No doubt, the allure of the Sungay Challenge Ultra Marathon scheduled for July 13 is the 9-km “uphell” ascent that is referred to in the google map as “Ligaya Drive.”
It is the road that connects the town of Talisay in the province of Batangas to the city of Tagaytay in the province of Cavite. Simply put, it is an assault of the Tagaytay ridge thru a road created along a ridgeline. Given that the average elevation of the Tagaytay Ridge is 610 meters above sea level (MASL) and Talisay is at 5 MASL, you can do the math and come up with an elevation gain that is “BREATHLESS”, literally and figuratively, for running.
What more this 9-km “uphell” portion of the 50-km ultra marathon happens at point Km 33 to point Km 42 if we are to look at the route map prepared by the race organizer, Prince Multi Sports Event, and posted in the events facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/events/496848787109184/). In long distance lore, Km 30 and beyond is where the proverbial “wall” is at its nastiest. Prince Baltazar was not using lightly and loosely the word “CHALLENGE.”
One thing about a challenge, one prepares for it. And in my book, the best way to prepare for a challenging ultra is to do a RECON RUN. This allows me to get acquainted with the lay of the land. To be more intimate so to speak.
Thus, last Sunday morning of June 29, a band of row5runners composed of Bob, Ernie, Ed and myself, set out for the northern corner of the province of Batangas to get a feel of the land. Riding a Montero, we reached Tanauan via the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (StarToll) past 4am. Taking the Talisay-Tanauan Road, the vehicle headed for downtown Talisay, roughly 17 kms away. Even in the dark, I could detect from the comforts of my car seat that the road going to Talisay was generally downhill. I smiled to myself. The combination of downhill and early morning running is a good recipe for a relatively fast yet relaxed pace for the penguin at 7 kph, at least for the first half of the 50-km ultra.
Arriving shortly in downtown Talisay, the Montero eased itself in to the parking bay of the local 7-Eleven. It then disgorged the 4 row5runners who were ready to get it on with the recon run. The plan was to run 3 kms out of Talisay going to Laurel then make a u-turn and run another 2 kms back to Talisay and a km before downtown Talisay, we turn left to Ligaya Drive which is the start of the uphell to Tagaytay City. After running up by roughly 9 kms, we plan to reach the corner of Ligaya Drive and the Tagaytay-Calamba Road. At this point, we would stop already our recon run expecting that we would already have our fill of uphell breakfast.
This was the plan and we certainly followed it to a T. Here are our observations and please note that the Km marker we used are the ones pointed out in the route map in the facebook page of said event:
At km 17 to km 19, the Talisay - Tanauan Road is a bit on the narrow side and there isn’t much space for shoulder parking for the support vehicle. This underscores the need for reflectorized vest for the ultra runners so that oncoming vehicles can detect them way ahead. It is also at this point that we get to have a good view to our left of Lake Taal and some of the resort establishments in the area. While the scenery to our left are enticing, the ultra runner in us needed to have our eyes focused on the road for any oncoming vehicular traffic.
Making a u-turn before Km 20, we ran back to Talisay and soon we were at Km 33 where we turned left. This is the start of the upward ascent to Tagaytay via Ligaya Drive. After a kilometer, at this point we are at km 34, we were already huffing and puffing. To our front was our driver Orly taking photos of our travails as we expected but when he shouted “ganda ng view”, I instinctively turned my head and saw what he was savoring. The sight of Lake Taal from a height of more than 300 feet already. At this height, it was a breathless view by breathless runners or to be accurate about it, by runners running out of breath already.
This ascent continued and there really wasn’t a downhill from the uphell. Between Km 35 and Km 36, there was Orly taking photos again and we had the feeling we runners were mere wall flowers to the grand tapestry that was the Lake Taal view. At this point, I had given up on running and was doing mostly walking but the sight of a camera had a rejuvenating effect on an ultra runner and immediately, the running started again, albeit briefly.
At km 38 was an oasis for viewing Lake Taal. This is where I had some fun enjoying the excellent balance my Altra Torin 1.5 provided me in tackling the low fence which I climbed and ran astride it.
|Driver Orly at the viewdeck|
Finishing off Km 39 with a walk, I approached Km 40 and had to do a double take as I imagined that the downhill I viewed was a mirage. But it was real alright and I wasted no time running downhill to pass under the boundary arch of Talisay entering into the 1st barangay of Tagaytay. Said barrio is named Brgy Sungay East and here I surmised is the origin of the name of the Sungay Challenge Marathon. Ed and I had our customary picture taking and we proceeded on our run walk.
|Ed at Km 40|
The downhill that was Km 40 was immediately replaced by stiff uphell going up to Tagaytay ridge which was clearly visible now with all those white Santorini-type villas habituating the eastside of the ridge. It is at this point that I decided to make a mental note to include in my recon run review the practical need for the race organizer to make sure that the ambulances deployed along the Ligaya Drive during the running of the ultra come July 13 should have substantial supply of oxygen tanks. There could be participants to the Sungay Challenge Ultra that will have shortness of breath when they tackle this 9-km uphell portion. This I am doing now.
By the time we went beyond km 41, the road was already transitioning from incline to flat and I let loose a fartlek burst which had me reaching the corner in a flash with a big smile.
|Ernie at Km 41|
I looked at my watch and it read 2 hrs & 18 mins for the 14 kms we ran from Talisay down there to Tagaytay up here.
The math lover in me was already crunching the numbers and this is the practical guide I came up for the running strategy of a penguin to finish the 50-km route under 10 hours come the actual Sungay Challenge Ultra this July 13: 1st 33 kms take it in less than 5 hours; the last 17 kms take it in less than 4 hours.
Comparing notes with BDM 160 and West Coast 200 finisher Bob, he told me that what we just tackled that is Ligaya Drive is 2X more taxing than the fabled “Shotgun” of San Mateo, Rizal. An accomplished ultra runner, at least in my book, Bob was also in awe of the gruelling challenge and amazing view that is in the offing of the Sungay ultra marathon. He also has the same word to describe it.