“Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on but you keep going anyway”
Chose that quote to open this post because that’s how I exactly felt at my recently concluded Cordillera Mountain Ultra race in Tinongdan, Itogon Benguet. CMU50 has been a bucket list since I started trail running. We wanted to join 2018 but we were not able to push through so we put it off a bit as we were also not prepared.
Then 2019 schedule came out and we were on it again, wanting to tick off that trail run race bucket list! I was really skeptical, no, actually scared at first. I had tons of apprehensions and was too scared to go out of my comfort zone. I have this issue of doubting myself even before I do something I want to do (good). Thanks to teammates and friends who are strong-willed, persistent, and confident, who included me in the registration and paid it ahead. I was left with no choice but to train and suck it all up! No turning back now! We knew we were up against a tough race because hey! it’s Cordillera! So we trained the best way we can and the best way we knew how.
One week before race day, after my last cardio training, I GOT SICK! I knew it from the symptoms that I will be having a flu and I was anxious because it would usually take me 5 days to a week to fully recover. So instead of doing taper runs for the week, I ended up staying at home and in bed for the most part of the week just resting. I must’ve consumed all the vitamin C in the world just to feel better!
Met with Sir Toni and C3 in Manila before we took our bus to Baguio
I flew to Manila with my friends/teammates still not feeling well (2 days before race day) and met some friends there before heading to Baguio. We arrived at Baguio 3AM Friday with no reserved accommodation from anywhere. Plan was just to have breakfast at Cafe by the Ruins (That Thing Called Tadhana keshe!), and then market for foods to bring in Tinongdan. We walked along the session road to look for an open establishment for coffee and stayed at Burnham Park until 7:00 in the morning then headed to Elena’s friend’s place to leave our bags before hitting the wet market. And we are all set to our race destination!
Breakfast at Cafe by the Ruins in Baguio with my girls
This year’s CMU race commenced at Tinongdan, Itogon. Tinongdan is the second largest barangay in Itogon, Benguet and is one of the tourist destinations in Cordillera with Mt. Ugo as a popular destination among mountaineers and trail runners. We were informed ahead that there will only be one trip going to Tinongdan daily via Jeepney and it leaves before lunch. We of course made sure we get to the terminal before 11 in the morning to ensure a seat. The jeepney left Baguio almost 2pm! Can’t imagine we waited almost 3 hours just sitting there :D, patience is virtue mga dhai!
Our Jeepney Ride going to Tinongdan
That Bridge – beautiful <3
We reached Tinongdan, Itogon Benguet 4PM and were greeted with the locals warmth and hospitality. We were ushered to our homestay right away just few meters away from the school (race venue) and were so glad that Ate Norma was kind enough to prepare our requested “pinikpikan” for our early dinner. As much as we wanted to explore the place before sundown, we were too exhausted and sleep deprived to go out so decided to call it a day and doze off :D. Hello 12 hours sleep! Super relieved!
We woke up refreshed the next day but still, I wasn’t feeling 100% well. Gah! that’s a day before the race! I started having dry cough, my throat was itchy and was still feverish. I was flurried and was starting to consider bailing out but my teammates and friends were very encouraging and positive that I will be okay and will be able to race. Berocca and Flanax were my besties!
Saturday, we were joined by Doc Riyadh, Celso, Aye, and Rox at the homestay. Fun! dami na naming kakain! hahaha! We prepared our meals the entire Saturday and ate a lot! lol! thanks to ate Norma for allowing us to cook and of course for preparing the super gooooood brewed Tinongdan coffee (I never had so much coffee in a day!).
The hanging bridge few steps away from our homestay
We started the day with healthy breakfast and a quick stroll at the hanging bridge few meters away from our homestay and checked out the small rice field after crossing the hanging bridge. I actually have fear of heights but bearing in mind that being in a place as beautiful as Tinongdan is not a daily experience, I thought, hey! f*** it! I’ll tough it out and enjoy the experience! So yes, I actually made a total of around 5 trips to that bridge :D.
RACE KIT CLAIMING AND BRIEFING
We were excited to attend the race briefing and race kits claiming after lunch and I was personally thrilled to finally see and meet some fb trail runner friends in person! Always my favorite part during races is meeting new friends with the same passion. The Cordillera Mountain Ultra was a well-represented trail running race! runners coming from 30 countries at that! So looking around observing the runners can get really intimidating. Don’t get me wrong, “intimidating” does not mean people were stand-offish, it’s completely the opposite! Everyone were very friendly and encouraging, even the elites :). Personally, it was just the nerves starting to kick in.
We were entertained by a welcome ceremony and an Igorot dance performed by the local kids and that adorable Pearly Shell dance by the mumshies was a hit! :D. So there, all warmed up guys? Let’s get to the race briefing. The elites were called up onstage both men and women and it was an awe-inspiring moment seeing them! I know how hard those people worked to get to where they are. It takes a lot of discipline and commitment to train hard and reach that status (in any sport). Mind you I get more excited seeing these kind of people than actually meeting celebrities! normal ba ako? lol! Then RD JP Alipio laid out the race’s course quite well, too well that I already got exhausted just by listening to him! hahaha! Seriously, sometimes listening to race briefings and trail course details can bring in the self-doubt early and can feed the demons in your head even before the race starts (only if you entertain it!). Don’t get me wrong, it IS important to listen to race briefings!
