I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for fellow runner-blogger Dennis a.k.a. Running Pinoy’s encouragement to register for 50K instead of the shorter distances, 22K or 11K. A veteran of The North Face (TNF) trail running event for the 100K distance twice, you need to be a fast runner since Dennis could run awfully fast. But I did remind him that he could run ahead if he wanted to. I didn’t want his goal crushed because of my slower pace. My game plan was to try to keep up with his pace and have someone with me through the trails, at least during the initial stage of the race.
As for me, having finished a number of ultramarathons before including the Bataan Death March 102K in 2011, it was time to step up my training from road marathon or road ultramarathon and hit ultra trails for the first time. Ultramarathon is an event where the challenge is to run or run/walk the distance as fast as you can. Since this is trail running, it can be more difficult than road running because the terrain varies. I wasn’t confident really, but my aim was just to finish before it gets dark or by 5 PM at the minimum and by 7 PM at the maximum as cut-off time for all 50K runners was at 10 PM or 18 hours. And, TNF 100K trail running event came at an opportune time where I could push me to improve myself.
After the mandatory gear check at the Start/Finish/Base Camp, running fifty kilometers early in the morning up and down starting from Camp John Hay in Baguio City, to Itogon, and all the way to Ampucao, Benguet with a total elevation gain of 2,591m was no easy feat. It was like an endless combination of uphill climbing and running. You need to keep up the pace and use your provisions, foods, and liquids wisely since Aid Stations (AS) were fanned out (about nine kilometers from AS1 to As2) and (14 kilometers AS2 to AS3) from each other. The trails are steep sometimes with deep ravines, have dry stream and hanging bridge crossing, uphill climbing through cemented foot path, breathing became harder, legs fatigued more quickly, and I felt every painstaking step hiking downhill. I had to use my hands to keep the balance and the frequent downhill caused a right knee pain. I did stop once in a while to rub the aching area. Since I didn’t use any walking stick, I had to take smaller steps for safety and at times walking sideways to control the impact.
The trail exited onto a paved road with endless uphill climb towards the turnaround point, a very critical uphill run since 50K runners are required to reach the turnaround area by 11 AM. It was tough going in the heat of the day and my progress was slowing as I stopped to catch my breath. My left foot was burning with the friction of uphill climbing, and at one point, I so wanted to take off my shoes but decided not to. It was a relief to finally reach the turnaround point in Ampucao at KM29. Looking forward to at least do a quick bite and rest at AS3 and replenish my empty bottles with water. However, no electrolyte drink (except for a choco drink) was provided, which was a bit disappointing. Good thing I brought some cash with me and bought a bottle of energy drink from a vendor nearby before heading back to the trails.
One of my very best experiences running TNF 100K was witnessing most of the marshals including aid station workers, medical staff, and all others really did their job. It also taught me to pay attention and stay alert, always looking for the TNF signage along the trail route. At one point, I got distracted and walked a few meters without realizing I was already off path. No choice but to turn around and go back the way I came until I found the signage again. Then I felt bad due to not being able to run longer with my right side knee bothering me. It slowed me down.
I tried to walk fast even under the heat of the sun. It was at this moment when a foreigner 100K participant ran past me. Amazing!
I still managed to walk fast even when the clear skies suddenly became filled with puffy clouds which produced thunderstorms. This was not surprising at all since weather forecast was announced during the race briefing. Running in the rain didn’t bother me in the slightest and not a problem so long as I can keep myself warm in a rain jacket or wind breaker. Before the rains fell, two colorful butterflies fluttered near me. Perhaps my guardian fairies? 🙂
The trail route was already a difficult hike even without rain and adding rain made the rocks slippery and the path muddy, which made the way extremely difficult to traverse. I knew it was a temporary setback on my ranking but I knew very well that runners run for the finish line even if a number of competitors had reached it first.
Not wanting to take the last three kilometers through the rain and darkness without any companion through the trails in the next thirty minutes or an hour or so, I was grateful with the two guy runners Mervin Paras and JP Lipardo whom I had little chitchat with at AS1. We tackled the last three kilometers together. Four hundred meters now before the finish line, I let both of them to reach the finish line first. The proposed pre-sunset finish turned out to be an evening finish, approximately two hours and a few minutes earlier from the cut-off time. I crossed the finish line with a grateful heart and received my first TNF finisher’s medal. Woohoo!
Returning to basecamp next day with fellow peeps from the media team, we were able to witness the awarding ceremony. The lucky stars must have connived with me when I was given a few minutes to interview TNF 100 Philippines 2016 trail run male champion Norwegian, Jan Nilsen (JN).
This was the same guy who asked a question at the race briefing and the same runner who ran past me so in the zone while racing. While my media friend Rhoel was interviewing the winner, I was there to just observe at first. When the interview was about to be concluded, I couldn’t help but throw these questions real quick. Here we go… (Interview recording and transcription credits / Rhoel V. Fernandez)
Running Diva (RD): What do you want to improve about the TNF 100?
JN: “The organization! They should involve some runners when planning the race. Because this out and back in the beginning was complete chaos. In the briefing there was no information about this: we were running on very narrow single tracks and were following the tracks in the beginning. Then we were coming to a turnaround point and then they start coming back, now there’s people turning back because they did not know what would happen. When we started coming back, because we were in the front, we were meeting 200 other runners so they started to turn around before coming through because there was no information and it was very narrow.”
RD: What made you decide to come back for TNF 100?
JN: “I like the mountains in Philippines. I like coming back to the mountains of the Philippines.”
If there’s one recommendation I wanted to say is for the organizers to improve race briefing and provisions in every aid station.
Overall, I had a blast and this race is definitely one for the books! Super thanks The North Face and Primer Group of Companies for having me in your trail running event. Thank you Aileen Frugal for taking care of us.
With great appreciation to Dennis Running Pinoy Ravanzo for pacing with me from start up to the summit, and for the photos including the featured image used and those taken along the trails.
Many thanks to fellow runner bloggers and members of the media team for an enjoyable experience.
Special shoutout to Rhoel V. Fernandez of Spin.ph for transcribing my two questions.
Thank you Baguio mountains. I had nothing to bring but good memories. You were formidable and your ups and downs were a force to reckon with. You made me do the painful penguin walk afterwards.
Now if given the opportunity to come back, my answer would be, “Why not? Let’s break all boundaries!“