by Rose Buenconsejo
Thinking back on Habagat Ultra Trail run, I’m not really sure what made me decide to join it. I guess they were the words ‘trail’ and ‘Friday’ (race started on a Friday). I’m excited with trails, and Friday means I can tag Mark along with me. In case it would be proven that I don’t really know what I’m doing, Mark would be there to bail me out.
I did not really put attention much to the enormousness (for my level) of the run. I thought more of Habagat run as a romantic event where I would run freely in the mountains with the feel of cold fresh air against my face, the beautiful sound of it in my ears, the view of the peaceful hills and the city lights, and the sight of calming greeneries at every corner. I would be running with eyes close, arms wide open like a carefree kid just going where the winds blow him. It would be such a perfect bliss. It had looked so perfect in my imagination; no Nike ad can beat it!
In short, I really had no idea what I was about to get into, thus being able to make it or not did not worry. Mark told me that I treated it like I’m just signing up for whatever online applications that I could just deactivate when it would not suit my taste. But I could not really care, all I could see was how my hair would flow beautifully with the wind rushing against me. Oh, Nike ads!
And, if all things fail, there’s DNF for that. (DNF = Did not finish. But I’d like to believe it’s ‘Did not fail.’)
Though, I was clueless but I was ‘naning.’ I’m new to running, and unfortunately, I could not recall a single athletic person in my family tree. If gifted/experienced people work hard for it, then so must I. I ran 8km-14km daily, then LSD’s (long slow distance) on weekends.
This might look easy for you or others, but it was hardwork for me already. The only thing that made it manageable was the thought of I would be running with a beautiful backdrop of mountains, and trees.
I was nervous the entire moment before we went up to the starting line. I was both excited and scared. But thankfully, it’s gone when I finally met up with Armie and Jimbo and the whole she-bangs of support crew. I probably would lost sight of them (Armie & Jimbo) during the race, but the thought that they’re just around was comforting. Plus, having Joseph and Mark on bikes as pacers slash mobile support on the first part, and Jean on the second part made it double comforting.
Come race time… I had a very peaceful start because I had the roads all by myself as 500 meters from the starting line, I could no longer see a single soul in front of me. It can be devastating. But then if being comfortable running alone and being always in the last is a talent, then it’s my biggest asset.
The only thing that’s bothering me with being last was that I’d been tailed from time to time by some of the race marshals. I’m thankful for their being ‘caring’ but they just somehow ruined my moment because I was pressured to run faster.
Be comfortable with what you have.
Don’t try to run like a mean-machine like Joseph, or Paolo’s deceptive slow run, or run like Jimbo who looked like he wanted to poo2x, or sashaying like Armie, or like Jean and Odina who looks like 25km is just a walk in the park.
Run it like Rose because I am Rose. You may not get a podium finish, but hopefully one or two of the people you passed by would say “what the fuck that fat bitch so slow can do it, then I can do it.”
So I ‘dedma’ the marshals, instead I tried to enjoy what I’d been imagining the whole time before the race. I felt so giddy running in a cold environment. I could see fog around me; I could see my breath. It was just beautiful.
But then 3km into the race, I got abdominal pains, maybe, due to the coldness of the surrounding. I was having ‘panuhot’ (gas pains). It’s not a big problem because I’m used to it. I could easily relieve it with ‘aceite de manzanilla’ or ‘Pau de arco.’ But then Mark, who was bringing the Pau de arco, was nowhere yet in sight. I could already felt myself sweating, not from the run, but because of the pain which made you just want to curl up.
Plus, the first 10kms were all uphills — steep uphills. I also had ran out of water as Mark, who estimated to be able to catch up with me by 5km on his bike, had not yet arrived. Whatever romantic thoughts I had about this trail running, they’re all gone by 7km. I was running bloated, panting, farting and belching alone in the cold dark steep mountains. But, thankfully, Mark caught up with me by the time my security bubbles were, one by one, deflated.
By 10km, I felt a little relief because I thought I was done with the steep uphills of Cantipla. I was thinking this would be the lovely rolling hills and dirt road I was looking forward to.
But then between 15km and 28km, the route resembles more of a big letter ‘W’ than rolling hills. I felt like I was put inside a washing machine, being tossed and whirled around by very steep downhills and uphills endlessly. The downhills were so steep and long that, for the first time, I could feel my knees screaming and going to explode with every landing I made. It made the killer uphills looked kinder.
