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Trail Running in the Sierra Madre

Tanay Trail Run 2013 Love a Tree

A trail runner enjoys the hills, streams and fields of Tanay

Dawn broke around six. By that time I had already been running for about an hour. Normally, I would have already covered at least 10 kilometers, but when I checked the GPS app on my phone, it said that I had covered a paltry 7 kilometers.

My goal of finishing the trail run in 3 hours now appeared impossible as my legs seemed ready to burst battery acid if I kept up this pace. With my race goal now completely out of reach, there was nothing left to do… but enjoy the scenery, take lots of photos, and have fun on the trail.

50k trail runners rush out of the starting line of Love a Tree Ultramarathon

50k runners rush out of the starting line

The Love a Tree International Trail Ultramarathon was held  last February 10 in the Sierra Madre mountains in Tanay, Rizal. I signed up for the 24k race. Seasoned trail runners and committed masochists had signed up for the 50k ultra, but I knew I was not ready for that kind of challenge just yet.

Dawn breaks over the Sierra Madre mountains in Tanay, Rizal during the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

Dawn breaks over the Sierra Madre mountains in Tanay, Rizal

Based on what I experienced during my first trail run last November, I had an inkling that 24k on the trail was going to be several orders of magnitude harder than a road race. I also knew that it was going to be one hell of an adventure.

Trail runners negotiate a winding path on a hill during the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

Trail runners negotiate a winding path on a hill

I didn’t know though that the adventure would start even before I got to the race venue itself. Marcos Highway was fine enough to drive through, but the condition of the road going to the venue itself ranged from “you call this a road?” to “risk it if you’re suicidal.”

The sun begins to rise over the Sierra Madre mountains in Tanay during the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

The view from the summit.

My knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel by the time I parked a 15-year old Honda City somewhere near the starting line. At least, the drive down that steep, rocky, pot-hole ridden non-road got my adrenaline pumping. Maybe that was the organizers’ intent all along.

Soldiers guard the route of the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

Did somebody say… gun time?

Soldiers guard the route of the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

Again, did somebody say gun time?

The gun time for the 24k racers was 5:00AM, and it was still very dark when I arrived there. Most of the racers had headlamps on, as the sun wouldn’t come up for another hour and a half. It was also quite cold up in the mountains. But everyone was in high spirits and raring to blast through the course.

Trail runners pounding the dirt during the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

The friends you meet along the trail

When the gun fired, none of the racers sprinted ahead though. I guess this part of a trail runner’s strategy to conserve energy for the punishing ascents later on.

The punishing ascent came rather quickly. Five minutes into the race and we were already climbing up the same steep, rocky, pothole-plagued non-road where I drove down earlier. Everyone’s pace slowed to a zombie shuffle. I don’t know if anyone bothered running up that segment, but I didn’t see them.

Trail runners negotiate a stream during the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

We know it’s a race, but who says you can’t goof around and have a bit of fun? :)

The milder ascent of Marcos Highway was a relief for many who got the wind knocked out of them by the earlier ascent. By the time we got back on the trail, the sky was already starting to glow in the cool blue light signaling that dawn was less than an hour away. Morning was breaking.

A trail runner in the Sierra Madre mountains during the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

“Teka, ma-instagram nga to. Saan kaya malakas signal?” :)

When the sun started rising over the mountains, I was already atop the summit. What a view it was. Just breathtaking. But then again maybe my breath had already been taken earlier by the ludicrously steep ascent. Whatever.

Times like these confront you with an existential dillema. Should you push on hard and aim for the best time possible? Or should you take a pause to soak in the scenery, snap a few photos, and chat with fellow runners?

Runners going downhill during the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

Yes, the race is won on fast downhill stretches.
But you need the agility of a ninja to fly down technical trails.

I opted for the latter. Since I was not going to be a 3-hour finisher anyway, I thought that I might as well have a bit of fun. Here are some of the pics I took long the route.

Young kids greet runners with a smile along the route of the the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

“Good morning sir.” Good morning indeed.

Horses and kids along the route of the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

You don’t see sights like these everyday, and certainly not on a road race.

A clear stream on the route of the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

Yes, a river runs through it, nuff said.
I could take a dip here when I come back on my mountain bike.

But all in all it was still a pretty good run. I crossed the finish line at 4:00:09 (according to a race official). This was much better than my first trail run–a 21k event where I finished in 4:28:43. The GPS app on my phone meanwhile said that the 24k route I just ran actually totaled more than 28k. Not bad, I guess there was some improvement. The 21k uphill run which I did just two weeks earlier certainly helped prepare my legs for this.

Congrats to everyone who participated and had fun!

Trail runner crossing a stream during the Love a Tree Ultramarathon

The most important thing is to have fun during the race.

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