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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

May 9, 2017

NAGA TO LAGONOY ULTRA: The Pioneering Batch

The etymology of the word "pioneer" is the French word "pionnier" which means a foot soldier.  How apt indeed to hear the race director of the Naga to Lagonoy (N2L),  greet us 50+ runners assembled in front of the historic Quince Martires Monument in downtown Naga City on that early morning of April 29, 2017 as the "pioneering batch of the N2L."   For indeed, we are honest-to-goodness foot soldiers in the many glorious battle(s)  on the road  we call ultra marathon(s).

N2L Race Director Doods Gigantoca in front of the  Quince Martires Monument 
Since we are talking about "pioneers" and "pioneering batch", let us turn our attention first to the man responsible for the adrenaline rush.  The N2L is the pioneering brainchild of its race director Doods Gigantoca. A hard working DILG officer during weekdays, he is an equally hard working runner for Team SUBO on weekends.  After having joined many ultra marathons in other parts of the countries and being inspired by such intrepid race organizers like Rodell Mendoza, Pat Maranan and Jovie Narcise,  Doods has the vision to organize ultra marathons in his homeland of Bicolandia, taking cognizance of the fact that Region 5 has a lot of beautiful  sceneries and rugged routes to offer.  In his vision, the regular running of ultra marathons would also serve to unite and strengthen the bond among the diverse running clubs in Bicol.  Thus, with his wit on overdrive, he organized the Bikolandia Ultra Running Promotions (BURP) and the Bikol Ultrarunning Association (BUA).  Don't let the crazy-cool  acronyms fool you, these two nascent organizations would serve as the lead vehicle(s) in pushing forward his laudable vision.

The pioneering ultra of BURP and BUA is the N2L.  It is part of the official program  for the 10th Samhod Festival of the Municipality of Lagonoy in the Partido District of Camarines Sur.  The "samhod" or broom is one of the major local products of the town and the town officials led by its Mayor Delfin "JB" Pilapil III saw it fit to celebrate the town fiesta with a month-long series of activities.  Thanks to the youthful disposition of the mayor for adventure and the persistence of Doods, the ultra marathon was included for the first time in the Samhod Festival.

More than 50 runners, from near and far, registered for the Naga to Lagonoy ultra marathon.  Come the midnight separating April 28 from April 29, these intrepid runners started gathering in front of the Quince Martires monument. Named in honor of the 15 gentlemen who were martyred a fews days after our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal was executed in Luneta, the monument is ground zero of Bicol patriotism. It is hallowed ground and many of the N2L participants   find inspiration in the ideals that the 15 martyrs represent. Ideals such as bravery, perseverance and the no pain no gain attitude will soon be in display as they  tackle the 60 kilometer route from Naga City to the towns of Pili, Ocampo, Tigaon, Goa, San Jose and finally Lagonoy.
N2L route map
The growing crowd of runners and well wishers was a sight to behold in Quince Martires.  With many running clubs represented, it was a kaliedoscope world of runners. Present were the Team SUBO, Team Reformers, Mt. Isarog Runners, Caceres Running Club, Runconada, row5runnin, running 83neans, Team Sinarapan, Team TOUR and Team Cabalen.

Team SUBO with their group's hand sign. 
Runconada runners in their colorful running shirts
A trio of Mt. Isarog Runners. 

Team Reformers from BJMP-Albay.  

Running 83neans, row5runners and Team Sinarapan wearing #OneForLeila running shirts.

Veteran crew from Team TOUR.

Runners of the Caceres Running Club on the road to Lagonoy.

Team Cabalen runners
The running clubs had a fun time having their group photos in front of the monument.  Soon, the race director gathered all for the start of the longest ultra marathon, to date, in the province of Camarines Sur.  Doods expressed his appreciation to all those who came,  near and far, to join  the first ultra offering of the fledgling BURP outfit.  The co-race director, Boi Balleras, then gave safety instructions to the runners.  After one last group photo, the ultra runners were sent off into the great beyond.

Runners assembling around the Race Director  with minutes before the 3am start.

Co-race director Boi Balleras giving safety instructions

One last group photo for the N2L pioneering batch.
Runners of varying colors waiting for the start.

