"The flesh is willing; it is the spirit that is most often weak."
Words of wisdom from Dr. George Sheehan, the acknowledged philosopher-king of the sports of running. Our bodies are capable of the most astounding feats. The flesh is not only willing; it is eager for action. We come from a breed that crossed continents on foot. But the horizon of our spirits do not reach beyond the TV, the tablet, and the car in the garage. Or in my case, the confining horizon of my day job.
It is because of my stressful concern to finish some work in our strategic planning that I regretfully postponed the 2nd Bicolano Penguin Anniversary Run (2nd BPAR) aka Lake Bato Ultra scheduled for November 2 (http://www.bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2013/10/2nd-bicolano-penguin-anniversary-run.html). It was only after all the planning conferences were finished during the four weeks of November that I decided to peg the running of the Lake Bato Ultra for November 30.
But commerce and nature seemed to be conspiring to push for aborting the Lake Bato Ultra yet again. Two days before the 2nd BPAR, at exactly high noon, the power was cut off by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (http://anc.yahoo.com/news/casureco-3-cut-off-from-power-grid-again-073934466.html) for CASURECO III, the electrical cooperative serving the 6 municipalities (Baao, Balatan, Bula, Buhi, Bato and Nabua) and 1 city (Iriga) of Rinconada. No electricity in Rinconada, meaning we would be running in darkness in almost a third of the route of Lake Bato Ultra as the start is at 3am.
On the night before the 2nd BPAR, the heavens opened up. Both the provinces of Camarines Sur and Albay were buffeted by heavy rains, causing flood in some areas. And the torrent did not lose its steam going into November 30. In fact, the Northeast Monsoon seemed to be getting stronger. At 12 midnight, in our bunkhouse in Naga courtesy of the kindness of the Guevara family, I got a text from one of the participants which read – "Medyo concerned tabi ako padi sa weather. In case you’re calling off our run, kindly text me anytime so I can inform the other guys." And as if to prove nature’s point, the roof above reverberated with sounds of countless heavy raindrops assaulting galvanized iron.
What to do? At no other point in my running life that I needed to summon the enthusiasm and the passion for this sport. Above all, I needed the will. I needed to choose. I needed to decide.
Thank God, I had the balls to decide to proceed with the Lake Bato Ultra, despite the stupid blackout, despite the tormenting rain. I wanted it so bad and I found myself in motion, with a clear focus on the goal of finishing the Lake Bato Ultra, come dark hell or high water .
Thank God I had brave running buddies with me on this quixotic quest. And they were more than a dozen. Mga matibay. Mga bato.
Joining me in the 2nd BPAR aka Lake Bato Ultra were three groups of fanatical runners like myself. No wimps.
The first group was composed of my fellow 83neans whom I run regularly with in Metro Manila: Bob Castilla, Ed Balcueva and Noel "Ghibz" Guevara. Another 83nean, who was the most excited of the bunch, Ernie Badong could not make it due to some audit work for the bank branch he works for. All three Ateneo de Naga HS Batch 1983 members had their ultra marathons already with Bob logging the most number of kilometers, the most recent being the 200-km West Coast Single Stage Ultra. Ed had his ultra debut in the 2012 Mayon while Ghibz had his at the 2012 T2N.
The second group was that of running enthusiasts from Naga led by fellow 83neans Ric Lozano and Allen Tolledo. Ric invited 1st BPAR participant Joji Asis (http://bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2012/11/1st-bicolano-penguin-anniversary-run.html) and Gary Castillo. Although a first time participant for the BPAR, Gary of Ateneo de Naga HS Batch 1986 already joined us in one of our shorter bootleg runs (http://bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2013/05/bagolatao-adventure-run-broke-back.html) last May. Alen had with him a trio of young runners who are his gym buddies at Fit N Curve. The first one is Kevin Moral who was a participant in the 1st BPAR last year. After having a taste of long distance running, he has been progressing in his race and just a few weeks ago finished the Milo Half Marathon in Manila. The next is Alex Tresvalles who is a cousin of one of our batchmates and has been raring to try out an ultra after hearing the juicy press releases from Allen. The last of the trio is Royder Igwaras, a close friend of Allen’s son. Two Allen's lady running buddies, Belle Romualdo and Sherrylou Desaliza, were supposed to join but due to the death of the father of Belle, both of them begged off. The 2nd BPAR, like the first one, will have to be an all-male event.
|Rinconada group – Nino, Deanmark, Marino, Mariano and Brando|
The 3rd group proved to be an all-star selection of the elite runners in Rinconada. Leading this pack is another 1st BPAR participant, Mariano Basagre. His recent accomplishments include being the fastest Pinoy finisher in the 2012 Penafrancia Marathon and placing 5th in the 2013 Mayon 360 (http://bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2013/04/2013-mayon-360-ultra-winners-rise-of.html). He is joined by Nino Monte, the youngest participant of the 2nd BPAR at 19 years old. Even at a young age, he has a few notable long distance running feats already like placing in the Top 10 of the 2012 Mayon 360. Another local running legend, Marino Lagyap, was on hand. This native of San Andres, Iriga was 3rd in the half marathon at the Naga City leg of this year’s Milo Eliminations. A year before, Lagyap was champion of the Milo 10kms in Naga. Rounding off the contingent are Brando Buena of Baao and Deanmark Bigcas of Nabua.
