I’ve ran onto the routes of Nuvali before, both on and off-road, and honestly I find it a bit boring especially when compared to natural trails of the mountains—until Valley Trail came along! It was a race with a lot of firsts, including my first DNF!
I told myself I won’t do any ultra for this year so I can gain weight and prepare better for marathons. Ultramarathons are great for endurance but wrecks up your speed for shorter races. Being away from racing also doesn’t help so for me to get back some speed; I have to drop ultras temporarily on my vocabulary. Until this media launch came along and got reacquainted with a good old friend, Vicky.
I think I really find it difficult to say no to a friend and an ultra, especially when they go together. Despite my utter reluctance, I found myself signing up for the 50K leg of the Valley Trail Challenge as a “pacer” “running buddy” for Vicky—her longest ultra to be. I had this “strange feeling” about this race because it’s an ultra when I said I shouldn’t do an ultra, and it’s two loops of 25K (and I hate loops!). Oh well, Vicky wants to do it, might as well lend a friend a hand (or feet in this case).
Saturday, June 18, 2011, D-Day. Because of our very early call time (2AM) I had absolutely no sleep. I realized that an out of town race on a Saturday morning was a very bad idea—you ignore the urge of Friday night outs, go home still “hot” from the office, you pack your bags, and leave early for your race. I told myself I’d never do this again—at least for the next foreseeable future!
We arrived in Nuvali around 4AM. Gradually, participants arrived, including so many familiar faces I’ve not seen in a very long time! It was a reunion for me with these “usual suspects” of ultras, and at that moment I was glad I was with this race.
The race started at 5:10AM: it was on purpose as we waited for the sky to brighten up enough that we won’t need any headlamps to guide our way. At that time we were blessed with a cloudy sky with cool weather, so Vicky and I were off to a very good start.
Before we started I asked Vicky on what pace should we run. She was registered to do Manila International Marathon a week hence so we could do an easy long run, but she was highly motivated to go competitive so that was our mode: race pace!
I was actually quite worried that I won’t be able to match her pace as I’ve been away for so long from racing. For us to be successful with our “campaign” we had to maintain a consistent pace for a significant amount of time and distance. As they say, “we won’t know until we try,” and so we did. We were successfully keeping her lead (women’s) for the first 15K of the race, and gradually I started noticing the drop in our pace. I paid little attention to it, and if my memory serves me right, we maintained her runner-up status until the end of first loop (~28.5K).
When we arrived at the starting area again to begin the second loop, I knew that Vicky was spent. I was actually waiting for her to throw in the towel and call it a day, but as soon as she spotted another lady coming our way, we hurried to continue with our second loop. At that time I really wished we were doing just a single loop. I had to turn off all “thinking” and just go with it as I really, really hate loops! The sun was also shining oh so brightly that time so I was dragging myself to do another loop!
Initially we were maintaining a decent pace, enough to cross us to the finish in about 9 hours, but slowly but surely, we started losing our pace. From 5 kilometers per hour, it had dropped to 4, then 3! Vicky didn’t say anything, but I knew we won’t be going any faster. Inevitably, runners came, including women, and overtook us. I knew this wasn’t in the plan, and I could only imagine how much it hurt Vicky’s pride.
After a while Vicky finally admitted to having pains in both her knees. Being competitive and highly motivated woman that she is, she refused to give up and just pushed herself as hard as she can. She tolerated all the pain, and kept it hidden to herself for as long as she can—until her knees started locking up!
I asked her a few times if she wanted to call it a day—but never did she entertain that thought. This is such an iron lady! We would stop for a while, and then continue walking. Around the 52K mark of the race we passed by some race marshals. I asked her one more time if she wanted to stop, but she didn’t. After a couple hundred meters, she screamed in pain! She was in so much pain that she could no longer hold back the tears. Both her knees were locking, and she couldn’t walk anymore. It was then that I had to make the decision for her to stop whether she liked it or not.
It was at these times I’m glad I’m in an ultramarathon race as I knew I can count on my fellow runners. I can’t leave Vicky alone in our spot but thankfully when some runners passed us by, they unreservedly offered their help to call the attention of the race marshals. I called the emergency hotlines mentioned before gun start by they needed our exact location—something that is quite trivial to ask someone inside the trails (would they understand it if I gave them our exact location via GPS?).
