Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Memories of Corregidor

Posted: December 14, 2012 in Events, Personal

Republished from my old blog. This race happened two years ago but it remains significant in that it…

1) introduced me to trail running, which I absolutely love
2) made me aware of Atalanta, which has become my guiding light


Getting Ready for My First Half-Marathon

I wasn’t prepared. With only a 12K run on flat surface being my longest practice, I knew I couldn’t expect much from myself. Still, the steeply priced tickets have been paid for, my non-running companions have secured their vacation leaves, and the beautiful finisher’s medallion was too much to resist. Running a 21K is no joke, but I was willing to endure the body pain that would inevitably follow.

When we arrived at the pier, my fellow runners were already starting to board the ferry. It was a bit intimidating seeing all these extremely fit people wearing various finisher’s shirts of past marathons and triathlons. I thought, “What the hell am I doing here? Can I really do this?”

Arriving on the Island


The historic island of Corregidor was where Gen. Douglas McArthur tried to fight off the Japanese during WWII along with a handful of American and Filipino soldiers. They were surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned. Many perished until they were forced to surrender, paving the way for the infamous Bataan Death March (now commemorated with an ultra, but that’s another story).

We got to our destination shortly after 1pm. We were promptly whisked off to our accommodations for the night at Sea Calm Inn. Unlike the comfy Corregidor Hotel where I stayed before, this one looked like a military barracks built in the 60s. It seemed to have undergone a haphazard renovation, leaving the walls painted like a Picasso-esque attempt at abstraction. After lunch, my little sister and Ate Jacq went off on a guided tour of the island. I opted to stay at our room and conserve my energy for the race.

The Carbo-Loading/Bonfire Party

At 7pm, we were called to attend the carbo-loading buffet dinner by the beach. The wind was very strong and, coupled with a bit of rain, it was oh so chilly by the shore. We ate heartily under a row of massive tents, having a great time but constantly protecting our food from the sand which was being tossed around by the wind. Our hairs were proof: mahangin nga sa labas.


There was a short program to rev up the runners. To light the huge bonfire, one of the race organizers made his way to the beach by riding the zipline while carrying a torch. Cool! Parang Olympics, di ba?


The Race Itself

Woke up at 3am due to my anxiousness, even though the race wouldn’t start ’til 8am. Ate a light breakfast for fuel and put my gear on: armband for phone/GPS and belt bag with fluids, chocolate, mini-towel and ID, just in case something happens to me along the course.

By 7am, I was already at the dock doing my stretches. My companions were still sleepy in our room, so even if I brought them along for moral support… oh well. I saw Coach Rio, the poster boy for running, doing his warm-up jog. Hard to miss him with his afro, neon shirt and socks coming up to his knees. His girlfriend was out there with him, just reading a book under a tree. : )


At exactly 8am, we were off and running! It was uphill from the first turn all the way to the bowels of the Malinta Tunnel, where it was pitch dark for a couple of hundred meters. I’m glad I didn’t bump into anyone, or tripped and got crushed by the runners behind me. From there it was about 5K of roads until we got to the first trail, which was an old airfield now fully covered with grass. We had to slow down a bit lest we trip on a rock and twist our ankles.


Then we made our way back to the center of the island, but instead of going through the tunnel again, they made us turn left to another trail which this time was downhill and uneven. I was very careful while running, but this part was so much fun, almost like I was playing. Near the end of the trail, I saw a wall of wild pink flowers on my right, with butterflies floating around, while I had the South China Sea on my left. I thought to myself, “Ang ganda!” (This is beautiful!) But then that wouldn’t give justice to the scenery, so I exclaimed out loud, “Ang gandaaaaa!!!”

I reached the 10K mark at about 1:20, well within the cut-off time of 1:45. After getting through that hurdle, my next goal was to finish the 21K within 3hrs. That proved tough as the succeeding roads seemed like a never-ending uphill climb. By this leg, the marathon was reduced to a walkathon as the runners were either gassing out or conserving their energies for a strong finish. Some of the runners took out their cameras and posed in front of the ruins. Parang mga turista lang.


After reaching the peak, it was all downhill, and I was so happy running like a speed demon! I met a girl during the race who was also making her 21K debut. I became her timer and we cheered each other on to reach the finish line within 3hrs. I got to 18K at around 2:32, so that goal seemed doable. Running 3K with 28min to spare was easy. Little did I know that the 19th KM would surprise us with a KILLER HILL. I couldn’t help but curse at the sight of the steep, winding incline. It was impossible to run through it, and I saw a middle-aged runner already huffing and puffing at the side, unable to continue. I did my best to walk through it using long strides and leaning in as much as possible to make my weight work for me.

