Have you ever peered from a hilltop view into Tayabas Bay and an island hosting a power plant?
Raced with a container van truck up a hill? Climbed up a zig zag road to go inside a forested park so thick the name Black Forest comes to mind? Gazed at the serene high steps of herons on a mangrove coast? Stood a foot from a turtle? If you haven’t, it’s high time you check your calendar and run the Malicboy-Atimonan-Pagbilao (MAP) 50K Ultrarun in the Quezon province. MAP 50 is a small ultra which just started in late 2013 and has already a “Reverse” version (https://www.facebook.com/events/1441603912738175/). The course, with over 3,300 feet of elevation gain, is a challenging road ultra marathon yet offers some of the best scenery in the Tagalog region.
The MAP 50K Reverse Race was held last March 16. Early morning assembly was inside the Quezon National Agricultural School (QNAS). Arriving there at 1am, our group, which was composed of fellow 83nean Ernie (aka Bob) and fellow blogger Mau, could not help but marvel at how clean and big the QNAS campus is. One could sense that the agricultural sector is very much held in high regard by the people of the province of Quezon.
One by one, the MAP participants came trickling into the campus. We started getting our race bibs and by 4 am, we were all gathered under the tarpaulin announcing it as the start area. The race director, Rodelio Mendoza of Team Runn’ Active, had few words to share. A couple of info that he let out: there were only 42 starters out of 56 who registered; and, there would be water/aid stations every 5 kms. I said to myself, “Good. I like it that way. Small and Intimate. Only the bare necessities. Spartan.”
|The MAP 50K runners with the Race Director|
Without the noisy and exorbitant fanfare that the big races have, the runners were let go. We all scampered out of the QNAS gate and turned right into the Maharlika highway going north. At roughly the 6km mark, we turned left into a provincial road which was dark. No lamp posts at the side of the road. Good thing, the 3 of us had Energizer headlights which illuminated our way. The road was rolling and we quickly adopted the strategy of walking on the ascent and running on the descent. By the 14km mark, the sun was rising and we were gazing into a straightaway that crossed into the island. The view on both sides of the bridge was serene: A flock of white herons foraging on the mangrove marsh and fishing boats parked on the coastal waterway.
|Energizer 7 LED headlight in action|
As we crossed the bridge, we saw a water station which offered bananas and boiled eggs. The Race Director is delivering on his word. More rolling roads on the island. At the 18-km mark, we came across the first 7 runners going back. At the back of this pack was a tall runner clad in a black-singlet. He stood out in the group as he moved with an economy of motion. I mentally took note that this runner would be the one to finish first. In a little while, more runners were going back. Chief among them was my fellow 83nean. I shouted at Ernie to push it and go for a Top 5 finish.
|Economy in motion evident in the dude in black|
|Ernie aka Bob in hot pursuit of the lead pack|
|At peace with the pace|
At the 21-km mark, we made a u-turn just before the entrance to the Team Energy power plant. After 1-km, we stopped by our support vehicle to put on arm sleeves and fresh shirts, all with Icefil technology. The sun was beginning to beat us mercilessly. Time to fight back. In a little while, we came across 3 runners (a lady and a pair of dudes) who were on their way to the u-turn while we were already going away. I smiled at my running buddy. I was thinking, we are not the last runners after all. This spurred us to run with a bit more gusto. Pretty soon, we were back on the Maharlika road, proceeding to the QNAS campus.
But we will not be stopping at the QNAS campus. We have been running already for almost 6 hours and have covered roughly 34 kms. But the MAP is after all an ultra marathon covering 50 kms. The next 16 kms is the very meat of the MAP. This will be the assault of the diversion road and old zig zag road of the Quezon National Park. And since this is the Reverse, the uphell assault will be at the end and in the noontime heat. Are we the ones to assault or the ones to be assaulted?
We gamely trudged on. This time, giving instructions to Orly, the driver of the support vehicle, to stop every 2 kms to allow us access to ice-cold H20, Gatorade and Mountain Dew more frequently.
The diversion road did not disappoint. It offered 7 kms of continuous ascent. At the start, we tried doing 2-min run and 2-min walk. But after the 1st two kms of going up, we were reduced to doing power walking.
Once in a while, there would be a container truck going up ever so slowly. This would prompt us to try run with it, albeit at a safe distance. No matter how seemingly slow the trucks moved, our footpower was no match to the dozen-horsepower engines and we would left in its dust and dark exhaust. But what goes up must come down. This thought is what powered us as we gamely trudged on at less than 4 kph pace under the heat of the sun with no mercy.
