Mt. Kalatungan Trail Ultra – Braving the 5th Highest Mountain in the Philippines

If you can learn to endure pain, you can survive anything. Some people learn to embrace it- to love it. Some endure it through drowning it in sorrow, or by making themselves forget. Others turn it into power and strength. Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.

And here I am again, recollecting what I went through, how I survived my first 50-miler trail run race. My first trail run race for 2020 and up until now, 3 days after the race, I still can’t believe that I actually did it, that I endured being out there in the forest for more than 20 hours! Some people asked me, why are you running that long? What is it that you are trying to prove? Well to answer that question, I don’t really know WHY! Am I out to prove something? To anyone? Definitely No, to myself perhaps yes! To me it’s a case of proving to myself I could do something out of the ordinary, that I could do more than what I have done before. So when my friend said we are running the 80km category in Mt. Kalatungan, the 5th highest mountain in the Philippines, Though I was skeptical, a huge part of me said YES, for the challenge, for the fun of racing with dear friends, and seeing friends again from the trail running community who are also accepting the challenge of the country’s 5th highest mountain. Having been to both Mt. Kalatungan and Lumpanag or Wiji (2900m+ & 2800m+ elevation) before, I knew it won’t be easy and it will require commitment to train in order to survive the race.

MKTU – The brave souls who toed the line for 80km category 76 runners with only 12 women taking the challenge

So the big day finally came and I was nervous as ever! But was glad to see friends and a lot of familiar faces during race briefing and few hours before gun start. 76 brave souls toed the line for the 50-mile category, only 12 of those were women courageous enough to take on the challenge of running the 80km course. As Race Director Rene Amigleo said, if you will survive the MKTU 50-miles race, other races will be easier. Uhmmm…. To me that was both a warning and a motivation. That simply meant, they’ve prepared quite a course for us. With 3 intermediate cut-offs in-between, I knew I cannot be complacent.

Infinite Trail ladies – Juliet, Me, Pla

12:01AM, Sunday and we are off to go on our journey, a course that is unknown to the majority of us. Pushing through the first 16 kilometers – an uphill battle in the dark! I could hear myself panting for the most part of it. It was cold, dark, with a mixed inclined terrain and included very little pavement sections. Majority of the route were uphill terrains! With the first cutoff in mind, we pushed through the dark. I managed to pace myself well and was relieved to have checked in the first cut-off station an hour and a half earlier than the cut-off. By that time, I was a bit worried with my tummy as I have failed to feed myself regularly while I was pushing my way to the first cut off! A slight discomfort, I felt my tummy tighten and was scared it won’t accept anything I feed it with. I forced myself to eat the hot arrozcaldo prepared for us and I felt much better. There were packs of rice and viand prepared for us to bring so we will have something to eat by the time we reach the junction before climbing Mt. Kalatungan. So I picked mine, put in hotdogs, and dilis, refilled my water bottle and then went ahead to continue.

View Deck – Aid Station scene and First Intermediate Cutoff

The next 9 kilometers was a non-stop uphill going to the major mountain Mt. Kalatungan. This time I was conscious with my hydration and nutrition which helped a lot in reaching the summit of Mt. Kalatungan. I stopped at the junction and ate my breakfast before climbing my way to Mt. Kalatungan. Some 42km runners caught up with us and the narrow path going up was a bit crowded as some runners were on their way back from the summit. While climbing, we were greeted with the beautiful sunrise and I was reminded that like that sunrise, this day is going to be amazing no matter how hard the course may be, it will end just great! Going up Mt. Kalatungan and going back to the junction was fun! It was very overwhelming bumping into friends running 42km giving me hugs and encouraging cheers! Definitely an energy and morale booster! This is what I love in trail running, everyone is cheering for everyone! 

Beautiful Sunrise on my way to the Summit of Mt. Kalatungan
Mt. Kalatungan Summit with Friends Jaybhoy and Jake running 42km

Going to the next mountain after Kalatungan is yet another challenge, but it’s actually something I look forward to. I love the long monkey trail downhill course before actually climbing Mt. Lumpanag or Wiji as it is commonly known to hikers and mountaineers. This time, my trekking poles were kept as it won’t be much of a help. Going to the peak I occasionally stopped and admired the spectacular view laid before my eyes from the top! I was in awe of God’s magnificent creature! I was climbing with celebrity Drew Arellano and his friend, both under 42km 🙂 They mean serious business, ang bilis! Finally reached the peak and quickly grabbed a bite (boiled egg) to recover and took one decent photo of myself as I did not see any photographer stationed there (perhaps taking a break).

That was a tough climb for both Mt. Kalatungan and Mt. Lumpanag and I thank God I survived it without draining myself. Constantly hydrating myself and the cold weather were huge factors why climbing both summit became bearable.

Next challenge was the 12 kilometers downhill after Mt. Lumpanag/Wiji! That will bring us out of the jungle. So! My dilemma began! Errrrr..I suck at downhill! Seriously I do! Though I have improved a bit attacking those downhill terrains, but still, I think I suck at it! It took me a while to get out of the jungle carefully going through that 12km downhill (with less than a kilometer of assault). It wasn’t also wise to bomb the 12km downhill, not good for those knees STILL early in the race. Not even halfway the race!

