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Becoming a dirt kid

In many ways, I’m lucky to be in a community of strong and serious dirt runners, but I’m not one, just to be clear. I’m only 10 months into this madness, by far, my most rewarding months, next to my BMC training. In a bid to speed up my progress—which isn’t really happening thanks to 10,000 excuses—I joined two camps with trail-running boss, Thumbie Remigio, and sat down in one of the 2017 AMCI BMC sessions led by Coach Ige Lopez.

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Pilipinas Trail Running Camp 1. Photo is owned by Raceyaya.

I tried combining all my notes from these three engagements to come up with an idiot’s guide. Well sort of, because a 2-day lecture is hard to fit in less than 1000 words.

Definitions

I’m lifting this from the ITRA (International Trail Running Association) website, because it’s the single, most-legit definition of trail-running.

Trail-running is a pedestrian race open to all, in a natural environment (mountain, desert, forest, plain) with minimal possible paved or asphalt road, which should not exceed 20% of the total course.

The terrain can vary (dirt road, forest trail, single track) and the route must be properly marked [meaning you shouldn’t get lost]. The race is ideally – but not necessarily – in self-sufficiency or semi self-sufficiency [meaning, there would be some aid stations, but you have to bring gear and food to sustain yourself] and is held in the respect for sporting ethics, loyalty, solidarity, and the environment.

*Some additions: single-track trails are narrow, about the width of a bike; fire trails, on the other hand can fit 4×4 vehicles.

There’s another term you should be familiar with: skyrunning or high-altitude running (sounds so freaking badass, right). It means racing at an elevation of at least 2000+ MASL. In the Philippines, there’s only one group recognized by the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF). That’s PhilSky (Philippine Skyrunning Association) and they do the annual Pilipinas Akyathlon.

Let’s begin

Most trail-runners I met started out either as 1. mountaineers who want less pack weight, more speed, more pain, and 2. road runners who are looking for something else to achieve apart from another PR. So for now, let’s assume that you (dear reader) would already have:

  • Running shoes
  • Some training / minimum endurance, meaning you should at least be able to run steady for 1 hour
  • A little bit of curiosity about eventually running on dirt

Notes from Coach Ige

  • Pace. Unlike the great flats, most trail races vary based on distance, terrain, weather, and elevation—and these variances often dictate your pace, gear of choice, and and overall race strategy. Trails can be dry and dusty or muddy, ascents can be mild or mildly nakatatanggal ulirat. I kid you not. If you can do 5 minutes per km on the road, don’t expect to be able to do that on trail. The ideal pace, in fact, is about 5km / hour or about 10 to 12 minutes per km.

 

  • Don’t be cocky. Even pros walk and power hike on long and steep ascents to ensure they don’t run out of juice too early. That’s how endurance works. (Maybe I’ll do another post on techniques because that’s a rather lengthy discussion)

 

  • Eat and hydrate. The reason why we have vests is because running trail requires a certain level of self-sufficiency. You need to have water and snacks packed.

 

  • Learn (like really learn) proper nutrition. That works before-, during-, and after the race. Pre-race is when you carbo-load, during the race is when you take in some 200 to 300 calories ever hour in the form of gels, trail mix, and other easily digestible calorie bombs, and post-race is when you get all the damn protein to aid in recovery. Caution: the aid station is not a buffet. Eat as planned, in small portions to avoid feeling bloated.

 

  • Train where you can. Not of all of us can go to Wawa or Batolusong, or north to train, so just run where you are, or find some places around your city that can give some decent elevation gain (like Kapitolyo, McKinley).
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Makiling Traverse sometime in April 2017. Photo owned by Shaun Olarte. 
  • Find people who can run with you. There are plenty of groups out there with members who run every god-given weekend on the hills of Rizal. Find them, make friends, join them.
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Pre-race photo session. Jagged Peak 21k, Batulao. Photo from Mark Meneses.
  • Invest in the right gear. Shoes, a running vest, gaiters, trek poles. There are tons of trail running gear and to be quite frank, they are expensive—but there local brands out there that produce quality items that don’t break the bank (too much). So research and buy what you think suits you.

