The Magical Garden and River Trails Of Montalban

I have often espoused about how much there is to see and experience in running on trails and if runners only took the time to look beyond city running, there is a wealth of fascinating places to be discovered.

During the week-end when many were running road races around Metro Manila, running buddy June Santiago and i discovered these wonderful trails just beyond the majestic Wawa Dam in Montalban (now Rodriguez) frequented by mountain bikers and hikers alike.

Flanked by the huge boulders of limestone rocks and a gorge at the south-end and the Sierra Madre mountain range in the north, it is a picturesque combination of stunningly beautiful garden-covered vistas, pristine river, wild fauna and runner-friendly locals.

We felt that we were the only 2 people in the world who were lost in this somewhat secluded paradise. It’s hard not to fall in love with this place, town-folks in their small farms and a scenery of pastoral charm. The clean and gently gushing river and fresh air provide a refreshing treat to the senses and to the spirit.

I’ll leave the rest of the pictures we took during our run with you but i really don’t think these pictures will reflect the beauty of Montalban well enough which to my mind was no less than…magical!


The start was just after the last steel bridge and watch tower

Trees were abundant in many parts of the trail

The trails lies just beside the Wawa river banks

Cool breeze, mountains, clear river, fauna… all breath taking scenery, who wouldn’t want to run in here?

One of the postcard scenes at the beginning

One of the twin mountains as a backdrop

This is not a lake, just a wide part of the Wawa river that points to the “Bernardo Carpio” twin mountains

A sandy part of the river trail

There’s a small village that cuts through this trail

We ran through this small community

Entrance to the garden trail

As technical as you can get

The roots are like large boa snakes crawling on both sides of the trail

The trails were illuminating with greenery, with wild birds floating above your head

Deep woods, leaves scattered and the trail seem not to mind this intruder into its territory

So peaceful here. All you had were the wild plants and trail

Wild fauna all through out this area

A dash over some rocky terrain

Ferns, orchids, aroids, palms, pandans and other exotic plants were abundant

A secluded area only trail runners would enjoy

One has to watch-out for these protruding tree roots, though

The plants never intruded into the trails, lined up on both sides as if welcoming the runner

Going back down into the river

In the middle of the river

Our first river crossing

There’s more on these river crossings

Nice wading on gentle-flowing, clear shallow waters, knee-deep at the most

My Viking trail shoe takes an unscheduled bath

We’re going deeper into the country side

Cutting into land, along vegetable gardens

Wide open land of vegetation

June stops, observing a farmer harvesting eggplants

Grazing cows

Approaching a makeshift store selling halo-halo.The store’s name is called “Shimanong”

Our 2nd river crossing

We criss-crossed the river 12 times on our way to the main road to Buso-buso and back

Past Sitio Inigan towards Tanay area

We had these trails all to ourselves

A rugged, rocky path

Our 3rd river crossing

Running here entails many zigzagging over rivers

Back to dry land

Getting warmer as hours passed

We went on just following the trails with many interesting views

Towards a gushing river

Pristine view. Wish you were here

It was like a lake view but it’s still the river

It would be nice camping out here

Spot June here

Walking past boulders

Taking it easy on this single track

This calf didn’t want me to trespass on her trail so i had to maneuver around. Bad cow!

June surveys the area

Still on land, on the river banks

Boulder is shaped like a face of a buffalo

4th or 5th? river crossing. The deepest we had so far, reached up to our groins:)

The running continues…

Non-stop trails along the river banks

At last, another one on the river besides us

Root crops in the middle of the river

Our 5th river crossing

A trekker who passed by us

We strayed away from this trail

Another open land

Another one blocking the trail! Bad cow!

Surfaces varied from sandy to rocky

Taking some rest and enjoying the view

Wish we had more time to take a dip in here

Sipping a drink from my Camelbak Surge

Another rock formation

Island hopping

Taking in the view

Strong currents here descending to a downhill path

Main entrance to Kasili and Boso-boso

View from an elevated area

On our way back, we finally make a stop-over at Shimanong’s Store

The Shimanong’s specialty, Halo-halo!

Nice rustic scenery

Back on the trails

Removing the dirt and grime

Another vegetable garden

Trail shoes underneath the water

Back in the woods

Tired and weary, we had our cool-down 2 kms before we ended our run

The trail on the west side of the river

Cool winds kept the temperature tolerable

June getting his second wind

A crevice on the trail

Thatched huts in Wawa Dam

The steel bridge to the watch tower

The limestone trail towards the dam

Wawa Dam

From a distant

The gorge below

Tanay Trail Run: Familiarization Run, Part 2

I’m still nursing a nagging dull pain on my right hamstrings that has again returned after last Sunday’s trail run at Tanay, the 2nd and probably the last familiarization run before the Love A Tree 50k Ultra on February 10.  The pain has stuck after finishing the 4th QC International Marathon last month and it has been on and off my leg since then.

