Cordillera Mountain Ultra 2016: The Road to 50

This post is from my travel buddy, an alpha-female who enjoys being Pescatarian, and who is all up for adventure. This is Apol's Best of 2016! Enjoy reading! 

This is Apol

Let's start this adventure...

"Side trip #1: Corner Tree Cafe, Makati City"
We had a good long walk under the high noon sun of Makati before reaching this place, but the search was worth it as they serve great vegan food. The cozy nook cafe has a relaxed ambiance, great for intimate talks for family and friends for mid-range budget. I ordered their best-seller Arroz a la Cabana and it was delicious.

After an overnight bus ride, we arrived in Baguio City before daybreak and we were walking up and down Session Road somewhat lost. Ate Joy was trying to look for this place that her friend recommended but can't remember the name of. We passed by this place twice before deciding, out of hunger and fatigue, that we'll settle here in Pizza Volante for breakfast. 

It was too early for pizza so we ordered waffles and eggs with hot chocolate. Yum! Our server Fernand was patient and calm despite the number of people started coming in even at 6AM. I'd say it was a good breakfast to start another long day of adventure. 

Last supply run before heading to Itogon. Bought some fresh organic veggies at this local outlet near Baguio Cathedral. 

Ate Joy, the official Cooking Master for our adventure run, busy with buying all the food stuff we need. We still had some supplies left to buy so we also went to the local market to complete our list. 
"Welcome to the quiet valley of Dalupirip!"
First thing I noticed when we got there, it was quiet, no loud videokes or loud music blasting away from the houses. It was just simply peaceful. 

"Our home for the next 2 days." 
Thankfully, the atmosphere temperature in the valley was bearable, so no need for layering as I initially thought I needed to. The homestay owner, Kuya June Colas, allowed us to camp in his backyard.

"Healthy lunch!"
Prepared by our Master Chef Ate Joy Marpa. Dakong salamat kaayo! Chopseuy, brown rice, tuna and sardines.

"Picture-perfect Agno River and the beautiful surrounding Cordillera mountains."
© Anthony Yancy Labitad

"Race Briefing"
All runners listened in to CMU Organizer, Jp Alipio, as he discussed details about tomorrow's race: aid stations, elevation levels, rules, cut off times, etc. These details are vital for every runner so that he/she can utilize the right pacing, manage food/water supplies and know where to get help in case of accidents and emergencies in the course of the race. 

"The quest for adventure brought us all here!"
Participants and race organizers pose for a group photo a day before the race. Good luck to everyone!

"Excited little runner"
I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. I was very excited about this race that a few days even before my trip, I had trouble sleeping. Thankfully the night before the big day, despite sleeping in a tent in a new place, far from the comforts of my own bed, I had a wonderful rest. We were up at 2AM, getting ready and doing last supply checks of our bags. I had my game face on and couldn't wait to be on the trails.

"Bisaya represent!"
Gaining new friends because of our mutual passion and love for running and adventure. The bisaya camaraderie never fails to amaze me, the four of us (ate Joy Marpa took the photo) like old friends, hit it off right on the bat with Anthony Yancy Labitadand Earl E. Bolivar.

"Gun start!"
Exactly 4AM and it was all systems go! Standing in line among my fellow runners, I had the familiar feeling of excitement and adrenaline rush that made my heart skip a beat. This is what I was here for, this heart feeling alive like this again! My hope was really just to be able to reach the finish line before the cutoff time of 14hrs or at least finish in 10hrs (2PM) at the earliest.
© Joy Marpa

After 1hr of rolling trails and about 30mins of uphill on our first assault, I was starting to feel the pull on my left calf. I did my best to pace myself to make sure it doesn't go into a full leg cramp. I haven't even reached KM10 yet and I was struggling already. Tough start! 

"Naimbag a bigat Itogon!"
Taking a few rests during my assault struggles were necessary as well as re-energizing especially if you have this 360° view of the majestic Cordillera mountains.

"Dili lallim."
Remembering what my Papa said after I told him that I was running a trail ultra, he told me "Good luck 'nak, di baya na lalim". He was right in many ways, it definitely wasn't easy preparing and training for it, and more so to actually be in the race and running it. So why do it, why run?

"Top 3 Reasons Why I Trail Run"
1. It allows me to get into my mind, focusing on my body, my breathing, and the rhythm of my heart.
2. It allows me to be one with nature, balancing and adjusting my every step to flow with it.
3. It allows me to travel to different places and experience nature's raw beauty and wonders.