Now, I know this is all too basic, but I’ll see if I can do a follow-up article on beginners’ races so you’ll know where to register for late 2017 to early 2018. J

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“Do I really need a titanium spork?” and other poor-ish hiker problems

Why am I writing this? First, because there are days when I’d ogle at the ultralight, super-expensive gear of my group mates and wonder when I’d be able to afford those things. I borrowed a 1P Nemo Hornet and didn’t want to give it back. Haha! This brings me to #2: I’m perpetually on a budget, I cannot go gear shopping one day and just burn USD 500 for a tent. Whatever I have right now, I bought one by one by one.  So, this is for the people who are like me. LOL.

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I started this madness with an entry-level pair of Merrells bought after a spontaneous first hike chronicled here. Entry-level, yes, but I still didn’t find it cheap. That was Php 3,000+ on a pair of shoes I didn’t think I would use for the next two years.

Then I bought a pack (because it was Christmas and I just got my bonus haha), a Deuter Futura Pro 34 SL (at a sale price of about Php 4,000) as advised by that guy from Basekamp—he was dark and he looked toasted from all the hiking, ergo credible, so I followed his advice. I still use that pack until now. It has gone through multi-day hikes, tons of weather and trail abuse, but it’s showing no signs of falling apart.

Despite the ignorance from my early day-hiking days, I actually did one thing right: to buy two of the most important things needed by those new to the sport.

AND YES, mga bes, I am and would always be new to the sport. So learn with me.

Proper shoes and a proper pack, that’s all you need—in the meantime and because gear is expensive. I intend to list down the things you’ll have to beg, borrow, and buy as you progress, but let’s put it in categories first: 1. personal, 2. group equipment.

Also, this post is just part one and it talks about personal equipment. Buy them first, one by one

  • Shoes. There I said it. Each person would have his / her preference—high-, low-, mid-cut, level of protection, weight, aggressiveness of the lugs, etc. I say, choose what you want to compromise. I’ve maintained a taste for light and low-cut shoes because I want agility better than protection. Now, I use a Salomon S-Lab Sense for both hiking and trail running and I’m pretty darn happy with them. Truth, this shit is expensive, I sacrificed three weeks of gas- and beer- money for it. LOL.
Lugs, baby.

Other notes: Buy shoes at the end of the day, when your feet have already “expanded.” Try them out with socks, make sure your heel is in place and your toes are not jamming the toe box. I don’t want patay na kuko, they make me feel ugly. Lol.

  • Pack. Find the best fit. Try it out, make adjustments (hip, shoulder, sternum), walk around ROX to get a good feel of it. Wrong pack = nagmumurang shoulders = motherfucking upper body strain = very bad case of DOMS = VL = career going downhill. Haha. No seriously, spare your shoulders and let the hips do the work.

As for the size, mine is 34L+10. The longest I’ve gone with it is 4 days, 3 nights with personal and group equipment–and yes, including a tent. Just learn how to pack nicely.

  • Headlamp. My cheap TrueValue-bought Energizer headlamp works wonders. By cheap, I mean PHP 500 at 150 lumens, and it survived three days of rain in Kibungan, 4 days in Compostela Valley and about 5 trail races. But if you have money to buy those precious Black Diamond lamps, then by all means—pahiram and light up the trails with 300 lumens. If you are the type who does extended ‘day-hikes’ then this would come in handy.

Don’t rely on your phone’s flashlight, because my god, you need your phone to make calls in case shit hits the fan.

  • Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, malong. Nobody wants to sleep with you. Get your own “bed.” In truth, I never bothered to buy a sleeping pad, because my sleep system is uber simple.

Thermarest + malong / SOL bivvy / sleeping bag / liner? It depends, really.

Left to right. REI Vapor Black Travel Sack, temp rating of 13 degrees celsius, SOL Escape Bivvy, and malong. By sheer pack size, my favorite is the malong.

I would usually bring just one of these items to cut the weight and bulk. When I went to Pulag though, it was a (borrowed) pad + SOL Bivvy (USD 60). Okay na pag makapal ang balat. Besides, there are some nights when I don’t even reach the tent because of drunkenness.

When in doubt, check the temperature rating. 😀

  • Mess kit and knife. When I was a BMC trainee, I just use Lock&Lock. Then somebody gave me a generic collapsible bowl. Another person gave me a collapsible cup. That was it. And an aluminum spork from Basekamp that was just about PHP 175. My knife is hand-me-down Humvee.

Yung totoo, do you really need a titanium spork at the moment?

  • Water container / bottle. Bladder or a trusty Nalgene bottle. Useless note: I don’t use a bladder. It’s so hard to refill, so hard to gauge consumption. To date, I use a 400-ml Nalgene + 2 160 ml squeeze bottles that fit in my side pocket (sometimes, a 330 ml Gatorade)

And a 750 ml aluminum bottle for the alcohol! Hahaha!

