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Wandering Saddle February 1, 2013

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Priceless moments.

I have been lucky. I have been blessed to have travelled quite a lot around South East Asia–being able to take the sleeper trains in Thailand, surround myself with kids with tarantulas hanging on their chest in Cambodia or stuffing myself with the best noodles and spring rolls in Vietnam. In those travels in South east Asia, I can say that I was able to experience these unique cultures and immerse myself with the people and the way they live. But my last trip in Vietnam went deeper and farther than that. It wasn’t just about the destination, but rather the connection. I lost a loved one but gained a stronger self.

Just before we welcomed 2013, my special friends, Gthird, Char and Levi started on a not-so-crazy idea—to bike from Hanoi to Sa Pa. Sa Pa is in northwest Vietnam, it’s the town capital of Sa Pa district. The goal was to bike 466.5km in a week and a half. That would be around 8 riding days since we planned some full-day rest stops along the way.


Arriving at hanoi airport at 1am. We had to sleep in and wait for the sunrise before we could start our ride.

We arrived in Hanoi just before New Year’s day. Our research told us that it would be really chilly, but it seemed like we were all too arrogant and thought that it would be no feat. Wrong! We were immediately challenged by the strong wind chills the moment we stepped out of the airport. What were we thinking? That this would just be like Baguio? But at least we had sufficient clothing layers that morning. A little over 30km which is mostly just the main highway from the airport, and we finally got to Hanoi. We spent two nights in Hanoi, supplying our trip with the necessaries, eating Pho Ga and fantastic rice dishes here and there. We were also advised the Sa Pa would be wintery, and suddenly I heard Ned Stark’s voice saying “Winter is coming!”


Non-stop food trip.


The best lunch meal in the world.



We arrived in the town of Son Tay on Day 1 just before lunch time. Originally we planned to spend the night here but later realized that it was too short and we could save some days by pushing towards the town of Thanh Son. The team decided to have our lunch break here instead. We found the town market and had the best lunch meal of our lives. Aside from having a scrumptious meal as usual, it was very cheap (Php40 per head),with unlimited rice and “free flowing” ulam (it was not really free, it just felt that way as they never really measure their servings)

At Thanh Son, we were greeted by these women selling fried sweet potatoes, corn and bananas, kind of their maruja version. Day 1 was relatively flat with just some minor rolling areas on the last 10km approaching Thanh Son. We’re feeling strong.

The world is not flat, but you are.

Beginning the ride on the 2nd day was hard. What made it difficult was having to pedal on a freezing weather. We had to start with layers of clothing, and even covering up our whole face. We’d start the ride shivering.

Day 2 started to show the country side of Vietnam. The streets were less busy and the roads were already featuring gentle slopes. For the whole duration of this trip, none of us got any flat tire, except for Levi who experienced it more than, I don’t know, 100 times? But those moments of having a flat were treated with fellow feeling as we get to use that time to rest.

Flat nenemen?!

Vietnamese women don’t get fat.

We’ve all been guilty of scrutinizing the women of Hanoi (men as well, but sorry, the women stood out). They all look so charming and dainty and they’re all petite.  I’d secretly watch how they move, the way they eat, the way they dress up, and I’d be completely in awe. They eat and serve all these gratifying dishes and yet none of them shows any signs of eating carbs at all. And the answer to that mystery I plagued on myself is GREEN(s). In every meal, they’d eat a gallon-like serving of raw veggies and they’d take it like water. Veggies are their “pulutan” as well. It was weird seeing them drinking vodka or their “lambanog” while eating veggies. There’s a lot of healthy goodness going on in their system.


Me trying to keep up with the local teens carrying heavy loads of greens.

Happy hour.

Lunch stops were always thrilling to us, because one, it meant we could rest and two, the noodles, unlimited rice and my favorite tofu dish (Dau sot ca Chua) would be waiting for us. One town Char and I would not forget is Than Uyen (Day 5 of our ride). While eating, a group of drunk men offered us some shots of lambanog. As I’ve said it is very common for them to take lambanog shots with their meals, even as early as lunch. They were very friendly and as a courtesy we took some shots. But then the shots did not stop coming, they kept on gesturing for us to have some more, and we tried our best to refuse and gave some weird sign language that we still have a lot to pedal and we could not take more but they were very persistent. In other words, I got drunk on that lunch stop. I left the eatery with a red face and a wobbly head. Thankfully nothing bad happened and we all reached our destination for the day.


Weird signs along the road. Mag-ingat!



