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The Teva Trail Challenge, a.k.a. The Longest 5k of My Life

Teva Trail Challenge

I took the Teva Trail Challenge, and (barely) lived to tell the tale to you good people.

I run 5 kilometers in about 30 minutes. Not world class, but okay for a 37-year-old guy. The Teva Trail Challenge took me TWO AND A HALF HOURS. When I first heard the term “trail running,” I pictured myself running down a path in a pine forest. There was the occasional log to hop over, or gentle hill to climb. Sometimes forest animals ran playfully along beside me, as if to encourage me on. I gave them nicknames in hopes of eventually selling the rights of the story to Disney.

This was not my reality at the Teva Trail Challenge. In five words: it kicked my sorry ass! The race took place in Earthheaven, a lush 20-hectare eco-community in San Mateo Rizal where runners can commune with nature as they race across majestic scenery and breathtaking mountain landscapes. Rain the previous night and 560 feet pounding and churning the ground ahead of me meant every trail was muddy and slick. Trail ascents were slow and slippery, and most descents became a mudslide. We spent a kilometer wading, swimming, and climbing rocks upstream on a river. Depths ranged from ankle to neck deep. All throughout the challenge, on rock, mud, and even in and out of river rapids, the TevaSphere trail shoes I was wearing took everything I had to give them and never failed to provide the grip and support I needed.

I’m going to take you on a blow-by-blow of my experience. We started off with 100 meters of flat, dry trail, which then turned into 300 meters of mid-grade hill. Thinking the entire race was going to be this kind of terrain, I jogged to the top. I thought “That’s pretty cruel of them to start us out with a long hill.” Little did I know that the cruelty had just begun, and would be upgraded to full-blown sadism before the race was over.

The first challenge was a cargo net we had to scale. Below I’m pictured coming over the top. I thought “No sweat!” Little did I know that the sweat was yet to come, and when it came, it wouldn’t stop until I was several pounds lighter and begging for either water or death, whichever came quickest.

Courtesy Thirdy Lopez

Courtesy Thirdy Lopez

The muddy trails began right after the hill. They occasionally became steep drop offs (sometimes 45 or 60 degree grades) that were anywhere from 1 to 4 meters long. These angles were impossible to walk or run down because of the mud. You either walked through the brush on the sides of the trail, grabbing trees for support as you went, or you went down the literally “quick and dirty” way: you sat and slid on your butt, which is what I did for most muddy descents (example pictured below). I had shorts with integrated spandex leggings, so thankfully no mud got up into my junk.

Slide

Courtesy Thirdy Lopez

At one point I slipped off a trail and fell/slid about 4 meters down an embankment, heading towards the river. Unfortunately no pictures of that. As I began to slip, I had enough presence of mind to look back at my group and cheerfully say “Bye, guys!” before sliding away. Not wanting to crash into the river (two feet of water covering boulders), I broke my fall by reaching out and slamming my armpit into some bamboo trees racing past me, which is where I earned my primary battle scar, located under my right arm. I immediately stood, waved to concerned onlookers 4 meters above me and let them know I was okay.

Because there was no going back up, I followed the river to where it met back up with our route. I will add that the slip was the fault of the 4 inch thick mud. Even a shoe with cleats/spikes would not have gripped the earth. The Tevas held up amazingly well. Next was the second obstacle we had to surmount: a river crossing. We had three choices: a monkey bridge, a tightrope with an overhead line, or a rope swing. I took the path less traveled: the tightrope. No problems there.

Courtesy Joel Baluyot

Courtesy Joel Baluyot

A route guide on the trail directed us to follow the river upstream; it was now our trail. Slick, wet stones sticking out of the river is where my Tevas really shined. I expected to have compromised traction but they gripped everything. I felt like Spiderman while climbing over river boulders and rocks or trudging up the river in ankle or waist deep water. At one point, it got so deep I swam. There was an awkward path to the left for non-swimmers, but I was already in the water so just freestyled it to the other side. One really nice thing about the TevaSphere Speed was that they drain quickly and almost completely of water upon stepping on dry land.

Courtest Thirdy Lopez

Courtest Thirdy Lopez

I asked the guide there how far we’d gone, and he said “Two kilometers.” Imagine my shock when a minute later I passed a race clock that showed almost an HOUR had elapsed. In that same amount of time on a road I can run 10k! I mentioned in my previous post about TevaSphere shoes that I like pain. And that’s true. Winning in the face of injury to me is sweet. What I do not like, on the other hand, is exhaustion and dehydration. When combined, these two conditions create their own little hell on earth for you. The irony that the course is in “Earthheaven” was not lost on me. Hiking up that river I realized that this is a trail challenge for Navy SEALS, not mere mortals like me. However, I was 2km in. I could quit and go 2km back, or finish, which was just a little further. May as well press on.

