The instructions from VTC Race Director Jonel Mendoza were succinct and to the point. “Runners get lost when they do not follow markers laid down along the trails. Don’t follow the runners in front of you for they might be lost too–it’s the ribbon markers that should be observed and followed, and back-track if you stray from the route, is that clear?”
This seems to be the de rigueur last minute advise Jonel has been giving all throughout his trail runs, an all too familiar brief that not only Jonel but other trail RDs emphasize as a last-minute warning. I haven’t given much thought on this advise not because i refuse to believe but because i have NEVER been lost in a trail race, ever! Always, i have an eagle eye on markers and being at the tail-end part of the race often, i still don’t rely on those few who are in front of me. “The presence of markers are your best bet that the group in front are right on track”.
Well, shit happens! It wasn’t going to be my day when 400 meters after the turn-around point for the 15k runners (at about the 8.3km mark), I was just trying to take it easy on my 8-9 minute pace when i missed the single neon green ribbon with a red tail towards the left and went straight to the main road instead. And then you run by your lonesome with nary a runner in front or behind you. And you realize that you haven’t seen any marker for the next several hundred meters but still forge ahead hopeful that you might find someone. You suddenly reach a main highway which is definitely not part of the course, with no runners in sight and you finally realize then that you are f*#%!n lost!
It’s really disheartening, specially when you are alone and not even a stranger on sight to ask where you are, the lost time spent. As i mentioned, this is the first time i got lost in a race. So refer to what the RD was telling all along, “back-track” if you get lost.
Back-track i did and after nearly a kilometer of going back on the same route from where i was earlier, i felt relieved when i saw some of the 32k runners making the correct left corner turn on the trails. They knew that i got lost as they saw me coming towards them from the other direction. They told me that they got lost too several times and had to rely on strangers to ask where the other runners had passed through. One of those days!
The 15 km course was an out and back course and it was two years since i last ran the Valley Trail Challenge although this course was also part of the TNF100 route which i was able to run 2 weeks ago.
I like the size and aura of the crowd as i chatted along with old friends while waiting for our race to start. The number of runners was large enough to get the race feel, but small enough to still be intimate.
The first four kilometers went by really pleasantly as the trail was in perfect condition just like it was during the TNF race. It was a little damp but not muddy and there was just a little congestion when we crossed a small creek.
I started out at a very slow pace as i was still concerned with my acid-reflux as it triggers to shorten my breath if i run fast too early so i just concentrated on running relaxed and easy. All my runs now are geared towards like a training run rather than a race, so I was just out there to put mileage on the legs, hopefully for as long as I could before acidity sets in the stomach.
For the first 3.5 kms, i was privileged to be running side by side with old friend and present ultra trail king Manolito Divina who was doing the sweeper role for the organizers. Although there were more runners on my back whom he could have paced with, he insisted for a little chit-chat with me until the 3.80km mark when the first aid station appeared.
I wish all trail races had aid stations like this race where everything were properly laid out like generous servings of different fruits, fruit juices, sports drinks, bread, chips and other trail food which were placed in presentable trays and jugs.
After that aid station, the route was pretty flat with mostly single-track trails until reaching the U-turn at about 7.8kms. Surprised that no water station was placed there although i still had enough on my water bottle to sustain me for the next few kilometers. I was picking up the pace a little, passed some runners on the return until disaster struck!
I pulled in back into the one and only aid/water station with 3.8km to go before the finish, took some bananas, slices of watermelon and filled up my water bottle for the last haul ahead. I wasted about 30 minutes finding my way back from that “lost” episode so my main concern now was to finish the race in less than 3 hours. However, i started to slow down considerably that i had to walk some parts, then run again. The walks gave me time to recover and be able to keep a good pace on the flats and downhills.
Finished in 3:03, which i thought was good enough considering the lost time i had in the trails. This trail race was a completely surreal experience for me, a little bit stressed and disappointed but overly satisfied with the end-result.
If you want a small and well-organized trail run, this yearly Valley Trail Challenge is a great one for beginners and hard-core runners alike. It has a wonderful variety of charms and definitely one trail race for keeps!
Thanks to RD Jonel and Con Mendoza for the wonderful “lost and found” experience!
Thanks to Rai Cabanig for some of the photos!