect your competitors and what they are capable of! I still remember a certain section where it was downhill and tried to shake these 2 runners off as I shot fast ahead. You know the kind of move that was unexpected but they still clung to me which led me to the realization that they would stay with me for good. On the other hand, it was nice to be in their company given how we helped each other to find the right direction on certain sections. We got lost 3 times for a total of 1 hour more or less. There was even a time when Koi Grey was ahead of us until he almost caught up with James who, I was told, predictably sprinted.
INCLEMENT WEATHER & PULAG
At such early stage of the race, I was concerned about RUNNING MY OWN RACE. I did not mind who was ahead (although it is foolish not to make a mental note of that) and who was with and behind me. After running for several hours, the weather started to deteriorate. Rain. Fortunately, the constant running gave me enough body heat to just maintain wearing a shirt.
Koi and I were surprised to stumble upon James in Banao aid station (KM28), He was obviously cold. After a quick fueling, I went ahead and was leading ... momentarily though. Rain was getting stronger when Koi and I started finding our way up to Mt. Pulag. Koi was feeling sleepy and was glad to be running with me. Otherwise, he said he would slow down. We had been running for several hours now and the constant rain gave no respite for our feet to dry up. They were soaking wet and also very cold. Taping my feet for this part of the course and applying cream was a wise decision as I never suffered a single blister. I knew based on experience that constant water could cause massive blisters or macerated feet given the skin tends to fold in such ugly fashion. No one could afford a massive blister at this point. Icebreaker merino wool socks and anti-rash cream (petroleum jelly and Bodyglide cannot do the job well) helped to protect my feet.
Temperature up in the Mt. Pulag reached perhaps in the 1 digit range with strong wind to add to our misery. Leeches were annoying as well. Had some but luckily managed them just fine. Koi was bleeding from them though despite applying disinfectant (alcohol). We kept moving to maintain our core temperature and discussed whether Isko the Terminator who was manning the checkpoint up in Mt Pulag would require us to reach the summit (Peak 1) before heading down to Babadak Ranger aid station (KM62).
Nasty weather as soon as we reached the Grassland. We both kept saying how hard to breathe despite ascending at such a slow pace. Koi said it must be the elevation or perhaps we were just battered by the weather and thus, tired :) Koi and I managed our way to Isko's tent. He offered bland hot choco (Milo) and soup which Koi and I shared. Good news was we did not have to go to the Summit because of the weather. That was a good call. As RD myself, the safety of the runners is the most important consideration. We were told also that James left just a few minutes ago. Koi and I stared at each other and smelled blood, figuratively. We hurriedly left on account of this and of course, because our asses were freezing after saying our "Thanks!" and "Take care man out here!" to Isko and his companion.
After going down several hundred meters, we chanced upon Jeff Abenina (another marshal) who pointed us the right way and mentioned in passing that James just passed like 30 seconds ago. Koi and I stared at each other again! Alright we did see him a few meters ahead of us and he looked disoriented and lost. He overshot the correct trail leading to Babadak (KM 62 station). Koi who knows the trail here called my attention but in doing so, managed to alert James. Koi and I bombed the downhill and made sure to put a distance between us and James. It was fun and exhilirating! Leading now was fun but what I don't like in a race is the one being chased. The effect is to the mind. It's hard enough to monitor one's body and all and then worry about the distance between you and your chaser. It kinda sucks. In local parlance, nakakapraning. After a while, I got tired and just kept on running. Every now and then Koi kept on complaining how sleepy he was because he was not able to sleep well days leading to the race. I know how that feels.
KOI GREY & MIA CONSTANTINO
Koi has potential to become a strong trail/mountain runner. I was delighted to hear his story on how he began to love mountain climbing at a very early age. This was obvious when at certain portion of the race he would raise both his hands, shout and say "this is so nice!" while trying to enjoy and feel the area. That is unusual. (In my case, I touched the leaves along the way to ask for the mountain's energy.) Half of my age, he was able to maintain the pace with me despite his lack of experience. H1 is just his 2nd ultra. The first one was CM50. I thought doing a major ultra like H1 might be construed as he biting more than he could chew.
