Sunday, February 12, 2012

Road to Redemption (Last of 3 parts)

Two weeks before Bataan Death March 160  I was resigned to running the last 58 kilometers of the dark and treacherous Mac Arthur highway alone.

 Then like manna from heaven, God gave me Ken Alonte and his partner of eight years Emmilie Cuizon. 
My pacer Ken Alonte sent to me by the gods of ultramarathon running.
Cebuano ultrarunner and adventure racer Ken Alonte is a veteran of the 2011 edition of BDM 102.  He was registered to run BDM 160 this year with Emilie as his support crew when an opportunity to travel Europe for a month came up.  Ken and Emilie decided to divert their money and logistics for the trip to Europe and  selflessly volunteered as my pacer and support crew instead.  This, despite the fact that prior to BDM, we did not even know each other and were not even friends, yet.

As pacer, Ken had to make sure that we run the last 58 KM’s at 9 minutes per kilometer. He was to be my eyes and ears, as I trekked Mac Arthur highway groggy, sleepy and cranky after having run 102 KMs.  Emilie on the other hand was to assist Eugene who had been driving since KM 0.       

I reached Km 102 in 16 hours 52 minutes - still an hour ahead of schedule, still running strong, still wide awake.  I had Jolly Spaghetti for dinner and lay on Ken’s yoga mat for 15 minutes and stretched.  The race plan called for a 30-minute nap, but I decided to skip the shuteye and take advantage of my lead.

As Ken paced me through the 20KM road leading to Angeles City I knew we were nowhere near 9 minutes per kilometer.  We were running at 7 minutes per kilometer!  It was way too fast!  When we reached Angeles City, I asked Ken why he wasn’t following our race plan.  He said “Kaya mo pa modagan ug kusog even after 102KM, it means kusgan pa ka.  Let’s take advantage of it.  Let’s try to run strong, for as long as we can.”   After that, I decided to put my full faith and not question my pacer, who had full faith in me.

The best crew any runner could hope for - MAJ Eugene Cabusao, Ms. EmmilieCuizon and Mr. Ken Alonte

 When we reached Mabalacat,  we met Bro. Carlo Bacalla who had earlier decided to DNF at KM 118 after he could no longer keep food and fluid down. Ken and I promised to finish the race for him.  

 We forged ahead and ran two kilometers before taking minute-long rests in between. Surprisingly, despite our fast clip, I had no cramps and felt no tightness in the quads and hams.  During breaks Emillie fed me , helped me find a clean restroom for the number 2, stretched me and even thoughtfully remembered to put balm on my dry lips to keep them from bleeding.  I had the best crew any runner could hope for.  Eugene, Ken and Emmilie knew exactly what I needed, even before I knew I needed it.

Fatigue finally set in when reached Bamban town and our pace slowed.  It was already light when we reached the Capas-Concepcion junction which signaled the final 16-kilometers to the finish line.  “Pang ilan ako na babae?”,  we asked Baldrunner’s marshall stationed near Mc Donald’s Capas.  “Ikaw pa lang ma’am!”  I was   aghast.  What?  That cannot be.  I knew Keisha Fule and Kelly Lim were both ahead of me.  But this bit of wrong information fired us up as we entered the rolling and undulating road towards the Capas, National Shrine.  At 10K to go before the finishline, we were met by Ungo runner Jinky Yray who was there to cheer on runners informed us that the first female – Keisha Fule crossed the finish line in 23:56:31 and that I was now second after Kelly Lim DNF’ed. 

It was so close.  I cannot pass out now nor get run over by the speeding tricycles.  To guard my second place position, I tasked Eugene and Emilie to trace the road behind us and look for the third female runner.  Was she behind us?  Yes, 6 KM behind.  Was she still strong?  She’s suffering just like you are.  “Just keep running slow and steady.  Don’t drop the ball now, no time for crying, it will sap your energy.”  Eugene would tell me.  Then I told Eugene.  “We’ve been on this same road the year before, but today we’ve turned ourselves from zero to hero.”  For the first time after 28 hours on the road, I took off my shirt and changed into my club colors which proudly proclaimed – “Cebu Ultrarunners Club”.

As Ken and I entered the Capas National Shrine for the victory lap I was choking in my own tears as images of my yearlong sacrifice, self denial, discipline and obsessive training through heat, rain and sleep deprivation came rushing through my head.  

