Monday, August 27, 2007

My corner of the world

Some vr buddies have mistakenly placed my location at Davao City. Perhaps it's because most of the races I have written about in this blog were in Davao.

True, I do most of my races there. It's where most of the big-sponsor races are held in these parts and the most logical place for me to go to and put whatever running ability I have to the test. I do not live in Davao though, but in Kidapawan, a "provincial" city somewhere in the boondocks of North Cotabato in the foothills of Mt. Apo. It is about an hour and a half to two hours ride through 106 kilometers of paved roads from Davao City. Landlocked, it has no beaches or seaside roads where I can run to the sound of the rolling waves or the refreshing wisp of the cool sea breeze. What it has a lot of are rolling terrain, hills, and dirt roads which bring you to places where you run to the sound of bird calls and rippling waters of mountain springs.

Saturday was rest day- from running, that is- for me. At 7:00 am, I packed a digital camera with the rest of my biking survival gear in my Camelback Lobo, got on my mountain bike and pedalled off to measure the distance of a course which included a substantial portion of dirt road going through three villages of the city. I was scheduled to do a 16 kilometer run Sunday and thought it would be good to do it on this route, write about it, and share some images of this corner of the world where I run.

Sunday's run started at 5:30 with a 3km uphill effort on the paved portion of the Mt. Apo Nature Park tourist road. The road climbs steadily, and just when you think the next portion is flat if not going down, another slight uphill stares you right in the face as if taunting you. The slowly ascending route limits my pace 6:00-6:30 minutes per kilometer.

Before the end of the third kilometer, I turn right on a dirt road lined on both sides by fruit trees, the start of 7 kilometers of running on limestone roads, passing overflow bridges, jumping water puddles and mud pools, and all the while watching out for dogs as I pass through a cluster of houses along the route.

The route provides a number of fascinating sights. Giant boulders abound on the roadside along the first 2 kilometers, reminders of a time a couple of centuries ago when Mt. Apo vented out its fury. It has remained silent since. Large rocks are also a common sight in the mountain streams traversed by overflow bridges. I pass about three or four of these streams along the way. Kidapawan prides itself as the City of Highland Springs with enough reason.

These sights have a way of keeping you sort of refreshed. I felt more energized than when I run on pavement. I was recording faster clips of sub-5:20 mins/km as I breezed through the downhills. Maybe it was the sense of being one with nature, running to the sound of babbling streams mixed with the chirping of birds and the sounds of crickets and other insects, that keeps me energized. I definitely have no need for an MP3 player here.

No problem with the sun either as the rubber trees that line both sides of a large part of the route provide more than enough shade and help ensure a cool breeze.

Still feeling fresh after 10 kilometers of running, I surge up the last uphill on this dirt road. Another kilometer and I am back on pavement, with 5 kilometers more to run.

It was only at the last kilometer's final 200 meters that I feel fatigue begin to set in. It was an uphill and my legs have gone through a lot of ascents through the last 15 kilometers. I glance at my watch. 1:27:35. I told myself it was okay to feel tired after a good run in my corner of the world.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

One good run

Thursday. Virtual run day. I was up early - 3:30 am - not wanting to miss out again like last Thursday. Although E-Rod said I didn't really miss out on that one and that he started his run only 5 minutes earlier than I did mine, being on time made me feel better.

"Am I adrenalized?" I kept wondering as I walked to the starting point of my run. I really felt good! Yes, maybe it was the excitement about taking part in this virtual run that caused this, the idea of running at the same time with a number of other people who are in different places with different time zones yet joined together by their passion for the sport.

As I paced through my first kilometer, I decided that I would do a 10k out-and-back run which will bring me across the boundary to Barangay Saguing in the next town of Makilala and back to my starting point. It had a couple or so of hills including a roughly 1k climb back to the center of Kidapawan City.

I felt like I was in race pace mode during the first three kilometers. "It could be the downhills," I thought. But even when I was already negotiating the relatively steep ascent to Barangay Saguing near the end of my 4th kilometer, my pace still seemed fast. At the turnaround, my Timex Ironman Triathlon showed 25:58.50.

Now came the run back.

It was an ascent right from the turnaround, a slow gradual rise that goes almost the entire 1km distance. But this was not "it" yet. A descent to the Saguing Bridge follows, then a shorter but steeper rise, and a slow gradual ascent again from the 7th km to the Kidapawan City plaza, roughly a kilometer and a half in total distance. A slight descent to another bridge then precedes another climb to the 9th km point. This is the part that kills your legs, your knees, and your quads. Mine didn't die, but I knew I was having positive splits.

The last kilometer was relatively flat. I was soon back where I started. The old reliable Timex showed 54:52.93.

