This is the story of my first ultramarathon trail race, TNF100. This race combines the excitement and adventure brought about by nature’s trails with the unforgiving distance of an ultramarathon—a lethal combination many are not able to endure.
Our race started very early. Even before the base camp was completely set up we were already “playing” in the assembly area—perhaps too excited with the race we’ve long been waiting for. Many seem to have really prepared for this race, whilst I was just savoring the moment—the moment of truth is here! I only had one goal—to finish. It doesn’t matter if I had to finish last and crawling—just do it or don’t, no “trying.”
Finally, the runners were called to assemble. The assembly area was in front of Nayong Pilipino beside Expo Filipino. As addicted to pictures as we are to running, we went up front with the “elite” runners to be included in pictures (and even videos). Even if we’re not as popular as some of these guys at least we have pictures taken with them (feeling elite as well) sometimes even just as a background for them.
3:58AM (on my GF405) the race officially started. Everyone had their headlamps and blinkers (mandatory gears) so we were like fireflies in the dark. After some distance we were lead to Parwa River—a very wide river and full of lahar. Lahar is pretty much like sand except that when it’s dry it’s like asphalt. Regardless of the lahar tall grasses still manage to grow in the area making the route seem like a mixture of running on the beach and on trails—and yes many got lost temporarily because of these grasses. By the time we were out of these grasses my running buddy Sean William and I were separated from our group.
Initially we were all avoiding stepping on the water to keep ourselves dry but we were just fooling ourselves in doing so, and eventually we really had no choice but to get wet. As we were traveling on the river the sun silently paints the sky red as it slowly rises. Sometimes good things are just behind us—all we need to do is look back.
It was pretty much light up by the time we arrived at Aid Station 1 (AS1) which was near a hanging bridge. From here we headed off to my favorite trail area of the race, Haduan. I liked it a lot because it was difficult, steep, and a little dangerous. I understood quickly why the organizers didn’t want runners to cover this area in the dark—it’s really that dangerous in the dark! The Haduan trails eventually lead us back to the river.
The countless river-crossings in Sta. Rosa area came next. The difficult part really wasn’t crossing the river—it’s just that you had to climb a mountain then go down to cross one, and do it all over again many times! We were also initially told that the rivers weren’t that deep nor fast moving but when we got there some were above-knee deep and some had strong currents that bamboos or ropes were placed to grab onto. Of course because of these river-crossings our feet were constantly wet during most of the race. We also always had to worry about sand getting everywhere after crossing each river making running uncomfortable. As a consolation all these rivers were really clean and even had fishes in it.
Shorty after AS3 my GF405’s batteries ran out. I and my partner were taking longer than expected to arrive at our target area that time, AS4, where most of our support supplies were. Both of us at that time were starting to have some knee problems due to the knee-breaking terrain of Sta. Rosa. My partner brought along some patches to relieve our pain but I think our knees were too dirty that it won’t stick. Reinforcing it with plastic strips only worked for a while but eventually the patch and the strips peeled off. By this time the sun was high in the sky so we were also feeling the heat. I was virtually limping my way on this route until some good Samaritans offered me a painkiller—in a few minutes I totally forgot about the pain but of course I still had to be cautious since only the pain was gone, the injury was still there, just being masked.
Just when we thought we were near AS4, a huge obstacle blocks our path. The trail leading to AS4 goes up a very steep mountain (with ropes to help us up) and after some distance we had to virtually rappel down using the ropes they placed. The things you have to do just to reach AS4.
It was early afternoon when we finally arrived at our oasis, AS4. Finally we can eat food. Unfortunately our bags were not protected from the heat so everything’s hot! It was good for my canned goods but bad for my sports drinks. That place was a good place to catch up with other runners, rest, and restock your supplies.
After some time we decided to head off and finish the first loop. It was a very long day and we still had a long way to go! The bad thing about leaving AS4 was that the route after it was very hot! There was very little shade in the area, the road was very difficult to walk onto, and the next Marshal Point (MP) and AS were quite far away! The good thing was that the terrain was “normal” and we even had the pleasure of having cold sodas and water.
It was here when my running buddy and I parted ways, but of course there were many runners on the route so none of us were alone. I passed by several runners along the way and met some new ones to chat with along the way. By that time the most common question was “are you going back?” I myself weren’t so sure at that time if I could make it through the cutoff time if I did with my pace but I found some strongly-willed runners that were willing to “do-it-again” that motivated me to continue. It was already difficult running the trail in daylight so it would be much worse at night and you’re alone.
We were on the Mega Dike when nature just went mad and poured heavy rains and strong winds on us. I found myself running alone in the strong rain (wearing a trash bag as a lightweight substitute for a rain coat). I don’t see my new buddies behind me so I just continued pushing through the rain which eventually stopped just as I was arriving on Expo Filipino. Upon arriving at the area I was confused as there were no Marshals to be found! I just followed the signs but it didn’t return me to base camp. Uh oh!
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The Chronicles of an Ultra Trail: