“Congratulations to all the runners,” the emcee’s voice boomed across the Anvaya Cove grounds. “The Salomon X-Trail is one of the most challenging races in the Philippines. And for that you are all winners.”
I am sitting on the grass, red-faced and panting, taking long, satisfying gulps of cool Gatorade. I’ve just finished the 6K trail and all around me, people are sitting or laying on the grass, shoes and clothes covered in dust and mud. A few feet away, there is a steady stream of runners crossing the finish line, all drenched in sweat, their jerseys clinging to their body, the biggest grins on their faces. Everyone is exhausted but elated, the adrenaline still pumping through his or her veins. “Natapos rin natin! (We finally finished it)” exclaimed one participant to a friend.
At the finish line, you see triumph shining through different faces: a 61-year-old woman completes the 6K trail in just 58 minutes; a few minutes later, an 11-year-old, the youngest participant yet, follows her.
A couple makes it through, hand in hand. A group of girls, all in pink, makes the last dash with picture-perfect smiles spreading across their faces.
The Salomon X-Trail Run attracts thousands of people yearly. For more than five years now, it has been one of the most anticipated trail running events in the Asia-Pacific region. Apart from the hardcore loyalists, the event attracts a diverse set of runners ranging from the young to the old, from the newbies to the hardcore athletes. The race’s technical trail route combines different terrain surfaces including vertical ascents, long uphill climbs with multi-surfaces of dirt, rocks, sand, and concrete paths.
This year, the race toured the roads, hills, mountains, and valleys surrounding the beautiful enclave of Anvaya Cove, one of the country’s premiere developments in Morong, Bataan by Ayala Land Premier. New trail routes were created exclusively for the event such as trail sections overlooking the cove that are steep and technical.
The allure of trail running, as I’ve come to find out, is the unpredictability of the path. Unlike with regular marathons, you never know what to expect, so you’re constantly on your toes. Each step brings you face to face with a different set of challenges–the uneven road, the uphill slopes, the glare of the sun, the brambles scratching at your legs, the loose rocks threatening to throw you out of balance. I remember one runner coming over from the finish line, his left side splattered with mud.
“Anong nangyari sa ‘yo? (What happened to you?)” someone asked. The runner answered in a matter of fact tone, as if there were no explanations needed, “E ‘di nadapa. (I fell)”
But while intimidating, it is also that uncertainty that reels people in. With each new turn or climb, there is a surprise waiting; a reward for the determined and persevering. On the trail, there is never a shortage of stunning vistas and beautiful landscapes. In an article about trail/mountain running, Kristine Fonacier of Grid Magazine wrote that it is “a sport in itself, and one that requires specialized training and jaw-dropping amounts of endurance, true, but nearly everyone who gets into it started out because it was a way to see the great outdoors, and engage in a sport at the same time.”
And I guess that’s what trail running is about: embracing the challenge of a rough terrain, pushing yourself to the limit, and along the way, discovering the untamed beauty of nature. The 6K trail was designed for newbies and was the least difficult among the four, but it was challenging, nonetheless. Training for the event and experiencing it firsthand helped me gain a profound respect and admiration for trail runners; I can only imagine the intensity, stamina, and willpower needed for a 12, 24, or 32 km run.
At the end of the morning, my whole body was aching, my legs were shaking, and my mind was shutting down from the lack of sleep, but the sense of accomplishment of having finished a difficult trail was invigorating and life-giving. There were no medals hanging around my neck –I had not even been in the top 20–but the emcee was right: it still felt like winning.