03 October 2023

THE HUMAN SPIRIT (MY EXPERIENCE AS A SWEEPER AT HARDCORE HUNDRED MILES)

 

I might as well get this out of the way.

I have been meaning to write a post about my experience as a sweeper for the first time during H1. The race took place last May 18, 2023. Initially, I was requested to pace a runner but she decided to postpone her first take on the race. She was not confident. I understand. Truth be told, I actually trained as a pacer since there was still a good 60 or so kilometres until the Finish line. That is not something to sneer at especially in a mountain race like H1.

We used to joke that a pacer should "pace" his runner and not the runner pacing the pacer :) Besides, it would be a shame to appear weaker than your runner since he or she needs to feed off from your strong and fresh energy or vibe. So that the pacer should train as well as his runner doing everything to make sure his runner crosses the Finish line within the cut-off time or time barrier as they say in Europe.




H1 for short or Hardcore Hundred Miles Trail Ultramarathon is the culminating race of the KOTM series up in North of the Philippines. One of the toughest races on this side of the planet and I had the "crazy" pleasure of doing it 3 in a row in 2013 (1st edition), 2014 and 2015 to get in the Hall of Fame. My first race report you can find it here and just search for the other articles using H1 as key.

After hearing the news that my runner decided not to go, I volunteered to be a sweeper instead. Something new to me. Besides, I did not want my training to go to waste but doing the entire 100 miles was not option. Firstly, I did not train specifically for it and lastly, I do not want to ruin my record of 3-in-a-row accomplishment. It would be a tragedy to DNF this race. Not now.

So, I got in touch with RD Jonel to allow me to sweep. I was given the duty for this section, Babadak-Cabayo-Banao-Castillo during nighttime or roughly 40 kilometres stretch. Not bad. Better than nothing to do with all the training. I had no idea what to do so I researched a bit. In our conversation, I jokingly said it would seem I would act as a "babysitter" for the last runner or group of runners, and he said that to listen to them "whine" - a common occurrence amongst ultrarunners especially when the going gets tough. Well, believe me there was more to it than whining that I had personally witnessed and how the human spirit can be a very powerful aid to successfully finish this race or any ultra for that matter. More on this later.

Here are some pictures:

Getting ready for the last runner to come by.

There was a drizzle but it was raining bad up in Mt. Pulag so they said. More rain later.


The organizers and some runners on duty.

Race briefing.

Start of sweeping duty.




I was happy to sweep but sad as well for what transpired. What I am about to write does not intend to cast aspersion on any of the runners I swept nor to belittle anyone. I am writing this article with all due respect to them and will not mention any names here. Better that way.

From Babadak aid station, I was following a group of last runners in varying degree of, let us say, troubles. One had hip problem which seemed really bad and the others I could tell that they were "physically" okay. There was a cut-off at the next aid station from Babadak and looking at my watch, I knew they could still make it. So, there was enough time if they would just move at a good pace.

Anyway, I told myself that my duty was merely to sweep and not to pace the runners so they could make it in time from one aid station to another. I refused to relegate myself only to that duty. I also wanted the runners to finish out of empathy because I had done this race before and I know what it felt like and what was at stake.

Then it started to rain. In a tough race like this, rain is an aggravating factor. It multiplies the hardship. Mud, slippery trail, cold temperature, blisters and visibility are some of the issues. You tend to move slowly. Taxing also on the body because it has to warm itself properly.

Then the night came and the rain was not letting up. On my way to the next aid station, I chanced upon a group of runners taking shelter on the balcony of a house. It appeared that no one was inside. They huddled together and wearing jackets and ponchos. Rain was bad. The runners I was sweeping went ahead. They could still make it in time. I knew it. I could tell from their eyes and demeanour. 

It was very cold and wet now. The only part of me that is dry were my head and torso because of my jacket. The rest was soaking wet. Good thing I "3M ductaped" (I know this is not in any dictionary and just made it up) my feet. Otherwise, my feet would have been macerated - a perfect recipe for blisters.