Consummatum est at 28:42:56!  I was second female, but I definitely felt like a champion.  The third female, Emma Alvarez finished in 29:30:42.

Two days after BDM 160 I resumed life as I knew it before training for BDM 160.  Went back to writing reports at the Court of Appeals and resumed anchor duties for TV Patrol Central Visayas.  On my first day of airing after a 4-month hiatus, my co-anchor Leo Lastimosa asked me this:  “How could you postpone life in order to give time for an abstract passion like running BDM 160?” 

BDM 160 Finishline @ Capas National Shrine with Race Director retired Army MGEN Jovenal Narcise

It’s hard to explain the reward of running 100 miles, but it’s like this.  It is a fact every runner knows – the miles you run are one of the very few things in life you truly earn on your own merit.  No one else  can give it to you. 

While the pursuit of this hundred-mile journey was obsessive at times and cost me a small fortune, I’d like to think I’ve succeeded in showing that women can be anything they want to be.  I did not postpone life, I’ve enriched my life.  I’m no longer just daughter, wife, lawyer, journalist, soon-to-be-mother, I am also 100-mile road warrior who’s earned one of only 88 BDM silver buckles in the country. 

 In the end my message is simple.  If an average like me can do it, so can you.

Road to Redemption (2nd of 3 parts)

Road to Redemption (2nd of 3 parts)
50K and beyond is a woman’s game.  There are studies which show that, because of their capacity to store more fat and high tolerance for pain, women survive the ultramarathon distance better than men.
Sadly though, men still far outnumber women in ultramarathons, especially in the Philippines.  In the 1st Bataan Death March 160K in 2011, there were only 4 women out of 59 starters; while the 2012 edition had 6 women out of the 74 starters.

The first exclusive for women 50K ultramarathon happening on March 10, 2012 in the cities of Cebu, Mandue and Lapu-Lapu is designed to correct this disparity by giving more women an opportunity to explore the ultramarathon distance in a race exclusively designed for women. 

Hopefully more and more women will join the much longer distances in the future such as the BDM 102 and BDM 160, the longest and most prestigious road ultramarathon in the country organized by retired Major General Jovenal Narcise also fondly called BR, which is short for Baldrunner.  BR is widely considered as Godfather among ultrarunners and a pioneer in organizing ultramarathons in the country.

Last week, I wrote about how, after being dead last among 74 runners in the BDM 160, I slowly overtook runners by running a conservative pace of 6.5 kilometers per hour.

50K to 102, seizing a spot on the women’s podium

When I checked in with the race marshals at KM 50 in Abucay, Bataan I was ranked 66th overall and was the 4th woman to cross.  At KM 50 I took a 15-minute break to eat lunch and monitor my race plan.  I was an hour and fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.  I rested fifteen minutes to eat lunch.

If there’s anything I learned from my first 100-miler is that fancy fuels just won’t do.  If you want to last more than 24-hours of running and walking, you must re-fuel using real food.

Boneless Dangit, Rice, Bread, Spam, Sunblock & Liniment
Unlike my previous nutrition plan which included only engineered food of energy gels, power bars and liquid food which were all expensive but succeeded only in making me hungry and hyperacidic; this year I had a full meal of rice, boneless danggit from Bantayan, luncheon meat and bread, all of which I hand-carried all the way from Cebu and cost me only a fraction of the cost of gels and bars.

After 3 BDM's you learn to edit your supplies to just the essentials.
I resumed running, shuffling along in the same pace and still managed to overtake male runners in the towns of Samal, Orani, and Hermosa, Bataan.  After 10 hours of running and walking I entered Pampanga province through the town of Dinalupihan.  There I paced with Barry Red who was running to honor the memory of his father who recently died at the age of 68 – which was also Barry’s race bib.

We reached KM 80 or the halfway mark in Lubao, Pampanga with only 13 hours elapsed since gun start which meant we had more or less 18 hours to run another 80 kilometers.  We were in high spirits and felt no pain.
It was already dark when we reached KM 83 where the road forks towards the town of Guagua.  At KM 84 I spotted what looked like a woman wearing a Fairview Runners Club singlet.  I ran faster to get a closer look.  It was Emma Alvarez.  She was in third place and I have been looking for her since KM 50.  For two kilometers I ran 10 meters behind Emma and her companion and assessed her gait.  Was she slowing down? Yes.  Was I still strong? Yes.  Can I overtake her without ruining my pace and race plan? Maybe.

