Bataan Freedom 68.9 Ultramarathon Run: A Podium Finish

It has been almost a month since my last marathon.   Though Sundays in March were filled with races after another, the second Sunday was the longest so far having finished back to back races in one weekend, a first for me–a marathon with special distance for SAF 44 and a half marathon in Corregidor lsland.

Weeks after, how could I say no to an invite from a fellow runner and Race Director Ian Alacar? Sixty-eight point nine (68.9K) is still more than 60 kilometers considering I had my last ultramarathon race two years ago. Daunting distance.  I wasn’t so sure how would I perform.  As what he told me, “Do the veteran’s move.”  Deep inside, I knew I could only bank on my Corregidor mileage.  This invite, which came from out of the blue, was such a temptation knowing that it would be staged in the place where I had run the longest distance I have experienced as a runner, the Bataan Death March 102K Ultramarathon four years ago.  In this race, just a portion of the infamous “Death March” route is used.

The invitation to run is extended to bring a friend.  With no hesitation at all, I invited a fellow ultra runner, who readily said YES to the challenge even on such short notice.

Though Ian graciously offered I go with his team on Friday, I declined as I had to finish work first.  Besides, I had to meet my friend who will be joining me in this trip.  Buses can be crowded on Friday night.  Finally, at past 10 PM, by pure luck, we were able to board.  Arrived quite late in Bataan after travelling for almost three hours and was very grateful for the extra effort (accommodation has been booked) that Ian and his team took in helping us settle in.

Like any other event, say a marathon, swimming, you name it, to finish strong and do well, it would be helpful to check out the race course and familiarize yourself with the terrain.  At least get a good idea of the distance you will need to cover.  It was for this reason why l wanted to visit Dambana ng Kagitingan (Altar/Shrine of Valor) on Mt. Samat again—to check its terrain via tricycle or on foot.

We had enough time to at least hit the city, make the trip worthwhile, and get enough rest hours before the race.  But I couldn’t sleep and relax.  I lay in bed waiting for sleep to come, but I had been getting up to go to the bathroom much more than normal.  It had to be just nerves.

After our pre-race meal, we all loaded in the car of Ian and headed to Mariveles, Bataan, an almost hour ride from the hotel.  We were fortunate enough for an impromptu route orientation by the race director himself.  I marveled at the thought, “I have run this very same road in 2011 and I’m back in this place once again.”

Since we arrived a bit early at the race venue, I took full advantage of the moment to grab a short nap while waiting for gun start. Minutes before 1AM, race started promptly with photo ops, followed by a short  prayer, then the playing of the national anthem, a short welcome message from the City Mayor, a race briefing, and some stretching/warm-up exercises.

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At KM00 Mariveles, Bataan.  (Photo by Tong Pascua)
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Warm-up exercises for ultra runners. (Photo by Tong Pascua)

Aid stations are generally 10 kilometers apart.  Runners are required the card given to them stamped by an aid station staff to ensure that they don’t cheat nor cut course.  At the same time, a runner having incomplete stamps would mean disqualification from winning.  Tough!  On a positive note, a special finisher’s shirt and a trophy for  those who could finish in the top 30.  Nice!  One good thing about this race, apart from being paced by a friend, members of the REACT Team, the police and military, even the barangays were mobilized to take care of us, runners.  Lead drivers and roving patrols were there to guide.  During the initial stage, I could hear them radioing to watch over us.  Love it! Roving patrol services provided a safe and secure running environment. What an initiative coming from the Local Government Unit (LGU) and Provincial Government of Bataan. Admirable!  Personally, as a runner, I felt good being greeted by military and police personnel, and seeing them cheering on you.

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37 runners at the starting line. (Photo by Tong Pascua)

Since the first seven kilometers would be mostly uphill, I had to just take it easy.  It was in this course that I had run with a lady Kenyan runner, Perris Poywo, who told me that she recently finished an ultramarathon race. Whoa!  What a strong runner!  Anyhow, I was glad to note that at least in my lifetime I had the chance to run with (at times outpaced) her during the first few kilometers. Many thanks to photographer/runner Rafael aka KB Runner for his vote of confidence in my capability.  He wanted me to outrun the lead runner.  Hahaha!  To maintain the second place up to KM35, to me, in itself, was already an achievement.   Hands down, I was a no match to a Kenyan’s running prowess.

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Ahead of the Kenyan lady runner … really. (Photo by Tong Pascua)

ln ultra-distance running, generally, it would only be just you and the road—at times well-lighted, at times dark.   While running outdoors, frightful enemies especially in the wee hours of the morning like stray dogs make it difficult for you when they start barking and behave aggressively. Thanks to Norvs, a fellow runner, for not leaving me behind.  Chatting with him about anything made the distance seem much shorter.  We even played the distance by targeting trees or by counting steps.  It was at this point where a couple of runners passed us after we had settled in our pace.  It was me who left him at KM35 so I could make up for lost time.  I had to target a runner ahead of me.  It motivated me to go as fast as I could. Reaching the base of Mt. Samat was a relief.  When I finally caught up with the runner, I settled in and eased off my pace again.   But walking uphill forced me to work with more effort.   My quads are a bit painful now.  Rey, the runner who I caught up with, was so efficient in his walking.  I learned some basic techniques from him on how to tackle the Mt. Samat roads.  We outpaced four more runners who were way, way  ahead of us.  At one point, I had to tell Rey to go ahead and not wait for me.  Almost reaching the base of the Cross now, I heard someone behind me shouting cheerfully.  It was Norvs who is fast walking barefoot.  WOW!  This motivated me more to do well despite the pain on my quads after endless uphill walking on Mt. Samat.  Rested for a while and ate two pieces of bread filled with peanut butter given by Rey’s friend who is there to support their team.

