November 5, 2017
Hearing stories of the Mt. Pinatubo Circuit from friends, I’ve been interested in the place since way back. It just never became a priority and with most hikes taking place at the same time as other hikes, Pinatubo was a distant dream. So when the Pinatubo-master himself, Sir Jherry Guiao announced a new trail run along that route, I didn’t have second thoughts. Here’s my long and winding recap of the 1st edition of the Porac-Pinatubo 50km challenge.
The week of the event, Sir Jherry released the startlist and I was shocked to see only 24 runners for the 50km category. This was the smallest group of runners for a trail run that I’ve been in, and most of them were big names in the community. To say I was scared was an understatement. With almost no run training because of gym and work, I relied on my willpower to get myself to the starting line.
Saturday night, we assembled in Jollibee at Cubao before taking the bus to Dau, Pampanga. After a quick dinner, sir Jherry picked us up in his L300 and brought us to the starting line: the Brgy. hall in Sapang Uwak, or the Aid Station 1 in the MF42. Suddenly everything was familiar. I vowed not to run here again but I took solace in the fact that this won’t be an out and back route.
We got some time to rest before the briefing. It was a small intimate group with lots of familiar faces. I spent the last few minutes before the gunstart eating and going to the bathroom. In a few more minutes, at exactly 4am, the 50km runners left the starting line, leaving behind sir Jherry and the 20km runners.
It was a cool and wet morning as we ascended the route. It was still familiar to me and I took my time going up the concrete road. Concrete gave way to mud and eventually I was covered up to the knee with it. Oh well, nothing new there. I already prophesied all the slipping and sliding I would be doing on the way down. But for now, I focused on the task at hand.
I was the third to the last runner until I saw the familiar face of Ms. Ella (we had paced each other for a bit in MF42). We greeted each other a good morning before we continued on and we passed a few more runners before reaching Aid Station 1 at Km 7 aka the viewdeck. This was a short detour unavailable during the MF42 but it was also a bit harder to reach. An ascent was needed and it culminated into concrete steps going up a small cottage on top of the hill. There, I refilled my hydration and ate a banana before proceeding. I had a long way to go before the AS2 at Km24. The way down was slippery as hell and coupled with the dark, would be extremely hilarious if another person saw me descending it.
Somehow, I missed the turn going to Delta V because I found myself at the junction of Miyamit falls with Dio and another runner. I knew from the briefing that we would be going here AFTER we climbed the crater and Mt. McDonald. Confused and a little frustrated, we backtracked and ran into all the runners behind me. We bumped into Yob before I noticed a teeny-tiny marker and a small hole along the trail. It was laughable how inconspicuous that turn was, but it turned out to be the right way.
None of us in the group have ever been in this route before so we didn’t know what this turn looked like. The marshal that was supposed to be there was nowhere to be found. But, we found markers deeper into the trail so we regained some confidence. The most memorable part was being sandwiched between Dio and Ms. Cheryl, who were both going at a fast pace. There wasn’t any place to let them advance so I had no choice but to maintain the pace and even run uphill sometimes (oh my god!). The pace made me very hungry and my stomach was growling but I was determined to keep up with them to save the remnants of my ego. It was quite fun, actually.
We reached the technical part with all the bouldering and rappeling. I was able to catch my breath and dig into some beng-beng from my bag. Unfortunately, on a slippery and steep 85-degree descent, I slipped and fell hard on my left ankle. A jolt of pain pierced through my leg and I thought my foot was broken. I was able to stand and hobble along. Eventually, the pain became bearable and I was able continue rock scrambling and powerhiking. Adrenaline is an amazing drug, guys.
We broke through the forest and into the most beautiful scene not unlike Jurassic Park. The Pinatubo river snaked around the most beautiful valley I’ve ever seen. Let me tell you now that all my weariness was lessened just from seeing the landscape. Coupled with river crossings, boulder-climbing, and splish-splashing upriver, this was my 2nd favorite part of the route.
We eventually reached the three boulders that were famous along the route. There were some marshals there to help the runners as the rocks were slippery as fuck to climb. This was also the funniest part of my race.
Kuya Marshal: Sir apak ka sa kamay ko.
Me: Sure ka kaya mo ako kuya?
KM: Oo, ako bahala sir.
M: Okay sige.
I stepped on his hand and attempted to grab on the rope above, but my hand slipped and kuya couldn’t bear all my weight. We tumbled down the rocks but were able to stop ourselves from rolling into the river. It was so sudden and funny that I can’t help but laugh. I asked kuya if he was okay and he was also laughing.
On the second attempt, I was able to climb up the rock and proceed. I looked back at kuya marshal but he was busy accommodating Ms. Cheryl and the other runner. So I whispered some thanks and carried on. What an experience of a lifetime. These near-death experiences really got my adrenaline flowing so I hurried onward.
It was more bouldering until I reached the foot of one majestic waterfall. Here, I found Pao walking. We decided to go together and passed some hikers along the way. After some time, the rocks eventually started to wear me out. It was the same terrain over and over again and we didn’t seem to be getting any closer. We passed through a natural water source with the most refreshing water I’ve tasted. That rejuvenated me for a bit until the uphill slippery rocks chafed my being once again.
We reached the foot of an ascent and Pao decided rest and eat while I opted to climb slowly. I was surprised to see a vertical climb where you really had to pull yourself up by tree roots. This was no problem for me but I was thinking about the other runners and the hikers with their fullpacks on. How will they climb this?! I ascended further until I saw some more hikers and their local guides.