N2L started at 3am sharp. 
With the race starting at 3am sharp, the runners had roughly 3 hours of cool running before the sunrise showed up its heat splendor.  Elite runners were early on the forefront, do doubt spurred on by the surprise cash prizes awaiting the podium finishers.  Improving ultra marathoners comprised the middle pack while the usual suspects brought up the last row of the runners.  All runners though were subject to the extreme heat and humidity that Bicol is known for when 7am arrived.  Good thing the organizers had water stations in regular intervals of the race route and the runners took full advantage to cool down with the abundant water in these stations.  The N2L race was also blessed to have a TV crew from ABS CBN covering the ultra marathon. Undoubtedly, the media attention inspired the runners to give it their all.
Elite runners pushing the pace.

Cyrus of Runconada with the majestic Mt. Isarog in the background.

Joji of row5unnin and Bob of running 83neans cruising. 

 Runconada runner and Caceres runner pairing up to conquer the long distance.

Some of the last  runners happy to reach the first water station in Anayan.

The sweeping duo of Bicolano Penguin and Ed laboring thru the heat.  The man in orange is Allen, one of our support crew.  

Many ways the runners cope with the heat. 

Taking a bath is an option. 

ABS CBN TV crew on hand to record the epic run. 

By the 5th hour of the race, the first runner approached the finish line in downtown Lagonoy.  And the rest of the runners came trickling in.  The last runner crossed the finish line at a little over the 11th hour.  The cut off finish time was at 12 hours. All in all, 54 runners started among 59 who registered.  Of the 54 runners, 52 survived the battle with the heat and crossing the finish line. All bore  the smile of an accomplished ultra marathon warrior.  For their troubles, each of the successful 52 got a finisher shirt, finisher medal, finisher trophy and a beautiful hand-made samhod.
Chito Gonzales of Team SUBO is the first to cross the finish line.

The champion being interviewed by ABS CBN.
The top 3 male finishers with Lagonoy Mayor Delfin "JB" Pilapil III.

Top 3 female finishers with Mayor Pilapil.

BP and Ed were among the last finishers but the race director and co-race director were still present to give a very warm reception. 

The last finisher getting the most applause.

Runconada delegation.  It fielded 7 runners, 6 were newbie ultra runners.  All finished.  

Group photo of finishers from Caceres Running Club.

All #OneForLeila runners survived the 60km trek.
Race results (Finishers 1 to 15 )

Race results (Finishers 16 to 28)

Race results (Finishers 29 to 52)

What makes an ultra marathoner?  What makes an ultra marathoner tick?  How does it feel to be a member of the pioneering batch of the N2L?

If it were possible, we would interview all 52 but in the interest of time, we are sharing here the profile of 6 of these successful "pioneers"  of the 60km N2L:

Wilmor Plopinio, 49th finisher. (11 hrs & 19 mins).

At 59 years old, Wilmor is one of the veteran runners in the local running community.  A member of the Caceres Running Club, he  has successfully finished 3 editions (2013, 2014 & 2015) of the Mayon 360 80km ultra,  The N2L is his 8th ultra and the longest he has bagged is the 110km ICUM in Catanduanes.  A retired jail superintendent with the Bureau of Jail Management & Penology, he is presently the Dean of the  College of Criminal Justice Education at the Pili Capital College.

In his own words - "N2L is no different from any other ultra. There will always be difficult challenges. For the N2L, the challenge was heat. It is the test of my endurance why I join ultra marathons.  Many asked if it is still healthy by joining ultra marathons.  I told them for me it is healthy because I don't have any maintenance medicine at my age.  I run in all weather condition, day and night but after that I am still in good condition, although the credit must be in the Divine Providence of our Lord God."

Asked as to what  was his training for the N2l. Wilmor responded - "My usual training: Tuesday 16kms; Wednesday 8kms; Friday rest; and Saturday & Sunday 5hrs & 6hrs, respectively.  Due to busy days, only 70% of my training schedule was done." 

