I made it to the half-way point in 5:46:10. I finally got out of the climb from Kilometers 26 to 37. What goes up must come down, so it was all downhill from Kilometers 38 to 53 - literally. It was already well past 10 a.m. by that time, and the sun was beating up on us mercilessly. I was so grateful for the cool head wind that somehow tempered the heat. Still, I started dreaming up what a treat it would be to have a support vehicle stocked with drinks and food during this stretch. While I was dreaming it, other runners were living it. I watched with mild envy each time the support vehicle of other runners sped by. No time to mope, though. I joined this 50-miler knowing fully well that the heat would be a formidable foe, and that I will have to rely on sari-sari stores, aid stations that were spaced five kilometers apart, two 200 ml flasks, and my waist pack. I craved the challenge of doing an "unsupported" ultra run. Looking back, I think I did fine, as I never got dehydrated, felt hungry, or hit the wall at any point.
The terrain during this stretch was exactly the same as that during the first 40 kilometers. The highways were well-paved, no potholes at all. The shoulders were the same way. It truly was a road runner's dream. Contributing to the rustic and provincial feel were kilometers of unmilled rice strewn along the roadside, which forced me run on the highway. Good thing vehicles were few and far between, so the risk of being side-swiped by a speeding bus was very minimal.
|Why can't Manila roads be this well-paved?|
|Unmilled rice lined the highway's shoulders|
You would have thought that the paved roads and the 10-kilometer downhill stretch would have allowed me to recoup some lost time and quicken my pace. It was not the case because of two factors: the heat, and my right shin. It was hot as hell. As you will see from the photo above, the sun was at it full blast. While I would have preferred to run on the left shoulder and against the flow of traffic, I reluctantly headed over to the right just to avail of the occasional shade afforded by the small trees that lined the road. It was not enough though, and the heat forced me to slow down. It was also during this stretch when I started taking Hammer Endurolyte capsules (for electrolyte replenishment) and taking regular sips from my flasks. The second issue was my right shin. The sensation had progressed from discomfort into full-blown pain. It did not help that I was going downhill, and each time I tried speeding up, I felt a sharp pain in the area between the foot and the shin. The pain did not keep me from running, but it sure as hell kept me from speeding up.
I hit 50 kilometers after nearly seven hours and 20 minutes. That was almost 40 minutes faster than when I hit 50 during BDM 102. It was a very good split by my standards, specially considering the elevation profile of this route as compared to that of the BDM's. I stopped at the aid station at Kilometer 50, which served up some bananas, Pocari, chocolates, and eggs. I had a Pocari and a banana, and I refilled my flasks. It was a very brief pit stop. I did not want to spend too much time resting because I did not want my shin to tighten and become a bigger problem than it already was.
|The heat of the moment|
|Tabaco City - straight ahead!|
|Long way to go!|
|Mayon not visible through the clouds|
Save for the bothersome shin, the segment from Kilometers 51 to 60 was quite an uneventful stretch. This portion of the route was relatively flat. It definitely helped my shin and allowed me to pick up the pace. I was still doing the 20:5 run-walk proportion and I still felt strong. Why didn't I do this at BDM (I did 10:2 there)? My splits for this stretch, inclusive of walk breaks and stops at 2 aid stations, ranged from 7:56 to 10:56. I had hoped to reach Kilometer 60 in less than nine hours, and I did - with less than two minutes to spare. Talk about a photo finish!
The Homestretch: Kilometers 61 to 82
With less than a half-marathon to go, I still felt very strong. My legs were sore but were by no means exhausted. I don't remember feeling that good after 60 kilometers during BDM, so I was quite confident that I was poised for a strong finish. My prize for getting three-fourths of the route out of the way: more uphills. Shit. For those who are planning to do this run next year, here is the route's elevation profile, charted via Garmin Connect:
|Can you say "hill repeats"?|
So, there I was, confronted with another five-kilometer climb. Of course, at that time, I did not know that the incline would go on for five kilometers, and I had the moxie to actually harbor thoughts of a sub-12 finish. Slowly, however, I realized that that was wishful thinking. I asked a group of boys along the route how far the incline went, and their answer said it all: "Mahaba pa kuya, hanggang doooooooooon!" With my bubble burst and my parade completely rained on, I reverted to the original goal: to finish my first 50-miler in 13 hours or less.