Slowly but surely

 iSa Pa

Going to our main and final destination needed a lot of psyching up. First, it entails around 35 km of non-stop uphill, and second is the frightening temperature drop as we pedal up to Sa Pa. The long uphill can sound intimidating at first, but I have realized and confirmed that whoever it was who build the roads of Vietnam, was a very friendly person. The elevation does not exceed 10%. Whatever that means, I just know that the uphill courses we bike in Manila are more than  30%. Imagine the uphill from UP main library to Econ, that’s how most of the elevation in Vietnam feels like, it was nothing like Maarat, so bring it on! We later realized that it was not really the long uphill that should concern us but rather the chill factor and the low visibility. Once again, I felt like this was the road leading to Mordor, and somewhere, Saruman would show up. What worried us was the fast vehicles approaching on the other side that might not see us. Levi and I had to fix our blinkers and use our headlamps as blinking headlights. Sa Pa is probably like our Sagada, and I’m certain that it was very scenic, if only we could see through the thick fog.


eww it’s muddy dude.

We came across a cycling couple who were probably touring from China as we can see from their fully loaded panniers. They we’re all covered up, signaling that it was very cold in Sa Pa. It’s startling to see other bicycle tourist even if you only exchange silent hellos and good byes, regardless of the nationality, you feel like you already understand each other, whereas other people–the regular tourist–would say “Why don’t you just ditch the bike, and take a bus or train?”.


Isa pa!


At the saddle, posing before the 15km descent.

On the highest peak of this climb, we slowly saw two ladies waving on a small makeshift shelter. This was perfect timing as we ran out of water and my stomach was beginning to act up on me. We were hungry, it was lunch time already, and were still 15km away from Sa Pa. The place looked like the bus stops in Polis going to Sagada. Surprisingly one of the ladies spoke really good English and listens to a lot of Katy Perry, and she offered us to sit near their grill to warm ourselves. She knew what we just needed. They were selling this suman-type of snack, only this was not wrapped in our regular banana leaves. The sticky rice was being grilled inside the bamboo, and once it’s ready, they’d crack the bamboo and we’d have a smoky suman dipped in crushed peanuts, not brown sugar like how we’d usually do it. It was very strange but it tasted like heaven. Another bizarre observation was how they would grill eggs. I’m not sure of the process, but you’d end up with a wooden-tasting boiled-egg texture. I thought this could be done in one of our climbs back home.


Enjoying our suman with the loving locals.

As Levi and I were getting comfortable near the grill, eating suman, the English-speaking lady told us that I was beautiful, correction, she said “You are VERY VERY beautiful!” And so I made a decision, at that exact moment, that I would go back to Vietnam and start a celebrity career. I’m apparently not just beautiful, but VERY VERY beautiful there. (haha)


Frosty face.

Alas! The last 15km going to Sa Pa, the end of the uphill. One would think that this was rewarding. What we didn’t recognize was the deadly wind chill from our fast descent. It was fatal. The chill trickled through my hands, despite of wearing 2 layers of gloves. My face had frost, I could feel my lips cracking, I told myself I’d rather have another uphill than this. It was too damn cold, I almost thought my hands and feet would fall off.


These gloves are not enough!

I have no words to describe the chill I felt when we finally arrived the town of Sa Pa, I wanted to throw myself in a big bowl of Pho Ga. Levi and I found a nice lunch place with heater and I pleased myself with delightful spring rolls. With my first bite of this godlike dish, I gently understood that this was the end of the road. We’re in our destination.




4 degrees.

Wandering saddle.

You get to ponder a lot while on the saddle. You can be numb to the slopes, to the uphill and downhill turns of your bike, but your saddle takes you to a state of mind you can’t get by taking the shorter route—a motorized vehicle. But of course, this is my personal take, I’m sure there is a different bliss on a motorized road trip that I would not be able to comprehend. A friend of mine said that the best way to fully immerse yourself in a journey is on foot, and the second best way would be on 2 (non-motorized) wheels. On my saddle, I saw their culture, and I’ve connected with the people. On our bikes, we got to see the towns that we’re away from the battling tourist destinations. We were visitors, not tourists. If I were given the chance to see the world, go around wherever, even with a huge budget, I’d still choose to take my “wheels” with me and wander off with my saddle in a heartbeat.


Great job team!

* Thank you Levi for letting me share this with you and taking the road less travelled.

* To G3 and Char, may we have more saddle time together.

* Photos: Levi & G3


My TDS experience September 27, 2012

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It was an unfamiliar road, but the journey was already known. It was this eternal hunger for what’s out there and that fulfillment of conquering a new territory that would always drive me to face new challenges.  It was a strange place, and yet a common ground.

After two years of planning and accumulating points, I made it to TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie), a 114km ultra trail race passing through the countryside of Mont Blanc with numerous elevations at more than 2500 meters. Originally I was qualified to join the much longer race, UTMB (160km), but at the last minute I just thought I still have years ahead of me and I’d rather save it for later. A lot of people are saying that even if TDS is shorter than UTMB, they considered it harder because of the terrain and it was far more technical, and these opinions would be later confirmed by me during the race itself.

