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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