As soon as I got back to flat surface, I ran as fast as I could. It was a buzzer-beating race against time. By 20K, I was clocking 2:51. I had less than 9min to run the last KM and reach the finish line. I saw my companions near the dock but I barely had time to wave – I needed to focus. I crossed the finish line at a time of 2:58:05. My new friend got there at exactly 3:00:00. Fantastic!

I got my medal, and every girl got a long-stemmed red rose. Sweet!


The Victory Party

It was supposed to start a 7pm, but then it rained, so in the meantime, the victorious runners celebrated by taking turns at the videoke machine. Specially memorable was a girl in flowery white dress who sang “Superwoman”. Her birits (diva-esque performance) made me smile. She was so into the song that everybody got infected, singing along and cheering her on.

At about 9pm, the band Session Road was ready to play. They did mostly reggae songs. Here’s a snippet of their performance with guest/runner Tuesday Vargas. I think she was speaking for all of us when she said, “F*ck the last 3K!”

(some photos taken from


How do I start? I could say that I love trail running but that would be an understatement. It feels like home – like I’m back in touch with my inner child, playing amidst gorgeous scenery. After I saw pictures of the route for the 3rd Leg of Nature’s Trail Discovery Run, I was sold. The race promised a thrilling journey: river crossings, passage through dark caves, long uphill climbs, gnarly single tracks, muddy descents, a never-ending stairway, and waterfalls near the finish line. There was just one problem: I haven’t been running for months due to a string of injuries. Heck, even walking was painful at one point. I had to get back in shape or suffer on the trails.

Recovery and a Leap of Faith

I listened to my body. When it seemed safe to try, I trained by brisk walking, working my way up from 30 minutes to over 2 hours. I went to the gym to cross-train by cycling and to simulate walking steep inclines on the treadmill. Strength training was also part of my routine for the legs, arms and core. On Wednesday before the race, I was able to run for the first time without pain, doing a few sets of run-walk intervals. That’s it. I had to trust that it was enough to carry me through the race. Trying to cram more runs would be folly. Most of my teammates entered the 21K category, two opted for 10K, and I had to settle for 5K due to my less than ideal preparation. Still, I was raring to go. The trails were calling. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!

Pre-race Musings

I was up as early as 11:30pm to ensure that I had ample time to prepare. The team was supposed to meet at 2:00am in Cubao. By 4:00am, our van reached Daranak Falls in Tanay, Rizal despite being stopped in the middle of a dark road and forced to find an alternate route (there was an “encounter”, said the man at the checkpoint). The place was tucked in the middle of nowhere with trees as tall as buildings everywhere you look. The sky was full of stars and I was happy to see them twinkling through the thick canopy.

The crazy kids of Team Rock & Road at the starting line. Again, I’m rocking the “Dora the Explorer” look with my bag.
From L-R: Sir Tony, Joyce, Chona, Allan J, Ralph, Rhea, Goldy, Me, Dennis, (sitting) Allan B, Elvin

The 21K runners were released first at 5:30am, followed by 10K runners at 5:45am. The sun was already out so I was able to survey the remaining participants. You can often tell the difference between a beginner and a serious runner by their gear, physique, and overall demeanor. I began to entertain the idea of placing in the Top 10, maybe even Top 5. How cool would that be? If I could just hang on, I thought. Maybe. Let’s see. *fingerscrossed*

Play Time! Yay!

Choose your own boulder.

The truth is that I didn’t come to Daranak Falls to race. I came to play. At 6:00am, us 5K runners were off and I got to see my awesome playground firsthand. It surpassed all my expectations in terms of difficulty. This was the hardest 5K ever, and I mean EVER. Then again, “mas madugo, mas masaya.” So thank you, organizers. You made my day.

First, we had to cross a slippery wooden bridge, then turn left for an uphill climb along a dusty road filled with loose rocks. I made the mistake of jogging up this path, consequently elevating my heart rate before I had a chance to warm up. I should have hiked my way through it for a gradual build-up. Next, we went down to the river for a dangerous crossing. There are stones you can climb on but they were very slippery and the line was moving slowly when I got there. I decided to go ahead and wade in the water, wet shoes be damned. As soon as I found an unoccupied rock, I clambered up and made my way to the other side.

View from the top. Lush greens!

