I always believed that the first step to serious training is race registration. Investing money on something hastens commitment. Knowing that your name will be shown for all internet stalkers to see, whether it is for a course record or a DNF, makes you second-guess your laziness and finally put your money where your mouth is. But, on October 24, 2014, I threw caution and this belief to the winds. After spending three straight weekends in the office chasing impossible deadlines, I woke up very early, packed the running gear that I can find, and spontaneously took a leave from work to embark on what would (most probably) be the start of my skyrunning career.
With no training and no prior experience with running trails, I decided to head to Cagayan de Oro City (which is 8 hours away from where I live!) to participate in Mapawa Trail Run 2014. I knew about it months ahead and had secretly wanted to join. I think I have salivated too much on Kilian Jornet’s and Francois D’haene’s trail photos that I just had to try the sport for myself. So without even knowing whether the registration is still open and without any idea what kind of trail awaits me, I boarded a bus to attend a race orientation at 6:00 p.m.
Race Directors Pastor Emata and Dax Ang were very effective… very effective in scaring the shits out of me! I just registered for 11K (although 21K and 42K were also offered), but I cringed at the idea of running up and down two mountains with substantial elevation gain/loss, having only two aid stations along the way (both without food!), and crossing four rivers. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe race orientations are meant to discourage reckless joiners like me. I just decided then that I will expect the worst course conditions. As Hal Koerner suggested in his Field Guide to Ultra book, I had the minimum goal of “having fun” and the primary goal of “finishing within the cut-off time.” After all, this is my first time.
The trail was tough. Being a point-to-point course, you just have to appreciate the effort the organizers put into making you doubt your ability to finish the race. hehe I slipped in one of the river crossings and almost hit my back with a sharp bamboo stalk (buwis-buhay talaga!). There were parts of the course where I could not see the person ahead of me or following me. Literally, I was alone in the wilderness! The muddy segments and the boulders were “technical” in the sense that I imagined vectors and foot patterns as I traversed them. The horse and cow dungs were also an added (but unwelcome) bonus.
The views were breathtaking. I guess this is the charm of sky or trail running. I see it all the time in photos of professional runners I follow in social media. I sometimes cannot believe that we also have such paradise here in the Philippines. This race truly opened my eyes to the real beauty of nature. One that is very humbling and inspiring at the same time. When I was at one of the summits, I told myself that I will run as many mountains as I can, so that someday I can organize a race like this and inspire others to run mountains, too.
I had a strong finish for a first timer without proper training (*patting my back*). I was part of the middle pack. I finished 97th out of 147 runners. Not bad (by my standards, of course). I was just glad that the last 1.6 km was a road stretch. I ran that part pretty well (in my usual 5K pace) and moved past a few runners and finished sub-3 as planned.
When I reached the finish line, I had mixed feelings. I did not know if I should be happy because I finally finished the race or sad because this wonderful experience (not to mention my spectacular encounter with nature) is over.The race directors cheered the runners crossing the arch and made meaningful conversations with them, telling them that the extra 800 meters (so, strictly-speaking the course is 11.8K!) is their Christmas bonus to all runners. Indeed, I cannot complain for having 800 meters more of this truly amazing place.
After this, I don’t think I can run road races again. I think I will have to train seriously to get in ultras with trails that can top Mapawa. I was swept off my feet and the way I see it, they want to remain up in the mountains.