I decided to take a chance and ran faster than I should to overtake Emma in third place, making extra effort to look relaxed and strong.  The idea was to intimidate the competition and lead her to thinking that while she was feeling tired, I was just beginning to get strong – like I was just getting started.

Photo credit: J. Avellanosa Photography
The gambit worked.  When I overtook Jonel Mendoza at KM 95 he confirmed that I was 3rd among the women with Keisha Fule and Kelly Lim (of Singapore) in 1st and 2nd place respectively.  Emma Alvarez was 3 kilometers behind.  I reached KM 102 at 16 hours 52 minutes, a good thirty minutes better than my previous personal record in the 102 distance which was 17 hours and 22 minutes.

From KM 102 to 160, runners are allowed to have pacers to keep them safe throughout the long and dusty northbound trek along Mac Arthur Highway.  Ken Alonte, another Cebu based veteran of BDM 102 paced me through this critical stretch of the race and pushed me like I’ve never been pushed before, ensuring my second place finish the country’s longest and most prestigious road ultramarathon.

Road to Redemption (1st of 3 parts)

Photo Credit: Team USB

The starting line of the 2012 Bataan Death March 160K Ultramarathon was filled with the usual suspects – hardened ultrarunners from all over the country including visiting runners from the United States and Singapore, the hyperactive support crew from running teams rooting for the warriors and then there were the BDM 160 repeaters (like me) who were out on a mission to redeem ourselves after missing the 30-hour cut-off in the first edition last year.
Amidst all the starting line chatter, I sat quietly in a corner and mentally reviewed my race plan.  There wasn’t a hint of nervousness, not a sliver of doubt in my mind that, this time, the stars were all aligned and I would finish the race.

I was more nervous about leading the Philippine national anthem before the race than the actual race itself.  I was ready and could not wait for the race to be over and done with.

It wasn’t just bravado.  It was real confidence I felt which comes from knowing you’ve trained well and could not have done anything more to get any better.
It’s also the kind of confidence that comes from knowing that my whole town was rooting me. (At least it felt as if the whole of Cebu was rooting for me when I read all the well wishes on Facebook, twitter and those sent via SMS in the days leading to the big day.)

This year, my support crew included my husband Eugene Cabusao as chief; ultrarunner Ken Alonte as my pacer from 102 to 160; and swimmer and triathlete EmillieCuizon as assistant.  This assembly of  three very generous, experienced and dedicated crew will prove crucial in my secret goal to land in the podium in my final attempt at the 100-mile distance.

I didn’t just want to finish 100 miles in 30 hours or less.  I wanted my BDM 160 to end in a blaze of glory.

First 50K, run smart, not fast

There were 73 starters including six female runners.  There was one runner who missed the gunstart by 30 minutes but was allowed to catch up making it 74 contenders for the elusive silver buckle – a coveted memento for official finishers of BDM 160 along with the trophy replica of the death march kilometer post and a medal showing your actual ranking.  If you miss the cut-off, you get the medal and trophy, but no silver buckle.  If you miss the cut-off, you’re also not listed in the official list of finishers.  It’s as if you’re 160-kilometer trek did not happen.

Since July 2011, I trained to run BDM 160 at an 8-minute per kilometer pace.  On race day, I made this target more conservative by running 9 minutes per kilometer or only 6.5 kilometers per hour. 

I was dead last from KM 21 to 36.  The military ambulance provided by Race Director retired MGEN Jovie Narcise was at my heels for most of the way as if mocking me for my slow pace. 

At first, it bothered me that I was last in a pack of 73, but I dug deep and remembered what the Bible had to say about those first being last and those last being first.  I repeated it over and over in my head, trying to convince myself that to run slow means running fast when it matters in the final stretch of the 100-mile race.  By the time I reached KM 36, I knew the Bible was right.

Photo Credit: Michael Red.  At KM 50 Checkpoint
I found my target in Major Teresa Gangan at KM 40.  She was at her pitstop, obviously struggling from the heat and from having run too fast at the start.  I said hello and inquired if she's OK.  She said she signed up at the last minute and was under-trained and was now slowing down.  I told her I was the last runner and that she should speed up a little bit if she doesn’t want to end up last.  She sped-up but couldn’t keep up.  I was no longer dead last.  Lesson number one:  run smart and never get sucked on someone else’s program.  It destroys your pace and your mental game. 

