Pulag 100 answered a lot of ifs in the world of Pinoy Trail Contributor Jes Aranzaso. It gave him a goal, a mission and a satisfactory outcome that wouldn’t be possible If he didn’t join P1. Read up on another journey in a race called Pulag 100K.
“I can say that the runner’s high is real. The more I was doing it, the more I wanted to do it again, and again, and again. As I gained experience and mileage, the activity gradually turned easier (to tolerate), my body lighter, the distance shorter, I learned many things for the first time, and I craved for more. I developed a sort of addiction to endorphins, so I chased them and put myself to test by running longer races, or ultra marathons, in the mountains. So far, in a span of less than five months since my first one, I have finished five trail ultra runs. However, just because I have successfully completed a few trail ultra races does not mean I can finish a 100 plus-kilometer mountain run, but I do not know, maybe it is time to further test my limits and try. So help me God.” – Note to self, May 2, 2017
If I I hadn’t Joined Pulag 100K Trail Ultra (P1)
A Journey Towards Self Discovery
If I hadn’t joined the Pulag 100K Trail Ultra (P1), I wouldn’t have known what I know now about myself. I wouldn’t have learned that I could finish my first attempt to run a 100-kilometer (or 112km in the case of Pulag 100) race in the mountains. I wouldn’t have talked to God that long in a very long time now. I wouldn’t have said those things to Him acknowledging my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I wouldn’t have asked Him to do the rest after I had given my best. If I hadn’t joined P1, I wouldn’t have given back the glory to Him.
I finished the race in 26 hours 16 minutes and 19 seconds, well within the 30-hour cut-off time, but admittedly far longer than my target time of sub-24 hours. To complete the race strong and injury-free was already a reward in itself, and to be the seventh finisher was an unexpected bonus.
The greatest reward, however, was to be able to toe the starting line with the whole trail running community while those who had devoted their time, effort, and resources just to give us the best race possible were watching, waiting, and serving in their respective posts hoping to ease the suffering we would surely experience while running. From the race director, to the marshals, volunteers, photographers, locals, to our friends, families and loved ones, they all deserve a snappy salute with words such as “Great job!,” “Congratulations!,” and “You’re such a blessing!”
A Yearning for Self-Fulfillment
If I hadn’t joined P1, I wouldn’t have felt that kind of joy and fulfillment, the kind which wanted to make me cry in happiness, the kind which wanted to make me shout in jubilation. I wouldn’t have proven to myself that I could run that distance, within that time, and with that difficulty. If I hadn’t joined P1, I wouldn’t have had this journey to tell.
The Why’s to my Journey
I first had the idea of running a 100-kilometer trail race after I successfully finished the Clark-Miyamit Falls 50-Mile (80KM) Trail Ultra in November 2016. I told myself, I had endured 80 kms of trails already, so what could an additional 20 kms (or 32 kms in the case of P1) for an additional 12 hours bring to me aside from more suffering? The higher the risk (of not being able to finish), the higher the reward or the rate of returns to the runner which may come in many forms.
No matter the race result, finish or not finish, I decided the experience in itself would be priceless. So clearly, it was a risk worth taking. But why did I not join the Hardcore Hundred Miles (H1) instead? My risk appetite wouldn’t allow me to do so yet because I thought it would be too much too soon for my threshold. I work in the field of risk management, and I would like to believe it had helped me many times in my personal decision making, especially dealing with calculated risks.
My idea of preparation for this race was simple and pretty straightforward: run a mileage of at least 35 kms weekly mixing the roads and trails without specific elevation gain target. I did not go to the gym, not even once, nor joined any group core workout and strength training session, which I knew are basic and essential parts of a good training plan. I
would rather hike and climb mountains whenever I could because it was my first love. If I hadn’t pursued mountaineering, I wouldn’t have gone to running and wouldn’t have fallen in love with trail running as well. If I hadn’t fallen in love with trail running, I wouldn’t have known the King of the Mountain (KOTM) Trail Run and wouldn’t have run in one of its events. I wouldn’t have seen some of the best views of the Cordillera Mountain Range. I wouldn’t have acquainted with some of the most familiar names in trail running, nor have gained friendships that inspired me to be a better runner and person.