"Tested but not spent"
Built by Cebuana courage, tested by Cordillera. Finally reached KM10 after 3 hours of grueling uphill. The sun is up and still a long run ahead. Thank you #Habagat for this yellow visor! Much gratitude to Gabrielle Loyola Padilla and Ate Joy Marpa for their thoughtfulness and support, thank you for the surprise, I really wasn't expecting for this kind of sponsorship. haha!

"No words..."
I'm a lost of superlatives here. In order to fully understand how beautiful, peaceful and mesmerizing this view is, you have to be there and see it for yourself.

"Point of No Return"
KM13 was Oling Station and it's the last aid station before ascending Mt. Ugo (KM24). Here, runners decides if they will continue the race or not. Otherwise, if a runner decides to quit anywhere after here, the next extraction point will be at Nueva Vizcaya, a day of travel recon back to Dalupirip.

Keeping it local, rice delicacies greeted runners in every aid stations.

"Digging deep"
Pain was everywhere, it made me feel numb. I was just willing my feet to make each step forward. The mind is an amazing well of courage and strength, when the body fails, the mind keeps you going. 

"Shoes speak louder than words."
Cinderella no more, so forget the glass slippers, I've found my match with these tough soles. Forever grateful to this sturdy pair, indeed it has been a great long run! Soiled, beaten, faded and torn yet they never failed me: 2 years, 5 trail races, over 100 km mileage and still going.

"Assault your senses."
Survived the first long assault and I have just about enough breath for a big smile in this photo. The scenic view behind me was truly beautiful though so the pain and breathlessness was something I was willing to endure. As a runner, I dearly appreciate a well-organized race like this - trail paths are well-marked, friendly marshals are along the trail to encourage tired runners, and amply-supplied aid stations for refreshments.

 "Rolling green grass of salvation."
Finally, no more steep runs... for now. I've been looking forward to running these Cordillera ridges ever since I saw the photos few months ago as we don't have this kind of terrain in Cebu. It's mid-morning, the fresh cold mountain air is blowing, and looking at this wild green space, I'm glad and humbled that I made it this far.

"Stop and stare."
No matter how competitive a runner is, s/he is halted mid-stride to admire Mother Nature's awe-inspiring beauty. We are powerless and insignificant under her mighty elements.

"Going beyond 50"
Adventure doesn't have an age limit. These two fellows are beyond their golden years, 50 and 61 years old, respectively, and yet they're still running ultra-marathons. And a trail ultra at that! Deeply humbled and greatly inspired after meeting these two tough and seasoned runners.

"Another dimension"
Being with nature gives me a different kind of peace, a different perspective of things, of life in general. This raw contemplation is a special thing. 

"Middle of nowhere"
I wasn't lost, not yet, but it felt like I was going nowhere. The ridges seemed endless, I was tired, thirsty, it was hot, the summit seemed like at the other end of the world. I wasn't close to quitting though, but I was whining inside, blaming myself for not training harder, conversing to myself and telling my brain to get my ass moving. 

"Wide horizons"
But changing perspective, looking up into the wider horizon, seeing beyond the hardship, the exhaustion and challenge, there is beauty and meaning beyond what can be comprehended in the mean time, you just have to move forward and achieve it. 

Going through these ridges with no other runner in sight for more than an hour already. I could be in a worse mood if not for this wonderful, awe-inspiring view - I wanted to be here. I AM HERE. This reality holds more meaning and weight than I can put into words. 

"Hanging loose"
Parts of the route require us to cross old, rusty bridges like this one, it still looks sturdy although it's not advisable to have too many people on it together. A few more KMs more and I'll be reaching the start of the 2nd assault which is going to the summit of Mt. Ugo. Push harder.

"At the foot of the beast"
Oh it may not look much but this ascent was close to a nightmare of every mountaineer/climber/runner. Trodden, crushed and almost at the brink of stopping, the person behind this shot is barely breathing and standing. And what you see here is not the summit, it still goes farther, behind the clouds. The sky is mocking me. 

"Between clouds and misery"
This majestic view is halfway through the punishing 2KM assault. This eastern side of Mt. Ugo faces Nueva Vizcaya where most climbers jump off from.