I arrived at KM 50 at number 66 at 7 hours 47 minutes from gun start.

We were six females at the start.   Ellen Abigail Castillo dropped out at KM 23 and Major Gangan was now two kilometers behind me.  This meant there were three other women in front of me. I only needed to overtake one more female runner in order to seriously gun for a podium finish.  I shuffled along, still at 6.5-kilometers per hour and waited for my next target to appear.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Second Chances

December 31, 2011

Photo credit:  Aileen Barrientos
It’s not official until you see your name in the list of runners invited to run the country’s longest road ultramarathon. 

The Bataan Death March 160 organized by retired Army general Jovenal “Jovie” Narcise a.k.a. “Baldrunner” is by invitation only – almost elitist.  It’s one of the many reasons why a  BDM slot (with its promise of trophy, medal and the coveted finisher’s silver buckle) while not necessarily the best ultramarathon in the country, is on the Pinoy ultrarunner’s bucket list.

To qualify for the BDM 160, it’s not enough that you’re able to pay the steep registration fee of P5,000.  You must first and foremost have street cred and street cred means you’ve run at least one 100KM ultramarathon in under 18 hours.  There’s another qualification, although unwritten -- you must not have had the misfortune of crossing the race director or been caught violating the race rules in any of Baldrunner’s events. 

While the first qualification is based solely on  merit as a runner, the second unwritten qualification is more subjective. Still, veteran runners of Baldrunner events learn to keep their heads down and follow Balrdrunner’s race rules to the letter.  The BDM 160 is after all, not just any run-of-the-mill ultramarathon.  It is the longest individual road race crossing three provinces (Bataan, Pampanga and Tarlac) and the only one with historical significance as it traces the path of the infamous Death March after the fall of Bataan in World War II.

Photo credit:  Coleen Digman
In early October, I heaved a sigh of relief after seeing my name once again on Baldrunner’s list of invited runners for the 2012 edition of BDM 160.  This after my heartbreaking finish of 31:08:45 in  the inaugural BDM 160.  The third spot in the women’s podium was mine for the taking after the fourth woman dropped out somewhere between KM 105 to 110.   I missed my shot for greatness by one hour eight minutes and 45 seconds, and I have yet to forgive myself for letting that chance slip through my hands.

Despite my initial failure, I find myself doing back to back long runs and racking up weekly mileage reaching 80 to 100 kilometers per week and 145 kilometers by the time I peak in the last three weeks of December. 

The 2012 edition of BDM 160 will happen on January 28 and 29.  The cut-off time is still 30 hours.  While I’ve no great expectations of a podium finish, I will try my best to shave at least two hours from my record.  But more than besting my personal record, this 100-miler would be my last ultra before finally starting a family and giving baby-making a serious shot. 

Photo credit:  Alex Badayos
This BDM 160 is a swan song of sorts before I retire from running impossible distances.   The more I run ultra distances, the more I realize that it’s not the race distance that intimidates you, it’s the amount of time, hard work, sacrifice and dedication that scare you.  The ultra distance  is more than   just a jealous mistress.  It requires total submission.  It takes over your life.  This is how I know that despite the myth of empowered women having it all – career, family and a passion for running, raising babies and training for an ultramarathon do not mix.

This is why in my second shot at BDM 160 I am going for broke, literally and figuratively.  I’ve taken three months off from the news anchor’s chair at TV Patrol Central Visayas to have more time for running, cross-training and active rest and recovery in three-week cycles.

Photo credit: Louie John Lood (With Eugene and MC Magsumbol)
I want to make it in the official list of runners who finished under 30 hours so that someday when my kids Google BDM 160, after hearing my stories from the road, they will see my name in the roster of road warriors, without need of  footnote or explanation in the race director’s report.

Long Road, High Drama

November 22, 2011

All within the past 12 months Cebu played host to the staging of five ultramarathons with distances ranging from 50 to 65 kilometers. But the Cebu Century Properties 100K Ultramarathon last November 18-19 was a landmark run of sorts for Cebu being, the longest footrace the province had ever seen passing through four cities and eight towns.

So, on a moonless Friday night in Bogo City, Cebu, 160 runners and their mobile support crew waited for the stroke of midnight. Their mission: run-walk a total of 104.5 kilometers of road from the province's northernmost tip all the way to the finishline in Plaza Independencia at the heart of Cebu City in 18hours and 30 minutes or less.