We are expected at the 2nd intermediate cut-off after getting out of the jungle, my Garmin registered 33.98km at AS3. Again, relieved to have gone there more than an hour ahead of the cut-off time. It was almost 12-noon when I checked myself in. Thank you for the cooooold coke and food AS peeps, Kokong Thanks!! Quenched my thirst and rested quickly, and refilled my hydration bottles. I was able to recover and then off I go to the 3rd intermediate cut-off. This time, we went through a bit favorable terrain as most of them were runnable and friendly, but with me already exhausted from that almost first 34km I don’t have much energy left to run all the way. I jogged, walked and took a little more time. I didn’t really run as much as I should’ve but still conscious with the time. Finally reached the beautiful Lake Napalit and was so impressed with the Aid Station! It was packed with food and drinks! Perfect time to power up! Fueled myself up with rice, biko, fruits, soda and water! Dzah! Busog ka ghorl?

Beautiful View – have to stop for this view while climing Mt. Lumpanag/Wiji
Dusseldorf and Sir from GTR ascending Mt. Lumpanag

As usual, because clock is ticking, I didn’t stay there long (as much as I wanted to!), I left the AS full with Dusseldorf from team TEPAC who was taking his time also. Thanks to him for pacing with me for a while 😀 before zooming off his way to the last cu-off station. Around 3km away from our last intermediate cut-off, my Infinite girls Pla and Juliet caught up with me. We paced our way to the next aid station where our drop bags were – km 48 in my watch. 2 hours before that last AS cut-off, we took our time to freshen up, ate, drank our coooold coke (thank you baby boys of BTR for taking good care of the Ates 😀 ) , and refilled our bottles and went ahead to our last 34km course.

I admit, we underestimated our last 34km route thinking we’ve already surpassed the major assaults and climb not knowing the last 34km will be grueling and intense! Well in our book it WAS! Yes, we checked on the elevation profile before we left the last AS and we were confident we will finish it in 5-hours, maximum! First hour was great, we were at 5.4km/hr. But it became harder as we went along following the trail marks. And there it was! The ~1150m high Fighter Peak we had to climb! I got to the peak without using my trekking poles – that was dumb! I have to admit, I didn’t know that was going to be a loooong assault that I didn’t bother using my trekking poles – I could’ve saved energy if I did. Well, we finished it in one piece BUT I was feeling dizzy and thirsty by the time we reached the peak. I needed sugar! I wanted to eat that sliced bread with peanut butter prepared by Pla at that water station after the assault but my throat couldn’t take it! Good thing there was a store nearby – errrrr.. about more than a kilometer away actually! We bought coke (not cold) and drank it. Thank you to the kind store owner for re-filling our water bottles too! <3 . I finally recovered and we jogged our way to God knows what else is waiting for us!

Darkness came slowly and we were still wandering around corn farms, sugar cane farms, those totally small tracts of wooded land area, inclined quarries, small rivers, and dumps. Recalling that course now made me realize we have run through all kinds of terrain a trail running race could offer! From steep climbs, uneven runnable terrains, to steep knee-busting downhill route! Name it, we went through it!

Already deep in the night, with still 14 more kilometers to the finish line, I dropped out from pacing with my other two infinite girls and let them go ahead. I was glad to have caught up with another group who were initially ahead of us. I decided to pace with them, maybe not really beside them but making sure they’ll stay in sight as I continue to fight through the last 14km deep in the night!

I was becoming more anxious. The demons in my head were creeping in. Damn! Why am I doing this? Why Am I here? Can I quit already? This is crazy! Nasaan ang hustisya? Why is this freaking hard? I was furious at the race directors (peace powhz! 😀 ) for giving us a hard time even with the last 10 kilometres on the course. I was literally whining! Can’t they give this last 10km to us? This feels like I am starting all over again! These seemingly countless hours running, jogging, climbing, walking, in trails and the endless assault forced some intense emotions that I nearly cried. But I was quick to recover from my whining and reminded myself, I signed up for this! Stand up for it, own it! Hold your head up high girl and keep pushing. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time – and ginusto mo yan! Panindigan mo! I kept pushing making sure the two men I was with were within sight. Tim and Coy are experienced ultra trail runners so I knew I was with a good company. I knew these two will never give up despite all the tantrums! Haha! Teamwork in ensuring we follow the right route and we see trail marks as we move along in the dark.

Finally the sight of the hi-way! It felt like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! Phew! Finally I can see myself winning against my own self-doubts! I had just 3-kilometers to go to the finish line. Still closely following Tim and Coy, I was relieved to see them turning right, I knew that has to be the finish line finally! Woohooo! So finally there were my ever proud fwend Globe, Sir Yvan, and Dianne cheering for me as I crossed the finish line. Natapos din! Pumasa ka girl with flying colors! It felt amazing and I kept on thanking God for heeding my call, for allowing me to get to the finish line unscathed and still smiling!

Finally Lake Napalit Aid Station – few kilometers away from our last intermediate cut-off

Cheers and congratulations to the organizers of the Mt. Kalatungan Trail Ultra 2020 for the very successful race. Congratulations to everyone who participated in the race, whether you finished or not, you guys were all brave and courageous! You are all awesome and strong! Super congratulations to podium finishers especially those from the 80km category! That was quite an ultra trail route by Race Director Rene Amigleo and Technical Director Ramie Amigleo. The Amigleo brothers are both Asia Trail Master’s Grand Masters who have proven to be tough warriors themselves as Trail Runners – the pride of Pangantucan, Bukidnon. Special kudos to Ms. Amor Amigleo (RD Rene’s wife) for the awesome job as the Race’s AS Director! No runner left each AS hungry! That was a very crucial part of the race, being fuelled well during the race. Thank you also to all volunteers and marshals for looking after the runners and ensuring we run the course safe. Cheers! See you next year! (uulit pa ghorl? 😀 )

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