Posted in 30km, adventure, Trail run, trail running, Valley Trail Challenge

Going beyond the road and the 21k distance…. Valley Trail Challenge 5

Last year, Soleus announced its first fully sponsored running event called Soleus Valley Trail Challenge with the tag line “It’s about time” (not so surprising with the word play there). I wanted to join the 15 km category and make it my first trail and long distance run. Unfortunately, the slots filled up quickly and I know that I’m not ready for 30 km yet.

A year later, after participating in many long distance runs including 4 half-marathons and obstacle runs that include trail segments, I know I’m ready to go beyond the 21 kilometer distance and off the road to run the trails. I was very excited to join this event and I trained very hard (which included trail running in Filinvest City every Wednesday morning after my shift, using the stairs at the office instead of the elevator, and exercises like planks and burpees for conditioning) to make sure that I finish this within the cut-off time of 6 hours.

The event happened on 28th of June in my favorite running grounds, Nuvali. I can hardly contain the excitement and I had a hard time trying to sleep, so, I left home around 1 am and arrived at the event site more than an hour before the gun start.

Walking to the activity area on East Nature Avenue at 2:17 am. I parked in EVOLiving's parking area because I wanted to be near the area's air-conditioned comfort rooms to change clothes after the race.
Walking to the activity area on East Nature Avenue at 2:17 am. I parked in EVOLiving’s parking area because I wanted to be near the area’s air-conditioned comfort rooms to change clothes after the race.

Nothing much to do before the 3 am gun start. I don’t usually do warm-ups or stretches, so, I just sit back, trying to keep calm, and wait for the briefing before the race.

Waiting for the gun start is torturous when you're very eager to run.
Waiting for the gun start is torturous when you’re very eager to run.
Race briefing at the activity area.  Photo Credit: Rai Cabanig
Race briefing at the activity area.
Photo Credit: Rai Cabanig
Who are running their first trail run? Photo credit: Rai Cabanig
Who are running their first trail run?
Photo credit: Rai Cabanig
I'm very serious in running my first trail run. Photo credit: Rai Cabanig
I’m very serious in running my first trail run.
Photo credit: Rai Cabanig
Serious look, hidden excitement. Photo credit: Rai Cabanig
Serious look, hidden excitement.
Photo credit: Rai Cabanig

Finally, after a very entertaining briefing by the race organizer, it’s time to hit the the road (or rather a small portion of it) and into the trails. For this run, I used Nike+ Running app on my XPERIA Active to measure my time and distance and Google My Tracks on Galaxy S4 for mapping.

The starting line. I imagined my itchy feet doing a burnout and my lungs firing on all cylinders. That's how excited I was.
The starting line. I imagined my itchy feet doing a burnout and my lungs firing on all cylinders. That’s how excited I was.

The race started on road for a few hundred meters and then passing by Abrio before hitting the trails. After more than a kilometer of running on the trails, a lot of us runners, the leads and the middle pack made a mistake of passing through the wrong way. It was when we reached the point of two trails, one that goes straight and the other going left. We are suppose to turn left instead of going straight ahead and unfortunately, we already ran hundreds of meters before the lead runners realized the mistake and turned back. I guess most of us didn’t notice the route markers and some were just following the leading runners and it cost us valuable running time.

This is what we missed on the trail. This indicates 'wrong way' as posted on the frontRUNNER Valley Trail Challenge FB page. I guess most of us didn't notice it because of the dark or the lack of observation and it cost us time.
This is what we missed on the trail. This indicates ‘wrong way’ as posted on the frontRUNNER Valley Trail Challenge FB page. I guess most of us didn’t notice it because of the dark or the lack of observation and it cost us time. (Photo from Valley Trail Challenge FB page)

The first 2 kilometers of the trail was very familiar to me because it was part of the route of Urbanathlon 2014. The first aid station was located after the Nuvali roundabout and before the 3rd guardhouse of Nuvali main road. It was stock full of refreshments like Gatorade and some snacks, but I didn’t stay long, I’m still fired up and just want to go.

