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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Taklang Damulag 100-mile Endurance Race 2013

Last year I asked BR if I can upgrade to the 100-miler when I finished the 50-miler race. He said "No, you're not yet ready". Boy, I'm glad I listened to his advice because the race is one of the toughest that I experienced. I finished the 21K, 50K and 50-miler; I already convinced myself that this year I'll try my luck with the 100-miler category. Plus I don't have any choice because it's part of the 2013 PAU grandslam of the year award (also the last leg of the series). As a recap, I've finished 3 100-miler++ races already this year and the fourth one would be extra challenging. Why? Here are the top 3 reasons:

1. MENTAL game - who the hell would be sane enough to design a course where you have to climb the same mountain 4 times during the race?! It's "suya" overload for those who hate doing loops!

2. CUT-OFF - the route is easy compared to the previous 100-milers. But the cut-off is unforgiving. 32 hours for a combined road and trail race?! That's ridiculous (Antique 100 had a 31 hour cut-off because it was 165 km. But that was a road race, not a "climb all you can" mix race!)

3. SUPPORT - you have to strategize your supplies and refills along the way because there are limited number of aid stations. Also, when the night falls there will be less stores available and obviously there are no stores inside the trail.


Before the race, I did 3 monster ultras already. I can still feel the effect on my body (i.e. body pains) and I know I'm not in my peak condition for this race. But I treated my previous races as "loading" to ensure I have a fighting chance come race day.

3 weeks before the race, I finished the hard CM 50 race (race report to follow) which thrashed my quads and calves. After that, I decided to take a week of rest to recover because my right knee was aching (plus I enjoyed the party-party in Bora). 2 weeks before the race, I decided to do some ninja training where I did random distances everyday in preparation for the Milo finals. Last long run was done in Milo where I got a PR in the 21K distance (meaning I'm almost prepared for D-day). Then taper week arrived where I reduced my mileage and did my favorite part of the training: EAT!!!

I didn't use anything new for the race except for some salt stick. I realized that during the previous races, I suffered from cramps because I zapped the sodium level in my body. Coach Titus also reminded me that I need the sodium to prevent cramps during the race. All the other gears were battle-tested already so I'm quite confident about them.

Also, I plotted my timeline during the race. In order for me to finish it, I have to set mandatory target times for myself in all of the key aid stations. Here was my battle plan

Aid station            distance                  time elapsed              time of day
Nazareth               27                           3:30                          8:30 am
Fernandez Hill       50                           7:00                          12:00 nn
1st inner loop         63                           10:00                        3:00 pm
2nd inner loop        76                           13:00                        6:00 pm
SOCOM (halfway) 82                           14:00                        7:00 pm
Nazareth                 109                         19:00                        12:00 am
Fernandez Hill         132                          23:00                        4:00 am
3rd inner loop           145                         26:00                        7:00 am
4th inner loop            158                         29:00                        10:00 am
Finish line                  164                          31:00                        12:00 nn

The plan includes the pit stops and rests along the route (max 15 minutes in fernandez hill for the food and re-hydration). Also I asked sir Jovie if I can leave my bag and bring only my trekking pole + hydration bottles when I do my inner loops. That will save me time as I'll be travelling lighter when I climb the dreaded hills.

MGM even had a planning session about the support and what to do during the race.

Well, I guess I have a plan but I was not really prepared for what happened during race day...


We left Manila at around 4 pm already. The original plan was 1 pm but unfortunately, there are some things that is out of my control(same thing happened in my WC story last month). Anyway, we were in convoy all the way to Fort Magsaysay. Upon arriving, I greeted the RD and Madam, picked my race kit, stuff myself with the overflowing food and drinks then listened to the race briefing. This years edition is star-studded; the race will be attended by my fellow aspiring grandslammers, some returning ultraman who vowed revenge in the race and a few first timers. Good luck to us! (by the way, sir Jovie mentioned that the weather should be cloudy during the race...)

I was supposed to be asleep earlier that evening but i hardly did due to nonstop coughing during the night. I was worried because this means I might be sick during the race (damn it!). Fortunately, I had fallen asleep for 2 hours before waking up and preparing for the race.

