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Running in Daranak and Calinawan

Nature's Trail Discovery Run Final Leg 2012

Nature’s Trail Discovery Run Final Leg 2012

Hands down, this is the best run I’ve ever participated in. Nature’s Trail Discovery Run in Tanay held last November 25 took its participants through beautiful mountain trails, through a cave, across a river, up a 600 meter high peak, down a postcard-perfect waterfalls, and dared us to test the limits of what we could achieve.

Initially, I had some doubts about whether I should sign up for the 21k trail run. I had done only one 21k before this, and it was over the relatively flat urban terrain of Fort Bonifacio. Running up steep rocky slopes sounded like a great deal of punishment, and someone told me that all the ascents and descents of a trail run added a few extra kilometers to the official 21k length of the course, so that it was actually going to be more than 21k. I was wondering if I should enlist in the shorter 10k race instead.

Nature's Trail Discovery Run 10k runners waiting for gun time

Nature’s Trail Discovery Run 10k runners waiting for gun time. Photo by traveling-up.com

But I guess once you’ve tasted the challenge of a half-marathon, only another 21k would do. And after looking at the what the course was going to be like, all my hesitations evaporated like so much sweat over a good dryfit singlet.

Nature's Trail Discovery Run participants rush out the starting line

Runners rush out the starting line. Photo by traveling-up.com

As usual, I arrived a bit late for the start of the 21k race. It wasn’t easy driving through the unlighted Tanay Infanta highway at four in the morning. By the time we got to Daranak falls, the organizers had announced that the 21k race was starting in just a minute, and I had yet to get my race kit. The run had already started by the time I got my bib on.

Nature's Trail Discovery Run participants negotiate Tanay's famed Calinawan cave

Participants negotiate Tanay’s famed Calinawan cave. Photo by traveling-up.com

But I was in no hurry, I knew I could catch up with the main group by the time they reached the cave. Thankfully, the main pack was not too far off, and I caught up with it after just a few minutes of quick uphill running.

Calinawan Cave Tanay

Calinawan Cave. Photo by traveling-up.com

But I was right about the cave. It proved to be a choke point as runners had to go through it single file. A lot of runners also just had to have their pictures taken at the entrance of the cave. Can’t blame them, it’s not everyday that you get to race through a cavern.

Ang ganda. Astig. Wow. Kakaiba. These were just some of the comments I heard from other runners while I was going through the cave. Yup, this is definitely something else.

Sad to say that although Rizal is my home province, and I had visited Tanay and Daranak falls many times before, this was also my first time to go to Calinawan Cave. I promised myself that I would go here again, to get a more proper appreciation of this natural wonder.

After exiting the cave, runners had to negotiate a steep slippery descent to the river. Participants had to go slow, grab roots and branches along the path to keep themselves balanced.

What the hell did I sign up for? Sana sa Bonifacio na lang tayo tumakbo, may crabs pa dun! More comments from runners heading down the river. I knew they were just joking, as it was plain to see by the smiles on their faces that they were enjoying themselves despite the difficulty.

Nature's Trail Discovery Run participants cross a river

Participants had to cross the river several times. Photo by traveling-up.com

The river run however proved to be even more challenging. Runners had to go down rock faces, boulders, wade into cold waist-deep waters, try not to face plant on a river bed strewn with slippery round rocks, and resist the temptation to get a proper dip.

Nature's Trail Discovery Run participants run across a river

Runners cross a river. Photo by traveling-up.com

Competitors turned into comrades as people helped each other go over these obstacles. I read in another blog about how one runner slipped while crossing the stream and almost got swept away by the strong current. Thankfully, other runners were nearby to help her.

Nature's Trail Discovery Run participants climb up the grotto.

Participants climb up the grotto and pray they’d make it to the top. Photo by traveling-up.com

After that strength sapping sojourn across the river, it was time for an assault up the grotto–a shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary. This 45+ degree climb up more than 300 steps would make even the irreligious pray for divine intervention.