Last Sunday’s trail run was actually a complete repeat of the Nature’s Trail Discover Run, Leg 1 with the climb on “The Peak” its highlight and the various river crossings around Baranggay Sto. Niño, Laiban and beyond. With me this time was team mate at Team 90%, ultra-runner Chito Carreon who got his feet wet, running this course for the first time.

So we drove to Tanay early Sunday morning and arrived at about 5:15am to the barking of dogs near the entrance to Sta. Inez Road. We were the first to arrive so we took this time to catch off some more Zs. No more than 25 minutes had passed when i noticed other runners began to trickle in, among them Manny Santos of Pimco Sports wearing his usual Viking Trail Shoe and Cesar Valmadrid of Norphyl.

With its challenging trails, the PIMCO organized trail races and the hundreds of trail running enthusiasts, Tanay has become the self-style hub of the trail running community. Much to my surprise, there were more runners who attended this 2nd familiarization run, ready to hit the trails.

We re-traced the route used during Leg 1 of the Discovery Run and this would entail running up that killer mountain trail and back to those river crossings past the hanging Sto. Nino bridge. Those running the route for the first time did additional distance by hitting those river crossings while some of us familiar with the route opted to return back after reaching the hanging bridge.

The run (or crawl) to the San Andres peak is so ridiculous. And i’m sure i have never walked this slow that i had to stop and catch my breath every 10 meters of climbing! The uphill was sending a dull, thudding pain deep into my right hamstring which i’m dragging behind me like a heavy rock! Still i managed to reach the peak in one piece.

We all had a blast! Great conversations from everybody, a nice route and when we returned to base camp we had a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages, eat-all-you-can pandesal and hot coffee, courtesy of Mrs. Santos, Manny’s wife. By the end, i did about 15k while the others did 18k.

For those who plan to run this race on February 10, you can still register on-line at Pimco’s official website at: or check their Facebook page at Pimco Sporting Events. Distances include the 50k ultra, 24k, 12k and the 6k trail distances.

Here are some pictures i took of the trails last Sunday. You will have to excuse the quality of the pictures as these were just taken using my Blackberry phone.

Hope you enjoy them!

One of the many interesting river canals trail runners will see along the course

One of many wooden bridges that connects many of the baranggays in San Andres

Typical trail along the lowlands. It would be more challenging when you climb up the peak

This pony suddenly appears and blocks our path. We all had to stop, walk slowly and sensing that we were moving near her, decided to give way for us.

Towards a small community where a cave exists

A small river crossing that got our shoes wet (a little)

When this group crossed, one of the wooden planks broke so they had to thread this very carefully

This trail leads to the small river cave

The mouth of the cave is visible from here

Race Director Alvin Balderama plans to have runners cross under which is chest-deep. I hope not!

Posing for a group picture

On my left (sitting) is RD Alvin Balderama

The single trail tracks at Baraggay Sta. Inez

This trail leads up to the “Peak”

We had to re-group most of the time and wait for the slower ones

Weather was fine during the early part of the morning but became hot and sunny past 10am

It’s all uphill from here

Same route will be taken in by all runners

A view of the Sierra Madre Mountains

More of the mountains

This is one steep ascent

This was just half-way into the climb

Perfect training for those running on uphill races

A few hundred meters more before the peak

Taking a break before the final assault

Cesar Valmadrid wished he had puffed fewer cigarettes before the climb

A rice paddy seen below

Taking pictures with his Android phone

Maribel, the only rose among the torns

At the peak

Chito enjoying the scenery

The trail on our way down

It’s more fun in the Philippines!

One scenic rough road inside Brgy. Sto. Nino

Scenic trail going to the river

Sun was up and about making the run so hot

Trail to the hanging bridge of Sto. Nino

We turned-around after approaching the bridge

Now at the foothills of the Sierra Madres

They have one of the cleanest rivers in the country

Corrals and stones along the river’s edges

Runners will trek through these rivers

The Trails Of The La Mesa Nature Reserve: The Immuvit Challenge

One of the best things about running (or racing) on a trail for the first time is that you get to explore something different from other trails that you have previously ran on. There will be surprises that await you which could either be a gorgeous scenery, a breath-taking mountainscape, an on-rushing river crossing or a steep muddy hill which you have to scale up.