The Stairs of Punishment

Waiting for us was the so-called “Hagdanang Parusa” (Stairs of Punishment) which led to a statue of the Virgin Mary at the very top. Having done plenty of stairs training before I got injured, this part actually made me happy. If my calculations are correct, it is equivalent to a 27-storey building, so not really that much but enough to make you sweat. I went up slowly, hands on knees, sometimes holding on to the handrail. This is what separated the lead pack from the rest. I was at the tail end of that lead pack, my heart beating uncomfortably fast. As much as I wanted to run the flat section, I had to slow down and let my heart recover. I also ate some raisins (my only baon) and drank water to boost my already dwindling energy reserves. Whenever I passed locals or another runner, I would smile and greet them “Good morning!” What can I say? I was in a great mood!

To the Bat Cave!

The exit point of the well-preserved Calinawan Cave.

Eventually, I got to the Calinawan Cave which was used as a hideout first by Filipino rebels, then by Japanese soldiers during World War II. The narrow passages were very dark and slippery so I was glad to be wearing a headlamp (thanks, Roxanne!). One side was a wall and the other was a cliff so one false move and you’ll end up like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. I caught up with some of the fastest 10K runners at this point including Sir Tony. We followed a string of lights which abruptly ended, leaving us to wonder whether we were lost. Thankfully, a marshal came into view and the literal “light at the end of the tunnel” marked the end of our claustrophobia.

Up, Up, and Away

From here, it was mostly a slow uphill climb on a wide unpaved road then a gnarly undulating single track along the side of a mountain. I was trying to keep up with a girl in a purple shirt but she ran the uphills and I couldn’t follow. It didn’t seem sustainable. I decided to run my own race, let her go, and fuel up some more. The problem was that it was a mess inside my cheap drawstring bag and I had trouble finding my food. Other runners stared at me and said, “Parang ang bigat ng dala mo ah.” Not really. Magulo lang.

Anyway, my strategy was to power-hike up and bomb my way down every chance I get. It worked! By the time I got to the turn-around point, I caught up with her and I was so happy because the rest of the way was down, down, down. Time to play! I charged like a bull during the technical descent but I was careful not to trip and get injured. There were a few close calls, though. I have scars at the back of my left knee and on the side of my right leg as race souvenirs. Next time, remind me to wear calf sleeves. It was during this descent that I saw my faster 21K teammates Allan, Elvin and Goldy (who eventually got 4th place female). They were in for a long day.

Steps near the finish line!

Final Stretch

It was on the last kilometer that I found another female 5K runner. We were having a grand ol’ time navigating our way down muddy rocks. Oftentimes, I had to hold on to nearby branches for dear life, and I still slipped a little. This part had me worried about the older runners who aren’t as nimble. Thankfully, I didn’t hear of anybody getting seriously injured after the race. When we got out of that mud pit, we were perhaps just a hundred meters or so from the finish line. I could see the falls. There weren’t any markings so I asked a marshal for directions. He pointed the way and said, “Two-Three kayo!” Up to this point, I didn’t know what place I was in. I knew that there’s a chance I might be within the Top 5 but Top 2 would be awesome! Instantly, I went on “Kilian mode” and sprinted down the steps. I didn’t let up until I crossed the finish line. Run, run, run!


It turns out that the other girl didn’t hear the marshal. She was surprised when I told her that we may have earned places at the podium. Ecstatic, we hugged and exchanged stories about the race. As for my teammates, first to finish was Sir Tony who was frustrated that he couldn’t catch the speedy youngsters (teen boys and girls dominated the podium – amazing!). It became apparent that the brutal course would delay the arrival of 21K finishers. The 4hr cut-off was extended to 6hrs, and yet many finished beyond that. Our wasted teammates trickled in one by one. They ran a trail half-marathon that’s tougher than most road marathons, so hats off to every finisher.

I feel lucky to be living in a country where challenging trails can be found in every corner. I’m hoping to explore more in the coming years, and that means I need to get faster and stronger. I’m thrilled to finally get on a podium but instead of inflating my ego, this race has humbled me. It was HARD. If I want to finish The North Face 100K and other dream races someday, I better shape up and not get injured again!

I guess I’ll just take it one day at a time before I get overwhelmed. See you all at the next trail race! 😉

[Special thanks to Dennis Lopez, Rene Villarta, and Jose Ramizares for the wonderful pictures.]

Surreal. My first ever podium finish.

Still smiling after all those miles. Except Chona, the team’s resident Sleeping Beauty. : )

Post-race lunch for hungry trail runners! We ravaged the place like a plague of locusts. Thanks, “Bulalo Bah?”

Just one of three mountains surrounding the town of Bakun, Benguet. Image from Dr. Gideon Lasco.

The beautiful slopes of the Bakun Trio. Heaven on Earth. Image courtesy of Antonio Baga.