  • First aid. Loperamide, mga bes, hahaha! In addition to the usual wound care shit like cotton, antiseptic wipes, povidone iodine (Betadine), gauze + bandage + dressing. In our BFA class, we were taught to use a triangular bandage, so it’s now my weapon of choice. Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, oral rehydration salts, anti-histamine, etc.

Bring your personal meds and leave the c-splints and scalpels to the team medic. Haha!

  • Others. Groundsheet, toiletries (please don’t bring a whole bottle of lotion), whistle, poncho, and well, clothes (remember cotton = death cloth, use synthetics, dri fit). And extra underwear, because wet brip x wet bra = miserable.
Cold weather clothing. Columbia packable shell, base layer, Uniqlo UL down, and Uniqlo fleece. The most expensive one is the shell at about Php 4,000, but I’m sure that’s with a hefty mark up.

So that’s that for personal equipment. I’ll write another post for group equipment soon (stoves, tents, etc.) and another one for UL with the help of Pops (Cecile Morella) but I’ll leave you with this:

My swim coach, Noy Basa, once said, you don’t have to buy the best, lightest equipment to drastically improve your (triathlon) time. Upgrade the athlete before the gear.

Same goes for us. Upgrade the mountaineer before the gear. Cheers!

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Featured

The making of mountain feasts (Part 1)

This is a two-part piece on the super basics of mountain cooking and meal planning, written and co-developed with two of AMCI Mountaineering Club’s masters of supreme outdoor cookery: Dexter Macapagal and Hadjie Tecson. I shit you not—if you climb with them, you’re walking down a bit heavier.

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I was once a firm believer that you will survive a night up in the mountains for as long as you know how to boil water and shove a pack of instant noodles in a pot. And that, if it all came down to survival, there’s always an easy-open can of Century Tuna (and under the worst circumstances, a sachet of adobo-flavored Ulalammm and carinderia-bought rice).

Dekz and his sisig + booze. Hah!

It was only in June last year during the BMC season that I was able to taste tinola cooked from scratch—up on our Naguiling campsite, thanks to a batchmate. Lo and behold, a shocking revelation: you can eat well on high altitudes. Haha!

Here are some basic notes.

  • In the mountains, food is fuel. You’ll need to survive the next 90-degree vertical or the impending 1,000-meter ascent. If you’re not loaded, you’re not going far.
  • Meal planning. It’s that fun and tedious process of writing down and prepping up for what you will eat overnight or in the next couple of days. If you want to know how simple it is, let me summarize it: 1. count how many days you’d be up climbing, 2. count how many meals you will eat for that whole duration, 3. decide what to cook, 4. list down and buy the ingredients, 5. start packing, baby!

Ah, well, yeah easier said than done.

  • It’s actually dependent on a few factors:

Spoilage rate of the food. The quick guide is chicken before pork before beef—it translates to tinola, before sinigang na baboy, before kaldereta.

I kid you not. We make room for nice things when we climb. ❤ Photo by Rio Hernandez

Availability of water. It’s a wise decision not to cook too much soup when the water source is hours away and you would have to lug 4 liters of water on your way up.

Cooking and preparation time. Consider this—you are tired and you just want to crash right after you get to the campsite. Make the food prep as painless as possible and the eating quick. Haha!

Weight and bulk. I don’t like carrying a lot of canned things. They are heavy, they pack big (I’m small and I carry a 34+10L backpack, gets?) 😀

Preferences and restrictions of group members. Allergies, vegans, vegetarians, catholic friends on a no-meat Lenten sacrifice. Ask the members of the group what they prefer before meal planning. You don’t want a hangry person on a climb.

  • Allocating rice. There’s a simple and a complicated way to do it. Haha! The simple way is via guesswork: just to pack x kilos of rice, cook it up the mountains, and bring down what’s left. NOPE. Don’t do that. Hahaha! Here’s a better formula:

A = [(N/6) x M) x 0.5] + X

N = number of persons

M = number of meals with rice

A = amount of rice

X = margin of extra rice (1/4 or 1/2 kilograms depending on the group’s appetite)

Compute: 9 persons going on an overnight camp, three meals (dinner, breakfast, packed lunch on trail)

A = [(9/6) x 3) x 0.5] + 0

A = [(1.5) x 3) x 0.5] + 0

A = [4.5 x 0.5] + 0

A = [2.25] + 0

A=2.25 kilos of rice to be brought for the climb

Or .75 kilos to be cooked per group meal

Now you ask, can we not just make an estimate? Sure you can, but computing so that you have just enough will reduce the amount of excesses you’ll have to bring down.