The Immuvit Fearless Challenge 10k and 5k Trail Run last Sunday at the La Mesa Nature Reserve offered both great scenery and challenges. A first timer at the La Mesa Nature Reserve, i was blown-away by the course and the serene panorama of the place.

Never mind if i wasn’t able to complete most of the obstacles that were set up at last Sunday’s 10k  trail course cum obstacle challenge,  as i was there simply to RUN and enjoy the trails with my ever dependable digital camera in tow.

Sequestered on a quiet corner of Quezon City bordering Bulacan province, this moderately challenging course passes some woodlands, meadows, wooden bridges which feasted our eyes to one of the most beautiful trail courses here in Metro Manila and the challenge it presented not only on the tough muddy terrain but also to the man-made obstacles that were laid-up for runners to conquer.

This was my first venture here at the La Mesa Reserve and i was virtually in awe of its vastness which dwarfs that of the much smaller La Mesa Eco-Park.

Here are some of the highlights as i give a short description of the race and the trails:

At the start

The start area was a precursor of what runners would expect running this course. Set amidst a backdrop of 20 to 30-foot tall trees and luscious greenery, the scene was like a mecca-like gathering of trail runners… wooden shade structures for runners to change into their gears, a temporary stage where a band was playing and another stage where awards and other programs would be presented.

There were about 7 to 8 waves of about 30 to 40 runners each that were flagged-off at about 15 minute intervals so as not to crowd-out the obstacles.

Still feeling fresh (and clean) before the start. L-R: Sam, Vicky, Blas and me

The view from the start as race marshals huddle to prepare the first obstacle

True enough, logs were set on fire for the first obstacle

We’re off! Jumping off the first hurdle!

A huge part of the route were on double-track trails and they were very well-maintained. Due to the constant rains that occurred a few days before the race, most of the tracks were wet and muddied. Runners threaded on the side or at the middle grassy portion although the faster runners didn’t care where to step on. They just flew by!

The first part of the route were mostly double-track trails

Runners had the exclusive use of the trails that Sunday

The first water station

The race course was fully served by well-stocked water stations at about 1 km intervals that i didn’t find any use of the hydration belt i was wearing. I was able to talk with some of the volunteers manning these stations and they told me that they had already set up the stations a little past midnight, 5 hours before race time.

The course was well-marked and manned by aides. There would be a tarpaulin sign that would indicate an incoming obstacle and these were posted a hundred meters before the actual obstacle.

The next obstacle…

Instead of crawling under that rug, we were just made to crawl on top of it! Nice one, Coach!

No chance of getting lost. Course was well-marked!

The muddy trail but that would get nastier when we reached km 7.5

Log hurdles ahead!

You get on top of these waist high to chest-high logs!

Runners preferred to run on the middle, grassy part of the trail

This was for most part, the condition of the trails…wet and muddy!

Runners from the second wave were now on our back

I trained for this at the Fit-Fil camp. Jim Saret would have been proud of me!:-)

One of the most picturesque portion of the trail

My favorite part of the trail

More log hurdles! There was a 2nd set of these

The husband eggs on the wifey..

A runner stops and pauses..

Trail shoes are more adaptable to these kind of surface

A small river overflowing its banks

Military wall ahead…

Looks like a roof-top with a bird beam on the top edge

Probably the most difficult obstacle of the course

You have to cross this waist-deep river to get to the wall for the climb

A view of the mud climb

After the mud climb

More trails, more mud!

The deeper we got into the woods, the muddier it was and it became very slippery.

Soaking in mud

All-wood bridges adds an authentic rural feel to the trails

One of the many wooden bridges

..and another with 3 kms more.

Yes, we had lunges too! Hope they put “lunches” next time.

There were still “waves of runners” waiting for their turn to begin when we reached the finish line!

Runners waiting in line to wash off their feet and shoes

Improvised shower

With friends after the finish

Friend Vicky Ras in her mud-soaked Reeboks

With Co-Race Director Jay Em, Coach Joseph Pagulayan and Coaches Jim and Tonette

Though these trails are not as challenging as those of nearby trail races like the Tanay Discovery Trails nor the Timberland Heights, this will still challenge hardened trail runners–and reward them with some of the most picturesque views!

More pictures on my facebook page:

Many thanks to Sherleen Ricafort of Outbound Communications for providing us the ride and food at the venue. Also to Team Reebok led by Blas and to Without Limits for a well-organized run!