Photo credit: James L. Go
But first they had to cross the 1st and only checkpoint at kilometer 50 in Catmon town in nine (9) hours or be considered DNF (did not finish). This half-way cut-off made some runners run faster than they should and abandon the cardinal rules of finishing a 100K ultra – pace yourself, don't get sucked in someone else's program and conserve energy.

As the day progressed, the sheer difficulty of running 100++ kilometers was aggravated by the punishing and unrelenting heat courtesy of sunny, blue skies with nary a cloud sight. It was a perfect weather for going to the beach, but for the 160 ultra runners the sunny weather was simply a bitch.

Nevertheless, the aid stations and the mobile support crew made it all seem like a beach party rather than a death march. The aid stations and support crew, were all provided for and manned by volunteers coming from members of Cebu's running clubs like Ungo and Cebu Ultrarunners Club to name a few. Leg rub, neck massage, sponge baths, bananas, chocolates, biscuits, free-flowing ice water, sports drinks and caffeinated sugary drinks are standard fare, but others pulled out all the stops and provided puso, lechon, eggs, humba and ice candy

Runners rolling out the red carpet for fellow runners – without being asked, without being paid, and without discriminating whether you're local or not is something that I've only seen in ultra races held in Cebu. There were runners from out-of-town who had no provision for a mobile support crew and survived only with help from volunteer aid stations. If it were any other 100K outside Cebu, they would not have survived.
Photo credit: James L. Go
 In all of my ultra races here in Cebu, I have always been a recipient of kindness and generosity from the volunteer aid stations of Ungo and CUC. Last Saturday was my chance to give back. Together with fellow ultrarunners Cora Quiamco and Phindy Honasan, we manned the aid station at the 82KM mark in Liloan town right outside the house of Ironman Raymond Bontol, MD. With 18 kilometers still remaining after 11 to 15 hours of constant motion, runners were almost at their weakest both mentally and physically. It is part of the support crew's job to make sure that the runners do not give up after running so far. But what do you say to someone who's sleep-deprived suffering from unimaginable pain and still with 2 to 3 hours of running to do? Our standard line was “malapit na lang, promise” for the out of towners and “duol na lang jud bai” for the locals. Unless they were injured we did not allow runners to linger more than 2 minutes. They kept asking if there was still time to make it to cut-off and we would say -- “Of course there's time – but you have to keep believing!” That's all supporters could do, for in the end, it is still the runner who must will himself to finish and put one foot in front of the other no matter how painful.

Only 118 finished within the 18:30 cut-off, but many others would continue the race even knowing that they would no longer make it the official list of finishers like Richie Al Villagante, who was running with an engagement ring in his pocket and whose ultimate mission that day was to ask for the hand of his lady love Agatha Llamasares who was waiting at Plaza Independencia. 
Photo credit: Team WayPak Runners

After 20 hours of running non-stop and barely able to fold his legs Richie entered the Plaza with a banner announcing to the whole world his proposal and grant gesture of love– “I just ran 102K to marryyou.”  (click link for video).  Then he struggled to climb the stairs of the mini stage, whipped out a red box from his running shorts soaked with sweat and hugged a totally surprised and emotional Agatha while the runners and supporters who have not slept for almost 24 hours cheered, laughed and cried at the same time.

A fitting end to a day filled with triumphs – both of the human spirit and of the human heart.

Fitting Farewell

October 25, 2011
Last Sunday, there were three runs happening simultaneously, but runners whether veterans or newbies, knew where they had to be.

The tribute run for the late Melinda Ponce gathered a total of 1,436 registered runners after only five days of blitzkrieg organizing. 

This is made more amazing by the fact that runners were informed about the run mainly by word of mouth, runners chatrooms and online groups, Facebook and the generous column spaces given by runners columnists Max Limpag, Michelle So and yours truly.

There were several tribute runs for Melinda last Sunday.  There was one in Manila, another in Legazpi City and in Tagbilaran Bohol.  The Cebu run alone managed to race P201,020.00 in cash donations plus a 4-year college scholarship from Dr. Yong Larrazabal and his wife Donna Cruz. The cash donations (which came in the form of registration fees) were divided among Melinda’s orphaned daughter Embralaince, Roger Diniega – the husband of the Ponce family minder Anastacia, and two groups working with victims of domestic violence – Lihok Pilipina Foundation and the Haven which is a shelter and halfway house for battered women.

