Finally, D-Day has arrived! Ultramarathons sure are gaining popularity, fast! Thanks to PAU’s efforts, more runners are now braving ultras. Considering that this race was staged more than 500 kilometers away from Manila, the turnout was phenomenal with more than a hundred runners!
After a short “Ultramarathoner’s Prayer” by fellow multi-ultramarathoner Marco “DocT” Montaos and some notes from Sir Jovie “Baldrunner” Narcise, the “65K+” race started. It was around 4:50AM.
I’m not sure what the locals think of this event. Quite early on a Sunday morning more than a hundred runners, both men and women with lots of support vehicles, filled the streets of Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte. As an outsider I’d assume that traffic doesn’t get that heavy at such times, and I hope they didn’t think of us as nuisance.
In ultramarathons, particularly road ultras, an ultramarathoner is only as good as his support crew. Be it nutritional or motivational, everyone on this crew drives his runner closer to achieving that “glory.” That’s how important a support crew is, and that’s how much we ultramarathoners are thankful to them. People that don’t expect material returns, but instead like the runners they support are in it for the love of the sport.
Our support crew primarily caters to the needs of everyone in the group, but as an unwritten rule on the road, also provides support for everyone. Since the group is relatively big with varying speed, our support vehicles were allotted into three groups: the lead, middle, and trailer packs. One group for the fast lead runners, one would sweep for the laggards, and one in between. This grouping is important since as the race progresses, the distance between groups and runners widen both in terms of distance and time.
This race would be my first sub-100K ultra, and as such I intended to treat is as a very long run—with ease. It’s not like I don’t have respect for sub-100K ultras—I just intend to have fun! Having a conservative target I decided to place my personal belongings with the middle pack support vehicle (since we were also checking out of our hotel), which would prove to be a challenge later on in the race.
Since I’ve recently just awaken from my running hiatus (with absolutely no runs beyond 9K since Milo Marathon Manila Eliminations) I knew that I wouldn’t perform as strongly as I would before, and so I decided to let myself be pulled by pacing with a strong friend we affectionately call, “Simply Carly.” The plan was simple, pace with Carly for the first 10K at around 7:00/km average pace (about 8.6kph or finish in 1:10:00). The thing is Carly is quite strong despite claiming not to have any training for the race, and so we finished the first 10K in about an hour.
Initial goal, complete. I thought that I still was in good condition so I stuck with Carly until the 15th (5K in 31 minutes), and then until the 20th (next 5K in 33 minutes), and then until the 23rd (3K in 21 minutes)—the base of the path to the lighthouse of Cape Bojeador. Carly sure pulled me to a good start, despite looking otherwise as her pacer. 🙂
The Lighthouse of Cape Bojeador
The lighthouse of Cape Bojeador is a popular tourist destination and is situated on top of a hill. But there’s only one way we’d get there—through that steep and twisting uphill road!
When it comes to ultras and uphills, most especially steep uphills, I have one policy—walk! I’ve already benchmarked myself on this aspect and I found out that my walk oftentimes is faster than my easy run on uphills. After doing 23K I’m not exactly in a mood to run that steep incline. Walk it is.
The road eventually evens out near the summit (base of the lighthouse) and so running was still practical. At that point I had already dropped the idea of pacing with Carly since I had already exceeded my plan of a 1:10:00 first 10K, but seeing her pulled me not to relax just yet—especially that the route now takes a U-turn and becomes downhill.
The downhill that was previously my enemy gave me my fastest kilometer of the race at 5:47 (10.4kph) and fastest burst at 16.9kph (3:33/km pace). Of course upon arriving at the bottom Carly caught up with me and went on ahead as I took a little breather. Without endurance training I felt like this was the extent of my continuous run—it’s walking henceforth. This would officially be the start of my ultramarathon.
Lost My Pebble
Being alone reminded me on why I joined the race—to enjoy the sights! For the first time in the race I was able to stop and take pictures of the lovely sceneries nature had presented me. The first shot though was blurry as my lens was wet with moisture.
Since I was then walking (except on downhills) the ugly side of ultras appear—boredom. It’s different when you’re running a kilometer, even on a very easy pace, and when you’re walking it. To get through this mental torture, thinking of short term goals help. At that point reaching Kapurpurawan Rocks was the goal.
Three hours and 30 kilometers into the race, the trail leading to Kapurpurawan Rocks showed itself. At that moment the total distance of the trail was uncertain (but it’s definitely not short) so last minute restocking with our support vehicle was in place.
The trail was indeed long, and boring. The only thing that kept me entertained were the downhill sections where I can run. For the most part it was just plants, rocks, soil, me, and the scorching sun. Until some sight broke the pattern of dullness—I’ve arrived at the rocks!
I didn’t know what to expect on the rocks, but I definitely didn’t expect stairs to be there. Upon finishing the stairs, an interesting trail appeared. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I hated it as much as I’ve loved it! I hated it because there was no guide whatsoever on which path of the infinite choices to take, and I managed to end up in mud, and my sense of navigation was zero so I ended up in a dead end and had to return back and find another way. Did I mention that I lost a lot of time in the process that many runners overtook me? Upon reaching the rock and getting my loop cord, I had not much inspiration to stay and take pictures so I headed back out. But not before rinsing my muddy shoes in a puddle of clean water first. Despite all that trouble it’s still one of my favorite running moments of the race. Shoes clean, feet and socks soaking wet—a recipe for blisters!
