The Call Of The Wild From This Side Of The Ultra Trail World: Race Director’s Report, 2014 H1/P1
After finishing Steve Jobs’ autobiography and getting acquainted with his Reality Distortion Field thing, I decided to stand firm all the more on the new cutoff time that was to be implemented in this year’s edition of Hardcore Hundred Miles, H1 for short or as it is more notoriously called. From last year’s inaugural deadline of 46:00:00 hours, I trimmed it to 40:00:00 hours(16:00 in Babadak Cutoff and 26:00:00 in Dayap Cutoff, down from 18:00 and 30:00 hours respectively) which was incidentally the original limit in my mind.
Amid some catcalls, questions and threats of non-appearance, I was deadset nonetheless. And for many good reasons.
In 2013, the average time spent by runners in the 13 aid stations amounted to thirty minutes with some participants lingering for as long as an hour for a variety of valid reasons. This, plus the time spent sleeping out of sheer tiredness on any place along the course resembling a sleeping bed, be it a rock, rice paddy or simply the bare ground contributed to something like seven to nine hours total just “whiling” the time away. Do not get me wrong, it is alright to rest along the way but scheduling stops and the period spent in each must be carefully laid out and followed and be made part of a well-drawn battle plan.
That said, I also reduced the aid stations to just eleven, with the purpose of getting everyone on the move. Average stop time in the aid stations was down to just ten minutes in 2014!
This year, I added a side event, Pulag 100 kilometers(P1), that would start at the same time and trace 70% of the route of H1 and finish in Dayap. But with a twist; anyone wanting to upgrade to H1 may do so provided he will make it in the intermediate cutoffs in Babadak, Km 62(16:00:00) and Dayap, Km 102(26:00:00). Of the 12 participants, only three finished and no one took the H1 Challenge. Next year, perhaps?
If last year’s edition was rainy and driving winds blew cold from start to finish, 2014 was marked by heavy fog especially during the night trek back to Dayap after the daytime assault to the Pulag grasslands. So thick and so cold, some runners simply gave up and sought refuge in households along the route. Based on the reports, most stopped between the section from Banao to Dayap where one passes through the fringes of Mount Ambasa.
Zero visibility was also recorded in the Dayap-Castillo-Amelong section.
Learning from last year’s experience, I gathered four of my friends to mark the first sixty two kilometers a full week ahead of the event and I even personally put up fresh markers along the Dayap-Kayapa Proper East section while the event was in progress in the hope that there would be lesser chances of marking sabotage.
I introduced blinking lights, used reflectorized strips, bigger tarpaulin directional signs, wider and longer colored ribbons to mark each section and gave out colored maps clearly detailing the relative distances and altitudes of each aid station and as usual, gave out a pre-race briefing and showed some pictures of the marking process on social media as well. I even spray painted various surfaces using reflectorized paint to mark the route.
The first daylight, February 21, came and went with good weather although foggy at times and most runners finding their way through to Napo and eventually the grasslands with nary a problem with directions. It was as darkness fell at the crossroads to Ambaguio/Napo/Cabayo that some got confused. This, inspite of my repeated demonstrations at the briefing on where to go and the adequate markings we put in. I learned later that some markings were gone.
Along the Banao-Dayap section where during the daylight part, all runners did not have difficulty finding their way given the markings, I later found out that one marker led to a household. It was during the second night when some runners followed a ribbon that led them to a house. What happened was that the mother admitted that her son took the marking and displayed it inside their compound! I was not remiss in reminding elders and children we met during our marking not to remove the hangings until a week after but apparently this went unheeded in some instances.
In all the trail events I have done, H1, this year, was the most heavily-marked and I have four companions and three marshals to attest to this. This is why I felt disappointed when I read that somebody commented that the course was poorly marked. My question is, if others are able to find their way without missing a step, heavy fog and all, how come others cannot? But then again, many factors contribute to this because by nighttime, plain tiredness start to kick in. The prevailing cold does not help any better thereby concentration dips. This is all part of the ultra trail experience. A moment of indecision and lack of focus will result in failure. Common sense and good judgement also play a good part in finding one’s way to the correct path as well.
Indeed, many things can happen in a forty-hour race especially the ones conducted high up in the mountains and in the middle of nowhere. And I mean remote, without electricity and with households set kilometers apart. To give you two classic examples, a P1 participant who eventually made it officially almost gave up everything only to find out when he was fetched by his buddies that he was merely 200 meters away from the finish line. An H1 participant decided to call it a day after giving up, knocked in one of the houses in the middle of the night to seek refuge and when daybreak came and he started his evacuation to the finish, he found out he was just about 500 meters away from an aid station. Such was the effect of heavy fog, biting cold weather, weariness and sleepiness on the participants. H1=Hallucination Hundred? Possible. I have seen a lot of strange things happen in ultras(at least those that run through the night) where you only have darkness and nothingness for company.