Pretty soon, we could see the road going on a slight descent. The start of downhill nirvana and we shifted gear to a faster pace. Funny how the leg muscles seem to get more active and bouncy as the going gets down.
By this time, our running speed has improved double a notch to 7 kph. It was at this relatively exuberant pace that our running buddy Bob aka Ernie chanced upon the pair of Mau and myself. Turns out he, after finishing more than an hour ago, decided to double back up and down the old zig zag road to look for us. He advised us that about a kilometer more of this descending diversion road would be the right turn to the road famously known as “Bitukang Manok”.
|Ernie tackling the uphell curves|
Upon hearing this, a mixed sense of delight and dread enveloped me. On one hand, there was the thought that with the right turn, there would only be the remaining 4 kms before we call it a day. On the other hand, a sense of déjà vu dread for I hated, more of feared, this road way back in my puberty years. Without a hitch, the old zig zag road of the Quezon National Park induced vomiting from yours truly every time we travelled by car in the late 70s. (http://www.bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2014/03/map-50km-ultrarun-2014-surge-or-disgorge.html#more) Would dizziness get the better of me again? Only one way to find out and that was to face my fear head on. I had no choice for if I did not, I would surely not finish.
Slowly and even agonizingly, we tip toed ourselves to the top of the 850-ft hill. The 2-km uphell portion of the old zig zag road took more than 40 mins for us to crest. But such labor of valor gifted us with a breath-taking view of the lowlands of Pagbilao, the Grande and Volcano islands and Tayabas Bay. Seeing this panorama made me realize more how lucky we are to be traipsing thru the black forest that is the Quezon National Park. The fear of disgorging was gone. Fresh air was so abundant , thanks to the hundreds of dipterocarps in this nature reserve. I even had a close encounter with a small land turtle as we were on our descent already in the famous figure “M” curve. It was perhaps nature’s way of telling me that I was uber slow and needed to boost the pace which we did with gravity’s considerable cooperation. Time to surge.
|Mau starting on the long descent from the top of the 850-ft hill|
|Close encounter with a turtle|
|Going fast on the downhill|
|Finishing off the Bitukang Manok|
Despite the fact that we were tired to the max already from running and walking 38 kms, I dare say that the last 2 kms was probably our fastest portion in the MAP 50K. Roughly 8kph. In no time, we were turning left again to the Maharlika highway and then, after 200 meters, turn right to enter the QNAS campus where the finish line awaits at the end of a mango tree-lined avenue.
At the finish line, there stood the race director who generously applauded the finishers. I looked at my Timex and it displayed the numbers 8 hours & 54 mins. Not bad for our objective was to nail a time below 9 hours (official cut off time was at 12 hours). For the record, I placed 37th among the 42 finishers. Finishing first was the tall dude in black with a time of 5 hrs & 6 mins. Impressive time for a Japanese with an impressive surname – Yamashita.
|Raising the Musang|
|...medal inspired by the Musang, thought to inhabit the Quezon National Park|
Closer to home, we are also delighted with the finish of my fellow 83nean and fellow blogger. Bob aka Ernie finished part of Top 5 overall while Mau finished among the Top 5 women’s. The Bicolano Penguin was 1 slot higher than the Bottom 5 overall.
As we kibitzed with the Race Director in the finish line area, we got to have a glimpse of the several ultra marathons Team Runn’ Active is cooking up for the rest of 2014. There is the 100-km ultra in the Bondoc Peninsula this April. The 125-km ultra from this October. For more queries on these races, you can touch base with him thru his email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. The Philippine ultra running community in general and Quezon in particular is blessed to have Rodel Mendoza pursuing his passion.
|Savoring the solace of surviving|
|Swapping war stories with the Race Director|
And on that note, I shall end this write up with a quote from Olympic marathoner Peter Maher - “Running is the big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?’”.
Good thing we ain’t no wimps on that March 16 morning.
|Ain’t no wimps in this bunch|
Photos courtesy of:
1. AV Photography (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.280687905431382.1073741860.112230838943757&type=3)
2. ICloud Running Group (https://www.facebook.com/iclubgroup/photos_stream)
3. Runaholic (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.729932820373828.1073742226.271585782875203&type=1)
Maraming salamat. Photos you take and share make the run immortal no matter how mortal we are.