That’s a lot of killer ascents don’t you think?


At Chamonix


I can pretty much say I was well prepared for this race. Training has been very natural for me to include in my routine. After doing a lot of races in the Philippines, I could safely say I already knew what I was doing, everything except for a really bad weather, but more on that later. I was ready, I was made for this.

We arrived in Chamonix three days before the race and the weather was really good. It was showing good signs of a good weather condition on the mountain. But come Wednesday, the day before the race, it started drizzling. Their weather forecast for the race got pretty bad. It was very accurate and yet it would still present a lot of drastic changes.  We received race updates that would scare me to death:

The conditions are wintery! Very cold, high winds and wet.

There will be snow at high points from 1800m to 2000m.
 Beware of the wind chill facture, it will feel very cold! The temperatures will feel as if they have dropped to –10° C.

Due to this it is necessary to manage the conditions by taking:

  • 4 layers of clothing (and not 3 as stated in the list of obligatory equipment)
  • The most waterproof jacket possible.
  • Thicker under garments.
  • Really warm gloves, and waterproof.
  • Bandana/scarf which covers the ears and part of the face, as well as a warm hat.

Clothing which respects the requirements to the minimum will be uncomfortable and very probably lead to hypothermia and a drop in your performance level.

Please remember, in these difficult conditions, the solidarity between runners is extremely important.
Also, remember that to finish such challenge it is necessary to manage the conditions and know how to adapt to them.


I think I died at the first sentence. WINTERY conditions? Oh great! I knew it would be cold and I had the proper gears with me, but I’ve never really experienced winter, and I was hoping my first sighting of snow would be lovely, but instead I was anticipating hell. I tried to look back on my races before where it got pretty bad, I have ran through a storm, but that’s just rain and wind, the temperature doesn’t drop to negative. According to the latest forecast, there would be rainfall the whole day and night, with a little snow, but I guess it was an underestimation. Levi (my main support for the whole race, thank you very much) gave me a pep talk that I was ready for the race and to just enjoy it. I was thinking too much and it hasn’t even started yet.


At the race start

The Journey Begins.

From Chamonix, we were shuttled to our starting line in Courmayeur which was on the Italian side. The race would start at 7am, and we arrived there at 6am. It was very chilly I had to wear my bonnet and 3 layers of clothing for my top. It was a nice thing that there were some coffee shops open at that hour but I could not think of food anymore, my heart was just beating fast. It’s the usual panic that I feel every race. It never goes away and this time, it was worse.


I have the highest respect for these mountain runners.

30 minutes before the start and I was feeling all the possible sensation one can feel in a short period. Excited, nervous, anxious, sickly, and just completely scared to death. As fearful as I was, I was very emotional on how I even landed there surrounded by all these like-minded runners who are passionate for the mountains and are at peace with the trails. These are not your ordinary runners, they’re mountain people. I belong here. I can do this. The race begins; as I ran, the anxiety diminishes. I was doing exactly what I knew. I started with 3 layers of clothing, but after maybe a kilometer, I started generating heat and took out my layers and just kept my base layer on. The first 2km was a meek ascent on road, it was a good warm-up for all of us I guess and then we hit the trails, or the foot of the mountain and people started compressing and a lot started walking. In my races at home, people don’t start walking this early, but I felt  like I should do what these veterans are doing, I thought to myself, they probably knew what they were doing. Along with these true mountain people, I started trekking, and that’s when I felt that it was the start of the first uphill. I still didn’t have an idea on how to gauge my time as it was all untried to me, I just knew that even if I was walking, I shouldn’t stop to rest or catch my breath. I was too paranoid with the cut-off time. In an hour and a half, I reached Col Checrouit (7km, 2000meters), not bad I said.

Training in Sto.Tomas, Baguio.
Thank you Levi, Dudz and Ging!

That first uphill though gave me an idea on how technical and steep the ascents would be in the coming stages. It’s similar to Sto. Tomas in Baguio, only steeper and longer. There was a bit of rain the whole time, but at this time it was still okay, it was not cold (yet). It was my first time to tackle a scree (accumulation of broken rock fragments usually on a mountain cliff) ascent. I was at the foot of that area, and I saw how steep it was, it was like a wall and people were all lined up. Because of too much eagerness to get to the next station, I would overtake some of the racers and deviate from the trail and scramble my way along the scree. As I was doing this, some rocks would fall and I almost fell. I noticed that I was the only one doing this and I didn’t know if what I was doing was unethical or very unlikely for Europeans to do. I was too impatient to stay with the pack. Was I being such a typical roadie racer? Someone who always wants to be ahead of everyone? Oh no. A French guy was calling my attention, and of course I could not understand what he was saying, until a nice Swiss guy translated it for me. He said “Stay in the line, that’s dangerous not just for you, but for the other runners as well” Oops, okay, my bad!