The trails from the national road to the rocks is about 4K long making the trail about 8K long. It took me about 1:10:00 to complete, and during such time I thought that this section was like TNF Thrill of the Trail meets PAU. Except for the reward in the middle of the trail, this section is pretty much boring.
After restocking anew from our support vehicle I was off to my next goal, the Bangui Windmills, which is at least 7K away. It may sound short and easy, but at that time it’s about an hour away, and I’ve been running and walking for more than four hours already. Oh well, all in a day’s work.
At around 45K something wonderful came into view—huge fans! Well, not really. These windmills may look good but it actually generates electricity from wind. I was here more than a year ago and never did I think that upon my return I get to run most of the length of the windmills. Nice.
It’s about a 5K route of dirt road, even more boring than that in Kapurpurawan Rocks. It’s dusty with very fine dusts that make it quite difficult to run (like running on loose sands). After which it’s back to the good old concrete national road.
Shortly after returning to the national road I was met by our support vehicle. For all this time the lead pack support was the one taking care of me, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, my things were placed by yours truly on the middle pack support vehicle due to my conservative outlook. It was then practically lunchtime (11AM) but since I don’t have my things, I don’t have my packed lunch (which is really just a canned tuna with rice). This was a bit of a letdown, but my support crew offered me their supplies at hand so I ended up having a piece of boiled egg and a sandwich for lunch. It was enough to jumpstart me back in the game, and shortly after I got some wafers and sodas (softdrink) from the race organizer’s hydration station. This is an ultramarathoner’s lunch. No frills. Just survive.
Death at 50!
Just when I thought that my Garmin Forerunner 405 would last at least seven hours, it died on me 50.67 kilometers into the race! That’s just about six and a half hours of recording. This always happens on me during ultras, and this is one scenario when a GF405 is not good enough for you.
From then on I felt “blind” as I no longer have any idea on my pace, how far I am, and ultimately how much longer to the finish. The highlights of the race have elapsed, only the long arduous road to the finish remains.
Are We There Yet?
This is one of the questions that played in my thoughts as boredom sets in. This is where your mental strengths are needed as if you don’t have the patience, boredom will rob you of sanity. Kilometers seem to last forever to finish, and even the sights don’t amuse you anymore. Add to that some not so nice remarks from spectators. If you lost your temper, it means you’re dehydrated. Crazy, right? It’s already given that you’ll lose your cool due to the hot weather. 🙂
The Search for Saud
Saud beach is where the finish line is located. The problem is that one can never seem to get near to this place. It seems like forever and people keeps telling you “8K” or “5K” or “7K”… didn’t I heard that figure two kilometers ago?
Finally, that most sought after sign, “Saud, 2 kilometers.” If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will. Unfortunately that 2K is only up until that Saud marker, not the finish line which is still nowhere in sight. Bummer.
Almost, But Not Quite
Upon arriving at “Saud” I was escorted by a motorbike. At that time I felt very irritated as I didn’t know that it was an official event escort. The driver had two children on his bike, one in front and the other at the back, all of them not wearing any helmet. He wasn’t wearing anything that marks “PAU” and so initially I thought it was just some irritating person that wants to stalk me around. Apparently they’re there to make sure we don’t get lost, although they could’ve mentioned it earlier so I wouldn’t have given such a cold shoulder.
After making a correct left turn, it was a bicyclist’s turn to escort me. I had actually stopped thinking how far the finish line was at that time because I was too bored already, but I can feel it is close. Close enough that I started running.
Then another escort on motorbike came, this time not following me but instead leading me. When I got close he mentioned, “100 meters to the finish” which was music too my ears! But as I’ve learned not to trust those distances, I simply ignored it (sounds too good to be true) and also because I still didn’t see the finish line then.
Oh, ‘Em Gee!
Then my escort told me to turn right, “last 50 meters”… OMG… there… really… it… is! Everything just happened so fast! There wasn’t enough time for any more thoughts and it just happened—I crossed the finish line!
9:27:07, 22nd male, 26th overall—my best ultramarathon finish ranking so far! It was overwhelming. I came to this race to fulfill a promise to return to Ilocos, to enjoy the sights, and to be reunited with my friends. The sights and experiences alone were rewards enough, and a surprisingly good ranking with a trophy to boast (and an extra 5K) made it even better!
(Later on I found out that Carly finished 35 minutes ahead of me, as Women’s 2nd runner up. You may view the complete race results here)
Of course all these will not be possible without our loving support crew—the wind beneath our wings, err feet. To all our support crew, thank you very, very much! You’re the best support crew an ultramarathoner could want.
To Sir Jovie Narcise, thank you for organizing interesting races! Not only do we expand our horizons we also got to see and run in places we may otherwise just see in pictures. I would remember this race, my first PAU race, as one of the best races I’ve had so far!
To all the residents of all the places we visited, thank you for your generosity and hospitality! You may not all understand what we’re doing or why we’re doing it (trust us, we too don’t know!) but your show of support is very much appreciated! Please do keep your place as beautiful as we saw it so that more people would be encouraged to visit your beautiful province.
To all my brothers and sisters on the road who can honestly and proudly say that they’ve finished the entire 70 kilometers of PAU Ilocos Norte, Congratulations!
Ilocos Norte, thank you! I’ll be back!
* * *