Friday, April 8, 2011

Experiencing Mayon at 360° (Part 1 of 2)

My participation in the recently-concluded Mayon 360° Ultra Marathon was an off-shoot of the BDM 102 high. I decided on joining the Mayon 360 five days after BDM, while my legs were still sore and I was still walking with a slight limp. Part of it was me thinking that it was a chance to do an ultra without having to put in "separate training," but a larger part of it was me simply longing for a BDM-like experience once again. BDM weekend went by all too fast, and  Mayon 360 was a chance to re-live some of that atmosphere, if only for a fleeting span of 80 kilometers.

Kilometers 0 to 20

April 2, Saturday, 4:00 a.m. It wasn't crowded at all at the starting line over at the Peñaranda Park. Only 69 ultra runners showed up for this historic event, and that included two of our friendly neighborhood Kenyans. So, they're now doing ultras, too, huh? I bet they'll never do the BDM races, where the biggest prizes are pride, a silver buckle, and the RD's hug. Sorry, digression there. The Kenyans' eyes were definitely on the prize. Me? I just wanted to run and maybe make a bit of personal history on the side. After all, it was supposed to be the first ultra run around the full circumference of the world-famous Mayon volcano.

By 4:30 a.m, we were off. Again, the inimitable feel of a "small" and intimate race. I opted to position myself at the tail end of the pack, as I did during BDM. The plan was to run at a comfortable 7:30-8:00 pace for 20-minute intervals, and then go on a five-minute walk break. The weather was chilly, and I found it rather difficult to break a sweat. It was dark in certain areas, and lighting came only from cars and buses that whizzed by (we ran along the national highway - hardly any street lighting). Had I known that it was going to be that dark, I would have brought along my headlamp. Good thing other runners brought theirs, and I paced with some of them during the really dark stretches. It was also fortunate that the road was well-paved, so there was practically no need to watch out for potholes. It was exhilarating to be running in the dark, in unfamiliar territory. 

As I passed (and skipped) the first aid station at Km 5 in Daraga, I got to thinking about hydration and nutrition along the route. Unlike other runners who drove from Manila (I flew), I did not have a support vehicle this time around. All I had was a waist pack that held some supplies and Bald Runner's and the organizers' assurance that necessary food and drinks would be provided along the route at five-kilometer intervals. Still not wanting to take any chances, I stocked my waist pack with some essentials - GU gels, cereal bars, Gatorade powder, extra socks, Bodyglide, some Ibuprofen (Alaxan FR), some Hammer Endurolyte capsules, two sachets of Hammer Recoverite, and cash. Buttoned to the belt were two 200 ml. plastic flasks. The damned thing must have weighed at least five pounds. Had I known that the route would be dotted with roadside sari-sari stores and that food and drinks would in fact be sufficient, maybe I would have settled for a hand-held water bottle instead, and a smaller pouch with fewer supplies. 

Daybreak came at around 5:30. I had already covered around 11 kilometers by then, and the 20:5 run-walk ratio seemed sustainable. This stretch featured a rolling course, and at the highest point, it gained a maximum elevation of 173 meters. According to my 310XT, this was somewhere along Km 9 (For those interested and who are planning to do this race next year, I will post the full route's elevation profile later on.). It was also around this time when I had my first glimpse of the Mayon volcano in the pale morning light. By this time, most of the runners were settling into his or her preferred pace, and the small bands that ran together in the darkness were breaking up one by one. I was very mindful of my right knee and ITB, which became very sore during BDM. I was also cautious with my left leg, which had a bout with shin splints just fairly recently. All in all, however, I was running without any issues and simply having a good time. Here are some photos of this portion of the route. Some of these are blurred because I took them while I was running.

Early glimpse of Mayon volcano
Dirt and grass shoulders provide respite for the knees
No gravel or pebbles on the roadside. Nice!
From the photos above, you will see that the shoulders of the highway consist of dirt and grass. No gravel or pebbles, unlike the shoulders of some portions of the Roman Highway in Bataan and the MacArthur Highway in Pampanga. Given the type of surface, running along the shoulders actually felt good for my tortured knees and shins.

I eventually reached the municipality of Guinobatan. After skipping the first aid station, I passed by the ones located at Kms 10 and 15. These first few aid stations served up only water and some chocolate bars (Cloud 9), and one of them, if I'm not mistaken, had boiled bananas (saba). I sped up a bit during some portions of this stretch, and I hit a 6:20-6:30 pace for a few kilometers.  It was a combination of factors, I guess. The weather was cool, still no sun, and I was pain-free and raring to explore the unfamiliar route. As daylight broke, I got a better glimpse of my surroundings. I definitely liked what I saw.
Next town, please.
Damn wires spoiled the view.