Running through the 2nd trail was a bit harder, it was slippery and the ground is uneven, I almost slipped twice. The darkness does highlight some nice view of lights from the distance and the smell of wet grass was refreshing. At some point between the trails near Xavier School and Treveia, I was running alone. The tall trees, grass, and the darkness would’ve scared me if I did this on my teenager years, but at this age, it was more of a relaxing run. It’s not like the horror flicks where getting lost in total darkness and silence in the woods will make you sh!t yourself so fast you wouldn’t have time to look for a spot and dig to poop. And of course, in reality, Jason Vorhees, Yuan-tis, trolls, tikbalangs, kapres, or whatever woodland creeps you can think of do not exist (I believe they don’t), so, running the Nuvali trails at night with just your headlamp as guide is very safe. My only worries was getting lost and just to be sure that I don’t, I slow down to check if there still lights from headlamps behind me and also look on the sides to see the route markers. I also started my S4’s music player to kill the silence and boredom of running alone, and what better way to begin with the song ‘Highway to Hell’ by AC/DC (sounds just right at the time).

I caught up and pass-by (and vice versa) with other runners. I almost headed the wrong way (I think it was the two-way route with the right turn going to the bird sanctuary), luckily, 2 runners hollered at me and pointed the right direction. It was at this point of the route that the trails become more difficult and there were several instances that I almost slip and trip (by a plant root or a vine) and there was a part of the trail that had stairs (and that was very challenging). There was also this wide part of the trail that seemed like a huge muddy road, but thankfully, there was a marshal on a scooter who guided us with the headlights to help us get around the mud. At that point, I was alternating between quick dashes and walking, I was exhausted and my feet started to hurt, but it’s good that I don’t feel like my calves are about to suffer from cramps again.

Then, finally, I reached the famous part of the trail, the so-called ‘New Zealand’ of Nuvali and what a sight it was.

Finally! A sight to behold and Just in time for the sun to come out (and the route is turn right not straight towards that tree over there).
Finally! A sight to behold and just in time for the sun to come out (and the route is turn right not straight towards that tree over there).
Sunrise in Nuvali. Looks like a sunrise scene from a movie shot in Africa or the Lion King to me.
Sunrise in Nuvali. Looks like a sunrise scene from a movie shot in Africa or the Lion King to me.
Mount Makiling on the horizon.
Mount Makiling on the horizon.

It was truly a breath-taking sight, feels like all the exhaustion and pain went away as I walk my way around the grassy plains. It kinda looks like the trail of Mt. Gulugod-Baboy with less elevation and strangely enough, I haven’t seen any cows, which is what the New Zealand trail is also famous for (it is worth noting that the grass was taller this time compared to the photos I’ve seen from the web).

En route to the 15k U-Turn, I passed by some security check points along the trail and then I finally reached the 2nd aid station located on a wide muddy road that seemed like it was currently under going construction. I took my time at this station, hydrating and filling my bottles with Gatorade before moving on to the 15 km U-turn which is only a kilometer and a half away. I’m tired, but still have enough energy to smile and greet as many runners as I can a ‘good morning’ as they pass by.

Then, finally I reached the U-turn and was greeted by the 2 nice and cheerful marshals.

At the 15 km U-Turn. Exhausted, but still smiling. Photo credit to the marshal of the U-turn.
At the 15 km U-Turn. Exhausted, but still smiling. Photo credit to the marshal of the U-turn.

It was hard to leave the New Zealand trail of Nuvali, it was the most beautiful part of the route, but there is a cut-off time, so, I can’t really stay long. But, I will admit that I’m guilty of stopping several times to take photos of the surroundings for my blog.

A view of Tagaytay and Mount Sungay, better known as People's Park in the Sky.
A view of Tagaytay and Mount Sungay, better known as People’s Park in the Sky.
On my way back and passing through the 2nd aid station again.
On my way back and passing through the 2nd aid station again.
Some of the photos I've seen on the web had cows on this area. Haven't seen any and the grass are taller at this time.
Some of the photos I’ve seen on the web had cows on this area. Haven’t seen any and the grass are taller at this time.
This is what the route markers look like. Red, yellow, and green tapes indicate you're on the right path. Caution tapes warn runners of slippery and risky parts of the route.
This is what the route markers look like. Red, yellow, and green tapes indicate you’re on the right path. Caution tapes warn runners of slippery and risky parts of the route.
Taller grass on the trails, but you can still see some runners from a distance.
Tall grass on the trails, but you can still see some runners from a distance.
It looks like a trail from Mt. Gulugod-Baboy, but the grass is greener (and taller) on this side.
It looks like a trail from Mt. Gulugod-Baboy, but the grass is greener (and taller) on this side.
Yes, I'm guilty of making frequents stops to take photos.....
Yes, I’m guilty of making frequents stops to take photos…..
But, can you blame me if the scenery looks this good?
But, can you blame me if the scenery looks this good?

