This 80-kilometer ultra marathon takes place every year in the province of Albay in Bicol, in April. The whole of the Philippines is in the middle of the summer season and the Bicol peninsula is right smack in the middle of the archipelago. Temperatures in the area have been known to reach 38 degrees Celsius. The runners run around the shores of Mayon Volcano. Only once you actually run the course you do realize how massively huge and perfectly coned the volcano is.
|Mayon 360 Race route|
The volcano has a footprint in all the 3 congressional districts of Albay. The provincial capitol at Legazpi City, in the 2nd district, is the starting point and finish line of the Mayon 360. From Legazpi, you go uphill thru the scenic town of Daraga, famous for its Cagsawa ruins and then down to the 1st district towns of Camalig and Guinobatan as well as the emerging city of Ligao, the home city of the influential Albay Governor. Up to this point, the race route is along the busy Maharlika highway, and since the traffic is not controlled, the ultra runners are instructed to run in the left side of the road, against the buses, jeepneys and tricycles that abound the highway. But at roughly Km 27, a kilometre away from the city proper of Ligao, the runners take a right at the Ligao-Tabaco Road. This road has less traffic but this is also the stretch with the highest uphill in the race route as the Ligao-Tabaco Road is also known by another name, Sablayon Road. Somewhere between Km 35 and Km 40, the runners enter Tabaco of the 1st district, the home district of the congressional father of the RH bill. Reaching the city proper of Tabaco, runners take a right at the Tabaco-Legazpi Road. Traffic increases considerably as these two cities are the most progressive in the province. Between the two cities are 3 towns of the 1st congressional district: Malilipot, Bacacay and Sto. Domingo. There is a 7-km uphill portion from Malilipot to Sto. Domingo. It is in this 7-km area, the 3rd uphill in the Mayon 360 race route, that a Comrades Marathon veteran lady runner encountered dehydration problems forcing her to DNF at the inaugural edition of the Mayon 360 in 2011. The uphill portion is then followed by a rewarding downhill jaunt that sees the runners enter Legazpi City with a great view of the sea and the port. After passing thru the regional offices of the various government agencies and the main campus of Aquinas University, the runners are just 2 kms away from the finish line which entails a right to Lakandula Drive and then a left at Washington Drive which leads straight to the Albay Provincial Capitol and Penaranda Park.
|Mayon at dusk|
All throughout the 80-km route of the Mayon 360 , the runners get to have for company a view of the perfect volcano in the world the name of which is derived from “daragang magayon”. Although in the early morning hours, the peak of the volcano is often shrouded with clouds, suggesting an imagery of a beautiful maiden still asleep after a night full of romantic jousting. Even in the daytime hours before and after lunch, the majestic peak is not yet visible due to cloud cover but in the late afternoon hours, the beautiful peak can be seen, unveiled for all to marvel. The suggestion being that it is nearing night time and the lovely maiden is ready for another evening rendezvous with a lucky suitor.
Now that I have given a general description of the route of the Bicol region’s pioneering ultra marathon, allow me to lay down the account of my Mayon 360-Degree 80-km ultra marathon experience last April 6, 2013.
A day before the race, I arrived in Legazpi City and checked in at the Pepperland Hotel near the airport together with two more 83nean runners Ernie Badong and Ric Lozano and a batchmate Allen Tolledo who would head our support crew. Bodjie Importante, an Albay-based classmate, treated us for a lunch buffet at Waway’s (http://bicolanopenguinswonderlog.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/waways-restaurant-the-php-250-buffet-in-legazpi-city/). After lunch, we retired to our hotel room for some siesta. At 5pm, we were on our way to the pre-race briefing. In the briefing, the Race Director (Bald Runner) and a few JCI Legazpi stalwarts like Yves Yu pointed out the importance of proper hydration given the very warm temperature. This year’s edition of the Mayon 360 was expected to be the hottest with temperatures forecasted to reach as high as 38 degress Celsius. The Race Director also announced that the cut off time has been increased to 16 hours from the 15 hours the past 2 editions of the Mayon 360. Coming back to the hotel for our sleep before the race, I conjured a plan to finish the 80-km ultra within 14 hours. My previous Mayon 360, in 2011, I finished with a time of 13 hours and 20 mins. Given the heat this time and fewer training runs prior to the Mayon 360 as a result of my Leyte assignment at work, I figured I would be at least 30 mins slower. I printed this plan and gave it to Allen for him to monitor as the race progresses the following day.