I stopped by and took shelter as well since technically, these runners were now my last runners to sweep. I wanted to carry on and get going (I still could) since stopping would decrease your core temp drastically and even make you feel colder) but my duty was to sweep. So, I had to wait for them.

From their look, the eyes and all, I could tell they had already "resigned". Making up some excuses about this and that and I knew they were not going anywhere. The fighting spirit was gone. Honestly, I felt a mixture of emotions of pity, sadness, and indignation as well. Sadness that they had called it quits and indignation since I knew they could still put up a fight. If they would just fight. They looked okay actually. No visible injury, pain, etc. Just cold and wet but what the heck. We all were. No exception.

I have said before that in any race as long and tough like H1, you always focus on things you can control. The weather, rain or sun, fuck it. Let it be. Do not allow it to control you. Focus on yourself and how to keep going even how difficult and annoying it is. 

I was once asked what the key is to finish a tough ultra race. My answer: Your mind, your spirit

You have done your training and that covers the physical aspect of your preparation. Your mind, however, is equally or even more important than the physical preparation. You should come in a race, mentally prepared too. In our own lingo - "Buo ang loob mo!" No doubt. Nada, zero, zilch. You better swear you will finish no matter what. Nervousness, hell that is natural but doubt is a bitch. You come in a race with any lingering doubt, it will destroy you later in the race because it will be amplified by hundred fold by time, difficulty, soreness, fatigue, weather, fuel and hydration issues, pain, discomfort, etc. which are all inherent in ultra races. And the only thing to fight these with is your indomitable spirit.

You might be curious to ask, how to train your mind or spirit. Easy. Train alone when doing long distances or runs (I used to train alone in Miyamit for a good 30kms, 40kms or so kilometres in a day. You go up there at the peak, you better make sure you come down since no one will most likely help you. No ride, no 711. You are on your own just like in a race. You are the only one who can bring yourself to the finish line and no one else. That mentally preps you a lot. You get the idea). A group of friends to train with from time to time is all right to break the monotony. It should, however, be an exception than the general rule. Train mostly alone. I am sure others have other ideas too. This reminds me of my all-time favorite quote:

“Out of sufferings have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” (Kahlil Gibran)

Let us go back. When I saw that the weather was improving, I encouraged the runners to keep going to the next station where they said to wait it out until the next morning which meant they had decided to quit. Damn. I was sad.

It must have been around 10PM when we reached Banao aid station (was it Banao?) or something where there was a school. Some of the crew said there were other runners inside the school "sleeping" = DNF. I was sad again.

They asked me whether I was staying for the night and told them no. I better keep moving and hopefully, catch the last runner. That was my duty to begin with. Besides, I did not think I could sleep well there with all the runners anyway even though I was tired. Not physically though. A different kind tiredness, you know.

So, I set out alone after getting some supplies. I did not give a shit about the weather. I carried on for a good 6 hours, more or less, to Castillo where my duty would be over. Hiking now, I was hoping to catch a runner or two to accompany them following exactly the trail markers along the race route. I did not take a shortcut. What for? There was unfortunately (perhaps, the better word is fortunately) no one. I did not see a single soul even the locals. I was deep in the mountain and for some reasons, I was not scared at all. Just peace and quiet. I figured they all must have been inside sleeping what with the nasty weather and all. As for the runners, they must have been flying to catch the time in the next aid station. That was good.  
 
At the Castillo aid station, the crew were waiting for me before they dismantled everything. It must have been around 4AM. Meaning, no more runner to wait for whether within or outside the cut-off time. I was glad I continued on. Otherwise, they could be waiting needlessly.

Would I sweep again? Maybe not. My experience was not totally, uhm, "rewarding." You know. More likely, pace someone to make sure my runner would get to the finish line in time and then celebrate what we call the human spirit.

Until the next blog post. Cheers!

03 April 2023

SO WHAT HAPPENED AT MT. UGO RACE & BOSS IRONMAN, 2023?