For three days, I will be living life on the edge. Wish me luck. Image credit to Bonie Acson Jr.

Meet and Greet: Iker Carrera

Posted: April 13, 2012 in Events

Here’s an extraordinary chance for trail enthusiasts in the Philippines. The highly successful Salomon Racing Team’s Iker Carrera is going to compete in TNF100 Baguio but before that, he’ll be making a stop at ROX for a brief talk. Iker has been tearing up the tracks in Europe and elsewhere for quite some time, though being the newbie that I am, I only learned about him after he placed 2nd in the 2011 UTMB right behind Kilian Jornet. His other notable achievements in trail racing are as follows:

What a treat from Salomon Pilipinas! I hope this event is only the beginning and that they’ll invite other legends like Anna Frost and of course, THE Kilian himself. Maybe TNF Philippines will follow suit and invite their athletes Dean Karnazes, Sebastien Chaigneau, and Lizzy Hawker. Meeting Lizzy would be like winning the lottery, and running with her would even be better. Ah, dreams! Here’s a video of the UTMB finish that features Iker and my other ultra idols:


I’m excited! See you at ROX on Tuesday! 😉

Batch 3 poses for a "class picture" at the send-off party - the most enthusiastic TBR DM batch according to Coach Lit ^_^

We’re just counting down the days before the big 42K. The batch has been training for TBR Dream since October and soon we will be putting ourselves to the test. It’s a relief that I got this far. Many times I’ve contemplated dropping out because of an injury that kept hounding me. Thankfully, I discovered by chance that the pain stops when going up steep uphills. Most runners dread hills but since they seemed to be my only hope, I ran exclusively on them until the knee problem subsided. I was only too happy to get moving again. Two weeks ago, I was able to complete a 30K – our last and farthest scheduled long run prior to tapering. So while my training had a rocky start, I’m confident that I’m in the best shape of my life. We’ll find out for sure on March 18. *deep breath*

My team Rock & Road with host & triathlete Tessa Prieto-Valdes, photo from Joyce

What a journey. The guys from Ripple100 made this video that summarizes the last few months – the running clinics, the inspirational talks, the self-discovery, and the new friends we found along the way. Note that 90% of the batch are first-time marathon runners, the remainder being second-timers. This is what makes this event so special. Jaymie pulled out all the stops to create an unforgettable run for beginners, from Day 1 of training until race day. The support from the organizers, sponsors, and alumni is phenomenal. The spirit is one of camaraderie rather than competition. It’s not about seeing who’s better and there are no prizes for top finishers. What for? In the Dream Marathon, everyone who crosses the finish line is a winner. Lives will change. Now that’s awesome.

The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is a race across the Alpine mountains along the borders of three countries – France, Italy, and Switzerland. It’s 166km of bliss and blisters, sometimes less, sometimes more depending on the weather and the conditions along the course. The winners finish in a little over 20hrs. Most participants take more than 35hrs, if at all. UTMB is notorious for high drop out rates. The mix of stunning course, top notch organization, and competitive field has made it the unofficial ultra trail World Championships.

Learning more about the race and the runners who compete in it like Lizzy Hawker and Kilian Jornet makes me wish I could be fast enough and strong enough to take on the challenge myself. There’s just that joy of running on the mountains, of negotiating the ups and downs, that makes me feel like I’m a kid playing outdoors – something I rediscovered at Pico de Loro. And with a course as breathtaking as this, how can anyone resist?

How to Get to UTMB

Here in the Philippines, the nearest local equivalent is the TNF100 in Baguio held every April (though previous TNF races have also been held at Camsur and Sacobia). Finishers of the 100K category get 3 points. UTMB hopefuls need to collect 7 points from a maximum of three races to be considered. Where do you collect the other 4 points? The UTMB website has a list of recognized races. The bulk is located in Europe but there are lots in Hongkong and one in Malaysia (none yet in Thailand and Singapore). There is also a new 100 mile (160K) trail run called Taklang Damulag 100 (TD100) by Bald Runner which is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. Though as of the moment, only one person has ever crossed the finish line within the cut-off time of 30hrs at the inaugural race. Maybe TD100 will also get recognition as a qualifier for the UTMB in the near future.

If the UTMB point system seems daunting, you’d be right. It’s difficult by design and almost makes the Boston Marathon qualifying times look humane. I guess, like in any ultra marathon, you don’t agonize over the distance but just put one foot in front of the other and go as far as your legs can take you. I’d love for a Filipino to qualify for Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Who knows? Maybe it’s going to be you. Start dreaming. 😉