TNF 100 Baguio Saga: The Adventures of the Night Trek


Reaching LP1 at 55th kilometre and knowing that I made it within in the cut – off time was a great relief.  After fixing my backpack and finishing a can of Century Corned Tuna, I readied myself for the second leg of the journey.  Janice was asking everyone (only those who made it within the cut off time) around who wants to continue and take on the remaining course of the race.  It was said that the next peak is really tough as it was the highest point. More so that it’s going to be a night trek. Other racers have decided not to push through.  A vehicle will pick them up and take them to the finish line. Some racers who have decided to go on have already left the LP2 area. It was already half an hour past 5 in the afternoon.  The sun was setting down giving way for the cooler breeze to set in. It felt a little gloomy. Putting on my backpack, I stood up to get started. I passed by the waiting shed with a wash area. I flushed my face with the cold, chlorine – free water to feel refreshed. The only thing I had in mind then was to make it to 75th kilometre cut – off point in nine hours.

Setting off from the concrete road, the worn out trail led to the steel hanging bridge.  The bridge took the racers to the other side of the river, which rested at the foot of the mountain that looked like a giant wall. The bridge was roughly 200 metres long. It was daunting, overwhelming. Setting foot on the bridge, I took a deep breath to fend off my fear of the open space. My legs were a bit shaking as I made each step which took me further way from the road. The bridge was swaying with every step. Halfway, I felt like flying. It was surreal. When I turned to look back, I have re – affirmed that I’m ready to take on more challenges of the race. Going back was not an option. At the other side of the river, the race marshals were cheering me on as I inched my way off the bridge. They even cheered louder and congratulated me when I got off the bridge. I’m done with the first challenge. I know that anticipated yet un-assessed challenges still lie ahead.

The trail took us to a more elevated area.  And the farther we went, the slimmer the chance of going back. There were about 10 of us who courageously decided to take on the remaining 45 kilometres of the course, all knowing that we will be in the middle of some place unknown by nightfall. Yet, we treaded on.  Not long enough, I was ahead of them by just a few hundred metres.  I just kept on walking, looking for those little TNF flaglets along the trail. When I reached a clearing, a marshal took my bib number.  His tent was pitched under a mango tree by the stream. The clear running water was so inviting. I couldn’t resist it. Perhaps, the marshal could read my mind. He proactively said that I could freshen up in the stream. Tiptoeing on top of rocks, I stooped down, scooped the water to wash my face to feel refreshed. Nature indeed has its own way of surprising us. Who would ever think that in summer, when almost all the leaves have withered and the rivers have almost run dry, there’s a stream flowing in the midst of the mountains?

I had the chance to speak with a few locals whom I met along the way. One of them, about 19 or 20 years old, was carrying a sack half full of rice. No electricity. No techie stuff. Perhaps, a mobile phone. That’s just it. And a plain simple life. As it was getting dark, I moved along. The trail was barely visible. I had to rely on the remaining light the sun had left. Insects and night birds had sung their early evening songs.

We passed by the marshal’s post and refilled our hydration gear. The wind was blowing incessantly sending chills down my spine. It maybe summer, but this is Baguio. And on top of the trail, where nothing shielded us from the harsh evening wind. We’re literally standing on the elevated ground hundreds, or maybe a few thousand feet above sea level. The trail was taking us deeper into the woods.  The bushy leaves of the trees contributed to the darkness of the surroundings. The night had finally crept in. I turned my headlamp on and with a flashlight in one hand. I reached a plain field, which looked like more a rice field; only that it was barren, save for the grass which the cows fed on. Not knowing which way to go, I asked some of the locals who were just spending the evening away perhaps waiting for any racers passing by. I called out to them asking which way the other races went, and they were kind enough to point me to the right direction.

I was all by myself. Darkness was everywhere. The only light was emanating from my headlamp and from the flashlight I was holding. The very thought of being alone in the mountains at night sent some goose bumps on my arms, the hair on the back of my neck raising. It was just a thought. I prayed, and I prayed hard and loud enough that God keep me and the other racers safe, as we won’t be getting any help at any point if something happens to us. I’m very thankful that when I was a kid, my cousins and I would memorize Bible verses. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me…” I kept on uttering Psalm 23 over and over. Up ahead, I could see the light coming from the racers’ flashlights and headlamps who were ahead of me. Looking back, I could see the light from Jojo and Marvin’s headlamps. I waved my flashlight to acknowledge them. I went ahead of the others.

The end of the trail led to a stretch of rough road then concrete, and another patch of rough road. By the roadside, I met a couple from Sagada who were taking a much needed break. I invited them to move along – baby steps. We reached the 7th Aid Station. We took a 15 minute break and went on our way. We reached a concrete road that was going uphill. It was an endless uphill climb. Along the way, we met a few more racers.  Far ahead, we saw a waving light. We thought it was another aid station. It was a runner’s check point. They took our race bib numbers and invited us to grab some boiled potatoes and bananas. We stayed for a few minutes then we took off.