  • Let’s try dat shit

So, how do we execute a meal plan? Let’s assume you’re going for an overnight hike at Mt. Tapulao. You are 6 in the group, and you will cook three meals: dinner (day 1), breakfast (day 2), lunch (day 2, which you’ll have to cook in the morning and eat on trail). Nobody has food restrictions. There is a water source near the Bunkhouse (alt. campsite).

Day 1 (Dinner) Day 2 (Breakfast) Day 2 (Lunch)
Rice Rice Rice
Tinolang manok Corned beef Bistek tagalog
Coffee Scrambled eggs
Vodkaaaaa ❤ Coffee
The Shopping List
Staples For the foodangs  
Camp Tissue Chicken breasts 1/2 kilo, cut to serving pieces and pre-cooked
Rollo Sayote 2 medium pieces
Cooking oil Garlic 2 cloves
Butane Onions 2 (for tinola and bistek)
Trash bags (for group trash) Pepper leaves 1/2 cup
Patis / fish sauce 1-2 tablespoons
Chicken cubes 1
Corned beef 2 cans
Eggs 6
Beef 1/2 kilo sliced thin
Rice 2 kilos, packaged in three at .67 kilos per pack
Coffee 10 sachets
All the damn seasonings (toyo, suka, salt, pepper, allspice, cumin seed powder lalalalala) (don’t buy, steal from your mother’s kitchen)
Juice 5 sachets (depending on how long the inuman is going to be)
Smirnoff Orange / Absolut Kurant 750 ml bottles x 2 (or more)

Now that’s super basic. I’ve seen friends cook prawns with gata and kare-kare. They are mountain cooking gods.

Part 2 is coming up in a few days. 😀

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Mga Kwentong Padulas: Mt. Candalaga, Compostela Valley

Note: All photos are owned by our group’s official outdoor gearhead / photographer Cecil Morella. Cheers to you, Paps! 

This update means I’m finally out of Kansai (missed the earthquake by a few hours, thank yeezuuus) and I’m trading some precious snooze time to write what’s been due since early November. Delayed report: we are finally done with the induction climb at Mt. Candalaga. I have no words for this mountain.

No–actually, I have a lot. There’s a famous Bukowski quote that says: Find what you love and let it kill you. It’s obviously figurative, unless you love guns, cigarettes, or a psychopathic ex-neurosurgeon who likes experimenting on people.

But Candalaga, my goodness, it will kill you.

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See what I mean?

The summit elevation is only at 2,116 MASL, the trail distance a measly 8.25 kilometers, and the trekking type, according to our itinerary, is 30% upstream river crossing, 30% ascent, 40% descent, 0% chill. On a normal day, you would cover this distance by just walking around The Fort or Makati–but by Maragusan, Compostela Valley standards, three whole days.

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Looking back, the only painless time we probably had was the scenic walk from New Albay Elementary School to the trailhead. After that, it was @$C@Q_*&%^ &^@!!!!

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Day 1 is an 80% river trek and the few short breaks I got from it were wicked roped verticals, including one instance when I just held my breath and dangled from a tree. There are two ways to picture the situation: 1. just hanging on for your own dear life, no biggie, or 2. like holding the world in its entirety. Cup is half full or half empty. Choose na lang. 

Two seconds from tree-assisted airwalk and I found a nice little root to clip my foot on and then pulled myself up. I have no idea why I found it appropriate and so completely necessary to look down right after, but the whole act did send a nice chill up my spine. Had my arms failed me and the scenario would’ve been similar to an ugly piece of pakwan.

Broken watermelon on ground

Get it?

The 8-hour ordeal included having to throw my pack off several times to get across some boulders, because there are things I have to live with like short legs and poor genes. All in all, we passed by 15 waterfalls beginning with Marangig and ending in Tagbibinta (end of trek). 

In several occasions, I stopped at dead ends–thought I’ve gone off trail–only to realize that the dirt wall in front of me is the trail. Really—I mean reaaaaallyyy, how many times did we have to say ‘Bahala na si Batman’ in our short, inconsequential lives and there I was trying to Spiderman-the-shit out of a mountain. Kaya nag homo sapien ‘di ba? Bipedal. Kailangan pa ba magpa-tubo ng extrang paa sa ilalim ng boobs? 

