When your regular runs in the city doesn’t get your blood pumping anymore, it may be time for something more exotic. So when the Takbo.ph runners decided to do a mountain trail run, not a few had their heartbeats pumping, anticipating the event as it would be the first for many in running a mountain trail. The trail is situated at Sitio, Parawagan, Barangay Wawa, Rodriguez (Montalban).
With some of my old running buddies, i had run this trail once last January so when suggestions were solicited at the takbo.ph website on where to run this April, i didn’t hesitate to offer the place. There were about 25 runners who initially confirmed their participation (others were still undecided), a good enough number to get the event rolling. However, during the assembly at Jolibee, Philcoa yesterday morning, a good 40 runners showed up, more than we had expected. Nice to see over-all coordinator Pojie, early. I was surprised to see my club-mate, Norio Tanaka san who just recently completed the Bataan 102 Ultra Race. Others would be going straight to the venue. We left in a convoy of about six vehicles at 5:00am and reached Barangay Wawa, 45 minutes later. The vehicles were parked in a wide parking area near the entrance to Wawa Dam and in front of the small tourism building. Some runners texted that they were still on their way while one runner, Rico V. won’t be coming anymore because he had lost his way. We didn’t wait for the others anymore but they would follow us the moment they arrive. After doing some light stretching, we started our run towards Sitio Parawagan.
Posing before the run
The mountain trail is a dirt road of about five meters wide, resplendant strip of backroads that is relatively untouched by development. It’s the kind of road where you can get distracted. It swerves, dips and elevates; zigzagging through lush greenery, circumscribed at odd intervals of nipa huts, sturdy wooden houses and the occasional barks of dogs, unused to strangers running and laughing in this early morning breeze. It passes through more rough roads, thatched bamboo outposts and the ragged assortment of different tree species with vines clinging to the mountain edges. It is the gateway to the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Start of the run
Smiling at the early stages
Lead by Boston Marathon veteran and Bataan 102k Ultra Finisher, Norio Tanaka (left with white cap)
For the locals who were out in the street early in their Sunday best to hear mass at their local church, it was a strange sight seeing a large cast of characters. Observing our group, the scene was similar to that of runners ascending the Skyway during the recent Condura race. Only, this was in a rural setting. If you’ve never seen runners before, then you’ve never seen such a gaggle of skinny running freaks in technical shirts, Nathan and Amphipod hydration belts, camel backpacks, GPS watches, digicams and UV glasses. There were runners sprinting way in front of the runners to take pictures of the group approaching, some opted to stop completely and pose, then run back again while some were ribbing and poking fun at each other, the usual “kulitan”.
On the go
Part of the group
Will take pictures first
At about 2.5 kms., we approached the steepest part of the climb, a torturous 700 meter ascent that even a Buenavista or the Sabals wouldn’t dare venture to run. Its slopes were continuously ascending, leveling a little bit, ascending and ascending some more. As i look back at the other runners (walkers, this time) to check how they were coping, suddenly everything seemed overwhelming: the mountains, the fog, the elevation, the distance. Everything but the walkers who were like zombies in slow motion. Everybody was struggling in putting one foot after the other. My walks were labored too as i had to stop at times to take a deep breath then start again; one long slow distance!
Uphill from here
Three peaks, one covered with fog
At this point, we were now separated by groups. When my group finally made it to a plateau at 3.2kms, we started to simulate running once again. Hardly had we jogged more than a hundred meters when we encountered what was to be another bane for trail runners. Earlier before the start of our run, i had made a short courtesy call to the tourism officer in his office fronting the parking area. I advised him about our group’s run up Parawagan. He had warned me that it rained hard the night before and it would be very slippery on some parts of the trail.
Skirting the sides
So there it was, large patches of the clay surface were soaked with water and mud, thick and sticky as a rice pudding clinging to our outsoles. There was no way to run the now muddy trail so we reverted back to walking. Thick slabs of mud would stick to our shoes that we had to remove the residues after a few meters of walk. For the next kilometer, this was to be our ritual. Without removing the sticky clay, our shoes would be heavy as stone. It had become clear that this was not going to be our Long Slow Distance (LSD) practice run as we had anticipated but some kind of adventure hiking! It was then that i started to understand the concept of “Trail Running”. The point is to get through it by any means possible. Whatever discomfort the runners felt, they didn’t show it. This was minor compared to the scenic vistas we were treated in, like a travel show in the sky. After this realization, we really started to enjoy our run-walk saga.
In the middle of nature
Our shoes, almost soaked in mud
After hitting the last patch of mud trail, we started running again and three hundred meters into the run, we saw the first batch of runners perched up on a high hilltop, delightfully enjoying the scenic views below them. We sprinted our way to the sides of the cliff until we reached the hilltop and the view there was magnificent! At the western side was a panoramic view of the Sierra Madre mountain range while at the north-east was a bird’s eye view of the metropolis that included the La Mesa Dam and Water Reservoir. Little by little, the other groups started to trickle in, including those who arrived late.
View from the top
Me in the foreground
If a wild party was ever possible without music, food or spirits, held at an open hilltop at about 5,000 feet of elevation, this was it! Cameras were clicking and people were scrambling to give their best poses while the others were content fooling around, socializing, laughing, etc. Even Norio, hard core runner that he is who i presumed would have preferred running those remaining trails seem to be enjoying the camaraderie of it all.
One special incident that truly put some meaning in our run happened during our mini celebration. While we were in the last quarter of our fun and laughter, we saw a faint figure in the horizon whom we presumed was a male, walking, wearing a red t-shirt and shorts approaching towards us. Since all runners were already accounted for and we didn’t expect any late straggler to follow us, we dismissed him as some local who was minding his regular business. However, when the person came nearer, we all paused and tried to put a name on this stranger’s face. When he came into full view, we erupted into cheers and recognized the man! It was Rico V. who called up earlier to say he wouldn’t come anymore because he got lost trying to find the venue. Just coming off from an injury, he took the same torturous route, walked the same mountain ascents and muddy trails all by his lonesome just to be with us. His nome de guerre and blog name, “Sheer Will” bespeaks much of this spirit, a true fighter against all odds. When he finally reached the top, he was cheered in unison, not with his blog name ‘Sheer Will’ but with another term that most, if not all runners can identify with, humorous as it may but endearing all the same… “Addict, Addict, Addict!!!”
Rico's dramatic entrance
After some more time with Rico and the group at the hill, we decided to end the party and run back to where we started. It was easier this time as it was downhill all the way. Back at the parking lot, we changed to dry clothes as i had to accompany Norio to the Wawa Dam as he was visiting this place for the first time. After spending sometime up the dam, we had to leave early as i was going to attend another get together party, this time with the Runnex Club members up in Antipolo City while Norio was to attend to some family matters.
It was a very adventurous run over-all and we’re up for more running adventures. See yah!
Seen thru the lenses of Eric, Roy, Dennis, Edu, Argonaut, Docpnx, David. Thank you guys!