The dark of the night did not deter us from going. Not even fatigue and hunger. The TNF flaglets again showed us the trail going into the woods. Some runners have already gone ahead. And so did I. In between, I was eating the raisins that I brought with me, taking a sip from my water bottle. At times, I was munching on some biscuits and gummy candies. Fatigue and lack of sleep had gotten into me while taking the trail on the mountainside. I sat on a rock just to regain some strength, while eating some gummy candies. Unknowingly, I just fell asleep. I woke up still holding a candy in my hand just about to put it in my mouth. I stood up and walked on.  I came across a couple of marshals who informed me to use a rope when I reach the upslope.  Jumping off the wooden fence, I reached the upslope trail. I held onto the rope with a flashlight on my other hand. To my right was a cliff. And it was dark beneath. One misstep would take you to the bottom of the mountain. The wind was blowing harshly. I put on the jacket that I borrowed from Yongsky to protect me from cold. The dew had already gathered on the leaves of the grass that I passed by.  I reached the open field with huge towering trees on both sides. It reminded me of some horror movies. It was dark, the cold wind blowing. I was alone. Looking up ahead, there’s was nothing except darkness. The light coming from the headlamp and the flashlight was enough to light 2 – 3 meters of the area where I was. The hair on the back of my neck started to rise, I could feel the goosebumps all over my arms. I couldn’t dare to look back. I was afraid I might see something that normal eyes couldn’t see, knowing that I have a ‘third eye’. I could only look ahead. I was damned tired and legs were already sore, but I just found out that I was walking fast, almost running! Minutes and more minutes took me through the flats, vertical, flats and more vertical trails. There were times that I would almost crawl my way up. My 75/25 vision made me see some really tiny insects on the ground – some ants and even a scorpion!  It was weird.

On my ascent, I met a couple of marshals who informed that the 8th Aid Station was about 400 metres ahead. And I though it was the longest 400 metres ever!

At about 1am, I got to the 8th Aid Station. The marshals manning the water station handed me a bottled water and offered me some boiled sweet potatoes. While I was refilling my water bottle, I felt the cold water trickling down my left leg and foot. I was wondering why the water spilt. I just then realized I have unknowingly fallen asleep while pouring in the water in my water container. I put down the bottles on the table and laid my head down on top on the boxes stacked on the tables. In less than a minute, I have dozed off. When I came back to my senses, the marshal offered me to lie on the flattened boxes by the fire they have made. Had I done it, I could have woken up in the morning! They offered me some boiled sweet potatoes.  I picked one and took a bite. I just kept on chewing what I had and can no longer swallow it. I had to take in some water to push the chewed, errrr, mashed sweet potatoes down my throat.

Photo Credit: TNF 100

I was informed that the 75th kilometre cut off point was roughly 4 kilometers away. It was 1:30 in the morning. The wind was so cold. I was tired, sleepy, hungry and exhausted. I left the 8th AS and went on. The rough was going downhill and was pretty straight. But I found myself walking in zigzag manner. In some instances, I was walking/ slow running with my eyes closed, half awake. There came a point that when my consciousness came back I was barely a step off the cliff. I was literally sleep walking/ running. Had I not woken up, I could have fallen in the ravine. It was dark down below. How high I was standing from, or how deep the bottom was? I don’t have any idea. I may have survived the fall, maybe not. I was scared of what could’ve happened. At that point, I thought of safety first than pushing through. I know by heart that I could make it to the cut off point by 2am, but I have already taken the big risk of getting into my first ultra distance, and a Level 3 trail course at that, with no sufficient training. And I can’t take anymore risk of getting myself hurt, or even become a casualty of the event. A couple of lady marshals greeted me and asked me if I’m doing okay. I answered back I wasn’t (I felt sorry for my misdemeanor. I think that was really the suplado side me. Whew!). Yes, because at that time, I already felt numb. My neurons working in my brain were a skeletal force. I felt like a dead man walking – making simple responses, basic motor skills functioning.

I kept on walking just to get to some place safe, where I can wait until I get a ride back to the home base. Yet, I was all too drained. I found a rock by the roadside. I inched my way towards it and took a seat. And I realized that the only energy I have left just let me took a seat on that rock, because in a matter of seconds, I have become unconscious of everything around me. I have conquered the peak of Sto. Tomas.

I didn’t know how long I’ve been asleep. I just woke up when the runners whom I’ve left behind reached the spot where I slept. We walked for about a kilometre or two. Then the Kim and her husband (the Sagada couple) called in a cab to take us to Camp John Hay.

When I reached Camp John Hay, the 22k and 11k runners were already getting for their gun start. I met Jess, Yongsky, Gerald, Arvin, Anjo, and Ruth. Sitting on a mono – block chair, I felt and looked so drained, too tired and too exhausted to move, even think. I was still shivering from the cold Sto. Tomas trek.

I felt sad that I didn’t make it to the 100k.  But I’m glad that I had so much courage to face the challenge – even defeat. I wasn’t victorious in this race, but I have learned too many things. The whole experience taught me valuable lessons that no amount of running clinics and trail running materials can teach; and lessons in life that no school can teach. The race was an acid test on how far I can go in terms of physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological aspects of my being. It made me appreciate nature more. It was an opportunity to show myself – inside out. I braved and survived the physical and the mental challenge of the race. Above all, it strengthened my faith in God.

TNF 100 Baguio was great learning venue. It was a humbling experience. At some point, I’m thankful that I didn’t finish the race. Because I felt that, had I finished the race, air could have gone to my head. And it’s something that I can’t take. God doesn’t give us upfront the things we want. He exactly knows when to grant us what we want, when we truly deserve it. Things will come at the right time. We just need to wait. I can wait for another chance to finish my first TNF 100.

 

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3 Responses to TNF 100 Baguio Saga: The Adventures of the Night Trek

  1. george says:

    Wonderful blog! Reading it reminds me again of the wonderful experience i had in this same event, also my first iultra. This event really is also an eye opener for me. It showed me my limitations, made me appreciate more our mother nature, made me more thankful to God for his grace. Hope to see a stronger and well prepared you next year!

    Like

    • @George: I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed this event and had a wonderful experience, as much as I did. I agree with you how the course reminded us how vulnerable we can be, and that there are still many things to learn. Like I’ve mentioned, it was a humbling experience. And yeah, a BIG challenge!

      Tranings and more trainings and preparations are a must. And it sounds like you’ll be in again for the TNF 100 challenge. My friends and I are definitely coming back. So, I’ll see you there!

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      Like

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