First Stop: La Thuille (21km)


Happy to reach my first station.

The first cut-off and refreshment station was at La Thuille, a 10km descent from one of the highest peak of the course, Col de la Youlaz (2661m, 11km from start). I reached La Thuille at 11:10am; the cut-off time was 12:30pm. “Kayang-kaya, basta tuloy-tuloy lang” I told myself, I was happy with my time.


Inside the refreshment stations

Inside the refreshment tent, it was like a prison canteen (not that I’ve been to one), there were a hundred runners all trying to get food from the “buffet area”, I must say there was no room for being prim and proper. People will be eating with their hands, filling their mouths with biscuits while spooning some soup and drinking coke, it was not fine dining! You eat and you go! The volunteers at the refreshment stations served their local cheese, which I tried once and avoided after afraid it would ruin my tummy because it tasted too fresh and it was like meat. They also had dark chocolates, fruits—apricots, bananas, berries—chicken noodle soup, coke, biscuits, cookies and bread. If not for the time, which Simon (a fellow PUR who did UTMB) advised me to be conscious about, I would have stayed a little longer and enjoyed the local servings, but he said the time would keep on running even if you’re inside the station, so it would be ideal to just grab the food and get out of the tent and start walking while munching. Hence, I did that, I don’t think I had to be proper anyway. I filled my cup with soup, filled my mouth with bread, grabbed fruits with my hands, I don’t know exactly how I managed, but I was able to pull it, and before you know it, I was heading out.


A second climb (700m) to Col Petit St.Bernard (30km from start, 2188m) took me 2 and half hours. Then it was followed by a trip in the Hatie Tarentaise with a very long descent along the roman road, passing through Seez and then to the second refreshment station at Bourg Saint-Maurice. This long descent can be painful but the trekking poles were a gift from Heaven! It can indeed make you more stable and distribute your weight and lessen the impact on the knees. On my last week in Baguio before leaving for Europe, I practiced a lot of downhill running with the trekking poles, and it paid off.

I passed a lot of isolated quaint houses and the people inside would peek through their window and cheer the runners passing. It was very heartwarming and it can give you some energy boost knowing that these people go out of their way to cheer you. Even if I studied the map, I still couldn’t tell if I’m on the French side or Italian side. Whenever I would be cheered with “Bravo”, I’d assume I was still in Italy. But correct me if I’m wrong. The Italians were very hyper when it comes to cheering; I’m in love with them.

The Little Boy


The little boy.
Refilling my water bottles

At Bourg Saint-Maurice (46km from the start), I was greeted by more cheerers; it was similar to how spectators respond in Tour de France, the feeling was completely beyond words. It was also heartening to see a familiar face every now and then; it makes you feel safe and hopeful. Levi was there just outside the tent (the support cannot go inside the tents) and signaled to me that I should relax and that my time was good. I got there at 3:54pm, the cut-off was 5:30pm, and was doing okay. In this station, I tried to load up as much as I can since the next station will be the hardest section of the whole race, it was the steepest and most technical terrain. And so I grabbed some noodle soup (you’re lucky if you get noodles, a lot usually end with just the broth), sat down and for some reason, I think the other runners thought I was a little boy, a lost boy. Look at the picture, and please disagree with them, although I can’t blame you.

Noodles please!

Before leaving the station, they check on your headlamps as they were already anticipating people getting caught up in the dark in the middle of the trail.

As per the course time chart, the next cut-off would be at 11:15pm, at Cormet de Roselend (63km from start).


Cormet de Roseland at 6 in the afternoon

The Hardest Ascent

Leaving Bourg Saint-Maurice, I was faced with a 12km ascent, the steepest among the rest as some may say. The answer to this was a POWERHIKE! Just keep on walking, that was the trick, even the veteran runners cannot run this steep, but they sure do hike really fast. They scrambled. I divided that 12km ascent in my mind, targeting the first 5.5km to Fort de la Platte (1997m), and got there at 6:28pm. I was in shock, that was almost 2 and half hours from the time I left Bourg Saint-Maurice, which was really steep! From here, I started seeing other racers falling on the side of the trails, resting and looking dazed. I wanted to sit down, but I knew it would be harder to get up, plus I might cramp and fall asleep as I’ve seen happened to the others.

I have a high respect for guys like these. They’re amazing

I was hiking with old-looking people, by old, I mean grand-pa old, and they were of course hiking up faster than me. These guys may not be good runners on the flat area or descents, but hiking is very natural to them and I admire them for that. They’re always smiling and not once did I hear them complain, they were just at peace being there. The next 6km to Passeur de Pralognan (2567m) was even worse. It was getting steeper and colder. Even though there was rainfall the whole day, there was no wind chill factor until this section. I noticed a lot of the runners stopping to wear more waterproof gears, but I could not move that much. My hands were starting to tremble. I could not even pee or take out my food because I didn’t want to take my hands out.

Waterproof ready!

By this time I had already worn 2 layers of gloves (A wool inner-lining and waterproof gloves similar to the one we use for dishwashing). The sun was still out, but gauging my pace, I knew it would be dark before I reach the next refreshment station, so I had to stop to take my headlamp out. It was a terrible hike; people were starting to move like zombies. I started losing a clear visibility because of the wind and snow. It was my first time to see snow, and as much as I was enthusiastic with my first time to see snow, I felt trepidation instead. It was a nice valley with snow caps, I would have wanted to take photos, but like I said, taking my gloves out was too much stress and I was starting to get scared, because the weather was becoming really unfriendly. I was starting to dream about hot chocolate, sinangag and tuyo, I needed some comfort food, and I felt like I was part of an apocalypse. The last 2km before reaching Passeur de Pralognan was very technical. You needed to scramble and it was really slippery. A lot of racers were falling off, but unlike other uber competitive sports, racers here help out each other. It’s a journey and not about time splits. The racers started assisting each other in slippery sections, and even though I could not understand the language most of the time, and even if I looked like a boy, their gestures were very comforting. I was alone in that race but I never felt alone. It was past 8:30 in the evening when I reached that peak, but there was no time to be emotional about it, I was about to get hungry and it was dark; I needed to get to Cormet de Roseland (refreshment station) immediately.


The 4km descent when it was still clear.

A 4km descent, very steep at the beginning, less cruel thereafter, leads us to Beaufort at the Cormet de Roselend. It would have been an easy feat, if not for the icy and slimy rocks. Everyone slowed down, careful not to slip. I swear if somebody fell from that descent, it’s possible not to see them because of the poor visibility from the weather. It would be stupid to run and scramble in this section as one may very likely get injured. I fell a dozen times, but we all assisted each other and since we were all too careful, we seemed as if huddled together the whole time. It was very moving how the human spirit can be felt despite of the language barrier and the weather conditions.

My legs were still feeling okay, it was not that great but there was no pain anywhere. My muscles were feeling tight but I could still run, and I had to run to generate heat. It was freezing and still I was thinking maybe this is normal. By this time, I was an official zombie; I was not as animated as the last refreshment stations. I have a typical psychological phase whenever I do ultras. I’d start out panicky and paranoid, then the paranoia diminishes and I start to feel right about the moment but come night time, I start to clear my head up and imagine a lot of things, and I mean A LOT of should’a-would’a-could’as, then I’d become silent in my head, moving like a robot, then I’d start talking to myself, chanting, then there’s hatred wherein I’d hate myself for being there “why-am-I-here?” and the worst and last part is, when I would start composing songs in my head and actually singing it. At 63km, I was only at the robot and silent stage. I just kept on moving without realizing the whole situation.

Not Today

It was uplifting to see Levi at Cormet de Roseland. It was 10pm and I needed a familiar face, because I was really just a robot.


Inside the Cormet de Roseland station.

The air at the station was very different from the previous refreshment stations, it was not lively and you can sense that something was not right. I was too exhausted to eat, but good thing Levi was able to sneak inside and he forced me to eat. I was getting tired of the noodle soup but I had to eat. Levi looked at me and asked me if I was still okay and if I would still push through and of course I gave a big YES.

It would have been nice to have some rice at this point. I think I was getting tired of the noodles and I started craving for my comfort food.

I never thought of quitting unless I get an injury. And then I started noticing all the racers that were abandoning the race, they were all lined up to surrender their time chips. What was happening? The girl, just a few minutes behind me said that the weather condition outside the tent was really bad, it was already a snow storm and temperature was dropping. So that’s why my gloves were covered in white frost! I have to be smart and strategic about this. Am I going to push through, knowing that the next refreshment station is after 19km, considering that it was already freezing outside?


4 layers of clothing

I changed into dry clothes and went out a few meters from the tent to see if I could manage. But the minute I set my foot outside, I felt the surge of strong chilly winds up to my spine. I was shaking and went back inside. Think! Think! I looked around, and saw the racers in emergency blankets shaking and thought to myself that I must be really crazy to do this.

Racers balled up in their emergency blankets.