This year's edition also had a different starting/finish line too. It was moved from the kubo to the lobby of the transient home where we were staying. It was a huge relief because this means our rooms were accessible when we reach the midpoint plus it will be easier for us to get our supplies. We can even jump at the pool if we want to! :))

After a short briefing from the RD, we were released from the starting line at around 4:50 in the morning. Oh and I found out that the route is 167 kms long! So much for planning huh :))

Km 00-51

As expected, the route at the start of the race was very dark. I decided to maintain a decent pace and follow the "run the downhills and walk the uphill" strategy. I also minimized the content of my backpack by limiting my hydration with my two bottles, leaving the bladder empty and bringing only a minimum amount of food. I will rely on my gels which I should take every 10K. It was somewhat effective because I was able to run and walk faster without much strain on my back.

Baccao is still filled with stray dogs but it really didn't bother me because they were on the other side of the gate. I maintained my pace until we reached Palale (after 2 river crossings) where the aid station was moved somewhere in the uphills! The 2nd problem I had also started to occur here: I have an upset tummy :( I have to resist it from comung out because I might get dehydrated this early in the race. It was difficult as I was chasing the first target time in Nazareth.

During the last 3 km before reaching Nazareth, the marupok boys had already reached me. I was enjoying the company of CJ and Otek before they arrived. We paced towards the cement road going to the aid station which I observed had X number of dogs barking in all direction! I imagined what will happen to us when we pass the same spot later during the night! Anyway, we sped up and replenished our supplies (thanks ate Juvy for the doughnuts!) before walking our way to the next spillway. I reached the aid station within my target time of 3:30 hours!

I can't contain my upset stomach already. I decided to have a short break in one of the houses and unload before I can't control it anymore. That was a relief and I was able to run again. At that point, papi and judge laron has reached me. I tried to pace with them all the way to the Sta.rosa-laur highway (km 35) and back to the barangay after the U-turn in the highway. I was conserving my energy here because the sun was already up and the heat was rising. I did some power walks and tried to do some jog every once in a while just to save some time.

After Alorma trail, I was back trekking the notorious Bataan Road. It was scorching hot. Good thing I took one of my mogu-mogu supplies along the way as it gave me some emergency energy! When I reached the Cordero dam intersection I noticed that the trail was dry and very runnable. It was tricky though because some of the trees block the way and if you're not careful you might stumble! I saw the pesky helicopter again which means I'm near Fernandez hill so I tried to speed up a little.

After 7 hours, I was able to reach km 51. Still within the target time :D

The first inner loop (Km 51-km 64)

Before continuing my journey, I asked for some hot noodles with malunggay leaves. I also asked tuto for some cold softdrinks because I was already toasted with the heat. By the way, some of the leadpack were resting here, I guess they realize that it was too hot to continue trekking the mountain :)). As planned, I left my backpack and took only 2 gels, my hydration bottles and a trekking pole. I have to walk the 3 km, any running during this time can cause cramps or severe dehydration because of the heat.

As expected, my heart rate began to rise the moment we started ascending the mountain. The steep gradient is not helping us at all so we have to slow down and sometimes stop to catch our breathe before we continued. I timed myself during the ascend and it took me around 50 minutes just to reach the outpost at the peak. I felt weak and dizzy so I rested for a while at the station. I refilled my bottles and poured some water over my head to lower my core temperature.

The descent was not bad either. Since the trail was dry, the steep descent was manageable (loose soil but not that slippery). I reached Alfred and Simon here as we were very careful making our way down the trail. I remembered last year when I was with Dindo in the same spot and Yob came dashing like a crazy guy without any care down the slope! I can't do that because I still value my life :))

We thought we got lost on the way to Baccao. For some reason, the markers from the last river crossing were missing and the next one was found far from the river. We got confused that we traced back to the last marker while the Alfred continued and checked if it was the right way. We were relieved when they found one though I know I've lost some crucial minutes during the confusion.