The Elites to this Year’s Cordillera Mountain Ultra
Housemates featuring Ica of Raceyaya 😀
With the super humble Champ Ces and Coach JLB
Glad to have met Sir Mike finally :). We’ve been fb friends
We went back to our homestay, spent the rest of the day just relaxing, and chit-chatting with other runners who went to our homestay to eat and freshen up. I was relieved that my fever subsided before we hit the sack (around 7PM) and prayed to fully feel better before guntime. We retired to bed early and guess what? I WAS NOT ABLE TO SLEEP AT ALL! My teammate Pla had the same dilemma so yeah, two sleepless trail divas! hahahaha! Always an issue with me before race day! Around 1:00AM, I gave up trying to sleep and got up and prayed instead. 2AM, decided to show up despite my health condition and the lack of sleep. So I laced up, prepared my gears, had coffee, ate my bread, and toed in to the starting line with my teammates and friends.
The Cordillera Mountain Ultra – D-Day!
This year’s CMU is Asia Trail Master’s Supertrail. A SuperTrail refers to selected events, which offer 50 bonus finisher points for runners on the maximum two longest race distances. The selected events must meet at least one of the following criteria: Established international prestige, High participation numbers, Competitive field on the longest race distance, Proven high quality organizational standard, Long-term vision of developing trail running in line with ATM objectives, There can only be 1 SuperTrail per country each year, and this year, it’s the Cordillera Mountain Ultra. No wonder the race was packed with trail running elites and uh, hard!
Few minutes before gun start
Lacing up and showing up to the finish line was the bravest thing I did. I was seriously nervous! I looked around and was again a bit intimidated! Gosh! these people seemed very ready for this race! I kept telling myself, just do your best, race smart, trust your training, and above all, listen to your body. Celso, gathered us again to the race map and pointed at the course and the 3 cut-offs and reminded us to make sure we pass the cut-offs (first 32kms). Ooookaaay! bahala na!
So gun start finally at exactly 4:00AM! Goal was to be at the 15kms AS on or before 7:30AM, that’s a 3.5-hr cutoff. It was still dark but thankfully first few kms were manageable/runnable and I certainly felt everyone’s enthusiasm. I was initially pacing with my teammate Pla, she was way stronger so she went ahead, managed to catch up with her and Elena on that 3kms runnable route and went ahead a little, then came the long ascent at the 4km mark. I continued with my own pace keeping in mind that I am up against myself and not anyone else. Maybe halfway the first cutoff, I was beginning to feel weak and felt like my fever was back! I focused and did the best I can to go faster. Saw RD JP around 6AM cheering on the runners and reminding us of the cutoff, be there at km15 7:30 guys! I pushed despite feeling a bit dizzy, I started to entertain the thought of bailing out at KM15 whether I make it on time or not as I was scared if I’d press on to the next cutoff, I might not be able to survive it. I felt my temperature rising as we continued to attack that unending ascend that a lot of other runners have advanced ahead of me. I got into KM15 9 minutes before cutoff! I was relieved but bailing out was still in mind. I was able to catch up with Sir Mike and told him I wasn’t feeling well and felt that my fever is back. He told me to take a rest for a while and eat and observe my condition if it’ll get any better and decide whether I should continue or not. Doc Yadh was a bit behind so I told myself that if he will not make it to the cut-off I will declare myself DNF and just go with him! Seriously I partially made up my mind! But Doc Yadh fought his way to KM15 and made it few minutes before cutoff. I told him, I wasn’t feeling so well. He was determined to continue and encouraged me to do as well and just think of the next cutoff as another Aid Station. Let’s get there slowly. So I took a deep breathe, picked up my trekking poles and started walking to the next AS/cutoff station. I silently told myself, “this is it! you’ve decided to push further, no turning back, do your best, push and fight harder!“
Beautiful views going to 2nd cutoff
2nd Cut-off, distance 7km, cutoff 3.5hrs, that means we have to reach 22km on or before 11:00AM, otherwise, we are out of the race. It may be just 7km compared to the first 15km we went through with the same cut off time but I knew based on the course profile that it’s gonna be a tough course! The seemingly inexorable ascend was absolutely an energy drainer! Man, that was one steep climb we had to go through to finally get to that 22km mark! Thankfully I decided to use trekking poles this time! Doc Yadh was initially following me closely but I lost him as I continued to climb. I met Goh from Malaysia, he was running behind me before that steep assault and we had a good chat along the way. Those little chitchats with him was a perfect distraction from that steep climb to km 22. It was exhausting, I planned to pace slowly, small steps going up but not stopping. Whenever I feel tired, I just look around the beautiful scenery of Cordillera. Beautiful, beautiful trails! The majestic views was a sure treat! If only I had the luxury of time, I would’ve taken a lot of snaps. Finally summitted West Ugo 40 minutes before cutoff! That was a relief! The view was stunning! Thanks to the marshals of West Ugo for offering us their water (that was not an Aid Station, so we appreciate them so much!). I sat down for a while and took a short rest then refilled my water and went ahead to the next Aid Station/cut-off point.