Inquired on what happened to him in the Tigaon-Goa portion of the race, he replied - " I felt tired and sleepy.  When I reach Goa, I had to have my power nap for 10 minutes at the store where I bought another bag of ice. When I recovered a bit, I continued walking under the extreme heat. While along San Jose, I vomited several times but I continue walking. The salt, dark chocolate and water I injested helped me to avoid too much dehydration. Someone told me  - harani ka na, then adrenaline rush again comes and I survived.  When I took a nap in Goa, the store owner wanted to call an ambulance but I refused telling them that I can make it to the finish. Our support really help so much for me to finish the race."

Asked about what he thinks about the idea of forming the Bikolandia Ultra Running Promotions (BURP), Wilmor had this witty response worthy of a sage - "Idea of Doods maybe is for the Bicolanos to practice fitness through running. Although it includes also the practice of humility dahil lagi kang nakatungtung sa lupa; the practice of high level of honesty - you must be honest not to commute no matter what happened; practice of humanity - supporting co runners if need arises.  Sure, I will join BURP, dito lagi kang busog kaya lagi kang dumidighay."

Leizyl Ojo, 33rd finisher. 9 hrs & 28 mins. 

This lady runner from Pio Duran, Albay is 30 years old and is known by her beautiful nickname "Love." .  She is one of the many first time ultra marathoners in N2L.    In her words - "Di pa po ako nakakasali sa 42k marathon. Ang first  ko na run is sa Cagsawa trail run 21kms po nung Feb 26. Ang first ultra ko po yung Naga to Lagonoy."

Inquired on how she trained for her first ultra, Love replied - "yung coach ko nagbigay ng guide para sa training ko para sa ultra. Kulang pa nga po yung training ko po...Kaya naglakad na lang po ako nung 15kms na lang po hanggang maka-abaot sa finish line."

Why run? Why run under the heat of the sun?  She has this to say - "Enjoy po kasi ako tumakbo and love ko po talaga ang ginagawa ko po...Di ko naman po na feel yung heat that time po kasi iniisip ko po maka finish po kaagad...Ginagawa ko na lang po buhos ng buhos ng tubig sa ulo para di po ako bumigay sa pagod."

Ernesto Badong.  24th finisher.  9 hrs & 1 min.

At 50 years old, Ernie has bagged more than 20 marathons and utra marathons already. He is one of two members of the Ateneo de Naga HS Batch 1983  who has conquered and survived the Bataan Death March 160km ultra marathon and the Mayon 160km ultra marathon.  Working for a bank in Quezon City, Ernie's long distance adventures are mostly in the provinces.

Why run the N2L? Why run an ultra marathon?  His reply is - "I am a Bicolano.  I always make sure to run every ultra marathon in Bicol.  Especially when it's an inaugural like the N2L.  I always wanted to be among the first to run. It's always been fun running in our own place Bicol. Dapat takbuhin  natin every ultra in Bicol kasi it's our home run.  Ultra marathons are more challenging and fun compared to running shorter distances.  Hindi kasi ako speed. I run ultras to test my endurance if kaya ko pa. And personal achievement for myself na din kung maka finish.  Thank God I don't DNF pa naman in any of my runs.  Ultras also cheaper. Sulit ang bayad.  Mura na enjoy ka pa."

How did you train for the N2L?  How did you cope with the heat?  Ernie responded - "I trained for 2 months - daily one hour runs and long runs/heat training (for about 6 hrs) during weekends.  I am used to run in extreme heat.  Given na yung BDM ultras and I already run the Mayon 360 five times already.'

How does it feel to finish the N2L?  Will you run again? Ernie's reply was automatic - " Masarap sa pakiramdam. Mahirap pero masaya!  Oo naman! Siyempre. Babalik pa ako."

Ronald Dela Rosa. 17th finisher.  8 hrs & 7 mins.

A member of Team Reformers (BJMP 5), Ronald is 39 years old and has bagged 6 ultra marathons including the N2L.  He has done already a pair of 100km+ ultras like the 100km Leyte Landing ultra in  2015 and the 100km Isla Catanduanes Ultramarathon in 2016.

Why run the N2L?  He replied - "N2L will form of my training in preparation for the upcoming 160km Isla Catanduanes Ultramarathon (ICU 160) happening this August.  I run ultras to test my physical and emotional stability especially on a prolonged exposure from the scorching heat of the sun.  Ultramarathon or long distance running became my passion after joining my very first ultra, the Mayon 360 on 2015. I find a different kind of satisfaction and fulfillment in doing an ultra. In addition to that, having the chance to represent my organization which is the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP)is such an honor and pride." 

