The Accidental Trail Runner

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.

Admittedly, I was focused on the giveaway rate of P600.00 when I signed up. Also, I swear I could as easily miss the details for the race when all sponsor ads were on TOP and in BOLD PRINTS, than everything else! Haha!

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.

Trying to keep up with the bratpack and NOT get lost!
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.
  • water stationThe 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.

abetcdoThe 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.










The Spirit of the 39th Milo Marathon (as I raced it!)

Blogging about past Milo marathons a day before today was tempting fate to happen.  It rained so hard the night before, and I woke up with the vulnerability of a newbie runner trying to figure out if a change in gear or strategy might be in order. As usual, I drove in an hour earlier, secured my race gear while repeating the the Milo mantra to calm my nerves. It’s funny how each marathon can make you feel like a speck of dust amidst thousands of runners corralled before gunstart – but it also can make you stand tall, as if to say, “Hey, I came here to be counted.”

pre-race banter with Phen Avanzado
pre-race banter with Phen Avanzado

Based on my experience in racing the Milo Manila elims for the 4th straight year, the year’s edition can be considered among the BEST, because logistics where almost flawlessly executed. For one, I have never seen so many marshals in one place, and they were all bustling like busy bees. In many road intersections that require controlling vehicular traffic as well as runner traffic, there were now four to five marshals making sure runners stay put as needed. In some roads which needed to be closed, there were human barricades greeting runners good morning in unison.

Runrio has set the new standard in hydration intervals. At 1.5km consistently-dedicated intervals, one can work around a strategy of run/walk by using the hydration stations as the “walk phase.” Cold water and Gatorade were a spring of wellness and relief, and all station attendants were ready with supply when the runners came by. Incidentally, I have to take note that there was less deliberate littering among runners today, or maybe some marshals were also tasked to whisk away the litter as soon as they came. Personally, I feel many marathoners have heard about a petition against marathons in the city and putting a lot of emphasis on ecological waste thru littering. This must have brought on a sense of responsibility which we all hope will become habitual in the events to come.

Now the marathon route, I wouldn’t consider a killer, and I felt many marathoners easily accepted the idea of going back to the Buendia-Aseana Avenue/Paranaque in Round 2. I even think many runners were keen on trying to qualify or reach their distance cut-offs, as this is always a popular theory whenever a runner collapses after crossing the finish line. More ambulance sirens were also heard this time, and we would look to each other, as if to say we were lucky not to be among those who needed to be rescued.

Another trendsetting factor for this year’s Milo in Manila was the launch of the live results. Having your unofficial results right after you cross the finish line clearly and positively extends your high and excitement. If you haven’t viewed yours, now is the time to get a taste of running technology at its peak. Click here for 39th Milo Marathon Live Results.

celebrating my 55th birthday by clocking in a sub-5 for my 4th milo marathon
celebrating my 55th birthday by clocking in a sub-5 for my 4th milo marathon

This battle was an excruciating one, and I didn’t want to give up that easily because, even if I did start out too fast, I broke my 32K PR at 3hours and 30minutes.  Somehow, the fact that I did my last 10K in one hour and 24 minutes is still a bitter pill to swallow.  I feel pretty much the same as my tattered bib after almost 43 kilometers of tribulations. But these never take me away from the focus of wanting to try it all over again next year.

Congratulations to all finishers for your gallantry is unprecedented.  Hats off to RunRio as organizer for being so hands-on in logistics and Milo for breathing new life into this year’s edition.