I DNFed at 30Km.
It does not console me that the elevation profile of the course looks ridiculously intimidating — picture this…
I was informed that the course will be tough. I knew it has killer uphills and technical trails. I thought I had adequately prepared for it — gear and skills departments in check. But my god was I so wrong!
By any measure, it was not a decent finish. The only runner I passed was Marvin.
Yup! That’s him and he’s a freakin’ barefoot runner! Although he has run this way on many occasions (even ultras, he said), he did not anticipate the quality of the ground cover of Mt. Ugo (i.e., sharp stones). I, the newbie, the greenhorn, the virgin, on the other hand, did not anticipate a lot of external forces, which I will not pretentiously glamorize here as excuses, but will humbly take as lessons.
Prepping and pepping
The three months leading to the race was crazy. Training during the holidays was like paddling a canoe against the direction of a whirlpool. Parties and reunions just do not sit well with self-control. My diet and sleeping habits were in shambles, but I guess that’s the price of trying to make good memories.
I regained control of my running affairs at the start of the year. But by then, I now realize that I have recklessly crammed nutrition and hydration planning, gear scouting and testing, and making travel arrangements within a narrow and crucial time window. I totally forgot about race-specific training. I live right smack in the middle of the city — no trails, no long steep uphills. Although I could run for hours on roads, I had no idea how I will fare on dirt and mud or on terrain with substantial elevation gain. For the first time, I worried about not finishing a race.
With depleting reserve of self-confidence, I tried tapping into friends’ encouragements and looking at how far I have gone with this batshit goal. And when those did not suffice, I watched SRTV videos to remind me of why I run.
Beautiful place, beautiful people
The race website says it all. The King of the Mountain (KOTM) trail series will take you to a peaceful and simple place. People are warm and friendly. I was particularly touched when the students of Kayapa Central School performed a traditional dance number for the delegates. Accommodations are through homestays — austere, no-frills. The cool weather and majestic views made me wish I have them in my backyard.
The briefing was… uhm, brief. Race Director Jonel Mendoza just reiterated what was found on the website and introduced the race marshals and the persons who generously sponsored the race. While queuing to get my race kit, I chatted with Nini Sacro of Climb Against Cancer Pilipinas. KOTM tied up with her organization for the social responsibility arm of this year’s race. I thought that their campaign of providing school supplies to public schools in the far-flung communities where their races/climbs are held creates a symbiotic relationship between the host town and the runners and forges a fellowship that transcends the event. She informed me that the educational books that our family donated will be handed to the school libraries, which were really our intended recipients.
Seeing all the buffed runners around, self-doubt began to creep in again. I told Jenith (a friend who I brought along just in case I needed someone to talk sense into me) that I am contemplating on shifting to 21K distance. I mean, it would just be like doing a regular weekend run for me. I will surely finish that without an issue. But true to her purpose, Jenith said that I was there for a challenge and not to get another finisher’s medal which I won’t be proud of.
“Kayapa” means “I can still do it!”
The race started at the Kayapa Town Hall, not far from Ms. Tessie Baltazar’s home, where most runners took their hearty breakfast of unlimited sopas and hotdog. After wishing us luck and fortitude, RD Jonel sent us running for the mountains.
To say that the temperature that dawn was freezing would be an understatement of the first rank. Every time I exhaled, the ray from my headlamp blurs with mist. I had to stop to catch my breath and warm my numbing face. I swear at one point I asked myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?”
We were told during the briefing that if we don’t see any confidence marker after running 500m, then we must be in the wrong trail. I found myself in that situation and had to retrace my steps from the last marker sighting. On my way back, I met Amelia, a 21K runner from Iligan City, who assured me that I was not lost. I decided to join her company until we reached the first aid station (at 10K), where I realized that I was already off my target pace by over an hour. In hindsight, I have no regrets spending those extra minutes on the trail chitchatting with Amelia and taking beautiful sunrise pictures. It made the uphill climb in the dark a lot bearable.
By the time I reached the second aid station (at 17K), there was very little chance for me to finish the race, knowing that I have not even been to the “Terminator” part of the course yet. Some runners were already on their way back and one runner even told me that he ran (or walked) the final assault at a 1km/hour pace. Surprisingly, I was never in low spirits throughout the race. How could one be when all the passing runners would tell you, “Kaya pa yan!”?
When I reached the summit, I told Kuya Anong, the summit marshal for the past 4 years, that I am the last runner and that he can now start the sweep. He, in return, told me that I should still be proud of myself because five runners did not start (DNS) and two others quit.
Learning and gratitude
At 30K, Rhett, Marvin, and I were forced to drop the flag. All of us were still willing and able to finish the race, but out of respect and courtesy to the race marshals who had been on the course since the previous day, we relented. With a heavy heart, we boarded the sweeping pick-up.
As RD Jonel consoled me at the finish line, he said that there were lessons to be learned that day. I told him that more importantly there are things that I should be thankful for: I reached the summit; I incurred no injuries during the race; I did not give up (but I had to though); I did not mess up my hydration and nutrition during the race; and I made friends.
The last one is particularly special to me. I have always run alone. I do not belong to any running team or community. I hate training at the gym because I do not like to socialize (and I hate treadmills). So to be in the company of like-minded individuals, even just for a weekend, was more than enough to convince me that I want to be in it — the sport, the trails, the mountains, the challenge — for the long haul.
I will probably face more and greater disappointments than this DNF, but this Mt. Ugo Marathon experience will always be remembered as the race that purified my running intentions and humbled me to the core.