I entered the event after over a month of having only run a handful of times while packing on some weight. I had no heat training either, ouch. You see two weeks before I left the United States on September 11, I ran the Headlands 50k. I had an amazing time and ran well but finished with an injury. I had a strain on the right hamstring due to my "bombing" of all of the downhills. Thankfully I felt the pain half a kilometer from the finish line but I was out of running for two weeks after the event. Only thing that kept me sane was TRX which I had taken up five weeks before and was addicted to. After those two weeks I was off to London where I enjoyed the days and worked through half the night on my freelance work.
I had my reservations of participating but ultimately it was my mom who gave me the push, "if you get tired you can always walk". That I did ma, that I did. So I went for it.
Took a flight out on a Saturday night for Cebu. An island so close to my hometown it only took thirty minutes and a prop plane at that. We went up then came right back down, well it felt that way anyway. At 2:30AM the next day Jonel Mendoza and Gary Garcia picked me up from my hole in the wall hotel and we were off. I was pretty excited, apprehensive but excited. We were off shortly after 4AM and I was surprised to see that despite my usual slow start I was close to the front pack. I was feeling like I was on top of the world that first 10k. Oh I kept watch on the pace, careful not to go out too fast. Even at that time in the morning I was already sweating buckets, horrible, but kept the pace solid. The first 15k was all flat road but after that we started to ascend a mountain road where we alternated between road and fire road. It got hilly quick and we were passing through small villages. These were remote rural areas where people were going about their normal lives. I saw three guys skinning a goat by the side of the road, a husband and wife duo who were each carrying a huge bamboo tree with bolos (machetes) on their hips, farmers minding their land, vendors selling this and that, playing kids, lounging unleashed dogs and lots of road kill that included snakes. It was pretty trippy and despite being so close to my hometown they spoke a different dialect that I couldn't understand. My fellow runners, the volunteers and the locals who I saw along the way were very supportive and offered encouragement, I just couldn't understand them. I never felt like a tourist in my own home country until this race.
Thirty kilometers into this, at 3 hours, I was already ready for the race to be over. Made sense I guess, the only runs I could manage for the previous month were a handful of 1-hour runs. Dying at 3 hours was normal except I had another 30 kilometers to go and the hills were non-stop! As it turned out the hills would continue for pretty much most of the race until the last several miles, the final downhill was painful in it's steepness. These damned cruel race directors - I'm a fan. Not only did I feel tired but I felt it physically, legs ached like crazy. Short of the 45k mark a volunteer ran up to me and asked if I wanted Omega Pro. Except for the Filipino runners, raise your hand if you know what Omega Pro is. Yeah I had the same problem, I was like "what?" said it several times. Finally he just pulled out the bottle. I was feeling so bad I agreed to have him rub the stuff on my legs, besides stopping felt like heaven. Well let me tell you, that salve felt amazing 5 minutes later. The menthol felt great on my legs and long after that wore off my legs continued to feel better. No help for being out of shape and racing heavy however, I still had to complete the remaining miles. At the 45th kilometer I was in 4th place, a position I had held since the 30th kilometer but the downhill slide took a steeper dive from this point forward. I got passed four times before I reached the finish line. It was disheartening even when I thought I was past the point of caring.
With about 6 miles to go we started coming down from the ridge and I was so happy only to find out in a couple of miles that we would start climbing again #$@*$!!! Up and up we went and I started thinking, "this downhill is going to be a bitch". Well it was. The best part was that at the end of the downhill a volunteer pointed me towards a six lane road and told me to cross it. There were no lights, crosswalks or rules about the pedestrian's right of way like you do here in the US, you just play frogger with the traffic. Thankfully the volunteer came with me, two is more visible than one. The last kilometer felt like forever, like having to take a dump but stuck in a long bathroom line. Holding your load would have been less painful I think. A motorcyle volunteer came alongside and kept me company. He radioed in my name and paced me to the final turn. I tell you that final turn took freaking forever. You actually pass the finish line before coming around to it. Did I mention I'm a big fan of the race directors? As I passed the finish line on my way to the final turn the blood blister on my right pinky toe burst. I laughed because it was that kind of day but wow… that pain. There is always that initial pain when raw flesh meets separated skin and it can go on for a minute. The pain was gone by the time I crossed the finish line but I had them take care of the toe at the finish.
The spirit of ultra is alive and well in the Philippines and this race, the support and organization is on par with what I'm used to in the US, even better than some races I've experienced. The course marking was excellent and the intersections were manned by volunteers who waved red flags. The red flags were great in the street sections where the volunteers looked like everyone else - I just aimed for the flags. Really, really great event. I have no complaints. If I need to have one then that finish line beer shouldn't be Lonestar from Texas. It should be the local beer which tastes a whole lot better!
It was a really, really great time and with my finish I got to check off two bucket list items; participate in an international race and finish an ultra race in the Philippines. Great, great time. UItra is going strong in the Philippines and it's growing!
For the complete photoset click here.