The day I joined Pulag 100K
May 2, 2017. The last day for the regular registration for H1/P1. Mobile banking fund transfer did the trick, as I didn’t have to physically go to the bank and fall in line just to deposit my registration payment. I sent the fund transfer screenshot with the required personal information via e-mail as instructed and I knew there was no turning back when I received the acknowledgement and confirmation e-mail from the race director. I immediately messaged Sir Erwin Sy to confirm that I would also join P1, so we could be buddies going to Kayapa, looking for a place to stay, starting the race, and going back to Manila after the race. He affirmed.
The Journey to Pulag
May 17, 2017. Our bus left Quezon City at exactly 9:45pm and reached Aritao at around 2:45am the next day. We got off at Petron Gasoline Station where I took a nap while we were waiting for the first trip of the shuttle going to Kayapa. Fortunately, a group of runners stopped by and offered us their vacant seats so we didn’t have to wait for the shuttle. Upon reaching Kayapa, we also found out that there were still vacant slots in the rooms up the Boulevard Restaurant, which we took although our original plan was “school latag.” We put down the things in the room, ate breakfast at the Boulevard, attended the race briefing, claimed our race kits and deposited our drop bags that morning.
We stayed at the school (assembly area) after the race briefing until lunch time, chatting with a few friends while trying to turn the normal pre-race anxiety to positive nervousness. After a quick lunch at the Boulevard, we decided to rest and get some sleep. At 11pm, we left our room ready with all our gears and proceeded to the assembly area. I could not describe the mixed feelings being there and seeing all the runners, race crew and supporters gathered as one community.
Pulag 100K was my Final Exam.
There was a certain sense of pride and belonging coming from being a part of this grand event, dubbed as the KOTM 2017 finale, deemed as the final examination for those who had joined the first two legs of the series (the Mount Ugo Marathon in February and the Four Lakes 100 in April) and were candidates for the KOTM300/K300 grand slammer title.
The pressure was supposedly less on me joining P1, being a side event of H1, but that was not true because the pressure was coming from inside me which I thought was necessary. I grabbed a cup of brewed native coffee and a pair of peanut butter sandwich from a station and greeted some friends who were also doing the race with good luck. We promised to enjoy the race no matter what, and only prayed that no major injuries or untoward incidents happen to any one of us there.
May 19, 2017. At exactly 12:01am, around 250 of us H1/P1 runners left the starting line with our hopes and dreams of successfully finishing the distance set before us.
For the past three editions of P1, only 44 out of the total of 126 runners who joined it were successful finishers, translating to a combined success rate of 35%, enough to scare anybody planning to do it for the first time. I checked the names of those who finished it to see how many of them I knew and tried to learn some things from how they did it. I thoroughly studied the race route/map and profile and carefully planned my race strategies, focusing mainly on the required pace sufficient to beat the various time barriers and the nutrition plan adequate to fuel my projected needs.
Planning my pace
I found out that to safely beat the first cut-off of 10 hours at Napo-Tuyak/KM 45, I would need to run at an estimated pace faster than 13 min/km, while overall, assuming the distance is exactly 112 kms (which was not), I would need to run at an estimated pace faster than 16 min/km. I had to factor as well in my plan the distribution of the total elevation gain of 5,628 meters (and the total elevation loss of 5,169 meters) throughout the course. Lastly, the contents of my drop bag were meticulously selected and arranged in a way that would be easiest for me to access what I would need.
Still, my unfamiliarity to the names of places where the stations were located was giving me unnecessary worry. Imagine if you were hearing Pangawan, Banao, Napo-Tuyak, Balete, Dayap and Castillo for the first time while many other runners were speaking about them like they knew the places by heart. I was familiar with Babadak and Kayapa only because I hiked Mt. Pulag and Mt. Ugo in the past. I could only hope not to get lost on the trails, which has always been a valid concern of any trail runner. Logic dictated that this possibility must always be factored in as a scenario, so I should expect it and know how to deal with it.
