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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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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