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Power walking with a newfound friend, Rey.
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Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor), a 302-foot Memorial Cross located on Mount Samat

I had more than ten kilometers to go before reaching the finish line.  Running downhill may be easy, but it can be very taxing on the quadriceps muscles.  I was real careful not to brake and kill my quads as I had a long way to go.  The sun had been shining  endlessly.  A cloudless day could be extremely hot.  I needed to change my running attire.  Reaching the base, I saw some family members near a van waiting for their runner to come down Mt. Samat.  Little did I know that the van was at the same time where our stuff are stored.  Learning this, I did a quick change and run as fast as I could again.  In my hurry, I forgot to refill my bottle with water at the aid station.  Also, forgot to bring some cash.  Holding an empty bottle now, I did a run-walk strategy and prayed all along some locals would give me water.  True enough, I saw these guys along the road, and without any hesitation, I asked one of them for water.  The guy was kind enough to fill it with ice-cold water.  What a relief!

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With runner/photographer Rafael aka KB Runner.  (Photo by Tong Pascua)

With more than a few kilometers left to go, I finally saw the arch sign going to Balanga City.  I called the attention of one of the REACT members on motorcycle as she was about to pass me by.  I needed liniment to ease the pain on my quads.  Miss REACT member radioed and voila an ambulance came by.  The staff asked me to board.  I said, “No. What I needed is liniment or ice to soothe the pain on my quads.”  Since the ambulance ran out of supplies, l just continued to slowly run.  To my surprise, the ambulance came by again and the medical staff handed me a neckerchief with a small block of ice.  This I put immediately on my sore muscles.  Partially relieved and not throwing the ice, I placed it securely in the cloth and tied it the around my neck. This cooled me down.  Meanwhile, KB and his friend Tong stopped by to offer water to drink and something to eat. Really nice of them!  It was at this time, participant Beep Beep passed me by.  I started running again under the intense heat of the sun at 39ºC.

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Running under the scorching heat of the sun. The neckerchief with ice helps.

Ian, on motorcycle, drove by to ask how we are as he excitedly announced that finish line is pretty near.  I managed to cross the finish line with Norvs, who earlier finished ahead of me. Then l heard the host announcing my finish for second place. I received a glass of water from a young volunteer, got my finisher’s medal, some finisher’s kit, a trophy for finishing in the top 30, a finisher’s shirt with long sleeves, and a well-deserved meal.  Awarding ceremony for the top 3 (women’s division) and some photo ops followed.   A race worth running.

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Race Director Ian Alacar of Without Limits Philippines in action.
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Almost there! Being welcomed and paced by fellow runner, Norvs.
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L-R: Bataan Tourism Officer Christina Banzon; Sheryl (3rd place); Perris (1st place); RUNNINGDIVA Roselle (2nd place); and, Race Director Ian Alacar (Photo by Sheryl Quimosing)
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Awards received
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Fellow runner Norvs of the Soleus Team ranked 16th in the Top 30 Ultramarathon Finishers

I was told that there were 47 participants who signed up for this race, but only 37 showed up at the starting line with only five brave lady runners or a mere 13.5% against the number of gentlemen in this inaugural distance for the second edition of the Bataan Freedom Ultramarathon Run.  Later, five runners DNFed (did not finish).

Super duper thanks to Ian Alacar and Without Limits Race Management Team  for having me in this event.  Another one for the books for me! Woot! Woot! Kudos to Bataan LGU, the Bataan Provincial Government, and Veterans Bank for the support. Overall, it wouldn’t have been made possible if not for the volunteers, the police and military personnel, the barangays, the Department of Tourism, and everyone who made this event a huge success!

The inaugural distance 68.9K (Mariveles-Mt. Samat-Balanga, Bataan) during the second edition of the Bataan Freedom Ultramarathon Run commemorates the 73rd Anniversary of Araw Ng Kagitingan and culminates the Veterans Week on 12 April 2015.  Race proceeds will be used for the restoration of World War ll historical markers.

Congratulations to all the participants of this race!

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Super duper happy! (Photo by  Sheryl Quimosing)

Ultra-distance running may not be for everyone, but there is something about finishing you didn’t think you could finish.  As what Scott Jurek, a world renowned ultramarathon world champion said, “Running Diva, dig deep.” 

Surprise yourself.   

You’re stronger than you think you are.   

My thoughts exactly.