It was in 2011. I badly needed a stress-free vacation but since I started running, I could only make a decision to do an out-town vacation, only if I race it as well. And so it happened so fast. There were no impediments: A 21K race in Cagayan de Oro registered via bank deposit in an instant, coupled with a Cebu Pacific promo fare flight and a room reservation at the Eco-Tourism Village.
I was aware that the race was “Kagay-an Eco Trail Run” but I figured OFF-ROAD basically meant grassy dirt roads and maybe some puddles along the way. But as I made my way to the assembly area, I knew something was wrong and my Spidey sense came all over me, seeing how I was dressed so differently from the rest of the population….
At the Assembly and off to the Starting Line, I was definitely the epitome of an ignorant Manileñan trying to blend in by looking for a familiar face. Zan Cagulangan hails from CDO but works in Manila; he took me by the hand and assured me that everything will be fine (although he was a bit worried for my overexposed running legs).With a never-surrender attitude, I allowed myself to think that enjoying the scenery could be my primary goal for the race. Or so I thought it would be that easy.
The kick-off point at Malasag, an Eco-Tourism Village nestled in an urban forest, was an uphill trek to the actual trail route. When we started hitting trails, thoughts flooded in my mind about how unworthy my Mizuno shoes were, even if they had good tractions from the underside. It had rained the night before so mud was expected everywhere. It didn’t take long for rocks and mud collected like cement under the shoes and added unnecessary weight to my already-uneconomical running attire!
At the end of day, it was neither the wrong shoe-type or my BGC race attire that held me back. Realizing that it was my lack of experience that was causing me to stress out on such a lovely place and time, I immediately transformed into survival mode with Plan B:
- Follow the leader, follow the pack. This became frustrating, though, when we hit the high grasslands that were taller than the runners. At some point, I missed my footing and slipped under the shadows….in an instant, someone pulled me from behind and coursed me back to the trail. Thus, I learned lesson No. 2…
- Invoke the bayanihan spirit. With my very limited Visayan, I started conversations with anyone but the Boogie Man. It not only kept my sanity, but I got a crash course on how Cagayenos love trails and abide by ecological standards to keep their natural resources in abundance.
- Listen with BOTH ears. For once I was really happy not to have brought along any MP3 player. Front-runners have this uncanny habit of warning everyone behind them (all echoing the same words) of any obstacle on the trails. I almost ignored it when the guys in front of me mouthed, “Ingat lang, may ebaks ng kalabaw!” (“watch out!..)— till I saw GIANT PUDDLES of carabao manure splattered over fields and fields of grassland!
- Keep light-footed! The guy who invented sports shoes didnot realize that sometimes the bare feet have better footing ground, except that the ground contact must be light and breezy. I couldn’t keep up with the experienced runners who swept past me in slimy or even bouldery terrains.
- The water bottle needs REFILLING. As soon as I realized water stations were situated at Check Points, which came in 5km-intervals, I had to ration my stuff to minimize running in near-dehydration. I was pleasantly surprised in one of the drastically uphill parts of the race; someone broke down water from a tree and installed a temporary spout. I took some with caution, not knowing fully well how clean the water source was.
The last 2 kilometers of semi-concrete uphill road led us back to civilization and the eco-forest. I crossed at 2:45 with a grin on my face. I was uninjured except for minor grass-cuts on my legs. I got more than what I deserved. I earned an experience of a lifetime. With a hard-fought battle, I was ready to begin a chapter called TRAIL RUNNING.
Today, Kagayan Ec0-Trail Races are held annually and attracts more runners from Manila each time. Their advocacies and beneficiaries range from tree-planting to the distribution of school supplies to indigent children in Mindanao. Another trail race here must make it to my bucketlist in 2017, but I must smoothly transition from the road to trails.