The eleven aid stations were filled with food and drinks ranging from hot rice meals, chicken ala pinikpikan, cooked vegetables, noodles, eggs, ground pork, chocolates, biscuits, strawberry and peanut butter sandwiches, soda, energy drinks, electrolyte drinks, hopia, water, coffee and chocolate drinks-mostly coming from generous friends and sponsors. The Banao team even cooked native chicken arrozcaldo served appropriately during the cold of the second night. Not for bragging and modesty aside, any frontRUNNER and KOTM event always has its tables filled more than enough with a variety of food and drinks.
Given that I did not make a call for volunteer duties because I knew how hard it was to get to the aid stations all the while carrying supplies, I was surprised to receive messages from prospective volunteers as early as late last year. I welcomed their services but held a little back knowing there might be non-appearances inspite of their promises. In the end, while others did not come, most came and fulfilled their commitment to help and I sincerely thank them for that.
From last year’s forty three pioneers, attendance was down to thirty. Six countries were represented-Philippines, Australia, USA, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. But as I have always said, I would rather have thirty battle-ready warriors properly geared for war and see this to the end successfully. What good would it be to have a pocketful when others will just fall off along the way and can’t be properly monitored for forty hours?
In the end, only fourteen made it within forty hours with two others missing the deadline by just minutes. Indeed, hard lessons will have to be learned, training plans will have to be reviewed all over again should the others decide for revenge. Nine came back either for redemption or for the sheer pleasure of reliving the H1 experience. Some repeaters were successful, others were not. Some made it in their second try, but yet again, others did not. Twenty one H1 novices attempted, some triumphed, others sadly did not.
Seeing the results and having eight course record breakers, I felt vindicated in putting my complete trust and confidence in the ultra trail runner, forty and twenty six could be done, just think Reality Distortion Field!
I salute each H1 and P1 participant for taking on a challenge previously unheard of in local ultra trail running history. To this day, Hardcore Hundred Miles remains to be the longest single stage mountain trail run in the country. And P1, though 100 kilometers “only” in distance, is sure to beat the hell out of any one with its sheer elevation gain and Mount Pulag to boot.
You have rightfully earned my utmost respect and let me once again thank you for your hardcore support.
For offering up your best defense, your innocence has ended.
And to the following friends and sponsors who made the event a success and life easier for the participants, I would not have been able to pull this without you, so please accept my heartfelt gratitude; Isko Lapira (KOTM Technical Consultant), Nick Pasiken (Dayap terminator and Pulag 100 Assistant Race Director, etc.), Robert and Mae Watson (4×4 service vehicle and Dayap Marshal, etc.), Trace Pineda (Babadak terminator), James Roldan (4×4 Service vehicles), Piyod Alberto (4×4 Service vehicles), Lester Chuayap(Souvenir H1 patches), Ed Yonzon (Universal Robina Corporation products), Januarius Padilla (Pepsico products), Milo and Andrew Neri, Soleus GPS Watch and Judith Staples, Karlene Sebastian (Cobra Energy Drink), Dennis Uy, MGen Jovie Narcise (Beer), Myla Go (Eng Bee Tin Hopia, Reflectorized tapes and Napo-Tuyak/Balete volunteer), Boo and Vivian Toledo, and Cindy Sevilla (Napo-Tuyak/Balete volunteers), Mark Villafuerte (Dayap volunteer/Masseur), Joyce Llanda and Juvy Pagtalunan (Banao volunteers), Tom and Gay Baniwas and children (Kayapa Proper East volunteers), Allan Bulos, Goldy Dela Cruz and Dennis Lopez (Domolpos volunteers), Wilfredo Libcon, Dindo, Celso, John and Bernardo (local marshals), Teachers Saquing and Leni of Banao Elementary School, Principal Onofre of Kayapa Central School, Mayor John Balasya of Kayapa, Mayor Victorio Palangdan of Itogon, Barangay Chairman Benjamin Medino of Tinongdan, Itogon, Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya Tourism Council and Ms. Emerita Albas of the Mount Pulag National Park.
Let me assure you that for next year, the cutoff times, forty hours(H1) and twenty six hours(P1) shall remain to include the intermediate cutoff times. The set up will always be as simple and fancy-free because I want the participants to do what they signed up for-hit the ground running- and to expect a no-gloves treatment. There shall be no quarters given and times will be strictly implemented.
For whatever shortcomings I have had this year, I ask for your indulgence with my personal conviction to do better next year.
To the future aspirants, please do not take H1 nor P1 lightly given the high DNF rate. I am not using the words Hardcore and Uphills in vain here. When doing H1 and P1 or any of the KOTM events, please bear in mind that the words really mean what they mean, they are not euphemisms. When all is said and done, I can assure you that you will learn to utter them with more restraint and respect but with more pride. Should you wish to join, PLEASE train well and hard and ask the previous participants for advices. As a two-time H1 finisher said, H1 is a “post-graduate” ultra trail race. I can guarantee you he knows his business.
If you think forty and twenty six hours are impossible, think hard and think again. Think Reality Distortion Field.
Remember that the mountains have lives of their own and have many ways of taming the wild in you, therefore, you must respect them.
Until then, happy trail running!
VICTORY FAVORS THE PREPARED.