The Shrine to the Virgin mary in Daranak, Tanay

The Shrine to the Virgin Mary in Daranak, Tanay. Photo by traveling-up.com

It was not hard to imagine all these runners suddenly stricken with contrition as they bowed their heads, bent their backs and seemingly genuflected with each step. Images of the Stations of the Cross certainly made me wonder if I was doing penitence for collecting all those FHM magazines.

But 340 steps later and we were back on the trail. While everyone was heaving sighs of relief after the punishment dished out in the grotto, the trail was not exactly a walk in the park. The trail just kept rising.

About 2 or 3 kilometers later, it became clear that this was going to be the much-dreaded assault up the peak.

This was definitely the most difficult and most technical part of the race. On the way a runner suffered cramps and had to be helped by his friends. Others offered him salt capsules to help relieve the cramps.

Finally, the peak. Not much to say here, except the view was a reward in itself. Too bad my phone cam couldn’t do it justice.

The organizers were supposed to give out bananas at the peak, but there was nothing there. I heard some runners complaining. But since I packed my own food/fuel I was good to go.

Nature's Trail Discovery Run trail up to the peak

The trail up the peak and the U-turn at the top

The run down, as expected, was much much faster. I was able to pass some runners by letting gravity take control and just barreling down. There was another turn and a few more kilometers of climbing, but I had gotten my second wind by then and was just letting go.

The route to the finish line took me through a creek. It was another surprise as the creek was very slippery.

I passed a young kid and his father making their way down the creek. It’s always great to see families taking part in events like these.

Daranak Falls Tanay, the finish line

There’s no better sight for a runner who has just completed a punishing race.
Photo by traveling-up.com

Finally the beautiful Daranak Falls itself and then the finish line. What a relief.  I love running. I love exploring the great outdoors. And I have to thank the organizers of this race for combining the two.

Admittedly, there were some glitches in the handling of the race, but these are easily forgiven given the superb adventure they put us through.

Nature's Trail Discovery Run The finish line and the medal

The finish line and the medal. Photo by traveling-up.com

But there is one problem though that I really hope will be corrected in the next race. Some runners threw their disposable mineral water bottles along the route.

I used to work in an environmental organization, and this really irks me. We get more than enough garbage in the cities, let’s not trash the trails too. We shouldn’t think that it’s the organizers responsibility to clean up after racers. This is completely missing the point. When you’re in a wilderness area, you are responsible for keeping it clean.

Perhaps the race organizers can stop giving out disposable mineral water bottles next time to discourage this. Maybe racers can instead be given reusable water bottles, which can be refilled at water stations. These refillabe water bottles would also make great souvenirs for participants.

Some racers may protest that refilling their bottles will slow them down. But what the hell. Is shaving a few minutes off your time more important than keeping the mountains free of trash? Hey let’s not throw filth on the trails we love.


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  • Enjoyed reading your blog and you have very nice photos too. Allow me to share this to our runners. I belong to the organizers and we have always informed runners not to throw trash in the mountain. We have stopped using disposable cups since the 1st Leg to avoid the trash, we will make a stiff penalty next time on the time of finish, like adding a time penalty on anyone caught throwing trash along the trails and reward anyone a deduction of time for those bringing in their trash to the finish. You are right this is not just a trail running race we are doing, its our advocacy to promote protection and conservation of our environment. We only have few more mountains that can still be conserved like the Sierra Madre Mountain ranges this is the reason why we focus on Tanay and promote it as Trail Running Capital of the Phils because we want people to appreciate the mountains and organizing trail running circuits make it possible to experience and discover the beauty hidden in those mountains and why they should be protected and taken cared of. Congratulations for finishing the race. We are still a young organization and a work in progress too we are learning and we try to improve every race we do. Thank you for your words of encouragement. We are in this together, the difficulties you experienced we have been through it too when we survey and choose the routes to take, we must first test run it before we can say this is the route to take the race. Cheers 🙂

    • Hi Emmanuel,
      Thanks for dropping by. I agree that we need to do more to encourage runners to respect trails and be part of the solution instead of the problem. I am also stoked for the next trail run! More power.