At this point, I felt weak and sleepy. I could not wait to be flushed out by the washing machine. Even Mark’s presence did not help. For the first time, the DNF came flashing in my mind. I just wanted to find the exit to the main road where the support vehicle was waiting.
I wanted it to be OVER. I was grumpy. Mark commented why I was so negative. I guess I was just mad why he did not stop me from joining this.
The only consolation of the bloody uphills and downhills was that it somehow made a few runners slow down, which then let me able to catch up with them (Misery loves company.). It was a big surprise that my turtle pace was able to catch up.
Then, I saw tiredness written on Mark’s face. Mark is never the kind of person who would show ‘tiredness.’ I knew that he was already a bit disconnected when I asked for ‘extra joss’ (we ran out of Gatorade), it took a split of seconds to register in him what I was asking. (But of course, he denies it until now.) Seeing him in ‘agony’ somehow pushed me to go faster so that we could finally get over with this stupidity, and be rested.
Divide the long distance into bits.
Not to be overwhelmed with the 50-kilometer, I had been mentally splitting it into two 25km’s. I thought of it that I was just going to 2 stages of Tour De Cebu in one go. Then, I divided the 25km more into 5kms. Ten 5km’s is more manageable to think than one whole 50km.
Finally after 27km, we arrived at the SV. I just wanted to sprawl down on the ground beside it. Being tossed from one uphill to downhill, my body just wanted to be dragged down into the ground, be flat and still. I felt I deserve to lie down after finishing the first part. But then they did not allow me.
So I just sat down, and they gave me my instant noodles. God, that was the most romantic thing that ever happened to me in this race. Thanks a lot to Fred, Ayn, Odina, and Jean for prepping it up.
While enjoying my noodles, I was thinking that I would happy to be done – DNF. The first part ‘washing machine-like’ experience was good enough of a memory to treasure. But then I saw Jean, my (best) pacer, who looked prepared to go. Her supply bag was filled up. Plus, her very new pair of ‘warat’ would probably be disappointed if I would DNF without having the chance to run. So I thought that we could try a few kilometers, and see how it would go.
After finishing my noodles, Jean and I dashed off. We probably just have 4 hours left, and around 23km more to cover. Basing on my pace, I knew there was no way I could make it to the cut-off time of 10 hours.
I was worried about it, and so I told Jean about it. Then, she said that we’ll just finish it in whatever time. So I thought, “Owkei, I’ll treat this like we are just having our Tour de Cebu.” Who cares about race organizers and their finish line?
We had a good start, until we reached the Malobog area. Right before we entered the Malobog area, Mark with the SV caught up on us and asked us how we were doing. And, I told him we would try to ‘conquer’ Malobog. I knew that Malobog has a killer uphill portion at the start. But I thought it was only a good 500 meters.
Before Mark left us, he told us the first part will be very steep uphill but it’s not going to be that very long. When I asked him for confirmation that the uphill will only be 500 meters, he nodded. The race marshals before going up the Malobog uphill also confirmed that the uphill is not really that long of a stretch.
But after 500 meters into it, it just did not end. Kay*ta ani nila! Well, they did not lie that it’s 500 meters only. But they failed to tell us that it’s around 6 x 500-meter of zigzagging uphills (I can be exaggerating but that’s how I felt at that time).
And, when it would go up, it would definitely go down. Seeing those uphills in different directions made me think of the steep downhills waiting for us. At that moment, I felt this was the last straw; I raised my white flag, and decidedly told Jean, we’re riding the SV once we’d exit the Malobog area – DNF.
The beauty of nature will not fail to pick you up.
And, so we took it real slow and did what we are best at when run becomes too much — turn around, enjoy the scenery, and take a pose.
I felt like I was on top of the world when we stopped. We could see the roads we passed by at our back. I could not imagine that we just covered that whole stretch of road we’re viewing. On the other side were ranges of mountains. Beautiful!
(A few more pics of Malobog and of Jean and I here >>)
Leave your being clueless at the starting line. Never ever allow DNF to cross your mind once you leave the starting line. (Of course, it comes with pre-cautions.)
Once I was decided to DNF, I became lenient and slacked it off. I no longer gave the best of me. If I had regrets of that race, it’s that when I let DNF crossed my mind.
When we exited Malobog, I was so disappointed that the SV was nowhere in sight. But the upside of it was that the DNF plan was canceled.
After Malobog, people were telling us it’s going to be easy from then on because there would be no more uphills. It would all be downhills in Budlaan. Downhill??? Were they kidding me??? Just the mere mention of it made me want to puke. God, I had more than enough of those to last me a lifetime.
