The Path to Ultramarathon Running: 2nd PAU P2P 65K++ Road Race in Ilocos Norte, August 29

“That’s far!”
“Why are you doing it?”
“I don’t see myself running beyond 42K.”
“Wow, the farthest I’ve run is 21K.”
“I’ll support you but I won’t be there physically.”
“Good luck.”

Do the statements above sound familiar? Do you hear them from your friends or, may be, from your own family?

I get those reactions when I tell them I’m running an ultramarathon. Long pause. Period. Silence.

Sometimes I get a blank stare and in their eyes silently asking me, “What the heck are you talking about?” Even a friend of mine told me, “I support you but I can’t be there.” Some would even shake their heads as if I’ve lost my mind.

I couldn’t blame them for thinking so considering that a majority of people have never had the experience of running it in almost a day. At times, I get the support I need like seeing a couple of happy faces excited enough to tell me to just reach the finish line.

On Sunday, August 29, I took the challenge of running an ultramarathon dubbed as the 2nd Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) P2P 65K Ultramarathon Road Race, held in Ilocos Norte. The race started in Pasuquin and ended in Pagudpud. Have you noticed why I placed the plus sign in the title? Well, the total distance we ran is not 65K but 70K. One of the big surprises in store for us.

The Day before Race Day: One Big Heart, One Community

Someone told me before that the best way to discover and learn the way of life of people is to visit either a church or a public market or both. Was I glad that part of our itinerary included a stopover in one of the churches in Laoag City. However, it never happened for we had to check in first at the resort in Pasuquin, which is more or less ten kilometers from the city proper of Laoag.

Since it was a Saturday, most of the runners I was with wanted to visit a church in the municipality hoping to attend an anticipated Mass. We got the surprise of our lives when the parish priest of Pasuquin, after discovering that we are some of those who would be competing in the next day’s race, offered to celebrate the Eucharist with us instead. What a generous heart!

In that instant, the runners became the church. Every one took part not only in the celebration but also served in the different ministries as well—liturgical music, collectors, lectors, and altar servers.

The priest, in his homily, shared something about the ultimate goal of a race. He gave us a glimpse of St. Augustine’s biography and his own race against life. And, he blessed all runners to have a safe and enjoyable experience in Ilocos Norte.

Race Day: Burgos Lighthouse, the Rock in Kapurpurawan, and Bangui Windmills as Kilometer Markers

The starting area is in front of Pasuquin Municipal Hall. Majority of the runners were already there and busy taking photos. There even was a long queue waiting for their turn to have a photo taken at the starting line under the Arch of Liberty. The race started as scheduled with the group singing the National Anthem first. It was followed by the reading of a Prayer for Ultramarathon Runners led by Doc Topher aka Doc T.

Ultramarathoners at the Starting Line (Photo courtesy of Dan Callanta)

This is, may be, the first time that the locals will witness an ultramarathon race in their province. At this time of the year, though it’s rainy season throughout the country, Ilocos Norte is still considered warm. But the weather cooperated that day. It wasn’t so hot even if the sun was up early. And, at times it played hide and seek with us.

I don’t have much to say about the initial part of the race up to twenty or so kilometers. One or two runners paced with me. Sometimes I conversed with them. At times, I joked with those around me. But the rest of the way, I just ran silently. I even calculated that at the rate I was going, I could, may be, finish the race in less than twelve hours. Maximum would be twelve hours. I crossed my fingers.

Pacing with Don (Photo courtesy of John Jeffrey Avellanosa)

At KM23

(Photo courtesy of Pepsi, a fellow runner and one of our support volunteers)

Reaching Burgos town means seeing the Burgos Lighthouse, a structure on a hill made during the Spanish Colonial times and the highest in the country. If you’re strong and fast, then, you can run the uphill climb. But if you’re a bit conservative or unsure, you can either walk fast or run down it real quick. I didn’t stay long though to truly savor the view. Time spent up there was just enough to have a couple of photos taken and I ran back again.

(Photo courtesy of John Jeffrey Avellanosa)

At KM 30.3

I stopped at our support vehicle to change shirt and hydrate. When I was about to proceed, Dhenz aka Runningpinoy arrived from the Kapurpurawan trail. He warned me that the way going to it, aside from being a long one, is also quite tough. Each runner I bumped into along the trail would always say it’s difficult. Majority of them warned me to be exta careful with each step as the stones are sharp. I wondered what really lies ahead.

