Ultramarathons can be intimidating to most runners especially knowing that unlike marathons in the city, the roads are not closed for the freedom and safety of the runners. There are parts of the route that don’t have street lights, forcing you to run in total darkness. Road encounters with dogs and drunk idiots can be annoying and dangerous. And aid stations are 10 kilometers (or more) apart from each other. Yes, ultramarathons have a lot of risks, but I don’t care about those, ultramarathon is an adventure. But, why have I only joined 3 ultras so far? well, it’s mostly about limited resources because the registration fee is pricey and add to that extra expenses for travel and preparation. Another thing is bad experience with my past 2 ultramarathon events, I’m starting to feel that I’m just cursed or unlucky when it comes to ultramarathons. But, they say 3rd time’s a charm and I’ve heard positive things about Hero 2 Hero 50k Ultramarathon (aka as Rizal Day Ultramarathon and Rizal 2 Rizal Ultramarathon), so I joined the event. So, is it as good as they say it is? is my ultramarathon curse broken? read on to find out.
I wasn’t able to secure a leave the day before the event and I tried my best to get some sleep after work. Unfortunately, I woke up at around 12:30 pm with only 3+ hours of sleep, and I couldn’t sleep any more because of the excitement. When I arrived at the event site, Rizal Park Calamba, I was surprised by the big crowd (it’s a big crowd compared to the other ultra events I joined) and there is an actual starting line (because the previous ultra event I joined, which also started here, doesn’t even have a proper one). The event started properly with the usual prayer, national anthem, briefing, and a raffle (which was also absent from the previous ultramarathons). We were also informed that the actual distance has an additional 3 kilometers making the total distance 53 kilometers and that there are long uphills in Nagcarlan.
The race started nicely, though it did cause some traffic at the Halang intersection due to volume of runners crossing, it was handled by the marshals (with police assistance) properly. I was running at a very efficient rate of 6+ minutes per kilometer to conserve my stamina. Surprisingly, the modest pace was able to push me running non-stop for 10 kilometers at 1 hour and 2 minutes (slower than my usual, but as planned for this race), stopping only at the sight of the first aid station (near Olivarez Mall in Los Banos) to refill my water bottle and grab a banana.
Continuing all the way to Bay (aka Bae), this is where I started doing my run-walk method. There is another water station and marshals near a splitting V-road to direct us to the main road and avoid entering Jose Rizal Ave road. The problem in this part of the route is that it’s a long dark road and I don’t know why there are no street lights here considering that it is part of the main road. It was only at that time that I noticed my head lamp’s battery is low, the light is dim so I had to turn it off for a long time to conserve energy. This is why I had to stick close to some of the runners who have bright lights. There was an encounter with a drunk guy (he was harmless) and numerous times that I slowed down and had to catch up with my guiding light. I was pacing behind a girl with a tattoo on her back. She’s a strong runner, and was 30-50 meters ahead of me as we make our way to Victoria, Laguna. There was a right turn and an aid station there. I still saw her as I drink and refill my water bottles, but once I started moving, I never saw her again.
After a brief encounter with some angry dogs (they’re annoying when they bark and follow you), the road in Victoria going to a turn to Nagcarlan is long, but there are more street lights here. There are a lot of teens still outside at the time (past midnight), there was a group of youngsters walking and one of them was forcing a high five and I gave him one at the cost of his hand getting wet with sweat. There are only 4 people ahead of me at the time and two far behind. I can see the beautiful silhouette a mountain in the distance, it’s like a big wall ahead of us, and I think it’s Mt Banahao. Then we made a turn to Calauan-Nagcarlan road and if my google maps research is right, we are entering baranggay Wakat. A spectator ask me where we’re going? I said Santa Cruz and he said that it’s too far, we are entering Nagcarlan. I said we are going this way to cover 50 kilometers. I guess he was surprised that we’re taking a long and hard route. By the time I hit the half-marathon distance or 21 kilometers, my GPS watch shows 2 hours and 15 minutes. That’s slower than the 2 hours 12 minutes 21k time from my LSD training in Nuvali the week before the event, but it still within the favorable condition. You see, I plan to finish this race with a Sub-6 PR, I chose this event because I heard that it is beginner friendly and ideal for a PRs. When it was announced earlier that there is a long uphill part of the route, it got me a bit worried, but I thought to myself that if those uphills are similar to Nuvali’s then I think I can make it.
