Posted in 21.0975 kilometers, 21k, adventure, fun run, half-marathon, running, running event, Trail run, trail running, Uphill Run

As fun as staring at the sky on a starless night… (STAR Trail Challenge 2018)

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Okay, what the…. Photo by Active Pinas.

Since most trail running events are done in the province of Rizal these days, I wasn’t able to join as much as I want to. The thought of travelling far just to join a major trail run did cross my mind, but it would cost me a lot and my unfamiliarity with the location (especially travelling alone) discouraged me to proceed with my plans. Then the opportunity came when I was able to convince my ultra buddies to join. Actually, the event that we joined was an easy sell because for 1,350 Php (1,650 for late registrants), you’re gonna get a trucker cap, a unique cup medal, and a Hoka-branded windbreaker jacket. The jacket alone is the selling factor of this run. Originally, the Sungay Ultra Trio, me, Paul, and John plus Wilfredo and our new running buddy Grace planned to join. Grace was already registered to the 12k category but she upgraded to 21k to join us. Paul and I registered early, John registered late, and Wilfredo wasn’t able to register at all. Due to an unfortunate turn of events that caused some serious injuries, Grace decided not to push through with the event to rest and recover. So, it just us the original Sungay Ultra Buddies and we just made it our annual get-together run.

I’m very excited for this event because it’s also a travel adventure and I have no worries because I’m not travelling alone. We’re suppose to meetup at McDonald’s in Greenfield district and ride a van there. I left home around 9 pm and stopped by at Calamba Doctors’ Hospital to visit my son who had successfully recovered from dengue fever and was scheduled for release the next day. It was around 10 pm when I left the hospital and my plan was to ride a bus to Cubao in a terminal in Cabuyao. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time I arrived, so plan B is to go to Pacita Complex were the buses are guaranteed on a 24-hour travel schedule. I texted John and since he was also travelling to the same terminal, we decided to meet up and told Paul that we should meetup in Farmers Plaza in Cubao. It was close to midnight when the bus started rolling and a few minutes passed 1 am when we met up with Paul at Jollibee Farmers. He already ate, so John and I bought take out food from McDonald’s nearby. The van terminal had a long line of passengers and there’s not enough van. It will take a long waiting time so we also considered the option of taking the jeepney ride instead. But, we ended up booking a Grab car instead. Travel from Cubao to Antipolo cost 400+ pesos and we still have to ride a jeepney to Tanay. Little did we know that a jeepney ride around 2 am in Tanay is not easy task. Though the jeepneys are big and can seat around 20+ passengers, there are very few passing by and if one did, they are usually full (these are probably the jeepneys from Cubao). Luckily, we were able to board one before 3 am (we had to sit in the middle, on the wooden plank chairs they provided as we wait for some passengers to alight. Jeepney fare is 32 Php). Travel time is fast (no traffic and the weather was chilly) and when we reached Tanay, we went to a 7-Eleven store for John and Paul to buy water and some trail food. Tanay Adventure Camp, the event’s location, is quite far, 17 kilometers according to the tricycle driver who charged us 300 Php (which is a discounted price according to him). No choice but to take it because there are no jeepneys travelling to that place at the time. At least he drove fast (even though I felt like I turned into a cold-blooded mammal because of the cold temperature at the time) and we arrived before 4 am. Race kit claiming was fast so there’s plenty of time to rest and prepare.

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That mandatory pre-race selfie.

The race started at 5 am and I wasn’t able to start my GPS devices quickly because it was still searching for a GPS signal. It was a long downhill run before we turned left to a dark road with an uphill road. John and I didn’t bring headlamps (because we thought that the sun will come up early anyway), so we relied on Paul’s headlamp which was bright as a firefly’s butt (ok, bioluminescence, in case someone wants to be a smart-ass). It was a dark and muddy trail, very slippery, so we had to move at hiking pace (10 – 14 minutes per kilometer) and in a single file line. The surroundings became visible by the time we reached the 4th kilometer where the first aid station is located. We stopped for some water and sweet snacks.

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Seeing clearly after the 4th kilometer.
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Slippery river crossing.

