Life is a climb. You have to take in the struggles to appreciate the finer moments. Cordillera Mountain Marathon gave a really lung-busting, muscle-aching, heartbeat-raising and mentally challenging climb to the top of Mount Pulag. The Cordillera Mountain Run had us chasing sunrise as we hurdled the tough climbs heading to the top of the country’s third highest mountain at about 2900++ meters above sea level. The prize was the majestic view of sunrise with a panoramic view of the Mount Pulag and the sea of clouds that surrounds it. It was a bucket list adventure you’d love to do over and over again. It was a race, a tour and a contribution to the cause of forest conservation. #BerghausPH #LiveForAdventure
Cordillera Mountain Marathon
When I first saw the video from Cordillera Conservation Trust (CCT) above, I just knew I had to be a part of it. This was something I want to promote and this was a cause I would go for. I went on to promote the event on my site and when registrations opened, I registered immediately just to ensure I would have my spot. Unfortunately, some of my friends who wanted to join ran out of slots but that’s okay since I was sure that I would meet someone I knew at the event since we belong to the same community of runners. As the days of the event grew near, I realized going to Mt. Pulag was not as easy as driving myself to BGC for a run. I had to find my way to Mt. Pulag for the first time, on my own. It was good that CCT was up-to-date in posting travel alternatives and home stay options. Also,my friend Tracey mentioned that their tour group went via monster jeep and I started to google for contact person for Monster Jeeps going to Mt. Pulag. Fortunately, I found one and was able to reserve myself for a seat. All the while, I thought that the rented jeep were a group of runners making their way to Mt. Pulag but on the day itself, I discovered that it was a tour group going to Mt. Pulag. Long story short, I had an extra tour of the Ambuklao Dam and Hanging Bridge before I reached Mt. Pulag to go on my own. That was just so cool plus I did meet some new friends and tour contacts along the way.
My homestay was in Pultak Lodge where I would be sharing sleeping area with some runners. It turned out that the group of runners knew my cousin in Baguio and also included the husband of another cousin. It’s a small world. I also met most of the dominant trail and ultra runners during the event. It was such a relaxed atmosphere for a run even during the briefing. It was great to hear from JP Alipio that this event had employed more than a 100 persons in Benguet, Nueve Viscaya and Ifugao area as the 42 distance category would be passing along these provinces, as well as raising funds for forest conservation. It was such a proud moment to be part of the event. We also got our environmental briefing from DENR and got to learn more on forest conservation. There were two distances which was the 42K, which had a more competitive cut-off and an 11K Mountain Run, which had a generous cut-off enough to really appreciate the views in Mt. Pulag. I did the 11K mountain run just to appreciate the views without a very stringent cutoff to worry about. Even before the run, it was challenging going from one area to another as it all involves a climb, which was just an appetizer for the even bigger climb the next day.
Race Course and Elevation
The race starts at the ranger station and it was a straight climb passing through Camp 1 at km 2.5 and Camp 2 at kilometer 5. There is another 500 meter climb to peak 2 for the u-turn area. The race heads back to the ranger area on mostly descents.
The race starts of at 2,400 meters above sea level and goes on a moderate climb for the first 2 kilometers. The climb gets steeper and more technical at kilometer 3 with about 200 meters of elevation gain in that area. The climbs shifts back to a moderate climb at kilometer 4 before another steep climb of 200 meters heading to peak 2 which is the u-turn slot at 5.5 kilometers into the race. The race heads on downwards back to the ranger station from the u-turn slot.
Since we were staying at Pultak’s Lodge, we were just 10 steps away from the starting line. I took a bath the night before the race as it would be too cold to take a bath at the wee hours of the morning considering the climate in the area. It was a real-life ice cold bath challenge. I was up early the next day since most of my housemates would be doing 42 kilometers. They are a tough bunch of Baguio runners. After the 42K runners were sent off, I made my way to the start area to warm up since our gun start would be at 5 am. We had a cutoff of 7 hours and my initial plan was to go slow for the climb and take it from there but since the gun start was moved to 5:00 am, there was an added incentive of chasing sunrise happening around 6 am.
