If there is something I like to do that involves getting wet, wild, and dirty without looking or sounding like a pervert, it’s trail running. It is more than just hiking at a faster pace, it’s a thrill ride, an adventure. Imagine yourself running alone at 3 am, just trees and grass all around you, your feet stomping the soft and muddy ground, that eerie silence, and the cool wind blowing your face as you run through the darkness with nothing but your headlamp to guide you. That’s the kind of thrill you don’t get from road running. This is why Valley Trail Challenge is one of my highly anticipated running events every year.
This is my 2nd time in joining VTC, and this year’s event should’ve been my first trail ultramarathon, but unfortunately due to limited budget (August is my hiatus in the running scene due to financial reasons) plus the registration fee increase (last year, the 50k category fee was 1,500 php, this year it’s 2,000 php), and the registration deadline (August 12 was the last day of registration, payday was on the 15th), I decided to join the 25k category instead. It’s better that than nothing, and although last year’s mid-distance category was 30k (+2 extra kilometers), I’m sure the total distance will be more than that. Initially, I feel a bit disappointed for not being able to join the 50k category, but come to think of it, aside from the insufficient funds, I also don’t have trail shoes and a running vest, so thinking more about those things made me feel okay and just accept it. There’s always a next year.
Excited to run my 2nd full trail run, I went to Antel Platinum Tower, home of Frontrunner Magazine, to pick up my race kit on the 2nd day of distribution. I got the kit, but the bib number was missing. I asked the personnel in charge, and the guard told me (after phoning it) that the bib numbers will be distributed on the day of the event.
Though I was on leave the day before the event, I wasn’t able to get a complete sleep, but I had a good rest. I left home before 1 am because the assembly time was 2 am and the gun start at 3.
After I got my bib, the race director, sir Jonel Mendoza, announced that the gun start for our category is 4 am, not 3 am as indicated on the website and posters. A bit bummed because I came early and there’s more than a couple of hours to spare. I tried to sleep in the car, but I can’t because of the excitement. It rained a bit and after that, I decided to just walk around East Nature Avenue to kill time and warm me up.
It started to rain again, so I went to the starting area 30 minutes before gun start. The race director made the announcements regarding the race course, rules, and he frequently insist that there are no uphills (or UpHells) and downhills (DownHells) on the course. With a comedic tone, he kept on reminding us not to talk (or whine) about it on facebook. There are no uphills. Period. (Excluding the uphill on the Nuvali Boulevard Rotunda, I recall from last year’s run that there are some minor uphills on the trails).
He also told us that they’re feeling a bit generous and added a few kilometers of distance, free of charge and they extended the cutoff time to 7 hours so everybody has a chance to make it. I expected that because the organizer always do this so the runners can enjoy the view along the New Zealand trail.
The race started smoothly, the rain stopped momentarily, and it was cold. The trail was very muddy and slippery, but the trail markers are very visible this time (last year, we got lost within the 1st kilometer). The first 4 kilometers of the route is the same as last year, with some slightly different and longer path on the trail section. The first aid station was located near the Xavier trail head (last year’s aid station was closer to the security check point). Banana cakes, Kalamay (it looked like kalamay to me), lemonade, water, and bananas were served (last year’s event had more fruits and sweets). I fueled up before heading to the Xavier trail. I started to play music as a distraction to the dead silence and to boost my run. From kilometer 5 to 8, I was on pace with 3 other runners. We were in the middle of the pack as the leading runners are kilometers ahead and the slower ones were kilometers behind of us. I was left behind some time after kilometer 8 when I slowed down and started taking photos.
At 5:20 am, it was still dark, the sign of another rain coming. After passing the Camp N and the Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary trails, the route was slightly different from last year, there’s a long stretch of uphill. Surprise, surprise.
I asked the nice guard if I’m near the turning point, he couldn’t speak at first and just smiled, giving me the signal that it’s still far. I walked the long uphill stretch to regain my stamina.
The next part of the route going to the New Zealand trail was familiar to me. At that time, I was running alone, and occasionally crossed paths with the leading runners going back to the finish line.
While walking in th New Zealand trail, I had a conversation with another runner who was wearing a Vibram Treksport. I asked her if she was having blisters by using it. She said no and she’s used to running with Vibrams. I planned to use my Treksport for this route, but I still get blisters and have not fully adapt to it for running.
It rained again while I was hiking the New Zealand trail. It was cool and all, but my smartphone is not water resistant. This is a different experience from last year’s event which presented us with a nice view of the sunrise and enjoyed the beautiful, warm morning. This year, it’s a cool and cloudy morning, but it’s still good if you like running in the rain.
When I finally reached the 2nd aid station and turning point, I was already exhausted. I think my pace is slower compared to last year’s run. While resting and re-hydrating, it rained again, heavy rain this time, and that was my cue to go.
Going back was easier, it’s day time and you can see everything. But, too much mud on the ground offers a new challenge for the trail runners. There were numerous times when I almost slip and almost tripped by grass.
Exiting the Camp N trail and approaching the Xavier trail seems near, yet so far. Just 8 kilometers to go said the cheering marshals. By this time, I do the fartlek style of walking and jogging. Can’t run anymore, too tired.
Passed by some of the 16k runners at the Xavier trails. When I reached aid station 1, it was restocked with more food including Cloud 9 chocolates and Gatorade. I reloaded hard before moving again. I would rather be on the go with a full stomach than feel hungry and weak. I also don’t have the intention to finish fast, I prefer a slow pace whilst enjoying the trails. Walking up the rotunda, I’m very tired and feel some pain, but I’m smiling because I feel good despite the exhaustion. A kid even gave me a high five while walking. The only time I had a boost was when I run downhill exiting the rotunda and going back to the last 2 kilometers of trails near Abrio.
In the last kilometer, I passed by an old man and his companion. Found out after the race that he’s 74 years old and finished a rainy and muddy trail run. Two thumbs up for his effort and awesome achievement. This part of the trail is also the muddiest, I don’t mind the mud, I just feel bad about my shoes. It’s being tested beyond its limit and I only have low mileage on it (less than 200 km).
Finally, we’re back on the road again, the last 400 meters to the finish line. I continued the walk-jog routine and not in a rush to finish. I still have gas in me to run the last hundred meters, but I just decided to take it easy and walk with a final jog to the finish line.
The official results placed me at rank 25 out of 84 runners in the 25k category, with an official time of 04:23:03. View the official results here: Valley Trail Challenge VI Official Results
I had another great time. It was almost the same race and route as last year, but the rain and the muddy tracks offered a different experience. And it’s a trail run, I prefer trail running than road running because I have more fun and feel more relaxed running the trails. Congratulations to Frontrunner for hosting another excellent event. Looking forward to finally running 50k next year.
Special Thanks to Active Pinas, the official photographer, for the awesome photos. You can check out and ‘like’ their facebook page here: Active Pinas on Facebook and Pinoy Trails, for some of the Finish line photos, check and like their page here: Pinoy Trails on Facebook