Since I’m running with my buddies, I move at their pace and no one gets left behind. There are times that Paul and I lead the pace for a bit of a speed boost and John is out of sight so we stop for some photo opportunities while we wait for him.

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Little House on the Prairie…. okay, it’s not a house, it’s a lumber storage.
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Paulskie’s photo-op while waiting for John…
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Mine too! Photo by Paulskie
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Serenity in the morning.

About halfway through, all the way to the halfway point (or just say from kilometer 6 onward), the route is mostly uphill with some very steep ones going to the 21k U-turn point (aid station 3).

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There’s always an uphill battle.
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Some soldiers along the way. I think they have a camp somewhere around here.
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Can you meet us halfway?

After stopping for some energy-filling snacks and water at the aid station, I decided to take lead to boost our pace a bit (because we really took a lot of time moving slowly in the first half) and taking advantage of the downhill segments.

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I let Paul run ahead of me so I can take this of him running through the mud.
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The simple everyday life… like playing Harvest Moon.
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The scenic mountain range.
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More scenic (and muddy) parts of the trail.
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Incoming John.
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That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
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We didn’t care much about the shoes anymore.
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More river crossing action!
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Mud Sum! Photo from BTR (Be Trail Ready) facebook page.
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Rough Mudder Packer! Photo from BTR (Be Trail Ready) facebook page.
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I’m a big fan or rock formations.
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The rock that don’t roll.

There was one time when we almost took a wrong path, luckily some runners ahead of us were on their way back (from almost getting lost as well) and informed us. After dictating the pace for 4 kilometers, it’s back to their pace because John is getting left behind. At least we have some more photo opportunities along the way. We took a quick break for water at aid station 2. Then a much longer break at aid station 1 to eat and drink.

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When you’re looking for something that isn’t there…. also called pretending. Photo by Paulskie
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Paulskie’s gonna dive right into the rock like a Diablos.
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There’s a picturesque falls near aid station 1 (the 8k U-turn). Too many people taking photos though so I didn’t bother taking a turn (we had so much photos around the trails anyway).
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Leaving aid station 1 (8k U-turn). Last 4 kilometers.

Last 4 kilometers is mostly steep uphills and we’re moving at hiking pace again. It feels much more challenging than the uphill going to the 21k U-turn. After a slow walk, there was photo-op area up ahead.

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Taking our time for photos. Photo by Active Pinas.
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For that nice mountain range background. Photo by Active Pinas.
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This event is like a sequel to our Sungay run…. Photo by Active Pinas.
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The Sungay Ultra Buddies are back! Photo by Active Pinas.
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Let’s do a jump shot, okay? Photo by Active Pinas.
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When your buddies said let’s do a jump shot and you’re the only one who took it seriously. Photo by Active Pinas.
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Leaving the photo op area.
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But, there’s another photographer, hidden inside a tent. And he’s quite good at taking running shots. Thanks for the photo Glairold Racella.
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Awesome shot by Glairold Racella.
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Lovin’ it! Photo by Glairold Racella.
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Thought they were gravestones. They used it to support some sort of plants.
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The last 2 kilometers feels like the last of us.

In the last couple of kilometers, I asked them if they want to boost it up a bit. But Paul and John don’t want to even jog anymore. I stick with them to the end and even had some conversation with some runners along the way. There’s one more downhill in the last kilometer that can be used as opportunity to speed up the pace, but they just don’t feel like running anymore. So, it was a walk to remember (actually, it wasn’t much of a memorable walk) all the way to the finish line.

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Pretending to jog for the camera. Photo by MyRunTime.
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We Run Together, We Finish Together. Photo by Active Pinas.
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Part 3 of our running adventures in next annual run. Photo by Active Pinas.
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We all finished at 4 hours, 15 minutes.
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Going home. We’re only happy because we had a fun get-together run. Everything else is….

As for my review of this trail run, I like the route, it’s challenging and it has some scenic parts. That’s the only good part of the event, everything else is just disappointing. First there’s the issue with the Hoka windbreaker jacket. It wasn’t available by the time of the event because it was on hold in customs. Here’s the explanation as posted on the facebook event page:

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Take note of the words ” Hoka Premium Jackets.”