These guys are used to freezing, and they’re abandoning the race? They probably knew what they were doing, and hence the biggest and hardest decision of my life. A UPM co-member responded to my TDS post that some people would rather eat shattered glasses than quit, and I totally agree with her. At that point, I didn’t want to think, I had to finish this, but was it worth the risk—the risk of hypothermia and an accident? It was not my day; I cannot do it today, NOT TODAY. I had to eat my pride and  realize that sometimes you just have to raise the white flag. I humbly walked to the station where I would surrender my time chip, and just like that, they tore it from me and took my heart out. As they took my number, I felt like a part of me died.

My timing chip

More than 500 racers abandoned the race at Cormet de Roseland, and I was part of it. In TDS (other UTMB events as well), everything is unpredictable.


Racers lining up to surrender their timing chips

According to their newsletter, in 2010, racers were either cancelled or interrupted due to bad weather and landslides. In 2011, they were forced to modify the route at the last minute due to the bad weather. This year, they managed to run TDS with the original course and distance but with a very high rate of runners abandoning the race. Around 1400 of us started the race, and only 631 finished. The UTMB saw its route shortened to 103km from 160km.

My Trail Ends

There are a lot of things that we cannot control no matter how we would have wanted everything to be the way we expect them to be. We cannot win all the time, and once in a while we see ourselves facing decisions we wish we didn’t have to make. But it is how we deal with these situations that count. It is in accepting these changes that we appreciate ourselves, and it humbles us and gives us lessons on how to be stronger. These make us humans. This may have broken my heart, but it made me fall in love with running and the mountains more. It’s purely inexplicable, how the trail can both smash and shelter me. When I’m running (or just trekking), in the mountains, all I have to do is gaze at the scenery passing by and experience the sunset and sunrise in solemnity. I love running.

Mabuhay ang UPM!

Thank you everyone for all your support and for following our journey!

*Thank you so much to Sharon and Ruby of R.O.X, to Jundell of TNF and to Janice of Salomon! We will forever be grateful for everything!

* To Levi, for supporting me from the very beginning and believing in me,thank you

*Photographs: Levi Nayahangan


How do you see ultra? June 26, 2012

“Stop doing ultra(s), it’s for old people and it will break your knees”, a coach friend of mine said.

I tried to make sense of what he said and gave it a lot of thought. It’s both true and false. True, most people in the ultra community here, well at least in my group are in their late 30s and 40s (my dad has done ultras with me and he’s 60), so I guess that’s how one person can draw that conclusion that it’s for old people. I’m more or less in the younger age group in the ultra community, but most people my age are busy doing triathlons or are focused on short distance running with a good PR (like targeting a sub 40 in a 10km run). True that a lot of my teammates have been getting a lot of knee issues, but I don’t think we can quickly conclude that it’s from running too much. Hmm or am I just in denial? I’d like to think that it’s from too much running with no recovery, lacking in mobility and strength exercises, or from the wrong shoe? Although after reading Born to Run, I have believed that we shouldn’t be depending too much on shoes, that it’s a matter of correcting your form. A lot of triathletes also get a lot of knee injuries, but I don’t hear the coaches say “Stop doing triathlon, that’s harmful for your knees!”. Is there just plain bias here?

For a long time, I’ve been a little narrow headed in the idea of a triathlon. I’ve never gushed about it the same way trailrunning/ultrarunning would give me shivers of excitement. And in my experience in racing, I’ve notice that the two teams (Triathletes and ultrarunners) don’t really get along; they just don’t get each other. I was actually one of those. For a time, I was so sure triathlon was unnecessary in my life, I found it too serious and not fun at all. I have to admit, I did find it very exclusive, thus I’ve always felt like an outsider, or maybe I just did not get it or I was not willing to enjoy it. I’ve been running ultras since 2007, but only last year did I join my first legitimate (I’ve done little sprint events that were just for fun before, but I’m not counting those) triathlon– Ironman 70.3. The whole training part of it was not fun at all. I really felt like it was a calculated routine, not like how I would simply enjoy running while training for an ultra. I love cycling and swimming, but to actually incorporate a program really felt like it was becoming a responsibility. For a time, I felt that I was just forcing myself. I lost the indulgence part of it. I was so sure it wasn’t for me.


Emotional or disoriented? Finishing Ironman 70.3

Ok, fast forward. I nailed Ironman 70.3 with flying colors, and I actually crossed the finish line with a smile. It’s not that bad! It had its highs and lows, but overall, I enjoyed it. Personally, I felt like my background in ultra, had a lot to do with it. Compared to ultra, it was more intense, and of course a lot shorter in terms of time spent and I guess thinking that I had more to give, I was able to push myself. The culture may be very different from what I was used to, but I was able to zone out and forget about all those stuff.

