Two years have passed since last ultramarathon race, which was the Bataan Death March (BDM) 102-km race. I found myself wanting to go back and do another ultramarathon. While searching online sometime in June, I chanced upon a link of an ultramarathon to be staged in Tacloban City. I’ve never been to this part of the country since there never was any occasion to go there. In fact, my only recollection of the place was from a photo of my late father with my older brother taken at the famous San Juanico Bridge. I knew I’d love to visit it one day. What better way to go back to long distance running than by joining the I Shall Return 50K Ultramarathon, a fitting race name for a returning long distance runner like me.
Arrival in Tacloban City and Race Preparation
The good thing was the hotel’s location is pretty close to a mall so looking for a good place to eat and buying whatever I need in the race would be easy. Though food and drinks are provided at the aid stations, I bought myself my own energy drinks. My rule of thumb: never try something new on race day.
I came back to the hotel as soon as I can and had each energy drink labeled with my name and aid station number as aid stations are spaced approximately every 10 km apart. I hadn’t been able to sleep so I had showered, prepared my race gear, and killed time and thought I could arrive early at the venue and still not appear too worried. The reasons perhaps were not having enough long runs plus the extra weight I gained lately. My only consolation was I had the chance to train for three weeks focusing on core, endurance and speed exercises at the very least with the help of Coach John Lozada, my running coach. But I knew the preparation was not enough. Faced with these quandaries and crazy as it may sound, I literally conversed with my feet and body telling them not to get cramps and help me reach the finish line. To lighten things up, my goals were (1) to finish within the 10-hour deadline; and (2) get to see the longest bridge in the country, the San Juanico Bridge.
Hours before Gun Start and During the Race
Not one familiar face at the race venue when I arrived. I just took a seat and waited for the race to start. Few minutes later, I saw Jonel’s arrival, the Race Director and editor-in-chief of Frontrunner magazine, and the only recognizable face I could find in the crowd. Distribution of race bibs and a briefing on the race route then followed. During the briefing, we were informed that portion of the route would be in total darkness due to a power failure that was announced earlier. Meaning, we would be running in the dark from 2am until 4am or 5am. I could only expel a deep breath after learning this, silently praying I would make this better and not get lost going around the city and for my guardian angel to guide me as my eyesight isn’t that good. The only game plan I could think of was to follow those in front of me. The race started with a prayer led by no other than the Race Director himself and a group photo op ensued at the start/finish tarp. It was almost 2am.
To my relief, I was not alone (the highway is reminiscent of BDM) on the road. Marshals, either riding in their cars or on tricycles, were there to light our way. Sometimes they stayed at the back and every now and then went past us to give directions to help ensure safety of runners. Glad there was a bike following with an extremely bright headlamp. It turned out it wasn’t even what I thought it was when I heard male voices and a pair of running footsteps behind. As minutes raced by, I started to feel dizzy from the headlight coming from one of the runners. To solve the problem, I stopped and waited for them to overtake me then stayed following them.
Immersed in deep thought and oblivious to everything else, I almost didn’t notice the shout and signals of the marshals at the rotunda near the 10km or 12km aid station. In the next hours that followed, the two gentlemen became my instant guides and companions. They were kind enough to offer me whatever supplies they have. Took some and politely declined the next time I was offered. In my estimation, the aid station, where I could take my own drink and food, couldn’t be that far.
|The many facets of ultra distance running in Leyte
(Photo courtesy of N. Fevidal)
Down the highway we came across with a support crew who eagerly offered us bananas, chocolates, water and soft drinks. As the race progressed, one of the gentlemen who were running with me decided to proceed. A few minutes later the other one followed suit. But before leaving, he advised the driver of his support vehicle to escort me. These people are my angels, an answered prayer.
Left alone now I watched the early morning sun slowly creeping up the horizon, running steadily till I overtook two more runners. I stopped for a while to exchange pleasantries with them afterward told them to slowly jog with me so we could reach the aid station together. The small steps brought us to Magsaysay Boulevard near University of the Philippines, Tacloban. I liked the place as the boulevard was lined with trees making it more pleasant for running. There were joggers as we passed by the area.
|Running at the San Juanico Bridge with Noreen Fevidal
(Photo courtesy of N. Fevidal)
One of the main surprises running in this event was being supported by a stranger, a lady runner, who paced with me, offered me water to drink, and even encouraged me to at least finish fourth odds in women’s division. This unexpected vote of confidence though warmed my heart all I could do was smile knowing there were other faster runners in attendance. Anyhow, I think I did a good job finishing the race. To top it off, crossing the San Juanico Bridge (Leyte to Samar, and vice versa) was a bonus indeed! Not bad… Not bad at all…
Congratulations to all of the finishers in this year\’s I Shall Return edition.
Super duper thanks to Noreen (for pacing me), Norman (for the photos), Jonel (for facilitating my registration), Jojo Yu of R8 Cycling and Stars Cafe and Bar (support), Brian (support), Glice, John, Edgar, Frederick, Nap Ocampo (distributing my foodstuff at each aid station), Mark, the marshals ( ensuring safety of runners) among others.