What is obvious is his love for Nature unlike other runners who just run for podium finish, purse and/or limelight. I won't be surprised if after several years they are gone because the internal furnace that fuels them are not there in the first place. Most elite ultrarunners around the world have the intrinsic love for mountains. Kilian Jornet's story comes to mind as well as Anton K's. I have heard stories from runners/mountaineers on how Koi is one of the fast/strong mountaineers around (Tama ba Philippe A?). Above all, he can be an iconic figure given his Jamaican/Afro hair style. I asked him why he sports that kind of hair style and he said, I want to make a statement by being non-conformist and different. That figures. I just wish he could maintain the fire burning inside in the same way with the female champ, Mia Constantino. Both are in their twenties and for them to finish the hardest 100 mile mountain race (their first at that!) on this side of the planet really speaks volume of their character and what they are capable of. Folks, this is the kind of ultrarunners that persevere. As I said before the race, anyone who crosses the finish line within the time barrier would have my utmost respect. These two and the others have earned it fair and square. I wish both and others will carry the torch of ultrarunning for the years to come.
If I said something off-tangent or inaccurate here, Koi and Mia please feel free to correct them.
(Pix from James and Charice Roldan at Babadak with Koi, James and moi)
BABADAK STATION (KM62)
Koi and I reached the Babadak aid station ahead of James. First agenda for me was to change socks and shoes and re-apply some cream. Koi said he would nap which I actually encouraged him to do so. Sleep deprivation on the 2nd night of running can be nasty. I told him to eat before he takes his nap. My mistake here was absentmindedly leaving my Fenix headlamp because of stupid weight issue thinking I could reach KM102 mark in daytime. Foolish and presumptuous. I felt fine and strong at this point though. The hot Pinikpikan was absolutely delish! James and Aldeen came in later on.
KMS 62-74 (BALETE STATION)
It occurred to me that the some route I covered initially is the same route I would have to take going back. Downhills earlier meant uphills this time and vice-versa. I incessantly got worried about the looming nighttime and my lack of powerful headlamp (had a flashlight only). So I made a point to borrow once I got to Balete. Renzy who withdrew from the race lent him me his headlamp and flashlight but they were not ideal. Thank you again!
KMS7 5-91 (BANAO STATION)
I started feeling weak now on account of stomach issue. Acidity. This was brought about mixing Mountain Dew and water for my fuel. I was thinking the sugar in the soda would give me extra fuel. I should have stuck with just plain water which I used for training. Legs and feet were still okay. Night was about to descend. There is something serene about running alone in remote terrain like H1. So peaceful and calm. At Banao, I had to bug the marshal to lend me his extra headlamp which became useful ... for a few minutes. My focus now was to reach KM102 asap!
I AM QUITTING!!!
KMS 92-102 (DAYAP STATION) in 22 hours ++
For some strange reason, I did entertain the horrible idea of quitting once I have reached KM102. This feeling went for miles and miles! I knew I was leading but there was this nagging but unmistakable feeling that I AM NOT HAPPY ANYMORE! Period. My mind was telling me that the reason I run ultras is because I am happy with it despite blisters, exhaustion and all. This one was different. The initial "sufferfest" due to inclement weather was I suspected the main cause. My mind was saying like you have not covered even half of the race and you are so miserable already! It reminds me of the Leadville race of Anton K where he just said enough and withdrew from the race despite leading it. Well I am no Anton but I could relate.
So I harbored no idea of telling it to Simon at KM102 mark where pacers were ready for pick up. Mind you he came all the way from abroad just to pace me. It would be an utter shame and selfish just to quit. Besides, the preparation and cost for this race made up my mind already. I did not tell a soul about my plan to quit. I just shut up and let my feet dry by the bonfire which was excellent. Who ever was responsible for this idea (bonfire) should be commended. I told the folks at the aid station that they would see more battered and wrinkled feet like mine. After making the necessary adjustments, Simon and I set out.
(At KM102. Thanks Roland Wang for this)
I was leading until km134. My stomach issue had turned from bad to worse. Felt so nauseous. I was not eating as much as I should and that greatly affected my energy level. Weakness was so evident. I even forced myself to puke several times just to regurgitate whatever was causing the issue but to no avail. Man, this was the literal lowest of lows! My mind and body were conspiring against me and it proved to be detrimental. I never felt this way before.