"Between earth and sky"
Where all of us are one, connected in this living, breathing, moving existence. Travel, go to places few people are crazy enough and courageous enough to go. Spread your arms, be open to accept what life offers: the rain, sea of clouds, the warmth of sunrise and the cold caress of wind that brings stories from down below. Live boldly, stay wild and free.

"On a high on Mt. Ugo summit (2150masl)"
Yes! Such a sweet joy to be finally standing here after 7 hours and 30 minutes. It's an overwhelming ecstatic feeling combining all the pain and joy in this single moment. The nonstop 24km crunch to get here was a run, walk, crawl to be surely remembered. It feels like I've gone through hell and heaven a hundred cycles over from km zero to here, all these battles mainly happening in my head. I have a lot of stories behind this photo, but that will have to wait. I'm still half way through this ultra trail with 26km downhill route to tackle. Aja Apol! 

"Pains and pines" 
After the short joyous celebration at the summit, it's a long way down to the finish line with 26KM of downhill run through the pine forests of Mt. Ugo.
Trivia: Aside from cows, they have free-rein horses running wild in the forest. There's one in this photo if you can spot it. 

"Personal goals unmet"
I had been running almost nonstop downhill for 2 hours already up to this point. Entering this race, I was targeting to finish the race in 10 hours. Sadly, this wasn't the case as 10 hours had elapsed and I was still 4.5KM away from KM42 aid station, that's 12.5KM away from finish line, roughly 2-3 hours more of running. I was more concerned than disappointed though because I know if I take longer, my body would surely give up.

It was 3PM and it was scalding hot. I was already going down the Dalupirip valley, away from the cool wind and protection of the pine forest and back at the open field. My body temperature was going up, I feel my face getting flushed, this was not a good sign. I think I was about to get heatstroke or close to dehydration, and alone in this section of the race still 3KM away from the aid station. It wasn't a good idea to pass out here. Then I looked up and saw the sky getting darker. I see huge rain clouds coming towards the valley and I found hope. If it rains, then I would be saved!

"Getting closer"
A few more push and I'll reach the last aid station at KM42 where I can rest a little and get refreshments. It's the 11th hour into the race, my feet are not my own anymore, they have long been snatched by fatigue and dehydration. I was almost solely running mentally.

"Rain drops of hope"
And mana finally came down from heaven in the form of rain. Drenched to the bones, I was ecstatic to the point of doing a little crazy dance and a twirl. I think I looked stupid but no matter, I was having fun and somehow, it took my mind off my worries a little bit. I thought I would collapse due to sheer exhaustion and heat an hour ago. The rain cooled me down and also got my confidence back up again. One last agenda on my mind, get to the finish line!

"Last stretch"
While others are already on their way home, I was still running towards the finish line with my slowest, most painful jog. But it didn't matter, people, strangers, fellow runners, were giving me high fives and cheering me on. It was surreal to have this kind of camaraderie, this race was an experience we all collectively bonded over. 

I can't believe that I'm finally at the end of this Cordillera race, it's been a long, epic day! Leading up to this point, I had my doubts if I can make it because I knew I didn't train hard enough. But running towards the finish line, all those doubts and regret washed off with the rain. Seeing the finish line made me laugh at myself because I've proven that I wasn't strong, definitely not, but I'm one stubborn girl who does not give up easily and I guess that's what's important here. So even before stepping on the finish line, only one thought came to mind: When's the next race?

 "Certified Ultra-Runner"
Oh sweet victory! Getting to the finish line was an icing on top of a really huge adventure cake. And being applauded and congratulated by friends, new acquaintances and strangers at the finish line was heartwarming. It was the defining moment that validated the hardship I went through during the race and the days I trained leading up to it. But it's really just one of many unforgettable moments in this whole experience. There are more stories behind this one photo and I've tried to tell them as best as I can. To those who journeyed with me through this photo diary, thank you. 

"A Twelve-hour Journey Within"
What can be done in 12 hours? For me, it's a 50km trail race that breaks and makes you whole in a cycle of doubt, strength and courage. I understand now that our own self is a mystery even to us. And one way to get to unravel our own mystery is to experience and discover places and other people, we journey out as we journey in. This race is my bookmark, an event in my life that divides before and after of what I can do and accomplish, if only I try.
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About Marie Angelique Villamor

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  1. Nice one! Congratulations Maam Apol! Great work and amazing scenery! :)

    1. Truly amazing! She also narrated it so well...It's as if we were together with her proud of you, Apol!