Early Saturday morning, around 3am, our Montero-powered support crew brought the three 83nean runners to the starting point at Penaranda Park in front of the Albay Provincial Capitol in Old Albay, Legazpi City. Ernie, Ric and I were wearing Bib numbers 283, 383 and 83, respectively. Ric and I agreed that we would do Galloway 3:1 (3 minutes run and 1 minute walk) and I brought along my black Gymboss to make sure this would be followed.
|Ernie with the usual suspects in a PAU ultra|
At exactly 4am, after a simple singing of the national anthem, all 210 runners (184 male and 26 female) were sent off by the famous cowbell of the Bald Runner.
|Off to a flying Hoka start|
|The first 20 kms, the three 83neans were still together.|
|With fellow Bicolano Greeneyes|
I don’t have much to say about the first 20 kms of the race. I just ran on and walked on. It didn’t feel much different from a long slow distance (LSD) run on a weekend. But wait, there was a difference in that I could already feel the heat and I was sweating profusely even though the sun has not risen yet. But I was happy running and took some speed drills on the downhill portion in the Camalig town proper where you have rows of mom and pop stores selling the local delicacy “pinangat”. I smiled to myself because the blue Under Armour shirt I was wearing had a big “HAPPY HOUR (4am to 7am)” print at the back.
After the Km 25 water station in Barangay Tuburan, Ligao City, just before we took a right, I changed from my blue shirt to my white Zoot Ultra Ice Run tee. Almost a year ago, my cousin Virlita from Virginia Beach sent me this shirt as a pasalubong which is enabled with Icefil technology that can reduce skin temperature by 3 degrees Celsius. (http://bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2012/06/zoot-ultra-ice-run-tee.html#more). Part of my game plan was to employ as much technology available to me to combat the expected brutal conditions of the Mayon 360. From the Gymboss timer to the Zoot ice tee and to the Hoka ultra marathon shoes, I was intent to use technology to compensate for my lack of training for this year’s Mayon 360.
Will it work or will it be fool’s gold for me?
|Changing to my white Zoot Ultra Ice Run tee|
|It is getting hot!|
|Getting relief from the mobile water stations|
Did not have much time to worry as I was running to keep up with Ric as well as with Val aka Greeneyes and his running buddies. By the time, we reached Km 35, I was breathing laboriously already and we could not keep up with Greeneyes. I recall in the 2011 Mayon 360, I ran quite fast downhill after the high point of the Sablayon road but this time, I barely jogged that stretched. The heat was brutal and it was at this point that we got overtaken by a male runner using an umbrella and another male runner using a banana leaf as cover. We trudged on knowing that the midpoint of the race was less than an hour away.
We did reach Km 40 in less than an hour away but a check of my plan showed that we were already 7 minutes behind. We would have wanted to push ahead to recover the time but Ric had to make a pit stop at the water/aid station for some massage with local volunteers (our physical therapist was scheduled to join the support crew at lunch time in Jollibee Tabaco, about 12 kms away) to comfort his aching calves. I was fortunate to be spared with the aching calves and aching heel which I usually have at this distance. My still pristine condition of my calves and feet was largely thanks to the Hoka Stimson Evo Tarmac I was using. These are running shoes with a lot of cushioning (double perhaps than the average running shoes) and the thinking behind this maximalist construction is similar to that underlying putting big tires on trucks or bikes to allow rolling over obstacles.
|Smiling upon reaching the midpoint of the Mayon 360|
After a 10-minute break at the midpoint water station, we were on our way and I had to push the pace. When we reached the 42-km mark, beyond which would be ultramarathon territory, I was pretty sure that we did recover the 7-min deficit but it was at this point that disaster struck me.