If I hadn’t Joined P1
If I hadn’t joined P1, I wouldn’t have known where Pangawan (KM14/AS1/1,484MASL) was. I reached it after running for two hours in the dark where I immediately ate two boiled bananas (and grabbed two more and put into my pockets) and drank my 500mL of Gatorade then refilled it with water. I felt warmed up and left the station energized and looking forward to the next station. The goal was to maximize the mileage while the sun and the heat were still absent.
If I hadn’t joined P1, I wouldn’t have found out where Banao (KM28/AS2/1,535MASL) and Napo-Tuyak (KM45/AS3/1,385MASL) were. I felt that I was consistently running in a good pace as I was able to leave Banao at 4:30am after a cup of coffee and a few bites of sweet potatoes considering the series of uphill I had to endure. The trails from Banao to Napo-Tuyak were some of my most favorite sections because this was where we passed through countless (an excuse since I forgot the exact number) hanging bridges and this was also when the dawn broke and the hidden beauty of the Cordillera was unveiled to me. However, that last couple of kilometers of steep uphill to Napo-Tuyak was proven a challenge.
Meeting Jesse and Melanie
This was where I met Melanie Hingpit who would later finish the course in 23 hours and 14 minutes to become the Female P1 Champion and 3rd Place Overall. She deserved the podium. She seemed tireless and determined without any trace of doubt that she could finish the race. Aside from Melanie, this was also where I met Jesse Daliling, a “tukayo” surprisingly, who would later become my buddy from KM91 to KM109. That stretch proved to be critical in the race and for me was the most difficult sections of the course, given the wild weather and the muddy, slippery and confusing trail conditions at the time we were navigating them. Jesse and I passed ahead of Melanie saying “Sige una na kayo, papahinga muna ako,” but only after a few minutes, Jesse went ahead with his speed.
We again saw each other at Napo-Tuyak where Jesse and I rested for a bit to eat and re-hydrate and prepare for the long ascent to the Mt. Pulag Grassland, while we saw Melanie grabbed some bananas and immediately left the station thereafter. I stayed a little longer than Jesse because I had the urge to go to the restroom. I left the Napo-Tuyak station at 8am and from there to the Pulag Grassland, I literally power walked/hiked at a comfortable pace, fearing to have any injury. This was where I applied the mantra I read online a few days before the race—Protect the Finish—which meant (if I got it right) sacrificing a desired pace in the middle of a race to avoid injuries or conserve energy and ensure you could still carry on towards the end or the Finish Line.
Sharing my Gatorade
It was at this time that I stumbled into an H1 runner who ran out of water while still in the mossy forest and asked me if I had some left. I told him I only had Gatorade. He hesitated initially but asked for it again after a few minutes. I willingly shared because I knew I would also shamelessly ask for it in case I was caught in the same situation. It felt happy to be of help. Long time passed along the mossy forest but I was patient enough enjoying the trails. For those 10 kms from Napo-Tuyak to the Pulag Grassland (KM55/2,747MASL), I knew that the hiker in me was glad and content.
After some photo-ops at the Pulag Grassland, I tried to bomb the descent to Babadak (KM62/AS4/2,192MASL) since this was the part I was extremely familiar with. I reached the ranger station at around 12:30pm and I was really feeling high not just because it was well within the 16-hour cut-off time of 4pm, but it also meant lunch and change of socks and clothes. It was time for my lunch and I had it with much pleasure similar to the atmosphere at the station. I had rice and giniling, miswa soup, lugaw with egg, softdrinks, Gatorade and water. I changed my socks and long sleeves dri-fit. People there were extra generous and cheerful, which might be the reason I overstayed and left only after 30 minutes (1pm).
If I hadn’t joined P1, I wouldn’t have reached Balete (KM74/AS5/1,531MASL) and Banao (KM91/AS6/1,535MASL), again. I wouldn’t have experienced running the stony fire road from Babadak to Balete under the rain. This was where I saw motorcycles transporting runners who DNF’ed from Napo-Tuyak to Babadak. If I hadn’t continued as well, I wouldn’t have sung repeatedly in my mind the song I learned when I was 5 years old attending the summer Vacation Bible School (VBS) which went like this: the love of Jesus sweet and marvelous (3x) / oh, oh, wonderful love / higher than the mountain / deeper than the ocean / wider than the universe / oh, oh, wonderful love.