Upon reaching Baccao, I reached for my drop bag and drank my coconut juice for hydration. I gulped down a gel and tried running the trail going to Cordero dam. I was surprised that the trail here was cleaner compared to last year where the talahibs were covering the trail and you can't pass without having them kiss your face! Oh and Wilnar came from behind saying it was his last loop! #(%)$%% lucky guy! :))

I was faster on my way back to Fernandez hill coming from Baccao because I ran the short 2++ km trail going back. Saw the helicopter again and this time I was able to reach the aid station at around 2:50 pm meaning I saved 10 minutes from my target time :D

2nd Inner Loop (km 65-km 77)

I was really hoping that I'll be faster during the 2nd loop since I am now familiar with the course. But the sun will still not cooperate. Compared last year, our 2nd loop was cooler because it was cloudy. This year, the clouds were so scarce thus it was still hot. Time was ticking so after I ate some liempo (pampalakas!) and gulped some softdrinks, I left Fernandez hill at around 3:10 (I almost forgot my headlamp).

The uphill was still punishing and it seems I can't even gain any momentum. Still happy with the decision of carrying only my hydration bottle and trekking pole because I feel lighter going up Mt. Taklang Damulag. After 40 minutes, I was able to reach the peak tired and catching my breathe. I douse myself with water and refilled my bottle before I started my way down the mountain.

The trip downhill was faster but I observed that the trails were already damaged because of the number of people who passed through it today. I still can't find the right technique of going down but I was careful not to slip or injure myself in the process. I was able to reach the Baccao aid station at around 4:45 and noticed that the sun has already started to set. I didn't stay for too long at the aid station because I don't darkness to reach me at the trails.

On the way to Cordero dam, I was a bit faster and reached TLC during the last 2 km going to Fernandez Hills. It was dark already when we got out of the trail (passed by the helicopter for the 3rd time) and I feel tired on my way back to aid station. I caugh up with DBB while he was about to leave the aid station where I arrived at around 5:45.

I found out that all the food were dropped in Fernandez Hill and there is no dinner waiting for us at SOCOM. So I asked Fifi to prepare me some sandwiches before I head my way back to the starting line and complete the first half of the race.

SOCOM (km 78-83)

It was really dark when I left Fernandez Hills. I had my headlamp ready as I walked alone the long Bataan Road. It was the same eerie feeling I had last year but this time I still have 83++ km to finish. I was hoping to catch a few more runners along the way or at least wished someone would catch up from the back so I won't get bored. Alas, I was still alone walking/running towards the last aid station.

Last 2 kms when I met Pupa (formerly known as Uud) who was going for his 2nd outer loop already. I'll try to catch with him once I reload and ate at km 83. I reached the midpoint at around 7 pm which is within my target time. I was already wasted so I asked May if she can prepare my food while I take a rest. I found out that DBB was also sleeping upstairs in our room so I decided that after I had my dinner, I too shall have a 5-10 minutes powernap.

Good thing the marupoks had brought some adobo + rice. May was spoon-feeding me already as I was disoriented during that time. I changed my shirt and socks (damn my new pair has a hole already :(() before I tried to get some sleep (I wasn't able to catch some either).

After resting, I reloaded my bag and refreshed my stock before I went on to my 2nd loop at around 7:40 in the evening. I also took my painkiller here already to help me survive the race.

2nd Outer Loop (km 84 - km 111)

I didn't have any pacer so I was on my own during the night (as if I have a choice :))). It was really dark and reality sunk in that I was going to repeat the same darn course. I heard the hallucination and stories of the previous runners of this race on their experience while running the cold and dark route going to Nazareth.

Dogs were abundant. As early as Baccao, they were scattered everywhere. Mosquitoes too. It's my 2nd time to do a trail run at night and I have some pretty interesting experience. I was alone most of the time because I was walking/jogging to conserve energy. I was also mindful of the time because I want to reach my goal on the next aid station. But the darkness was really testing my patience, my mind was already playing tricks on me. Pagod + dark route + eerie sound = creepy experience.