With a stabbing pain in my right shin and the mid-day sun still toasting me, I was rudely reminded that I was doing a very long run. I wasn't sight-seeing, and I wasn't doing a 30-kilometer LSD at the Fort. I was doing a 50-miler in Albay. As I began my uphill climb (literally - again), I felt for the first time that I was already a bit tired. By then, I was already so sick of taking pictures of Mayon volcano. All of a sudden, it felt just like any other race, and the only thing on my mind was to make it to the finish line.
|Rocking the Terrorist Look|
|It goes on and on|
|Like ice-cold Gatorade for a weary ultra runner...|
|... and then back to reality.|
Somewhere between Kilometers 61 and 70, I was forced to abandon my 20:5 run walk ratio. I could no longer ignore my painful shin, and I needed my walk breaks. I settled for a 10:2, and I slowed down even more. The aid stations and roadside stores that used to pop up at regular intervals disappeared all of a sudden, and I was forced to rely on the generosity of other runners who had support vehicles. At Kilometer 68, with both my flasks empty and no other source of hydration in sight, Bald Runner appeared from out of nowhere and pulled over to check on me. I was walking when he found me. The good general got out of his SUV and gave me a couple of bottles of water. There is a God. He then went on his way and I went mine. You saved me there, BR. Thank you, sir! After 10 hours and 45 minutes, I made it to Kilometer 70. My splits for Kilometers 61 to 70 were very telling: 13:50, 10:31, 11:20, 9:02, 9:33, 9:40, 11:11, 9:27, 9:13, and 13:10.
|10 kilometers to go!|
I had a little over two hours left to achieve my sub-13 50-miler finish. At that juncture, I had completely given up on a clear-cut run-walk routine. I ran when I could and walked briskly when I couldn't. I was far from being spent, but the pain held me back. At Kilometer 74, I approached an ambulance stationed by the roadside to ask for some liniment or muscle spray. The medics had some in stock, and they also gave me a free massage for my aching shin. The massage relieved me of some pain, and I was able to resume jogging.
At Kilometer 76, I chanced upon a memorial that had - what else - the Mayon volcano as its background. I just had to stop for a picture, aching shin and all.
Six more kilometers to go. Six, because we were told early on that the actual distance added up to about 82 kilometers. On I went with random bursts of running and more frequent walking breaks. I was practically dragging my right leg as my shin strangely felt numb yet unnervingly painful at the same time. By Kilometer 79, the pain had become debilitating, and I was left with no choice but to walk. You know that running mantra of Murokami's? "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional." That right there sums up what an ultra runner's mindset ought to be. It was also the thought that I kept on repeating in my head as I trudged through the last four kilometers. I was in god-awful pain, but I simply refused to suffer. Nobody forced me into doing this run, so I was determined to enjoy every single kilometer of the journey. And so, I resolved that I was not going to allow myself to suffer these precious last few kilometers. I remained pleasant by smiling at the people I passed, and politely greeting the elderly folk along the route. At one point, I had to stop and lean against a light post, because a very sharp pain shot through my shin and almost made me lose my balance, but I shrugged it off and plugged away. For recreational runners like me, an ultra won't be an ultra without some pain. My splits for the last four kilometers were hideous - 11:43, 11:42, 10:59, and 17:55 - but I relished every single step that brought me closer to the finish.
Finally, after rounding out the last few corners of this awesome 82-kilometer fun run, I took off my headwear and my bandana to expose my beaming face. I crossed the finish line limping, but I knew I still looked good for my finish line photo!
Out of 69 participating ultra runners, 59 made it back to Legazpi City within the 15-hour cut-off. I was Finisher No. 33.
Mayon 360° 50-Mile Ultra Marathon - DONE in 12 hours, 48 minutes, and 22 seconds!
|With BR, the Race Director and tireless PAU boss man|
|With a member of the organizing committee|
A big thank you to the organizers, Sir Jovie the Race Director, and the wonderful people of Albay province. It was a hell of a run. I'll definitely be back in 2012!