Rains, Lightning and Thunder came to play.
This was true especially when I had to pass through again the several hanging bridges and the way to Banao was an uphill struggle. The rains were unstoppable and the bright and sharp lightning and roaring thunder sounds were intimidating. I had to trek for at least an hour alone in the dark under the chilling rains to reach Banao. The song continuously played in my mind, no, I was actually singing it loudly with my trembling voice. At least, it kept me sane and hopeful although I would sound crazy to anyone who would hear me at those moments. Then I was alternating it with prayers. I was talking to God, asking Him for more strength and guidance and protection. Then I reached Banao around 7:30pm.
I was relieved to see Jesse there resting and eating and told me he just arrived there a few minutes earlier. I had lugaw and sweet potatoes and coffee again, everything hot to ease the cold. Suddenly, many H1 runners, some of them I knew, arrived in groups. I congratulated them ahead and wished them best of luck on the trails for the remaining distance they had to cover. They all went ahead, except for two H1 runners and Jesse and I who decided to stay longer in front of the firewood where the rice porridge was being cooked to remain hot.
It was a little past 8pm when Jesse and I decided to push through, and as expected, due to the heavy rains, muddy and slippery trails under the dark of the evening, we were going at a careful pace. Those 11 kms (from KM91 to KM102) felt incredibly long because we could not run the uphill (and even the downhill proved to be tricky) to the point that we were thinking if they had moved the Dayap (KM102/AS7/1,596MASL) station further. At last, after 3.5 hours, at around 11:30pm, we reached Dayap!
If we hadn’t continued, we wouldn’t have tasted the best sopas in the world, that hotdog and rice and egg! Wow, just 10 kms more to go and we would be done! Or so we thought. After refueling, re-hydrating, and resting for a bit, we checked out the station quarter before midnight feeling re-energized and determined to finish the course. If we hadn’t continued, we wouldn’t have passed through the crazy trails from Dayap to Castillo. Many times, we were confused if we were still on the right path. There were idle time just spent looking for trail signs.
The mud was thick as hell, and without a pole, it would be very difficult to balance your way through. I was using one trekking pole only, and twice I slipped and almost slid down the hills. This part was quite challenging and having a buddy was crucial so as not to get lost as well as to have someone to push you to move forward despite the struggle. If I hadn’t gone with Jesse, I wouldn’t have done it at that pace. I couldn’t explain the elation when we reached Castillo (KM109/AS8/1,267MASL) at 2am! Whew!
A minute passed before I signaled Jesse for us to go and run the last 3 kms to the finish line. This was it, we were at the road already and we were truly almost there finally. We split running on our own and Jesse, ever the faster runner than I am, disappeared like the Flash while I continued with my pace. He reached the Finish Line 2 minutes and 13 seconds earlier than I did. He was the sixth P1 finisher and I was the seventh.
When I was passing by the Boulevard Restaurant, I was already praying to give thanks to God. I knew He was with me the entire race. I felt like my whole body was smiling and floating when I stepped on the Finish Line. Sir Jonel immediately shook my hand and said, “Congratulations!” It felt like the greatest congratulatory remark that I had received in a while. I was touched by the moment. It meant a successful P1 finish indeed!
If I hadn’t joined Pulag 100K
If I hadn’t joined P1, I wouldn’t have known how far I could go. If I hadn’t had the courage to do it this year, I wouldn’t have realized yet that I could do it. I wouldn’t have erased the self-doubt and I would have probably been left wondering “what if” until the next KOTM season comes. I wouldn’t have been humbled by the experience and I wouldn’t have been grateful to so many people who made this race possible and who supported me, believed in me, prayed for me, and checked on me while I was on the race. I wouldn’t have come back at home and at work refreshed, invigorated, and with greater humility and more passion than ever simply because I was allowed to do the things I love. If I hadn’t joined P1, I wouldn’t have written this little piece.