The organizers saw it fit to give part of the proceeds to organizations working with battered women so that Melinda’s death would not be in vain as it would seem that aside from the advocacy for running and healthy living, Melinda’s true legacy is the continuing fight against violence within the family.

Photo credit:  Sun Star Daily Cebu

Runners Go To Heaven

  October 18, 2011

You can shed tears that she is gone, 
or you can smile because she has lived. 
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back, 
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left... 

You can remember her only that she is gone, 
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on. 
You can cry and close your mind, 
be empty and turn your back. 
Or you can do what she'd want: 
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
--David Harkins

News of ultrarunner Melinda Ponce's gruesome death sent shockwaves among Cebuanos not so much for its horrible details but more so for the senseless waste of life.

She was an inspiration to many runners male or female. Melinda with her unassuming ways, small fast strides and efficient cadence earned the admiration and respect of fellow road warriors not so much because she was a certified ultramarathon champion, but because she embodied all that a recreational runner and after hours athlete can be, if only we worked as hard as she did. This (running) community is family and it hurts to loose one family member especially since her exploits inspire us all to hit the road, says fellow ultrarunner Frederick Angalot.

During the Ungo Runners Friday Night Run last September 30, she spoke to runners about how she was a late bloomer in this great sport of running as she started running at the age of 48 after a hysterectomy and only after much prodding from Cebu's erstwhile road running queen Liezl Getaruelas – Melinda's former gym instructor at Fitness First.

Melinda At Cebu City Marathon 2011, Photo by Sydny delos Reyes
As she shared her daily running routine, it surprised us how simple her secret to success was -- pure and simple dedication, hardwork and consistency. Nothing fancy – just eat well, train well, hydrate well and most important of all, rest well. She told us how she ran every weekday without fail from her house in Tabunoc to the I.T. Park or Cebu Business Park covering 13 kilometers passing through the entire stretch of N. Bacalso on some days or through Labangon and Banawa on others.

But who knew that her daily 13K runs from Tabunoc to I.T. Park was more than just a run but a release from the horrible things that were happening at home?

It leaves me wondering – why do bad things happen to good people? How could a woman as strong and empowered as Melinda Ponce endure so much abuse at home? For those of us who knew of her daily Calvary in the hands of an abusive spouse, was there something we could have done? Is there anyone else amongst us who is suffering in silence from domestic abuse, finding refuge only in running? 

As we mourn the loss of one of our own and grapple with all these unanswered questions, I find solace in the words of Bro. Carlo Bacalla, SDB assuring me that indeed, runners go to heaven: Melinda Ponce has been an inspiration to many women runners. She will continue to shine as an example of hard work, dedication, discipline, and determination. Run to your Creator Melinda Ponce. Your fellow runners will surely miss you. So soon have you reached the FINISH LINE. Enjoy the heavenly medals and trophies prepared for you by the Best Race Director of All. 
Photo taken by Sydney delos Reyes at the Summit 60K Ultra Challenge in Talisay City where Melinda emerged as female champion, a week before she died
A week before she died I spoke to her at the starting line of the Summit 60K Ultra Marathon Challenge Talisay City and told her how she's sure to win the female championship trophy (which she did). When I told her how I was trying to copy her stride so that I could earn a place in the ultra podium someday just like her, Melinda encouraged me to keep trying and to keep pushing until I overtake her someday, because an ultra race is long and you'll never know what the road or trail will bring.

Just hours after Melinda's passing was confirmed, messages of condolences from friends and fellow runners, not just in Cebu but from across the country flooded runners' group chats and forum on Facebook. One message in particular from Leo Aguilar strikes a chord – “May she be remembered for the life that inspired others, rather than the manner by which her life was taken away.”

And so, Cebu's road warriors will honor a fallen comrade with a dedication run called Run for Melinda. It will start and end at the Terraces of Ayala Center Cebu on the morning of Sunday, October 22. A Eucharistic celebration will be offered after the run.

Runners, joggers and walkers who wish to join Run for Melinda may register from October 17 to 22 at Runnr in Ayala or at Clinica Melgar at Rm. 205 Dona Luisa Bldg., Fuente Osmena, Cebu City. The registration fee is pegged at P150.00 but runners may give more.