2023 MT. UGO RACE    


To tackle the 42k trail race (Mt. Ugo), I swore to climb and train at Mt. Arayat. I have learned my lessons from the previous 21k trail race of sore quads with a lot of cursing #$%@ that came with it days after the race. My previous story here

I was just glad that Mt. Arayat is now open to trailrunners, climbers, hikers, and visitors in general. The place has changed after the pandemic. There are cafes along the road and the entrance is now through a DENR post where you have to pay, I think Php30.00 each for every visitor. Also, a group of climbers will be required to secure a guide depending on the number of persons. I was told the rate is Php1,000.00. Given that they know us through the years, we are exempted. Besides, they don't bother telling or requiring us because we move fast. Some of the guides wear slippers and I think they like to keep the pace recreational. 

On a serious note, it occurred to me that acting as a guide is a good way to get in that exercise and earn at the same time. I wanted to try but I am not sure I have the patience to guide a bunch of folks where it will take them almost a whole day to be out and back. No offense but time for me is precious. Perhaps, if there are fast climbers that might work for me. Anyway, I am not doing it except upon request of friends or friends of a friend and it is gratis. Just to get in that climb is in itself the reward.

I am digressing. Okay going back. A fellow trailrunner, Arwin Sta. Clara and his wife, Joy joined me (or is it the other way around) for a double climb a week before Mt. Ugo. His wife joined us on the last climb. Nothing crazy fast or what. Just a chill climb and one of the best parts was a brunch at Abe's Farm. Delish!


So, after doing the climbing and running, I knew I was ready for the trail marathon. 

On the way to the Finish line, I passed several runners. Enjoying the downhill until I bonked. I was so hungry and did not realize how far the next aid station was. I appreciate the male runner from Cebu (I think and my apology I forgot your name) who gave me water and Cloud 9 choco bar. Thank you so much! 

Other than that episode, overall, I was happy with how the race turned out. 

Thank you to Jonel Mendoza and Robert Watson for allowing me to join. Of course, the race crew at every aid station and along the trail. It was so nice to be back!










2023 BOSS IRONMAN


Well, I could tell you now that this event felt like an ultra race on 2 wheels! 

No sleep for more than 19 hours before crossing the Finish line. Worse part was the incessant rain for roughly 400kms stretch up North in the middle of the night! We were all soaking wet.

Just like in all my ultra races before, I always tell myself that to control things that you can and not things you cannot like the weather. There is no point bitching about it. So for this long ride, all I did was gear up to protect myself from the rain. That's all I could do. 

But really, it was hard riding in the rain especially in those areas where I had to manage steep slippery downhills in pitch dark! Unlike a headlamp resting on your head where you can pivot to see what is up ahead, you cannot do it with a big bike. The beam of the headlight is limited to a straight line and so when one is managing a curve, you cannot see what is on the other side. It could get tricky and dangerous. In fact, there were several eroded sections. All I could do was ride slow and sure. One mistake could be fatal was all I kept telling myself. There was one incident where 2 riders were severely injured on a head-on collision because of a drunk driver, who from all indications, did it purposely. Damn. That guy should be punished severely. I wish I could find the video, which Epoy Poblete sent a link here. Thank you! I am just glad the 2 riders have recovered or are recovering.

Thankful, however, that I finished the ride safe and sound but absolutely wrecked. I cannot imagine doing this event with a pillion but I did see some. So, kudos.

So that is one off the bucket list. Will I do it again? I don't know. Let's see.





(Simply exhausted)


(What a dirty bike! Ugh)


(It took me more than a week to clean James. I didn't want to get near him and am sure James felt the same way too!)



Best,

Jon (resting this week after the 32km race yesterday and realizing this blog has become his running, among others, diary)

P.S.

Somebody told me of this 32k race in Clark and I immediately said why not. It is my neck of the wood anyway.

So, I bugged Don again to ask for free race kit. Thank you Don and the organizer of CCM!

Frankly, I was just happy to be running. Just give me a race bib and I don't care about the loot. Really. Ask some of the race organizers around. That is all I ask - a race bib just so I can run. And the same courtesy I extend to my fellow race organizers if they want to join my races. Besides, I don't want to bandit any race.