All 16 runners gathered in front of Big M Resort along the Bato Diversion Road at around 3am. The Manila and Naga contingents came riding their cars while the Rinconada group ran 5 kms or so from their houses in the surrounding towns.
After some group photo sessions, warm ups and last minute instructions, all runners were off and running at 3:30am amid a strong shower of rain. The national highway from Bato to Nabua was dark and it was decided that all 16 runners would run as a group until blackness was no more, which was roughly 2 to 3 hours away. We felt cold but the feeling of running in a group of 16 gave us a sense of gung ho enthusiasm. We ran in single file, running against the traffic with the runner in front and at the back wearing glow in the dark reflective vests. The lead runner was Mariano and he allowed me to dictate the pace by doing a 4-1 run walk interval. We wanted all the runners, especially the ultra newbies among us, to have fresh legs even in the latter stages of the Lake Bato Ultra.
|Hydration courtesy of fellow 83nean Ronel Gascon|
|Mariano leading in the dark|
|Marino and Deanmark following|
|Kevin, Ghibz and Ric|
A few more kilometers and we were now turning left yet again, this time into the road connecting Nabua with the lakeside barrios of Bato. At Km 20, with the rain subsiding into a light drizzle, we had a group picture in front of the lovely church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the barrio of Malawag.
|In front of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church|
We continued on our run and by this time, we were all smiling and thanking our good fortune that the heavy rains had stopped. But as soon as we passed thru the welcome arch of San Roque, the first barrio of Bato from Nabua, the heavens opened up again, stronger than the night-time rain. It was as if someone up high was saying "Welcome to Bato. Para sa mga Bato lamang. Ang malamya huwag pumasok." Yet the runners did not despair; we're full of confidence that we would finish the run. Like frogs, we went on our merry way --- running in the rain. There would be no singing of "Rain, Rain Go Away" from this bunch.
|Welcome to San Roque, Bato.|
|Bring on the rain.|
|Wet and loud red frogs|
|Getting Wet: It is more fun in the Philippines|
|And the heavens obliged...|
|The reflector snap on is working.|
Rain and more rain greeted us as we passed thru a handful of barangays in Bato. Sitios with names like Cawacagan, San Juan, Goyudan, Salvacion and Buluang. In the late 80s and early 90s, these locales were often greeted with news of NPA encounters and summary killings. But with the completion of the concrete road around Lake Bato, rebel activity had died down in these barangays with the rebel group receding further into more far-flung places not yet reached by access infra. At the sitio of San Juan, we passed by a tarpaulin announcing a fun run on January 27, 2014. Progress is in this area in the form of a fun run.
By the time we hit Km 28, we were leaving the province of Camarines Sur and entering the province of Albay via a bridge. I looked at my watch and I smiled. It took us slightly less than 4 hours to cover 4 sets of 7 kms. If we keep this up, I was on a sub-6 pace for a full marathon distance. I have not hit the sub-6 since the 2012 RUPM. There is really a lot of good in running with a group.
|Crossing the bridge that separates Cam Sur from Albay|
|Two ultra newbies, Alex and Kevin, leading the pack as we enter Albay|
|Chasing down Ed|
|Owning the road|
|Hooray! (At the Buga viewdeck)|
|Going back to the road|
|Rampaging tributary of Lake Bato|
|Road Running: It is more fun in the Philippines|
|Contrast in running form: Bob and Joji|
|Pushing the pace for a sub 6 marathon|
|Sub 6 accomplished|
|Passing by St. James the Great Church in Libon poblacion|
|Mariano, leading the assault to Matacon|
|The Bicolano Penguin's solo spot|
But there was no time to dilly dally as there was still 13 kms to go. We proceeded with our 4-1 run walk and pretty soon we were at the Matacon crossing in Polangui. We were now back in the National Highway and there were 8 kms more to go before we were back in our starting area in Big M Resort in Bato. It was at this point that the stronger runners like Bob, Nino and Brandon proceeded at a faster pace. Even ultra newbie Gary took off after them. Left with me were Mariano, Marino, Joji, Ghibz and Alex. Ric and Kevin drifted at the back given the blisters that were slowing down Kevin. With the initial trio more than two kilometers away already, Marino politely asked permission if he could run after them. I told him to go ahead and he took off. In full view of us was his stride, both light and powerful at the same time. No doubt in my mind that he would catch the lead pack.
About an hour after Marino jetted ahead of us, the trio of Mariano, Alex and myself reached Big M resort. Our time for the 55-kms of our Lake Bato Ultra was less than 8 hours. We got a full round of applause for our compatriots who finished ahead of us. True to form, it was Marino who finished first with a time of 7 hours and 15 minutes. This could have been faster by hours if we did not have the sabayan pagtakbo in the first 45 kms. Next were the quartet of Nino, Bob, Brandon and Deanmark. Afterwards came Gary. After our trio, Joji and Ghibz crossed the line. Ed finished pretty soon. Then Ric and Kevin came along. Allen and Royder finished more than an hour afterwards. Despite their injuries, there was no quitting in them.
|Finishing with exuberance|
|Ed with arms raised|
|Ric and Kevin|
|Waiting for the other finishers|
Joji, Gary and Nino showing off their finisher shirt
"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
No doubt, no timid souls among the 15 who joined me in our Lake Bato Ultra on that cold and dark yet triumphant 30th of November.
Gabos matibay. Gabos bato.