So when some Ninjas (borrowing the term of Simon to refer to James and his pacer) suddenly appeared after a few seconds we summitted Mt. Ugo, I knew my lead was over. I was not surprised entirely given how slow I was going. Simon and I stared at each other and made up our mind to chase ... temporarily. Simon was fired up. Deep inside I knew I could not match their pace given how weak I was. I must have been subsisting on body fat as fuel to propel myself to the finish line.
(Simon and I approaching the Finish line. Ronald D. thanks for this!)
KMS 135 TO FINISH LINE
I was on a survival mode now to reach the finish line. I knew I had enough time to do so but it was a question of position. I swore I would not allow the next runner to grab the 2nd place. I would be a shame and disheartening. Simon felt the loss of us being in the lead when he said he was also tired. That was understandable. I even said sorry for losing the lead.
At any rate, we kept moving. It was the relentless-forward-progress type of pace but still slow for our liking. I just said to myself the suffering would be over soon. My feet were battered now. Quads numbed from pain. I ate and drink when I could. Even the last 8kms of downhills were painful to the quads. It was funny that I even entertained the idea of coming under 37 hours but my body would not allow me so.
It was only when we saw the Kayapa town proper from afar that Simon and I felt this liberating feeling. We joked that the first thing I would do is to brush my teeth. Haha! Even then, we kept looking back to check if a runner would attempt to sneak past us. It was only fitting to hold and raise Simon's hand as we crossed the finish line together. He was part of my journey. Finally, LIBERATION! The sight of people cheering us on and welcoming us back was enough to soothe our dead tired bodies. The winner was just ahead of us by 59 minutes.
(Hanging out. Moi, Damien. Koi, Simon and Benj. Thanks Benj for this)
Did I regret losing the lead? No regrets but it just sucks! :) There wasn't anything I can do anyway given my condition then. Again, H1 has given me lessons that I thought I have already learned from previous ultras. Why in the world did it not occur to me to take in ginger to alleviate my stomach problem or nausea? Crap!!! That could have been my savior. Also never try any fluid and fuel that were not tested during training! Unfortunately, I did not heed my own tip.
I am very thankful that I had my good friend Simon as pacer. I strongly doubted it if I would have made it to 2nd place given how crappy I was feeling. He was my eyes and ears on the trail. My huge shout out to you my friend. I hope someday I can repay you for your effort. I know it wasn't an easy job but you stood by me. My success is yours as well.
Perhaps next year the markings would be further improved. There was even a point where Simon and I were looking for the next marking and in the process losing more than 1 hour. We suspected that markers were placed during daytime which would be different seeing them in the fog or nighttime. Running with Koi and Jowaks, we lost another 1 hour due to misplacement of signs/markers. Or perhaps it was my or our fault for not looking hard enough.
Race goodies - buckle and medals are of quality. The H1 black statue is worth getting. It is unique to the race. There was even Energizer headlamp and other giveaways. My only reservation is the official race shirt. This needs massive improvement in terms of textile quality and cut.
H1 for now is the hardest 100 mile race I have ever done. Even harder than UTMB. You finish this one, I don't see any reason why you cannot conquer UTMB or other 100 milers except perhaps Hardrock and Leadville, among others. Mts. Pulag and Ugo were not that difficult to ascend and descend. It is the MOUNTAINS IN BETWEEN THAT WILL TURN YOUR LEGS INTO MARSHMALLOWS. Believe me. The consolation I have is beating my UTMB time from 44 hours to 37 hours given H1 has more elevation. We suspect that the 10,000 meters elevation gain could be even higher. H1 has also fantastic views! Very scenic especially the area they call Old Spanish Trail. Wow, wow!
So thank you to CDC again for the support vehicle. My mother, wife Lanie and others who prayed for me, thank you. Those who gave their support in different forms, please accept my gratitude. Rick G for his tips and advise. Of course, Simon!
RD Jonel, wife and staff for having the vision to host a premiere 100 miles, Isko, James Roldan and his wife Charice, Jeff A. Carmeli, crew, marshals and other folks who helped out.
Above all, EARTH who has always reminded me to keep my feet connected to the ground ...
Jon (sore as hell after H1)
(not knowing what to do with the 4 UTMB points from this race)