Clean and living rivers
Right on time

Kilometers 21 to 40

I hit the 20-kilometer mark 17 minutes before my target time of three hours. For the first quarter of the distance, I went slightly faster than my target pace. The aid station in Km 20 did not have any food, so it was a good thing that I got a banana and some chocolates from the one in Km 15. I wolfed those down because I was already feeling some hunger, and the next aid station that will have some food was still five kilometers away.  At my pace, that meant running for 40 to 45 minutes more. I was not tired at all, but the banana and the chocolate worked wonders and gave me an energy boost. I also took in one caffeinated GU gel, as I strangely felt a bit sleepy. Still no issues up to this point, and at 7:13 a.m., I reached Ligao City. Situated there were the next three aid stations, at Kms 25, 30, and 35.  At the aid station in Km 25, I took in a couple of hard-boiled eggs with some salt, a banana, some soda and water. I also refilled my flasks with water.

The first half of this portion of the route - Kms 21 to 30 - brought us through green rice fields. The sun was already up as it was already past 8 a.m., and the absence of trees meant that there would be nothing to shade us from the sun. It was at this point where I had to bring out my shades and my Nike solar sleeves. Solar sleeves with UV protection are normally used by golfers (I bought it at a golf store in California), but are also quite perfect for runners like me that hate using sun block. Still no issues, and my pace hovered in the 7:00 to 9:00 range. Everything around me was green and refreshing, and once again, I felt very fortunate to be running outside the tired routes of Manila. I already sound like a broken record by now, but let me say this once again: You'll NEVER experience anything like this in Bonifacio Global City, Makati, Roxas Boulevard, or the MOA complex.

The road stretches on and on

Green everywhere

Life is a Highway
Saturday stroll

Pit stop at Km 30
I made a pit stop at the aid station in Km 30. There I had a banana and one of my cereal bars. I also made myself some Gatorade using one sachet of the powdered Gatorade concentrate that I had in my waist pack. As I took a break, I noticed that the area between the foot and the shin on the front of my right leg was throbbing. It was just mild discomfort rather than bothersome pain at that point, but I was a bit concerned. The discomfort felt awfully familiar, and it was a sensation I was very familiar with. It was the onset of shin splints. Oh no, not again. My 310XT showed that I had only been running for 4 hours and 10 minutes. I still had a very long way to go. I can't get hurt yet.

Still on target
I had an hour and 50 minutes to cover the next 10 kilometers. Up until that point, except for the usual and expected soreness, it had been an issue-free run thus far.  Little did I know that the most challenging stretch of the Mayon 360 route was just around the bend. As a matter of fact, though I did not realize it, it had already started four kilometers ago. The highlight of this stretch was the steady incline that went on for almost 10.5 kilometers. It began at Km 27 and kept on going until just before Km 38. According to my 310XT, the ascent reached its apex at around Km 37.5, where the total elevation gained was approximately 289 meters.

Two words to describe this 10-kilometer stretch: Pleasure and pain. The incline was brutal, but somehow, I hardly noticed it because I was enjoying the scenery and terrain (not to mention that I just walked briskly through the really steep parts). It was a winding mountain road reminiscent of the zig zag path in Mariveles early in the BDM route. Sure, I slowed down a lot, as shown by my splits that ranged from 7:18 to 11:18, but this was also the part of the route where I kept on giving myself a pat on the back for joining this race. The following photos speak for themselves. Definitely no captions needed.

A kilometer before the highest point of this ascent, I received my prize: A spectacular and postcard-perfect view of the centerpiece of this ultra marathon, the Mayon volcano. It was indeed a sight to behold. At that point, I was no longer sure as to what really it was that almost took my breath away - was it the climb, or the view?

I took several shots and finally went on my way. I nearly forgot that I still had a race to run. I made one final stop at Km 37 for a picture break (I had to have at least one decent souvenir shot along the route)...

... and then I went on to accomplish my goal of reaching Km 40 in six hours or less.  I was able to accomplish that, and after 5 hours, 46 minutes, and 10 seconds of running, I was already half-way through the Mayon 360° Ultra Marathon.  I was on pace for a sub-13 finish.

Almost one marathon down, almost another marathon to go. And still more than nine hours left on the clock!

(To be continued)

1 comment:

  1. great story chief and the pictures, wow! can't wait for part 2. next year, i'm definitely in! =)