Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In the Heat of the Moment

What I have come to love about ultras is that each run inevitably presents a different challenge. For instance, during BDM 102, it was the sheer enormity of the task at hand. At Mayon 360, it was the unsupported run. At Fort Magsaysay, it was the hills. And the list continues to grow, because at the Western Pangasinan 65K Run last Saturday, it was something else yet again. It was the heat.

I left Pasig at 10:30 p.m. of Friday. I had been told that I should make it to Bolinao by 2:30 a.m., latest. A single missed turn in Camiling, however, turned what was supposed to be just a four-hour drive into a six-hour Tour of Pangasinan, and I made it to Coco's Resort with barely 30 minutes left before  gun  cow bell start. So, this was how it was going to be: I would run 65 kilometers immediately after a six-hour car ride and with zero sleep. Bring it on.

The run commenced five minutes ahead of the announced 5 a.m. start. We filed out of the resort as the first few rays of the sun gave the sky an almost surreal grayish orange glow. Daybreak was upon us, and the early morning chill gave no one the faintest idea of what was ahead. The plan was to run-walk at a 20:5 proportion, at 8:30 mins/km, for the first 40 kilometers, and then adjust as may be necessary from Kilometer 41 onwards. I ran by feel, and I was doing a relaxed pace that I have grown accustomed to for longer runs.

By 6:30 a.m., the sun was already lording it over the cloudless Pangasinan sky. And I thought the sun came out too early back during Fort Magsaysay. That the route was an endless asphalt highway with hardly a tall tree to create any shade only served to raise the degree of difficulty a couple of notches higher. The common conversation topic among us runners as we passed each other was, how insane the heat was. And it only got worse as the day wore on. For the first 30 kilometers, I was able to get by with going in for a pit stop every five kilometers. By around 9:30 a.m., that interval was no longer realistic, and I asked my support vehicle to leap-frog me by only three kilometers at a time, or else I might pass out. 

Believe me when I say that it was hot as hell. It was unlike anything else that I had ever experienced. During my rest breaks, as I stepped into the shade, it felt as though my skin was burning. I neutralized the heat by regularly dousing my head and nape with ice water, slipping ice cubes under my compression top and shorts,   sticking ice under my armpits, and running a cold towel across my face, arms, and legs. Except for dousing myself with water, I never had to do any of these during BDM or any of my previous ultras. I brought five bags of tube ice from Manila, and yet, by 10 a.m., I already had to instruct my driver to buy more ice because our supply was running low.  That should give you an idea of how much ice I consumed, and how badly I needed to cool off.

On my way out of Bolinao, around 7:30 a.m.

I persisted despite the heat because I generally felt great. But something strange happened at Kilometer 43, where I noticed that my hands felt numb. By that time, I think I had already been running for close to six hours, with four and-a-half under the sweltering heat. I put down my hand-held hydration bottle and looked at my hands, and for the first time, I noticed how bloated and puffy they had become. My hands had gotten so fat that I could not even remove my wedding band from my left ring finger. I also noticed that I wasn't sweating at all, and that my stomach felt bloated as well. What immediately came to mind was Jonel Mendoza's ordeal during BDM 160, and it scared the living crap out of me. I didn't think it was the onset of hypernatremia because I had only been taking water and 330 ml of Pocari every 10 kilometers, and I wasn't taking salt sticks. I also didn't think it was dehydration because I was hydrating properly, if not actually a bit too much. I had no idea what the hell was going on, so I got my phone from the car and called my good friends Din and Carrie Cordero. Carrie is a registered nurse and a runner as well, so I figured she would know what to do.

Fun in the sun

I didn't want to slow down too much, so I still walked briskly under the scorching sun as Carrie asked me some questions to find out what condition I was in. In the end, she advised me to be very alert and to quit if I notice that the bloating is worsening. And so, I went on. Still, at the back of my mind, I was already toying with the idea of calling Sir Jovie to tell him that I was dropping out. Thoughts of what would have been my first ever DNF swirled in my head. But I was making good time, and except for my bloated hands and the heat, I was feeling great. And so, I decided to go on. As a precaution, I asked my support vehicle to trail (but not shadow) rather than leap-frog me. I tried running at a faster pace in the hope that I would work up a sweat. That worked a little. I also tried forcing myself into taking a leak a couple of times. Now, that one didn't turn out very well. During each attempt, the discharge was deep yellow in color and didn't add up to more than a few drops. It also felt very warm and caused a sharp, burning sensation. 

