Sunday, 29 April 2012

the north face philippines (baguio-benguet)

The North Face 22k 2012 event (Baguio-Benguet Philippines) is a 13.8 km trail run along the eco trail and horse trail in Camp John Hay in Baguio. About 800 runners took part in four scheduled events completed on 22nd April: '100', '50', '22', and '11' km.
Click here for the 2014 TNF.

The event registration closed weeks before race day. I emailed, texted and rang people to be placed on a wait list but apparently the task of Sisyphus is easier to do than to register for this TNF event. Undeterred I fronted up very early to the venue hoping to be a chance runner in lieu of no-shows. The secretariat duly informed me that runners have all been encoded - whatever that means, and that there's no chance of official participation by me even if other runners did not show up. That did not seem like a 'no' to unofficial entry, so I joined the runners at the start line as a 'gatecrasher' or 'guest runner' (uninvited guest runner to be precise). Perhaps I misplaced my race kit. Not that it mattered. I may have come all the way from Chonglian just to run, but I did not consider myself a guest runner. I reside in this town too. Anyway no one took any notice of me. I was one amongst a few who were not wearing the black race tee-shirt for this first ever TNF in Baguio.
When we started at 0530h it was not day yet but it was getting there. The ultra 100km runners had started some 26 hours ago, and the 50km runners have also set off some time earlier.
The race was a bit crowded for the first 2km or so although runners gradually thinned out along the single file trails and rocky hills. 
The first (and last) 450m of the course started out on bitumen road, but soon we hit the harder stuff - the scenic eco trail just as dawn was breaking.
At the first turnaround point (about 2km) I was still in touch with the top 33 - I mean the top 33% :-). The point marshall handed out a black thin plastic wristband to runners as they passed and turned.

I noticed that many of the participants are fun runners and already many were walking even before the first turning point. However many of them are non-locals and perhaps are not used to running at altitude. I had my own battle plan and was taking it easy for the first two-thirds of this 22km race. The plan was to pace myself for the first 15km and then go hard in the last seven. A good plan at the time. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I did say that before. The morning was cool and I had in my pack three 500ml and two 350ml bottles of water and energy drinks, a total of 2.2litres. This equates to about 2.2kg of extra weight, and that's just the fluids. My pack did feel weighty, although I knew I will need every drop of fluid for this challenging hilly 22km trail run. Soon enough we came back to cross the bitumen road at about 3.4km and entered the 'horse trail'. Baguio is my hometown and I have been to Camp John Hay many times, but I have not set foot on this horse trail before.
Well it is rough as running trails go - a lot steeper and rougher than most if not all the trail runs I had raced in previously. However the nature of the course is familiar territory to me. Really it does not even come close to the good parts of the Mainit-Sacasacan trail. There were drink stations along the way but I went past all of them as I felt I had enough with me. I did not feel thirst but thought to rehydrate after about 4km. The course wound southerly along the steep hillsides heading in the direction of Loakan airport. At the 5.2km the trail turned to the north  to barangay Happy Hallow at about 8km.
In Happy Hallow, the course included a 250m section of a steep concreted road with the second turnaround point at about 8.25km. Here the runners got handed another thin plastic wristband - a white one this time. 'Can't go wrong now' I thought, it's all black and white, and clear as the brightening daylight.

What goes down must come up and that 250m is indeed steep even for runners let alone for vehicles, so of course I walked uphill.  At this point I was starting to feel it though it was only a little over one-third distance. I sipped some water as I laboured and climbed. At a tented and tended checkpoint, I attended to be tested, er checked. Or at least I attempted. I looked for my number and I searched for my bib, then remembered I left it, or did not get one, or my number's up, whatever. Think Martin, instead of huffin' and puffin', blow down their tent or somethin'. Anyway I told the marshalls that my bib fell off and could not remember my number. I think they put me down as "Nono." We exited the steeply ascending concrete road, and left the tent to go - wait for it - right up a cliff!

