This is it: I’m giving up. I’ve just gotten off a dusty trail and staggered onto a long stretch of concrete road. I glance at the running app on my phone and groan as the distance flashes on the screen: 14 kilometers. The good news: I’m more than halfway through the 22-kilometer course. The bad news: pain is shooting through my legs, making every movement a torturous challenge. My calves are close to cramping, while the arches of my feet ache from the constant impact against loose rocks and uneven ground.
I slow down to a walk and stretch my legs, hugging one knee to my chest at a time. I take a couple of steps and do some lunges, feeling ridiculous as other participants overtake me. Somewhere in the distance, I spot two other girls in matching red shirts doing the same thing and I draw comfort from the thought that I’m not alone in my suffering.
I break into a jog but my whole body protests. At the height of muscular pain and overall despair, I submit myself to further agony by asking over and over again: Why the heck am I running half a marathon for my birthday?
The thing is, I’m not a runner.
I jog two to three times a week to keep fit, but the farthest I had gone for a race was 6 kilometers. (And I had to sleep the whole afternoon to recover.)
When I was invited to join The North Face 100, Asia’s 1st Trail Running Ultra Marathon Series, it was with reluctance that I said yes. Apart from the lack in experience and training, I was hesitant to join because the race would take place on the weekend of my birthday – the 50 and 100 kilometer categories on my actual birthday and the 22 kilometer, the morning after. I had the option to cover it from the sidelines, though, but then I thought, I’m turning 25 this year, why shouldn’t I join “the Philippines’ mother of all trail runs”? Call it #QuarterLifeCrisis.
Of course I trained – I didn’t want to be the runner who passed out in the middle of the trail. To participate in a race that claims to be “the most challenging test of endurance for hardcore runners” and not prepare for it would be suicide. Out of determination but mostly fear, I conditioned myself, training harder with the solid intent of finishing the race.
Despite that, I felt my resolve crumbling upon arriving at Nuvali. I talked to some of last year’s The North Face 100 participants and heard things like “I finished it, but I had to stay in a wheelchair after and take a leave from work” or “You’ve run 21 km before, right? Uh, no? Well, you can always walk it off.”
On June 12, Independence day, I went with the media team to Tagaytay Highlands to catch some of the runners climbing up a slope, aided by a thick blue rope tied to a railing along the road. Exhaustion was visible on their faces, the unforgiving sun beating down on their backs. When we asked one of the 50 km participants how he was doing, he huffed, “Mas mahirap pa ito kaysa Baguio! (This is harder than Baguio!)” Baguio was last year’s course, dubbed by some as one of the hardest trails they’ve undertaken due to the steep inclines and high altitude air.
Naturally, I wanted to back out right then and there. However, I had never been one to give up so easily. Plus, I had my pride to preserve: I had already vehemently proclaimed to my parents and siblings that I would be running and finishing this race. They had shaken their heads with disbelief and smirked; they were used to such rash decisions by now. Nevertheless, they wished me good luck.
Read on to find out if I survived! :p
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