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Down from the summit on the second day and we had a taste of rain, mud, and a night trek that spared some from the ghastly view of deep ravines. I learned not to trust rocks too much after Day 1, but on Day 2, my goodness, I learned that logs are no better. No matter how solid they look, logs can collapse faster than your heart post-break-up and they be as soft as motherfucking cotton candies from Dante’s hell. Excuse the mixed-metaphors. I can’t help it. 

By then end of Day 2, my limbs felt like jello, my trail food was almost out—even a double serving of rice didn’t do the magic. I was fucking done. 

And then, there was Day 3. Still. More. Rope. Work. 

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These fuckers burned my hands so bad, I couldn’t use them to write, or shampoo, or do laundry for a good two days. I always say, what’s done is done, but up to this day, I regret not learning how to use gloves even after three training climbs.

What the hell was this for, anyway. 

Let’s try to do a bit of accounting. Mt. Candalaga earned me: multiple scratches, sore legs and shoulders, two deep cuts—one each hand—three bruises the size of a fake Fuji apple, and a deep, deep, deep hole in my pocket. Hahaha!  

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And a dog tag. To those who would ask: Nakakain ba yan? I tried. That shit needs more time inside a pressure cooker. 

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P.S. Ganda ng summit view. Hehe.

Albay road-goating: The day god tried (and failed) to burn me alive

A short note: all photos here are owned by Rico Manallo and taken from the official album of Mayon 360 Albay Ultramarathon. 

First the backstory. Sometime in April I attempted to run my first trail ultra–it turned out to be a massive failure. Haha! I stopped at KM 32 thinking I’m past the cut-off time for the “halfway” checkpoint and there’s no way they’d let me continue after the dropbag station.

Can you believe my frustration? My adobo was waiting right there in the magical dropbag, but I never got to eat it.

Around 6:30 AM past Rangyas Peak. Photo by Nik Jamisola.

I spent two nights regretting that decision and looking for other races within the next two months for a chance to just fucking redeem myself. Ang weak ko, putang ina.

There was only one requirement: road or trail, it can’t be shorter. I scoured the running sites and looked at calendars, then lo and behold Mayon 360–80 kilometers on road / asphalt around country’s biggest, hottest cone.

Registration closed. Hijo de puta. 

The long and short of it is that I begged the race organizers for a slot even if they already have a starting list. Like ATE KUYA PLS-levels.

And off I went this wonderful place hoping to just wing the remaining 30-kilometers. Warning: do not try this at home. If you say you’re ready for 50-kilometers, do not go 50-miles.

BRB dying.

This is me at KM 72-ish. During that time, I’ve probably lost what remains of my body fat. I was teary-eyed in pain, burned, and I just wanted to book an Uber to my hotel and take a cold shower. And in my head, I just tried to say “katumabas na lang to ng limang ikot sa acad oval, minus the taho.” Minor set-back: walang Uber. Haha! I spent the last two hours of the race just walking, savoring the agony.

You know what’s amazing? A dog with a bib outran me. No shit. The furry boy finished with his human at approximately 13 hours, while I clocked in at 14+.

There’s only one explanation for this: he’s got better shoes!!! LOL!

I thought carefully how people managed to smile after KM 55. The road past Ligao was sweltering and although there was a bit of rain at Tabaco City, it only brought a short reprieve. Then an awful lot of blisters. Ouch.

Hindi ito pa-cute na ouch ha. Tangina, masakit talaga, nababalatan ka na ng buhay eh. 

My goal was to finish while the sun was still up. It didn’t happen. One aid station offered watermelons so I stayed there for a good 10 minutes chatting up the volunteers and munching slice after slice. I had to do more of those extended stops. It was too much. Haha! Kudos to the race organizers and the RD for sticking to their promise of having aid stations every five kilometers. I seriously doubt if I’d be able to finish if I had to be entirely self-sufficient.

It was about 6 PM when I got back to Penaranda Park aided and paced by this nice runner from Ateneo de Naga (I forget his name, but thanks brotha!).

My first 50-miler in summary: 14+ hours of running, 5 really gross blisters, one dead toenail, approx. 30 square inches of burned, peeling skin, 8 energy gels, three eggs, 8 bananas,1 Fita, 1 pack of Growers spicy peanuts, 2 packs M&Ms. And–


Jjampong.

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