Quite possibly the most technically demanding trail race i have ever joined! The 32k route was relentlessly hilly with the inclines so steep that even the best of the trail runners i know were reduced to staggering zombies, our faces etched like doomsday ahead of Semana Santa!
I had been to the Hamilo Coast and ran the Salomon X-Trail Race last year and though it was just the 12k distance i took part in, the mountain terrains was one you would need to train for–lots of hill training and mountain hiking! Sort of a déjà vu returning back to this place and seems nothing change when i first set foot on this place last year.
I knew it would be a stretch to finish the 32k within the designated cut-off time of 7 hrs given the outrageous mountain course but i was quite confident to finish the damn thing. I have trained for it and bringing with me the confidence that i finished the recent hilly Love A Tree Daraitan 33.8k Trail Race last February in 6:57. But nothing would really prepare anybody for what was in store for the Salomon X-trail run last Saturday.
We arrived at the venue at around 2:50am just in time for the 3:00 am opening of the Hamilo Country Club gates for vehicles to enter. I was with good friend Jun and with Ashley, both newcomers to Hamilo Coast but no less determined to finish their respective distances with Jun doing the 24k while Ashley had her sights on the 32k, like me.
The race started promptly at 5:00am and i had a pretty smooth start, me and Ashley pacing each other at the initial concrete road until we settled to a walk on that first uphill. Ash is a fast runner but is more adept on hilly mountain terrains so we tucked into each other and we held on until she decides to leave me up those mountain passes.
We maintained our pace until around the first turn-around overlooking the sea as we tried to conserve as much energy as possible when we would assault those uphills later. Then it was on unto a construction site leading to a dirt road with a trail that was now being occupied by so many runners making their way up the hill. It was so unusual seeing so many runners merging on one uphill.
Ash and i weaved in between the runners until we were at the crest and found lines of runners getting hold of ropes to pull them up into a slope. The ropes i think were not necessary as we found ourselves pulling our bodies up effortlessly with our own weight.
The second hill was a long one called the “Powerline” route and it went much the same with long lines, reminiscent of those you find at the North Ave. MRT Stations stretching to as long as 250 meters as we waited for our turn to reach for that one single rope to summit up the hill.
Ash and i were on each other’s tail as we exited the ‘traffic’ trail and entered peripheral trails that led us into a farm land. Entering into this area, i was by myself alone for the first time as Ash forged ahead. I was glad to take-in those views at my own time and pace and not have to be heaving heavily from those in front. Oh, and i took pictures as well!
Here are some of the pics i took from km 12 to km 15.
By Km 16, I was able to catch up with Ashley and we both trudged on one of the most technical part of the route, a dry river bed with big boulders splayed out. We had to hop, crawl and skip from one boulder to another and the farther we went, the bigger those boulders became and there were parts that were really slippery.
Here i saw some runners who had sprained ankles or who had bruises on their knees and legs. We were able to reach the first cut-off of the route at 18.6kms in 3 hours and 40 minutes, a good 20 minutes inside the cut-off time of 4 hours. So far so good.
But the relentless uphills really took a toll for most of us and many were really struggling just to keep within each others sight, walking a few steps at a time, specially during the 900 meter uphill trek to the power station. It was here that Ashley took off and never to see her again along the route.
To my surprise, i was able to creep up on faster runners who were also battling fatigue and we went as a group, scaling for a few meters then resting for a minute then hiking up once again. Little by little, i was feeling the cramps soar up my thighs and hamstrings and it got to a point that the pain was really debilitating that i had to stop, sit and lie down on the side of the trails under the heat of the sun.
My water had ran-out but good thing there were other runners behind me who helped massage my leg and feet! Many thanks to Alex Tejones and Kne Man Ville for the help and the push! Couldn’t have re-started without you guys! I honestly can’t remember the last time I cramped in a race, and there was nothing I could do but watch the other runners walk away from me as i limped step after step.
Disappointing as it may be, there was nothing i could do but to thread on and continue. It was 24.7 kms and my time was 7:24 past the 7 hrs cut-off for the race. I was really bent on finishing the remaining 6 kms, crawl if i had to. Unfortunately, the marshals’ net were there waiting and i was pulled out together with more than a dozen other runners who arrived ahead of me. It was past cut-off time, rules are rules and that was that. We rode on a pick-up truck and brought to the finish line!
This experience led me to believe that we can’t win them all, that there would be struggles that we all have to go through but the will and perseverance to survive will always be foremost in a runners heart!
I was happy to see Ashley at the finish line and asked if she was able to finish on time. Turns out that she had abandoned the race much earlier together with many other runners at the beach shore-nipa hut before the 23rd km and rode with them in a speed boat that brought them to the finish line! Jun was a casualty too!
To sum it all, this was a test of physical and mental endurance. One of the best (and harrowing) experiences of my life as a runner! :)
Congratulations to all who finished this challenging course! And to the 70% who failed to finish, there will be another race and another battle to conquer! Let’s all move on!
Thanks to Ashley for letting me use some of the photos here and on Facebook!