With Kapurpurawan Rock as background and flanked by newfound friends, Jeff and Mico, both from Team Ultra (Photo courtesy of Toto aka Run DMD)

The Kapurpurawan Rock (Photo courtesy of Michelle Logan)

Though the trail is indeed difficult, but the reward given by Mother Nature is breathtakingly beautiful. Again, I didn’t stay long enough. Coming down from the Rock, I passed by a marshal who gave me the necklace string. I walked the trail again.

On my way back, a runner named Rico caught up with me. Man, he can really walk fast! No wonder as he’s a mountaineer. To just be in sync with his steps, I had to hold on to his backpack. I heard footsteps behind us. Doc T came out and caught up with us. Both of them walked very fast and I was left behind.

Walking alone now, with only the tall grasses, the path, the sun and the clouds above me as my companions, I conversed with myself. I asked my muscles to cooperate since it’s still a long way to go.

I tried to run but the stones protruding along the path stopped me or else I would trip over. My soles started to ache. After all, I was wearing a pair of running shoes not fit for a trail.

And when I walk, I feel an occasional very sharp pain under my left kneecap. I think I’m fortunate not to have had any major, major injuries. But in long distance running, the knees received the shock equivalent to three times our weight every time our feet hit the ground.

The smartest thing to do in this case is walk. So, to date, it was the longest walk I’ve ever done so far.

For someone who’s not really used to walking in a race it was like a slap on my already wounded pride. And I can only smile about it. But again, I have to respect not only the distance but also my body, especially, my knees. After all, I’ve got only a pair of them. It can never be replaced. No matter how strong the will is, but physically, one is still dependent on what the body can do. It can only take as much.

It was a relief to finally reach the highway after a grueling eight-kilometer walk under the scorching heat of the sun.

At KM44.4

One more to go, Bangui Windmills here I come. With each kilometer marker conquered, I crossed it out and marked as “Mission Accomplished” in my mind. It’s as if I’m playing a computer game, when after an opponent is knocked down, it’s on to the next level.

I know how fast Carina is but when I saw her walking almost all the way, I couldn’t help but ask her about it. I even offered to finish with her. But at the back of my mind, I also aimed to finish at around 3PM but this, too, was not achieved. Carina told me to go ahead and I did. But I wasn’t too far from her. I waited for her up to an aid station where another marshal told us to hydrate and eat before leaving for Bangui Windmill area.

It was another unpaved trail. We had no recourse but to walk. The course was part trail and part concrete road.

The route, a steep road going down, can be very difficult, especially, for someone who’s feeling a nagging pain in the knees. I slowly maneuvered the downhill portion of the road by walking backward.

It was in that area where three runners caught up with us, Nonong aka CamoteQ, Doc Art, and Rey of Frontrunner. We just walked and shared stories. Also, I didn’t get to have a photo taken at the Bangui Windmill Project. Rey stopped in Bangui to meet some of his friends while we continued to walk. It was a welcome respite to see finally the highway marked “PAU this way”. We were on the right track.

At KM64.7 and the Last Kilometers Before Reaching the Finish Line

Everything seemed to be working out well. The pain in my knees has subsided. There was even help offered by other support vehicles. My mantra was reach the finish line before five o’clock.

My Garmin registered eight more kilometers to finish. But at some point, before reaching the town of Pagudpud, it ran out of battery. To keep track of time, I asked some of the townspeople along the way.

During a stopover at the support vehicle I also asked Joy, one of the support volunteers, how far I was to the finish line. The only answer I’ve got was,”59K then down to go.” May be, I could beat the deadline I set for myself after all.

I already employed the run-walk-run method. But the town of Bangui and its highway seemed to be almost endless. And as I reached the town of Pagudpud, one by one, I passed each runner who had passed me. I couldn’t help it but I was bothered, bewitched, and bewildered to note that the time and distance I’ve run the past minutes seemed to be longer than I expected. I was a bit sad that I didn’t make it to the deadline. But when I’ve found out later what caused it, I was jubilant in the end. A whooping Yessss for finishing the 70-kilometer ultramarathon race!

Happy to reach the FINISH LINE (Photos courtesy of Michelle Logan)

The supposed-sixty-five-kilometer ultramarathon race from Pasuquin to Pagudpud, ended up as a 70-kilometer race instead. One of PAU’s big surprises again!

Many, Many Thanks

To the people who made this trip possible and fun at the same time–Tere aka El Capitana, Carina aka the Flying Boar, the Parish of Pasuquin, the townspeople of Ilocos Norte, the support volunteers namely Pepsi, Jai, Joy, Maan, and JR. Super thanks also to fellow ultramarathoners. You know who you are. There are no words to describe how grateful I am.