 


  


30 January 2023

Mt. Ugo Race & Boss Ironman

MT. UGO RACE


Alright, the FIRE in me is back!!! 👍 

After the CMU race of 21k, I felt good although my quads were shot 2 days after. I was not surprised they were. I did not do any trail run prior to the race! I laughed at myself every time I descended a stair mumbling something like, "Shit, my quads hurt! Idiot, what do you expect?! You have not done any trail run prior to the race, you dumbass!" Then after a week, I was looking for another race to feel the pain again. LOL 😁

So, I have decided to join this year's Mt. Ugo Marathon by my good friend and race director, Jonel Mendoza. This is the first trail race (I think) in a series of races culminating to Hardcore Hundred miles or H1 for short. Yes, 160kms! Arguably, the hardest 100-mile race on this side of the planet. 

I have done H1 in 3 consecutive rows. In 2013, I finished 2nd and after my 3rd finish, I was inducted in the Hall of Fame and never went back. Why? It is a sufferfest! :) Believe me. I found my race report here during my first finish. It was nice to relive the memories. 

Let us see what happens next. For sure, I'll be back in May for H1 but not as a runner. As pacer for a good friend. In a way, it is my own unique way of paying it forward. I do remember that a few years ago, another good friend of mine took on the challenge to run H1. I was supposed to pace but he quit mid-race. I was pissed off because I was planning to use that pacing duties as training run. Oh well, no use bitching about it, is it? So, we drank instead to drown his sorrow and to forget about the whole damn thing! Also, he never went back. Just like my 1st run, his race was also made difficult with rain at the start of the race. Nasty 💥


BOSS IRONMAN

Now as a rider, I will be joining the Boss Ironman on February 24-26, 2023. 1,200 plus kilometers to cover several major provinces in Luzon and it should be done within 24 hours. Date is almost upon us.

Am I ready? Oh yes! And I am saying that with all humility. James has covered almost 27,000kms and counting. Lots of riding experience there but I am sure, there are others who have covered more distance than me.

For added confidence, we will be doing a practice night ride on February 4 starting at 10PM. Sort of a simulation for the actual BOSS ride covering as shorter distance of around 700kms from Clark, Baguio, Ambuklao, Kayapa, Baler, Bongabon, and back in Clark. Something like that.

As an added practice also, I regularly ride James from home-work-home (more or less 14 kms total in a day. Day start and finishing at night during rush hours) just to maintain or hone my street riding skills. During the actual BOSS ride, riders will pass through several towns and cities, and I think this skill is very critical. You know that skill to weave in and out of traffic and have that tip-top mental alertness to avoid accident. Riding on highways is pretty much straightforward but not on busy streets especially here in Philippines. Bloody chaotic! 😬👿

'Til next time!

Cheers

Jon (missing playing golf)




29 November 2022

TRAILRUNNING CONCERNS (part 2), NORTH LOOP (almost) & Tatay MAENG SORIANO

TRAILRUNNING CONCERNS (part 2)

Hmm. Where do I start?

Things are going well for the next race Cordillera Mountain Ultra 2022 this weekend, December 3 to 4, 2022. I will be merely running the 21K as part of slowly easing into longer distances starting next year. 

We will be seeing old familiar and new faces for sure during the event. It'll be fun to relish the rapport and camaraderie amongst trail runners once again. This feeling is hardly present when joining road races. Once thing I love about trail running is the kindred spirit you have with other trail runners. I always look forward to the Finish line where most of us linger around while waiting for other runners to cross. Then there is the chat, and if you are game, beers too!

Given many runners will be attending this race event, I would like to invite, speak with and "interview" (for lack of better term) runners on the current state of trail running in the Philippines in general and some of the issues affecting it. So please feel to approach me anytime when I get there on Saturday morning or you can message me privately in FB on how to go about it. The anonymity of these runners is certainly guaranteed. 

Regardless of their opinions, beliefs and affiliation, I want to talk to as many runners as possible on these issues because I feel objectivity and impartiality are important considerations before releasing the next blog post here on this topic. So thank you very much in advance.   