|Crossing into ultra marathon territory|
No, it did not come in the form of a muscle cramps, similar to what plagued me in Km 60 of the 2012 Bataan Death March 102km Ultra. It came in the form of something sinisterly red. When I went by the side of the road to pee, I saw that the color of my urine was blood red. This disturbed me. This was a clear sign I was dehydrated extremely and this was due to the profuse perspiration. I recall reading in Scott Jurek’s book “EAT & RUN” that “increased perspiration had its downside: dehydration. Depending on my pace, I was losing about a liter of water every hour along with a half-teaspoon of salt. My hypothalamus was pumping out antidiuretic hormones, which told my kidneys to mitigate fluid loss by concentrating my urine. Still, even with my body performing its adjustments, without enough water, dehydration would thicken my blood, increasing the workload of my already-taxed heart.”
The thing about taxing my already-taxed heart I remember and thus I decided to just walk the rest of the way from Km 42 to the city proper of Tabaco, still 10 kms away and lunchtime was fast approaching. There in the city, I hope to think of a solution to the dehydration problem. I was drinking regularly water and Gatorade which were in abundant supply in the support vehicle but still I was getting dehydrated. I had to think of a game changing solution. With my dehydrated state, I could not risk taxing further my heart so running was out of the question. I was also afraid that a roving race ambulance might stop us from proceeding with the race if they knew of my current state. I decided to walk and Ric was kind enough not to leave me the rest of the way to Jollibee.
And it was a slow walk. It took more than 2 hours to travel 12 kms. We were so slow walking that many other Mayon 360 participants, like Lyra Rosario and Arianne Ortega, who were walking too were actually overtaking us. Even a military-type runner, who was limping and walking since Km 25 passed us with a kilometer away from the city proper.
|Eating chicken joy and getting a massage at the same time|
At the Jollibee branch in Tabaco City, I found our support crew of Allen and Bodgie eating lunch and they had ordered already my favorite chicken joy (leg part). The Legazpi-based masseuse, Liza, joined the support crew as well. I immediately went to work on the chicken joy and requested for a massage of my legs and feet. Having received nourishment, my mind went into overdrive thinking of a solution and it came in the form of hydrite tablets which are given to babies and toddlers who are dehydrated. I requested Allen to buy in the nearby Mercury Drug store 6 hydrite tablets. As I gave this instructions, a Canaman-based runner entered the fast food outlet and informed us that our pair of Ric and me were one of the last runners. This got my attention and I immediately stopped eating and decided to push on with power walking. I did not want to be the last runner. I gave additional instructions asking for a hydrite tablet to be placed in my drinking bottle and to be given to me as the support vehicle passed me as I walked on towards Legazpi City, 28 kilometers away. I almost forgot about Ric who gamely followed when I left the fast food joint.
Running immediately after eating Iunch with rice is not advisable. So, I set on walking in the next 30 minutes. After half an hour, I tried running but my leg muscles had tightened up like a piece of wood. I had plenty of desire to run but my legs had a different opinion. I gave up on my disobedient legs and started focusing on my upper body. I swung my arms wide as I walk, making my upper body swing, transmitting the momentum to my lower body. Utilizing this power walk, Ric and I were able to move faster than the walk crawl we utilized in reaching Tabaco City and pretty soon we had overtaken a trio of Mayon 360 participants including that of the pair of Lyra and boyfriend.
Even though we were moving relatively faster with the power walk, the five kilometers from Km 55 in Tabaco City and Km 60 in , which was right in the middle of the 6-km 3rd uphill portion of the Mayon 360, were excruciatingly slow. To make matters worse, it started raining which soaked our running shoes and socks. And even if it was raining, the heat was still there as evidenced by runners still getting heat relief by having showers at the mobile water stations of the organizers despite the rainfall.
|Walking on thru the rain - Christian of Isabela, Ric and BP|
Our slow progress was confirmed at Km 60 when Bodjie handed me the plan folder showing that we were 1 hour and 11 mins delayed from our targeted 14 -hour finish time.
|Actual time vs target time|
I did a quick math and the prognosis was not optimistic of the 2 of us 83neans finishing within the 16-hour cut off time, much less the now ambitious 14-hour finish time if we continued with our walking ways. We needed to run again, to go back to our Galloway 3:1 pace. But our leg muscles were still aching, bordering on cramping and our running shoes soaked wet, posing the threat of blisters. At that point, we seemed to be walking on an empty fuel tank, much of the gasoline evaporated by the intense heat.
