Saturday, February 22, 2014

Leveling Up to Ultramarathon: 60km at LU2TA

I often mention to running friends I'll never venture into race events beyond 42km. I ate my own words last February 9 when I ran my very first ultramarathon - not just 50km mind you. It's a 60km event - LU2TA, from Luneta to Tagaytay, hence the tagline "City to the Sky". Well what it became in actuality is a 63km event - started at Rajah Sulayman instead of the intended Luneta.

My 711 Run 1000 post accounted the events leading to my hospitalization and a week-long rest from work. However, that did not stop one of my Team Banana teammates Syril to bully me in registering for LU2TA. Invite after invite I was just laughing it off. I know I'm in no condition to even run a full marathon with my recent illness.

But there are just instances when a certain seed has been planted in our heads, that we just can't shake off. I was curious if I could do an ultra. With 4 years of running experience, I feel I am ready. I told Syril and Becky Runner it's a go. I decided not to tell anyone else though what I am about to do. This will be my secret race event. It's a win-win situation for me. If I finish the race, I get to brag about it. If I DNF, no one will know. Hahaha!

Fresh from my long rest, I had to have my legs warmed-up again. February 2, I did an LSD with Syril and Mark Runner. No target distance, but I was hoping to at least do a half-marathon. My body only managed a 14km run and I already got tired. With one week until race day, panic started to sink in.

LSD with Syril (and Mark Runner, not in this photo). Bumped into Coach Mherlz who gave me some great ultramarathon preparation tips. (Photo courtesy of Syril)
But this is a commitment. The next day, I went to a BDO branch near the office, and deposited the registration fee of P1750. This is it! There's no turning back now.

Desperate to be ultramarathon-ready with one week left, here are the things I did:

  • Diet - an apple, banana, a bottle of Powerade each day. Coach Mherlz advised loading of Powerade for my body to get used to electrolytes. And a lot of carbs - macaroni salad, pasta, pizza, rice. I was on pig-mode the whole week.
  • Work-out - I did 5km on the cross-ramp machine at Gold's daily from February 3 to 5 before tapering. 
  • Atlas Pelvis / Body Treatment at Karada - Scheduled an appointment for bone alignment and body treatment last February 5. Karada is one of my recent finds and I just love this Japanese Seitai salon.
  • Stretching at Intercare - met my PT Franz of Intercare for an hour long stretching session last February 6.
  • Stock-up on GU Roctane - bought 6 Roctanes, with the plan of consuming one every 10 kilometers
Hopefully, the effects of everything I did will work their magic come race day.

February 8, Saturday, went to Makati in the afternoon to go to the grocery, hear mass at Greenbelt, and then meet with Team banana teammates Syril and Mervs. Sy generously offered his support car, though I had doubts one support car can support multiple runners with different race pace. I'm really going into this ultramarathon experience with no idea on what my expectations should be, except the vision of me crossing the finish line. Haha!

With Team Banana Mark Mark, Mervs, Sy and Cholo (Photo courtesy of RunningSmasher)
We arrived at the assembly area and were informed we need to check-in our bibs. The race organizer Prince Baltazar also served as the host of the event, while runners were all around the area just waiting for the signal for race start. Funny how at the stroke of midnight, Prince just did a quick 15 second countdown and then runners were sent off, coming from different locations as there was no definite assembly area.

Within the first kilometer, I noticed Sy speeding off in a very strong pace. I was originally planning to pace with him (to not complicate our support needs), but I had to let go and run a slower pace. So I was on my own.

We passed by two of the usual flyovers at Roxas Boulevard without the comfort of road closure. First time I did a run like this, with passing vehicles and without road cones and without much marshals along the way. So this is how running an ultramarathon feels like. Its fun and risky at the same time.

While enjoying my alone time, a runner suddenly approached me from the right - it was Loyce! Glad to see a familiar face. He was surprised seeing me doing an ultramarathon. I told him my strategy to keep this a secret event. So now I had someone to pace with. Yay!

After passing the second flyover, we turned left at Airport Road and then right to Quirino Avenue. Quirino Avenue passes two cities - Paranaque and Las Pinas, and ends up at Aguinaldo Highway, a long stretch passing multiple Cavite cities - Bacoor, Imus, Dasmarinas, then Tagaytay!

Pacing with Loyce (Photo courtesy of Team BANG running)
Loyce was kind enough to offer extending his support to me, with his girlfriend Mary Ann doing primary support duties (Thanks Mary Ann!). Your ice-cold Coke was a savior! Haha!

Approaching half-way point though, Loyce was complaining about tummy problems already. He had to do his thing so he told me to go ahead and will catch up if he can. So again, I was left alone, though I still was able to catch up with Syril's support crew to refill my hydration bottle a couple of times. Thanks Goldi and Set for the cheers and support during my quick pit stops.

Alone again. Lol! (Photo courtesy of RunningSmasher)
And so the long and tiring route continued. Aguinaldo Highway is a very familiar territory (as I worked at Intel Cavite for a few years) so I knew how long I still need to run to finish the race. Official hydration stations were placed every 10 kilometers. There were water, Gatorade, hard-boiled eggs, bananas and lots of Flat Tops at each station, much to my delight. I probably consumed 3 to 5 Flat Tops every time I stop at those stations. Haha!

The gradual inclining roads of Aguinaldo Highway eventually took its toll on my body. I had to do frequent long walks and shorter runs. When I saw sunrise, I realized I have been running (and walking) for 6 hours already! At this point also came the realization I was already an ultramarathoner, as the 42km point was already way behind me.

Photo courtesy of Kit Elma Photography
Photo courtesy of Mike Martinez
Photo courtesy of Mike Martinez
As I reached the end of the Aguinaldo Highway, I knew it was just one last push as I turned left on the Tagaytay-Calamba road. Excitement kicked-in a bit so I consumed my last GU Roctane which gave me energy to run (though in a slower pace as it was quite an upHELL).

The temperature's perfect, not hot and not too cool. I had limited hydration left on the bottle I'm carrying but I was not that thirsty. I heaved a big sigh of relief as I saw the entrance of the Palace in the Sky, but the zigzag road and inclined road going to the top was a killer. As I saw the finish line, I didn't even bother to run. I finished the race - all 63 kilometers of it! I am now an ultramarathoner!

Receiving the medal and trophy from the race organizer himself - Prince Baltazar!
With the guy who planted the ultramarathon seed in my head - Syril. Thanks for bullying me to join. Haha!
It was then time to hang-out and cheer other runners finishing the race. I was in the company of Team SCR, what a bunch of fun (and strong) runners!

Team SCR snap c/o RunningSmasher
With Mervs and Sy. Go Team Banana!
Our post-race breakfast at Kenny Rogers Nuvali. A big meal well-deserved!
Two days later, results were released at this link:

My official finish time - 8 hours, 35 minutes and 47 seconds, 135th out of 600 finishers, translating to being at the top 22.5% percentile. Really not bad for my first ultra.

Me and my runner friends' results
Now you might be asking, will I continue this UM craze? Naaah. No plans yet on doing my 2nd ultra. It would probably take some time. The question bothering my mind has been answered already anyway.

Congratulations to Prince Baltazar and his organizing committee for staging this unique race! How many people can say they've ran from Manila to Tagaytay? 
Can I finish an ultra? HELL YEAH I CAN.