How did you train for the N2L? How did you cope with the extreme heat in the N2L route?  Ronald's answer is - "I prepared a simplified training scheme that will best fit to my schedule.  I conditioned myself by doing a 5k run as a starter then a gradual increase in distance to accumulate mileage on succeeding days. Several runs were scheduled late in the morning and early afternoon so as to the body adaptation from the heat of the sun. Proper diet and medical check up were considered before and during the course of  training.  Determination, awareness, focus, goal and mind setting are the factors I consider effective in doing an ultra.  Listening to my body and adjusting to its needs is the key. Using the proper gear for protection and keeping myself hydrated to replenish the minerals lost due to excessive sweating. "

Inquired as to whether he will join upcoming ultra marathons organized by BURP, his ready reply was short and swift - "Definitely yes.  I will surely join upcoming ultras they are about to organize."

Peter Christopher Llanza.  10th finisher.  6 hrs & 49 mins. 

One of 7 Runconada runners who joined the N2L, Peter's  youthful face belies the fact that he is 30 years old already.  The N2L is his very first ultra marathon. Based on his time, he certainly have a very good account of his ultra debut.

Why run the N2L?  Why run an  ultra marathon?  His reply is - "I ran N2L even if it was held in the hot summer because I want to experience ultra marathon for the preparation of my upcoming Bataan Death March 102 this Jan 2018. I want to level up my strength in running."

How did you train for the N2L?  How did you cope with the extreme heat?  Peter responded - "Since I am a nurse having my duty in Sta. Maria Josefa Foundation Hospital, every day off I ran 30kms or above with 2 days rest period.  I prefer mostly to run in a hilly road which is the route of Mt. Asog 360.  Sometimes I run after my duty,  starting to run at 5pm to 9pm on the road alone to acquire 30km distance.  Because of heat training sometimes and proper hydration, yun po ang nag salba sa akin sa grabeng init sa N2L."

What do you think of the BURP and its upcoming ultra marathons?  He answered - "That's great to have an ultra running promotion in Bicol, especially in Cam Sur.  Mas lalong dadami ang turistang dadayo para makatakbo dito.  Tapos makilala pa lalo ang Cam Sur at Bicol dahil sa kagandahan ng mga puwedeng puntahan na lugar dito.  And yes sir, uulit at uulit along sasali sa ultramarathon. Isa kaya ako sa pioneering ultra runner ng N2L kaya sasali't sasali ako sa patakbo ni sir Doods."

Salvador Nachor.  2nd finisher.  5 hrs & 51 mins.

Badong is a 30 year old runner from the town of Buhi.  He is a member of Team Sinarapan.  Like many  strong runners, he is a man of few words.    But given a chance to answer questions about his N2L experience, he shared these thoughts:

"Ako po ay kasama sa Team Sinarapan ng Buhi at dahil sa kanila mas lalo akong nahahasa sa takbo lalo na sa ultra. Minsan pinag-sponsoran nila ako.  Nakapag-ultra na din ako ng 6 na bises kasama na ang N2L.  Bilang isang ultra runner ay napakahirap makipag-sabayan  sa mga elite lalo na kung walang training  katulad ng paglaro ko sa N2L.  Halos 4 months na wala akong long run at yung time na nairegister na ako in the last 6 days before the race saka palang ako nakapag 40km easy jog. Sa experince  at sagad sa tiis na lang po siguro kong bakit  ako naka 2nd place.  Para sa akin, napakasaya maka podium." 

So there you have it. A glimpse into the mindset of ultra runners of varying ages and running clubs. All of them have one thing in common.  All of them are pioneers of the N2L, at 60kms, the longest official ultra marathon in all of Camarines Sur, thus far.
Doods busy being interviewed by the TV crew. The race director  is preaching the gospel of running according to BURP and BUA.  

But we may not have to wait that long before a new longest ultra in the province is declared.  We just have to hear it from Doods, BURP and BUA anytime soon - spreading the gospel of running, one ultra marathon  at a time.

Photo Credits:  RunconadaUltramarathonAura Reduta.





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