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Monday, October 11, 2010

Habulan sa Bulkan: PAU 50K Mount Pinatubo Trail Run

"Grabe pare, alam ko may nagtrail-run dito sa Pinatubo mula sa Sta. Juliana hanggang sa crater tapos pabalik. Pag lumakas ako, gagawin ko din yun!"

Those were the words I told my friend while we were riding the 4x4 on the way to the crater during my first trip in Pinatubo last December. Never did I know that I will be doing it as soon as this year! It all started when I saw the pictures from the Pinatubo invitational run organized by sir Jonel last August. I was so envious with the experience and experience that I read about the run. I swore that the next Pinatubo run, I will be joining it.

I wasn't expecting to run all the way here from Sta. Juliana!

As if God was playing tricks with me, sir BR announced that he's going to organize a trail run this October to the majestic destination. Boy, I was so excited that the first day he opened up the reg (during the CLP for P2P), I signed-up already. Di pa nga tapos ang isang sakit ng katawan, may kasunod na agad!

So how did it go? Let me tell you my story about the "Habulan sa may Bulkan"

The Trip to the Starting Line

October 8, 2010 was a busy day for me. I attended a client presentation then had dinner with the consultants before I called it a day. My original plan was to finish everything up early then go home to catch some sleep. But I can't resist free food, especially when I didn't had any lunch! We finished at around 9:30 but I have to buy a few more stuff from the supermarket. I got home at around 1030 and still have to pack my stuff before I went to Mcdo Munoz, our meeting place.

I arrived at the meeting place by 12:15. Had some chit-chat with a few runners before I accidentally broke my bag's zipper! All the time of DocT's orientation I was so caught up with fixing my zipper but with no luck. Have to improvise and accepted the fact that I can no longer fix it :(. We all left at around 12:30.

I was so excited with the trip that I can't sleep in the van. It looked like I have to run again with insomnia! Darn anxiety, this will kill me soon! :( But enough with the bad vibes, I had a tough race ahead of me. We arrived at exactly 3:00 am in the morning.

With a few hours to spare I started preparing already. I checked-in to get my bib number (it's not 69 :( ) and got to take some of my pictures in the starting line. It was still dark and a lot of night creatures (bugs) were zooming around the lights. I was bit by some but my anxiety didn't let me down. I decided to bring along a bottle of gatorade as good luck charm (you'll know why it is a good luck charm in a while)

Starting Line!

The Ultra-legends! (mas mataas na nilalang sa ultraman)

Getting ready! (di naman kami excited)

The first 10 km: Darkness and Sand

At exactly 5:00 am, the gunstart popped and off we go. It was so dark, good thing that some of the fast runners ahead of us brought their headlamps. I decided to take the first kilometer at a comfortable pace but due to panic I forced myself to run faster to catch up with the guys using headlights. I swear that if you don't have any lights during that time, you will get lost!

Aside from the first river crossing (which made my feet felt heavier), this part of the course was dusty and flat with tall grasses. You might think that this was easy but NO this is not a road run. Though this part of the course was flat, we were running on sand. It's was really difficult as the sand sinks as you step on it. It required extra effort to run in the freaking sand but my strategy was to follow the 4x4 tracks along the way. My observation was those tracks were relatively easier to run as they were already flattened by the 4x4. But still we had to run thru majority of the soft sand track which zapped most of our strength. I had to endure this as I'm really chasing the guys with headlamps (I really don't want to get lost).

It was already sunrise when I reached the first aid station. I decided not to stop as I didn't feel hunger nor thirst yet and continued to run until the next aid station.

Imagine Running at this landscape with zero lighting!!!

Day break!!!

KM 11 - 20: Surprise at 16K!!! (traps of the trail)

I reached the 14K mark at around 1:55 in my watch. Took some time to gulp a hammer gel and refill my gatorade bottle. At this point, the course shifted from being dusty and sandy to very rocky and wet! Running thru the rocky course and several river crossings was definitely new challenge. First, the rocks were unpredictable, you might trip down or get sprained if you miss a step. Second, the river doesn't just make your feet wet but it also has rocks and sand which fills up your shoes. But this was still ok as the route was still relatively flat and compared to the sands, it was quite bearable. I felt like I was playing inside a maze where you need to find the best possible way out of it.

After a few minutes, I was literally surprised when I reached the next aid station. According to the race guidelines, aid stations were supposed to be located every 7K (7K, 14K, 21K, etc/), But this time, it was relatively short compared to the previous station. I was right, it was just only 16K. And guess what, walang support beyond 16k!!! Due to the condition of the course, the 4x4 trucks can't move any further. Well, I was worried at first but this little challenge will not discourage me to give up the race. I filled up all of my hydration units and thank God I brought along the Gatorade bottle! It became my hydration for the next 10K++ until I  reached the crater (hoping that at least there will be water/refreshment at the turn-around point).