Back at the house checking on my lap times for the second half of the run, I took note of the following splits:

km6 5:56.36
km7 5:45.14
km8 6:04.50
km9 5:44.65
km10 5:23.78

I was slower today than last Thursday (54:30.51), but then I guess this was a tougher course. Already I am thinking of taking on this course again on next Thursday's virtual run.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Missing out on the virtual run

"Runners from across the globe connect and train virtually with each other through the power of 21st century technology."

"Runners separated by geography do a training run 'together' wherever they may be in the world."

"It doesn't matter where you are–the OC, Manila, or Timbuktu–you're welcome to join me and several of my training buds that span two continents, a really big ocean and several time zones."

After having read through posts in the individual blogs of those who have joined this virtual training run, I thought maybe it was time I try joining. The idea was definitely cool. Doing a run simultaneously at an agreed time over an agreed distance in each participant's own corner of the world - Manila, Makati, Alabang, Paranaque, Kuala Lumpur, USA. The specified time was 4:30 am, the distance 10k/6 miles. Since my set 10k run coincided with the group's 4th virtual run anyway, I thought I might as well do it as part of this group of virtual running buddies.

I was up before the alarm went off on my cellphone. Problem was I set it at 4:00 am instead of 30 minutes earlier. And it was already 3:55. With all my pre-run rituals, I seriously doubted I could be out on the road by 4:30.

By the time I was brushing my teeth, it was already 4:35. My first virtual run is fast going down the drain. The others are definitely into their warm-up phase right now. I finally go out of the house at 4:45, and reach my starting point on the main road at 4:50. I have missed out on the virtual run.

I went ahead with my own scheduled 10k run, breezing through my first half at 27:14.46. I did the second half at a slightly slower 27:16.05, for a total time of 54:30.51. My old Timex Ironman Triathlon, the only "gadget" I have ever used aside from the usual running apparel, showed an average time of 5:27.05/km with a best of 5:02.48 (No big deal. This was run on the slightly downhill 8th kilometer of my route).

It was a good run overall. The fastest of my three 10ks this week. It would have been more fun though if I had made it in time for today's virtual run. Maybe next Thursday ... .

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

In the shadow of Sondawa

Mt. Apo, king of Philippine mountains, loomed before me as I hit the last kilometer of my run. For the past two days I did my run on this same route, but overcast skies hid the long dormant volcano from view. Today the sky was clear, and from where I was on that last uphill I could see its peak, the country's highest at 10,311 feet above sea level, kissed by a single clump of grey cloud.

Running "in the shadow" of Sondawa, the name by which Apo is known to Manobos and Bagobos living around its foothills, always inspires me. I don't know why, but seeing it towering majestically in the distance as I run seems to energize me and erase whatever trace of fatigue or pain there is in my body. It is as if this mountain - both mystic and sacred to the indigenous tribes, with its steaming and ice cold lakes, sulfur pillars, and moss-covered age old trees - breaths fresh life into my battered limbs.

They did a foot race up Sondawa, the only one that covered a full course from Kidapawan City to the peak, sometime in the early eighties. Hardy runners from Kidapawan, Arakan, Cotabato and Davao braved the 3-day multi-stage event. They tackled the roughly 21-kilometer mostly ascending dirt road from Kidapawan plaza to Lake Agku'u on day 1. They took on the Marbol trail with its seemingly endless climb following a series of river crossings to spend the night at Lake Venado on day 2. Then they did the final ascent to the peak on day three.

A veteran of the Alay sa Pangulo marathon of the seventies, Romeo Pallarcon of Arakan, won the event. Other runners said he did it largely with the help of a Manobo runner, Crispin Damo of Sitio Sayaban nestled in the foothills of Mt. Apo. Damo knew the terrain like the back of his palm. He served as guide and porter for climbers. Damo himself landed in third place if I remember right, following a runner from Davao whose name escapes me.

And there was Alex Bornea, the race's heartbreak kid. Kidapawan's top bet, he was said to be leading the way going into Venado when he accidentally tripped on one of the many tree roots that dotted the trail and suffered an injury. They had to bring him down the mountain on a stretcher, I was told.

Some of those who did that one-time race were friends of mine. They invited me to join them in taking on Sondawa then. I knew myself and my capabilities. I was out of their league. But running up Sondawa, perhaps tracing the route taken by those unsung Mindanaon runners in that one-time race, is a dream that still burns within me.

I have trekked to the peak of this grand old man of Philippine mountains 5 times. At least once, I want to run my way up, beneath the canopy of centuries old trees, amid bird calls and the thunderous roar of hidden waterfalls of Mandarangan Trail. Or maybe through the mossy forest and "Elfin Woodland" of Bongolanon Trail perched at about 1,800 to 2,700 meters above sea level, and experience that surreal feeling of running through the forest moon of Endor, home to the Ewoks of Star Wars fame.

For now, I take satisfaction in being energized by Apo Sondawa as I pick up my pace towards the end of my run.