Going back to the previous trails, I get to see what it looks like at daytime, to see some of the things that I had a hard time noticing because of the dark. I saw some of the muddy potholes and the vines (or roots) that almost tripped me. It’s a good thing that I was able to run without any accidents.

Back to my least favorite part of the trails.
Back to my least favorite part of the trails.
Ugggh... the wide, muddy road again. At least it's better than a road filled with cow poop.
Ugggh… the wide, muddy road again. At least it’s better than a road filled with cow poop.
The stairs. One of the toughest obstacles of the route.
The stairs. One of the toughest obstacles of the route.
A small bridge along the trail.
A small bridge along the trail.

Going back was harder because I feel like I’ve already drained my tank and that my body feels like it’s about to overheat (because it was very hot even if it was only around 6 am in the morning). I walked more distances than I could run and started to feel pain on my thighs and feet again. Small rocks and dirt got inside my shoes which was very irritating and I can feel some slight pain on the hardened blisters of my right foot (which was already a week old blood blister).

The heat of the trail. At least some parts of the road were already dry.
The heat of the trail. At least some parts of the road were already dry.
Some muddy potholes that can cause serious injuries. These are hard to see at night even with a headlamp.
Some muddy potholes that can cause serious injuries. These are hard to see at night even with a headlamp.
Hours ago, during the night, this was one of the darkest the part of the route and the point when I was running alone...
Hours ago, during the night, this was one of the darkest the part of the route and the point when I was running alone…
At night, this part was kinda spooky with the darkness, the silence, and the tall trees. Good thing I  have music to eliminate that silence and boredom of running alone.
At night, this part was kinda spooky with the darkness, the silence, and the tall trees. Just imagine something popping out of the bushes.

It feels like hiking mode is taking forever just to pass a kilometer. I wanted to run, but I’m trying to recover. I did some quick sprints and alternate with walking from each route marker to the next, but it still feels slow and the heat is just too much.

After awhile, and also passing by some of the 15k runners, we finally reached the 1st aid station. I was very thirsty and hungry, so this time around, I took a break to eat and re-hydrate. I didn’t take too much time off though, still got to push to finish at least a sub-5 hour finish.

At the time, with all the heat and exhaustion finally getting into me, I was wondering and asking myself questions like ‘what the hell did I just get into?’ ‘should I do this again?’ while still walking a slow pace. Still have to push through, I’m no quitter when it comes to challenges like this.

For some reason, I like this part of the trail. It's like looking at urban decay with flora swallowing man-made  structures.
For some reason, I like this part of the trail. It’s like looking at urban decay with flora swallowing man-made structures.
The small river. One of the most slippery part of the trail because of the uphill part that you have to pass through.
The small river. One of the most slippery part of the trail because of the uphill part that you have to pass through.

The last 2 kilometers of the race was the most grueling experience. I know the finish line is so near and yet it feels so far because I can’t run anymore and my body tells me to just walk it and I’ll get there slowly, but surely. And I did, I brisk walked the last few hundreds of meters and in the last few meters from the finish line, I jogged.

I made it. Finished it. Conquered my first 30 kilometer trail run. I was very tired, but I feel great.  According to Nike+ Running app, I ran a total of 32.19 km in 04:54:09 and Google My Tracks recorded 32.12 km with 04:54:32 moving time. And the official result from frontrunner’s website is 04:50:52, rank 34 out of 137 runners in the 30k category. Not bad for a 1st time trail runner, I survived, and I’m very satisfied with the result.

The finish line.  Official time: 04:50:52. Not bad for a first time trail runner and my first time going beyond the 21 km distance. Official results here: http://frontrunnermagph.com/2015/07/01/official-results-valley-trail-challenge-5-and-race-directors-report/
The finish line.
Official time: 04:50:52. Not bad for a first time trail runner and my first time going beyond the 21 km distance. Official results here: VTC 5 Results
Resting at the activity area.
Resting at the activity area.
Still resting... A moment of reflection after finishing my first 30km trail run.
Still resting… A moment of reflection after finishing my first 30km trail run.