Trail after the 14K mark!

The part after this was really challenging. You have to rely on instinct and follow the "Keep Left" rule to survive and find your way. Also, there were several "traps" along the way. The first trap was the coarse edges made up of sand which crumbles as you step on them. I became a victim as I made a wrong step; it crumbled and I fell down knee first! It was not that painful but I wounded my hand in the process. I checked if I had any other injuries before I washed up my wound in the river.

The second trap were the loose rocks along the river bed. It will can cause sprain if you accidentally stepped on them aside from being too slippery. Good thing my trail shoes have nice grips which helped me get traction against these rocks.

The third trap were the huge boulders. And when I say huge, they are HUGE! You have options on how to approach them, one you can literally climb them or go find another path. I always choose the latter as I don't want to risk any injury.

The fourth trap were quicksands! Yeah! Now I believe that quicksands were true and I fell into one! There was huge pile of sand at the side of the course which I thought was safe to pass through. My legs sank up to the knees! Sensing that I'm in deep trouble if I panicked, I chose to calmly lift my foot away from the scary sands. I was still lucky though as one of the runners also hit the quicksand and it took his shoes and one of his socks which made him run barefoot until the crater (he was asking for slippers or sandals that he can borrow just to finish the race, that's iron will!).

At this part of the course, I survived all the traps by being vigilant and careful on what I stepped on. I have to really slow down as I don't want to get injured as well. I'm talking to each runner that passes me by to keep my self sane as I really have no idea how far I'm from the turnaround point. Then I saw a familiar site...

Sample River that we tried to cross

KM 21 - 30: From the crater and back

I finally reached the "starting base camp" of the regular trekkers for Pinatubo. And time was running out, looking at my watch it was already 3:48 hours and I was really near the crater. The trek would take another 15 minutes and my hydration units were almost empty. I tried to do some short runs on the way to the top, climbed the awfully long stairs and briefly stopped to enjoy the view. I went down to the turn-around point and rested for a while by shores of the lake (my turn-around time was 4:06). Took some pictures, dipped my feet at the lake, cleaned my shoes and socks then decided to start our trip back to the starting line. I was planning to swim in the lake but due to a cut-off were trying to chase, I decided not to (which I regret afterwards).

Base Camp!
There was no aid station at the crater so I filled-up my trusty gatorade bottle, which saved me during the trip up to the crater, with water in a nearby faucet. I didn't thought if the water was sanitized or not as I'm thirsty when I chugged it down. I also dampened myself with water before the trip as the sun had already started beating us with its heat. Lastly, I took another energy gel to gain some momentum on the way back. We then began our descend back to the aid station (10K uli!!!)

Trail to the crater

Turn-around point

Frolicking at the lake!

Wasak na pero masaya pa din

During the descend we met a few more runners who were still on their way to the crater. I've also learned that some of the runners was lost along the trail by as much as 5K :(. I paced with Beeps and tried to do some short jog whenever there were flat routes along the trail. Here I got my second wound when I accidentally stepped on a very loose rock in the river which scratched my hand and made me do a split as landed on my butt first. I felt my left thigh cramped up after but I just shrugged it off as I want to really finish the race!

KM 31 - 40: Chop-chopped by a chopper

The heat of the sun is slowly taking its toll. I can feel dehydration building up and I'm almost out of hydration units as well. I also shared my water with Beeps to help him cross this safe and sound. Finally, we saw some brink of hope when the aid station (km 16 -> km 36) were already in our sight. Doing short jogs then brisk-walk, slowly but surely we were able to reach the aid station.

Cold RC cola and water... Nothing beats the cold beverage running down your throat after an almost 10K trip from the crater. I also stopped by the support vehicle to get some fresh supply of cold gatorade and a splash of water to beat the heat. Off we go to the next aid station! By this time, the heat of the sun was already approaching it's full force which was amplified due to zero shading in this part of the trail. But we're already near the finish line so I decided to have a brisk walk - run strategy until I reach the km 14 aid station. Also by this time, the dried rivers were already filled-up again with water (bad news if the rain would come!).

As I reached the 2nd to the last aid station, we were held as there was a on-going Balikatan exercise in the field we had to cross. Jesus Christ, they were using live ammo for this exercise!!! We have no choice but to wait and hope that it will end soon as we were already cooling down and losing our momentum for the race. The marshal said it will only last at least 30 mins. but it turned to an hour then almost 2 hours.