So going back to my coach friend, he advised me that maybe I should start rethinking about my path, that I should start focusing on triathlons instead of ultras. I told him that I can never let go of ultra. Its my first love. But I will not close my doors on a little triathlon every once in a while. It can actually compliment each other.


Winning Salomon 22km trail run in first place, women’s category

I am still a trail runner, an ultra runner, but I can also enjoy other sports that might be on the opposite spectrum in my community which is triathlon.I have learned to appreciate both. In my usual trail runs, I have fused what I learned in triathlon– a lot of intervals and speed training. In my recent runs, I saw the improvement in my time, whereas before, it was just stable and consistent, and I saw little change. In the few triathlons that I’ve participated in, the ultra runner in me did come out. Mentally and physically, I felt like I had more to give. I had a lot of push and strength to release. I am fortunate that I got to appreciate both.

I would still prefer people to do a lot of trail running, and to actually understand and accept ultra as a real sport. We all have different definitions of running. It can be very scientific to some, or very personal (to me). It doesn’t matter if your 10km is a sub-40, or if you did 50km in 9 hours. No one can say that one is better or more acceptable than the other. No one can define running for you, we all have a different way of looking at it. At the end of the day, only you, will decide how running is significant for you.

Keep an open mind. Just keep on running and enjoy every moment of it.


Road Less Traveled June 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — putikmare @ 2:25 am
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Not all of us are lucky to be living in a trail area or better yet on top of a mountain. I think most of us are stuck in this chaotic jungle we call urban life–or maybe I should call it urban jungle. For trail lovers like me, we are forced to do our regular runs on the road, and wait till the weekend when we can actually go to the places we’ll enjoy more. But for those weekend runs, we’ll have to take a car or a bike (if you’re feeling like having a gruesome warm-up before the actual run), so during the weekday, while most of our playmates are busy with their day jobs, we’ll have to get our running dose inside the city. But instead of hating yourself or the city every time you would go up, take it as a challenge. I dare myself to find different routes or secret “mini-trails” whenever I want to avoid the main road or the crowd. There are days when I just want to play it safe and run the regular route where most of the runners are (for me, this will be in UP acad oval), but most of the time, I’ll be running alone in routes less traveled.

Hanging out with Romeo Lee and friends after a short run at the UPM Tambayan

For distance runners who can’t take doing laps or doing loops just to add up t0 their mileage, it is really a challenge to find routes. You just have to keep an open mind, you’ll be surprised on what you can actually find. On a regular weekday, I would run from my house (I live somewhere near SM Marikina), run one round along the riverbanks, cross my way to Barangka, and find my way through the stairs climbing up the back entry to Ateneo. Ateneo has a lot of surprises, I have found gates which are not being used, probably because people think they’re locked and they don’t go anywhere, but in these gates, I found some “mini-trails” and they’re lovely. It’s not disturbed at all (I guess I’m one of the few intruders), it’s just calming. After going around Ateneo, I’d have to tackle a little hustle and bustle crossing Katipunan, until I get to CP. Garcia–my entry point in UP. Once in UP, I’d feel home! I can follow the traditional UPM route, or I can add some tweaks in it, there are just a lot of possible variations in case you get burned-out from the same route.  From my house, to Riverbanks, Ateneo and UP, that’s probably a little over 15km, then you can just add some mileage by repeating some of the routes.


Running dosage June 11, 2012

Anybody who knows me knows that I have a relationship with my running. Haha yes, and I even think it’s the only smooth and successful relationship I have in my life (sorry loved ones, but admit it, I’m not really consistent with my people skills in relationships). But it was not always like that. In fact this so-called relationship only started a few years back, say 5 years? I have been running for more than 10 years now, my mom got me into it. She was the real runner in the family, and I used to just tag along. Back then, i would have not called it a relationship. I even used the term “jogging” a lot, running was just as simple as 30mins slow running inside a track oval near our house before. That was how I used to see running. And then I joined UP Mountaineers, and things started to change.

I ran all my “first” in UPM (UP Mountaineers), my first 10km and 15km. It was my first time to understand how distances felt like. Running started to really seeped in and it became part of my daily routine. But from being a routine, it became my drugs. I had to have it. I needed my dose of it, or I would go shaky and feel that something was missing. Thus this wonderful relationship was born. I wanted more of it, I fell madly deeply in love with it.

In 2007, a friend from UPM had the idea of introducing ultra marathon to us. That was just a huge WHATDA??!!-MOMENT for all of us. I have not even finished a marathon, I was too comfortable in my daily 10km routine, and frankly, it sounded like a joke at that time. 5 years have passed, and the joke is still on us. Not! It was a turning point, I guess not just for me, but for my fellow runners as well. Ultra running was still absurd back then, but it did not stop us from trying, so we did.