Okay, so we’re getting it on the 17th of December. Unfortunately, they failed to deliver on that date, so it’s TBA. That is until I checked the facebook event page and they posted earlier that the claim date in Runnr and Toby’s stores will be on January 7, 2019. Hopefully, that will be final. It sucks that you go home without your finisher’s jacket, it just doesn’t feel complete and the weather was chilly at the time, it would’ve been nice to use it as we go home. Oh, and we didn’t get that finisher certificate, dunno if other runners did, all we got was the claim stub.

Second issue, the activity area is confusing and messy. There doesn’t seem to be a proper program by the time we finished and entered the activity area. People are cramped inside and lines are all over the place. I thought there are sponsor freebies or loot bags but no such luck. I thought some booths gave away freebies, but they’re just sellers selling running stuff at discounted prices. I also thought there’s a post-race meal like in other trail runs I participated in, but there’s none. We got some drinks though.

And finally the finisher cup medal. That would be a unique and a nice addition to any runner’s medal collection. But, reality bites because of the poor quality. Take a look at the photo below:

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Above is the photo of the cup medal (with the Hoka jacket inside) I saw on Pinoy Trails instagram post. I think it was from a press conference or launch event. Below is the final product. Looks like something I could buy for 20 pesos at a department store. And the finisher print chipped off.

The photo speaks for itself. When the medal was handed to me the print on it started chipping off. It’s like it was written using papermate (the white liquid you use on paper to cover and correct handwritten typo). And it doesn’t indicate what distance you finished. This is definitely one of the worst medal in my collection.

This run is just not worth the 1,350 pesos I paid for. It’s not worth joining at all. If I was a solo runner for this event and traveled by public commute, it would cost me at least 1,300 pesos for the travel and food expenses, and 400+ is for booking a Grab car from Cubao to Antipolo alone. Then there’s the 300 pesos for a 17-kilometer tricycle ride to Tanay Adventure Camp. Sure you can find ways to lessen the expenses like taking a jeepney from Cubao instead or carpool with someone, but for solo runners coming from far places it’s not sensible. Sometimes I wonder why a trail running event like Sandugo Pacific Coast Ultra 100 can offer not just reasonable registration prices and satisfying race kit inclusions, but also a free shuttle service. Why can’t other organizers do that?

And going home with a crappy medal and no finisher jacket is just disappointing. The only good thing from this experience that I get to run with my running buddies and guiding them in their first trail run. Overall, it’s just time and money wasted. It’s the first time I’m disappointed with a trail running event (there’s a first time for everything). We should really learn how to pick the right event for our next annual get-together run.

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Goodbye, Tanay!

UPDATE!

I got my Hoka “Premium Jacket” on January 11 (it arrived at Runnr ATC branch on January 9, not January 7, but I’m guessing for the organizer close enough is good enough). It comes with the finisher certificate and here’s what the windbreaker jacket looks like.

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HOKA Finisher print is made with the same splendid quality as the cup medal. It’s meant to chip off after a few washes. The packaging says Design by Korea, kinda like the iPhones’ Designed in California… but, made in China.
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With the hood up, it looks like a lab gown or the thing you wear in a semi-conductor plant (I think it’s called a smock). 
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To be fair, it fits fine and feels comfy. But, it’s not a real Hoka product.

As you can see it’s not a real Hoka jacket, so it’s false advertising there. It’s also not premium quality, it’s a generic product that you can buy at a cheap price. It would’ve been fine if they didn’t advertise it as a Hoka product. just sponsored by Hoka. I’ve read some of the recent comments on the event’s facebook discussion page and some people shared their own disappointing stories. Some who went to the specified branches (Runnr or Toby’s) to claim theirs had issues like wrong jacket sizes and some branches didn’t even have the jackets and was re-directed to another branch. Time and money wasted. I’m not surprised that running events these days don’t have as many participants as before because there are organizers who don’t really care much (or even compensate for their blunders) and the way they advertise their events is misleading.