2013 TNF 100: The Sweet Finish!


Lesson 4. Stay with the Pack

It was getting dark and the route was going uphill. The cold air was adrift, refreshing, could even bring some chills down to your spine despite the rising body temperature. I caught up with at least ten runners and joined them through the trek. It was night time and staying with the pack was not only strategic, but it was also fun. We were a multinational group composed of runners South Korean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Irish (yes, that’s me) and Filipinos. 

From the time we left AS6, the route was practically a long stretch of uphill roads and trails. The light emanating from our headlamps guided us through the deserted roads and seemingly endless trails, lined up with trees and tall grasses on each side. Nocturnal birds and insects inhabiting the place have awaken, providing some background noise as we got farther into the forest. We had to look for TNF markers to stay on track. We can’t afford to lose some time here because we need to be at AS8 by 1am, and there’s roughly 20 kilometres of road and trails to grind. Looking up ahead, we could only see a silhouette of the peak of Mt. Sto. Tomas at 2,203 MASL. The night sky was clear of clouds. Far ahead, you can only see nothing but darkness. Having been in on the race for at least 18 hours, with sore muscles, limited food intake and the dropping temperature, each step towards the Peak was becoming a challenge. One of us took the liberty of leading the group while one stayed at the back so that no one got left behind, changing positions at some point. Every ten minutes or so, we halted for a three – minute rest to recharge or to squeeze in a power nap. Out team leader was very strict with time. The moment five minutes is over, it’s over. Everyone should get up and start moving in a single file making careful steps through the maze of trees, shrubs, boulders and everything in the forest. At almost midnight, a group of race marshals acknowledged our presence by making short bursts of light. When we reached AS7, we had our longest five minute break in three hours! 

We made it through the killer peak, all in one pack enjoying the precious three minute rests. AS8 is about three clicks away.
 

Lesson 5. Expect the Unexpected

I felt so much relief when we reached AS8. The marshals helped us with our food – soup, hard boiled eggs, a rice meal and hot drinks. We were an hour ahead of the 1am cut – off time. I couldn’t help but doze off whilst eating. The chilling midnight air was seeping through the jacket I was wearing sending my whole body to shiver. I was so sleepy that I found it quite difficult to resist curling up in an empty seat. When I learned that most of my companions have left, I asked for a cup of soup and hastened to catch up. 

I thought the soup wasn’t so hot. But I realised it was scalding hot when I took a sip from the cup.  One thing I like about trail running is that there’s a lot of adventures and twists as you go along. Passing through the chicken wired gate, the cemented pavement ended up in a rocky downslope. 

While going up the peak was a big challenge, going downhill was a bigger challenge. The downhill course was very tricky. One misstep and you’ll end up rolling down the protruding sharp – edged rocks. 

We passed through a village, disturbing the stillness of the night. I could hear a soft music, though the tune was so unfamiliar to me, I knew that it was a song from the heart. Not so far away, a man was playing an accordion, his silhouette created by a light coming from the living room, his music soothing to the tired soul of the runners. It was like a welcome music to me, the sound fading as we got farther.
 

Lesson 6. Remember, it’s all in the Mind.

Hours passed. And in a couple of hours, we’ll see the first light of day. The dawn was breaking. The most treacherous part of the route was over. The trails led to the main road, where the marshals took our bib numbers for recording. 

The route included an alley in a residential compound, where domesticated dogs barked at the intruding strangers. The alley pointed to a dead end, and the only way to get going is to take hills. And I knew right there that it’s going to be another set of uphells. I was never wrong about it. Approximately, there’s still 15 kilometres to cover and I had about three hours until cut off. 

The morning temperature had again started creeping up. Thanks to the trees that shielded us from the burning rays of the sun. It helped delay muscle soreness. I had to do a lot of catching up, running whenever I had the chance, especially on downhills. I was starting to feel the exhaustion building up in me. I could feel some relief when I learned I was ten kilometres away from the finish line. I was hungry. My food and energy gels were all gone. I could only rely to my hydration pack. From trail to road, and now back to trail. And yes, it was another uphill route. And I was just hoping that it was the last stretch. I was just so grateful that the route marshals had some apples and salt in their station. I took a half of the apple to sustain the tiniest bit of energy that I had left. I wanted to just stop and sit down and be done with the race without crossing the finish line. My tired legs and sore muscles can only bear just a little more. But I had to remain focused. I slowed when necessary, and go back to running as soon as I recovered.
 

Lesson 7. Always Say ‘Thank You”.

More runners have taken the trails now, running towards my direction. I was on the verge of breaking down. Seeing my friends, receiving well wishes and congratulatory remarks, and a hug from a runner who do not even knew me was like getting a shot of adrenaline. I can see in their eyes and the expressions on their face how well they admired my courage to take on the 100k challenge. Thanks to the countless friends and strangers who selflessly pushed me to keep on. 

It was almost half past 8 in the morning. The last group of marshals stationed along the trails informed me that I was 200 metres from the finish line. I flushed my face with water to feel and look refreshed (I don’t want to cross the finish line looking groggy and wasted!).
 

Lesson 8. Smile.

The sound coming from the audio system was getting louder with each step I took. More and more people were lined up along the side of the chute to the finish line arc. There were congratulations, woohoos, good jobs, and thundering claps as I dash towards the finish line. 

I made it. 

It was a sweet finish. 

I knew right there and then that the biggest smile was just painted all over my face. 

 

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

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