After all the dizzying uphills and downhills I’d been through, I no longer believed that ‘easy’ part would ever come. With the battered state of my body and mind, I was not sure if ‘easy’ route would make a difference.
As runners of ultra would usually say the first 50km is about your physical toughness, the second is about your mental/inner toughness. But in my case, the noob, my mental toughness challenged came way before the 50km.
On Budlaan stretch, I was numb to pain. I was very tired and sore all over but I could no longer specifically point out which part of my body was exactly complaining because my pain receptors probably went haywire, and shutdown. My feet, legs and arms just kept moving mindlessly. I could remember at one point, I asked Jean to teach me how to run the yet another set of steep downhills. I knew how to do that downhill running but somehow it just did not connect.
I felt my brains and body got disconnected. I was no longer battling with physical world. My mind was in constant conversation with itself — sometimes reassuring myself that it’s going to be fine, cheering my own self to keep me moving, sometimes scolding myself for why I got myself into this misery, questioning my sanity, asking the meaning of life, and making up a list of excuses to why I should quit.
If thought balloons were visible, they would fill up the sky.
If I was in a better mood, I would be telling myself: “Good job, Rose;” “Slow down, Rose;” “Faster, get into 11min/km pace;” “If first world people can run 100 miles, why the f*ck this 3rd world person could not do it.”
Or, sometimes I drift into “What’s the meaning of life?” mode. Asking myself what I’m trying to prove, which unfortunately, until now, I still do not have an answer. I guess it’s hard to justify running because there’s no physical evidence to show for it. Unlike baking where you have the cake. Running is just something that is inside you.
Or, I would ready my answers to people asking me why I quit if ever I would. But in the middle of making up the list, I could see faces of Fred, Ayn, Joseph, Mark, Jimbo, Armie flashing in my faces getting sad for me. Then, after some time, I got tired making up excuses. And, I thought that finishing the run would be less tiring than having to reassure them that I’m fine so that they would no longer feel bad for me.
Finally, we found the SV in Budlaan basketball court, which was around in 38km. With just 12 km more to go, roughly 2 hours to go (in my pace). It’s useless to DNF. I’d been running for 9 hours already, what’s 2 more hours of agony?
Pacer = the external mind.
So I continued running with my mind flying in different places. It helped a lot that Jean was on my side. She’s like my external brains. I just accepted whatever she’d gave me without thinking — from water, Gatorade, to chocolates. I guess I was just too tired to argue with her. (It makes me wonder what was Jean thinking at that moment.) TY, Jean!
5km to go.
Exiting Budlaan into the main road of Talamban, a race marshal station was posted there. I was surprised to see a banner in the station saying something like “5KM more to go.” After passing it, I broke down. I cried for different kind of reasons.
I cried because I could not believe I made it to 45km; that I was able to run / walk for 10 hours or more.
I cried because I was TIRED. And, I felt crying would help me relieve the tiredness and stiffness in my body.
I cried remembering the people I dedicated this run for. Hopefully, it would touch them even indirectly.
I cried because I did not like to be crying when I reached the finish line.
I was crying while moving along with traffic of cars in Talamban. I asked Jean to just not mind me.
We just walked the whole stretch of 5km. We were already on the main road, and I could no longer trust myself running with vehicles passing right beside me. My reflexes were already so slow, I even asked Jean to hold me when crossing streets.
Then, finally I saw Joseph at the mouth of IT Park entrance. I was just glad for it to be over. The walk to the finish line was probably the longest stretch I ever felt. It just felt great to see the faces of friends in a familiar ‘safe’ place. I could hear Jean talking about running 21km, while I kept answering (in bisaya), “No more runs for me. I’m done with it.”
I tried hard to not get emotional on the finish line. But I just could not help it. Hopefully, next time I could make myself look prettier.
I don’t know how to end this story. It’s hard to describe an experience that mostly happened just inside of me. Best to try it. It does not necessarily need to be running. Living in a society where doing things without getting much in return is considered a waste of time, thus it can be difficult to do something crazy just for yourself without expecting tangible results. But nevertheless, ourselves deserve to have those moments.
“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams (lifted from Swim Bike Mom)
Before the race, at the starting line (pics from Fred’s album)…
After the race, at the finish line…
Before the race, with my ‘spark-of-madness’ igniter… =)
What more can we ask? And, also thank you much to the kind people along the way — you know all who you are.