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SkyRunning in Mt. Ugo

A few days after my first 50K feat at the PAU-T2N, I realized that my body wasn't really built for such long distance races. The self-torture of going beyond 26.2, going beyond what most normal runner would achieve seems abnormal to me. And after recovering from that fateful race, I began wondering and contemplating what's next for me?! Definitely, Ultra-running wouldn't be the race that I can regularly join, but I know that there are other events where I could test my limit without succumbing myself into such a grueling distance a man could ever made. I was still searching for more but with a different challenge that time.

So a week after, without hesitation I pre-registered for the 1st PSA's (PhilSky) Mt. Ugo Philippine International Skyrace originally scheduled on the 26th of November 2011 but was later on moved to 18th of February 2012. This, I thought, was the better choice for me, a not too far distance yet close to nature, high altitude mountain trail run -- a new and different kind of challenge that will boost greater adrenalin for me while enjoying the very scenic and naturally magnificent views along the route that is a Pikermi away from my very hometown.

Some of the Participants and seasoned Cordillera trail runners

The race did not fail my expectations, but indeed I was still wrong of thinking that I will not be tortured on this kind of event!

Together with Kuya Totoy Santos (who have just recently completed his 2012 BDM160) and Mario Maglinao of ARC Phils (who won the Rogin-E's Last Man Running 2011), we arrived at the Brgy. Hall of Tinongdan more than an hour before the gun-start. We were surprised at the sumptuous feast that the locals have prepared - rice, dried-fish, tomato, red eggs, longganisa, hot pan-de-sal, coffee -- eat all you can, seems to me that it will be our final breakfast. There was also sweet potatoes still boiling and more rice getting cooked at the kitchen area of Brgy. Hall, with the friendly people of the local Barangay manning and busy at that early morning to ensure that the guests and participants will not get hungry.

Starting Line at 779-masl

About 15-minutes before the gun-start, Kuya Totoy and I headed for a short warm-up together with other local and foreign participants. The start of the race was in-front of the Brgy. Hall which is at 779-masl, commenced with a controlled pace going down for about 1-kilometer headed by PhilSky athletes and seasoned trail runners of Cordillera. Afterwhich, we were cut lose for a continuous descend for 700-meters towards the start of the trail, losing a total elevation of 280-meters from that 1.7-km of steep downhill.

Km. 00 (Trail head) at 499-masl

A sturdy metal bridge connected us near the foot of the mountain towards some sitio/small village a few hundred meters after traversing a rice field. From thereon, most of the route was already uphill, and based from the race description, the total elevation gain from this point to the summit is 1,858-masl and loss of 195-meters or only about 10.5% of the total 15.3-km distance to the summit.

Miniature rice terraces near the start of the ascent

One cannot help but to be awed by the rice plantations along side which are similarly formed, though only few than the famous Banawe rice terraces. This first steep ascent already took out a lot of oxygen and compressed our lungs. There were only a few among us, who tried running these unforgiving hills. In some of my attempts running some of those hills, my lungs immediately begged for oxygen, but gladly the cool breeze of air, though dry, was so fresh with some pine-scented aroma. The kind of breeze which I always miss!

This tree might've been struck by lightning
As we get further up, my calves seemed like it was the first muscle that's giving up instead of my quads which are the most muscle group used when going up. I wasn't minding it as I was still enjoying the magnificent views along side, until we reached at 7.5-km where I felt a slight muscle-twitch on my left calf. That twitch became a muscle-cramp after a few more hundred meters and at the 9th-km mark, both my left and right calf was already cramping. At this point I was only doing small strides even on some flat and descending terrains with a pole of stick on my left arm to aid my steps. In my mind, I was thinking positively that the cramps will go off any minute if I just continue on a relaxed walk and short jogs. But not on the 11th kilometer when both my quads began hurting also. I was now limping but I am still forcing my legs to step. I've wondered why even though I've been used to climbing mountains while carrying newly cut bananas on my shoulders back in my Mom's province, my calves got beaten so early!

Still strong though the calves are already beaten-up

I picked-up another pinetree branch lying on the ground to aid my right leg. Now each my arms are holding its own version and design of makeshift trekking-pole, still limping as I force my legs to move as even my knees have already locked. There were ample kilometer markers along the route, and each one takes forever for me to reach, spanning between 13 to 20-minutes each kilometer.

Trail to the summit

Upon reaching the steepest slope at around 14th-kilometer, I was already on the verge of giving up. I sat down for a while and removed the tape on my left foot which have already caused blistering. I taped my left foot hoping that it would aid in preventing blisters but I must have incorrectly placed it. Looking up to the summit, I get more amazed as I saw the clouds and fogs covering the runners who are all struggling at the unforgiving incline. The wind is also wheezing, swooshing as if shouting to everyone and to what I can understand, discouraging us from going up. With the fogs covering the top-most of the Summit, I became more curious of how it looks like above! Thinking that I will be much relaxed if I'll just DNF at the summit, I rolled from my side to support my body getting up from the ground.