One problem at a time. To solve the wet running shoes, I signalled the support vehicle to stop so that we could change to a new pair of running shoes. I discarded the Hoka for my Asics Cumulus and made sure to apply a generous amount of Vaseline on my wet feet. On the other problem of tired leg muscles, I requested for another round of quick massage from Liza. I suggested to Ric that he get some massage, too.
|More than 60 kms into the race, Lyra still all smile|
With fresh shoes and socks plus freshly massaged legs, we attempted to run again. I kept telling myself and Ric that man has the ability to dig down deep into himself for some reserve. In my case, I started listing down the “rewards” that awaited me when I cross the finish line:
1. My favorite meal of lechon kawali, hot soup, and a cold glass of Mountain Dew
2. The Mayon 360 finisher medal
3. The victory hug from the race director
4. The full body massage
5. The pleasure of emailing those who pledged a financial amount for my personal fund raising for an orphanage in Iriga, that I have finished the race
Anticipating the “rewards” seemed to have effected a refuelling in my desire and ability to run. The walk progressed into a jog which later evolved into a trot. And by the time we were on the downhill portion from Sto. Domingo to the outskirts of Legazpi City, nearing the Km 70 water station, the trot was now a canter. We overtook Greeneyes and a half a dozen more runners at this juncture.
At the Km 70 portion, I asked to sit down again to get another round of massage. I got to close my eyes briefly, a power nap in the midst of an ultra race. Waking up, I was reinvigorated and my grouchiness was replaced by a smiling demeanor. There was a realization that with more than 2 hours and a half left before the cut off time of 8pm and with just 10 kms to go, our chances of finishing within the cut off time had increased significantly. I changed from my Asics to the Adidas Energy Boost to add more speed to our finish.
|I need to sleep after 70 kms|
|Ric getting a massage,10 more kms|
Just forge on ahead and block all feeling of pain. Suck it up. I keep repeating this mantra as we steadily ate thru the last 10 kms. The daylight was eventually replaced by dusk and then night time with our source of light the tricycles and jeepneys coming to and from the city. Having run and walked for more than 70 kms already, I felt like I passed through something. Like my running body had passed clean through a wall. Run this long and its exhausting. But at this point I felt like I was on autopilot, whose sole purpose was to rhythmically swing his arms back and forth, move his legs forward one step at a time. In the words of Haruki Murakami in his book “WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING”, running had entered the realm of the metaphysical. “First there came the action of running, and accompanying it there was this entity known as me. I run; therefore I am.”
At Km 78, Allen handed Ric and me our blue “runnin3 m3n for other shirts” for us to use as we cross the finish line. These we wore proudly and pretty soon we were at the finish. The timer on top of the finish line showed 14 hours 56 minutes.
When I finished at Penaranda Park, I felt very happy. I am always happy everytime I finish an ultra marathon but this time it really struck me hard. So hard that after pumping my fist in the air, I made a light bow in front of to the finish line to show my respect to the priceless adventure that is the 2013 Mayon 360.
|Ernie kissing the finisher medal with a time of 13 hrs & 35 mins|
|Finishing together a pair of bad ass 83neans|
|BP bowing at the finish line|
|Ric at the finish line|
|With ARC Manila’s Raul Acuna|
|With the Race Director Ret. Gen. Jovie Narcise|
|With the support crew|
|Post race dinner courtesy of Ernie|
At this point a new feeling started to well up in me - a personal feeling of happiness and relief that I had accepted something risky and still had the reserve to endure it. You get a profound realization of your strengths and limits in times of hardship and pain.
One more time. “ I run; therefore I am.”