It was chasing sunrise, which means we have to cover 5.5 kilometers in over an hour. You can see in the #SuuntoRun video above on how the sun was moving across the distance. This wasn’t easy considering that this was almost purely climbing and the air was thinner at this elevation. Since I didn’t know how my body would react on the thinner air, I used a more conservative approach of using brisk walks with bigger strides on the ascent and run a little on short descents. The first two kilometers was tolerable. Going to kilometer 3 would be the real test since it rest on a really steep elevation and has a more technical terrain with large rocks and uneven steps. It was lung-busting is I had to stop at times to catch my breath. The effort was raising my heart rate level so the stops help in normalizing them. It was also tough on the legs as the uneven steps and the dark surroundings made it difficult to manage my strides. It was a good thing, I was wearing Berghaus, which had excellent traction across different surface. The tough stretch was about 500 meters leading to the aid station at km 2.5.
After the aid station, I made a wrong turn but luckily it was just the comfort room so I had to go back to the right course. Most of my pace mates were still resting and I was ready to go as I always want to keep moving even at a slower pace just to cover more grounds. I was alone on this stretch and it was creepy to be in the forest in the dark and by my lonesome. The elevation was more tolerable at this point and I tried to make up for lost time by doing this part faster. Before entering the 4th kilometer, the terrain descends a bit and just as I was about to run, I realized I have a minor sprain from all the wrong steps on the uneven grounds. So instead of running, I went on at a fast walk pace with me being mindful on my steps so i won’t end up hurting my ankle. After the tough 3 kilometers the succeeding climbs felt easier. It reminds you that we become tougher by getting past all the struggles.
At kilometer 5, we were out of the Forrest trail and we were in a sea of clouds. You could already see the peak and the magnificent view that comes with it. This was also the no pass zone, which meant the only way to overtake was to ask permission to the one in front of you as the organizers don’t want the runners to create new trails. It was a really steep climb to the peak but seeing the beauty and having to stop for photos at every step of the way, the climb felt refreshing. We were able to catch the midpoint of the sunrise and it was worth all the difficulty in the climb.
It was a scenic delight on overload. Every angle you see was just majestic. It was humbling to be in this spot admiring nature’s raw beauty. This was the third highest point of the Philippines and the highest in Luzon and it was just surreal being at this point. I slowly made my way to the peak with each step an admiration to God’s creation.
As I made my way to the u-turn, we had an even better view of the sea of clouds and the morning sunrise. The best things in life are free but we have to work hard to be able to appreciate them. Every drop of sweat, every twinge of muscle pain, every breathless moment, every ounce of tiredness was nothing compared to the raw beauty of Mt. Pulag. I stayed almost an hour in Mt. Pulag and finally saw a familiar face.
I’ve worked with Donna Fuentes on several race and social media projects and she was also a mean runner. After picture taking overload, I think I was good to go on the road back. I asked Donna if she wants to go back to so we can pace together on the way back. The descent from the peak was also a bit of a challenge as the morning mist made the ground extra slippery so we went on a slow descent from the peak and re-entered the Forrest trails.
It was faster on our way back as we were already familiar with the trails, we went on a fast brisk walk and also met a participant from Australia who paced with us. We were telling her about the wonderful places in the Philippines and the run she could join in the country. She paced with us for about a kilometer and pulled back after we went fast on the last ascent at kilometer 8. We went on back to the brisk walk pace and slowed down only midway the 8th kilometer as this was the technical part with uneven steps and steep terrain.
At kilometer 9, we saw daylight, dusty trails and some vegetation. I was wondering what the scent in the area was and finally realized that it was the smell of fertilizers on the vegetation. I remembered the scent since my grand father had a farm in La Trinidad when we were kids. It was also starting to get hot but the view was still amazing with the sea of clouds still visible at some areas. We were moving faster because of the descent. I promised myself a strong finish so when the trails ended and the concreted roads started, I burst into a sprint 500 meters into the finish line for that strong finish with a time of 3 hours, 21 minutes. I got my medal and seriously thought about going for a second loop since I still have more than half the time before cutoff. I ended up watching the strong finishes of the 42K runners and taking some photos. I guess, it’s my second nature to cover events or take photos when I’m not running.
Let me end this off by congratulating Cordillera Conservation Trust and JP Alipio on a successful Cordillera Mountain Marathon. I also was impressed for those who did the 42K kilometer distance as it was a really challenging, scenic and exciting course as they made their way to 3 provinces (Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Viscaya) in a single run covering 3,000 meters worth of elevation gain. It was so difficult that if there was P1,000 placed every time the word ITBS (Iliotibial band syndrome) was said, it would raise a lot of funds for Cordillera Conservation Trust. That just means they gave it all they had and went to the finish strong. Cheers to them.