I knew I could run, but for how long? So, just to make sure I could somehow grasp the idea of what long distance running was, I targeted to finish a marathon first. I joined one (I’ve only done one marathon up to this day) and finished it in a very slow 4hr-5omin time. I was just too scared, too uncertain of my ability, but I made it. So now that the marathon has been ticked off from  my imaginary things-to-do-before-you-sign-up-for-an-ultra checklist, I was now ready to run further, or should I say FAAAAARther?

Uphill approaching Mt.Polis

If I’m not mistaken, it was April 2008 when I did my first ultra. It was the beginning of my love for trailrunning as well. The plan was a 68km run from Banaue to Sagada. We will be running along a very nice view of the Cordilleras–rice tarraces, pine forest, and a  lot of uphills and killer downhills. In my head, there’s always this thinking process of questioning my ability: Could I do it?. The run starts, everything was smooth, my training paid off, and then I hit my imaginary threshold, and started analyzing why I was there in the first place–this is crazy, this is impossible. And then somewhere, I regained my confidence. I would always get overwhelmed by that strong anticipation of accomplishing the once-impossible ordeal. hey I can actually finish this! and then it turns into I actually did it! 

22km trail run

Nothing is indeed impossible, cliche but true! From one beautiful run to another, I just kept on running the impossible– from 68km in the Cordilleras, to 100kms in Camsur or Baguio. I will never stop doing what others might think is crazy. Nothing is really crazy if you’ll just try it. Ultra running is actually no longer that crazy, it had become very popular these days, people started to get bored with 100kms that some have started doing 160km distances. Running just keeps on redefining itself in my life. It started as an exercise with my mom, a routine with UPM, running ultras in places where people don’t normally run, trail running in Cordi or Maarat, but in the end, whatever form it may be, it will always be there giving me my daily dose of pure bliss.


Not enough clothes. June 5, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — putikmare @ 5:47 am

When I was still with my old Advertising/branding consultancy job, my boss asked me once:

“You don’t normally go shopping do you?”

<Ouch> It was a polite way of saying that I’ve been wearing the same clothes, or that I was not trendy. I think I used to be one, maybe back in high school, and how you looked mattered a lot because  you wanted to be accepted by your peers.

I actually gave it a lot of thought, and in fact I ended up agreeing with the guy. I rarely go shopping, I’d probably buy clothes once or twice a year, and that was it. It didn’t matter to me if I had the most fashionable stuff or branded clothes. I just didn’t care. Not that I looked terrible or anything like that, I guess you could say I wasn’t a fashionista and that I kept on wearing the same set of clothes.So normal girls would go gaga on shopping sprees and SALE on Mango/Zara these days right? I on the other hand, would find myself going crazy over running clothes/outdoor gears- sports tanktops, a nice pair of trail shoes or bike stuff. I may not have the hippest clothes, but I do have a nice road and mountain bike.I may not have LVs or Kate Spades, but I do have a nice TNF duffel bag. I may look boring and plain in the office, but I can be a monster on trails (maybe I’m exaggerating)

So yes, I don’t go shopping a lot but I’m happy with the possessions that really matter to me. :)

* Don’t get me wrong, my family, friends and our Higher Being also matter to me.

What’s Next? April 10, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — putikmare @ 3:06 am

I’ve taken a huge risk. I left my full-time job to pursue  something more significant to me. I’m relatively still young, but I’m also  getting old and right now, quitting a full-time job is not really the smartest choice. There’s no concrete plan waiting for me. I just know I want to have more time outside, rather than confined in a well air-conditioned office. Being able to do a lot of trail running makes me really happy, being in the outdoors gives me comfort and I just know that whatever it is that I’m gonna do next should be  outside.

I have transitioned from one job to another quite a couple of times already, I would learn a lot from it, but something will always stay uncertain. I always ask myself, is this what I really want to do? I don’t want my job to define me and I don’t want to do it just for the money. For some people, work is just work. But not for me. I want it to be really significant to me, thus I’d find myself leaving one job after the other simply because I don’t find meaning in it anymore. But after all the career changes, there is one thing that is always certain and significant–running. To some people, this might sound shallow, but running is the only thing I’m sure of. I think I can safely say I’m quite good at it, and to me, it just gives me simple pleasure. It’s the balm to my soul. It keeps me steady and complete. So I’ve given it a lot of thought, maybe I should find a way to merge CAREER + PASSION FOR RUNNING. Maybe that is why I have decided to start on this blog. Honestly I was never a blog fan, specially running blogs. I hardly read any, but I realized I was just too selfish to learn about the experiences of other people. Maybe blogging is one baby step to finding what to do with this passion. Let’s see!



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