Anyway, I reached boyP and Dr. Pitot on my to Palale. A short chat before I decided to leave the lovebirds alone and tried to look for the next set of runners. Arrived at Palale aid station at hmmmm, I forgot since my watch was dead. By the way, I was palpitating on my way to the aid station. I can't run. I can't take any more gels as they have caffeine. I thought I was doomed but I know I can recover. So I lay down at the grassy area while waiting for boyp. I did rummage through the dropbag of MGM and got myself a mountain dew (I need more sugar) and ate my pizza before I got up and continued with my journey.

I swear that was the longest 12 km of my life. The darkness made it seems to be longer plus the images I draw out of my imagination made it worse. I swear that I had goosebumps when I was passing thru the seedling area and heard some strange noises. That pumped me up to run towards the cemented part of the route (last 6k) faster than I should be. I also saw a pair of yellow eyes which I believed belongs to a couple of owls as they flew away when I approached them. Talk about a creepy trail experience!

At the last 4K, CJ Miles was able to reach me. And I'm glad he did because Nazareth had a lot of dogs roaming free on its street! I thought those dogs from Antique moved to Fort Magsaysay because BR added an extra challenge :)). We were spared from dog bites and arrived at the aid station there at around 1 am in the morning (off by 1 hour from my target time).

2nd Outer Loop (km 112 - 135)

I was knocked down and drained when I reached Nazareth. I lay down again while I rested and re-fueled. I took a lot of time recovering because I still have a long way to go. CJ was having trouble here as well as I saw him vomiting from the acid build-up in his tummy. I asked him to rest for a while with Juvy and drink some hot soup to calm his stomach. I was losing time already so I decided to go ahead and continue walking towards the Sta. Rosa Road.

I was trying to jog/run but unfortunately I wasn't able to maintain a pace. I pretty much relied on power walk and talking to myself so I won't get bored. When I reached the intersection, I asked for some choco milk and mogu-mogu which made me vomit after leaving the van :( I saw the headlamp of Papi from a distance so I tried to catch up with them. Unfortunately they were faster so I continued power walking during the night.

Then it started to rain. Great. It was already cold plus it means the trail will be muddy and slippery too. Alorma turned into a rice paddy field where I had a hard time looking for a spot to step into without slipping. The mud was getting deep too making it more difficult to run the path going to the airstrip. I endured it because once I reach the Bataan road it would be concrete and runnable again.

But it was only temporary because I have to enter another trail again on the way to Cordero dam. Same condition, it was raining, dark and slippery. Plus my headlamp is no good in the rainy condition (I had a hard time seeing where I was going). This condition caused me to hit my shin on a low branch and slip my butt off near the helicopter. Probably I was tired as well that's why I had a hard time coping in the narrow trail during the night.

Finally, I reached Fernandez Hill again at around 5:15 am in the morning. It was chilly as the wind was strong and the rain wouldn't stop. This means trouble once I hit the trails again from the top of the mountain...

Last 2 Inner Loops (km 136 - 161)

I was so hungry and cold that time. I asked for some hot soup and prepared my stuff before I go up the mountain. I ditched the bag, brought 2 gels and got my water bottles ready. I also had a short chat with BR and found out he DNF'ed in Nazareth during his 2nd loop. I tried to get 5 minutes of nap but still sleep was evading me. I was planning to go up once there is sunlight but it might be too late and miss the cut-off. So I braved the cold winds and started my trek towards the mountain.

During the first few kms I thought I was lost. I must be too tired to notice where I was going. I was wondering why the path was still not elevated though I was sure that I was going the right way. I saw some foot tracks on the ground so I'm sure that was the right way. Glad I didn't go back because time was already ticking :D

Even when it was cold, the uphill was still punishing. Minus the heat of the sun, I can still feel my heartrate increase as I inched my way going up the hill. At the top, I drank some water and rested for a while (brought down my heartrate) before I started my way down. And I'm up for another challenge.

Damn the trails! It was too slippery! The rain caused the ground to be loose and soft making it virtually impossible to run downhill. I took a lot of beating as I went down the trail. Plus I realized that I was wasting a lot of time and energy just to keep myself safe from tumbling down the hill. That caused my morale to plunge down :( I was so disappointed that I already set my mind to declare DNF once I get back to Fernandez Hill. Walking to Baccao, a few runner has passed me already. I feel so drained and terrible about the idea of quitting. Haist!

