Itogonia 2019 was another round of suffering over the high altitude and terrains of Camp John Hay and Itogon made even tougher by the rain.
Itogonia 2019 felt more like a festival this year with more distances and events during the weekend. I always liked Camp John Hay as a venue area as it’s an accessible trail location and has a “sleepy hollow” feel that’s nostalgic and doesn’t grow old. The kit claiming was at the Forest Bathing Entrance near Scout Hill while the race briefing was at Illi ay Cordillera, which is just beside the manor and nearby Scout Hill and Bell House.
Illi ay Cordillera had a nice intimate local feel for the race briefing over a warm bonfire on a cold afternoon. RD Don discussed the key junctions for the different categories. We then returned to the kit claiming area to set up the Pinoy Trails booth. It rained in the afternoon and that changes the dynamics of the trail in an instant.
For this year, I was purely supporting the race and didn’t officially join the race. The race setup was great with A-Boards being assembly areas as well as border to give runners a better feel of the finish line. We were there before the 42K runners, which would be a first time category. This one is especially challenging since the runners have to scale Mount Bidawan, have a vertical trail after and also have the long climb back to Baguio from Itogon.
Up next was the 32K distance, which remains challenging with the fast and technical descent at the start of the race, the climb to the spillway and the long climb back to Camp John Hay.
16K also shared the challenging climb heading back to Camp John Hay. Before the 16K were launched I decided to revisit the 8K route which was freshly marked before the race. The 16K, 32K and 42K routes all take the upper part of the Yellow Trails while the 8K route will be taking the lower part of the Yellow Trails. I was just in the trails two days before and it’s a different feel because of the rains.
After about 30 minutes in the trails, I was surprised to see a pack of 16K runners sharing the route since the markings were purely 8K blue at this point. I immediately reported the case to the RD so they can resolve it immediately. Come to think of it, it was just the same distance heading to the Itogonia entry point whether you take the upper or lower trails. I even directed some runners who seem to miss out on following the markers.
Once I reached the area near the steep fire road, I noticed no one was there to direct the runners though there were markers and directional signage. There were; however, an alternative route near the signage, which I blocked off with twigs and branches. I decided to stay in the area until I am sure that all the 16K runners were directed to the right course.
I then headed to the steep climb, which I was able to breeze to because I was fresh from waiting for all the runners at the lower part. Normally, I would huff and puff my way through this steep climb as some stretches are about 15-20% inclines. Up next was the Embassy area and the Forest Bathing Trail heading to tree top adventure. This is among my favorite part of the trail because you can see the mountains of Itogon from a higher vantage point.
I made the turn at the red fire hydrant and then I was on my way back. At this point, the lead pack of the 8K were already on this stretch and they were really fast. I headed back to the upper part and saw the recon team of the group replenishing markers just to ensure that those returning from the Itogon sections are properly guided. This was the easy part as it was mostly flat except for the final climb back to the event area.
Once back in the event area, I gave my inputs on my observation and most of them have been addressed already. I stationed myself at the Pinoy Trails booth or at times assisting in various chores. By 11 am, the rain came and it came pouring real hard. While running in the rain is a hard thing, getting the program in play while it rains is equally difficult especially in an outdoor environment. We were able to award the 3K distance before the rain and had to halt the 8K awarding until the rain weakened.
So we resumed the program and slowly awarded all the prizes. Hats off to the volunteers and marshals who got soaked in the rain and yet were still in high spirits and performing above the call of duty just to make sure that the race goes on. It would be fun running in this weather especially with the additional slip and slide that comes with it.
The top finishers were really fast but for most runners, we had to play the waiting game. The cutoff time were sufficient but was still a challenge especially with the rain. Early in the afternoon, I moved back in to the trail to welcome runners back to the finish line. It’s one of the best vantage points when you want to see the anticipation, the passion and the shift from a state of fatigue to the joy of victory. Most runners were running on muscle pain, cramps and fatigue but you can see their face beam with pride on overcoming such a tough race.
It was also nice to see friends and hear about their stories. It was not an easy trail as I’ve seen the route first hand in the recons. The distance felt longer than their actual distance because of the climbs and the technical aspect of the race. I had less involvement this year compared to last year but glad to see how Don’s team improved a lot in terms of staging. As one participant told me, it was one-of-a-kind experience and I guess that’s the ingredient of an epic race. As Kahlil Gibran once said:.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”