It was quite a relief when I saw a race marshal attending to us. He was the one who called for the motor bike support and the ambulance. We can’t easily move Vicky because of her pain, but since we were in the middle of the trail, negotiating her way out of it was a challenge. Vicky had gotten “bored” so she was willing to take the pain and we had to haul her with a motor bike, trough the trails, and finally to where the ambulance was. It was quite a harrowing experience to be behind a motor bike, without any helmets on, and on off road trails (surely beats those roller coaster rides in theme parks).
It was very difficult to see a friend in such condition. If could share the pain, I would. If I could heal her outright, I would. But at that point I’m just a helpless friend whose company is all I can offer. At that point I had no idea where we’d be taken—all I can think about is for us to get there as fast as we can.
Eventually we were taken back to the finish area where our good doctor slash ultrarunner friends await us. I can hear everyone saying Vicky’s name with much concern as they saw hear being carried out from the ambulance to the clubhouse to be treated. And of course many of our friends rushed in to ask what happened so you could just imagine me like a tape recording explaining what had happened.
After putting on some ice and taking some pain relievers, food, and liquids, soon enough Vicky was sitting up gaining back her poise. Minutes later she was inching her way to the shower to freshen up (what a tough woman!). She was apologetic that we didn’t finish the race, but at that point it was the least of my concerns. Yes, we were so close to finishing the race, but then the important thing is that we can still do another race some other time, and no serious repercussions were attained. Vicky and I were both thankful to “Tita” (sorry I forgot to ask her name) for taking very good care of us when we both arrived.
We stayed awhile to watch our comrades on trails complete their very long journey. It was quite a surprisingly challenging set of trails—one that every finisher could be proud of.
Looking back, the trails of Nuvali was hardly technical nor as difficult with that of “real” trails in the mountains, but surprisingly, it was quite a challenge! Even Vicky was asking herself how she managed to place second in arguably more difficult trails of PAU Mt. Pinatubo, and be injured and even not finish Nuvali? This just goes to show that we really can’t judge trails.
The sceneries of the route were also a surprise for me. I had no idea that such a picturesque scene actually exists, and it exists practically in Metro Manila’s backyard! The locals referred to the area as “New Zealand” because of its vast grasslands, perfect for grazing cows, goats, etc. But with all the development in the area, something tells me that these sights won’t be here for long.
I would like to thank frontRUNNER and Jonel Mendoza for coming up with a race that exceeded my expectations. I honestly didn’t expect to DNF this race and frankly, I underestimated Nuvali’s trails! Congratulations on a job well done!
Here are the race’s best points:
- Excellent, picturesque and challenging route
- Excellent hydration support with the most number of Pocari Sweat I’ve seen in any race, and good service by the personnel manning the stations
- Nice medal and an enviable finisher’s shirt
- Good attitude shown by the participants
However there were some points that could still be improved:
- Not all participants are mountaineers so they don’t know the proper ethics on waste management leading to some trash along the trails.
- The distance was much longer than announced (14% off the announced 50K). Personally had I known it would be 57K I’d suggest it to be made 60K. 😀
- Some critical areas lack markers or marshals, and some markers tend to be very ambiguous. We actually got lost during the first loop resulting in a loss of precious time and extra effort and distance.
Not my favorite:
- “River-crossing!” Although we didn’t necessarily have to be wet to cross the “river,” it’s quite improbable to stay clean and totally dry. I got stuck deep in the mud leading to my huge blister. 😛
- Revenge! If it’s possible I hope to have another shot at this exact same route next year for my revenge! Next time I won’t be pacing anyone, just pure retaliation! 😈
This is race marks the debut of my Merrell Trail Glove minimalist trail shoes, and for GPS monitoring, my BlackBerry Curve 3G (9300).
It was with this race that I first got to ride an ambulance. 😕
Finally, this race is my first DNF (Did Not Finish) although I did finish 52.68K of the announced 50K, which was actually 57K.
It was such an excellent experience doing another set of adventures on the trails with ultramarathon distance. It was a rare opportunity for me to once again run with my friends, and I’m so glad to know that the running community may have changed, but the ultrarunning community remains “pure” with the essence of camaraderie that I knew. I’m glad to have rediscovered my love for ultrarunning, and I can’t wait to get back to it next year. But for now all I can say is that congratulations to all finishers, to all the “first loopers,” and all the people behind this wonderful race. While the community is growing, let us help maintain the brotherhood that sets the ultrarunners apart from the rest!
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