But everything changed when Bob appeared from behind. He told me his experience going down the hill and how painful both his legs were. That made me think again. How come this guy who is virtually tired and in pain is still fighting to finish the race? I have no injury but I continue to mope around for a failure that is not yet sure. It was a push for me. I felt energy rushing through my veins again. I was able to run until we were out of the Baccao trails. Wow! It was indeed a miracle.

I re-fueled at the aid station and gulped down one of my mogu-mogu. I was so hyped that I ran on our way to Cordero dam and Fernandez Hills. I was so relieved when I reached Fernandez Hill at around 8:10 and told BR that I was about to quit. He told me I can still finish the whole race even if I walked the last loop. I didn't stay too long and left the aid station to finish my last inner loop.

Same banana. Hard on the uphill. Plus it was getting hot again. On my mind, I kept on repeating this is the last time that I will be climbing the darn mountain. So I just kept on going until I reached the peak one last time. Drink up then continued my way down. This time I practiced side stepping and really really slow trek going down the mountain. I don't care anymore if I was really slow because I have to be careful not to be injured while I'm going down. My plan is to run the rest of the trails and make up for the lost time during the vicious climb and trek downhill.

The sun is beginning to beat me up again. I didn't let it push me around. I reached the Baccao aid station again to refill my bottles, douse myself with water and consume another gel. From there I power trekked going back to Cordero dam and Fernandez Hills. Suck the heat. Embrace the pain. I'm going to finish the race no matter what happens.

Finally, I reached Fernandez hill for the last time at around 11:36 am. I still have 1:24 hours to go before the cut-off which is more than enough even if I power walked the rest of the distance.

To the Finish Line (km 167)

I didn't waste any more time so I asked JLB to give me some soup and a slice of watermelon. I consumed the soup, refilled my water, left my pole and ran the downhill while biting the watermelon. I was so dugyot but I don't care anymore. My legs were wasted and the weather isn't cooperating either. The temperature was like BDM (because we are in BATAAN road :))) so I just kept pushing forward. Run the downhill and power walk the rest of the distance.

I was able to reach boyp and pitot while they were walking as if they were in a park. The soldiers were asking and congratulating me already for accomplishing such a feat. But I can't hear them. I'm too focused in finishing the race.

When I reached the airstrip, I saw Papi and Bob running towards their last km. I wanted to run but I don't have any gas left. I just noticed my right shin was inflammed already and it was starting to act up. It was painful but I am near the finish.

At last, I was walking the asphalt road inside the SOCOM facilities. I saw a couple of support crews waiting for us to finish. I was so happy until I realized that my journey was about to finish. All my efforts, the thought of DNF and the pain I endured caught up with me that when I saw the finish line I can't help but cry. I was covering my eyes but I really can't stop the tears from falling.

After running/walking/crawling 31:40 hours, I finally finished one of the toughest trail ultra in the country today, Taklang Damulag 100-miler! (at the finish line, I lay down on my back watching at the sky while drying up my tears as I realized the craziness I have done for the past few months. Di ko na uulitin to)

Obviously my timetable didn't work as I expected but it helped push myself in putting my race on track :D

Also it marks the end of my journey to get that 2013 PAU Grandslam award! Sa wakas natapos ko rin!

Thanks to MGM, Marupok and May for the support all throughout the race. You made my journey a little bit easier but I really appreciate it. Thank you sir Jovie for the introducing us this race which I thought was virtually impossible to finish by a common ultra runner like me ( I swear when sir Dick finished it last time, I really thought no one else can finish this). Thanks madam and your staff for taking care of us at Fernandez Hill where we were so wasted and haunted by the ghost of another DNF.

It was a journey well-traveled by sheer passion and determination. It was an adventure that I am proud to have experienced in this lifetime.

Until the next adventure :D (off-season na muna :)))

Here are some pictures during the event:

All pictures are owned by their respective photographers

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