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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mt Apo Marathon: What Sky Running Can Teach You

I recently joined the first Mt. Apo Marathon - Vertical and Sky Running. I am usually afraid of heights and the idea to even conquer the tallest mountain charted at 2954 meter asl (9692 feet) in the Philippines is already crazy enough.
trekking Mt. Matutum at 2286 masl

Having run marathons and ultra - marathons assured me that I could hurdle the long hours of running or walking if needed and the assurance of "85% runnable" by the organizer seemed to pacify my anxiety. I joined  trail training including the heat and elevation exposure, so, the Mt Apo experience can be closely simulated. My peak trail runs included Lake Holon and Mt Matutum  with 1000+ masl elevation.  The tips from other mountain climbers who covered Mt. Apo already assured me that the trail of  Magpet, Kidapawan is friendly enough.
preparing our trail food few hours before gun start

I know we prepared enough for the run - trail mileage, elevation gain and heat trainings. So, the next concern was hydration. The 14 - hour cut - off signaled that we would be consuming the entire day on the trail. So, we equipped ourselves with enough food trail - sandwiches, rice meals, chocolates, salt, energy gel, 2 liter of fluids. My small bag was indeed full of tummy essentials but I didn't want to feel sorry that I lack the essentials knowing that trail running is tougher and more harsh than road running. True enough, the long hours of running / walking for some runners depleted their food and water supply that we started giving out our own supply.
with fellow Mt Apo Runners from Tacurong Runners Club and Gensan's Team Matutum 

At 3:30AM gunstart, the first 10K of the trail was consisted of macadam and partly concreted road but the elevation and stiffness was too much. I had to rely on my fellow teammates for some decent lights as my small head lamp was not enough amidst dark foggy morning on Magpet, Kidapawan. We were among the last tail runners among 140+ Mt Apo marathoners.
first aid station - enjoying the bounty energy drinks, banana, eggs, and water melon

As the light started pouring in, my 18 - year - old pacer, Jason, and I picked up our pacing and running the downhills and going easy on the up hills. As first timer, I wanted to keep my energy reserved for what was at stake on Mt. Apo.

Few days before our actual run, a Low Pressure Area condition was swarming on Davao and Mt Apo was one of the affected. The heavy downpour during our travel from General Santos City to Kidapawan a day before race day was not a pleasant news knowing that the trail can be tougher; we could only pray  harder.

The early morning was without rain, still, knowing that  temperature can drop at anytime, jacket was a must. And with weather update about LPA, we had our rain coats stacked in our hydration bags.

Our torture began when we had to cross the small creek where the beautiful falls lie. trail from the creek were hard - laden big rocks and earth as we started our upward trail. The route was well marked with race signages, so, with my pacer all gone, I could only rely on the signages and other runners who were having hard time too with the stiff vertical.

Elevation gain was gradually taking its toll. The stiff trail made running difficult, so, brisk walking was the only option as we needed to reach the summit by 1130am. I started picking up my pace, but the high elevation made breathing difficult. I had to stop few times to normalize my heart beat and to breathe on some menthol Chinese "white flower" to keep me sane and focused.
with Atty Josemar ALbano and Sir Lito Mallari on rest stop to summit after 9 hours run/trek

Other slow runners were passing through the stiff mountain ridge, where we could only rely on some solid roots and hardened earth. The yellow CAUTION tape between the runners and the cliff was not at all re - assuring, only reminded me to pray my rosary and wished for safety.

Few hours after some monstrous ascent / descent, I reached my teammates and could only be gladder to see them. It was around 9am, we somehow reached the last Aid Station and refilled our hydration bag. The marshals recorded our race bibs and advised that 1.8KM is left to reach Lake Venado, then, another kilometer(s) to summit. Wanting to reach the summit, I coaxed my teammates to at least reach where we can meet the marshal just in case we couldn't reach the summit within cut - off time. True enough, a group of lead runners were taking the back trail already as the destination was far than near. With fear of being caught in the dark on high mountains, at 20KM+ we decided not to continue and head back the starting line.

on one of the treacherous slippery downhills, clasping only on hard roots

The heavy rain was coming on us though around 3PM, so, our windbreaker somehow protected us but  what was slippery trail was even burdened more by the heavy downpour. At 4PM, the sky was dimmed and rain was still pouring, water was already gushing through our pathways. Good thing though that the trekking pole helped us with our balance and brake not to  mention my fall as we ran downhill with the gushing water.

At 5PM, the rain somehow stopped but we were stranded on the cliff that separated the high trail with the creek where we first passed through. Two ropes were already cascaded to help us down as wrong move could lead us to crashed bones on high grounds.


the tranquil river is now fierce from the heavy rain
At 6PM, we were glad that we we were back to the first Aid Station with hot arrozcaldo, strained foot and freezing body. We were told about 60 more runners were still on the mountains. We could only pray that they could be back safe and sound. Communication was nil on top Mt. Apo, so, stranded runners would have to attend to themselves for safety and sanity.

With only 10km left and bruised ego for not able to reach the summit, we decided to still continue the track on foot, however, my sprained foot was nagging already that walking on stiff descent was next to impossible.  I had to walk backwards, so,not to put more stretch on my foot lagging though my other teammates.

At 7PM with 7km more to to finish line, heavy rain and thunderstorm was on us. Trying not to keep my teammates on hold, I had to walk faster than I should not minding my aching foot (thank God to yoga meditation!). I had to tell them to just leave me behind but they chose to be once again deaf to my plea.

after 17 hours, we, sir Lito and maam Theresa, finally reached the finish line

At 830PM in pitch black, we arrived the finish line with the welcoming applause of our teammates. We did not get the Finisher's medal earned though our souvenir shirt. After 30 minutes, two of my teammates came heavily soaked and freezing. Six other teammates though were still on the mountains. Their spouses could only be more worried of their safety.
the hand few who reached the Mt Apo summit within 8 - hour cut - off;
with GenSan Team Matutum's Jessie (far right) only finisher within the 14 - hour cut - off

At 11pm, my teammates had arrived safe and sound with medals to boot! Only one teammate, Jessie Lozada, with 24 other runners out of 150 officially registered completed the race within the cut off time. Before we headed to General Santos City, news came in that there were a few runners rescued the following day.

The Mt. Apo race was both bitter - sweet - the tough trail, weather condition and extra 10km+ ( according to GPRS pedometer watches of some runners) did not allow us to finish the race within 14 hours. However, the race taught us that faith and goodwill among fellow runners can make one bad race still a good one. So, until next Mt. Apo marathon, and when that time comes, we shall be more equipped ( and I hope the organizer, more sensitive).

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