I always believed that toughness is truly tested outdoors, under harsh environments and not in the air-conditioned, safe confines of the gym. My first trail run verified my belief and it was an awesome experience, one of the best runs I’ve ever had so far. Running and getting connected and close to nature, just you and your feet on the ground (of different terrains), it’s so natural. After crossing the finish line and rested a bit, all the thoughts I had some time ago during the race about questioning my purpose of joining such a difficult race has faded. All the pain in my body was temporarily forgotten as the feeling of glory overwhelms it. I asked myself before, should I do this again? the answer now is ‘hell yes!’ and I’d do it again as soon I have fully recovered. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait for another year and until then, I’ll just have to keep on training and keep myself busy with other running events to stay fit as I plan to join next year’s 50k category and make it my 1st ultramarathon.

Three running events from the previous months failed my expectations or did not deliver the kind of satisfaction I was looking for. Valley Trail Challenge 2015 has reminded why I love running. I like to test myself, to be put under pressure to see how far I can go, how long I can last, and how tough I can be. VTC 2015 has done just that and the experience will always be a memorable one. See you again next year.

One last look at the finish line before going home. Tired, but happy.
One last look at the finish line before going home. Tired, but happy.
As part of my preparation for recovery, I brought my own ice cold refreshments and food. Kept it inside the car, so I can replenish myself before the drive home.
As part of my preparation for recovery, I brought my own ice cold refreshments and food. Kept it inside the car, so I can replenish myself before the drive home.
The goodie bag from the event has enough food and drinks for recovery.
The goodie bag from the event has enough food and drinks for recovery.
A cute medal. As a token from first 30k trail run, this is now one of my most significant medals (along with my 3 survivor dog tags from Outbreak Missions, Guerilla Race Sprint and Warrior medals, Urbanathlon medal, PinoyFitness Sub1 10k medal, and the 7-11 Run 1500 21k medal.
A cute medal. As a token from first 30k trail run, this is now one of my most significant medals (along with my 3 survivor dog tags from Outbreak Missions, Guerilla Race Sprint and Warrior medals, Urbanathlon medal, PinoyFitness Sub1 10k medal, and the 7-11 Run 1500 21k medal.
I don't have a formal trail run shoe (I have a Vibram Treksport that I use for mountain hiking, but it gives me blisters when used for running), so I had to use my Saucony Kinvara 3. I did the job well, but some parts of the outsole got damaged. Gonna need a real trail shoe for my next trail run.
I don’t have a formal trail run shoes (I have a Vibram Treksport that I use for mountain hiking, but it gives me blisters when used for running), so I had to use my Saucony Kinvara 3. I did the job well, but some parts of the outsole got damaged. Gonna need a real trail shoe for my next trail run.

NOTES:

– An error in the registration from Garmin Glorietta 5 put me on the 15k list instead of the 30k. Thankfully, it was corrected and I got my race kit without hassle.

– Like Men’s Health UrbanAthlon, the event also have some of the nicest and cheerful marshals I’ve encountered. Kudos to the organizer for having a good staff. And great job on the aid stations, they’re chock full or food and refreshments.

– First time in a long distance race that I didn’t suffer from cramps. I guess burpees, planks and taking the stairs at the office contributed to the conditioning. I did have chafing on my inner thighs and my feet hurts (I even think my hardened blood blister on my right foot expanded).

– The 30k distance also served as the next step and a test to see if I’m fit to run a marathon (42km distance). In my conclusion, yes, I’m fit and ready. But, I won’t just join any marathon, it has to be something special, something good and the only thing that popped in my mind was Condura Skyway Marathon 2016.

– Trail running is very challenging indeed. Sure, mountain hiking can be a challenge, but since most of the time you just walk, it doesn’t really push a runner’s stamina to the limit. And in road running, I can finish a half-marathon in 2 hours and 13 minutes, but on this race, it took me 3 hours and 9 minutes to reach 21k.

– GPS signal in the Nuvali trails is always good. Google My Tracks and Nike+ Running both produce accurate tracking methods. The photos below are from My Tracks in satellite mapping view in comparison with frontrunner’s official race map.

The race route via Google My Tracks (in satellite view).
The race route via Google My Tracks (in satellite view).
Frontrunner's official race map.
Frontrunner’s official race map.
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