NORTH LOOP (unofficial)

Moving on. Alright, so we did this "unofficial" North loop (minus the Aurora province) last weekend covering, more or less, a distance of 1,143 kilometres. James has proven itself to be very reliable for this long arduous trip.


The actual route plus a detour to Villa Verde Trail 

We decided to cover the North loop after joining the 7th Ilocos Sur Invitational Ride in Vigan City as part of our "training" for the 2023 Boss Ironman. There were more than 2,000 riders so they say. We purposely skipped Aparri and Baler in Aurora since it'll be nice to see something "new" during the actual Boss Ironman. Just like in ultrarunning, you don't cover the entire distance, say, 100 miles in a training. You have to leave some area or distance, so it'll be exciting, as earlier said, to see something new. I love the long stretches in Cagayan!

At any rate, the highlight of this trip was a visit to the parents of my law school classmate, Atty. Louie Soriano of Honda Philippines in Roxas, Isabela. I remember distinctly on how hospitable his father was when we saw him for the first time during the baptism of my classmate's child in Laguna. I was one of the ninongs.  His father was then 53 or so and now at 73. We loved the papaitan he prepared for us especially after getting drunk with Fundador :) So that was around 20 years ago. 

He is still chatty, friendly and cool even at his age. Not the grumpy old man. Of course, the experience was complete with heap serving of their local dish, papaitan over Jack Daniel and red wine. I can't explain it but you have this instant rapport with some old gents. He is one of them.  

Thank you so much for the accommodation and hospitality!!!


Tatay Maeng Soriano

Here are some pictures of the trip. 



Welcome lunch venue. Look closer at those bikes on the bridge.

Riders at the Welcome lunch.






Fellowship night

Some riders at the Rosario La Union before heading out to Vigan.



Try the Bigote IPA


The famous Vigan Longganisa








Now this is the best "mineral" water in the world! Truly free and natural.

Cheers,
Jon (tired as hell after the trip. It felt like the next day after running an ultra race except your legs are still fresh :)


23 November 2022

MALICO RIDE, CCM & TRAILRUNNING CONCERN

MALICO RIDE

Friends had been telling me about riding going to Malico or Villa Verde trail which is the site of the infamous Battle of Villa Verde Trail between US and Japanese forces during World War II. To date, this place has become a scenic site due to the presence of an old Sherman Tank and beautiful pine-clad surrounding.

So Nick, Kyle and I set out to visit the place last 12 November 2022. Around 214kms, we initially took the TPLEX and exited via Rosales. We could have taken a shorter route but that would require us to pass through towns which is equivalent to traffic, crowd and all. Meaning, it'll be slower. On the way back, we took the Pangasinan route via Tayug. Faster. We were glad that this road is finally open to the public. Fairly new. 

We had fun as the weather was cool and relaxing and the view, wonderful!





2022 CCM


I had to pester him, my long-time friend, Don who works for Filinvest since Mimosa was the venue sponsor for the 2022 Clark City Marathon for a free race kit. In previous years, I would have opted for the full marathon but not this time. Only 21kms since I am slowly easing into racing. I could have run the full mary but I don't think it would have been fun. At any rate, this was my training race for the upcoming Cordillera Moutain Ultra on December 3-4, 2022.

Thank you Don and the organizer of CCM for allowing us to run.  Yes, Don ran the 21kms too. It was nice to see him again after more than 2 years due to the pandemic. At least, he looks fitter now unlike before when he was so much into DJing :)

Hopefully next year, I can have a list of races (mostly trail) to do. I miss going outside the country to race as well. Let's see. 







TRAILRUNNING CONCERN

Soon, I will post a blog article here to discuss what is happening with the trail running community in the Philippines, issues, rifts and other matters in the wake of the recently concluded World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand. I feel I cannot ignore what is happening now and thus, am obliged to chime in given how I love our sport, seniority (both in age and experience), and how I care the direction trail running is heading to. Soon.   

Cheers,
Jon (happy to come under 2 hours and recovering well for the next race)