Darn helicopter!!!

One by one, each of the runners were arriving at our aid station but we have no choice as we don't want to do any Lito Lapid stunts while crossing the desert. We were already hallucinating (man, those bad waters were fierce) on what can we do: a. Do a 12K fun run to the finish b. Do loops until we are done with 12K then ride our way back to the finish line.The effect of boredom and heat, very interesting...

Bangag na kami nito!

Finally, after the second round, they finally set us free! I decided not to carry my hydration belt already and brought a bottle of water and gatorade. I gulped down my last piece of energy gel, as this will be my dash to the finish... Epic Relay Style!!!

KM 41 - 50: Sprint to the finish line
Rested, cooler weather and built-up frustration; those were the factors I need to do my sprint to the finish. Holding a bottle of gatorade and cold water, I tried to speed up within the last few kms. I hit a 5:30 pace during the beginning of the dash, slowing down because of the sand and splashing some water in my back and head to cool-down. Support was present in every 3 km, so I was able refill my water bottle and drop my gatorade. I followed the 4x4 track to navigate thru the sand field and knowing that a rain is coming anytime soon, I continue to run the remaining course. There were brief walk-breaks to rest for a few meters and while crossing the gaping river (which has grew since we crossed it in the early morning). When I reached the guard post of the barangay, a secondwind began to blow behind me so I continued in increasing my pace until I saw the finish line. A mad-dash to the finish, I clocked in at 8:45 as my non-official time (I stopped my watch when they held us at the Aid station and re-started it when they released us). Finally, I'm done with my longest trail run in my career, 50 gruesome km with a lot of story to tell :D

Bangag at sabog!

Post-Race Thoughts

After the race, I had time to exchange stories with each of the finishers. We had lunch as I'm really-really hungry after the race (adobo, sisig c/o master jj, adobong sili c/o bong, fish crackers). After that, I hit the sack to get some well-deserved rest.

Here are a few things I had learned from this race:

- Trail Runs are really-really different from a Road Rage/Race! PR's in a road can't be applied in the trail :)
- Never run in an empty stomach or if you're lacking sleep!
- MT875 were the coolest trail shoes ever! Except for the part that water can easily pass thru it, cushioning and support was superb throughout the race. No problem whatsoever in the grip and sole after the race :D
- Expect the worst in a trail run and ensure that you are prepared whatever happens. Focus not only on yourself but your surroundings as well
- Beer Mug!!! Now I can enjoy my favourite "drink" and remind me of how much I worked hard just to get a piece of mug :))
- I adore people with Iron will! Ian who lost his shoes in the quicksand but chose to continue his journey and not to quit the race on barefoot and sandals is such a feat that he can brag to everyone else. I salute you bro for your fighting spirit and determination!

Ian finished this race using sandals from km 25 onwards

- Regardless of how many times an Ultraman tells you that it will be his last Ultra, he will never fulfill it as it is very difficult to get out of the addiction. Hahanap-hanapin nyan ang sakit ng katawan!!!

Kagat-trophy moment :D

Thank you Doc Topher for organizing the logistics of our trip and support. To the and team boring support crew, a big thanks and kudos to the job well done (laki ng utang na loob namin sa inyo). To boss JJ and her wife for the awesome lunch (sisig niyo the best). To the new friends and co-finisher of this race, congratulations and thank you for sharing this experience with me. To Sir Jovie, thank you for organizing a very tough and challenging run as always (you never fail to surprise us sir!). and to Dear God, for guiding us and ensuring that there will be no casualties in this race whatsoever.

As I said in one of my comments:
Yun na ata yung pinakamahirap na takbong nagawa ko kung saan nasugatan, natusta, natapilok, nadapa, lumubog sa kumunoy, nadulas at nag-split sa ilog! Bilib talaga ko sa mga nakatapos! :D

Congratulations to all the finishers! (gawin natin ito uli next time!)

Bonus: Ito pala yung pacer nina Doc T :D

* - Picture credits to Mccoy, Van and Jasmin! Thanks guys!


  1. uy kasama ako dto sa habulan sa bulkan.congrats susunod na habulan ulit hehehehe-ambow-

  2. nice post...congrats...walang anuman sa sisig! nxt tym meron ulet! heheh...jj

  3. great story . . .
    thanks sa gatorade na bigay mo
    (when we bumped into each other),
    without it i think i wouldn't
    survive the trip to the crater.

  4. Hey Nonong, walang problema. Sa Ultra dapat lahat magtulungan lalo na sa mga nangangailangan :).

  5. dito ko lang pala makikita ang nag-pacer kay doc t! nyahahahaha! :P congrats kampuger!


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