The Shotgun Route: A Mountain and Trail Run Odyssey

Running 38.3 kilometers in scorching heat seems lunatic specially when it’s about 33 to 34 degrees at its peak out there at the Shotgun Run last Saturday. Crazy as it were, we actually did get to enjoy every minute of it and it seemed to be one enormous victory over the elements of running non-stop hills, undulating mountain roads and technical trails on a route that is known as the “Shotgun Route!”

I only heard about this route through friends on Facebook and they keep raving about its difficulty, the vastness of experiencing a road-hills-mountain and trail run, all pictured into one loop of pure exhilaration that it has become a favorite of many runners.

It was now time to discover it as well. Some members of our running team, Team 90% (don’t ask why it was called such) composed of Mel, Chito, Tonet, Betty, Sylvia, myself and an office mate of Sylvia’s set off in 2 cars and arrived at SSS Village in Marikina and parked the cars in front of an old running friend’s house, Dave Buban. Dave wasn’t running with us that morning and was just content in looking-out after the vehicles while we were out on our run.

I was a bit excited but a little concerned as to whether my plantar issues was going to plague and stop me again on my tracks. The good news is that the bum heel seem to heal very nicely after my disastrous Salomon Trail Run three weeks ago and thereafter, i was able to lodge 15-21k LSD runs with no pain at all.

When we arrived at Dave’s place, some runners were already there ahead of us. Ultra-runners Doc Toto Mina, Jael Wenceslao and Keisha Fule were waiting so we could all start together. We warmed-up with a few minutes of walking and when we were on a flat terrain, we were off running.

Our 5:30am start was rather late as the sun had risen just a few kilometers after we had started. We passed by a few private villages in Marikina, crawled under closed village gates and even got lost from the first group who were leading us by a few hundred meters. From Marikina we entered San Mateo, on its backdoor entrance going through continuous uphills and downhills and flourishes of trees that lined-up on most of the route.

SSS Village borders the hilly town of San Mateo

One of the hilly routes that we had to take

We finally arrived at the road leading to Timberland Heights. The welcome sign to Timberland was familiar to me although i was used to seeing this from the MAIN entrance coming from J.P. Rizal Road where many cyclists seem to be more familiar with. Another kilometer and we made a stop-over at Aling Tinay’s small eatery where our group partook Lugao with boiled eggs and boiled bananas that was to be one crucial nourishment break to survive the dreaded Shotgun Road and trails.

The start of the mountain pass (Shotgun) that climbs up to Timberland

Less than 2 kilometers is the 1st entrance to Timberland Heights, a dizzying uphill of a mountain about 3.5 kilometers long although there is another entrance which is the main one along C-6 Road all the way to Timberland Avenue and is a kilometer away on the north. We took the first entrance.

Just looking at the winding zigzag road going up that mountain, i couldn’t envision myself running those steep inclines. No way! All of us decided to walk those uphills except for Mel (our group’s master show-off) who seems to be reminding us who the King of the Mountain is!:-)

It was at this point when Chito told me that this was the notorious Shotgun Road they were raving about! Damn! A mini Kennon Road of sorts! Here are some pictures i took of the route:

An ordeal of a climb

No shame in walking! Even that mountain biker had to stop and rest.

L-R: Mel, Sylvia, Tita Betty, Ninang Tonet and Chito

This is the "shotgun" route!

We still had to scale up that green peak at the background

Ninang Tonet meets Doc-Romy who was on his way down

The top of the mountain was fascinating! There was a slight cool mountain breeze, breath-taking mountainscape and a picturesque view of Metro Manila. The only draw-back to this route is the constant passing of garbage dump trucks which utilizes this road to dump some of the metro’s garbage into the nearby San Mateo Sanitary dump site. It sometimes pollutes the fresh air that breezes along the canyon ridges.

After a few more climbs, we finally reached the start of the Timberland trails. I’m very familiar with these trails, having ran here several times both during training and trail races although this particular entrance is new to me. At an elevation twice that of Antipolo City, this serene and breezy mountain retreat affords a panoramic view from Laguna de Bay to Mount Arayat in the north.

It was a gorgeous day to run these trails as they were damp, dry and gave my feet and legs a respite from all the pounding we did at the earlier miles. It was starting to get hot and the only concern i had was we were running out of water and the next stop was about 4 kms more when we would emerge out of the trails.

The trails wound up through scenic gorges, lush foliage within a virgin forest although the surface began to be more technical as you enter deep into the woods. Knowing the trails by heart, i was able to skid out ahead of the group and after a few more kilometers, found my way out of the jungle passing by the Timberland Country Club and into the main gate where a small eatery often frequented by cyclists was situated. Took gulps of Gatorade, Cobra Energy drink and lots of water! Whew!

After about 10 minutes, the rest of the group arrived and we all enjoyed the break, taking in some bread, rice cakes and stacked-up more water into our hydration packs before we continued our journey back. We had already ran 24kms up to that point and there was another 14kms to complete the loop.

Here are some pictures of the trails:

The start of the trail to Timberland

Heat was staring to flare up at the start of our trail run

Thankful of the trees that kept us in shade for the most part of the trail run

The view at the opposite side of the trails

Mt. bikers shared the trails with us

Small rocks were all over the place

Mel leads the way

A haven for bikers too

A shaded portion

Keeping our steps at bay to avoid the small rocks

Final group pic before our run back to home base with 15 kms to go.

The trip back was one of the most arduous runs we ever had as we were basically being roasted under the sun. It was just 11:00am but the sun was above our heads so we constantly took walking breaks. At some hilly road, we stopped in front of a front yard and asked the house owner if we could pour ourselves water from a faucet that was situated just outside her doorstep. She might have thought that we were doing some sort of a post-Holy Week “penitencya” so she willingly let us in. We all doused our heads with ladle-full of water. And that was so refreshing!

At about 1:10pm, logging-in a total of 37 kms and temperatures hovering at about 34 degrees, we were now back inside SSS Village in Marikina, all dehydrated and here we were, back where we started but we couldn’t find Dave’s home! I was like a zombie moving aimlessly trying to figure out where the house was and then i realized that i lost sight of the group too! After a few minutes, i saw Betty calling me, waiving from a store and that they had found Dave’s home!

Total distance completed, 38.3 kms and run was finished at 1:30pm. I felt good except for the usual pain in the thighs and butt. And no pain on the plantar…Yebahh! The next day, i amazed myself by doing another 7kms recovery run near UP campus while i was playing the events on my head that transpired during our Shotgun run!

Though the Shotgun route was difficult as it was, i would like to believe that if you would have to do this route, you would also have to cover the relentless rolling hills of San Mateo, Rizal which are still untapped by many runners.

We are slated to do another long run of about 43kms on a new route Dave has discovered and dubbed the “Lost World”. I just hope we’ll be able to find our way back, alive and running!

A bird's eye view of the metropolis