‘How did you prepare for your first Ultra run?’ Noelle and Rodel the Argonaut asked me the night we saw each other at the Men’s Health Urbanathlon 2010 press conference at Italianni’s BHS sometime last month.
Minor digression: The Race is happening this Sunday, by the way, so I hope you’ve been working out those legs, core and upper body for the challenging obstacle courses!
It was exactly 6 days after I fought my way to a well-deserved podium finish in my maiden foray into the crazy world of UltraRunning (to the uninitiated, Ultra Running is going beyond the 42km marathon) and yet apart from the unsightly tan line – which, at that time, was already starting to peel making it even more unappealing but I was not minding it much because I gotta admit that weird-looking tan line has become a blockbuster hit of a conversation starter – I was feeling great! Not to say I didn’t suffer the brunt of Mt. Pinatubo’s unforgiving heat, rocks, sand, and what-not because damn it I DID, but I bounced back from the unpleasant aftermath quite fast. Faster than most, in fact. Yes, I’m some kind of an android that way.
And no, I did not train for it. Not even for a day. Because up until two days prior to the race when Dennis the Running Pinoy told me that he signed me up for the race and got me my own first aid kit from Watson’s, I was not sure I’d even do it. You see, I was in Malaysia at that time and would only return to Manila at 6PM the day before the actual race. I did NOT even get to enjoy the luxury of sleep because I had to gear up and pack my race essentials very quickly soon as I arrived home from the airport in order to meet up with fellow runners at midnight. The race venue is roughly three hours away from Manila and gun start is at 5AM. I only had time for a shower and a heartfelt prayer for safety and survival. Before braving the 1st PAU Mt. Pinatubo 50k Trail Challenge, my running resume consisted mainly of two 5k, four 10k, three 31k races, one full marathon, and sporadic solo runs here and there to try and keep my waistline looking steady and narrow at 23 inches. So you see, there isn’t much there for anyone to be able to ascertain that I’d even make it. But I am, first and foremost, a lioness. If there’s one thing I have in abundance of (aside from sex appeal and smarts, that is…lol!), that would be my nerves of steel. The minute I got Dennis’ email confirmation on my Mt. Pinatubo registration, I knew I had to finish it. The hows, whys, and what ifs were all a-jumble in my head at that point but all that didn’t matter. I was going to nail the race.
And boy did I nail it and more.
Before gun start, my fellow racers and I were happily trading playful banters and taking photos. Every now and then we would confer with the support crew to reassure ourselves that they would be right where we need them to be stationed at any point during the grueling 10-hour cut-off race. Apart from very few people, I did not know anyone else there as I have not really been visible at any of the competitive races because of my work and travel. Surprisingly, I was not at all nervous. Perhaps because at that point, I was still in the dark as to how the whole race will unfold. Had I even the slightest hint, I’m sure i’d quake in my feet a little. Insignificantly little. Kidding!
At exactly 5:00 am, Sir Jovie aka Bald Runner officially opened the race and the 60+ runners including myself confidently took to the half-paved road of Sta. Juliana in Capas, Tarlac at the base of Mt. Pinatubo. It was very dark and neither I nor Dennis had headlamps on so we had to rely on gut feel and chance to keep our feet off potholes which could lead us to unwanted injuries and what-not. The paved road did not even cover a kilometer in my estimation because even before my feet could get used to the uneven path, we were running on sand (far cry from the powder-soft sand of Boracay, mind you), crossing rivulets, and getting our feet very wet in the process.
As if the beginning of the race was not fun enough already, Dennis and I and a few other runners behind us took the wrong path and got lost. We must have already covered nearly a kilometer or more before we were redirected to the right direction and you can imagine how frustrated I was to have lost so much time and we had barely covered 10 percent of the total distance! I was so pissed I urged Dennis to sprint in an attempt to cover at least a good part of the ground we inadvertently lost.
Dennis told me after the race that during that time when we were scampering off to catch up with the race leaders shortly after we realized we were lost that there were some guys whom I passed who apparently made some remark about me not having enough power in my engine to cover all 50km of the trail and that I would succumb to exhaustion just after 21k. Oh how wrong they were!
I still remember every single jab of pain shooting through my left knee halfway through the race when I was trying to shake off this young lady who was hounding me relentlessly. I didn’t know her but I did see she had massive thighs and legs and was far superior in the mountain scaling department that she overtook me at one point and would hold me at bay for several kilometers before I would take back my lead and take it all the way to the finish line 9 hours later.
I suffered a lot during the race. Primarily because I came totally unprepared. I was wearing the wrong pair of socks, for one. I mean, come on, what stupid woman would wear no-show ankle socks to a trail race which involved a lot of running on lahar and sand? Why, Vicky Ras of course! I’m telling you, by the time Dennis and I crossed the finish line, I was carrying a bed of sand beneath the soles of my feet. Instant exfoliation, why not! Except that, well, it was too painful to laugh about.
What stupid woman would not even have the foresight to apply sunblock lavishly on exposed body parts knowing that Mt. Pinatubo is a vast, open space with very little trees or shade to hide under when the sun gets too hot? Why, Vicky Ras of course!
And then there’s this little thing called hydration which I also kind of scrimped on. I don’t own a hydration belt so I had to rely solely on my Fitness First water bottle for my hydration. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to dehydration (I always need to be reminded to drink water, if not, I go to bed realizing I only had a glass of water to drink the whole day!) that I was able to survive the race under such a condition. Thankfully, the water stops were stationed at areas where I needed them the most. An inch or so farther, I probably would have been found much, much later after the race sprawled unconscious – or worse. I gotta thank Dennis, too, for constantly prodding me to drink and suck on iodized salt repeatedly even when I would weakly wave it all off and argue that I’m okay.
If you ask me, I would not have made it through all of that 50 kilometers (more, in fact, because we got lost remember?) without him pacing me and talking to me especially during the last kilometers of the race where I found myself contemplating – not just once but many, many times – abandoning the quest altogether.
Who the hell am I doing this for? I would ask myself that question about a thousand times during the final stages of the race when my body was already fried from the intense heat of the Pinatubo sun and was still frying oh-so-excruciatingly; I was completely debilitated from dehydration; my knees were both shot; and my feet were being made love to violently by the bed of sand underneath. Now and then I would see faces of the few people I genuinely love and I would feel motivated but damn it I was still suffering!
‘Dennis, please, utang na loob sabihin mo naman sakin one kilometer na lang. Please, please, please…’ I would beg Dennis on and on and on again. The clock had just struck noon and the heat was searing and we still have nearly two hours before the 10-hour cut-off time is over. By this time, my knees and feet were all but demolished no amount of compensating could ease the pain. The mountaineer girl I mentioned who posed a threat to my quest for a podium finish – by this time I already knew I was second to veteran ultrarunner Camila Brooks – was way behind me but I couldn’t write her off completely until I make that final step crossing the finish line.
I don’t know how but I did it. Fair and square though with nearly very little to spare. I crossed the finish line after 9 hours and 22 minutes of running and walking and a whole lot of laughing, whining, and having simultaneous conversations with Dennis and my imaginary friend. I’m a little demented that way, yes.
So now I am officially an Ultra Runner. Will I do it again, I hear you asking. Yes, of course, I will! In fact, I am seriously considering doing the 50km Tagaytay to Nasugbu Run on the 14th of November. What? Am I crazy? But it’s only a month after my first ultra race!
But why not? I am, after all, I am your Average Everyday Saint Psycho ULTRA RUNNING Supergoddess.
And oh, did I mention that I finished FIRST RUNNER-UP? Yes, yabang. hahaha.