While on the trail I realized that if I had been born 80 years ago and been one of the unfortunates forced on the Bataan Death March, I would have been bayoneted on the first day, and I would have been grateful to be speedily dispatched. I simply cannot stand exhaustion and dehydration. The exhaustion was my fault for signing up for an activity which was almost beyond my fitness level. The dehydration was because I didn’t want to carry a bottle, thinking I’d be running the entire way and finishing 10k in 90 minutes. That error in judgement made me want to kick my own ass. As it turned out I was too tired to do so.

Around the 3k mark I entered into a new kind of torture: the neverending hill. Now when I say “neverending,” I don’t just mean it was really long. This hill was a destroyer of hope and a crusher of souls. Why? Because the lay of the terrain made you consistently think you were finally nearing the top, only to discover you were not even close. This is Sisyphus without the boulder (Google him; its worth it). Allow me to explain: Imagine being at the bottom of a fairly steep hill. It runs 60 meters to the horizon, where you can see it bends to the right. Too tired to jog such a steep incline, you walk up, up, up, to the bend, where you’re sure it must level off. As you come around the bend, it continues 60 meters up to the horizon again, this time bending left. You’re sure it can’t possibly continue up any further, so you continue trudging up the hill, exhausted, until coming around the next bend, where it goes to the horizon again. A part of you begins to die inside, but you know you have to keep walking. When you reach the next bend, it turns and continues up again. There is no way to know when it will end. Worse, you’re thirsty. Not just a little, but desperately thirsty. You’ve been sweating buckets for two hours with no water. You’re in such distress that you swallow your shame (which unsurprisingly fails to hydrate you) and ask the guy next to you for just one sip from his bottle, which he graciously provides. You have to fight the urge to suck down a lot more than one sip. Grateful for small kindnesses, you soldier on. Its called a trail challenge because its challenging. They chose not to call it a “fun run” for a reason. That accursed hill erased all things good and holy from my life, until…

she appeared. From somewhere deep in the recesses of my heart, the image of the girl I’m currently crushing on rose unbidden to my mind. Do it for her, my mind said. It might make her like you more. I knew that probably wasn’t true. She might not even notice. Shut up, I told myself. Sometimes its better to believe the lies we tell ourselves. It’s In the Way That You Use It by Eric Clapton started playing in my head, and the sip of water kicked in: I found a second wind. Joyously forgetting my fatigue, I broke into a jog, running along a ridge with gorgeous valley scenes below me. You could see for miles: rolling hills, sleepy rural towns, everything green and lush, but all I could see were her eyes in my mind.

The rapture was short lived as I quickly ran into our next set of obstacles: an 8 foot wall that had to be scaled with a rope, followed by monkey bars, and then a tire drill. I cursed the bus that brought me to this place, but I did them. Monkey bars are death for a 215 lb. monkey. We’re more “gorilla” than monkey if you ask me. A couple hundred more meters and there was a rope swing over a water hazard. I noticed the rope had a loop in the bottom. I asked the trail guide “If I put my foot in this loop, will it clear the water?” He said yes. He lied. I fell in. He laughed. I got wet and muddy, but that’s okay, because I was already wet and muddy. I pressed on, knowing I was nearing the end. Within sight of the finish line, there was a final obstacle: a mud pit that must be waded through. I was so eager to get done, I barely noticed and slogged through, finishing in two hours 25 minutes.

Courtesy Ian Sanchez

Courtesy Ian Sanchez

On the trail, I beat the living daylights out of those TevaSphere shoes, and now that I’ve cleaned them, they still look almost new. After being beaten against rocks, submerged repeatedly in river water and in mud, side-scraped on boulders, and pounded on pavement, you’d think I bought them 3 weeks ago. Not only are they still in excellent condition with little signs of wear, they’re comfortable. If I’m going in for an outdoor activity, I’m wearing Tevas from now on.

When I posted the above (post-run) picture on Facebook, my friends said I looked “too fresh and clean” to have run a trail challenge like I had described. I told them I’d had a shower already by that point, but they were still skeptical. So for all you doubters, here’s a high-res photo that captures every piece of mud and grit stuck to me, about 1km into the challenge. Notice my socks are still white. In the photo above (taken after I finished) they were permanently beige.

Courtesy Emmanuel Batungbacal

Courtesy Emmanuel Batungbacal

Last thoughts on the Teva Trail Challenge: as strenuous and exhausting as it was, there’s a part of me that’s sure I could halve my time next year if I train. Then the other half of my brain slaps the first half around for considering doing it again. Its okay. My brain hits like a girl.

The event was sponsored by The Legend Villas, Timbuk2, R.O.X., Res Toe Run, Crystal Clear, Choco Boom, Magic Flakes, Gatorade, Sony, Walkman and Eartheaven. Media Partners: The Philippine Star, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin, Sports Digest Magazine, Dispatch Magazine, Gala Magazine, and WhenInManila.com

The Teva Trail Challenge, a.k.a. The Longest 5k of My Life