Friday, July 06, 2007

Taking on the Shrine Hills Challenge

The Shrine Hills Challenge in Davao City is perhaps one of the most difficult if not the toughest 10k run on city streets. Imagine more than a kilometer of climb on the end part of the race. I said climb, not a mere uphill ascent like the one you tackle on flyovers.

Just how high is Shrine Hills? I have been trying to find the exact answer to that question, but with the official Davao City website and even Wikipedia not giving me any help, suffice it to say that from where we started and finished the race - a restaurant called Jack's Ridge - you get a breathtaking bird's eye view of Davao City and Davao Gulf. In short, you are not talking here of a patsy high ground. Minus the pavement and the concrete buildings, I would say that this is more of a mountain run-up!

This was the second time I was doing this race. I did it back in 2002 during its first ever run. It was tough that first time. I figured it would even be tougher now that I am five years older and with much less training time behind me than I had then. I don't remember walking any part of the course the last time. Neither am I planning to do any walking this time around.

It is always easy to fall into the trap of going with the surge of the faster runners at the starting gun. On this run, you "die" early if you do that.

The opening kilometer of the Shrine Hills Challenge starts off with an uphill followed by a short flat stretch followed by more uphill. I immediately looked for a group going at my pace which I could latch myself to while we continued to tackle the rolling terrain. I found a group of three who I thought was going on a pace comfortable enough for me. I settled in.

Even before we hit the steep downhill that brought us down to the Diversion Road, one of guys picked up the pace and went ahead several meters. I stuck with the other two, a younger looking runner and a doctor who I was a bit familiar with. I knew Doc Oscar (I think that's his name) to be in my age group. I also knew him to be a strong runner. I had always wanted to have this chance to run step for step with him.

We faced a long descent at the Diversion Road, one that can really take its toll on your shins. It enabled all of us to go faster, though, and pick up our pace we did. Doc Oscar and I left the younger runner behind and caught up with the one who surged ahead earlier. Soon, he too was behind us. Together Doc Oscar and I passed several other runners mostly half our age. Exchanging leads and pacing each other, we were soon at the final stretch of the race - the big climb back to Jack's Ridge.

We took a right turn to GSIS Village and immediately faced a long uphill. It was then that I learned from Doc Oscar that it was more than a kilometer of climbing back to Jack's Ridge. Halfway up the first stretch of climb, I was already ahead of Doc Oscar, facing the challenge on my own. At a corner, the race marshalls directed me to turn left and there before me was a welcome site- a relatively long stretch of flat road with a solitary runner in red shorts and singlet up ahead going through a brief respite before facing his own personal hell.

I restrained myself from giving chase. I knew the final uphill stretch was a monster that required every bit of energy I had left. After another turn, I was at the opening of the final climb. Up ahead was an empty winding road going up and further up still. As I made my way further up on short fast steps, I heard the race marshalls at the last water station welcoming Doc Oscar. I fought the urge to look back and check how near or far behind he was, or whether he was still running or walking. I concentrated on the road ahead. At the next turn, I saw two or three runners from the PNP on run-walk-run mode further up the winding road. The runner in red was still ahead of me by a few meters.

As the road started to level off a bit signalling our approach to the finish at Jack's Ridge, I picked up the pace a bit and passed the runner in red. Ahead the PNP guys had taken the final turn going to the finish. They were starting to cue up for arroz caldo, boiled eggs and bananas when I crossed the finish line after a brief sprint.

I had my second Shrine Hills Challenged tucked under my belt. I checked my old Timex Ironman Triathlon. 49:38.27 - not a bad time for a 10k with a nasty mountain ascent for a finish.

(The 6th Shrine Hills Challenge was held June 24, 2007)

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