Lessons from a Summit Challenge

October 11, 2011

Photo credit: Bro. Carlo Bacalla, SDB
Challenge is a word not to be taken lightly. This, in one short sentence sums up the Summit 60K Ultra Challenge – the debut race organized by the Sugbu Ultra Running Enthusiasts (SURE). And what a debut race it was.

There are good races and there are good races, but very few can claim to have set the bar high. The organizers of the Summit 60K Ultra Challenge composed of the hardworking triumvirate – Bro . Carlo Bacalla, SDB as Race Director, Joel Juarez as Technical Director and Rizalde Abapo Velano of Absolute Sales Corporation (who provided what seemed like an unlimited supply of Summit water and 100 Plus sports drink) did not only manage to put together a good race, they've also set the bar high for other ultra endurance races in Cebu as well. The following are the reasons why:

Photo credit: Khrizzie Mercado Enopia

  • ·         The start and finish area at the Talisay City Hall had ample parking and security, clean restrooms, a real start and finish arc with digital clock.
  • ·         The race started on time (exactly 4AM) thanks in part to Talisay City Councilor Bernard Odilao who came early to the starting area and not make the runners wait for the host city's welcome address.
  • ·         Half of the SRP on the Talisay City side was closed to vehicular traffic even if there were only 81 of us.
  • ·         As promised, there were hydration and aid stations every five (5) kilometers and roving marshals throughout the route.
  • ·         A full force of Talisay City Runners Club members went out of their way to guide participants showing us visitors that, despite what you read in the papers about Talisay City's infamous son (a certain Joavan), Talisaynons are very nice, very welcoming people who were in fact very appreciative of special idiots called ultra runners.
  • ·         The race included a relay category, which allowed newbies a taste of an ultra distance event, without forcing them to take on a distance that their bodies are not ready for.
  • ·         As runners crossed the finishline, the race secretariat acknowledged through loudspeaker the runner's name and ranking.
  • ·         Each finisher got a customized medal plus a customized trophy which showed the runner's actual placing in the race. The certificate of completion had the finisher's name printed on it and last but not least, the finisher's shirt with reflective material good for night runs was worth keeping.
  • ·         Finishers were treated to a full meal of puso, lechon, ngo hiong, cold beer and cold water at the finishline.

    However, the best part of the race was the route/course design which was challenging and beautiful at the same time. Even Rick Gaston, a veteran of two Western States 100's (the oldest 100 mile trail ultra) called it a “hard and impressive course”.

Photo credit: Sydney Delos Reyes (Biga Con Pit, Atlas Mines)
It took us through the flat roads of the SRP, Tabunoc and Lagtang in Talisay City, going up to the misty mountains in Manipis Road through Campo 4 to Campo 6 before passing through a portion of Cebu City's Barangay Sinsin. Rough roads led us to (surprise, surprise) the Atlas mines in Lutopan, when minutes before I was just in Cebu City. I really did not know until then that these two seemingly far apart places are right beside connected by hidden mountain roads and trails. There in Loay we ran through 7 kilometers of sand, rocks and mud on one side with a view of lush mountains and the turquoise waters of a small lake inside what use to be the Biga Con pit. As we reached the summit, runners were treated to a view of the Tanon Strait and the island of Negros right across.
Photo credit: Sydney Delos Reyes (w/ Antit Del Rosario)
Just as we thought all the climbing was over as we descended towards Campo 7 passing through Minglanilla's interior barangays, we had to climb once again through a reforested area in Campinsa. Who would have thought that Talisay City had a mini forest! I later learned that even lumads like Frances Seville-Ang who was born and bred in Talisay City did not even know of its existence even if it's just five (8) kilometers from the back of Camella Homes where we descended on our way back to the finishline.

Photo credit:  Dr. Willie Estepa
I went home from last Sunday's race with more than just mileage. The Biga Con pit in Loay, with its juxtaposed beauty and desolation, made me feel like I was the last person on the planet running towards the edge of the Earth. Then it hit me, really hard -- how terrible it is to be doomed to wander the planet alone. Like being blindsided and caught with a punch coming from nowhere, I cried right there in the middle of what was once Southeast Asia's largest copper mine and realized that despite my procrastinating and my million reasons not to have children, deep down I really do want one.

You don't expect races to hit you on an emotional and personal level, but once in a while they do and when it hits home, it leaves you pondering even days after the last trace of muscle soreness is gone. The Summit 60K Challenge managed to do that for me.