Another long weekend. With more time at my disposal, what better way to end my birthday month but with an atypical adventure, not just my typical out of town, but a great tour way up North, in the province of Ilocos Norte.
We were so lucky to have been invited by our generous host, Mr. Faivo Bartolome, also the race organizer and director of Run Ahead Raising a Roof to join their event in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte last November 29, 2009. This would be my first time to visit Ilocos Norte and what better way to tour Laoag City but with running? Like with many races in the Metro, Run Ahead was a fund-raiser for Gawad Kalinga, but unlike Metro races with outlandish registration fees this one costs as little as P75 for 3K and only P200 for the 21K main event, and note that it still managed to provide runners with a very good quality singlet (I don’t think anyone can buy a singlet for P75 these days).
Laoag City is around 400 kilometers north of Metro Manila and is a nine-hour travel by bus and as such you can’t exactly just drop by and run (unless you’re going there by plane) so as early as Friday night we were off for Laoag City. By morning of Saturday we were already in Laoag City, relaxing in our hotel room and enjoying our buffet breakfast. By lunchtime we finally met in person the man behind the event, Mr. Faivo, who took us on a tour of nearby La Paz sand dunes. It was a wonder of nature uniquely Ilocos, perfect for adventure races and trail runs. Later that afternoon we couldn’t resist ourselves and we returned to the sand dunes to run (as expected) and explore the area, all while the sun was quietly setting onto the sea.
Sunday morning, Aurora Park, Laoag City: race day has arrived. Unlike Metro races where thousands “participate,” the event was attended by around 200 runners including “tourists” like myself and elite runners from the Metro. And unlike in the Metro where “more is better,” this event intentionally didn’t invite “everyone” to participate as Mr. Faivo’s wish to have a venue for runners to be able to run. This was a great example that Mr. Faivo had shown that races need not always be for money, it should be a venue for runners to run and enjoy. I don’t think there’d ever be a race organizer in Manila that would “reject” participants in their event had they known that they won’t be running but just merely participating. It sounds discriminating but for runners like myself it was a blessing to have a venue where we can really run and not shuffle through walkers (think Milo races).
Since I was tapering for my next full marathon I opted to join the 10K event to have a small tour of Laoag City. The route was pleasant with a relatively flat course except when crossing bridges. Even locals were saying that the route was interesting because it deviates from their normal race routes (Laoag City boasts a good set of running enthusiasts and races are also staged in the area).
Since the race was not crowded I was able to trail behind elite runners for the first few hundred meters of the 10K race to simply “watch.” It was a nice sight to see as they gradually increase their distance from me. Note that although the volume of runners is low, competition was high. Being initially with the lead group I was able to act like I was a competitive runner, counting how many runners were ahead, and I enjoyed it. Of course there was very little chance of me ending on the podium but I knew that this would be my best race ranking so far and I had to take it, all while still being cautious not to exert too much for my next race. In the end I was able to cross the line at a decent satisfactory time slightly off PR pace at tenth or eleventh place overall for men (plus one if you add the lone female ahead of me which was the 10K female winner).
For locals it was a breather from the typical crowded Milo races. Many experienced “Manila-style” registration process for the first time, and even us from the Metro were delighted to be rid of the huge crowd. Of course there would be “walkers” on the race but with the presence of serious and easy runners it could encourage them to lessen their walks. At the finish there was even a goodie bag for all finishers, an interesting activity area with free snacks, and some raffle prizes. Metro Manila organizers would be ashamed had they seen how organized this race was and despite the nominal registration fees were even able to provide runners with a lot of giveaways at the same time give to charity. It was a very good race by Metro Manila standards, one that is rarely seen recently.
The race was over but our tour had just about begun. There were so many things you can do in Ilocos that the nine-hour bus ride was well worth it. Here are some of the places we’ve visited:
Our Ilocos tour did not end there. Watch out for my next Ilocos special post. Special thanks to McCoy, Sir Rene (Jazzrunner), and Wilnar for the pictures.
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