With my hands bloated and the difficulty I had with urinating, I didn't know what the hell to think. Was I dehydrated or was I over-hydrated? I wasn't really sure what it was anymore, but a couple of things were certain: my legs still felt great, and I was on pace to reach Kilometer 50 in less than eight hours. I made a pit stop, allowed myself to cool off, downed a can of Mountain Dew, and I was on my way. I resolved to ride the thing for as long as I could, but would stop at the first sign of bigger trouble.

So, off I went. I hit Kilometer 50 in about seven hours and 40 minutes - 20 minutes faster than I did at BDM. At around noon, the running gods finally showed us some mercy. Rain clouds started to form and began covering the sky. It was as though someone pulled the plug on the sun. Freed from the shackles of the  stifling heat, I was able to run for longer stretches, buoyed by the prospect of a sub-10 finish. With my second wind upon me, I again began hitting a 7-7:30 pace. I passed a number of runners during this stretch. As I reached the zig-zagging portion of the highway somewhere at Kilometer 59, it became apparent that most of the remainder of the route would be going downhill. From out of my weary legs, I was able to squeeze a two-kilometer stretch of running at a 6:15 pace. And along the way, I passed four more runners.

I crossed the finished line in the town of Sual to the sound of sparse applause and the clanging of Sir Jovie's now-famous cow bell. Nine hours and 58 minutes after I left Bolinao, I completed the PAU Western Pangasinan 65K Ultra. Check out the look on my face as BR informed me that I was Finisher No. 29:

This is, by far, my best performance in an ultra to date.

For my effort, I received another shiny and huge-ass PAU medal. It just NEVER gets old. Only in PAU races.

As BR shook my hand and awarded me my medal, he noticed that I was warm and that I wasn't sweating. He suggested that I get an ice bath right away, and so I had to improvise and did just that. I used up almost the entire contents of my Coleman ice chest. It helped a great deal. During the drive home, I had chills and had to turn the A/C off. And then, out of sheer exhaustion, I blacked out and fell into a very deep sleep. It was the first time I had a shut-eye since I slept Thursday evening. After about an hour or so, I was awakened by a full bladder. Through out the entire stretch of the SCTEX, we had to pull over four times just so I could bless the grass lining the SCTEX shoulder. Four times in a 30-minute span, after having gone just twice in the last eleven hours. And each one of the four seemed to go on forever! As my body finally succeeded in ridding itself of all the excess fluid, I noticed that my bloated hands gradually returned to their normal size. I made it out of Western Pangasinan alive and kicking.

For now, I will rest and recover for a few days. I can't take too long, though, because the PAU Tagaytay to Nasugbu 50k run is just a little over three weeks away. I have to get back on the road soon, and, trust me - I will do just that.


  1. Congrats, Julius! You ultra runners are unbelievable! I salute you guys.

    I wish I were 10 years younger and have the opportunity to experience/test the the endurance of a human body. Better have your kidney functions checked. Take care.

  2. Huy, so what was that episode caused by? Got me a little worried there. Still, congrats on another ultra! Galing!

  3. @ Sir Arthur - It's never too late, sir! I know how strong you are, and I won't be surprised at all if you outrun a lot of us here! Thanks for the concern, and for dropping by.

    @ Roelle - Salamat, bro! Honestly, I still don't know. It was the first time I something like that has ever happened to me during a run. I should look into it in preparation for the longer runs ahead. See you around!

  4. chief, congratulations on the great performance! =) carrie and i will research on this unique but scary episode for our future races. see you soon! =)

  5. @ Din - Thanks, "Ultra Pak" hahaha. I really appreciate you and Carrie coming to my aid last Saturday. T2N is just around the corner. Time to get ready!