Hopeless and clueless, 500-m away from the summit
But I think that decision was wrong after all, my legs really can no longer move, each of my step was only moving a few inches forward. Even if I walk backwards, my legs would only manage to move up to 3 or 4-meters. My hope of reaching the summit began fading once again. But everytime I think about going DNF, the runners passing through kept on uplifting us who are already left behind, telling us how wonderful it is reaching the summit! If they only knew how painful my legs were, I'm already literally dragging my lower extremities!

A few hundred meters passed, but my eyes still can't see the summit as well as the 15th-km marker. I lied down on the ground while feeling the cold breeze of air and wind that abounds the surroundings. I have decided that I'm done for good! I don't know if I can still reach the summit, and if it's still a kilometer away, that distance is already too much for me! After a few minutes sulking at the trail side, Nep Baesa passed-by on his way going back already. I told him that I'm no longer finishing the race and I'll just wait for some Marshals to come and assist me. But he said that the summit was only around 500-meters away and the 15th-km marker was just behind the trees. I just sat still with hopelessness while Nep continued on his descent.
How the people looks like from above

A few more minutes of thinking and doubting myself, of hopeless thoughts, finally I decided to climb the summit with all my remaining strength. The remaining 500-meters though still seemed like 2-kms away because of my struggling weakness. At about 10 or 15-minutes... I finally reached the highest point... Mt. Ugo's summit at 2,150-masl. After turning around, I sat down and lied on the ground together with other runners taking a rest, but this time with a better smile on my face. Just after 3 or 5-minutes, Sen. Pia Cayetano also reached the summit, of which I first didn't know that she also joined. She was being paced by Mr. Vince Mendoza of All of us were more than happy that we have reached the 5-hour cut-off to the summit!

Taking a rest at the summit with Sen. Pia Cayetano

15-minutes passed, not finishing was no longer on my mind as I saw a sparkle of hope from the other runners who are also struggling but still not giving up. We only have 3-hours this time to reach the finish line. It was more than enough as the remaining route was already pure downhill, except for the last 1.7-km towards Brgy. Hall after the trail head.

I thought that going down will be much easier, but I did not immediately realized that since my legs have become stiff and already beaten, it was still a struggle to keep my body balanced while going through all of those steep downhills. The two pine branches I was using as trekking-poles were still a big help but at the same time causing pain on my hands as I push my weight on it to keep my body lifted up.

I still couldn't barely run, and I try to neglect the muscle aches that my brain is feeding me! It was already a mind-over-matter situation, a really tough one, and at the back of my mind, I need to reach the finish line within less than 3-hours. I have successfully reached the summit within the cut-off and there's no way now that I will think about DNF! So I just kept walking, power-walk, slow-walk, pause, run for 10-meters, power-walk, slow-walk, pause, another short run, then repeat... the way back was still a never ending struggle! At halfway, I was glad that there was a food station, although there wasn't much food left, the rice and adobo soup, and the sweet potato was the best food that I have ever eaten. I'd like to fill more my belly but there are still other runners behind who might be much hungrier than me so after that serving, I bid thanks to the people who were all kind to offer a lunch break.

The steel bridge
My GPS stopped before reaching the bridge, an indication that I have spent more than 8-hrs still wandering at the route, my mind was already floating, no longer aware about the cut-off time. I was just running towards the finish line to survive! I was hungry again and thirsty at the same time. Reaching the bridge, I saw a 5-liter gallon of water at the other end, I was already desperate that I thought even if it was drinkable or not, I would still drink from it just to quench my thirst. Fortunately it was a purified water, perhaps intentionally left behind by the Marshals who already took a shed from the burning rays of the sun.

1.7-kms left, I was already at the trail end, taking a rest and staring at the concrete but steep road infront of me. For the first time, I felt like crying! I don't know if I still have the strength to go on, but at that very moment, I'd like to feel the tears coming out from my eyes, both from gladness that I have already conquered 95% of the route, but at the same time for the fact that the remaining 1.7-km route was all uphill with no covering from the sun's heat coupled with the already exploding quads, stiff calves, and still locked knees!

It took me around 34-minutes to conquer the final ascend, and finally reached the finish line after 8-hrs, 43-mins and 20-seconds, I was already beyond the cut-off time but I was still glad that I have finished the race. To my surprise, I learned that PhilSky extended the finish cut-off from 8-hrs to 9-hrs and Ms. Jules Picato handed me the finisher's medal, a simple yet very memorable token of this feat.

Now almost a year have passed since then, and I'm wishing all the 2013 participants a happy Mt. Ugo Skyrunning! Certainly it's another race that you will not forget! A word of advice for the participants and other runners as well, never use a shoe on a race if you have not trained with it, specially if it's a minimalist one!

"Sky is the langit!"

The pine branches I used as trekking poles
At the finish line, at last

You may view the Race results here and more photos from my Facebook album.

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