Every trail has its own unique characteristics… it has its magnet of charms, its allure speaking at you to discover it. Many are mostly gentle, letting you savor its calm terrain and green scenery. But it can also be harsh, forcing you to climb its steepest hills and stumble when you step on outgrown roots, hidden on soft, mushy pine needles.
Its sternness however reminds us that for every route that we take, there will be gale winds to blow our faces, higher mountains to trek until we are out of breath, rivers to slip into its cold waters until we reach the other end and only then would we be rewarded and discover who we truly are.
Last week-end, i was one of those fortunate to run the 2016 North Face Trail Run Challenge at the paradise-like Camp John Hay in Baguio City.
The John Hay Country Club was the start of the 100k, 50k, 22k and 11k trail run distances as the route showcased the scenic mountain ranges and the pine tree-lined trails of the Cordilleras. The race course is not new to me, having ran it several times with blogger and trail runner, Franc Ramon during my visits in his hometown here in the City of Pines. As part of the Primer Group Media Team led by Ms. Aileen Frugal, Media Relations Officer of the Primer Group, we were able to observe the activities of this premier race and witness hundreds or maybe a thousand trail runners testing their mettle in this scenic but harsh route laid out by the organizers.
Leaving Manila at about 10am, we arrived in Baguio City at 3:00pm, checked-in at our designated hotel, the dainty MICROTEL with just enough time to freshen ourselves before the race briefing and race packet claiming for the 50k and 100k runers at the nearby Newtown Hotel which started at 4:00pm.
When we arrived, the place was teeming with hundreds of trail runners, many familiar faces, old friends and others i met for the first time. The briefing was held in a convention hall of the hotel that was large and pretty expansive. The packet pick up was an easy process and the organizers took turns in discussing all details of the race and an open discussion of concerns ensued.
The following morning, Saturday was the race of the 50k and 100k distance runners with the latter taking off at 3:00am while most of the Baguio City residents were probably still tucked in their blankets. The 50k runners were sent off an hour later. Later that morning, our media team had the chance to visit and survey parts of the route, visiting various Aid Stations while watching runners come and go during their breaks on these stations.
We saw first hand the difficulty of the terrain these runners had to endure, specially the 100km runners who had to battle intense heat, miles of undulating steep climbs, freezing cold when they reached the top, sudden downpours, cold sweeping winds, deep ravines, and thick fogs that rendered their head lamps useless. It was a difficult course navigating, exacerbated through the storm’s calamity. Later learned that many were not able to finish the race because of these trail hazards. Still a gallant effort for all these trail warriors!
The following day, Sunday was our turn to blaze the trails inside John Hay. I was originally set to do the 22km distance but didn’t want to bring havoc to my still recuperating left Achilles tendon so i decided to downgrade to the 11km distance.
We arrived at the venue at about 4:30am with cool weather and some morning fog enveloping the area. I was with about 10 other runners from the media and were poised just to have a good time running on one of the most beautiful paths of Baguio City.
The 11k distance actually measured to 12.6k. It was a feeling of exhilaration combined with moments of exhaustion because of the arduous ascents on the middle stages of the route.
Highlights of this run are the rolling hills of the Eco Trail, the 500 meter zigzagging climb up to the Yellow Trails where i experienced some kind of oxygen debt just trying to put one foot over the other in reaching the top, the pine tree-laden Yellow Trails and the 45 degree, 300 meter slippery descent towards the embassy area which you will have to climb back once you reach the turn-around point. Best highlight many first-timers were raving were the great views all through-out, from the mountain ranges, deep ravines and the exceptionally wonderful trails with the pine trees surrounding it!
This was my 2nd time running the TNF Trail Challenge as last year’s race in Nuvali was one i didn’t savor too much as it was warm and humid compared to the cool mountains of Baguio. The TNF100Ph2016 lived up to its hype as it had what the organizers said it was…cool breeze, fresh air, awesome mountain views, umbrellas of pine trees, wooded forests, friendly race marshals and a lot more.
In no way do i get runner’s high or anything that will impress me anymore but having said that, it was still a great experience! The hills almost ate me alive, but I didn’t let me get the best of me. It was quite the hilly course but the people i ran with, the views and great camaraderie make it for an unforgettable experience.
Over-all, a amazing race and a majestic course. Never have I experienced anything like it. And I highly recommend the short distance races (11k and 22k) for those new to trail running as a bucket list. Anyone can do it. Thank you TNF and Aileen Frugal of the Primer Group for hosting a great event!
Here are some pictures of our TNF experience. Enjoy!