The gradient here am sure is greater than 200%. Yes I learned in school that gradient or slope is 'rise over run' but this is rise overkill! Cometh the hill cometh the climber, so with the rise overfill, I climbed over the hill, to discover that I'm not yet over the hill. Yep still a ways to go. And it's all uphill. But I can still do it - on this hill trail. Up and down like jack 'n jill and their pail. The young turks was a-threatenin', an' I heard a cock-a-doodle-doin', but I decelerated, taking care not to fall and knock the crown. I kept goin'. I quit dawdlin'an' started crawlin'. Well you got to crawl before you can walk, let alone run up a hill.
Then having learned to run, I fought fire with fire and sprinted up about 100 dm (yes Des that's deci) to show the young bucks how it's done.
The course flattened (flatly sloping) again eventually, and once more I found my rhythm, though not the rhyme, nor the reason. 

By the 12km I had finished up the second 350ml bottle, and felt good that I had 1.5litres for the final 10km of the race. Now if only I had a horse.
We again hit the bitumen junction at 13.4km. I was surprised to be directed towards the start line. A man and a young boy had overtaken me on the bitumen stretch, but I was thinking I'd get them back later. We came shortly to the start/finish line. I looked to the marshalls for directions when I saw someone holding up a '22' sign. I crossed the finish arch, and was wondering why I was being stopped. Perhaps my number's really up and I was being DQd. But I was saying 'I lost my bib', and asking 'which way for the '22'?
The sun is now up and shining doubly bright, and so it dawned on dull me that this was it. The '22' km event is all of 13.8 kilometres! Well according to mr garmin anyway. Someone else had 13.9km on his gps watch, so we can't be more than 0.9km out, let alone 9km. My time confirmed this. I did a sub-2hour for this event and I know I could not run that fast for a 22km trail run - not even in my wildest dreams. I also had 1.5litres of fluid on my back getting warm and asking to be consumed. The finish line marshall listed me as finisher 132 "Nobib". I don't know what happened to "Nono", but now I know what cunning Odysseus was on about when he was "Nobody".

I walked as if in a daze. Feeling slightly down, I reached for the bottle. The drinking problem I had one twilight run ago, is back and rearing its ugly hydra's head - three heads in fact, in my hydro pack. I hit them bottles hard. Three 500ml bottles in a row. Hard (I said that) undiluted unchilled water and sports drink, not on the rocks in a glass, but on the blocks on the grass. Ahhh. I felt like a load was lifted off my back, though truly a weight was. Maybe it was the jewels in the crown, the rocks in my head.
Other runners came a-finishing and soon the Toms (and Dicks and Fannys) started doubting themselves and how 'fast' they ran a technically rough and hilly trail run. This was supposed to be longer than a half-marathon, but they've all done amazing PBs! Take it son (or daughter), you won't ever run this fast again for a 22km.
'Maybe the "22" is just a description' I opined philosophically. One did not need Joseph Heller to write the catch. Someone caught my words and said 'they could have informed us'. Indeed. I felt like I earned something and the secretariat agreed and issued a certificate to a loser - a bib loser.

Still I felt short-changed. Rightly so. I checked my change, er changed my gear, er checked my gear - and jogged home. Well I tried but with a bloated tummy, I only did another 4km around the john hay grounds in the hot sun, but felt much better after. I had long changed from feeling short-changed by the time I left. By now, I had my eyes set on my next trails challenge- the north face of the Chonglian wilderness. I'll be running (hiking) in the footsteps of those original trailrunners Emilio and Gregorio, when they were running the revolutionary government, on the run. They were revolting, and I'm the same. Not with my smelly clothes and shoes, but with non-violent running (slow running). I'm a one-man running revolution ;-).
Yes the mountains beckon and spur me on saying 'Go Polichay. Run for your life.'
Now if only I can get hold of one of those race tee-shirts (black or red or both), I would proudly wear it wherever I run. Yes even in my ancestors' domain, in a historical place called Bandilaan in the wild Cordillera Mountains. (Mainit history 101. Bandilaan is the name given to Mt Mengmeng by the people of Chonglian. Aguinaldo planted the Philippine flag on this mountain in defiance of the colonial American. Some 500 of the might of the American army chased Aguinaldo and his ragtag band of 60 men all around the Cordillera. Del Pilar was lost at the battle of Tirad pass, described as 'an exercise in futility' by Renato Constantino. Ultimately Aguinaldo, who was 'on the run to nowhere' (ibid) was captured with the help of traitors.)
Photos below by cameraman Arfour Wyell. Please provide captions. I will post your comments.

Map of the north face '22k' 13.8km route.