I climbed with the hikers for a bit and we also had some small talk. I advanced and bid them good luck as we reached the climb up the crater rim. Sadly, with the weather conditions that day, there was no clearing. But it was still beautiful to see the wind and rain assaulting the peak. Seeing the colorful rain covers of the hikers as I picked them off one by one was also comforting. There really is community in suffering. There are a lot of hikers today, I thought (27 hikers, I later confirmed). A familiar face greeted me, it was adobo man from our Cawag pentalogy. Hahaha Amazing iba talaga pag adobodista. I talked to him for a bit before going up as the rain and the cold bit into my soul.
It was the most beautiful ascent I’ve experienced. The view was reminiscent of Pulag’s grassland but with the crater rim looking more like Deadman’s trail. I can’t put it into words so I suggest hiking this trail to see for yourselves. Even without the clearing of the crater, I can’t deny its beauty. I continued on until I got lost since I couldn’t see the next marker. I thought we had to go up to the edge of the crater, but there were no more markers so I waited for mam Cheryl to arrive and when she found the trail, we descended the crater and headed to Mt. McDo.
Mt. McDo would be so painful if the weather was hot. Fortunately we were blessed with cool winds and some drizzles so it wasn’t as devastating. I actually enjoyed this climb up. It reminded me of Amelong Labeng, only wetter. From there, it was a long ascent up to the second Aid Station. We said hi to the two local marshals, refilled our hydration, and started the descent. From this point, it was mostly descents so I jogged the majority of the way down. The trail began to look familiar as it was the same route as the MF42. I was impatient with this route so I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other until I eventually reached the junction of Miyamit Falls.
Going down to the falls, I passed Marvs ascending and said hello to some tourists who dayhiked the falls. Jim and Cheri were marshals at the falls turnaround so I took some time to rest and chitchat. Jim also took a lot of pictures for me until I had to go. I bid them auf wiedersehen and climbed up as mam Cheryl and her companion as well as Pao were descending. At the junction, Marvs was waiting for Dio so I went ahead. They were the last runners I saw until the finish.
Going down was the usual suffering and I passed the time by hiking with the tourists who I caught up to. Eventually, mud and dirt gave way to pavement, wooden huts became concrete dwellings as I neared the finish line. I walked the steep downhill until the finish marker was in sight and I jogged to the finish. I gave sir Jherry a handshake as he hung the medal on my neck and posed for a picture and hugged Khat who was waiting for me. Finally, this adventure came to an end.
Afterwards, I was happy to find out that Dong is once again the champion for the 50km category. And even better, Khat also came in first for the 20km Women’s category and was 2nd overall, right behind champion lodi Ico. It was nice to see familiar names on the podium wow! I congratulated them and went ahead to the hardest part of trailrunning: washing my shoes.
I was surprised to see Dio and EJ inside the brgy hall already. Apparently they had gotten lost in the river and were unable to climb the rocks as the marshals had already left, so they had no other choice but to turn back. I told Dio that Marvs was still up there waiting for her. Afterwards, I got a quick nap as I wasn’t too hungry yet.
When I woke up, we waited for the rest of the runners. We were waiting for Jim and Cheri so we were going to be there for a while. I had some chitchat with the runners and we told each other about our experience with the trail. Eventually, the other runners left and we rested until Cheri and Jim arrived. When we were all accounted for, we waited for sir Jherry to take us back to Dau. At Dau, we had dinner at Jollibee before bidding him thanks and goodbye as we boarded the bus back to Cubao.
I would like to acknowledge the great people who made this event so enjoyable.
To sir Jherry first and foremost. As well as the people of Porac, the locals and the marshals, you all did great. This wouldn’t be possible without y’all and for a debut race, that was top quality. (There was an awarding, a certificate, and photoshoot for the podiumers! That’s more effort than other “quality” races I’ve joined 🙄). Thank you for taking care of us runners.
To the local kuya marshal who saved me from falling into the river, thank you. I apologize for my weight. We were both surprised at what happened, but thank you for helping me up the rock. That’s something I’ll fondly remember.
To all my trail friends, you are all amazing and the key part of why I still run despite having no training. Seeing you all inspires me to do my best as well.
To mam Cheryl (50km women’s champ!) and your companion from Baguio, thank you for pacing me and for helping locate the markers.
To mam Ella (50km women’s 1st runner up), nice to see you again, fellow Ilonggo and see you soon in the future races!
To Pao, thanks for the conversation and the pacing along the river na kung wala ka nabaliw na siguro ako sa ruta.
To Dio and Marvs, nice to see you along the trail, abangan ko mga susunod na trailjunkie designs.
To the friends that I didn’t even see along the route and only caught up to on the finish, Kevs, EJ, Dong (50km men’s champ), edi wow kayo.
To Bonnie (50km men’s 2nd runner up), congrats you completed your assignment hehe.
To all the other runners in both 20km and 50km categories, congrats. We did it, pioneer batch!
To Cheri and JimGeronimoPhotography, thanks for taking care of me at the falls. Mwah!
To the Big Guy up there for giving us a wonderful day to run and for making sure everyone is accounted for. All for Your glory.
And most of all, to #MyTrailLove and consistent podiumer, Khat. Thank you for waiting for me and for accompanying me to and from the race. Thanks for all the tips on what to do along the trail. I’m so proud of you. Keep it up!
Race: 1st Invitational Porac-Pinatubo 50/20km Challenge
Finish: 11:10:00 (7/17)
Food: [Self] H2O, Gatorade, Beng-Beng x4, Clif Energy Gel Double Espresso x2, Choco Mucho x4, McDo Chicken Burger
[Aid Stations] H2O, Hello, Gatorade, Sandwiches, Banana, Salt
Gear: Amihan Crosswind, Feetures Socks, Salomon Wings Flyte 2, Naturehike Soft Flasks, Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
This was an amazingly beautiful and painful route that I can’t wait to run again after 10 years. I don’t want to go through that again in the near future, but I will surely return for another chance at seeing the majestic crater.
Smile and the pain won’t be as bad.