One of the few snaps I took on our way up to that steep ascend to Km22 with Goh from Malaysia
3rd cutoff, distance 9km (31kms), cutoff time 3hrs. Be at the next summit on or before 2PM. We started off with a bit of a tortuous descent. The loose stones was a pain in the ass! literally! because I fell on my ass while attacking that downhill part (fresh from the loooooong ascend). Ouch! that was a solid fall! solid than my feelings! hahaahha! thankfully I didn’t roll all the way to the bottom of that trail, hahaha! seriously, masakit yun huh! that descent led us to an open ridge. The sun’s heat was already in full force and I could already feel my lips chaffing. I was keeping myself hydrated and was mindful of my nutrition and my electrolytes intake. The sun’s heat was at its peak as I continue to follow that open ridge route and tried my best to run whenever I can. Thanks to our trainings in Mapawa, the sun’s strike was bearable. I had to stop along the ridge as I came along 3 men, one of them wasn’t feeling well and can’t hardly eat anything. I offered my nips chocolates and vaporine before going ahead. They followed a little bit after, taking it slowly.
I finally got to the foot of Mt. Ugo before 1:00PM and was pleasantly surprised that that’s the 3rd cutoff already! We were super relieved! We thought we had to climb Mt. Ugo summit to complete the 3rd cutoff, because if we had too, I doubt we will make it. So, that’s it! I passed the 3 initial cutoffs as planned! Stopped there for a while, poured some water on myself and refilled my water bottles, ate few boiled bananas and then I started to attack the steep climb to the summit of Mt. Ugo. I was relieved to see Goh and Yvan from Singapore caught up! Then finally Mt. Ugo summit after battling that 2km steep vertical climb! I didn’t have the energy to go 20meters further for a picture of the Mt. Ugo mark.
Beautiful capture by Rox Roldan – runnable terrain finally after all the steep ascend. On my way to Lusod AS
After Mt. Ugo, the marshals giddily told us that the next 17.5km will be all downhill! Not really all, but mostly. I made it to the 3rd cutoff an hour earlier so the mantra was to bring it home and finish strong! I forgot all about my fever and the hard cough :D. Just when we thought we can crush the downhills and gain advantage over time, we were so wrong! That wasn’t an all friendly downhill course! Well unless you are Koi Grey, you can bomb those downhills like you have springs on your feet installed :D.
You see, my weakness is downhill! I tend to hold back making it a bit difficult for me to just “let go and fly” as my trail runner friends would say. Man, all those downhills hurt! I was feeling a little pain in my legs already while carefully attacking those downhills so I was literally talking to myself “no it doesn’t hurt, you’re okay, just go on, don’t stop”, and I just keep on going.
Thanks Glairold Racella for this photo! 3.5km away from Finish Line
Of course I made a short stop at km 33 to refill my water and then at Lusod Aid Station where runners where greeted with the locals applause (heartwarming!). There I refueled, drank my cold mountain dew (my favorite energizer ever!), ate some boiled banana, and suman, exchanged few words with other runners who were at the AS and the locals, then headed my way. I still have 10km to conquer and clock was ticking! I kept on checking my watch and was anxious and started to get worry I might not be able to make it on time! I continued and made sure I run on areas that are runnable and was relieved to see an AS and was told, I am 3.5kms away from the finish line. Time check, it was 4:45PM, I was starting to feel the blisters pain – perfect! ugh!. Then another uphill route to my dismay (ayaw mo talaga kaming tigilan huh! :D). Anyway, went on as fast as I could! I was relieved seeing that suspended bridge, I knew I was closer to the Finish Line! Then about a kilometer inclined road going to the finish line! Checked in finally at the finish line 5:34PM (cutoff was 6PM). Yay! kagidlay!
A little ascend 3.5km away from FL
Post Race – Finisher’s Badge
So there, I earned my CMU badge! Bucket list, ticked off! Truly, long races requires mental toughness! I was ready to bail out and give up but thank goodness to encouraging trail friends, I made the decision to press on and continue fighting. It was an amazing experience, my first ultra trail run race outside my comfort zone, definitely one for the books! Thank you Cordillera for the awesome and unforgettable experience, for the stunning views, and for the challenging route. Thank you to RD JP Alipio for the well organized race and to all the volunteers – mabuhay kayo!! The photographers, thank you for the amazing photos that captured what we went through that race – beautifully. So much respect to everyone who were brave enough to take the challenge and toed in the starting line. Codillera, I will be back ;).
To my trail runner friends, I highly recommend joining the CMU, totally worth it! See you? Yes? Yes!