I’ve been keeping it wild since Cordillera Conservation Trust started showcasing the beauty of the Cordillera for the past 3 years. It’s definitely the toughest and most scenic 50 kilometer distance with a whopping 3,000 freaking meters worth of elevation from Dalupirip to the peak of Mount Ugo.
Cordillera Mountain Ultra
3 years ago, when the first Cordillera Mountain Marathon was being organized I got attracted with the idea of mountain runs. In an instant, I joined the 11K distance at Mount Pulag and was able to finish it. I heard the stories of the mountain marathoners and felt they had a really an awesome experience being able to go to several provinces before finishing back at the ranger station in Mount Pulag. That’s my light bulb moment that I should do a mountain marathon, which then had a cut-off time of 13 hours. The next year, it was reformatted to be a 50 kilometer ultra event from Dalupirip at Mount Ugo, with a cut off of 14 hours. If you knew me, Ultras are part of my “Never” list and the cut-off is a bit stiff compared to the marathon distance a year ago. I went on to finish the 21K distance last year. When registration opened for this year’s edition, I took a leap of fate and just signed up for the 50K distance and as things were, the cutoff was even shorter at 13 hours. Good luck to me.
Pre Race Anxiety
For the first time since my first marathon in 2014, I was actually scared of the race. My training plan didn’t turn out as expected with bouts of ankle sprain, shin splints, coughs, colds, busy work schedule and lack of training mileage. My longest distance for the past 3 months was 17 kilometers on the trails and 21 kilometers on the road. I did insert some gym time walking on inclined treadmill for hours. You don’t have to be an expert to say that it’s not enough for a 50 kilometer race with 3,000 meters elevation gain. When it comes to training, the longer you train, the less you suffer on race day so I started conditioning my mind to get ready to suffer. I plotted the elevation profile and tried to plot some target times each segment. This is my first ultra event, the goal was to finish and meeting the cut-off would just be bonus. I did hope that I did finish before it became dark. I guess flawed as it was, that was the plan.
Race Route and Elevation Profile
The first 9 kilometers was a rolling terrain with a mix of paved road, dirt road and river trails until the foot of the climb to Tenidi Hill. This was followed by a 3-kilometer climb to Tenidi Hill covering about 750 meters of elevation gain. The trail descends for the next kilometer to Oling before the climb resumes to Ugo for the next 12 kilometers with total elevation gain of 1,100 meters (including about 300 meters steep climb to the summit). The race descents back to Tinongdan for the next 14 kilometers and goes on another rolling loop at Tinongdan for the next 5 kilometers before hitting Dalupirip for the last climb and descent to the finish line.
Up until the claiming of the race kit, I was still thinking if it was possible to downgrade to 21K or just totally miss the race. Yes, that’s how anxious I was before the race. So when I got my kit for the 50K distance and had my Raceyaya timing chip attached to me, I guess this is it. I got some inspirational words from Carlo of Smart the day before the race and Jonel and Aldean before the race. It’s time to put my heart and determination to test.
The race started at 4 am sharp and it was time to just execute the game plan or how much I could during the race. I started of with a good pace and good thing that my shin splints didn’t bother me this time. I slowed down on the single track climb to the main road on the 2nd kilometer and I was just playing the elevation by speeding up on the descent and walking the ascents on the road stretch. Upon crossing the hanging bridge, I started to slow down just to make sure that my heart rate would be low before I climb Tenidi Hill.
Tenidi hill was the toughest part of the course with 750 meters elevation gain in just 3 kilometers of distance. If I get past this then the race is more manageable. This is my 3rd time at Tenidi Hill and I could do this for 10 more times and it would never feel easy. I took it one effort at a time disregarding the distance and just watching the elevation on my Suunto Spartan Sport. It does help mentally when you see you’re moving up the elevation even with the distance is just trickling in. Before 3 hours in the race, I was up Tenidi Hill and it was a short descent to the town of Oling.
The Long Climb to Mount Ugo
The Town of Oling was a timing point and had a cutoff of 4 hours. It’s also the last bail-out points of the race and once you continue here, you have to finish the whole loop since there are no other exit points (unless you’d like to exit at another province and end up there for days. I thought for a second and said to myself, it was a go. This was a really long climb with the first 10 kilometers about 750 meter ascent and the next two kilometers having about 300 meters ascent. It started with a technical climb from Oling and I was surprised that the first 2-3 kilometers, I was already able to cover about 300 meters of elevation. That means that there would be some lower inclines above.
The first few kilometers of the climb were technical pine forested trails. After the trails went higher, it shifted to long rolling run-able ridges that was just mesmerizing. We were moving on single track ridge with some portion hot because of the time of day and some portion foggy and cold because of the altitude. It was scenic yet it was tough. I just kept checking on the altitude and once we got up by 100 meters in altitude there was a stretch where we’d go down 50 meters. It felt exhausting and frustrating but I realized the best way to deal with tough times is to look forward to good times. During the toughest parts, I’d always remind myself how many kilometers it was to the summit and I need to finish the race so I can celebrate my birthday this week.
The last 2 kilometers to the summit was really difficult as it’s already a direct assault plus fatigue is coming into play. I made it one push after another and things would get easy going down for the second half of the race. I eventually reached the summit in less than 8 hours, which meant I have 5 hours to chase the cut-off for the second half of the race. It was foggy at the top so here’s my id picture with white background at the summit.
The Long Descent
After I had my time recorded at the summit, I went on the descent. The first part of the descent was a bit technical so I wasn’t able to speed up yet. I’m such a klutz when it comes to technical trails and almost slipped several times. It wasn’t fast but it helped me recover. There were about 2 to 3 kilometer of technical descent before it shifted to run-able descending ridges. The problem was I felt too banged up to run. I did the next best thing, I brisked walked for the next few kilometers going to the aid station in Domolpos at kilometer 33 in 10 hours. I have about 3 hours to cover about 15 kilometers of distance.
There was a short ascent after kilometer 33 but since I was up against time I just maintained the same pace for both uphill and downhill with faster brisk walks. I managed to move past the next 2 kilometers at a good pace. The next 2 kilometers were on a bit slippery and loose sand and rock surface so I slowed down. It’s about 10-11 kilometers before the finish line and I have 2 hours to go. The cut-off is still within reached though the window is closing a bit.
Entering Tinongdan Town at about kilometer 39, I felt my right quad cramping so I had to rest it a bit in one of the store while I took a soft drinks break. I could barely move my right quad without pain so I slowed down again. I tried to cushion each of my step with the pole so there would be less impact on my quads It felt a bit better after walking though I would take occasional rest to massage the muscle a bit. Eventually, I went back to using to poles to reduce the impact on my legs. With my window of chasing the cut-off becoming least probable, I started aiming just to finish before dark. I just kept moving as the trails shifted to the rolling terrain in Tinongdan to the road back to Dalupirip and eventually the finish line.
It was beyond cut-off at about 14 hours but I’m glad I did finish the race before it went dark. When I was in doubt whether to run or downgrade before the race, I always had this in mind. It wasn’t about the time, it was always about the experience. It was just a few less muscle pains away from meeting the stiff cut-off but I’ll take that. I didn’t give up. I have no regrets and no more looking back that I should have done the distance. There’s so many reasons to be proud of and to celebrate. Of course, I’ll be back next year maybe to try the Vertical Kilometer or maybe another round to enjoy the tough Mount Ugo Terrain and just keep it wild.