“Baguio has one of the most scenic trails with a view of pine tree forested areas and the mountain ranges in Benguet. Don’t be deceived by the scenic delight, TNF 100 offers the most lung-busting climbs and suicide descents that’s definitely gonna take your breathe away – literally and figuratively. It’s a challenge that would test your character and give you the sense of accomplishment when you have gone over the distance.”
This will be my second time doing the 22K distance for The North Face 100. The trails of Camp John Hay are now a familiar sight for me as I’ve been spending most of my time exploring the trails every time I go home. I’ve been going over the trail trying to be more comfortable running on it. The main difference of this year’s TNF trails is that this one’s almost 100% trail while last year had about 4-5 kilometers worth of roads wherein you can move faster and catch up with your time. It’s been a busy week for me with a Singapore trip sandwiched in between NatGeo Run and TNF. I wasn’t able to get mileage for the week which usually results to me being rusty and stiff on race day. We had another surprise a day before the race, which was rains. The rain changes the dynamics of the trails with the descents becoming slippery. It’s gonna be a challenge to chase the cutoff.
Race Route and Elevation
The race starts at the old camping grounds and proceeds to the trails headed for the old main gate which has rolling elevation and a 40 meters worth of ascents and descends for the first 4 kilometers of the race. The race shifts to the yellow trail on the 4th kilometer before reaching the aid station at the 6th kilometer. This is followed by a steep descent of 100 meters before moving on to rolling terrain for the next 3 kilometers approaching South Drive. The trails from South Drive to Loakan has a 150 meters drop spread out over the next 4 kilometers approaching Loakan for the u-turn slot. The race shift backs to the climbs for the next 4 kilometers back to Southdrive with the longest ascent of 150 meters. The race goes back to Camp John Hay and goes on a relatively flat course for the next 3 kilometer before the killer climb worth of 100 meters of elevation back to the aid station. The race goes on a slightly rolling terrain in the yellow trail before heading back to the finish line.
Since this is almost 100% trails, I didn’t expect a fast time. I was more concerned with managing my time well to reach the cutoff. The plan was to insert some runs in between the trails to reach a specific time per kilometer and give me more time on the ascents. The trails were also slippery coming from rains the day before so I would also be cautious on the descents until the sun comes up and the soil becomes dry.
At gun start, we went to the side entrance of the trail fronting the CAP convention center. I started to do some run walk sequence until the familiar and expected pain on the left shin and the stiffness of the legs happened. So I did shift to brisk walk mode to cover more grounds faster while my muscle warms up. I tried running on the descents at the first part only to almost fall because of the slippery surfaces. I tried to go on the area with hays as it’s less slippery and took safer steps on the slippery descents. I was losing a lot of time at this side of the trail by the end of the trail, I’ve used up almost an hour covering around 4 kilometers before shifting to the yellow trail. At this rate, I’ll be missing the cutoff.
I have to change strategy upon shifting to the yellow trail. There was still the nagging pain on my legs at this point so I just had to embrace the pain and go on. I now started running on the flatter and the descending side of the trail. I started taking more risk and despite the pain I was moving faster. Up next, I felt some cramping on my leg which I just ignored. I also took salt stick to prevent cramps. Slowly but surely I was making my way in the trail. I was running on the flat surfaces and descents and walking on the hilly part.
One thing I like about the trails is everybody tries to greet everybody good morning when bumping to each other. That’s a lot considering the one you’re bumping into were already running for more than a day already. The next part of the trail was from South Drive to Loakan which covers a net descent of about 150 meters over a 4 kilometer distance. I took advantage of the descent to move faster knowing that when we reach u-turn we would be climbing this part again. Some of the descents were a bit technical so had to slow down at some points too. The last leg of this part was steep so it would be suicidal to go fast here. I finally reached the 13th kilometer mark and the u-turn area for the race.
9 Kilometers to go with more than 2 hours to spare. It was mostly uphill from here though with 4 kilometer climb from the u-turn slot to South Drive covering 150 meters worth of elevation for a start. The journey to the top of the hill begins with a single step so it’s time to take it a step at a time. I didn’t want to look up again this time so I won’t be intimidated by the elevation I would be climbing. I took bigger steps, brisked walk faster and stopping at times to catch my breath. The air is much thinner with this elevation. The complexion of the race has shifted since I was all drained out from the climb so I rested on the flats and descents. It was a crawl to the top but I eventually reached the top area in South Drive. It was really funny at this time that as each of the runners reach this spot, we all went to the side walk to rest.
After about 5 minutes resting, I went back to the course. The next few kilometers was tolerable so I took this chance to lower my heart rate a bit since it was spiking already from the effort. While I am rested and the trails are tolerable, it’s time to move faster until the killer climb going to the aid station. That’s 100 meters worth of elevation in less than a kilometer of climbing. I took several steps at a time, took a few seconds to catch my breath and would do the drill for several more times until I reached the top. I was fully exhausted but it was two kilometers until the finish line and it’s gonna be a much flatter course.
I went on a run walk sequence at this part to get to the finish early and within cutoff. I still had a lot of time to spare before the cutoff. Less than a kilometer to the finish line, I felt a pain in my hamstring. That must have come from all the climbing I did. I stopped a while to massage that part of my hamstring and went back moving. I was more cautious with my strides though as I don’t want to risk getting injured. A few meters before the finish line. I was paced by a fellow runner who asked me to give one last push to the finish. And so there I was at the finish line after 22 torturous kilometers in Baguio’s terrain with several minutes to spare before the cutoff.
This 22K was much tougher with more trails, more climbs and tougher conditions but I’m glad I survived it. It was not a fast one but it was a strategic one on my part. The inclines can really help build your character so let’s do this again!!!