The road in this route is pitch dark, no major uphills yet, and I can only see a few runners ahead of me to pace with. The run-walk method works just fine, I ate some fun size Snickers chocolate bars along the way to keep hunger at bay (hey, that rhymes). Then we made it to the 28th kilometer where an aid station is located. This is where the difficulty goes from medium to brutal. By kilometer 29, the road goes up, this is where the steep uphills start and because I have never been to Nagcarlan, it took me by surprise. This is where the long walk begins and I caught up with a runner, (can’t remember his name, I think it’s Alex), and had a conversation with him as we brisk walk our way up. By the time we reached kilometer 30, the time on my watch is 3 hours and 30 minutes. Though the road is in total darkness, the full moon helps in providing some illumination along the way and I saw 2 candles on the road, it didn’t help much, but it’s better than nothing. I am thankful when the support vehicles pass by and help light up the way. The night is silent, but beautiful, I can see a surrounding mountain and again, I’m not sure if it’s Mount Banahao or Mt San Cristobal I’m looking at.
Alex (again, not sure if that’s his real name, but I’ll call him that) went ahead and told me that I’ll catch up anyway, as I take the photo above. A runner passed by, but when I saw another runner running uphill, I had to take photos quickly and ran fast because I’m not sure if that was a runner or a mugger rushing to take my smartphone (sorry, it was very dark and I wasn’t so sure if I’m going to encounter friendly or hostile, so I had to go). It was a downhill and I overtook the runner who ran past me. It was at this point that I started to feel pain on my forefoot area and I also think a blister is forming on my left foot. When I caught up with Alex, he was conversing with another runner, a veteran. Now, there’s three of us walking the uphills, jogging the occasional short downhills, and trading stories. There are times when other runners caught up with us and join the conversation.
The flat roads finally came when we reached the Santa Cruz-Calumpang Road, but even then, we still feel a bit exhausted and took our time at the aid station where they have some food including Whammos. It was 5 hours and 21 minutes when we finally reached the 42nd kilometer, the marathon distance. It’s not a bad time, but my plans to finish Sub-6 is gone. It took us 1 hour and 51 minutes to cover 12 kilometers and that’s mostly brisk walking. A testament of the uphills’ difficulty. We started short bursts of jogging and walking, there are some parts of the road where we had to stop and walk because it is only one lane and the other lane is under construction. The rough roads destroyed our momentum, nevertheless, we still gave it a push. The other runner who was with as, the old man, was left behind. A new runner, Michael, joined me and Alex. We reached an aid station that offers ice cream. Best Station Ever. The tasty ice cream kinda slowed us down a bit. No fun eating ice cream while jogging, right? A lady runner who was previously pacing with Michael caught up with us and she told us that there’s only 7 kilometers left. We started jogging continuously, had a short walk break when we passed by a slightly flooded road, and then started jogging again. It’s hard to jog long especially when I started to feel a blister developing on my foot. I can feel the sting and had to short walk breaks ad get left behind. Alex and Michael are ahead of me, 2 lady runners and more overtook me. After taking a piss, I made some adjustments and managed to catch up with the others. I overtook the lady runners, and caught up with Michael and Alex. Some time later, Alex was left behind, I was slowing down again, but still right behind Michael. My GPS watch stopped at 42 kilometers because of low battery, but my Nike Run Club app was still recording and a quick glimpse showed me that we finally reached the 50th kilometer at 6 hours and 30 minutes. But, it wasn’t the finish line, it was the last aid station. There’s 3 kilometers more to cover and the marshal at the aid station confirmed it. He also told us that there are cheaters who passed by. One of them rode a support car and someone rode a jeepney. Shame on those people. What’s the point of joining an ultramarathon if you’re not prepared for it and give everything you got. It’s not just about trophies, finisher shirts, and medals, it’s about testing your limits.
The last 3 kilometers may sound easy, but after running a very long distance, running it will feel like running forever. Michael and I are just alternating jogging and walking again. He was told me to go ahead, but I don’t feel like it and too risky as I started feeling a lot of pain on my feet. We saw the runner ahead of us take a right turn. Finally, Laguna Sports Complex, the finish line. We saw a photographer and I told Michael that I’ll back off a bit so we can have good solo photos.
We entered the main gate and passed by the runner ahead of us, but the finish line is still nowhere in sight. It’s like another 600-800 meters of distance to cover. But, it’s okay, there’s another photographer up ahead…
After having our photos taken, Michael told me to just go ahead. He doesn’t seem to want one final sprint to the finish line, but he looks very satisfied. It see 7 hours and 2 minutes at the timer as I approach the finish line. The record keeper told us that I’m at Rank 40 and Michael at 41. It felt like a heroic effort finishing the race.
So, how’s my 3rd ultramarathon experience? it’s the best so far (considering I only participated in 3 events) and it’s a very good experience. I’m bewitched by the Nagcarlan uphill part of the route because of the soothing sensation of the cool weather, the relaxed feeling of walking under the full moon, and seeing the beautiful silhouette of the surrounding mountain. It was mesmerizing at night, imagine what it might feel like at daytime. Would I run in an ultramarathon event again? oh hell yeah, I just have to do research first and pick the good ones. And the Runmania-organized events are already on top of my consideration list.